Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Merry Christmas

Traditionally, I write a blog post that includes an edited version of our family Christmas letter each year.  Here is this year's. (For privacy sake, I only shared the first letter of my kids' names.) Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all our friends and family!

The picture above is from our visit to see my parents in Virginia. My dad has had trouble with dementia for the past couple years. 2014 has been an especially confusing year for him. One benefit, though, was that during our visit he couldn’t remember any trouble the kids had gotten into in the past. We had a fun time with him.

Our kids are blessed to have dedicated grandparents. Eric’s mom lives near us in Utah and also stays involved with the kids.

Eric still works as full-time editor for a group of private schools. He has now been the bishop of our little congregation for five years. This is a crazy time of year for him as he tries to help those in need. The kids enjoy helping him make visits.

Becky had another book come out in August, but an even greater triumph is that she got Eric to take ballroom dance lessons with her.

E, our oldest, graduated as the valedictorian from her high school. She is currently studying math and health education at Utah State University.

L is a senior this year, so he’ll be flying the coop next. He got his first job this year working at a nearby Boy Scout camp. He still enjoys Tae Kwon Do.

B1 is in 9th grade and has learned to play saxophone as well as piano. This summer, he finished his Eagle project, which involved cleaning up gang graffiti.

B2 is in 7th grade. He and his younger brother had fun being on the same water polo team this year. He enjoyed playing goalie and blocking lots of goals.

N started playing the piano last Spring. He also started cub scouts this year, which has been fun because I'm the wolf den leader.

Our youngest is in his final year of preschool. He is learning his ABCs. He also learned to swim this summer.

We love the words of the Christmas carol: “God rest ye merry, gentlemen,
let nothing you dismay.  Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day . . . ”

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Our Family Wassail Recipe

Wassail is one of our family favorite holiday treats. I like it because it's easy and makes the house smell nice. My kids like it because it's yummy. My youngest affectionately refers to it as "weasle", so if he tells you we're eating weasle over here, you'll know what he's talking about. (Don't tell my kids, but it's also kind of healthy compared to most holiday treats.) Here's my recipe:


1 can frozen orange juice
1 can frozen apple juice
6 cans of water
2 sticks of cinnamon
5 cloves
1/4 cup of brown sugar (more or less to taste)

Mix all ingredients together in a big pot on the stove. I usually heat it at medium until it's almost boiling. Then I turn the heat down to the lowest setting. The longer you leave it on the stove, the better it tastes, but you might have to add more water.

Optional: You can use twice as much apple juice if you prefer.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Barely Hanging on in December

My kids have been having fun messing up the Christmas decorations, and this little wise man hanging by his neck from the mantle seems a little too symbolic.It's the first week of December, and I'm really behind. Sound familiar? This week we've had the flu, I found out my dad's in the hospital, my husband is running around like crazy trying to do his church service, and I've got a birthday party to plan. 

Isn't it crazy how hectic Christmas can be? Especially for those of us who believe in Christ. After all, the Savior was born in a stable. I'm sure he never intended us to celebrate his birth by getting stressed out.

I'd like to think I could do without all the material aspects of Christmas. But that's not always the best idea if you have kids. Luckily, I have Amazon. (If I order today or tomorrow, most things will arrive in plenty of time.) Once I get that done, I'm back to the non-materialistic stuff--playing Christmas music, reading stories, and loving others.

I am grateful for my relationship with Jesus Christ. I have felt the peace that comes from His forgiveness and the joy that comes from following His example. This video sums up my feelings about the gift of His love in my life:

Friday, November 28, 2014

Being West is Best: A Book Review

Today I'm pleased to review Being West is Best: A Ginnie West Adventure (Book 3) by Monique Bucheger. Here's the summary from the back cover:

Twelve-year-old BFFs, Ginnie West and Tillie Taylor, are matchmaking geniuses. Together, they maneuvered Ginnie’s widower-dad into proposing to Tillie’s divorcee-mom. Sweet! Certain they are well on their way to sisterhood, each girl is floored when Tillie’s lousy-excuse-for-a-father puts in an appearance after a six year absence. Too bad “lousy dad repellant” doesn’t come in a can. Even though Tillie’s dad has sobered up and is determined to make amends, Tillie would rather he just disappear again. If he stays, “Operation: Secret Sisters” may need to be renamed “Operation: Not Gonna Happen.” 

If that’s not bad enough, the biggest bully in seventh grade comes over often and wishes he could call the West’s farmhouse “home.” When the bully’s abusive dad shows up as well, Ginnie thinks it’s time to change her family’s motto from “When you’re here, you’re family” to “There’s no more room at the West’s.”

My review: As you can tell, this book is written for pre-teen girls, and it is exactly the type of book I enjoyed at that stage of my life. There's a lot of drama from a previous divorce, an impending remarriage, and school bullying. The characters are face with some grown-up problems, and they have to learn to deal with them in grown-up ways. I was a fan of Judy Blume as a kid, and this book reminds me of her writing. As an adult, I'm not such a big fan of Judy Blume's books because I noticed my kids showed more disrespect after reading them. That's why I like Monique's books so much. They reinforce traditional values like respect for parents, honesty, and forgiveness. Plus, the farm setting is really fun.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Losing Weight with Gun Control

Last year, in between Halloween and Christmas, I gained five pounds. "No biggy," I thought. "I'll just make a New Year's resolution to lose five pounds." Well, if you're anything like me, you know how that went. I managed to gain three more pounds over the course of the last ten months. The week before Halloween, I decided enough was enough. I was not going to gain any more weight this holiday season. For one thing, I was starting to have trouble with heart burn, and for another, my pants were all too tight. (Gotta love those yoga pants.)

I'd heard about a program called stickk.com, where you can sign up to give money to an anti-charity if you don't manage to keep your goals. I'm the world's biggest cheapskate, so I thought losing money would motivate me. And, even if I failed every week for eight weeks, I'd still only pay $40--that was cheaper than any other weight loss program I could find. But, here was the clincher, I'd be giving the money to an anti-charity--like Congress or the NRA. I picked the NRA because my husband disapproved of giving any money to Congress. To quote him, "That's just pure evil." On the other hand, he doesn't mind donating to the NRA (unlike me.)

So, I bit the bullet (haha), and signed up to lose half a pound a week. Each week, I check in to tell stickk.com my weight. If I don't stay on track, they send $5 to the NRA. My kids still have their Halloween candy. If I'm ever tempted to eat some, they only had to say, "Sure, I don't mind you donating to the NRA." It's been four weeks, and I have yet to make a single donation. Yahoo!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

My Remodel

I know this is far from a design blog, but we've spent the last two-and-a-half years remodeling our living room and entry area. And, thanks to some good luck at the thrift store this weekend, it is almost finished! So I thought I'd show off what we've done (even if it's only interesting to my mother.)

There was a lot that needed to be changed. We started by painting the walls, including one that's fifteen feet tall. Then we had someone come in to replace the fireplace.

Here's the before of our fireplace. Lovely, right? I've always had an affinity for fake stone.

And here's the after:

Then we changed the carpet to laminate flooring. I hate having contractors come into my house. If you want to know why, check out my blog post on the time I got quarantined for Hep A. So, to make it easy on me, we had our contractor friend come do the floor while we were on vacation. We came home to this: 

We spent long hours shopping for couches at furniture stores and discussing what I really wanted. Then, last Friday I walked into the thrift store and saw these:

Now all I need is a new TV stand to go with the monstrous TV my husband won at his office. Anyone know where to find a great TV stand? I feel like I've looked everywhere.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

If Jane Austen Came for Thanksgiving

I dressed up as a Jane Austen character for Halloween this year. As I was cleaning up after our party, I got a little too into the part and wished I had some servants to clean for me. Then I mentally flogged myself. If I lived in Jane Austen's time, I would most likely be a servant, and if I was anything like Jane Austen herself, I would also be dead by the time I reached my current age.

Later, while browsing through Facebook and reading my friends' grateful lists, I wondered what Jane Austen would find to be grateful for in our modern times. So, setting aside any concerns she might have about moral decay, here is Jane Austen's 2014 gratitude list:

  1. The financial freedom of women. Women are no longer dependent on men for their financial well-being.
  2. Dressing without the help of a ladies' maid.
  3. Online dating.
  4. Being able to drive a car.
  5. Not having to wear a corset.
  6. Modern medicine, which probably could have extended her life and the lives of others who died from disease or childbirth.
  7. Computers, word processing software, and keyboards
  8. Indoor plumbing and mechanized servants: heaters, hot water heaters, washing machines, dishwashers, mixers, crockpots, lawnmowers, light bulbs, etc.
  9. Public libraries.
  10. Public schools.
Looking at my life through Jane Austen's perspective helped me realize how rich I really am. What else do you think Jane Austen would find to be grateful for?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Meet June McCrary Jacobs

Today I'm hosting an interview with my friend, June McCrary Jacobs. She and I have gotten to know each other because we share the same publisher. She is a friendly and talented Christian woman, and I'm glad to call her my friend. We hope you enjoy my interview with her.

Becky:  You're not only a published author, you're an accomplished seamstress. Tell us about your hobbies and interests.

June:  Thanks for hosting this interview on your blog, Becky. I appreciate the opportunity to share with your readers.
I’ve been reading and writing since before I was in Kindergarten and sewing since I was about eight years old. These activities have brought me so much pleasure and have enriched my life in many ways. I’m fortunate to have had my work published in the fiction-writing and sewing design arenas.
My hobbies are reading, sewing, quilting, hand-embroidery, crafting, cooking, and decorating our home. My interests include spending time with my family and friends, visiting historic homes and sites, visiting art and history museums and art galleries, attending fairs and festivals, and walking through botanical gardens and parks. I love anything to do with antique quilts, clothing, and textiles, so I visit a lot of quilt shows and museum exhibits related to these themes.

One of June's sewing projects

Becky: I love visiting all those kinds of places too (though I'm not much of a seamstress.) How did you end up writing stories?

June:  When I was in sixth grade I decided I wanted to be a published author. I’ve always been a voracious reader, so I suppose it was a natural progression that I’d compose my own stories. I knew I wanted to write a book for readers to enjoy—a story to make people feel good about the people in their lives and their community. Basically, I wanted to write an old-fashioned, inspirational story with love as the nucleus of the plot.
I’ve always made up stories in my mind about people I observe and places I visit. A few years ago I began putting these stories down on paper—or should I say typing these up on my computer! I began writing non-fiction columns and articles for sewing and crafting magazines in 2007. I’m responsible for writing the instructions for the sewing designs I create for books, magazines, and blogs. Eventually I moved on to fiction writing. ‘A Holiday Miracle in Apple Blossom’ is my first published book.

Becky: What writing projects are you working on now?

June:  I’m polishing my first full-length contemporary inspirational romance novel, and I’m working on a cute, sort of funny contemporary clean romance with characters I absolutely adore. I find I really like most of my characters so much I consider them to be individuals I could be friends with in real life. However, there are a villain and villainess in my new full-length novel who I hope I never cross in real life! They are naughty and not nice.

June McCrary Jacobs

Becky:  Who are your favorite authors?

June:  I read in many different genres, so I’ll break up my list into genres. I’ve learned a lot about writing from these fabulous authors.
Amish Fiction:  Shelley Shepard Gray, Tricia Goyer, Beverly Lewis, Wanda E. Brunstetter, Barbara Cameron, Kelly Long, Rosalind Lauer, and Vanetta Chapman. 
Contemporary Romance:  Debbie Macomber and Lucy Kevin. 
Inspirational Romance:  Jillian Hart and Debra Clopton.
Historical Fiction:  Laura Ingalls Wilder, Tracie Peterson, and Colleen Coble.
Fiction:  Sue Grafton, Earlene Fowler, Jennifer Chiaverini, Marcia Muller, Amy Tan, John Grisham, Adriana Trigiani, and Lisa Scottoline.
Non-fiction Authors and Editors (Sewing, Quilting, Crafting, Cooking):   Wendy Gardiner, Trish Hoskins & Rebecca Yaker, Emma Hardy, Cath Kidston, Alex Anderson, Ree Drummond (Pioneer Woman), Martha Stewart & Associates, and many more!

Becky: I'm going to have to take your list to the library with me. Those are some great authors! How did your friends and family react when you told them you’d won the Cedar Fort Holiday Tale Contest in 2013 and that your book was going to be published?

June:  Most of them didn’t know I had written ‘A Holiday Miracle’ and entered it in Cedar Fort’s contest, so they were very surprised to learn I had won! I don’t usually share with others about my writing or sewing submissions until I have a signed contract.
My husband and close friends were ecstatic because they know how hard I’ve worked for years to accomplish the goal of publishing a novel. Others who knew of my sewing design accomplishments were curious about my change from sewing designing to writing.
Everyone has been extremely supportive, especially my husband and my circle of close friends. Other people whom I’ve known for years but who didn’t really know about the sewing publications were shocked and excited when they asked me, ‘What’s new?’, and I responded, ‘I have a book coming out in October.’ It was fun to see the expressions on their faces when what I was sharing with them sank in and they reacted with a huge smile or giggle.
People I don’t even know have followed me on my Author’s Facebook page and have sent me nice emails about the book and my sewing designs. Their kindness and positive reactions to my work have been rewarding.

Becky: Aren't those kind of e-mails the best? I love them too. Since Christmas in Apple Blossom is a Christmas story, I'd like to know some of your favorite Christmas traditions.

June:  As I’ve grown older, I try to concentrate on the true meanings of Christmas during the holiday season. I believe the true meanings of this holiday are love, kindness, God’s great gift to the world, and compassion. I don’t get caught up in the shopping frenzy because it’s too stressful and unnecessary. Instead, I do the things which make my family and me happy.
I enjoy decorating our house for holidays. As you might imagine, many of our decorations are things I’ve sewn or crafted over the years. I love the Christmas story in the Gospel of Luke, Christmas books, holiday music, and holiday movies so I set aside some time to enjoy those treasures each holiday season. I especially enjoy watching two different versions of ‘The Nutcracker Ballet’ each season.
I enjoy visiting historic homes decorated for the season in period Christmas d├ęcor. Some of my favorite homes to visit are Hearst Castle in San Simeon, the Stanford Mansion in Sacramento, McConaghy House in Hayward, the Meux Home in Fresno, Patterson House in Newark, and the Elk Grove Stage Stop Hotel in Elk Grove. I especially enjoy seeing the antique and vintage dolls, teddy bears, and toys they display in the various room vignettes at these magnificent homes.
I also like to do some charity sewing for local organizations. For a few years I donated stockings and ornaments to the local hospital foundation for them to pass out to patients who were stuck in the hospital on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I’ve also made cloth dolls, doll quilts, and stuffed animals for other organizations to distribute to those families in need. I’ve made quilts and hats and scarves for the elderly and the homeless in our community. Creating a gift for someone in need helps me to feel connected to others and reminds me of God’s gift to our world.
Finally, one event I truly look forward to each year is our annual drive around town to see the Christmas lights and decorations other families have generously prepared for our enjoyment. I anticipate this annual sojourn as much as I did when I was a child!

Becky: How did you get the idea for Christmas in Apple Blossom?

June:  I lived in snow country when I was very young. I remember snow as being white, wet, and cold. It was also scary since the landscape looked so different than when there was no snow on the ground. Since moving to California after Kindergarten, I don’t have a lot of experience with snow except for a weekend ski trip to Lake Tahoe when I was in high school.
I’ve heard people talk and write about snow angels and how much fun they were to make.  I had to look in a book to see what they were talking about! Once I saw illustrations of snow angels and read a few children’s stories about them, I decided to write a story about a little girl who loved angels—snow angels, singing angels, anything to do with angels. The little girl developed into the injured first grader, Mary Noel, in my book. I began with her accident and subsequent depression.
When I saw the call for submissions from Cedar Fort Inc. for their 2013 Holiday Tale Contest, I decided to finish my ‘Mary Noel’ novella and submit it to the contest. I wanted to write a story that would touch people and remind them of the true meaning of Christmas—love.
The story is set in the fictional town of Apple Blossom in Vermont because I wanted a setting where there was lots of snow. The apple is the state tree of Vermont, so I created the town name of Apple Blossom to fit in with that fact.
The heroine, Amber Kellen, is a first grade teacher who is new to Apple Blossom. I taught first grade for nearly twenty years, so I felt I could depict the teaching profession, students, and daily happenings in a first grade classroom with confidence. The hero, Paul Watkins, is a carpenter in honor of my Grandpa John who was a skilled carpenter in the south back in the early and mid-twentieth century.
I’ve heard from other people and in the news about the astronomical medical costs for hospital care, and I decided to make the center of the story about a community project and the families in the area working together to help one of their own families suffering from financial stress. After those things were set, I began the writing and editing cycle until I felt the book was ready to submit to Cedar Fort.

Becky: Your story is about how a community comes together to help a child in need. Do you have any real life examples of service that have brought people together in your neighborhood?

June:  None that I can think of right now, Becky. I am hopeful my book will inspire others to think creatively when trying to help families in need. Organizations to which volunteers give of their time and energy are generally successful in the fundraising arena because these individuals have hope and faith that they can make a positive difference in the lives of others. I find their faith and call to action to be very inspiring.

Becky: I understand you've published articles about sewing. How do you get ideas for sewing projects?

June:  I have several notebooks and sketchbooks filled with ideas, notes, doodling, and sketches. When I’m searching for something to make, many times I’ll pull out these treasure troves and discover the inspiration I need.
In the past editors have contacted me and requested a project using a certain color, fabric, or product. Sometimes I’m requested to make a Christmas gift for a child or a holiday decoration for Independence Day, for example. Other calls for submissions are very specific about colors, fabrics, embellishments, types of projects desired, etc.

June's snail face suitcase

When the call for submission for the ‘Little One-Yard Wonders’ book was posted in early 2012, the call basically stated they were looking for children’s designs using one yard only of fabric. I began thinking back to when I was a child. I asked myself what was my favorite accessory? The answer became so clear to me—it was a small-sized suitcase with a zipper closure that I used for sleepovers, slumber parties, and campouts for several years until it wore out.
I sketched out the suitcase and then wanted to add something special to the front. I love rickrack trim and buttons, and I envisioned a snail’s shell made from sewing rickrack in a circular pattern. I added a button head, etc., and came up with the project that ended up in the book, my ‘Snail Face Suitcase.’
Sometimes when I’m taking photographs to post on my blog I’ll see something in nature that calls to me or touches me, such as a bird or a flower. Then I try to incorporate that element into an ornament or pillow or small table quilt or wall hanging.

June:  I enjoyed sharing with you and your readers today, Becky. Once again, thanks for hosting this interview. If your readers are interested in learning more about my writing and sewing adventures, downloading free monthly sewing designs, or leaving a comment on my blog, please have them visit me at my website:  http://www.junemccraryjacobs.com.  Readers may also contact me on my Author’s Facebook Page and at my email address:  junemccraryjacobs@gmail.com.  All my best wishes to you, Becky, in your journey as an author. Happy holidays, everyone!

Friday, October 17, 2014

My Time in Quarantine and What I Learned From It

As I've listened to the news about Ebola, I've reflected again and again on my own experience with a serious disease. Twelve years ago, I contracted a bad case of Hepatitis A (a food-borne form of Hepatitis) and had to spend three weeks in quarantine. Despite significant damage to my liver, I recovered and am able to live a normal life now. I often reflect on how blessed I am to be healthy.

Lately, I have heard over and over again that African cultural practices are responsible for the spread of Ebola. I agree. However, having experienced quarantine in the U.S., I can also say that American cultural practices could lead to the spread of Ebola. There are three American cultural practices in particular that I wanted to address in this blog post. First, that American medical professionals tend to scoff at self-diagnosis. Second, that health departments generally quarantine individuals only after diagnosis. Third, that Americans tend to perceive quarantining as the equivalent of ostracizing. My personal story illustrates all three of these weaknesses.

If You Self-Diagnose, You Must Be a Hypochondriac
Back in 2003, Hepatitis was the last thing on my mind. All I knew was that I had an incurable desire to lie on the couch watching Oprah. This wasn't something I normally did, and I couldn't figure out what was wrong. I rationalized that I was really tired of the contractors working on my bathroom. But no matter how much I rested, the fatigue grew worse. Finally one day, I noticed that my hands were yellow. I looked in the mirror. My face was yellow. So were the whites of my eyes. Because I'd served a mission in Africa, I knew I had Hepatitis. I immediately called my doctor. At my appointment, I told him I thought I had Hepatitis A. Like most doctors, he wasn't impressed with my self-diagnosis. He ordered a blood test to appease me, but also scheduled an ultrasound because he was sure I was having trouble with a gall stone.

I've thought about this a lot in the context of Duncan Eric Thomas. What if the doctor had simply asked him, "What do you think might be wrong with you?" Then, what if they had listened and considered that he could be right?

Quarantining After Diagnosis, Instead of Before
By the time my doctor got the results of my blood test, I was already starting to feel better. He immediately called the health department and told me not to go out in public. I remember thinking, "Wait, now that I'm feeling a little better, they're going to quarantine me? Wouldn't it have made more sense to start the quarantine a few days ago when I felt like I was going to die?"

This is a problem that also showed up with the nurses who worked at the hospital in Dallas. They weren't quarantined until after they showed symptoms. It looks like the government might try to reverse this practice by quarantining those who've had contact with the disease. Yesterday, for example, we heard about a nurse from the Dallas hospital who's been quarantined on a cruise ship. The news is making a big deal about her quarantine, but the truth of the matter is that she has no symptoms. It's a precautionary quarantine.

The Stigma of Quarantine
The health department called me the same day of my diagnosis. I provided them with a list of everyone who'd had close contact with me, including the contractors who worked on my bathroom. Every one of those people had to get gamma globulin shots at the health department. (That was pretty embarrassing for me, and in hindsight, it was hard to say everyone's name, knowing they'd all have to get a shot.) After that, it was a long, lonely three weeks at home. I was blessed to have people from my church who helped me shop and prepared meals for my family. I'll admit, though, I felt a little ostracized. I'd never known anyone else who'd been quarantined, and I wondered if people would judge me as someone who had poor hygeine.

We need to turn the stigma of quarantine on its head. People who submit to quarantine are brave and generous. They are protecting their communities. They deserve thank-you notes, phone calls, and applause from the media. No, we don't want to be around them, but we can give them the respect they deserve.

My prayers go out to the West African people and those elsewhere who've been affected by Ebola. I hope as a world, we can find a way to end the suffering.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Falling in love with Fall

I love summer, but now that it's over, I'm really excited about fall. One fabulous thing about living in Utah is that the leaves change colors in the mountains long before they change everywhere else. This picture is of Silver Lake, a really gorgeous place to visit in the fall. 

The leaves are just beginning to change around my neighborhood. We have so many beautiful golden yellow trees around us right now. My favorite, though, are the maple leaves that turn red. I've never posted a poem before, but this is one of my favorites (a sonnet) that I wrote about a maple leaf.

Maple Leaf
by Rebecca Jamison
I saw a silk tiara starched with sun
where once an old clay goddess laid her head
beneath this tree with autumn just begun
and stretched her wind-glazed limbs on grassy bed.
Or here the scale fell off a dragon's tail
engraved with fiery patterns, lines of skin,
to mark this sight where princesses turn pale
while knights, unheeding, thought what might have been.
Perhaps it is an ancient parchment sent
from far-off moons on rippled waves of air
with crooked words to spell a testament
of other peoples, other worlds to share.
But really winter's shiver shook this tree
and rained a witness of infinity.

Another great thing about fall is Halloween. I have been on the look-out for a good knight costume for years, and I finally found one last month at Costco. Whoohoo. Here's the preview:

Friday, October 3, 2014

Meet me in Bountiful

I'm so excited about this Saturday night. I'll be signing books with Jennifer Moore, who wrote Becoming Lady Lockwood. We'll be at the Deseret Book in Bountiful, Utah from 6:00-8:00 p.m. I'll also have chocolate and free bookplates.

It's been a fun week to be an author. My schedule has finally calmed down enough for me to get some writing done. I also got a great review for Sense and Sensibility: A Latter-day Tale in the Deseret News. (Click here to read the review.) 

Among other things, the reviewer wrote: Sense and Sensibility: A Latter-day Tale is more than a regurgitation of Austen’s classic. It’s almost a supplement meant to enrich an already wholesome, moving story about the strength of sisterhood and family.
Jamison, a Brigham Young University alum, has written a few other Mormon-targeted Austen adaptations, and her storytelling only gets better with each novel."
I hope you have a great weekend!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Our Favorite Family Movies

My husband loves movies, especially classic movies. I do too. I've already posted a list of some of my favorite black and white movies here. My husband has been making a list of movie recommendations for his friends, so today I'm sharing his list. We prefer clean movies, and these are clean enough for us. But everyone's standards are different. You may want to check the reviews on some of the newer movies before watching them.

Here they are:

African Queen
Back to the Future
Bedtime Stories
Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure
Bridge Over the River Kwai
Bringing Up Baby (Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn)
Cast Away
Christmas Carol (George C. Scott)
Christmas Story
Christmas with the Kranks
Desk Set
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941)
Ella Enchanted
Father Goose (Cary Grant)
Follow Me, Boys!
Friendly Persuasion
Galaxy Quest
Get Smart
Gods Must Be Crazy
Gods Must Be Crazy II
Groundhog Day (Bill Murray)
Harry Potter, series
High Noon
His Girl Friday (Cary Grant)
Hunt for Red October
I Remember Mama (Irene Dunne)
It Happened One Night
It's a Wonderful Life (Jimmy Stewart)
Karate Kid
Lawrence of Arabia
Life with Father
Lilies of the Field
Lord of the Rings
Magnificent Seven
Modern Times (Charlie Chaplin)
Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (Cary Grant)
Music Man
My Fair Lady
My Favorite Wife (Cary Grant)
Nacho Libre
Napolean Dynamite
North by Northwest (Cary Grant)
Philadelphia Story (Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Katherine Hepburn)
Princess Bride
Princess Diaries
Rear Window (Jimmy Stewart)
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
Sky High
Some Like It Hot (Tony Curtis, Marilyn Monroe)
Sound of Music
Star Trek
Star Wars IV, V, VI
The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (Cary Grant)
The Court Jester
The General (Buster Keaton)
The Gold Rush (Charlie Chaplin)
The Incredibles
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart)
The Quiet Man (John Wayne)
The Robe
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2014)
The Seven Samarai (foreign film)
The Wizard of Oz
To Catch a Thief (Cary Grant)
Toy Story
Treasure Island
Uncle Buck (John Candy)
What about Bob? (Bill Murray)
Willy Wonka
You Can't Take It with You (Jimmy Stewart)

How about you. Do you have a recommendation that's not on our list?

Sunday, September 7, 2014

So You Think You Can't Dance?

I'm going to go out on a limb and make a very politically incorrect statement here. Most white men won't dance. My husband is no exception. He will slow dance, but he will not fast dance in public. Ever. Even if I drag him out into the middle of the dance floor and dance around him. Here's what I've learned--it actually draws more attention to see a tall white man standing perfectly still in the middle of the dance floor than to see him dance. People come up to us and say things like, "You two are so cute" as I dance next to him.

After our last escapade on the dance floor at a wedding reception, I told my husband I wished he'd take dance lessons. A few days later, he came up with a deal for me. He would take dance lessons if I went to a gun class with him. (I have been refusing to go to said gun class for about a year now.) That got me. I said I would do the gun class if he went to the dance classes first.

Friday was our first dance class. I was surprised how many people were there—about 20. And, get this, there were MORE men than women. The men were also, in general, younger than the women. I about fainted.

The class consisted of some young couples who were there to learn to dance for their weddings. Then, there were singles, who I guess go there to meet people. And there was one older couple who was there for fun. The single guys were really nice. I danced with a couple of them while my husband was dancing with the instructor. Not that I'm looking to trade up or anything--especially now that hubby's taking dance lessons.

We learned the waltz, the rumba, the swing, and the hustle. Most people think waltz is the easiest. Not us. We did best at swing and hustle. I guess we're just cool like that.

The beginner’s class was at 7 pm. Then they had a dance party at 8 pm. Lots of older couples and singles came to the dance party. Since we’d already paid for the class, we could stay as long as we liked without paying again, so we stayed and practiced during the party. It was great for people watching. There were some really great dancers there--including old people who danced circles around us and sometimes bumped into us because we didn't know what we were doing.

It was fun to watch the single people. Like I said, there were a lot of young single men—mostly not white men. (What is with white men and dancing?) But here was the most interesting thing: the older single women got to dance over and over again with the young single guys. (Hint hint, ladies.) Who would have thought a ballroom dance class was such a great place to meet other singles? Not me. Now I'm wondering what other places are great for meeting people.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Win New Fiction Titles

This month my publisher is sponsoring a giveaway on NewLDSFiction.com. You can enter to win a copy of Sense and Sensibility: A Latter-day Tale or another great book like these:

Just click here. Then scroll down to fill out the entry form. You'll need to enter the titles of the books you'd like to win and what format (paperback, kindle, etc.)

I have won books at this site before, so it's not impossible.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Prelude Chains for LDS Hymns

Most of my kids play the piano and, thanks to their awesome teacher, they love it. I love to play the piano in the privacy of my own home. I'm not so sure about playing anywhere else. I have a motor-control problem with my eyes that makes it hard to read notes quickly. I almost always make mistakes when I play. However, sometimes people get desperate enough to ask me to play at church. Right now, I am playing the hymns for our Relief Society meetings.

One of the challenges I had when I started was that I needed to find peaceful prelude music to play before the meeting started. I google-searched "prelude chains" trying to find lists of hymns in the same keys that I could play together. No such luck. I only found music books I could buy. Instead of spending the money, I made my own prelude chains.

Once I had my list, it was so easy to play beautiful prelude music. I carry my list in my purse all the time and just prop it up beside my hymn book when I play.

In case this might be helpful to others, I'm posting my three favorite prelude chains. The numbers indicate the hymn number in the LDS hymnbook. You're welcome to copy and paste. Here they are:

Key of D: 113, 122, 129, 131, 134, 145, 220, 295, 298, 301, 304

Key of G: 97, 98, 108, 133, 135, 136, 141, 22

Key of F: 9, 44, 67, 81, 100, 124, 125, 143, 270, 278, 296, 300, 303

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Celebrating in August with Watermelon

We have come to the end of another great summer vacation. Like most moms, I feel like I need my own little vacation right now. But it has been fun.

This week was my birthday. Because I have two boys on gluten-free diets, I usually end up making my own "cake." I use the term cake loosely because most times I don't feel like baking a real cake for my birthday. This year, I made a cake from a watermelon. I've seen the idea floating around on Pinterest and Facebook, so I adapted it for my own.

My recipe calls for a large watermelon, raspberries, pineapple, and strawberries.  I didn't frost it like I've seen others do. I just cut a big cylinder out of watermelon and decorated with fruit, sometimes using toothpicks. You can find other watermelon cake designs here on Pinterest.

This month, I joined a new critique group. I now have three author friends who meet with me every week on oovoo, which is sort of like skype. It's great to have a little deadline every week to keep me going. It's also great to have people telling me how I can improve during the early stages of my work.

Speaking of my work, I am well into my next project. People often ask me if I write an outline or just write by the seat of my pants. I do a little of both. I outline, but I change my outline as I write.  This is what my current posterboard outline looks like:

This time around, I'm using Blake Snyder's outlining method that's in his book Save the Cat. We'll see how it works out. Coincidentally, my outline is in watermelon colors. Did I mention that I love watermelon?

As you can see, I still have a few plot points to fill in on the outline, but I am well on my way.

It takes me a good 100 pages of writing until I start to get into a new book. I'm only about 65 pages in right now, so I still miss Elly and Maren from the last book. No wonder so many authors write series.

If you'd like to know more about the crazy events in my life, you can visit me on Facebook. I'd love to hear what's going on in your life too.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Based on a True Story

Sometimes people ask me how much of what I've written in a novel has really happened to me. That's a hard question to answer. A lot of the things in my novels have happened to me. They just didn't happen in the same way. For example, in Sense and Sensibility: A Latter-day Tale, one character works as a programmer at a library software company. I also worked at a library software company, but I worked as a technical writer. There are a lot of other examples like that in the book.

Like my characters, I have an autistic sister. I know what it's like to handle an outburst in a public place. On the other hand, my sister's disabilities are much greater than Grace's. My emotions are the same as my characters' emotions regarding their sister; the details are different.

The Prigel Family Creamery (photo by Baltimore Sun)

For the most part, the places in the novel are all real places. Cunningham Falls, Muir Woods, the Kennedy Center, and The Shamrock exist outside my novel. You can visit them yourself. The dairy store is based on the Prigel Family Creamery, a little ice cream shop I visited once in Maryland. The Cuban restaurant is based on one I used to frequent in Provo, Utah. I don't think it exists anymore. I invented the Silver Linings shop in my head, but I have been to shops like that around Sonoma County, California.

The Lake near Cunningham Falls

Cunningham Falls

I also share a lot of hobbies with my characters. Like Elly, I love to tap dance and take things apart. Like Grace, I enjoy musicals. And like Maren, I have studied art history.

Chapter 42 of Sense is probably one of the most autobiographical things I've ever put in my novels. It didn't happen to me for the same reasons it did for Maren, but we both ended up in the same place, so I wrote much of the chapter from my personal memories.

I have never had poison ivy, but conveniently my son has had two very severe cases--one of them during edits for this book. Such a helpful boy!

Then there were things I made up. You'll have to guess what those were.

Click to view the Blog Tour schedule

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Peppermint Patty Ice Cream

I have a tradition of sharing a recipe from my books when each one comes out, and today, I am sharing a recipe from Sense and Sensibility: A Latter-day Tale, where some of the characters work at an ice cream shop.

We make homemade ice cream every summer on July 24th. This is my favorite recipe that we invented one day when my husband bought the wrong ingredients. We make it in a 4 quart electric ice cream freezer.

Peppermint Patty Ice Cream

Mix together:

4 cups milk
1 quart half and half
2 3 1/2 oz. packages vanilla instant pudding mix
8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, melted
1 1/2 cups sugar (optional)
1 package peppermint patties, chopped or torn into small pieces

Freeze according to ice cream freezer directions.

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Thursday, July 31, 2014

$175 Amazon Gift Card Giveaway

To celebrate my 200th post and 100,000+ page views, I'm participating in a giveaway with eleven other  clean authors! Here are the details:

What would you do with a 
$175 Amazon Gift Card?

11 authors have come together
to give you some SUMMER FUN READING
and a $175 AMAZON GIFT CARD!

Click on the image to read a summary of each book :)

GIVEAWAY ends 8/31/14 

No purchase necessary. You must be 18 or older and legally able to receive and use an Amazon.com Gift Code. This giveaway is not associated with Rafflecopter, Facebook, Twitter or any other entity unless otherwise specified. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This giveaway was organized by I Love to Read and Review Books :) 
and sponsored by the participating authors.
A.L. Sowards
Christy Monson
Ashley Lavering
In This Together Media
J. C. Whyte
Debbie Peterson
Rebecca Belliston
Rebecca H Jamison
Rachelle J. Christensen
Alivia Anderson
Julie Coulter Bellon

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Never Too Old

"It's never too late to be who you might have been."-- George Eliot

My husband's grandma passed away last week. She was 100 years old. Today, I wanted to share a few of the many things I learned from Grandma Ruth Jamison.

Teaching Herself to Read
About eight years ago, Grandma had a severe case of pneumonia and almost died. Because of the trauma, she suffered some brain damage and lost her ability to read. The weird thing was, though, that she still remembered how to teach people to read because, in her younger years, she'd been a teacher. Being the persistent woman she was, she got some phonics materials from her daughter and taught herself to read again (even though she was about ninety-two at the time.) By the time my first book came out, she was reading at an adult level and could read my book. She also read my second book and planned to read my third. She always read the paper, church materials, and other good books.

Her husband died forty-six years before she did. That meant she spent most of her adult life as a widow. She always told me that bad things were going to happen anyway, she might as well be as happy as she could about the good things.

Grandma taught herself to do just about everything. She cut hair, sewed , wielded power tools, and gardened. If she wanted to do something, she just jumped in and learned how. When she wanted a bathroom off her master bedroom, she built one. When she needed a better way to crack walnuts, she built herself this tool:

She wasn't afraid of failure. She tried things and if they didn't work, she tried again. She had this saying about a bad haircut: "I do not mind it for I am behind it. It's the folks in front that get the jar."

She had a strong testimony of our church and of God's love for everyone. She stayed close to the spirit and often gave us the exact advice we needed to hear. A few years ago, I was having a hard time with my role as the bishop's wife because my husband is a secret-keeper extraordinaire--as in he doesn't even tell me things he should. I kept talking to other bishops' wives I knew, trying to get advice. No one understood. Then I drove down to Provo for a field trip for one of my kids and stopped in to visit Grandma Jamison. Within minutes of my arrival, she told me some stories that made me feel so much better. I hadn't even asked for her help. She answered my prayers without knowing what was bothering me.

I know this makes it sound like Grandma Jamison was perfect. We all knew she wasn't. She accepted her imperfections, even laughed at them sometimes, but she never let them defeat her.