Friday, November 27, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: An Angel on Main Street

If you add only one Christmas book to your collection this year, you need to add An Angel on Main Street by Kathi Oram Peterson. If you know anything about me, you know I have a bazillion books, poems, stories and movies about Christmas. I love a good Christmas story and this one really fits the bill. It is such a pleasurable and satisfying read.

I was instantly drawn into the story with Kathi's delightful first-person narrative told from the viewpoint of schoolboy, Micah Connors. He and his widowed mother and his little sister moved to Bolton, Idaho to get a fresh start. Micah promised to behave and as the “head of the house” since his father died in the Korean War, he desperately wants to help out and please his mother. However, a series of circumstantial events has him constantly in the path of the Sheriff, Garth Anderson.

Micah is suspicious of the Sheriff’s interest in his family. He is also preoccupied trying to uncover the secret of the mysterious wooden structure that suddenly appeared in the center of town. Micah thinks it looks like a stable and his little sister, Annie, who is very ill, thinks it holds the key to a miracle that could make her well again. She is sure angels are building it, but Micah gave up on angels and help from his Heavenly Father long ago. Each day Annie grows worse and each day the town awakens to a new addition; animals, shepherds and more. A few days before Christmas Micah has convinced himself if he can discover the baby Jesus before He is placed in the manger and bring Him to Annie to hold, she will not die. It’s up to him. Little does he know the many hands that are waiting to assist him in his quest. Yes, there must be an angel on Main Street.

Congratulations to Kathi Oram Peterson for crafting such a delightful story. I couldn’t put it down. You can view a trailer of her book on YouTube at:

You can purchase this wonderful Christmas story at: Seagull Book - do a search by title

It’s time to turn on the Christmas music, break out the hot cocoa and settle down with a good book. I suggest An Angel on Main Street! Enjoy!!

Thursday, November 26, 2009


I thought I’d share some thoughts (random though they may be) and hopefully some of what I say will add to your celebration.

On October 3, 1863, President Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November as a national day "of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father." Here is an excerpt from the text of Lincoln's proclamation … after listing some of the blessings the nation had received, Pres. Lincoln said:

“No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”

What prompted President Lincoln to establish Thanksgiving Day as a permanent national holiday? In the 1800’s only a few states celebrated Thanksgiving Day. Sarah Hale, a strong-willed widow, A WRITER, no less, believed that Thanksgiving was a very important holiday. She thought the whole country should celebrate it on the same day. Sarah felt such a holiday would help unify our nation. She began writing letters to the President of the United States. In each letter she would plead her case and ask the president to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. Sarah wrote to President Taylor. He said no. Next, she wrote to President Fillmore. He also said no. Then she wrote to President Pierce and after him, she wrote to President Buchannan. Like those before him, he also told Sarah no. Finally, after 17 years and thousands of letters, Sarah wrote to President Lincoln. He agreed with her and on October 3, 1863, President Lincoln declared that the fourth Thursday of November would be Thanksgiving Day and thus a national holiday of gratitude was born.

On Tuesday, my class led our school’s morning ceremony. They did a great job and the entire class recited an adorable Thanksgiving poem in unison. It’s one that my daughter, Shannon, now 37, memorized in the first grade and I have loved it ever since. For your pleasure, I share it with you now:

Thanksgiving Poem

There lay upon the table
A turkey big and round
But when it was time to cook it,
It was nowhere to be found.

They all looked in the kitchen
And in the pantry well.
They asked Kate if she'd seen it
And John and Anna Bell.

Even tiny Mary,
They asked her if she knew,
Where the missing turkey was.
She said, "Of course I do.

Poor turkey wasn't feeling well
Because he lost his head.
So I put my nightie on him
And tucked him in my bed."


I hope you all have loved ones to share this special day with. We will be gathered together with many extended family members for a wonderful lunch, prepared by all who attend. Then in the evening some of our family members are bringing and serving Thanksgiving dinner to the families that reside at the Ronald McDonald House near Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

May you have a blessed day!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Precious Little Brian Hunter Carlson has arrived!!!

Taylor & Payton cannot get enough of their new little brother!! So sweet.

Brian (named after his uncle B.J.) weighed 9 lbs. 2.6 oz and was 22 inches long. He is so wonderful. Other news is that Adam has been accepted into Medical School and so they will be moving in January. (Happy for him – sad to say good-bye to their family for even a short time).

Life is so crazy busy that I haven’t written on this blog since September? HOW did that happen? School is great (but I’m constantly involved in it … just ask my family). I’m grateful to have such a supportive and sweet man-servant, I mean, husband (LOL). He frequently has dinner on the table when I get home because I have been putting in such long hours. By the way, JIM is the one who called himself a "man-servant." What would I do without him? He's such a keeper!! Love him more every day.

Well, just wanted to post about Brian. Got to run. Hope everyone is well and happy. Love and Blessings to all!!!! :)

Jessica Drew photographed our sweet little Brian when he was just 13 days old and you can see his pictures at: ~ she is a remarkable photographer.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Today is "Constitution Day"

On September 17, 1787, thirty-nine of the some of the bravest men the world has seen signed the
U.S. Constitution and forever changed the course of history. I will be eternally grateful for their courage, foresight and their spiritual wisdom.

After the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Alexander Hamilton said, "For my own part, I sincerely esteem it [the Constitution] a system which without the finger of God, never could have been suggested and agreed upon by such a diversity of interests."

There is no doubt the Lord had a hand in the establishment of the Constitution in order to create a country and a government that would be the rich soil for the restoration of His gospel.

These great men, and their wives and their children, paid a tremendous price to give us the liberties that we have enjoyed for so many years. It behooves us each to study the Constitution and live accordingly. May we be worthy of our blessings.

God Bless America!!!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Why Do I Do What I Do When I Know What I Know??

Yesterday our class went on a marvelous field trip to the Halle Heart Center Children's Museum in Tempe, AZ. It was truly excellent. For two hours we went from station to station and learned all kinds of things (most I already knew, of course... but I learned a few new things myself). The students learned all kinds of new things. For instance, did you know that a Blue Whale's heart is the size of a VW Bug and that it weighs up to 2,000 pounds?!?

Then there was the visit to the "supermarket" where shopping carts held pretend food boxes, etc. and the kids had to read the labels to choose a good meal... and then the "fast food" stop where we sat at tables (WITHOUT anything to eat) and the guide showed us these disgusting little vials of fat for each of the fast food items. Yummy... ick!

And so went the day. I couldn't help but think I need to do better. Calling myself "fluffy" may get a chuckle or two, but it doesn't add to my lifespan or my energy.

Even so, I was thinking the whole time how good a Hershey's bar would taste about then... go figure.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Shannon's little one has arrived!!

It seems like it's been forever since I posted anything on my blog ~ school has kept me so busy, but little babies wait for no one... This is Sophia Emily Shifflet, (our oldest daughter's 5th child) born just three days (+ a few hours) ago. She is our 15th grandchild and she is PERFECT!!! The doctor's worried she would come early or that there might be complications, etc. But she made it to 38 1/2 weeks (at a healthy 8 lbs. 10 oz; 20 in. long) and she is beautiful and alert.

This picture was taken when she was less than 48 hours old.There is something about newborns that is utterly fascinating. They seem to peer right into your heart. And then they look right past you as if they SEE someone beyond you and my guess is that they do!! I'm sure it is because they are so fresh from their Heavenly Father. If they could speak to us in words, can you even imagine what they might have to say?

One of my favorite songs is a sweet little ballad by Barbra Streisand called, "Jenny Rebecca." I don't know if anyone else is familiar with it (she sang it over 40 years ago) but the lyrics are so tender. I can just picture a pretty little girl doing all the things the song speaks of... just for fun, I thought I would share it with you here. I'm sorry that I don't know who wrote it (I looked online but couldn't find it ~ feel free to enlighten me):

Jenny Rebecca, four days old
How do you like the world so far?
Jenny Rebecca, four days old
What a lucky, lucky, lucky
Lucky girl you are
For you have swings to be swung on
Trees to be climbed up
Days to be young on
Toys you can wind up
Grass to be lying on
Sun up above
Pillows for crying on
When you're in love
Ponies for riding
Wind in your hair
Slides to be sliding on
Leaves in the air
Dogs to be caring for
Love to be giving
Dreams to be daring for
Long as you're living
Yes, you have
Dreams to be daring for
Long as you're living
Jenny Rebecca, four days old
What a lucky, lucky, lucky
Lucky girl you are...

My precious little Sophia Emily, how do you like the world so far?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

“Home” is knowing your way around

I am away from “home” as I write this. I am at my sister’s house in Southern Utah surrounded by red rock and looking over a magnificient view of the valley. I’m very comfortable in my sister’s home. I know where everything is and how she likes things done. I came to help her out for about a week because she just had surgery. I spent 14 hours at the hospital yesterday; first in the waiting area and later in Camille’s hospital room.

Being in the hospital brought back many memories of all the days and even weeks I spent at Phoenix Children’s Hospital with BJ during the years of his illness. We never left him alone there for more than the 30 minutes it might take me to shower or go get something to eat. If I needed a longer break, someone would come and spell me. I even slept in his room in a chair that was supposed to turn into a comfortable bed (it wasn’t). I became very familiar with the hospital during those times. I knew the best floor to find a shower room available, the back stairs down to the cafeteria, where the treats were that I was free to go and get for my son, which floor had what kinds of patients and I was well known among the nurses and staff. I often had people bring me veggies that I would steam in the microwave and managed to create delicious and aromatic meals. We had a stack of movies and games and spent hours together, when BJ was up to it. Other times I would read. BJ’s engaging personality had a stream of visitors and staff members in his room most of the time. Being there for extended periods strangely evolved into a feeling of “family.” It even became our “home away from home.” I knew my way around the hospital only too well.

Other places over the years have been our “home away from home.” When our children were young we used to go camping at a family reunion for nearly a week each summer. The tents were set up, cooking and eating places created and sleeping bags were unrolled. I even went so far as to create an enclosed stall out of PVC pipes and shower curtains for our porta-potty. We had it down to a routine. We knew how it worked and nestled into our temporary “home.”

A delightful “home” was created in a small cabin on a cruise ship when Jim and I discovered the Mexican Rivera for eight days. Our belongings were unpacked, meal schedules memorized and it wasn’t long before we had a routine going. For eight glorious days we knew our way around that ship; it was ‘home.”

Visiting family, traveling, even being diplaced for unexpected emergencies, it is human nature to nest, to figure out how things work wherever we are and to settle in. This is why I titled my blog, “Home is knowing your way around.” Once we are close enough to a situation or a location to know our way around, we become more at ease and start to “feel at home.” There is much truth in the familiar sayings, “Home is where the heart is,” or “Home is where you hang your hat.” I think any place where we feel welcomed, comfortable and can learn our way around begins to feel like “home.”

This brings me to my final thought: I hope and pray that when the time comes that I really go home, to that Father who created me, that somehow I will have done enough. My motives are pure, but there is so much that I never seem to get to … I only hope that whatever I have managed to accomplish, it will be sufficient to have the Savior, in His mercy, take me in His open arms and say, “Welcome Home.” And I pray also, that I will know my way around well enough to know that I have finally come home.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Gift of Time

Today is my only sister’s birthday. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, CAMILLE!! It is also my grandson’s birthday. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ELIAS!! They are decades apart but it has made me think about how birthdays come and birthdays go. What have we done with all the days in between our own birthdays?

Sunday is the birthday of one of my dear friends (Margaret) but they are going out of town this weekend. So today, one of Margaret’s daughters has set up a schedule of birthday visits unbeknownst to her. Brittany privately emailed all of her mom’s friends who live in the area and asked them to sign up for 30 minute blocks throughout the entire day to stop by and visit Margaret to celebrate her birthday. I’m curious to find out how Brittany made plans to keep her mom home as Margaret works outside of the home. (I’m guessing she made some sort of prearrangement with her mom’s boss) and the friends start coming first thing in the morning so Margaret will be up and ready for the day but she’s never going to make it to work. :)

Margaret and I are both busy moms and grandmas. We seldom find time to just visit anymore. Usually, a quick exchange at church and an occasional phone call have to suffice. However, when one or the other of us is really needed, we are there. When BJ had leukemia, Margaret made sure to stop by as often as she could and when he passed away, she was there helping non-stop, giving comfort, cleaning, even taking cherished pictures the day of the funeral. When her 2-year-old grandson died unexpectedly, we went right over to her house to be with them and offer comfort. We have also been to temple weddings of each others’ children, been over to hear mission calls read and attended Eagle Courts of Honor. We are the kind of friends who know we love each other even when we never seem to be able to get together during a normal week or even month (or two or three).

Today, I am going to have 30 minutes of my friend’s undivided attention. We can catch up on each other’s lives, share memories, tell funny grandchildren stories, laugh, hug, cry… whatever. I have decided that what Brittany has given her mother is the gift of time. Could there possibly be a better gift? And one that can be shared with so many?

I recall reading a book by Linda Eyre when I was a young mom and one year her husband gave her “Wednesdays for a year” for her birthday. He was able to arrange his schedule to be home on Wednesdays and he took full charge of the children and the house all day Wednesday. She was free to write, soak in the tub, leave the house and go visiting, to the movies, to the library, to the temple, whatever her heart desired. It was a remarkable, restorative gift.

I’m thinking Heavenly Father has also given us the gift of time. When we left his presence in the pre-existence, we were given an allotted amount of time to fulfill our earthly mission. We don’t always know exactly what that mission is (as I am sure we have many “missions” and they grow and change as our life and our service does the same) and we certainly don’t know how much time He has given us, but it is a splendid gift. Sadly, I have too many regrets on how I have squandered my time on unimportant things, usually justifying it as needed “downtime.” And we do all need some downtime, but after having recently taken Stephen R. Covey’s course on “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” I’ve been reflecting on how I use my time more than usual. I see the need for some course corrections, to be sure. I also try not to be too hard on myself as that can be counterproductive. However, the simplest change here and there, over time, can achieve the grandest results. We are taught “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, and there a little, giving us consolation by holding forth that which is to come, confirming our hope!”

My hope for myself and all those reading this is that we can make even a few productive changes that will allow us to make better use of and thus have far better results with that most precious gift, the gift of time.

Friday, June 12, 2009

I Want to Dance with a Boy!!

I've been meaning to write this up for some time... I finally did and I think you will enjoy it:

Our precious and precocious granddaughter, Taylor (Kaci’s daughter), is a constant source of many funny and delightful experiences and comments. At the tender age of 3 (she turned 4 in April) she attended her first “Ball”… it was the “Colonial Ball” held at my school in February of this year. She even wore her “princess dress.”

On the way to the dance, Taylor made it very clear to us that it was her wish to “dance with a boy.” We told her she could dance with grandpa but no, she wanted to “dance with a boy.” Her mind was made up.

Taylor’s eyes lit up with excitement as we entered the school’s multipurpose room that had been transformed for the night. She was impatient about getting her dance so I found a very fine young man, about 14 years old (we are a K-12 campus) and asked him if he would dance with my granddaughter. He was so sweet. He smiled, squatted down to her level, spoke to her for a moment, took her hand and escorted her to the dance floor. Holding both of her hands, they swayed back and forth in some fashion of a two step and then he turned her around a couple of times. Before the song was over, she walked away and came over to where Jim and I were sitting, “Grandma, I need a smaller boy.”

I found one of my students, a very handsome 7-year-old named William. I introduced him to Taylor, informing him that this was my granddaughter and she wanted to dance. He said, “Ok,” and they were off to the dance floor. Taylor smiled from ear to ear as she danced with her “prince.”

She made many friends that night and had a marvelous time. When the Hokey Pokey began, she watched from the sidelines with us. It looked like too much fun to just stand there so she simply joined the others, squeezed into an available spot and began to copy the actions of the other dancers.

Taylor may be young, but she is fearless, determined, bright and she intends to get what she’s after. She knew exactly what she wanted before she ever entered the dance. When what I offered her was not what she wanted, she clearly made it known what she needed, “a smaller boy.” She’s no wall-flower and I pray her attitude never changes. 

There is much we can all learn from Taylor: Know what you want and have a clear mission statement about it: “I want to dance with a boy.” Don’t quit until you get what you want, even if it means making adjustments (“a smaller boy”). Don’t stand on the sidelines of life, walk right over to where the action is … and dance!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Power of Showing Up

My husband, Jim, and I are a couple of “show-uppers.” We show up to just about everything and anything we are invited to, are expected to be to and even lots of places where no one thought we would be there. Life happens, of course. Sometimes we are double-booked, out of town, ill or a few times, just plain forget. Nevertheless, generally speaking, we show up. So do a lot of other people. I can’t help but notice a pattern, however. It seems in any given circle, it is pretty much the same people that show up.

The same teachers show up at afterschool events or meetings, the same people show up at ward temple day, welfare assignments, service projects, Eagle projects and Courts of Honor, convert baptisms and wedding receptions, particularly those that are really too far away (but the “show-uppers” will come anyway). They show up at kids’ performances (often when they are not even related), graduation parties, baby and bridal showers and more.

We are also “stay late and help clean-uppers.” Oh yeah, I married into a large bunch of stay late and help out folks. If we are at a wedding reception of someone we don’t even know that well and we happen to get there as it is ending, I can guarantee that the Abneys are not going home until the last table has been stripped of its cloth and decorations, the last chair has been stacked and the floor swept, if not mopped.

Am I bragging? No… just making an observation. It takes a big chunk out of your life to be a “show-upper.” Yet, I know from experience, that when we have an event, a talk to give or any other number of things that may involve others and we look out to see “so-and-so” and we KNEW they would be there… because they always “show up” and we knew we could count on them, there is something so sweet that washes over us. Everyone has fun, gets the work done, cheers the drama student or band member, finishes the Eagle project, does the temple work, supports the new church member, the new grad, the new bride or the new mom or whatever the event may be. Everyone is also enriched, either for having given or received. Everyone becomes closer, bonds of family and friends are strengthened. In this there is real, tangible power… something that adds to your own framework and rounds out the empty spots, fills in the gaps, brings out the smiles and creates value, love and blessings. Yep, I have a lot of gratitude for those who “show-up” and I’m proud to be counted among them because the blessings are a two-way street. It’s impossible to bless the lives of someone else without blessing your own life. You just have to “show-up.”

Thursday, May 14, 2009

I laid down on a bed of nails

I guess you really can do anything... given the right reasons and/or the right circumstances. (I'll explain this more as we go along). I'm so tired that I think I'll be asleep for the night by 7:30 tonight. Slowly, we are making our way to the end of the school year and at my school we still have 10 actual days of school left (we come back after Memorial Day). What a journey this first year of teaching full-time has been, particularly at my age (58).

I've loved all the years of substitute teaching and now I have really enjoyed this year as well. I think I was truly supposed to be the teacher for some of these kids. I hope I have been able to give to them what they were in need of, as they certainly have given to me. Case in point: every morning I read to the children about someone remarkable and we talk about them and the traits that made that person so amazing so they can learn to model them. The last two days we have been reading about Albert Schweitzer. Anyway, when I finish reading, we discuss it a bit and write some traits and ideas on the board and the kids settle down to write a journal entry about it and then illustrate it. It's amazing what young children can come up with. So, this morning I was at my desk when all of a sudden one of my little 7 year old boys quietly gets out of his seat, walks up to my desk, stands right next to me, leans his head on my shoulder until our heads are touching and gives me a little squeeze and then slips back into his seat without saying a word. Yep, that's why I teach.

I've tried to make every day memorable for them. Tuesday was National Limerick Day so we learned about them and tried our hand at writing a couple of them. Yesterday we went to the Science Center and the Planetarium. Today is (in case you were wondering, and why wouldn't you be????) National Dance Like a Chicken Day, so we had a reading comprehension on dancing like a chicken and then I put on a CD with the music and the whole class did the Chicken Dance. Sat. is the anniversary of the day that Root Beer was invented so tomorrow we are having root beer floats. And so it goes, there is always something to celebrate ~ I see to it. I live my own life trying to celebrate each day. Some days I'm more successful than others.

Back to the bed of nails... if you didn't read the title, bet I caught you by surprise!! At the Science Center yesterday, there was a "bed of nails" ~ 1,000 of them to be exact, all sharp, but all PERFECTLY lined up. The theory is that if you have all these nails to support and distribute your weight, it doesn't hurt. This is true. I have PLENTY of weight to support and I laid down on it twice and it didn't hurt. Every nail was exactly where it was supposed to be; none of them were trying to be in the limelight and stick up higher or be all insecure and be lower than they should be. Each nail did its part. I found it interesting. Lots of analogies there... every member of a family, a ward, a class, etc. etc. fulfilling their part and being there to support each other. Pretty cool. So, if you've read this far, I guess you deserve proof. So, here it is:
(you gotta' love that stupid sign that says "300 pound weight limit" right under me ~ but I didn't need to worry ~ I'm not there yet!!!!!!!!!

Kind of makes me want to head off to bed now. Nighty night!! Enjoy!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Woo … woo … woo … woo … (to the tune of "The Twilight Zone"

You are OUT THERE... more than you think!!!!!

My writer friends and I frequently talk about the need to create an "online presense." I'm guessing that IF YOU ARE READING THIS, you are already present… more than you know.

Have you ever “Googled” your own name? You should. You might be surprised. You are "out there" more than you realize. Perhaps, even, more than you want to be. I have a charming friend, Mary, who is fond of posting photos online… so when I googled my name and THEN CLICKED ON "IMAGES" rather than just search, you can imagine I wasn’t overly thrilled to find a picture of myself at a recent baby shower we attended (for Deirdra Coppel) "sniffing" poopy baby diapers ~ it wasn’t real poop, of course; just blended chocolate in a baby diaper and we were supposed to identify which candy bar it came from. (Just kidding, Mary ~ it's totally fine that you posted it).

I found myself listed in lots of places, even my own blog, and also blogs I have commented on. I also tried "Googling" various writer friends: Marsha Ward, Kerry Blair and Janette Rallison, among others, using the "IMAGES" button each time. It’s pretty fun. You have to wade through people who are not even closely related as well. But you are in there… I mean, OUT there. You should try it. Be sure to try clicking on "IMAGES" as well as just doing a search. You can also try putting in the names of your ancestors and clicking in "IMAGES" ~ you might link up to something useful.

Now, if you happen to share a famous name, like my friend, Cindy Williams, you can pretty much guess that every image will be of Cindy Williams, the TV star. So, I added Arizona to the end of Cindy’s name and that’s when I got a picture of her. However, I couldn't help but wonder when it was that she got into body building? You should SEE the body builder who shares her name!!! YIKES!!

I put in my kids’ names, etc. and lots of images came up, especially with all the blogging everyone does these days. So, it’s great to be visible, but it bears a warning of some caution. Be careful what (and who) you post about and how many personal details you include; because once you hit the SEND button… it’s pretty much a done deal. And well… cyberspace has no secrets.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Kids Wall Art ~ TOO FUN!!! A MUST SEE!!

Art can capture a moment, a feeling, a delight or a help you hold onto a memory.
Our daughter-in-law is such a remarkable artist!!

I just wanted to give all of my very savvy friends a head’s up. Matt’s wife, Amy Abney, is a fabulous artist. If you have never seen the lifelike rendition she painted for us of BJ you need to come over and see it if you are in town. You would swear he is looking right into your eyes.
Amy can basically paint anything, but her first love is children’s art and she now has a website up and running. If you are looking for whimsical, visually stimulating artwork for your kids’ rooms, I have the solution!! Even if you aren’t in the market for anything right now you should take a look because you will ENJOY looking and you never know when someone might say they are looking for something like that and then you can come to their rescue and tell them where to go (in a nice way, of course)… send them to the site:

Be sure to click on the different links and scroll down to see samples of what she paints. I’m rather partial to her alien line. Cute, cute, cute. Enjoy!! Love to all!!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Communication at the Speed of Light

We are busy people… probably TOO busy. Yet, I haven’t a clue what I could possibly leave out since there are so many things that I feel like I should do, that I seldom find time to do. So, whenever we have lessons at chruch on gratitude and people raise their hands with all of the obvious answers of being grateful for love, family, gospel, prophets, temples, freedom, and so on, I say a hardy, “Amen.” And then I raise my hand and tell everyone that I am grateful modern electronic technology. That’s the absolute truth. I do it every time. I LOVE email, blogs, cell phones, voicemail, online photo albums, FACEBOOK, and the like. I’ve even learned how to text.

The thing that I love best about all of the above is that I can use them completely on my own terms and my own timetable. I read my email (and reply) when it suits me. The same applies for voicemail or checking out my FACEBOOK pages. And while I was sleeping, or teaching or traveling or whatever… someone left me a message or a link or some information that I need or want and when I get to where and/or when I want to look at it or listen to it, I am free to do so, even if it is in the middle of the night!

When our son, BJ, was so ill with leukemia, there were well over a hundred people who wanted to know how he was doing. Blogs did not yet exist as that would have been the best, I think. But I used email to stay in touch with everyone, even people in my own family, neighborhood and ward. It made it so that I did not have to repeat all the details over and over (which I could have never endured) and everyone knew what was happening, how they could help, what prayers were needed, etc. The support that poured in and enveloped us like a comfortable quilt carried us through the most difficult days of our lives. I wrote everything out once (which became my only journal of those times) and I clicked on all of the addresses and “poof” people all over the country (and even a couple out of the country) were thinking of us and our sweet BJ. I cannot tell you how much their reply emails helped us on several different levels.

From I reconnected with a few of my dearest friends in high school… and thirty years after our glory days, we met up in Hawaii for eight days of heaven on earth. We all remain in touch today and wish for matching schedules that would allow us to go to Hawaii again!

I’ve hooked up with former classmates, ward members and friends from the past through FACEBOOK and find it useful in keeping up with all of them (including family members). I also think part of the spirit of Elijah is being fulfilled as connection after connection occurs all over the world.
~ "Malachi 4: 5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD; 6 And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers..." It’s a wonderful thing.

So, yes, I’m grateful for electronic technology. However, it can’t take the place of the personal touch. Just yesterday I went visiting teaching and gave my sister a card that read on the cover, “In this fast-paced, busy world, when you need friend, just pick up the phone and call me…”

Inside it said: “And leave a message after the beep.”

Saturday, March 14, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: A Mighty Heart by Mariane Pearl

I finished A Mighty Heart: The Brave Life And Death Of My Husband, Danny Pearl
by Mariane Pearl the other day. In some ways it reminds me of Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. Both take place mostly in Pakistan and both are so powerful that you reflect on them for days and even weeks to come. Both have some rough language but it was nearly transparent to me as the heart-wrenching frustrations in each story resulting in such words were so overwhelming that I hardly noticed the harsh and sometimes foul words, normally foreign to me. (And in both cases, I listened to the book on CD driving to and from work over the course of a couple of weeks. I still consider them books that I "read").

I remember when this occurred as the world held it's breath for five long weeks, sending up prayers in many languages for Danny's safe return. He was a reporter and the South Asia Bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal. Danny put himself in harm's way to shed some light to the side of the news that might bring about world understanding. Instead, in this instance, it brought a type of horror that proved to be both universal and yet painfully personal for his wife, Mariane, who was pregnant with their first child, a son.

On January 23, 2002, on his way to what he thought was an interview at a village restaurant in Karachi, Pearl was kidnapped by the militant group, "The National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty." This group claimed Danny (of Jewish heritage and an American) was a CIA agent. Before he left for the interview, he told Mariane that he might be late for dinner. He never returned.

Mariane's riveting account of realizing her husband was missing and working to help the authorities piece it all together, leading up to Danny's eventual and brutal murder will leave you forever changed. Mariane is also an award-winning journalist and shares a very detailed step-by-step account of what took place. Surprisingly, interwoven throughout every page of the book, is a love story so intimate, intense and tender that you'll find often yourself smiling and feeling very privileged to "know" these remarkable people, including those surrounding Mariane during this difficult time ... each with their own "mighty heart."

The book on CD is read by Mariane. You really need to concentrate to understand her as she was born of an Afro-Chinese-Cuban mother and Dutch-Jewish father in France. She is a practicing Buddist. Mariane was raised in Paris and has a very unique accent. It's a good thing that you have to listen so carefully as you want to catch every detail and no one else would ever be able to tell the story as she does. It's a story I shall not soon forget. It makes you grateful and also sad but leaves you in awe of the courage of so many of our brothers and sisters half-way around the world, especially Mariane, whose heart is every bit as mighty as her husband's.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Missionary Puzzle

Saturday night I spoke in the adult session of Stake Conference. If you already heard me speak this might not interest you or then again, maybe it might because I included a couple things I MEANT to say but since I didn't look at my paper that much, I forgot and wish I hadn't but I can't "go there" ~ just need to feel that how I said it was what was needed overall). I had ten minutes and used it all up. IF I wasn't so busy (ANWA writers conference all that day, etc.) AND IF I wasn't such a procrastinator and had actually practiced it a time or two before stake conference, I would have been able to actually give it the way I wanted but whatever... I'd love your feedback anyway.

So, here’s a VERY condensed version of my talk:

I teach 2nd grade and my students love to do puzzles. It’s more fun to do them with someone and as each person places their piece in the correct spot and a picture unfolds, it can be very gratifying.

When I was told the topic was “Missionary Work” because they had heard great things about me, I was quite surprised and wondered if I had ever really been very successful as a missionary. Then the Lord showed me my kids doing puzzles and that I’m a piece of the puzzle. Just like the kids, you might not see the results with those early pieces… but as each one adds their piece to the table it’s easy to see that more than one person has a piece to offer. And even more importantly, sometimes it’s almost impossible to fit a particular piece in until some of the surrounding pieces are in place.

Missionary work is a puzzle. [I then went on to tell about Sun Wei’s visit from China and taking her to church, the visitor’s center, home teaching, and how she used her pocket translator to read the Ensign, etc.]. As part of her “American Experience” I was allowed to “expose” her to our religion, and so I “exposed” her! She didn’t want to leave. She wanted to stay with us and enjoy “typical American life” because she "liked it very much." I think it was the spirit that she was feeling.

[I also told about experiences I had when I was a “Stake Missionary” WAY BACK WHEN. I had a sister companion in the ward. Our calling was to the less active sisters ~ there were 11 of them in our ward and they became our visiting teaching beat – YES, 11 sisters].

As we got to know these sisters I came to realize that they were the hidden treasures of the ward. They were wonderful and talented women. We began to lay down our puzzle pieces.

One sister loved old Westerns so out of the blue I suggested a slumber party. The three of us spent the night at her house, stayed up watching old Westerns, eating junk food and had a wonderful time. We kidnapped her for breakfast on her birthday, gave her a “year supply” box for a gift. (Turned out to be 12 bags of black jelly beans, her favorite, each bag labeled by month). She got a kick out of that.

We “heart-attacked” the front yard of another sister on her birthday and hid in the bushes to see her surprise until the automatic sprinklers turned on! So much fun!!

[I spoke of other experiences with other women and some neighbors - too detailed to share here].

Little by little, as we added our puzzle pieces and got to know these sisters it became easier to see where another piece might fit. And for many of these sisters we may never know if their puzzle is yet complete. But the important thing is that we put our piece on the table.

It’s sad when wards divide and you think you will have the same amount of contact with the ward members as before (especially when no one even moved) but more often than not we get busy with our new ward and new callings and except for a quick hello at stake functions, don’t see each other very much.

But today, I see one of those sisters as our ward leaves the building and hers enters. Was I the reason she chose to return to church activity? No, but I was a piece of the puzzle. Many other people added their puzzle pieces over the years.

Another sister whose teenage son we taught told us firmly this was his passion and she would not be participating, so we just became friends instead. Later her younger son also joined and both served missions, adding their puzzle pieces. She is now a baptized member with a temple recommend. She was surrounded by wonderful neighbors who also added their puzzle pieces long after the ward divided.

One day we had a knock on the door. “Hi. I’m Jesse. Do you remember me? I used to live across the street. I’m 23 now and have moved back to AZ. I always remembered your family and how it felt to be in your home and I joined the church a year ago.”

And so the puzzles go… In closing, I’d like to suggest some puzzle pieces that you don’t want to overlook: Have fun; make friends; follow the spirit and sometimes, you have to try another way to fit the piece into the puzzle. Just don’t be the piece that’s missing! Bring your piece to the table of missionary work and see a beautiful life come together… now… or sometime in the future.

I put down my puzzle pieces and forever changed and enriched my life. Got a puzzle piece? Wanna’ play?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Lemon Tart Book Contest

Hey, if you have never read any books by Josi Kilpack, you are missing out!! Anne Bradshaw is holding a contest for Josi's newest release, Lemon Tart, on her blog, "Not Entirely British." If you hurry, you can be in the contest too. But if you miss the deadline, go buy the book!! You won't be disappointed.

Josi is charming and a delightful person. She writes extremely well. I still think about her book, Sheep's Clothing, which I read nearly two years ago. When a book has that kind of impact, you know the author is exceptional.

So, Lemon Tart is the first book in Josi’s new Sadie Hoffmiller culinary mystery series. It is a murder mystery, featuring a cooking afectionado-turned-amateur detective, Sadie. I can't wait to read it.

Don't you just LOVE the cover????

Follow this link to Anne's website for the details:
~ yeah, I'm sure there is some cool way to make this link super short, but I don't know how
to do it inside of a blog post. I can do it on the sides of my blog, but not in the blog itself.
I only know enough of this stuff to be dangerous. But I think you should check it out!!!


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

So much fun... and then she was gone!! (Sun, Wei)

I've been meaning to write a follow up to Sun Wei's visit but have been so busy. But having her here was such fun. After staying here for ten days, Sun Wei and her students went on to L.A., Boston, and N.Y. and then returned to China. She said she didn't even want to visit those cities and would rather stay with us and enjoy "typical American Life" as she "liked it very much."

Before she left, she attended all 3 hours of church with us and we took her to the visitor's center where she saw the Christus and the words were in Chinese for her and I called ahead and reserved a theater where they showed "The Restoration" in Chinese with (English subtitles). Afterwards I gave her a Chinese Book of Mormon.

She was familiar with the Christian religion as her grandmother reads the Bible and has told her stories from it. As far as the LDS church goes, probably not much will happen now that she's back in her country but at least I exposed her to the gospel. And from her comments throughout the time she spent with us there is no doubt she felt the spirit. Sun Wei is so adorable (27 years old). She and all of her students are only children and she loved all the family things we did. I think the reason she wanted to stay was because she felt the spirit in our home.

Over half of the students who came with her were also placed in LDS homes. It was great experience. A few weeks ago we had the missionaries over for dinner. I told them all about Sun Wei (whom they had met while she was here as they frequent our house). Then Jim said he told about all I had done in his High Council meeting the night before because they were discussing missionary work. One of the high councilmen, who used to be our bishop, said, "When I was a bishop, Stephanie Abney was the best missionary we ever had." I look at my life now and wonder where that woman went. Guess I need to work on that!!!

I'm grateful that the Lord knows what different experiences we need and that the world is not really so big after all. When all is said and done, we are all His children and there is only room for love, understanding and respect.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Culture Charm

Some of you may know that we have been hosting a teacher from China in our home this week. She teaches at a high school in Beijing. Her name is Sun, Wei and she is 27 years old, about the age of our daugher, Kaci.

We really had no idea what to expect. She and nine of her students are here for 10 days visiting our school, Eagle’s Aerie, in Gilbert, AZ, a K-12 Charter School. Each of the students is being hosted by a family from the school except for one who is staying with friends of a family from the school. They are all extremely polite and sweet, eager to participate in typical American high school life.

It has been so delightful to have Sun, Wei stay here with us. She is very charming and her English is extremely good. We have not had any trouble communicating. A few times we each had to try a few other ways to explain something but in the end we understood each other. She teaches Chinese. At first I thought that was odd and then I instantly remembered all the English classes I have taken in high school and college and it made perfect sense.

Sun, Wei chose an American name to go by, Karen, but I enjoy using her Chinese name. She arrived Sunday night, visited briefly with us and being very tired from her journey, went to bed early. She has been riding to and from school with me and spends her day either with her students or visiting other classes and answering numerous questions from our students. Since Monday was a holiday, a field trip to the Science Museum and the Diamondback Stadium was planned for the Chinese students. I picked her up afterwards and she attended her first “family picnic” at the park. Some of our family members got together for fun and ham sandwiches and all that goes with it. Sun, Wei got sandwiched out that day as she also ate her first peanut butter and jelly sandwich that I packed for her field trip and then ham sandwiches at the picnic. She and all of her students are “only” children, as is the current custom of China because the government is concerned about their large population. She seems to enjoy seeing photos of and hearing about our large family.

We have had lots of laughs while she has been here. Yesterday was the “All-School Hike” up South Mountain at Fat Man’s Pass. We also went to a “Teacher’s Party” at our local Barnes and Noble yesterday after school. I won 3 prizes, including a globe of the world, by being the first to answer questions about children’s literature. Sun, Wei won one of the free raffle prizes and when we got home, she told Jim, “I didn’t have to answer any questions for my prize. I’m lucky.” Afterwards we went to Ocean Blue and tasted almost every flavor of frozen yogurt they offer. She had never tasted any before. She graciously treated me to a cup of yogurt once we decided on our favorites.

Tuesday night we stopped at “Moki’s Hawaiian Grill” for dinner and she seemed to like the food and last night we picked up take-out at “Panda’s Express”. She laughed when she told me how one of our students asked one of her students if they ate at “Panda’s.” The Chinese student misunderstood the question to be: “Do you eat Pandas?” He answered, rather alarmed, “No! We do not eat Pandas. They are protected.”

Tonight I will fix a typical American meal and she will have several more opportunities to eat what we eat while she is here and she will also cook for us one night. There are several things I have thought would be fun to do with her here but she is still struggling with jet lag and we were told not to do things that were very different from our normal routine so they can experience life in America.

Last night when we got home, Jim was already home and the door was locked. She went to open the door, found it locked and looked a little surprised at me so I couldn’t resist and as I unlocked the door, I said, “Jim is scared.” She got my joke and laughed. In fact, we have made several jokes together and have understood them well. After dinner we watched “American Idol.” Sun, Wei was familiar with it and enjoyed watching it with us. She has been very respectful of us, our home, our belongings and has been the perfect guest. She has bowed her head with us when we have prayed over our food. The first time I prayed over a meal, she looked at me and said, “You are thankful.”

Tonight we will attend a benefit concert at our school, put on by staff and students but the star of the concert is Mr. Gary Gjersted, one of our music teachers, who is also blind. When I asked her if she noticed one of our teachers was blind, she said she had. I went on to say that he plays the piano beautifully to which she responded thoughtfully, “Oh, yes, God is fair. He takes his sight but gives him the piano.”

We have found, which I think is always the case with people meeting for the first time (no matter where they are from), that we are more alike than we are different. I thought of several things to call this blog entry from “Culture Shock” to “Cultures Collide” but none of those would have been accurate. Yes, I think “Culture Charm” is the best title. I know she has enjoyed her stay thus far; she is always taking pictures and we have enjoyed her. We have become good friends and how charming is that? Very!!