Tuesday, April 29, 2014

My Favorite Books

Today, I thought I'd share some of my favorite books. I took a picture of them in the photo. In case you can't read the titles, here they are from top to bottom:

  • Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. It took me two years to read the unabridged version, and it was worth it. (That was when I had three little kids under the age of five.) I'd recommend an abridged version. It was so much better than the movie.
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I read this as a teenager and re-read it a few years ago on a day when I had the flu. It was just as good as I remembered.
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Of course.
  • The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. Corrie's family hid Jews during the Holocaust and went to a concentration camp because of it. I love her Christian perspective on love, forgiveness, and gratitude.
  • Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling. Of course.
  • Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder. My mom read this book to my brother and me when we were very young. I love all the versions--TV, picture books, and Christmas stories.
  • Persuasion by Jane Austen. I like it even better than Pride and Prejudice.
  • My Antonia by Willa Cather. This one is hands down the most enjoyable book I read during my undergraduate years as an English Major. I also love The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but my copy is in a big fat anthology.
  • Christy by Catherine Marshall. This is the story of a young woman who leaves her cultured life to teach school in the Appalachian Mountains. I love it.
  • I should also add that I consumed a steady diet of L.M. Montgomery books during my teen years. I love Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon.
What is your favorite book or books?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Twenty Years

My husband and I were married twenty years ago this April. We celebrated back in February. That's right--we celebrated two months early. March and April were looking way too busy, and my son's Pinewood Derby is scheduled for the day of our anniversary. So we took the opportunity when we could to have our romantic getaway. Probably we'll only have time for a lunch out on our actual anniversary.

Back on our first date twenty years ago, Eric mentioned that his favorite author is James Thurber. He was shocked that I'd never read any of Thurber's stories, especially considering that I'd just started on a master's degree in English. He sat me down and read me the story "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty." It's the story of a man with a very boring life but a great imagination.

I feel honored that in celebration of our 20th anniversary, Hollywood has remade the movie "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty."  (Wink, Wink.) We watched it on our anniversary weekend and loved it. And not just because it's a great movie. (Thank you, Hollywood.) But also because I have become so much like Walter Mitty. Seriously, you guys, I do the zone out thing so much that my husband kept giving me that look during the movie--the look that said, "This guy is totally you." Other authors tell me they zone out too. But my poor husband! I feel very blessed that he has stuck with me.

I remember there were some times at the beginning of our marriage when we were still getting used to each other that I thought, "What was I thinking?" But as Eric and I have grown together, things have gotten better and better. I can't imagine being married to anyone else.

Years ago, someone gave me the following marriage advice: "Lower your expectations." I have to say that I've repeated that phrase in my mind many times over the years. I tend to be a huge perfectionist. I set big goals and generally achieve them. My husband, happily, is just the opposite. He take a laid back approach to life. He balances me out, but sometimes I have tried to impose my perfectionism on him. It never turns out well.

What advice has helped you the most in dealing with other people?

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Parable of the Michelin Tires

Note my tires in background.
In celebration of Easter, I wanted to share my own personal parable:

Last fall, I went to the Toyota dealership for an oil change (I had a coupon.) You know how it is when you go to the dealership, they always find about $1000 of things that "you absolutely need to fix about your car." So, I went in there vowing that I wouldn't allow them to fix anything.

As I suspected, after the oil change, the mechanic brought me a long list of things wrong with my car. Among these was that I needed new tires. "Yeah, right," I thought to myself. "My tires aren't that old."

Later, I reviewed the list with my husband. He helped me fix a few things, and then I went on my merry way, driving all over the place on my old tires. They felt just fine to me.

A few weeks later, my husband drove my van in the rain. He came home, telling me I needed new tires. I took his advice with a huge chunk of salt because he'd gotten brand new tires the year before. I told myself he was spoiled and couldn't remember what it was like to drive on normal tires!

A few days later, I drove in the van in the rain, and, for the first time, I saw that maybe the mechanic and my husband were right. My car slipped and slid a little as I changed lanes on wet pavement. But, I told myself that I didn't have time to go to the shop and get new tires. Besides that, I needed to wait for a good deal.

The first snowstorm came early this year. And I got a flat tire on the same day it snowed. I count this as a tender mercy from the Lord because who knows what would have happened if I drove on those old tires in the storm?

The next day, after the snow melted, I drove straight to Costco on my spare. I got all four tires replaced with brand new Michelins. As you may have guessed, when I drove away on the new tires, I felt like I had a whole new car. It was so much easier to drive. I hadn't realized how bad things had gotten.

A few weeks later, as I drove down the freeway during a terrible snowstorm, I felt so happy to have my new Michelins. They kept my family safe and calmed my nerves as we passed accident after accident. What had I been thinking to hold onto those old tires for so long?

Here's the moral of the story: Sometimes we don't realize how much we need to change. Even when a friend, family member, or church leader suggests a new course of action, we resist. We make excuses like "It's too much work," "That's just the way I am," or "I like things the way they are." We may deny the power of the atonement and think that we can never be forgiven--"It's too expensive. No one will pay for my sins."

It's only after we make the change that we see how much we've been missing. Good changes bring us joy, the joy we're meant to feel in this life.

I believe in Christ and in His power to help us change our lives for the better.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Cover Reveal: Sense and Sensibility: A Latter-day Tale

I'm pleased to reveal the cover for Sense and Sensibility: A Latter-day Tale, which is due in stores on August 12, 2014. This design may just be my favorite of all my books'. Bonneville Book's cover designer gets extra bonus points for working around the long title and the fact that the book has two main characters.

As you've probably guessed, this book is based on Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility. That said, it's easily the most twisted of my Latter-day Tales (though not in a bad way, I promise.) Elly, the sensible sister, is a computer programmer, who helped run her father's software company before it failed. Her one goal is to get her family out from under the staggering weight of their business debts. Her sister Maren is a sensitive artist, who struggles to overcome the depression she feels after their father's death.

When the two sisters find out their mom is about to lose her home to foreclosure, Elly takes a job from her ex-boyfriend, the same man who put her family out of business. Things only get more complicated for Elly, however, when she realizes her new employer copied some of his software code from her father. Elly is far too busy for love, especially not with Ethan Ferrero, a man whose desire to serve the military seems to be in direct conflict with her own goal to save her family.

At the same time, Maren seeks professional help for her depression and finds purpose in new goals. Her family finds, though, that depression is a deadly disease, constantly threatening to interrupt their plans for building a new life.

Together, Elly and Maren learn that a mixture of sense and sensibility is the perfect recipe for overcoming their trials. And the perfect recipe for love.

If you'd like to read the first chapter, click here.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Tricks from a Mom of Six

When people hear I have six children, they usually think I'm a little crazy. They may be right, but I love each one of my kids. Each one is unique and brings joy to my life.

Nevertheless, raising six kids can be a lot of work. Today, I thought I'd share some tricks I've learned over the years to make things easier for myself.

I'll start with Meals and Shopping: For years now, I have collected simple, easy, cheap recipes in a binder. My kids have food allergies and don't always enjoy recipes designed especially for them, so my binder has been a life-saver. A few years ago, I also took the time to write out four shopping lists that I rotate. At the top of the list, I wrote the seven dinners I plan for the week. Then I wrote out the ingredients by category, so I can find them easily in the store. I used to do menu-planning every single week, and it took me way too long. I find I save time and money when we repeat our twenty-four favorite meals over and over again. Recently, I also started a non-foods shopping list, so I can stay stocked with items like tissues and vitamins. This saves me time because I don't have to make a special trip when I run out of napkins or shampoo.

House-Cleaning: A few years ago, I discovered Flylady.net. She helped me establish routines that save my time. I keep a control journal in a little photo book to remind me of my routines. I love Flylady's Weekly Home Blessing Hour podcast that I keep on my mp3 player. It helps me get my house shaped up in about an hour. (Click on the link if you're interested.) I also love her control journals, especially the one that helps me prepare for Christmas.

I also listen to books on CD or mp3 files while I clean. I get lost in the book and forget I'm cleaning. This is also a great way to read spiritual materials.

Laundry: Each of our kids has his own dishpan, into which we put his clean clothes. Ideally, the children put away their own clean clothes when their dishpans are full. That doesn't always happen, but the dishpans save me the grief of having laundry always piled on a bed or sofa.

Doing laundry is part of my routine. I do a load of laundry each morning, and I keep rebooting it until either the day is over or I reach the bottom of the pile. I sort laundry according to the Harry Potter sorting hat method. Ghosts are whites. Rags are Slitherin. Light-colored clothes are Hufflepuff. Dark-colored clothes are Griffindor. And towels and sheets are Ravenclaw. You would think this would make my kids more excited about sorting laundry, but it really only worked once.

Kids' Chores: The chore system that works best for us during the school year is to assign each child a ten-minute chore to do after dinner. Since they only have to work for ten minutes and they all work at the same time, they usually do their chores quickly without complaining. Our ten-minute chores include: washing dishes, collecting dirty laundry, clearing the table, sweeping the kitchen, vacuuming, and cleaning the living room. The youngest usually helps an older child. During the summer, I give the kids more elaborate chore charts that I print off the computer. I require them to finish their chores before they get screen time or outside time.

Keeping personal items separate: It's definitely hard to figure out who owns what. I have tried giving each child a different color toothbrush, but inevitably, the dentist will give them a toothbrush that is the wrong color. Permanent markers help on occasions like that. If the marker tends to rub off, you can put a piece of packing tape over it. I sewed rickrack on the edges of the kids' towels, so each child will have a towel that is unique to him (much cheaper than monogramming.) We also keep labeled plastic baskets in our smaller bathroom, so each child has a place for his toothbrush, deodorant, etc.

Finding time to write: Now that my youngest is in preschool, I have a lot more free time to write. Still, I have a few tricks that help me make the most of my writing time. First, I write on a laptop that doesn't have access to the internet. Second, I always keep a pen and paper handy, so I can write when inspiration strikes. I have a light-up pen and steno pad beside my bed. That way I can write down my thoughts in the middle of the night.

What are some of your tricks for saving time and staying organized?