Bethany wrote a song, guys! To accompany Book 5—”Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti.” Come listen and wear a sweater (because it gave me chills)

I hardly know how to write this post because nothing like this has happened before. I’m on the floor (because I was floored, literally) to receive an email from Bethany Cousins, a reader who’s become a friend (a side benefit I never realized that comes with writing: new friends!). She, with her husband (i.e. NuminousBand), wrote a beautiful song to go with Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti: “I Found My Life.”

I’m floored (and this floor needs mopping, but I can’t focus on that right now) because this song is so amazing: the melody, the key shifts, the words all so perfectly fit the book. I pictured Mahrree singing it, and I sobbed. Seriously, I sobbed. Listen to it, right here: (lyrics are below)

“I Found My Life”

V1
Darkness covered our steps
The woods were calling us deep into the night
What once meant danger has now turned
Into the safest place to hide

PC1
The impossible came to be before my weary eyes

C
When I found my life
Over the mountains, beyond the trees
My heart found a home
When I stepped out into the valley

V2
I cannot begin to count the years
That I have searched for something more
A life spent fighting for the truth
And now I’m hiding from the world

PC2
But I’m already forgetting what I left behind

C
When I found my life
Over the mountains, beyond the trees
My heart found a home
When I stepped out into the valley

B
Here is peace, here is mercy
Long-awaited happy ending
Promises of something better
This is what it feels like to come home

How could I ever wish for
Anything more than this
It’s everything the Creator intended
This is what it feels like to know
We are a family
We always have been

C
I found my life
Over the mountains, beyond the trees
My heart found a home
When I stepped out into the valley

Like Versa Thorne (books 6 and 7), I believe in “never letting them see my tears.” But I couldn’t hide them when I listened to this song.

I’m also floored (thank goodness my son just swept it) because I feel like I just became part of something actually magical. Someone was actually inspired by something I wrote, and they created a song for it?! An original melody is a precious gift—an exceedingly rare commodity–and for me, an impossibility. I can never come up with something original, so I’m always astonished when someone else can.

So to have the Cousins take this unique and beautiful melody, and apply it toward something I wrote, to so succinctly condense five massive books into one pure song . . . that’s gotta qualify as magic, doesn’t it?

(I also stink at poetry, as my students will testify to, so to see this story turned to poetry is another piece of magic.)

I’m so honored, and so tickled, and so needing to mop this floor, if ever I can pull myself off of it again.

Thanks, Bethany (and hubby), for “I Found My Life.” Amazing.

(And if this series is ever made into movies, I’ll insist this song gets played in the credits.)

Why there will be different answers to these questions, and why that’s ok

Each of my writing classes was subjected to the following experiment.

I’d divide the students into three groups, have all of them close their eyes, then, one group at a time, they’d open their eyes to read three words on the board.

The first group would read this:

chalkboard-fruit

After they closed their eyes, I’d erase those words and write the next three for the second group:

chalkboard-string

After they closed their eyes, the third group would open theirs to find I’d written this:

chalkboard-pain

I’d erase those words, then write the following:

chalkboard-r-pe

Once the all the students opened their eyes again, I’d ask them, group by group, what the missing letter should be to complete the word.

The first group would quickly supply, “It’s an i. The word should be ripe.”

This is when the third group would begin to squirm, feeling like they’ve missed something.

The second group would frown a little, but they weren’t too concerned as they said, “No, the letter should be o. The word is rope.

While the RIPE group would be a little surprised, their response was nothing compared to the discomfort of the third group.

Apologetically, I’d turn to them next. Always there was hesitation, until someone would offer, “The word should be rape.”

The first two groups would stare at them in shock.

“Sorry,” I’d say to the third group, “but you proved this point: all of us see the world in different ways, based upon what you’ve been exposed to. As writers—as people—we frequently don’t understand why one seemingly obvious situation presents itself in a completely different way to others. We assume our interpretation is always the clearest, but depending upon our experiences, there may be many different ‘correct’ interpretations. And, as you can also see, our responses to a benign situation are deeply affected by what’s going on in our heads.”

If my students remembered nothing else from my classes, I’m fairly certain they remembered this example.

And it’s probably the most important lesson.

What we’re exposed to creates our interpretation of the world.

How we’ve been raised, what we watch, what we fantasize about, what we believe all taints—for good, or for bad, or for indifferent—how we interpret the world around us.

Repeatedly our society screams about what’s right and wrong, just and unfair, malignant and benign.

And here’s the crazy part: everyone is right . . . in their own minds. According to their experiences, they are interpreting the world as they think it really is.

Paul discovered 2,000 years ago, that “For now we see through a glass, darkly.” Not only are our perceptions warped by glass, but it’s tinted so that what we see isn’t even cast in the correct light.

I’ve never met anyone who actively promotes ideas or beliefs that they felt are inherently wrong.

Everyone thinks they’re seeing things as they really are, pushing for what they believe is the best thing.

Everyone.

There’s no solution to this. And there doesn’t have to be. There’s no correcting those who see “rope” when you know it should be “ripe.” There’s no changing someone’s mind by telling (or shouting at) them they’re wrong. That’s never worked.

Never.

There is, however, recognizing that everyone interprets the same situation differently.

Each one of my classes did the same thing at the end of this experiment: they turned to their peers in the other groups and asked, “Why did you see that word as rope when I thought it should be rape?” In less than a minute, everyone’s answers made sense.

No one argued that someone offered the wrong solution. Everyone agreed that, based upon their exposure before, each person’s response was correct.

If you don’t understand why someone thinks the way they do, try asking. I don’t believe you have a right to argue against someone’s point of view until you fully understand it. (And when you do, you may not want to argue at all.)

Two things I’ve taken away from this experiment:

  1. People don’t HAVE to agree. I’d split up friends for the groups, and they’d be surprised to hear each other’s differing responses, but they’d still remain friends. They didn’t argue, or belittle, or shun, or mock, or condemn. They’d take a few minutes to understand each other, then they’d just let the differences be.
  2. People can choose to change their minds. The attitudes which most impressed me were those of students who said, “I don’t like the way I was thinking about those letters. I now want to see the word as RIPE instead of RAPE.” And they would. No one forced them to change their minds, but they listened, open-minded and open-hearted, to why others interpreted the letters differently, and they chose themselves to accept that new way of thinking.

So can we all.

       Perrin turned to his wife. “That’s why I married you, isn’t it? You always see the sides I can’t.”
       Mahrree reached across the table to squeeze his hand. “And you always see the sides I don’t notice. Works pretty well that way, doesn’t it?
~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti

3 ways in which parents are like God (and 3 ways we aren’t–yet)

I’ve always known that parenthood is how God teaches us to be like Him, but now that I’ve been at it for 25 years, I feel like I’m finally understanding some of those aspects. For example:

1) God WANTS to hear from us. Wherever, whenever. I know this, because currently our family is spread over the country. Five of my nine children are at home, one’s serving an LDS mission, and three are away at college. My husband also works out of state, so connecting with everyone doesn’t always happen. But on some Mondays (the day my missionary son can email home) I find that I’ve chatted, emailed, skyped, texted, or messaged everyone in my family. Those are successful days when I feel as if everyone’s still connected.

BUT, how I am not like God is that by the evening, I AM DONE! My kids will tell you that there comes a point when I loudly announce, “I do NOT want to TALK or even SEE any more children! I NEED QUIET TIME!”

Invariably this occurs after these children have already been read and prayed away to bed, and they sneak into my room while I’m trying to work on my computer to annoy me with something irrelevant. After my explosion, and they retreat to their rooms, sure enough, that’s when one of my away-children will  pop up to chat online, or my husband will skype about something.

You should see the look I give my poor husband when he skypes at those moments. “Ah,” he’ll say, “one of those pecked-to-death-by-ducks days. I’ll make this brief—”

Sometimes (ok, often) I lose it.

But God never runs out of patience, or wants time to Himself, because He doesn’t deal with time. (That still boggles my mind.) He’s got all the non-existent time in the world, and there’s never a queue for those waiting on Him.

I know this, because I’ve prayed at all hours of the day and night, and have never heard celestial bellows of, “I Have Had It With These Children—Today, I Am Done!”

Nope, He’s never going to do that.

2) When you truly love God, you just want to be with Him. I know this, because when I have been patient and kind with my kids (something I pray for every single day—“PLEASE help me be patient and kind!”) they actually want to be with me.

This occurred to me on Sunday as my youngest children squished me on the pew at church. My preschooler is getting too heavy to be on my lap, but since he’s the last, I tolerate it even as my legs lose feeling. My nine-year-old tries to lean on me at the same time because she’s too big for my lap, and my thirteen-year-old will lean on the other side because I’m convenient for when he falls asleep five minutes into the service.

And so I sit, squashed and growing numb.

For a naturally claustrophobic person, this has taken a few years to get used to, but I discovered some time ago that if my kids didn’t like me—or even tolerate me—they’d be sitting much further away. On days like that I think, “I may be doing something right.”

Or I’m just convenient, but I’ll take that.

It’s the same with our Heavenly Father. When we truly know Him and understand His nature, we want to be closer to Him. We read the scriptures more, we pray more, we include Him more in our daily mental conversations. We do all we can to feel closer to Him, and He in turn draws closer to us.

We discover He’s an ally, a friend, a confidante, and while sometimes He needs to chasten us because He loves us, His arms are outstretched still, waiting for us to come back into them.

Image result for painting of jesus with man on bench(I love this painting, “Lost and Found,” by Greg Olsen.)

As a mother, I’m not always successful in this. There are times when my children have done something so heinous (i.e. ruined an appliance/electronic device/toilet) that I have to step away in fury, or my child might be permanently wounded; not physically, but emotionally.

016

To be fair, this child had permission to destroy the light fixture . . .

018

. . . only because she wouldn’t let go of the hammer, and I feared for the rest of the house.

There have been moments when I’ve wanted to throw a flood at an “evil” child and wash it far away, but then I remember that God had been warning and pleading with and trying to save His truly evil children before The Flood for 120 years while Noah labored on the ark.

But after 120 seconds, sometimes I’m ready to call down hail-fire and brimstone. (See why I’m always praying to be “patient and kind”?)

3) Heavenly Father wants to be our Father. Before I get into this, allow me backtrack—children need parents. I think this should be obvious, but almost daily I read philosophies that try to downplay the importance of parents, claiming they can be replaced by exceptional schools (I haven’t found any truly exceptional yet), well-structured day-care centers which can care for your child from before breakfast to after dinner, and a socialistic state which “serves” to alleviate the burdens of parenthood, so that adults can do what really matters—work for the betterment of the state.

Parenting, in some socialist theories, is a purely physical function, with those functions ending as soon as the child is delivered.

This isn’t how God sees parenthood. In fact, the title this all-powerful Creator of Heaven and Earth has chosen for himself is Heavenly Father. I’ve referred to Him here frequently as God which, while accurate, I think downplays His role in our lives. “God” is often seen as a distant figure, full of power and anger, ready to trick and punish His subjects in Zeus-like ways. The gods love to mess with us puny mortals.

The problem is, much of the world regards the Supreme Being of the cosmos this way. But that’s not a true image. Rather, it’s one Satan tries to promote in his effort to keeps us as far away from our Father as he can.

Our Father is an all-loving, ever-patient, ever-tender Father—to all of us. No matter our race, religion, political background, or any other potentially divisive measure, He wants to parent us, as a Perfect Parent would: solely concerned about our well-being.

Our Heavenly Father has no other agenda, no other pressing concerns, other than our eternal happiness. There’s nothing He wants more than to bring us home again with our souls intact from this life-long test we told Him we wanted to take.

Think about the best dad you know—maybe yours, maybe a friend’s. (Interestingly, a lot of people’s perceptions of God are based upon their relationships with their own fathers.) What made that dad so great? His every thought was for his kids, wasn’t it?

Just like our Heavenly Father.

But we puny mortals usually aren’t as wholly devoted to parenthood. Certainly not me, unfortunately. Sure, I’m concerned about my kids, put aside my own plans to help them with theirs, and often forsake sleep, food, and sanity to help them when they’re troubled.

But even as I type this morning, I’m interrupted by my daughter getting ready for school, my son splashing in his bath, my other son  failing again to wake up . . . and here I sit typing. (Notice how I said they’re interrupting me—how I come first, instead of them?) I’m not 24-hours-a-day focused on my children.

“Helicopter parenting,” on the other hand, is not God-like parenting, either, because it’s not done out of concern for children, but out of anxiety of what society may think of us as parents.

While wholly attentive, Heavenly Father is not a helicopter parent. He allows us to make mistakes, to skin our knees, even to punch our siblings, because He knows this life is a test, and no one ever learns from a test if they’re not allowed to actually take it. He allows us to fail so that we can begin to improve.

However, I admit there are times I probably should be more attentive than I am, so that the above-mentioned ruined appliances/devices/toilets don’t get ruined.

013

Or so that this, for example, doesn’t happen.

That’s not a problem Heavenly Father faces. A nearly-ruined earth, maybe, but nothing that His Son cannot heal. No, Heavenly Father is far more focused and far more in the details of our lives than we’ll ever understand while in mortality.

Only when we get to the other side and review our existence will we see how often He nudged a situation for us, or diverted a disaster, or steadied us, much like we steady our own children as they learn to ride a bike. Rarely do they know, in their excitement that first time without training wheels, how closely we’re running behind them and straightening their bikes until they can do it themselves.

Likewise, we’ll be surprised to see how often our Heavenly Dad’s hand was touching our lives to make sure we stayed on course.

People occasionally ask me why I have so many kids, and I give my usual, flippant answer of “My husband and I really don’t know. What keeps causing this? Can you explain it to me? Draw diagrams?”

But once another answer came to my mind, when my Heavenly Father was gently nudging me to not be so trivial.

The answer was, So that I can learn to be more like my Heavenly Parents.

Because yes, there is a Heavenly Mother, too, but my theory is that She’s dealing with the children not yet born, or who have already died and gone back, so Heavenly Father is dealing with those of us on “away missions” while She focuses on those “back home.” Even Heavenly Parents have a division of labor.

I also have a lot of children because I’m a very slow learner (no, we figured out how they’re conceived a few years ago—glad we got that cleared up). Each child has taught me a different aspect of how my Heavenly Father wishes me to be, and I’m needing lots of years of practice to start getting close to His vision for me.

But, fortunately, I have Perfect Examples to follow.

Mahrree often felt as if she were looking into the eyes of the Creator Himself as Gleace listened earnestly to Peto’s description of kickball, offered advice to Deck on selecting cattle to start his herd, chuckled at Jaytsy’s explanation of her mother’s first attempt to garden, and laughed at hearing how Perrin became a cat owner. He paid full attention to each of them, as if no one else existed, and what they had to say was the most important thing ever.

Mahrree knew there were some people who envisioned the Creator as a great and terrible Being, full of impatient vengeance for the fallibility of His creations.

But Mahrree had always pictured someone else: a perfect Father who wanted to make sure His children knew they were loved and cared about. ~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti

High Polish Tatra mountains

America’s the land of revolutions; let’s start another one!

There are revolutions happening all around us in America, but we don’t always recognize them. But once we do, we realize we can be part of them.

If we dare.

Most of these revolutions arise from breaking with the status quo of our ancestors. And not just talking about change, but actually being part of it. Too often we spout niceties about being original and different, but in reality we’re terrified to not follow the crowd. Too frequently we want to be in on the latest trend, say the right thing in whatever is deemed politically correct for the day, and to be counted among the winners.

And that last reason—to be among the winners—is why people are afraid to be different.

For example, while so many people are personally opposed to both of the major political candidates running for president, they’ll vote for one of them anyway because that’s how it’s always been.

But that doesn’t have to be. We can begin to change the system, this year.

I know that’s scary talk, and I heard someone comment that this isn’t the time for a revolution, but revolutions are happening all the time. Every day people are rejecting what corporations and governments, and what tradition and the status quo, have been dictating should be.

This has always been the way change begins—not with large organizations or ensconced traditions, but with individuals. Margaret Mead famously said,

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Citizens have always taken it upon themselves to instigate change. Back in 1776 Thomas Paine published “Common Sense,” advocating that the colonies separate themselves from Britain. An individual—not a corporation or organization—gave other citizens the idea to break with the current tradition and be brave enough to begin the Revolutionary War.

Not that all acts by individuals will lead to such dramatic events (and there were certainly many more factors contributing to the war). But people have been going contrary to the prevailing winds for a long time. Eleanor Roosevelt once said,

“Remember always that you not only have the right to be an individual, you have an obligation to be one.”

What this means, as Hugh Nibley has written, is that we need to “Be different. Then you can make a contribution. Otherwise, you just echo something; you’re just a reflection.”

Emil Neufeldt 002

Emil Neufeldt

Many years ago, the Nazi party tried to make my great-grandfather into a reflection. Emil Neufeldt, who lived in the Prussian region of Germany during WWII, was a wealthy inventor and engineer, with great influence in the sugar industry. The Nazis knew someone with his stature and money would be beneficial to their cause, so in the 1930s they sent one of their best to recruit him.

My great-grandfather wanted nothing to do with the Nazis, but knew that openly opposing them could cause him trouble. So he came up with an idea. Known to be able to hold his alcohol, Emil drank the Nazi recruiter under the table. Then he marched to the local Nazi headquarters and demanded they drag their recruiter home. He told them in no uncertain terms they should never dare again try to make him one of their own.

Did Emil Neufeldt stop World War II? No.

Did he stop the Nazis? No.

Did he secure safety for his family and household, and not be bothered by embarrassed and humiliated fascists again? Yes, he did.

He made a difference in his small part of the world, and eighty years later his great-granddaughter proudly remembers his example of not following the dubious safety of authority. (Even though it involved alcohol.)

My mother also told me of a Catholic priest in their area who, in the early years of WWII, preached openly about the atrocities of the Nazis, and publicly questioned where all the Jews were going.

He vanished shortly after, never to be heard from again. Did he change the world then? Stop the Nazis? Discover and reveal what was happening to the disappearing Jews?

No.

He likely met their same fate in some concentration camp. But his bravery is remembered, right here, today. His words and worries and defiance was repeated, many times over by others just as daring, and eventually the war ended and the horrible truth was revealed.

We don’t remember mere reflections. We remember innovators. We remember those who changed the world, for better and for worse.

We remember contrarians. The word coined by Richard and Linda Eyre means”to go against the prevailing wisdom, to contradict what the majority seems to be thinking or doing. [A] ‘contrarian’ . . . describe[s] someone who thinks for himself and who is not swayed by trends or popularity or styles or the direction of the crowd.”

This is happening, all around us. Contrarianism frequently means rejecting foolish traditions of the past.

For example, when I was a teenager in the 1980s rampant consumerism was the tradition. You were openly judged based upon what you wore, what you have, and how big your house was. (Anyone remember Yuppies or “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”?) The era of McMansions was also born, then: gargantuan houses which no one could fill, and later, no one could afford.

But what’s the movement now? Tiny houses. Brilliantly constructed, carefully planned, and usually financially prudent, tiny homes are becoming the answer for many people who can’t afford even to rent.

So who started this trend? A man named Jay Shafer, along with Greg Johnson, Shay Salomon, and Nigel Valdez began the Small House Society back in 2002.  Not a corporation, not an organization, but a “small group of thoughtful, committed citizens” are striving to make housing affordable for everyone.

The government certainly isn’t behind this change. They’re still calling for us to spend, spend, spend in order to improve the economy. Remember a few years back when the feds sent us cash hoping to “stimulate” financial growth? There was no lasting benefits.

In the 1980s and 90s, the tradition to show you have “arrived” was to own a designer handbag. Now, companies like Coach are struggling, along with many department stores and malls, because consumerism was discovered to not be all that it was hyped to be.

The funny thing is, if you’re unhappy, buying stuff won’t fix that. The rising generations, already stuck with debt, logically and contrarily don’t feel like generating more just for a random symbol of status their mothers and grandmothers erroneously thought was so important.

Nowadays, there’s a quiet revolution toward minimalism; people deliberately getting rid of stuff, downsizing their homes, possessions, and priorities. Many websites and books can teach you how to toss all that weighs you down, to organize what you have left, and live a more peaceful, tranquil, simple life.

Again, these are led by individuals who, contrarian-like, have rejected the status quo and have discovered something much more satisfying. And it’s happening all around us.

When I was a child in the 1970s, I first heard about vegetarians, and the idea to avoid eating meat both alarmed and intrigued me. But vegetarians were hippies! Free-loving weirdos and tree huggers! What a non-traditional folk! (And a lot of folks over sixty still regard vegetarians this way, so be warned when you bring it up.) Never mind that there have always been those who have eschewed meat: veganism was only for those on the fringe.

But no longer. While advertisements try to push us toward more meat and protein and dairy products, consumption has declined in the past years. The burger places for which people in the 1960s-1980s developed such affinities are finding themselves struggling against a growing number of restaurants offering healthy alternatives. The web is awash in thousands of vegetarian sites, and what was once on the fringes of contrariness is now mainstream.

Again, no corporation or governmental entity has led the movement for healthier eating. (Sorry, Mrs. Obama.) People have decided, after being inspired by other thoughtful individuals such as T. Colin Campbell and “The China Study”, to eat healthier. Subsequent weight loss and markedly improved health are more powerful inducements than any kind of advertisement.

Need further proof of how we’re rejecting what a generation ago believed was so important? If you’re a millennial, you won’t know that starting in the 1970s we were involved in the cola wars, and those extended until the 1990s. Battles in advertisements between Coke and Pepsi were fought viciously to win our loyalty. This explains why your grandmother may refuse to eat at a certain restaurant because they don’t serve diet Pepsi. She’s still a victim of that bloodless battle to win her devotion. Never mind that soda is as unhealthy and addictive as sugared hummingbird water; cola was king.

1985 ad, when we believed one soda might be “better” for us than another.

Mercifully, people have come to realize that they needn’t define themselves by what foods and beverages they’re loyal to.

In fact, I’ve heard of many in my generation and older are stunned to hear their descendants may drink only water, and never want to eat at McDonald’s. No, this isn’t some kind of treachery; it’s individuals thinking for themselves, looking past the hype and realizing there’s nothing of substance to back it up. 

Along those lines, it may also shock and surprise you that there are families who do not want to ever visit Disneyland. Although the masses and advertising claim it to be the “happiest place on earth,” standing in lines and paying for exorbitant entrance prices, food, and swag doesn’t make everyone happy. You may be startled to know that some contrarians’ children will never walk on that hallowed ground, because they and their parents prefer the solitude, quiet, and low entrance fees of national parks.

Contrarians also show up in education, and have been for many years. Common Core and the associated scripts and texts which pander to it, are driving many families to homeschooling which, three decades ago, was a fringe alternative but is now almost trendy and fast becoming the new tradition.

And if you were around in the 1980s, you  might remember a crass movie called “Revenge of the Nerds.” Now, geek culture is the culture, contrary to what anyone would have believed 30 years ago.

Our attitudes of what is “acceptable” and how things “should” be are changing all the time.

Why can’t our attitudes then also change about how we elect a president?

Most Americans still feel obligated to side with either the Republicans or Democrats, even if they feel neither represents them.  And the arguments they use are old and tired: “Because of the electoral college, only a Republican or Democrat will win.”

Or, a vote for anyone else besides Republican or Democrats means, “Your vote will be wasted.”

Rephrased it’s, “Being different will mean you’ll be left out.”

Doesn’t that hearken back to every fear we had as kids? Not being part of the “in” group?

Too many of us adults still harbor those worries, desperate to be part of “the group” so that we matter. In my limited observations, it’s those middle aged and older who are most worried about being obedient to the brand of Republican or Democrat they were brought up with. They still think (hope?) all Republicans are like Reagan and all Democrats are like the Roosevelts.

Now consider this: how often has the “in” group made poor choices which affected thousands and even millions? Begin by listing obvious dictators, and count which societies are still doing well under them.

Think about all the examples I’ve just shown you about individuals making a difference, influencing others around them to be contrarians. Why can’t we extend this bravery and independent thought to overturn an antiquated and manipulative system for something that really works?

Now is the time for each of us to individually say, “I will no longer support this.” Revolutions don’t have to be bloody, angry things. In fact, nearly all of the examples of positive change I listed above have been thoughtful movements.

“As we watch the directions that society is taking we see the folly, and in our most lucid moments, we don’t want to follow the trends, we want to depart from them — to think more clearly and chart our course on light and truth rather than on the herd instinct that seems to dictate what most people do.” ~Richard and Linda Eyre [emphasis added]

Too often we believe that there are only two options: the established way, and the wrong way. But rhetorically speaking, this is a logical fallacy. If you’ve ever worked for a boss who claims it’s only his way or the highway, you know how miserable that situation can be, and it usually signals a business is in big trouble.

Refusing to see other possibilities is what traps us. There are ALWAYS more options—to any situation, problem, or ideal.

Change never comes from the establishment or a corporation. It always arises from insightful, thoughtful, brave individuals who refuse to believe “there’s no other way.”

My neighbor recently demonstrated this by showing just how few Americans really support the Republican and Democratic parties.

#iamsomeone (And, importantly, Dallin Crump’s just an individual who wants to illustrate a point; he receives no funding or sponsorships. He’s just a “someone,” a “thoughtful citizen,” trying to change America. The fact that millions of people have also viewed and shared this suggests he’s not alone).

It’s up to us to stop being afraid of being different, to embrace contrarianism, to stand up against the tide and slow it down, even if only for a little a bit.

incite change

“I have spent many years of my life in opposition, and I rather like the role.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt

I haven’t voted for either party in twenty years. At times, I’ve even written in candidates who I felt would be excellent leaders. I don’t feel my votes were wasted; I feel my conscience was satisfied.

We ourselves might not experience rewards from our subtle civil disobedience by not voting for either the Republican or Democratic candidate, but our children or grandchildren may.

It’s not necessarily for us that we stand up at this election, or at any other time, to defy the status quo. It’s for those who follow.

Generations from now, may we be remembered as the Thomas Paines, the Emil Neufeldts, and the Catholic Priests who did something more than meekly follow the noisiest crowd. We should be–must be–remembered as those who lent a hand in turning the country around.

“It’s rare,” Gleace told them, “that anyone in the world comes up with new ideas, or pokes at old notions to discover if what everyone believes is actually true. But you,” he smiled slyly at Perrin and Mahrree, “you poked all the time. And that’s how you got here.”

“Our poking caused trouble,” Mahrree pointed out.

“Ah, but the very best kind!” Gleace declared. “The kind that makes people question everything they know. People need to be poked every now and then.”

~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti

Getting rid of things is not getting rid of people

Anyone else get paralyzed by decluttering?

By staring at that old, ratty thing that you’ve had in a box for years, but can’t throw away or donate because of memories, guilt, or because you’d hauled it around for 28 years and it seems ludicrous to finally dump it now?

On the other hand, I look around my house and think, “If that were lost in a fire, would I try to replace it?” The only things I’d want to preserve, aside from my family, are our photos.

Everything else? Nah, they can go.

So why can’t I just chuck them now?

My kids will have to, in a few years. I should save them the hassle.

When my parents started to decline about six years ago, we began the first of many moves, putting them progressively into more intensive care, and also smaller rooms. The first time my siblings and I walked through our old house, which could have served as a backdrop for “That 70’s Show,” I was a little weepy.

Until I took a good look at the green shag carpet, which had been there since my parents bought the house in 1978.

(Not my parents’ old house, but could have been.)

Hideous.

The longer I looked at items my parents no longer needed in their new residence, the more I found myself wanting to chuck them. We preserved photos, journals, my dad’s paintings, and a few books. But everything else?

Within an hour we were tossing the majority into a dumpster. And we couldn’t do it fast enough. Who really needs Tupperware that’s forty years old?

We had to go through the process three more times, as they moved again, and finally as they passed. Each time we took home fewer items, until when my dad died all I wanted were his scriptures. My siblings took a few items, and the rest we donated. It filled the back seat of a car.

As I looked around his room, I realized that he lived quite well with very little.

The entire tiny house movement is based on this: the fewer items we own, the freer we are to live. The less house we own, the more money, time, resources, and peace we have.

I’m fascinated by minimalist movements, like Becoming Minimalist , full of advice to getting rid of all of the stuff we accumulate, thinking it will bring us joy.

(From the Becoming Minimalist Facebook page.)

Or Marie Kondo’s konmari approach to keeping only items that “spark joy” and releasing all those things that no longer do. She suggests giving them to find a new home, to bring joy to someone else.

I did that a few years ago with a china set my parents bought me before I was married. I used it exactly twice. Then I sold it, 25 years later, to a family in our neighborhood for $50. I felt simultaneously guilty and relieved; guilty because I thought it was so important that I never used it (and took it with us on a dozen moves), and relieved that someone else could enjoy it.

Probably 1/2 of all I own I wish I could “send on its way,” but guilt holds me back. My husband made this, or my deceased sister bought me that, or my mom used to wear this, or I read this once, thirty years ago.

I need to remember that the love and memories associated with that person or event don’t leave with the item.

They’re just things I’m throwing away, not the people.

High Polish Tatra mountains

Writing Book 5, and forcing characters to leave behind all that they own, made me wonder how I’d face the same situation. I admit, it’s left me mixed. I want to be able to toss it all, but irrationality holds me back.

A friend told me of her parents’ house—true hoarders—and their many packed sheds in their backyard. They’d asked their grandson to pull some weeds so they could open the door again (it’d been that long since they’d been in there), and as the brawny boy leaned against the shed for leverage, the entire thing crashed down. Everything was destroyed.

The boy’s father cheered.

The boy’s grandparents mourned.

Nothing was salvageable, nor could they remember what they had stored in there for many decades (mostly old paint, it turned out). But they resented having to throw it all away anyway.

(Don’t let this be your children’s fate.)

The rest of the family was thrilled when that shed came down. In fact, they had the grandson lean against all of the other sheds, hoping for a similar result. When my friend’s parents finally die, they’ll need at least three dumpsters, she estimates, to unload all of the stuff no one—not even her parents—can use.

There’s some strange pride in not letting things go, in holding on to something beyond its usefulness.

In not allowing anyone else to have it.

In not acknowledging that you never needed it in the first place.

Some psychiatrists suggest it’s a mental illness, or maybe conditioning from grandparents who endured The Depression nearly one hundred years ago. I remember well the “get more attitude” of the 1980s, where acquiring stuff was all the rage, where your value was based upon what you owned. I think a lot of us in my generation still suffer from this early programming.

But there’s simply no good reason to hoard stuff. No one needs 12 hammers, as one elderly man I know possessed (among a great many other things). He said someone might need to borrow one. In the thirty years I knew him, no one ever came looking to borrow a hammer. Or one of his 15 hand saws. Or 20 screwdrivers. He could have given them away long before they became rusty, to someone who truly would have appreciated them. But no.

I have a friend who has an entire bedroom stuffed with bins and boxes, all for Christmas. It takes her a full week to decorate her house, inside and out, and three Christmas trees. She admits it stresses out her family, especially since every surface is covered in something breakable, but every item is wrapped up in memories, she insists.

The memories of her children, however, of their anxious Christmases, may not be so favorable.

Why do we keep old furniture that’s damaged or even moldy, clothes that don’t fit, knick-knacks that went out of fashion years ago, paintings that no longer interest us, and books we’ll never read again?

Stuff our kids will throw out in another generation with alacrity?

For reasons I don’t yet understand, we often choose to remain burdened and laden by all that we own.  I want to empty out my bedroom closet, but that means tossing a stack of yearbooks. All I need to do is scan in the handful of photos I appear in, then throw away the books I have never, ever looked at since I graduated in the 1980s.

I also have several paintings I did in high school, which I’ll never display because they’re pretty poor, but which I can’t bear to give away. I’ve needlessly hauled them around for decades.

Sometimes I wish we could have a random fire, hitting particular items so that I’ll be forced to get rid of them. Moving many times has helped; each time I had to throw away boxes of destroyed stuff I thought I couldn’t live without I was relieved that I had a reason to get rid of them.

I have to admit, I’ve purposely dropped one or two items during a move just so that I didn’t have to find a shelf for them later.

I’m slowly sliding closer to minimalism. Each shelf that gets emptier, each old box that vanishes, each bag I bring to charity lightens my heart and eases my conscience.

By the time our youngest leaves the house in 15 years, we anticipate we’ll be moving into a tiny home, and that should force me to get rid of the last of the crud. I hope that by the time my husband and I die, our kids will need only an hour to clean up what we left behind. 

Doesn’t this just feel so clean, so simple, so serene?

Until then, I’ll try each week to toss out 10 items I don’t need. That’s my goal for the summer, and we’ll see how it goes.

If you happen to be good at separating things from those who gave them to you, tell me how you did it. I’m gonna need some motivation by August!

Why in the world am I giving away my books for free?

As I’ve done with my other books, I’m offering Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti for free as a .pdf file on my website.

Book 5 FRONT COVER kindle

Click on the image above to access the .pdf file. Yeah, for free. Seriously. No strings attached. (I’m not that kind of a girl.)

No, this makes absolutely no financial sense whatsoever. It’s the second place I’m offering it for free (Smashwords has the download for free) and when Amazon notices, it too will make it for free (maybe in a week or so; I have no control over that).

So why in the world am I doing this?

Because it’s not about money. Nothing, really, should ever be about money.

It’s because in many ways I feel I was given this book, like a rough blueprint, along with a pile of supplies, and told to “Go for it.”

I’ll be the first to admit I’m a clumsy builder, but for the past few years I’ve been constructing a book series I’ve absolutely loved! Writing and rewriting has brought such immense joy, and I want to share it, with as many people as possible. I don’t want a few bucks to come in the way of someone accessing it, and while the paperbacks cost a bit, I literally do not make anything from them. The prices are set to the barest minimum I’m allowed to set them to. (Even I have to pay to get them!)

You see, years ago the phrase, “Freely given, freely shared,” came to me, and while I’ll average about 30-40 hours a week writing and editing and working on this series and website, I don’t feel right about profiting from them. The reasons why are explained in detail in Book 5, as you’ll see.

But because this blueprint and supplies were “Freely given” to me by our Creator, I feel He wants me to “freely share” them with you. Yes, I’ve put in a ton of labor, but I’ve been compensated in other ways, if not monetarily.

No, I’m not independently wealthy. Our income qualifies us for a variety of social services which we choose not to accept, because we can get by just fine since we’ve learned to temper our desires and we don’t chase after the trends of the world.

I feel deeply, earnestly, about the messages of these books, and Book 5 in particular, which I spent a year studying and researching before I attempted to start writing.

So share freely, enjoy, and get the word out: “There’s this slightly mad woman giving away her books. Snatch them up, quick, before she comes to her senses!” (No worry there; I’ve never come to my senses. I have no idea where they are, and they aren’t too worried about looking for me, either.)

Book 5 IS HERE! Get it in e-book or paperback!

It’s HERE! Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti, Book 5 is now available as an e-book ($.99) and in paperback ($13.50) (soon to be as a paperback on Amazon, too).

You can also find it on Smashwords for FREE!  

(Why for free? When you read Chapter 13, I think you’ll understand. “Freely given, freely shared.” And where the heck is Medicetti? You’ll find out . . .)

book 5 published announcementThank you for your patience, and enjoy! (I’m gonna take a nap now . . .)

Book 5 teaser–Good way to burst?

High Polish Tatra mountains

I’m ready to burst too! And I think it’s in a good way!

The paperback proof for Book 5: Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti will be in my hands by the end of the week, then it’s one more read and edit, some formatting for the ebook versions, and then PUBLISHED! My hope is to get it out before Memorial Day, if not sooner. I’ll keep you posted!

(In the meantime, I’m already working on fine-tuning Book 6. Yes, there are books 6, 7, and 8. All of them are drafted, and all of them will be out in the next three years. Oh dear, I’m so giddy that I feel a burst coming on! I better get a sponge. And by the way, sounds like Shem’s got an admirer in Book 5 . . .)

Book 5 Cover Reveal!

Book 5 Front Cover

Woo-hoo! One huge step down, about a dozen more to go until I can launch Book 5: Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti.

It WILL be out before May is over. I don’t yet dare set a date because then the Anxiety Gods see that number and take it as a challenge to thoroughly undo me before then.

But I’m deep into final edits and formatting which, because there are three completely different platforms for print and ebooks, with each taking about 10 hours for someone technically-disabled such as myself to properly format, means I need lots of chocolate chips to get me through and I’m trying to give up sugar right now. Yeah, I chose a bad time for that.

But it WILL get done!

In the meantime, thanks again to my oldest son for standing in for the cover, even though he and his siblings keep saying, “What did you do to him? It’s Teagan, but it’s not Teagan.”

“I know,” I tell them. “Because now he’s Peto.”

“Who?”

That’s when I remember they haven’t bothered to read the books. If it doesn’t have a Star Wars character on the cover (Happy May the Fourth everyone!) they won’t touch it.

(For my next book cover, I’ll put a Wookiee in the background so it’ll trick my family into reading it. Actually, a Wookiee would fit pretty good on this cover . . . I think I need to do a bit more photoshopping.)

Book 5 cover reveal coming next week!

By Wednesday I’ll have completed the cover for Book 5: Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti! 

Interestingly, I’m using my oldest son on the cover, the one I wrote about earlier  who’s been ill with a strange viral infection for the past week and a half, and now a secondary bacterial infection. After three hospital visits, he’s finally on the mend.

Just a couple of days before he fell ill, we did his preliminary photo shoot. I told him that past experience showed we’d need to do a second shoot, because even though I took fifty shots of him, I’d realize they were all wrong, and we’d have to redo them. And perhaps a third time. (Maybe this is why my family is reluctant to dress up for my book covers?)

Well, after going through his photos, I realized they were pretty good, and I didn’t need to redo them after all. Good thing, because being ill has taken a toll on him, and it’d be a few weeks before he’d be back in shape.  Tig as Peto (First off, he’d have to shave his two weeks’ beard growth, and that would nearly kill him. I purposely took pictures of him right after he got home from the army, so that he’d still be clean shaven. I didn’t need Goatee-Man on the cover, although he pulls off that look pretty well.)

I changed his eye color, turning his dark brown eyes to light gray. (Any ideas who he’s going to be when his editing’s all finished?)

I did the same thing to his brother, who I used on the cover of Book 2: Soldier at the Door. It’s strange how merely changing one’s eye color suddenly changes the whole person. Both of my sons have very dark brown eyes, but not here. They’re no longer my boys, but new characters.

Bubba with blue eyes

(This change to blue eyes still creeps me out.)

While the rest of my family groans quietly before agreeing to be on my covers (they work for cookies, fortunately) my 8-year-old daughter, however, is DYING to be on a cover, so I may have to write a small book, just for her. (Working title: The Life and Times of a 3rd Grade Narcissist.)