Monday, June 30, 2008

Stephanie Abney introduces you to Carol Otis Hurst

My guest blogger today is Stephanie Abney. She posted this introduction to Carol Hurst on the ANWA Founder and Friends web site, and I asked for permission to copy that posting here. She gave it to me, so here goes:

Stephanie says:

I’d like to share a ‘gold mine’ with you… a wealth of information. If you have kids, or grandkids, or love kids (whether or not they’re yours) or if you love books, then you definitely need to know about Carol Otis Hurst. And if you happen to love kids’ books then it is imperative you know about Carol.

If you fancy yourself a children’s author, this is the place to read a ton of reviews on children’s books, find activities, questions and answers, etc. All these resources can only add to your knowledge as a children’s author and only prove helpful to your writing and as you create activities for your own family.Carol’s Kid Lit website is one of the greatest treasures on the Internet.

As a teacher, it is one of my favorite sites but it is also invaluable for parents and grandparents ~ including activities about particular subjects, curriculum areas, themes and so much more. You can get great Family Home Evening ideas there or summer activities for your kids.

It would be interesting to take a poll of the ANWA members and see how many are teachers. As we sat in my family room this month for our Salt River Scribes chapter meeting, I couldn’t help but notice that five out of the eight sisters there are teachers. Many writers started out as teachers. Carol Hurst was a teacher. Sadly, she passed away last year but her daughters plan to keep her site up and running.Here’s what one of my favorite middle grade authors had to say about Carol: "I can't think of anyone who knows more about children's books than Carol Otis Hurst. Not only what they're about, and who wrote them (and when), and whether they're any good - or not so good - or downright awful; but also how to make use of them. Carol can tell you which book to place in the not-very-receptive hands of a scowling, reluctant reader: just the right book, the one that will make him grin, make him read, make his life change. Or the reassuring book for the needy, troubled child: Carol knows that title, too, and how to offer it with a gentle touch.If I were a teacher, I would think of Carol Otis Hurst as one of my most important resources. If I were a child, I would simply think of her as my most trusted friend." ~ Lois Lowry

Go to the site and click on the “Expanded Table of Contents” or “Subjects” and you will be amazed. Like so many wonderful resources around us, if we don’t find it ourselves or have someone share it with us, we remain in the dark ~ kind of like sharing the gospel, isn’t it?

So… enjoy:

Blessings,Stephanie Abney

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Leprosy Bandages

I have been a maker of leprosy bandages for many years. I first heard about them decades ago when they were on the list of things you could do for humanitarian service. Knitted or crocheted, leprosy bandages are like a cross between an ace bandage and gauze, about three inches wide and four feet long. They are breathable and let air in, but are sturdy enough to be washed, sterilized, and used again. Also, they have more bulk than gauze and so cushion a stump so the afflicted member can still be used. You can see a leprosy bandage by clicking here. You can also read about a group who deliver them to a leper colony in Viet Nam. The LDS Humanitarian department also still accepts leprosy bandages, although they’re not listed on their web site as things that they need.

My opening statement sounds like I’m a font of humanitarian giving, having made leprosy bandages, albeit sporadically, for multiple decades. However, when you temper that with the realization that my mailing skills don’t match up with my crocheting output, you’ll understand why I have little stashes of handmade bandages around the house in places I’ve forgotten and only discover when I move. They’re doing no one any good, hidden away in a drawer. However, I had lots of good feelings as I made them. Does that count?

Another curious thing about leprosy bandages is that, invariably, as I’ve been sitting in public working on one and a fellow asks what I’m doing, when I tell him I’m making a leprosy bandage, his reply—every time—is, “Can’t you make it by machine?” I’ve only had men ask me that. I think it’s wonderful that their minds immediately leap to a way to alleviate suffering on a grander scale than I can achieve with a crochet hook, but when I explain that leprosy is treatable in early stages and better use of large sums of money would be in education and providing medicine to places where it’s still a problem, they agree that it’s not likely that sprawling leprosy bandage factories will be built anytime soon.

One time, when I was YW president about twenty years ago, I had the grand idea that my young women would each make a leprosy bandage. This would fulfill a YW Value requirement and help build self esteem. I wasn’t deterred by the fact that not a one knew how to knit or crochet, or that beginners usually learned with large needles and yarn. I organized everything and approached the classroom bristling with balls of thread, crochet hooks, and instructions. Well, we didn’t build a lot of self esteem that night. In fact, I had to pull out the tissues to dab away tears in between picking up dropped stitches and undoing snarls. Neither the snarls, the dropped stitches, nor the tears were mine. I chalked the evening up to a lesson learned and let the idea die a quiet death. Not a one of my young women asked me when we were going to work on them again.

My son did some volunteer work in a leper colony this last winter when he was in Cairo. After I heard him tell about the old blind, maimed fellow that he visited with, I went and found my crochet hook and bought a ball of thread. The leprosy bandage I’m working on may never reach a recipient, but somehow it feels like I’m doing something for mankind.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

The Literacy Council and I

I googled “Literacy Council” and counted more than 100 listings before I had to stop and begin writing this post. There are more; I just don’t know how many. It gives me goose bumps to see all those organizations of people dedicated to one thing: teaching people to read. Many councils have added the task of teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) to the services they offer, and that was what I did when I was a volunteer with the Whatcom Literacy Council in Northwest Washington.

Just as one of my children was hitting some rough waters navigating the shoals of middle school, I read in the paper that they were looking for people to help out. I felt that if that child focused on serving, it would make this stage of growing up a little easier, so I called the Literacy Council. I told them that I’d like to volunteer, that I had worked as a reading specialist in the public schools for several years, but that it was a package deal: my two children would work with me.

I was surprised when the director agreed. It turned out there was a family that wanted ESL training, but they couldn’t come to the place where classes were held. If I would go to their house, the council would stretch the rules and allow my family to teach this Mexican family. I would work with the parents, and my children would play in English with the children. BUT, there was one stipulation. I had to take twelve hours of training before they would turn me loose.

I bridled. I? Take classes? Didn’t they hear that I had been a reading specialist in the barrio in the Los Angeles area? Didn’t my students come to me directly out of ESL classes? What was the council going to teach me? However, the director wouldn’t give on this point, so, thinking of my children, I agreed.

I groused all the way to the first class and frowned as I took my seat in the crowded room, but that was my last negative thought of the whole twelve hours. What a great class that was! They began by teaching me Arabic. In Arabic. They wanted me to have the experience of trying to learn from someone I couldn’t understand, to know the possibilities as well as the frustration. It was a really effective technique.

During breaks, I’d talk to the people taking the class with me. I’d ask: Why are you doing this? Every time I got the same answer: I’ve been so blessed, I want to reach out and help someone. I was blown away and energized by all the goodness in that room, and I was wistful that I was the only Latter-day Saint there. I was a little sad, too, that my motive wasn’t just to be of service.

Whatever my motives, the process was pure joy, and we gained much more than we gave. During the year we spent visiting this family twice a week, they became our good friends. My children were able to serve, and I think it helped get over the rough patch. My once-fluent-but-almost-forgotten Spanish came back. And I gained a sincere appreciation of what Literacy Councils are all about.

Do you have a few extra hours a week? Would you like a shot of joy? Check your yellow pages or use a search engine to see if you’ve got a literacy council in your area. They need good people, and I guarantee you’ll be glad you got involved.

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Four Simple Gifts

About ten years ago, with our last child perched and ready to fledge from the nest, we left the house we had lived in for 25 years and moved temporarily to a small town on the other side of the state. Same house for a quarter century = same ward family for that span. Oh, boundaries had changed and people had moved in and out, but we were old timers, elder statesmen. Everybody knew us. We had grown gray serving in that ward.

Suddenly, we were in a new ward, and we found that with the new locality had come super powers: we were invisible. When we walked in the chapel the first Sunday, not a head turned our way. No hands were offered. No eye contact was made, even accidentally. It was as if we didn’t exist. I pinched my husband just to check, but though his buns are spare, I had hold of real flesh. We were still there, all right.

Each Sunday, our son went back home to attend church, since that was the ward he’d be leaving from to go on his mission. As we went to the new ward and sat in the breezeway on cushioned folding chairs, I assumed a pleasant expression, thinking if I looked grandmotherly and kindly (as I most certainly was), at least small children might approach. None did. We were still invisible. I began to look back fondly on the ward where the bishop came up to me four weeks running, shook my hand, introduced himself, and asked if this was my first time in the ward.

After the third barren Sunday, I went home and practiced my Sunday meeting expression in the mirror. It was then I discovered that age and gravity had sabotaged me, turning what I thought was a pleasant, grandmotherly expression into a stern and forbidding look. I probably scared every kid in the chapel. No wonder no one came near.

I was saved from having to pull up my socks, paste on a smile, and stick out my hand first, no matter how out of my comfort zone it was, by my pre-missionary fledgling and his buddy. They stayed home one weekend and came to church with us. Did I mention that they were both good looking young men? The ward was minus two deacons that Sunday, and Son and Buddy were asked to pass the sacrament, so they were visible to every mother and every young woman.

Suddenly, my super power was gone. I was not only visible, I was popular! Mothers flocked around to introduce themselves and find out how long we were going to be in the ward. Grandmothers came, too. And some dads and grandfathers. I met a lot of people that day.

That experience was a great lesson to me. No, not the one about hanging out with good looking guys. The one about the simplest acts of service, the gifts you can give a stranger: Give notice. Give a smile. Give a handshake. Give your name. You’ll never know the good you can do with those four simple gifts.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

ANWA the Incubator

One of the best bargains I’ve come across lately has been the $20 I pay annually as my dues to American Night Writers’ Association (ANWA). One day, I asked Marsha Ward how they could get away with just charging $20 a year for dues. Marsha is an author, but she’s also founder and membership secretary for ANWA. Her reply was succinct: “Volunteers.”

ANWA is unique among writers’ groups, because one of the prerequisites to membership is that you are LDS. Another is that you’re a woman. There are no age restrictions. The youngest member was twelve when she joined; the oldest (I’m guessing here) is about 85.

I already had two books published by Deseret Book (the first two books of the Spider Latham Mystery Series, The Lodger and After Goliath) when I first heard about ANWA This is the way it came about: My daughters and I had published Lucy Shook’s Letters from Afghanistan, and I was looking at marketing angles when I contacted Cecily Markland, editor of The Beehive, the LDS periodical for southern Arizona. I was hoping to capitalize on the Arizona tie-in to acquaint saints in that area with this book about a Mormon woman in Afghanistan in the mid-1960’s. I don’t think I got any marketing capital out of that call, but I didn’t go away empty handed, because Cecily told me about ANWA.

I have to admit, I joined ANWA simply for the marketing connection, still hoping to get that article written in The Beehive. That never happened, but it was the best thing I ever did for my writing career, because I embarked on a journey of learning about my craft that is still ongoing, five years later. Plus, I have a built in critique group and indefatigable, if indiscriminate, cheerleaders scattered all over the U.S. (They're indiscriminate in that they cheer equally for each ANWA sister's progress.) As any aspiring writer can tell you, it’s hard to find someone to read a manuscript, let alone spend the time to critique.

What do I get for my annual $20? Here’s a sampling:

1. I get a monthly newsletter that not only lets me know what’s going on in the organization, but also contains writing tips and upcoming writing contest information.

2. I have access to three writing on-line groups. ANWA Social is dedicated to social things such as visiting, making birth announcements or asking for prayers for a missionary son. ANWA Critique is a place where a member can post a chapter or some other piece of writing and ask others to look it over critically. With several published writers and quite a few English teachers, the feedback is excellent. It’s also constructive, positive, and accompanied by teaching (you need a comma here because…). The last on-line group is ANWA Write, and it is dedicated to signing up for and reporting about writing challenges, such as Book in a Month and Write One Hundred Words for One Hundred Days.

3. I get a discounted registration fee for the ANWA Writers’ Conference held every February in Phoenix, AZ. It’s a great conference and a great bargain, besides. And, I’m invited to the ANWA Retreat, held for three days each summer.

None of the numbered items could come to pass if it weren’t for the dedicated people who volunteer to make them happen, from the excellent newsletter editor to the executive board to the chapter presidents. These are ladies who honed their organizational skills and cut their ‘service teeth’ in Relief Society and Primary. They manage an organization that offers a great service to the world as an incubator for future writers who will write lucid, compelling, thought-provoking prose and poetry reflecting the light of Christ that is within.

Thank you, Ladies. I’m a better writer because of ANWA, and I’m spreading the word. Click here to find more about this great organization that’s open to any LDS woman who would like to learn the craft of writing.

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Friday, June 13, 2008

WayJay's Goodbye

We had family here over the weekend. Lots of family. It used to be no big deal, when we had a big old farmhouse with lots of bedrooms, three sitting rooms, and a barn. That was before The Big Downsize when we sold the farm and moved to town.

However, we managed to find a place for everyone to be more or less horizontal at night, and I cooked for everyone in my postage stamp kitchen. I had forgotten what it was like to be mother to that big a brood: how many dishes get dirtied, how much food has to be prepared, how many dirty clothes there are to wash, how messy the house gets.

Among others, my son and his wife were here from Reno. Their oldest child is autistic, and they have his baby brother enrolled in a sibling study at the University of Washington, so this was their chance to do interviews and get a MRI of six-month-old Jack.

It’s been a journey of discovery for all of us as they have worked to get a diagnosis for four-year-old WayJay. Had we been better schooled in symptoms, we would have recognized the autism earlier. When he was two, I worried because WayJay wouldn’t respond when I called his name. I feared for his safety and fretted to my husband, “What if he was in danger and his life depended on his responding to me?” I didn’t know that that is a classic, early symptom. Another is not making eye contact.

WayJay was diagnosed as autistic a little over a year ago. It was early spring, and the school district had space for him in a developmental preschool where they worked with him on speech and occupational therapy. He’s an intelligent little boy, but communication has been a real barrier. The family worked with him at home, and his mom, a nurse, read everything she could get her hands on and began to educate the rest of us.

When the family found they were moving to Reno, the first thing she did was investigate programs available there for WayJay, and he was enrolled in a preschool class for autistic children before the moving van rolled out of their driveway.

What a blessing to live in a society where local governments reach out in concrete ways to help people who have more on their plates than they can deal with right then. There are some things that are too big for individuals to cope with, too big for families, even. That’s when the fabric of society can form a safety net or a shelter for the family until they can work through the problem.

It was great to have this little family return and stay with us so I could see first-hand the strides WayJay has made in the last three months. As I would grab him and squeeze him and nuzzle my face into his neck, he would smile and make eye contact. When I would call his name, he would pause and turn his head to me. When he was frustrated, he would try to vocalize it, though he doesn’t yet have the vocabulary. But he can sing the words to “I Am a Child of God.” And when they were driving away, he spontaneously said, “Bye-bye, Gramma.” My daughter-in-law let me know via text message.

When I read it, gone was the memory of the dirty dishes. Gone the weariness of cooking for a small army. Instead, I could see in my mind’s eye that sweet little face and dimpled cheek, and I smiled all day about the report of those two little words I have yet to hear: “Bye-bye, Gramma.”

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Monday, June 9, 2008

Praying for a Computer Tech

So, here’s the scenario: You’re a free-lance writer and editor. You own a laptop and a desktop, and though you do lots of work on your laptop, your desktop is the brains of your outfit. All your writing is housed and archived there. When the laptop crashes, it’s inconvenient but not earth shattering. Though the budget is skinny, you manage to scrape enough money together to replace it. However, when the desktop goes gunny sack the next week, things look very, very black. Jet black. Inky. Is there another way to intensify the word? Super black, because, since you’re always working right up against a deadline, you never have time to install a really good, fail-safe, automatic, back-up system. It’s always at the head of your Good Intentions List, because you know how important it is. But you never get around to it.

That is what happened to a friend of mine a couple weeks ago, just before I visited her. Of course, the project we were working on together was in the desktop, so we waited for her computer guru, a local student, to come back with the computer in one hand and the retrieved data in the other. While we waited, my friend had to listen to people telling her the zillion different ways one can back up one’s work. All great information, but a little too late. And besides, she already knew. She was just overstretched and underfunded, someone so in love with words that she’d bypass better paying jobs to be able to write.

The student guru arrived right on time, as promised, but only one hand was carrying anything: the expired computer. He was a nice fellow and very apologetic, but the data was irretrievable, he said. As I contemplated hanging the front door with black crepe, my friend got on the phone. Two years ago, she had done some free-lance writing for a company whose business was data retrieval. She couldn’t remember any names for sure, but she began sleuthing to find them. Along the way, she got the names of a couple companies who would try. Their price was close to four figures, they didn’t guarantee anything, and she had to send the machine away.

Finally, Saturday afternoon, she found the name she was looking for. She called him on the phone and he said he lived not too far from her. He’d pick up the machine. “This is what I do,” he said. He arrived about half hour later.

My friend wasn’t expecting much, but she gave him the computer, and we sincerely prayed for blessings on his head and hands. I flew home, and she emailed me Monday afternoon that he had just delivered the computer to her door. Not only had he retrieved the data, but he had installed a new hard drive bigger than the last one, and she was in business again. All that service was at a very fair, competitive rate.

This fellow’s name is Russ Brown, and his company is RBC Solutions, located in the Phoenix area. He’s a good man and a great computer tech. And, he was an answer to a prayer. Service doesn’t get much better than that.

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Friday, June 6, 2008

Small Random Acts of Kindness

My guest blogger today is Dr. Ron Shook, Associate Professor of English at Utah State University. He's also my brother. When I told him I was yourLDSneighborhood's blogger on service, he began telling me his theory of the Good Samaritan. "Don't tell me," I interrupted. "Blog it." So he did.

This is his blog:

One evening I’m standing in the regular line at the grocery story with one item. I think I had a loaf of bread. It was a Saturday, which meant that all the families in the area were loading up for the weekend; carts piled high with foodstuffs of all sorts were lined up at all the counters. I was second in line behind a woman who had bought enough food to feed a small country.

She saw me, saw the loaf of bread in my fist, and said, “Why don’t you go in front of me.” Which I did. With alacrity. It was no big deal; it was no big sacrifice on her part, and additional 30 seconds perhaps. But that’s not the point, is it? The point is that the woman saw a chance to do a good thing and did it. She committed what a friend of mine calls “Random acts of kindness.”

One of the most underappreciated concepts from the parable of the Good Samaritan is the randomness of the event. The Samaritan didn’t go out that morning looking for someone to rescue. It just turned out that he was in the right (or wrong) place at the right (or wrong) time. He responded to the situation by helping out. It may also be that he missed an appointment and lost all his money because of this, but the action is no less valid if he had nothing to do that day and was merely strolling down to look at the new hospital anyway. We always seem to equate service with sacrifice, as if we believe that if it don’t hurt, it ain’t valid. This simply isn’t so. The service the woman did to me in the grocery store was no less wonderful because it was easy.

Since we are in a constant flux of events in our lives, the nature of human interaction is such that we very often have chances to perform small acts of random kindness. We don’t get that many opportunities to transport someone to the hospital while staunching arterial bleeding with finger pressure, but we do have chances to let the guy with the one item go in front of us. We have chances to let another person get the parking place, to pause a moment to hold a door for a man carrying packages, to let someone into the stream of traffic in front of us.

We can help a stranger change a tire or find an address. We can shovel some of our neighbor’s snow. If we make cookies, we can spread them around. The essence of service is not in the size of the act that is performed, but in the impulse that generates the act.

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Sunday, June 1, 2008

In Flight Service

My first commercial airplane flight was aboard a DC6, flying from Anchorage, Alaska to Seattle, Washington. The year was 1955 and I was fourteen years old. I wore a gray suit with pink accents—blouse, gloves, shoes and hat. Everyone dressed up to travel back then.

We walked out of the airport and across the tarmac to climb a flight of roll-around stairs where, at the top, the brilliant smile of our stewardess welcomed us aboard. Flight attendants were, by job description: female, young, pretty, single, and registered nurses. They were there to serve our every need.

Flying is very common today, but it wasn’t at that time. The cost was beyond the reach of most families, and if Alaska hadn’t been a hardship post and our way paid by the government, we wouldn’t have been flying, either. One of the catch phrases of the time was the question asked by the stewardesses: “Coffee, tea, or milk?” You were considered urbane and cosmopolitan if you had had that question directed to you, for flying was a luxury, and the airlines did their best to make it feel so.

I don’t remember what the dinner menu was on that flight in 1955, but I remember it was hot, delicious, elegantly served with real dishes and silverware, and they passed around hot towelettes afterward.

The thing that put me in mind of that first flight was a trip I took to Phoenix last week on Southwest Airlines. I love Southwest. It’s the Great Leveler. Everyone has to stand in the same line, everyone has the same amount of leg room, and everyone gets the same bag of peanuts for a snack. They give good value and make it possible for middle-class me to jaunt across the nation north to south to teach a writing workshop. The service they give doesn’t make me feel pampered the way I felt on that long-ago flight, but they get me up and get me down safely and efficiently and at a price (if I buy the ticket far enough ahead) that I can afford.

No dinner on Southwest. No hot towels. Just a bag of peanuts, a lighthearted joke from the (middle-aged, male) flight attendant, and an on-time arrival. Suits me fine.

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