Saturday, January 30, 2010

Coming Soon: Jim Karol's Supermind

So many people have been asking me about Supermind, my next book coming soon, that I thought you'd like to discover a little bit about Jim Karol, the man whose story we tell. Check out this clip from NBC's Phenomenon where Jim performs the bear trap segment from his show. The book will be released this spring. Jim's part is about 5 minutes into the clip.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Been There, Done That – The Monkees

In 1966 on a Monday night you would have found me glued to the color television set in my parents’ living room. No one—and I mean NO one—was allowed to make a sound for the half-hour that Mike, Mickey, Davy, and Peter were on the screen, because that was my sacred time to watch and listen to my favorite band, The Monkees.

Back in the day before iTunes, CDs or even VHS, I would sit close to the screen, trying to memorize every move as my reel-to-reel tape recorder saved every word and note that came through the speaker. Once the show was over, I would take my recorder into my bedroom to listen again to the show I had just seen.

Back in those days, Peter Tork was my favorite Monkee, followed closely by Mike Nesmith. Like most girls, I liked Davy with his darling British accent—but that was the problem—most girls already liked Davy. There was too much competition, or confusion, or craziness associated with the mere mention of his name. And speaking of craziness-Mickey was just a little too crazy for me.

Yes, I was hooked on The Monkees. Posters were plastered across my bedroom wall, hours were spent listening to the albums over and over again, Tiger Beat was read religiously, and gossip sessions with my friends all revolved around which guy was really cuter.

In 1966, I would never have imagined I’d have the chance to actually meet any of The Monkees, but in 1986 I got my chance. The place: Las Vegas, but that’s not where this story begins.

Just north of Salt Lake City, there’s an amusement park once made famous in a Beach Boys song, “We'll be coming soon; There's a park near the city, yeah; All the kids dig the Lagoon now.” Although it doesn’t seem like the park continues to have big-name performers there anymore, for some reason they were hosting The Monkees there that year, and a bunch of my Osmond-fan friends all ended up going.

Of course, being the type of fans we were, we had a great time—singing along, snapping photos, and trying to meet guys after the show. (Mike was no longer touring with the band by this time, but seeing three out of four ain’t bad!)

To our disappointment, my friend Jess and I were not successful at tracking down any of The Monkees for autographs after the show, but not to be stopped we came up with the brilliant idea, “Hey, they are performing next weekend in Las Vegas. Let’s go!”

Why not? We were single and had money back then, and a trip to Vegas was just a short drive in the car compared to some of the places we had been on our Osmond treks. But we knew if things worked out and we’d actually get the chance to meet The Monkees, we wanted to have something great—something special for them to sign.

I was thrilled when I got my pictures back from Worldwide Photos and saw the great solo shots I had of each one of the guys. I immediately ordered 9x12 prints to take on my trip to Vegas, just in case.

And that move paid off. Years of experience had taught the group of us about locating the most likely spots for celebrities to arrive at a variety of hotels all over Vegas; we knew where to stand; what to have with us; and how to talk to them to get an autograph, even if we didn’t get to pose for a picture.

And this time, we were in luck. I think Mickey must have been the first one off the bus when they arrived at the hotel, and I rushed right up to him, managing to get a scrawled autograph on my previous picture without too much of a fuss.

Davy was next, and he was so gracious. “Wow! Where did you get this picture?” he asked and he wrote David Jones across the top.

“I took it last week in Utah,” I told him.

He gave me a double-take and said, “How did you get it so fast?”

I just smiled and thanked him. Sometimes it pays to be a regular customer in a business establishment with big bucks to spend.

Now I only had Peter to track down and my autograph collection would be complete. But where was he, anyway? Somehow, during the minutes I spent with Davy, Peter had slipped from the bus and headed toward the outdoor pool and his room somewhere beyond. Once I spotted him, I was on my way.

“Peter! Peter,” I called. He lowered his head and seemed even more determined to get away, but I kept following. When I caught up with him a few seconds later, I said, “Peter can you sign my photo for me?”

He glanced over his shoulder before suddenly slowing down. We had left the entourage behind, and he seemed to relax a little. “Okay,” he said, “but we have to hurry.”

“Okay,” I said, understanding that he didn’t want to get stopped by the rest of the soon-to-follow-us crowd.

He signed his name and handed the photo back to me before giving me a smile and saying, “Enjoy the show.”

“I will,” I assured him. “I will.”

And I certainly did. After all, I had met The Monkees, and twenty-years of Daydream Believing had just come true.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Wisdom Keys: The Secret of Your Future is Hidden in Your Daily Routine

If your life is anything like mine, you hit the floor running the moment you get out of bed, and fall back into bed at the end of the day, exhausted beyond measure. Sometimes you find it hard to remember exactly what you did accomplish on a certain day, or perhaps you even wonder if you managed to really accomplish anything.
It’s hard to imagine finding the time to add anything to our already-busy lives, even if making a simple change might make all the difference in bringing us more satisfaction, greater wealth, or an abundance of spiritual blessings.
We know we should participate in daily scripture reading. Prayer should be a regular part of our lives. Spending quality time with our spouse and children should be a top priority. Giving service to others in our neighborhood, church, and community should be a top priority.
But where on earth will we find the time?
Because I currently balance two full time careers, people often ask me, “How do you do it all? Where do you find the time?”
The fact is, I never find the time—I must MAKE the time.
When I have a specific writing deadline, there is no time for television, playing games on Facebook, or going to movies. If I have an obligation for a conference or other presentation, I shuffle critique group, book club, and reading to other nights or spare moments. When I’m required to give additional hours to my teaching job, no excuses will suffice—I simply must be there.
Should I not do the same to make time for my spiritual growth as well? As the Lord reminds us, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24). If we allow all of our time to be taken up in the pattern of everyday living, promising ourselves we will find the time tomorrow to start daily scripture reading or next week for family prayer, both days will pass and no change will come.
Just as we must do if we want to further our careers, we must also improve our spiritual moments by making the time, scheduling time for prayer, scripture study, attending church meetings, going to the temple.
Look for those brief segments of time throughout the day that could be better utilized. Do you have a commute, wait for appointments, or attend your child’s sporting events? Can you spend a few moments in quiet meditation, memorize an Article of Faith, or study a single chapter from the scriptures while you wait?
I calculated that by reading only three chapters a day, I can complete the entire Old Testament in less than a year. Since the scriptures are online, I can read them at home or at work without carrying the set with me. I can even download a free mp3 version if I prefer to listen. When it comes to prayer, the Lord is used to hearing from me often as I drive to and from my job. The car is quiet, I’m all alone, and I don’t have to worry about lots of interruptions as I talk openly with my Father in Heaven.
Finding time to improve the spiritual me will also pay off when it comes to meeting my temporal needs. If I make the time to develop my testimony, study the scriptures, and talk to the Lord in prayer, I know he will listen and respond when I ask for the things I might need. By making the Lord part of my daily routine, I will become the person He has meant me to be.
“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21; Luke 12:34; 3 Nephi 13:21) and if I want a treasure, the first place I need to look is where I’ve set my heart.
And that is where I’ll find the secret of my future.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Home Cooking: Helen’s Famous 30-Minute Meals

My mother was talented in many ways, but I think one of the most amazing things about her was her ability to make a complete and delicious home-cooked meal in thirty minutes. I suppose this is a talent she developed after all those years of working at the Camera Shop all day long with my dad, then coming home to feed him—and me—a hot meal.
In any case, some of my favorite meal memories are the things she whipped up as though on the spur of a moment, with no pre-planning required. Of course, I now know that she had likely been thinking about her menu since at least Monday night—the day before her weekly trip to the grocery. But when I was still a child, living at home, those meals seemed like a little bit of magic.
Breaded tenderloin, fried potatoes, cornbread and beans, chili soup—the list went on and on of the dishes she prepared and had on the table almost quicker than I could drop off my book bag, turn on the television news, and come to the table.
Sometimes I would sit on the stool next to the stove and watch her work. An electric skillet on one side of me; the stovetop on the other, Mom would pull together a full course meal with hardly an effort. I suppose this is how I really learned to cook, despite the three years of mandatory home economics classes I took in junior high and high school—back in the day when girls were being raised to be housewives.
“Turn the tenderloin, Lu Ann,” Mom would say when the time was right. “Can you help me peel the potatoes?”
I became an expert at using a paring knife. Give me a potato, an apple, or even a pear and I can skin it in almost one smooth curl—something that can’t be accomplished with a potato peeler.
Years before I was old enough to wield the sharpened knife, Mother had taught the same skills to Sue, who eventually taught them to her daughters, just like I’ve been teaching my sons. Society hasn’t changed its rules only for the girls, you know. Boys need to know their way around a kitchen the same way girls should know how to care for their car.
So, while my husband was off at work two weeks ago, my boys were called to duty to assist in the kitchen as I pulled together those thirty-minute meals my mother was so famous for. Pulling out their family favorites, we made biscuits and gravy, macaroni and cheese, tuna and macaroni salad, ham salad sandwiches, tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches, chili soup, and potato soup, as well as a few of Sue’s recipes that perhaps took a little longer, but were so good.
This past week my husband has been home and once again taken charge of the cooking. We’ve had some great meals, but somehow I’ve found that cooking the things my mother made was more satisfying to the taste buds, keeping me away from those late-night snacks I always look for after eating steak or chicken. I’m almost convinced my children think so, too. None of my meals had leftovers, with the boys heading back two or three times to refill their plates or bowls.
Yep, those thirty-minute meals my mother taught me have remained successful. Even my youngest has noticed the difference. “Mom,” he said to me one night earlier this week, “it doesn’t take us as long to eat the stuff you make, but it sure is good.”
And I’d have to agree.
Thanks, Mom, for teaching your 30- minute cooking secrets to me.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Been There, Done That – David Cassidy

For along time now, I’ve considered writing a book titled Been There, Done That, Bought the T-Shirt about the crazy times this girl from Indiana has had since she grew up and moved away. With the popularity of the blog messages I’ve already posted in Living in an Osmond World, I thought it was time I started writing this book about my other celebrity adventures, so on Monday you’ll get the chance to read entries that will someday go into the book.


Meeting David Cassidy

Perhaps you’re old enough to remember the Tiger Beat Magazine centerfold wars. One month it would be Donny Osmond; the next, David Cassidy. For me, it was never a war as to which poster was hanging in my room—the winner was always David Cassidy. (How ironic that I grew up to work for Donny and his brothers.)

I remember the first time I ever saw David. I was cleaning my closet and watching television in my bedroom. My mother had stopped in to talk about something—who knows what—and I stepped out of the walk-in to see what she wanted. I glanced at the set where Marcus Welby, M.D. was playing and this cute guy came onto the screen. From that moment on, I was hooked.

I sat down on the edge of the bed next to my mother, and watched the rest of the show. Wow! I thought, He sure is cute. With a new boy on my mind, is it any wonder I have no idea why my mom had wanted to talk with me in the first place?

As soon as she left, the poster search was on. The closet-cleaning forgotten, I carefully went through my old issues of Tiger Beat, lifting the center staples and withdrawing all the posters of my newest crush—David Cassidy. This ritual went on through his entire career as Keith Partridge, through the time I saw him as a tiny dot onstage at the Indiana State Fair, only stopping because his popularity in the teen mags seemed to dwindle about the same time I was off to college.

But that didn’t mean I’d forgotten about David.

And in 1976, I got the chance to finally meet him.

It was a Sunday morning when my roommate Debbie and I were heading to church in Bloomington, Indiana. We had the radio on and heard WIFE announced that David Cassidy would be live in studio from noon to two promoting his new single, Getting’ It in the Streets, and to “come on down.”

Debbie and I sort of looked at each, shrugged our shoulders, and headed toward Indy instead of the church. Bloomington was less than 50 miles away from Indianapolis, so it took us less than an hour to get there. David had also just arrived.

We stood outside the station in the cold with a couple other girls, and watched through the window as David was greeted by the DJ and took a seat near the mic. The two of them chatted and David gave us a little wave. I could hardly believe how close he was, and how great he looked.

The station had a speaker rigged up so people on the sidewalk could hear the music and talk going on inside, but that didn’t alter the fact it was freezing where we were huddled to watch and listen. After a little while, someone from the station came outside and said David wanted to invite us all in.

For the next hour, we crowded into the on air booth with him. David chatted with us while the songs played and talked on air between them. I don’t remember much of the conversation, but I was in the same room, talking with David Cassidy! My teenage daydreams had come to life.

I do remember I asked him about his interest in being on the Donny & Marie Show, which was still on at the time, and he said he'd love it.

“I’ll let the Osmonds know the next time I see then,” I told him.

(I wasn’t working for the family yet, but I did keep my promise. Is it my fault it took until April 14, 2007 at Wembley Arena for that to happen?)


When it was time for David to go, he hugged us—maybe maybe there was a quick brush like a kiss against a cheek (I can't remember!!!!!) then put on his HUGE fur coat (bigger than the one I described Merrill Osmond wearing in Living in an Osmond World Part 1) and went outside into the waiting limo.

Again Debbie and I looked at each other, shrugged, and decided to follow him!

Long before O.J. and the white Bronco, we were involved in a slow speed chase, north on Meridian Street to his hotel. The limo pulled slowly into the drive and entered the covered lane for easy access to the front doors.

We pulled our car into the adjacent parking lot and stopped. David got out of the car, turned and waved at us. We waved back. Then he walked into the hotel where a few others girls seemed to be camped out at the door, waiting for him as we drove away.

It would be a long time before I again got to see David in person—September 1, 2004, in Orem, Utah, at the Scera Shell Summer Concert series—but even though this time I could actually see his face during the concert, it still wasn’t quite as memorable as the hour I spent in the radio station studio chatting with David like the old friends I often wish we were.

Ah, one can’t have everything they want from life, can they?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Wisdom Keys: Never Complain About What You Permit

I habitually stay up too late. I’ve always got a million things going which keeps me running from place to place and task to task almost every night. All too often I find myself just making it into the bedroom to settle down for the night well after ten o’clock, and often more like eleven.

If I were to go to sleep immediately, then some nights I would get eight hours of sleep before the six o’clock alarm rang. But, I’m one of those people who needs at least thirty minutes of time to wind down before I can even think about sleeping. The best way for me to relax is to read, so I pick up a book and begin.

Unfortunately I get involved in the story and suddenly realize it’s nearly midnight and going to sleep is an absolute necessity, so I close the book, turn off the light and drift off. In the morning, if I’m tired, I can’t complain too much because it’s something I brought on myself.

But what about those other times I want to complain? Am I running late because I didn’t plan ahead? Did I allow someone to annoy me? Do I bring on stress because I didn’t take care of something I should have in the first place?

How many times do we find ourselves in a situation we wish we could change? Do we prefer to take care of the problem, or are we happier when we sit and complain?

Complaining seems to have become a way of life for some people. Just listen when a group of friends or even strangers sit around together. What do you hear? “I wish my boss would let me take a few extra days off. My kids never do what I ask them to do. My husband always leaves his dirty socks on the floor. My bills are astronomical.” On and on and on. . . the same ideas come through no matter who you seem to talk to these days.

How did we get to be such a complaining people? Elder Richard G. Scott says, “We should never complain, when we are living worthily, about what happens in our lives.”

So what are we doing that causes us to complain? President Gordon B. Hinckley says, “By and large, I have come to see that if we complain about life, it is because we are thinking only of ourselves.”


Life really is pretty good, when you think about it. We have people we care about and who care for us all around us. Our basic needs are being met, even if our sometimes outrageous wants are not. We have the power to change our lives and the world around us for good if we only take the steps to do so.

Are we complaining about the very things we permit? Are they things we could probably change? Where might we begin?

President Spencer W. Kimball used to keep a little sign on his desk that simply read, “Do it.”

The idea might not seem too simple, but in reality it’s not. If you’re unhappy with something that is happening in your home, talk it over with your spouse, siblings, children or others who are directly involved and see if a compromise can be reached. If you don’t like your job, what are you doing to prepare for a different job? Have you done anything to curb your spending?

If we are permitting situations into our lives that cause us to complain, then we have to be the one to make whatever changes necessary to remove the reason to complain. We need to “Do it.”

If you want more money—spend less and make more. If you want the members of your family to help you with the chores—make your wishes and the consequences clear. If you need to find a better job—set your goals, get yourself educated then take the plunge.

And as for me—if I want to get a better night’s sleep I need to rearrange my daily schedule so I have my thirty minutes to relax before it’s time to drift off to sleep.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Wisdom Keys: Wisdom Keys and the Gospel

Perhaps because I wasn’t raised LDS, I have a soft spot in my heart for listening to what other people have to say about the gospel, through both spoken word and music. It’s interesting to hear their viewpoints, glean from them words of wisdom, and consider how their teachings compare with what I know to be true.
In April 1996, President Gordon B. Hinckley, of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, advised the members of the church to “Look for the good in those about you, add emphasize on that good. Other churches also do much good, but this is the ‘true and living church’ of the Lord Jesus Christ, whose name it bears (see D&C 1:30).” (Stand True and Faithful. Ensign, May 1996) So I look and I listen.
Just last night I stopped and watched a few minutes of a Gaither Homecoming being aired on CMT. I grew up listening to the music of Bill and Gloria Gaither—literally. They sometimes attended the Church of God in Alexandria, Indiana, where I was a regular member in my youth. (On a side-note, Joey Martin—you probably know her as Joey + Rory—was also raised attending in that same church, where her mother June used to sing as well.)
The Gaithers might present a special number, or sometimes Bill’s brother Danny or his sister Mary Anne would perform. Bill used to be an English teacher at my high school, but by the time I got there, he was traveling full time, spreading the word around the world through his gospel music.
One of my favorite songs written by Bill was “He Touched Me,” a song that came to the attention of the King himself—Elvis—who came to my little home town to record the song for one of his albums.
Yes, I love old-time gospel music, but I also enjoy listening to a great preacher once in awhile. Oh, I love hearing the word spoken from the General Authories during conference, but there is just something that still captures my attention about those TV evangelists and the messages they deliver that makes me perk up and take notice, looking at where their beliefs and mine meet on a common road.
Among my two favorites are Dr. Joyce Meyer and Dr. Mike Murdock. In her down home folksy way, Dr. Meyer helps me look at things from a whole new light and give me a greater understanding when I read the scriptures on my own—all the scriptures, Book of Mormon included. Dr. Murdock has a similar tone of delivery, one that draws me in and makes me think—really think.
One of Dr. Murdock’s main topics has to do with what he calls “Wisdom Keys.” I have a copy of his little book that lists 101 of them. Over the next few weeks, I thought I might write about them here on the Sunday blog, considering how each key might apply to my life in relation to my LDS beliefs. Perhaps these few words will also entice you to consider what you believe.
Like President Hinckley said, “I believe that there are millions who are prayerful, faithful, strong people who are doing their best to rear their families in truth and righteousness, to live as citizens with honesty and integrity and to make a contribution of their lives.”
Whether you’re a member of the LDS church or not, you and I have the same basis for our beliefs—we know the word of God to be true.
And that is the gospel wisdom within us all.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Home Cooking: Cooking with Susie B.

My over-indulgence recently with Julie Powell and her grand blog experiment with cooking her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking must have influenced my sudden desire to cook.

Now you have to know that cooking has not ever been one of my passions. As I’ve mentioned before, my mother taught me how to make several dishes, but she did most of the cooking. It’s not that I can’t cook, because I can. The meals I make are very simple. Most of them can be pulled together in less than half-an-hour, a trick my mother learned because she worked at the Camera Shop with my dad, closed the store at 5:00, and had a full meal on the table no later than 5:45 each evening.

Of course, growing up with Miss Betty Crocker as an older sister didn’t give me much room to experiment in the kitchen either—although I do remember a few huge messes I made at Grandma Heffner’s kitchen, learning how to make pie crust with lard, peeling apples from the trees in her yard for pie, and smashing others through the colander to make homemade applesauce with Red Hearts candy.

You think I’m kidding about Sue being Betty Crocker, don’t you? Well, I’m not. When she was a senior in high school—the year I turned ONE—she passed a test in her high school home economics class and was awarded the “The Betty Crocker Award.” And she deserved it—I’ve never known anyone who could bake as well as my sister. Her desserts were to die for!

So, here I am—completely possessed with the idea of cooking, and having the ability to do it since my Grand Chef Master and former Craft-Service husband is working out of town—considering the recipes from Sue’s own repertoire, organized into a family cookbook by her daughters, Connie and Melissa, to honor their mother after her death in 2003.

The holiday foods are here—cranberry salad and creamed eggs, check—and even the world-famous Grandma Brobst’s macaroni & cheese. Breakfast, Main Dish, Salads, Breads, Rolls, and the DESSERTS! Yum!!!! The desserts which somehow managed to fill over half the volume of the cookbook—the same desserts I used to want to start the meal at Sue’s house because there were always so many and every one of them delicious.
And that brings me to my project. Like Julie Powell, I’m going to cook my way through a cookbook—but my cooking will be much more special to me. I’m working my way through a cookbook by Susie B.

This past week we concentrated on soups—the chili and chicken noodle were both homemade, the tomato came thanks to Campbell’s—with a grilled cheese or buttered bread on the side. The boys ate like they had never been fed before, with every pot so clean in the end they already looked liked they’d been washed. I did find it interesting that I wasn’t nearly so hungry later in the evening. Is there something about being homemade that satisfies my appetite in an entirely new way?

My trip to the grocery store this afternoon was planned to help me continue along the planned course. Potato salad, ham salad, Watergate salad, Breakfast Casserole, and Dried Beef Gravy with Biscuits are all on this week’s agenda. I’ll let you know next week how this new fare went over with my houseful of boys.

Onward and upward, as the saying goes—let the challenge officially begin. And if I’m ever going to make it through the cookbook in a year, I’d better get started on those desserts. The plan for tomorrow? Texas Sheet Cake. Double-yum! I can almost already taste it.

But for now, it’s time to stop thinking of food and move on to other things. Oh, but on an interesting side note—I got word this week that I will have a BYU student as an intern next semester in preparation for her becoming my student teacher next year.

Her name? Julia Powell.

It must be kismet!

Friday, January 08, 2010

A Year Book in Review

To know me at all is to know I’m a voracious reader. I’m one of those people who has about ten books going at once. There’s a stack of books on my bedside table big enough to damage my head if we had even a mild earthquake. Five rooms and two hallways in the house have book shelves that are stuffed full. I have cases of books stored in the shed, several audio books on my computer, and even a couple of my iPod. My car usually has at least one audio book to keep me company as I travel. My desk at school will sometimes collect three or four books that are currently “in progress,” and yet I still make regular trips to the public and school libraries.

Okay, so I’m addicted to reading. I know it; my students know it; my sons and husband know it—although they might not always like it. I’ve tried to cut back on the number of books I own, but those little buggers just seem to multiple! I’ve sold books on eBay, given books as gifts, and donated them by the sackful to not only my classroom at school, but to other teachers, public libraries, and charitable causes as well. Yet I never seem to make a real dent on the number of books stashed away in every nook and cranny—oh, and there the chest of drawers stuff with paperbacks I failed to mention.

If I were to retire today from everything I do and spend all my time doing nothing but reading, I doubt I’d make it through them all before my time was through. But that doesn’t stop me from the thrill of pursuing a bookstore, surfing through Amazon, or welcoming books sent to me for review.

With all this reading going on, I often get asked to give my opinion about books, books, and more books. I’ll be speaking in March at the UELMA conference; I review regularly for The ALAN Review, LMC Magazine, and The Signal Journal; and my students, friends, and family as always asking me what they should read. Heck, I even hear from students from years ago: “Mrs. Staheli, Can you tell me a good book to read?” I give them a half-dozen titles and they are off and running.

I were to give a long report on every book I loved this year you’d be here all night reading this blog, so I’m just going to list the best books I’ve read in the past year out of the nearly 150 books I completed. Maybe you’ll find something here you will add to your reading list for this year. As for mine, the list is already full and it’s still only January!

The Loser’s Guide to Life and Love – Ann Cannon

Search and Destroy – Dean Hughes

Legend of the Jewel – N.C. Allen

Wolf Rider – Avi

Might As Well Laugh About It Now – Marie Osmond

The Chosen One – Carol Lynch Williams

Cash in a Flash - Allen & Hansen

Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society - Shaffer

The Christmas List - Evans

Far World: Land Keep - Savage

Christmas Jars Reunion - Wright

Uprising - Haddix

The Hourglass Door - Mangum

Oh, and I can't forget the one that could possible get me out of all this book mess:

Enough Already - Walsh

Thursday, January 07, 2010

All My Dead Relatives

It’s my theory that every family has one—a historian—a self-appointed someone who is the collector of family history, stories, trivia, and pictures. I’m that person in my generation of the family.

I remember sitting for hours in my mother’s bedroom, looking through photos albums she had painstakingly put together through all the years of my life. My parents owned a Camera Shop and did photo-finishing back in the day before digital, so you can imagine how many photos we collected over my lifetime. As I would browse through the pictures, Mother would tell me the stories.

I knew all about her baby sister, Ethel Louise who was stillborn; how Grandpa Heffner and his brother, Herb, and sister, Ethel, were left in the Soldier’s and Sailors Orphanage when they were kids and how Grandpa ran away and joined the circus; she told me about Grandma Heffner working in the marshmallow factory in Indianapolis until the doctor said she needed fresh country air and they moved to Hancock’s Chapel where Herb and Ethel were living with the Charley Wolfe family.

I knew stories about the Brobst family, too, because Daddy had lived a half block away from Mother once both families moved to Alexandria, where I grew up. Grandpa Brobst used to be in charge of lighting the gas lamps downtown every evening so he knew how walk on stilts; I heard about how he and Grandma had just come home married one day after being witnesses for a couple of their friends; and about the staring contest Daddy once had with Mother’s cousin Roberta that ended with the payment of a kiss.

Not all those stories are told in pictures, but they were all told while I looked at the pictures, and I remembered them. Many of them well enough that I wrote a book about them—Leona and Me, Helen Marie—an early draft of which I gave to members of my family for Christmas the year after Mother died.

One of the oddities about our family photos are all the pictures those albums contain of my dead relatives. No, you might night have understood me—when I say dead, I mean dead. . . in their caskets. I never considered it an oddity while I was growing up, but I have photos of dead baby Ethel Louise, grandmas and grandpas, and even a few greats, all decked out in their final repose, the walls behind their open coffins filled with flowers. Sometimes the shots are of them alone. Others have various once-living relatives posed beside them in a final family portrait.

Okay, I’ll admit, when I was growing up I never saw this as odd. It was quite normal to me. I’d actually posed in some of those photos. I’d even taken them with my own camera as an adult. It wasn’t until I got married and my husband saw my dead relatives that I found out it was strange.
“Why on earth did your family take pictures of dead people?” he asked me the first time he saw them.

“Doesn’t your family?” I asked.

Apparently not! He thinks it’s gruesome. I think it’s my final memory—a memory I guess he’d rather not have of anyone, not even my beloved dead ancestors. Well, I guess that’s okay with me, but I just took a trip down memory lane, taking one more look at all those dead relatives in yet another album my Mother spent hours putting together, and I found a treasure there. Photos of myself and my parents, poetry my mother had written to commemorate each person upon their death, and clippings from the newspaper and memorial services about those people I loved from so long ago. I found it comforting.

My only concern has been who among my family will care in the future about these people who have always been so important to me. My sons are all adopted, and they are—well—SONS! By the time they might decide perhaps they do care, I could be long dead and gone, and the stories dead with me.

I don’t want these stories to die! Maybe that’s why I’ve been sharing photos with my living relatives the past few weeks via the internet. It’s probably why I wrote the novel in the first place. And maybe even these blogs allow me to record a little history for the posterity of my brothers and sister, nieces and nephews. That way they, too, can know of our history. They can see the photos of our dead ancestors—I’ll save you the trauma of actually seeing the photos of the dead relatives, opting instead to post photos of when they were living.

And I hope all this storytelling will entice someone among my living relatives to become the next keeper, the family historian who will allow our family to live on into the next generation and beyond.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Living in an Osmond World: Part 1

On January 2, 1976, I met my first Osmond.

My friend Debbie and I had decided we’d had enough of another bitter cold Indiana winter, our college was on winter break, and we had a few days off from working at good old McDonalds, so we hopped a plane and jetted off to sunny Los Angeles, California.

My first close encounter—it didn’t take much to be closer than the first time I saw them from my seat in the very back of Market Square Arena—was from the sidewalk in Pasadena where Debbie and I had camped out, waiting for the Rose Parade. Donny & Marie, Jimmy, and The Osmond Brothers were on a float for the LDS Church, waving away at everyone, and I was certain—absolutely certain—they had looked right at me! I snapped a picture on my little Instamatic camera, a prized photo that showed they really did have faces and weren’t just billows of smoke on a stage like my photos from that concert.

But the parade was just the beginning. The very next morning, dutifully following a “guide to locating the Osmonds” from the previous month’s Tiger Beat Magazine, Debbie and I headed off to church in Westwood where we were promised we would find an Osmond or two. And we did! I was a new convert to the church, so I knew where to go and what to expect, but that didn’t stop me from making a fool of myself when I nearly tripped over Jay’s foot in the chapel—did he stick it out in front of me on purpose?—thought I would never be able to swallow the sacrament bread when Jimmy served it to my row, and nearly sat on Alan’s lap trying to find a seat during Sunday School. Good thing I didn’t nearly land in Suzanne’s lap since she had baby Michael draped across her knees!

I don’t remember a thing about the lesson and nothing about the class other than the fact Merrill and Mary sat behind me to my right, Wayne and Kathy sat behind me to my left, and Alan and Suzanne sat in the middle chairs two rows back. I do remember the theme on the sacrament program was “Come, Follow Me,” something I was ready to do when it came to meeting the Osmonds, I suppose.

We got through the rest of the class without any mishap, but instead of going to Relief Society afterwards, we decided to try to try to figure out where Donny and Marie were hiding—after all, they were the STARS of the Donny & Marie Show. We HAD to see them. In our quest, we stumbled again upon Jay—literally! Was he trying to tell us something? We never found out. Too embarrassed to talk to him after tripping over his feet the second time in a single day, I high-tailed it out of there, with Debbie hustling along to follow.

But my Osmond encounter wasn’t over. Sunday or not, Debbie and I were hungry and decided to stop by Ralph’s, the local grocery store Tiger Beat promised us was where the Osmonds shopped, to grab a few things to take back to our hotel room. As we entered the store we stopped to giggle over the National Enquirer headline screaming out something outrageous about Marie—poor Marie. Those mags love to hate her it seems. Anyway, we weren’t the only girls in the store giggling. We saw two other girls rush past us, pointing to the back of the store. “There he is,” I heard one of them exclaim. They headed toward the far left aisle and disappeared from view. I shrugged my shoulders, joking, “Maybe there’s an Osmond in the store.” I took hold of the cart and started down the same aisle, not to find out what the girls were talking about, but because Debbie and I didn’t know the layout of the store or what we wanted to buy, so we simply were starting in the most logical place.

We went up one aisle and down the next, shopping. I had no idea where those other girls had gone or who they had been talking about. I started down the cereal aisle, but somehow I had lost Debbie. When I turned around too quick to see where she had gone, I crashed right into someone else’s grocery cart. I turned around and found myself face to face with Merrill! I wanted to melt into the floor—completely from embarrassment. He was wearing a full length huge fur coat and was perusing a cereal box as though it were the most important item he had ever read.

I stuttered an apology for running into him and turned to go find Debbie before I managed to embarrass myself yet again, but before I could go, Merrill spoke. “Do you know if this cereal has seven grains in it?” He held the box out toward me.

What? “Ummmm. . .” was my brilliant response. What did I know about cereals? Absolutely nothing.

“My mother said I should buy the seven grain kind of cereal, but she didn’t give me the name,” he said.

I might not have been able to speak, but I could read. One glance at the cereal shelf and I found it—the one that clearly said “Made with Seven Grains.” I picked up the box and handed it to him. “Maybe this one?”

Merrill looked at it carefully then said, “Yeah. Yeah. This is the one. Thanks!”

I managed to eek out, “You’re welcome,” right as Mary stopped at the end of the aisle and called, “Merrill.”

“I found it,” he said, holding up the cereal box I had given him. He turned toward me and said, “Thanks again” before leaving my side to head toward his wife.

By this time Debbie had found the nerve to once again join me, we finished our shopping, and went back to the hotel, stunned that we—well I—had actually talked to an Osmond!

Since that time, I’ve become a little less clumsy at being around the Osmond family, I suppose, although I did nearly choke once when Donny called me (when I worked for Alan Osmond Productions—a story for another time.) “Hello. This is. . . Donny Osmond.” It threw me for only a second—my heart dropping into my stomach—then we were chatting away like old friends. But my heck! I was talking to DONNY OSMOND! It’s a good thing I got over my Donny-phobia, because not that long after I did an hour-long phone interview with him for a cover story in a regional magazine. (Again, a story for another time.)

Now, I get phone calls and emails from Osmonds all the time! Why? I’ve been working with various members of the family for the past twenty-four years, starting in 1986. Oh my gosh, how did THAT happen? And where did the time go? I’m having a great time recounting this story, so I hope my readers will indulge me if I continue the story next week.

In the meantime, know that lots of Osmond stories are yet to come—including the books I’m working on with Alan, Nathan, and David where you’ll get to hear about some of their own famous, or perhaps infamous, exploits!

Oh, and here’s a teaser photo from my personal archives.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Home Cooking: Food Traditions

Have you ever considered the fact that you eat the way you do because of the traditions which have been established in your family and your life? Take for instance, the way food is associated with the holidays. Are there traditional foods you make or eat—whether anyone else likes them or not—just because that’s the way it’s always been? Come on, I know someone out there always makes yams, opens a can of cranberry sauce, and attempts to thank Great-Grandma for the lovely fruit cake, all-the-while knowing it hits the garbage can as soon as she drives off at the end of either Thanksgiving or Christmas.

Although I’ve never been one for much cooking—my mom and older sister took over the kitchen when I was a child, and now my husband tends to boot me out as soon as I get something started—I do know how and occasionally manage to make one of my childhood favorites, even if I’m the only one willing to eat the finished product.

Take the last few weeks for example. For Thanksgiving, I happen to love my mother’s cranberry salad—not the slimy lump that comes from a can and wiggles like a stack of Jell-O on the plate, untouched by human hands, spoons, or anyone until it gets dumped into the garbage disposal. I’m talking the tart, yet yummy mixture Mom taught me how to make. I haul out the food processor, grind up a couple bags of frozen cranberries and a whole orange—peel and all—add a cup of sugar and let it all set for awhile to mellow before adding the final ingredient—raspberry Jell-O. HAHA! I love it, my husband likes it, Zach tried it, but none of the other boys will even give it a chance. Their loss!

Creamed eggs and toast, on the other hand, is developing a following. I made this dish for Christmas morning, putting the eggs on to boil after the packages were opened and the kids spread throughout the house with various gaming systems or DVD players. Two hard boiled eggs and two pieces of dry toast per person gets the stuff started. Tear up the toast into a dish after the eggs are peeled and the roux (butter, flour, and milk) starting to thicken. Chop the boiled eggs and drop them into the sauce, stir, and pour the mixture over the toast. Add salt to taste and you have a wonderful breakfast. Of course, this one is also a favorite on Easter morning, and a great way to use all those eggs the Easter Bunny brought. We hit 100% attendance this year in the creamed eggs division.

New Year’s has a food tradition all its own—greens or cabbage on New Year's Day will attract a financial windfall. Passed on from my German-born Great-Grandmother to my Grandma Heffner to my mom to me, it is mandatory that one boils and eats cabbage before noon on New Year’s Day if one wants a prosperous and happy New Year! This one is the easiest of all—chop up a cabbage, put it in a pan, cover it with water and let it boil about fifteen minutes until the leaves get soft. Toss in a cooked piece of bacon for flavoring and add a dollop of butter. Simmer a few more minutes then serve hot, salted to taste. Yum! And actually good for you, if you don’t overdo on the fats.

As for now, my husband is back in the kitchen cooking—spaghetti and meat sauce the last I heard—but I think I’ll take out my family cookbook and peruse it’s pages. You never know what goodie I might find there to next whip up.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Steampunk, Chick Flicks, Meryl Streep and Me

Several weeks ago I had my 7th grade students in the school library for a book club meeting and I happened to mention Scott Westerfeld’s new book, Leviathan, to our school librarian. Now, I’m pretty savvy when it comes to children’s literature, but when she called the book “steampunk,” I didn’t know what she was talking about, so I was off on an internet search to find out. Unreliable or not, one of my first choices for searches like this happens to be Wikipedia, where I discovered that steampunk is a sub-genre of fantasy and science fiction that has been around since the 1980s. The concept sets the story usually in the 19th century or Victorian-era England, and adds either fictional technological inventions or real technological developments like the computer occurring at an earlier date in an alternate history.

Armed with this tiny bit of information, I turned to my second great source of wisdom when it comes to literature—my critique group—where both J. Scott Savage and Robinson Wells delivered a quick overview of movies that fell into the genre. So, this week, with at last some time to watch something longer than a half an hour, I borrowed The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen from my son and settled down to find out what this new genre was all about for myself.

What I found was that it was fascinating! A series of 19th century literary figures—Allan Quatermain, Dorian Gray, Tom Sawyer, The Invisible Man, Mina Harker, Captain Nemo—barraged by dirigibles, tanks and bombs directly out of World Wars I and II.

Now that I’m equipped with a better understanding of steampunk, I’m ready to rewatch the Wild, Wild West, a movie I simply didn’t understand at the time. “Where did the giant spider robot come from, anyway? I thought this was a Western.” And, I’m ready to tackle Leviathan with a whole new set of background knowledge that I’m sure will help make the experience more meaningful.

Speaking of meaningful, would someone care to explain the meaning of The Break-Up to me? I had expected a funny movie—after all, the flick features Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn—but I watched all the way to the very end and just wondered, “What happened?” I didn’t find it funny, even though the blurb on the front cover says “One of the best American comedies in years.” Is it asking to much to have a happy ending in a comedy?

If you want to see real comedy, have a happy ending, and see some great acting, try The Proposal, starring Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds instead. Okay, it’s a little irreverent, but I liked it.

And irreverent brings me to my new respect for Meryl Streep. For years I had told everyone how much I hated her, refusing to see her movies because I couldn’t stand to watch her. Was it because she frustrated me in Kramer vs Kramer? Who knows why, but how can I justify that she is the star and delivers perfect performances in three of my favorite movies that I indulged in re-watching this week, despite the fact I’ve already seen The Devil Wears Prada over a dozen times? The sing-along with Mamma Mia! was delightful—I don’t care what my boys say! And I hope I can be forgiven for laughing right out loud at the naughty parts in Julie & Julia. (If you’re not into naughty, absolutely do NOT read the book by Julie Powell! She flings around vulgarity the same way Julia Child flings a crepe into the air!)

Overall, I’ve had an enjoyable Christmas vacation, laughed myself silly, indulged in too much chocolate, and enjoyed watching whatever movies I wanted and reading a book or two just for fun. Now it’s almost time to get back to the real work of teaching school and writing for deadlines, but that’s okay. Something has to pay the bills!

In other news, I just saw the cover of the February 2010 issue of The Writer which features my lead article Traditional or do-it-yourself: Which way to go? A great way to start 2010 as part of my writing career. The article includes interviews with Richard Paul Evans, Annette Lyon, Dave Wolverton (David Farland), and Kenny Kemp. You can see the cover and article blurb at THE WRITER.