Dungeons, spiders, and kittens–what terrifies you?

My five-year-old is currently in the dungeon. Well, others might call it a “basement” but with the damp floor and that smell which permeates every inch of the concrete and rock down there, we’re calling it a dungeon.

He’s chosen to be there, because that’s where his dad’s and brothers’ Warhammer 40k figurines are set up. (I call them “hideous plastic things.”) 

Image result for warhammer 40k figurines

He’s playing with things that look like this^. I guess nothing else down there is as terrifying.

Here’s the weird part–he’s not afraid to be down there, alone, with the spider webs and damp and creepy windows . . . but he’s terrified to pick up his new 6-week-old kitten.

It’s the cutest little thing in the world, cuddly and purring, but it has those needle-like claws and THOSE freak him out. He’ll pet it, he’ll croon at it, build her shrines out of blankets and pillows when she sleeps, but the moment it comes after him and his bare feet, you’d think a mountain lion had been released because he goes RUNNING FOR THE HILLS!

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Blanket shrine to worship the cat. And we’re not even in Egypt.

On the other hand, his 13-year-old brother will love and play with the kitten endlessly, but he’s so terrified of the dungeon/basement that he LOCKS the doors going down there.

This poses a problem for the 5-year-old trying to come back upstairs, and freaks out older brother when he hears the door rattling because SOMETHING HAS COME UP FROM THE BASEMENT!

 

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The stairwell to the basement/dungeon/Hades.

Fear is a weird and random thing.

Sometimes it makes us run and slam the door. Other times we charge it, like my 18-year-old daughter armed with the shop vac sucking up every spider web with the extension tube. (The dungeon/basement is next, but only once she stops shivering from her last extraction triumph upstairs.)

Other times we call for help, as with my 5-year-old (the dungeon tolerator) who came from the bathroom to announce he couldn’t brush his teeth because of the “critter” in there. Turned out to be a moth in the sink. Another reason why we got a kitten, who I wanted to name “Moth Killer” as a reminder as to how she’s supposed to earn her keep.

Sometimes we’re quiet about our fears, such me pretending to know how to talk to people–especially strangers–all the while my heart rate is at 120 bpm and I’m praying I don’t pass out before the conversation is over, to my own father who I didn’t know was deathly afraid of snakes until I, as a kid, came up to him with our neighbor’s boa constrictor draped around my neck. I’ve never seen a man go gray faster than my father did, and still live.

It’s strange that what makes some people afraid has no effect on others. Birds, for example, send some people into a panic while others keep them as pets. Same with rats. And chihuahuas.

Everyone hates needles, however. I’ve asked phlebotomists about that every time I’d had blood drawn. One nurse told me, “If I met someone who LIKED having a needle jabbed into a vein, THAT would terrify me.”

What’s the point to this rambling? I’m afraid I don’t know.

“There’s nothing to fear but fear itself.” Be honest. You, like me, hear that phrase that think, “Oh yeah? What about [fill in the blank]?” There are DOZENS of things to fear, and here’s the good part: all of us fear something. All of us are cowards about something.

Openly or quietly, there’s something that worries each of us, which is good to remember. That’s not meant as a challenge to figure out someone’s fear and exploit it, but to comfort us all that we really are all the same.

Once I dropped by the house a 13-year-old when her mom wasn’t home. In a small and terrified voice, she asked me to do her a favor. Worried that I was walking into a home invasion scenario based on her solemnity, I nevertheless agreed. Moments later I felt like Wonder Woman as I went downstairs (a nice downstairs, with carpeting and lights) with tissue in hand to extract a spider that had kept this sweet girl from entering her bedroom for the past hour.

I realized then that maybe different fears exist to let all of us be heroes at one time or another. My husband is my hero whenever a live mouse or a dead animal is involved. (Bonus points to him if it’s a dead mouse he bravely disposes of.) Perhaps that’s why he moved us here, so that after a year of living apart I’d have plenty of reasons to rush into his arms and ask him to be my hero because there may have been another mouse . . .

Which now has may thinking that maybe romance is also a weird and random thing.

     When Perrin came home for dinner the tiny cat was still there. It hobbled up to him and began to climb his trousers.
     “Get it off!” he yelled, shaking his leg.
     Mahrree extracted the kitten from his knee. “Honestly. How can a grown man be so afraid of a tiny kitten?”
     “Afraid? That’s what you think I am? Afraid!”
     “Yes! Give me another reason why you run in terror from it.”
      “I don’t run.”
      “Well, you shout!”
      “That’s ridiculous!”
      “You’re shouting now!”
      “So are you! Give it to me.”
       Mahrree clutched the kitten to her chest. “What will you do?”
      “Prove you wrong,” he beckoned. “Hand it over.”
      “Don’t hurt it!”
      “I won’t hurt it. Just hand it over.”
      Reluctantly, Mahrree gave him the kitten. Perrin held it up to his face. It mewed in a manner that sounded like a whimper of fear.
      Perrin stared into its tiny eyes.
      It stared back, then looked down at the height at which it was dangling. It flailed in fright, so Perrin cradled it in his other hand, and the thing began to purr.
      “Why does it do that?” he asked, bewildered.
       Mahrree’s mouth twitched. “Because it likes you. I can’t imagine why, but it does.”
       He evaluated the creature.
       It didn’t resemble a Thorne—captain or general—in any way. It was just a tiny, helpless animal. With needle-like claws. And it made annoying sounds, although quietly.
       Still, those claws were unreasonably sharp, snagging the wool on his uniform.
       Still yet again, it was just a baby.
       “Hm,” he said eventually. “Fine. It can stay.”

~Book 4, The Falcon in the Barn, Forest at the Edge series

What do we think about?

Over the years I’ve become more judicious in what I read, watch, and listen to. Everything I take in effects my thoughts, which in turn alters my behavior. 

Maybe it’s because in the past few years my parents and sister died, and a dear friend is losing her battle to cancer, that I’m acutely aware that life is short.

I don’t have time–nor do I want to have time–to waste. Every day needs to be focused on improving my mind and my heart.

Hugh Nibley, in “Zeal without Knowledge,” summed it up best:

what do we think about

The more I’ve decluttered my mind (as I’ve been doing with my house) the simpler everything is. There really is time and space for the important stuff.

No men who Jaytsy cared about were interested in fashion or the theater. It was all fake and contrived, and unappealing.
But she knew what she did love, and it was glorious to no longer worry about the world’s opinions. She loved real things. Dirt on her hands and under her fingernails. Flicking insects off the corn. Filling wagons with potatoes. Braiding the greens of onions together. Measuring milk yields. Churning butter. Sampling cheeses. Looking into cows’ eyes.
~Book 4, The Falcon in the Barn

New cover for “Mansions,” and here’s the cover for “Falcon in the Barn”!

Yes!
Finally!
Not only do I get to present to you the new cover (will be available on Amazon in the next 24 hours) for Book 3, The Mansions of Idumea . . .

Book 3 Front Cover Edition2

(I’m so grateful my family doesn’t mind dressing up. The best part is, we’re such a nerdy family that we already owned the costumes and many of the props.)

Book 3 Back Cover Complete edition2

(I wished I had doors like this in real life. But mine are painted metal. From Lowe’s. So unromantic.)

. . . but here’s also Book 4!

Book 4 Front Cover

(I won’t tell you how many pictures of barns I took looking for just the right one. Fortunately I live in an old farming community with plenty of subjects. Can you see the cat?)

Book 4 Back Cover

(A marvelous fire we got to experience in Yellowstone in 2013 provided these fantastic clouds. Yes, fires can be marvelous.)

I’ve had far too much fun playing with colors and images these past few months. I’ve never pretended to be a professional anything: not a writer, and certainly not a graphic designer, as is likely obvious. But creating these books has been a pure joy and absolute delight. Deciding to develop new covers as vivid and lively as I dared was just the next step in my all-consuming hobby. I’m immensely blessed that my family tolerates me and my little obsessions. My husband especially has been a good sport, even if not a natural actor.

“So what do you want me to do? Just stand here? How about I put my hand on my hip? I can scowl. Wanna see a scowl? Should I point? Like in baseball, that’s where the ball’s going . . . Why not? You want more emotion? What’s that supposed to mean? Dammit, Jim–I’m a doctor, not a soldier! How was that? Are you about done? Why are you laughing? What? You need me to dress up again?! I think you’re doing this on purpose . . .”

(Most of the time I was waiting for him to close his mouth so I could take the pictures. He also gets very chatty when it’s time for family portraits. Rarely do we get a picture with his lips together. Yes, I think my husband’s adorable . . . and I’m not just writing that because I’ll need him to pose again for the next book!)

The actual book will be release FRIDAY, MAY 29 on Amazon and also here! Don’t worry, I’ll let you know when it’s ready to fly . . .

YES! Book 4 will be here MAY 29th!

The Falcon in the Barn will soon be available on Amazon, and here with teasers!

And here’s a teaser already. I’m making new covers for all of my books (again, also soon to be released), and this photo below will be part of The Falcon in the Barn’s cover.

 

test cover book 4dragan

(Gives me goose bumps!)

I’m so grateful for all the props and bits neighbors and friends have lent me. (Although my son still on a Mormon mission doesn’t yet know I’ve raided his costume crate; he’s home in four weeks and will figure it out then when he sees the mess I made of his boxes.) I also discovered the joys of fiverr.com and the graphic artists who made me some awesome labels, such as the Idumea one you can see in the photo. (The artist is from Italy; I love how we can share so globally!)

In fact, that label above and another (created by an artist in Singapore) will be part of a little giveaway I’ll be hosting later this month with the book release. (Gosh, I almost sound like a professional, don’t I?)

In the meantime, please forgive me, dear friends, for so many delays, but as I wrote before, life got in the way. I’ve not only been working part-time, but another little side hobby of mine on Etsy took off the past couple of months, giving us some very needed income.  (Shockingly, writing has NOT paid off all my bills yet.)

Geek Nerd Clock

If you need help understanding the references, I can give you hints.

People have been requesting some clever modifications, too. My favorite is, “Check the Marauder’s Map.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’ve seen these clocks on websites–and I still need to thank those who posted them–yes, I’m the Nerd Clock maker and the Harry Potter maker.  (Shockingly, these HAVE been paying the bills . . .)

But when I’ve packaged all my orders for the evening, I settle down to my computer to edit another few chapters of Perrin and Mahrree and everyone, and soon they’ll be here. So watch for updates, and thanks for your patience!

My Year of Living Deliberately

I don’t have enough time. Or money. Or control of my life.
And I’ve realized that’s all my fault.

For quite some time I’ve been living in survival mode. I think we all hit that sometimes, when we’re just holding on, trying to keep lives and spouses and children together, barely squeaking by month-to-month, existing with an underlying anxiousness that at any moment, something may fly off and send the precarious balance of our lives in a tailspin.

I’ve also realized that’s a stupid way to live, and I can actually do something about it.

I’ve realized I can live Deliberately. (Yes, with a capital D.)

Some weeks ago I read these words by Quentin L. Cook, and apostle in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

We need to recognize that there is a seriousness of purpose that must undergird our approach to life and all our choices. Distractions and rationalizations limit our progress.

This has become my mantra for 2015.

My life is more than halfway over.
At age 45, I suppose I’ve hit some kind of midlife crisis.
Where I work I see many people in their 60s, 70s, and 80s, and I’ve noticed two different groups.

 One group is always in survival mode, and rationalizing that way of life. “I can’t lose weight. I can’t be better. I’ve always had bad genes. I’m going back to the doctor for another prescription. I need more help. ” They whine, they complain, and they age rapidly.

The second group—and I work directly with several in this group—are living Deliberately. “I’ve given up sugar and soda, and I feel so much better. I’m exercising more now than ever. Yes, I have some aches and pains, but that’s not going to stop me from working today. I’ve got babysitting my great-grandkids today after work.” They smile, they tackle their challenges, and they’re aging hardly at all.

In Falcon in the Barn (yes, it’s still on track to come out in early spring!) Perrin is thrown into a level of depression he’s never before encountered. He no longer acts, but is acted upon. Not too give too much away, he becomes a shadow of the man he used to be, and he hates it.

At some point in editing those chapters, I realized I had fallen into the same slump as Perrin, frustrated with my feeble attempts to reduce our debt, to improve our home, to make some progress in my life. Nothing was happening as I wished, because I was letting our circumstances work on me, instead of the other way around.

I’ve observed that successful people have Deliberateness in their lives, a seriousness of purpose, an attitude of I refuse to be the victim. As Cook said, 

My concern is not only about the big tipping-point decisions but also the middle ground—the workaday world and seemingly ordinary decisions where we spend most of our time. In these areas, we need to emphasize moderation, balance, and especially wisdom. It is important to rise above rationalizations and make the best choices.

So, tired of limping along, I have decided 2015 will be my year of Deliberateness—my year of making every choice one of careful examination, and wasting nothing. I’ve distinctly felt God nudging me in this direction for the past few weeks, and I’ve learned that it’s never a good idea to ignore the promptings from the Almighty. And to hold myself accountable (because accountability is the essence of life) I’m proclaiming my goals here.

First, I’m Deliberately trying to write neater, which may not sound like much, but I haven’t been able to decipher my own penmanship for a decade now. I pulled out a leather journal given to me eight years ago which I never before dared to use, bought myself a mechanical pencil, and have already filled three pages with completely legible writing.
I had no idea I was capable of that.

Second, I’m Deliberately eating better. I have issues with gluten, and at Thanksgiving realized I needed to limit my diet again. It was either my brain, or my bread. Since I’m a bit on the zombie side, I decided BRAINS! I Deliberately chose better foods, tried some vegan dishes, and limited my intake of sweets, all in an effort to improve my health.

Something shocking happened. From Thanksgiving to New Year’s I LOST 8 pounds! The last time I lost weight over the holidays, I had to give birth to a baby. Eating healthier was SO much easier. I’ve discovered that I like cilantro, brown rice, and quinoa. (I even know how to pronounce quinoa properly, too.) At this rate, I might actually become the weight I’m supposed to be by the end of summer.
I had no idea I could do that.

Third, I’m Deliberately reducing my time in frivolousness. That means that although I’m a reading junking, I’m refusing to read every little post, link, or meme on Facebook, and I will no longer waste time on silly quizzes that tell me the color of my wind (I’m suspecting it’s brown).
Before I started writing my book series, I gave up watching TV (never miss it), gave up my magazine subscriptions (never miss those, either) and deleted Scrabble and Free Cell from my computer (the only games I ever played). Suddenly, I had enough time to pursue my real goals. I Deliberately follow only two blogs, and when I go to Pinterest, I’ve vowed it will now be ONLY to find a new vegan recipe.

I’m also now writing a tongue-in-cheek pregnancy and baby care book, and reducing my dawdling on Facebook and Pinterest gives me the time to do that as well.
I didn’t realize such a small change could make such a big difference.

I love how Cook puts this:

Sometimes it feels like we are drowning in frivolous foolishness, nonsensical noise, and continuous contention. When we turn down the volume and examine the substance, there is very little that will assist us in our eternal quest toward righteous goals. One father wisely responds to his children with their numerous requests to participate in these distractions. He simply asks them, “Will this make you a better person?”

I desperately want to be a better person.

So I’m also Deliberately going to bed earlier and Deliberately getting up the first time my alarm blares.

I’m Deliberately scheduling time to write and study, and I’m Deliberately watching my bank account every day. I will Deliberately pay an extra $5 here and there to chip away at the debt that plagues us, and will keep track to prove to myself that every little bit really does help. I may be chipping away at an iceberg with a butter knife, but it’s better than pretending that iceberg isn’t about to engulf me.

Yeah, that’s a big list. I’m going to fail at all of those points at some time or another, but so what? I’ll Deliberately begin again. And again. And again. Because at some point when I was writing about Perrin’s struggles (don’t worry—no spoilers here) I realized that if he could make some changes, certainly I could as well.

Because I’m running out of life.
I’ve got less than half of it left, and I want to be healthy enough to play with my three-year-old’s children when he eventually has them.
I want to be mentally, physically, and spiritually strong enough to help all of my nine children when they need it.
I want to write another dozen books.
I want to work long enough to drag us completely out of debt.
I want to be the one pushing that friend’s wheelchair in thirty-five years, not the one riding in it.
I want to look back on my life with few regrets, and I want to feel that I took charge of my circumstances, and lived a Deliberately full life.

When Perrin woke up, he wanted that morning to be significant, to be the day he was truly a new man. He could no longer allow himself to be consumed by himself. There were too many other people needing him, and he could no longer remain indulgently weak. . . .
What was his goal today? Not to be the kind of man the world wanted, but to be the kind of leader the Creator wanted him to be. 

~Falcon in the Barn