Monday, October 31, 2011

I Gave My Brother the Finger

   The blog/prank war with my brother has escalated.  It went from front porch bombs and silly phone calls, to a crying session where I later gave him the finger.
    For the first part of this story, please visit my brother here:
    P. S. Today is his birthday!  Happy Birthday, Shane.

    Back to the story of the day; I'll let Shane tell you why I cried.
   After the crying session, I had another prank planned for that very day.  Saturday his wife scheduled a birthday party for him.  She was making fancy chili, and somehow it reminded me of the time a woman claimed she found a finger in her chili!
    So, my brother prepared his spicy soup.  He put sour cream on it and chives, cheese and onions.  It did look nice.  But Cade and I had a VERY DISCREET signal.  When it was the perfect time to give my brother the finger, I would squeeze Cade's arm and say, "Cade, I love you so much."  (Isn't that tricky!)
    Cade took the signal IMMEDIATELY.  "Shane," he said, "do you have any more chairs?"
    "I'm so sorry," my brother said, and strutted away to get more chairs.  That's the thing about my brother--even when he doesn't mean to be cool, he is.  (Like the time his video got over 280,000 views on youtube!)
    I swear he had more friends than anyone in high school because he'd take people on guided tours through the desert.  

He can rock climb.  
He can sing.
He can do almost anything.
He's . . . my brother!

    See, until I was nine we lived in the middle of nowhere.  When you grow up in a tiny mining town you either become epic or . . . ugly.  I don't want to say what happened to me.
    Moving along . . .
    My brother came back, further beautified his food, took a few big bites and then it happened!
    This is what he saw!

    At first his eyes went wide when he saw the thumb of doom.  I wondered if he realized the deeper symbolism--how I'd cut my thumb in half on a table saw--how we are in a valiant battle now--how I MUST win!
    But then he simply rolled his eyes, pulled out the fake thumb, stuck it on MY PLATE, and licked his dirty finger like it was no big deal.
    That's when things got spicy.  I turned to his sweet wife.  "Oh. My. Gosh," I gasped.  "Look what I found in my food!"
    My sister-in-law turned pale.  "What!"  She believed me!
    And later, when it was time to do the dishes, she didn't even want to touch the thumb to wash it off.  Poor girl--she was just at the wrong place at the wrong time.
    "Yes," my brother said later, "if you want to prank someone effectivey, prank my wife."
    "Because we're desensitized."
    "Agreed," he said.  "But wait, I pranked you earlier today and you already got me back.  That doesn't mean it's back to me again . . . does it?"
    "Absolutely," I laughed.  "Don't worry, someday you'll taste success.  Oh wait, you already did, I hid it in your chili."   
    "Oh, really!" he looked like a bull ready to charge.  Now I'm a bit worried.  I think he's going to get me extra good next time.

    Happy Birthday, Shane.  When you're devising the next prank, I want you to remember how much your little sister loves you.  Have a wonderful day.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Pumpkin Walk

    Do you remember the Scribe's  theory about pumpkins?  After working hard on carving a pumpkin, she said her heart and soul went into it.
    "I'm just worried," she said.  "My soul went into that thing.  When the pumpkin starts getting old and rotting, if it still looks happy, that means I'll have a good soul when I grow up.  If it rots and ends up looking scary or sad . . . well, that means I've always had a bad soul." 

    Here's that link:

    I think we all knew how this would end.  Many of you told me to put toothpicks in the pumpkins' mouths so they would look happy as they rotted.  Well, I tried and it did seem to work at first.  But yesterday, we went on an early morning walk.  Our husky, wanted to see everything and as we moved along, the Scribe kept looking at the pumpkins on everyone's porches.
    "Who would've thought!" she whispered as we passed several houses with terrible jack-o-lanterns.  "And I always thought old-lady, Hansen was so nice.  But look how her pumpkin is rotting!  I guess we should have known she was hiding something behind that nice smile."
    "Ummm . . . Scribe, maybe you shouldn't judge.  Life has a way of coming back to bite you."
    She just stuck her nose up in the air.  "My theory is right; I just know it."
    So, we continued on, until we came back to our house.  Instead of going through the garage (the same way we'd come out) we went up the front stairs, and the Scribe gasped at our collection of pumpkins.
    "Look at the Zombie Elf's pumpkin," the Scribe said, pointing to her three-year-old brother's handiwork.  "Who knew he'd have such a weird soul!  It looks like a sneaky cat . . . or something.  I don't think some cats' souls are good.  They're just into themselves.  Do you think the Zombie Elf really has a soul like a cat?" she asked her little sister, the Hippie.
    This is what the Zombie's pumpkin looks like:
    "No," the Hippie said softly.  "You cannot tell what someone's soul looks like by how their pumpkin rots."
    "Well, how do you think you can tell?" the Scribe asked.
    "It's by how they paint their sun catchers."  She referred to something like this because she'd worked so hard on her sun catcher last week.

    "That is not true," the Scribe said.  "If everyone's soul looks like their sun catchers, then everyone would have beautiful souls."
    "Exactly," the Hippie said and smiled as the Scribe rolled her eyes.
    The Scribe looked at the Hippie's pumpkin after that.  "Plus, you should like my theory.  You have a beautiful soul--that figures!"
    Here's the Hippie's pumpkin:

    So, the day went on, and all the Scribe talked about was how certain people had bad souls.  "And the Zombie Elf of all kids!" she said at one point.  "A soul like a cat?  That's a bad sign."
    Well, after a day of gossip and judgement, the Zombie Elf and I went outside and somehow, the Scribe's pumpkin fell down the front steps.  I'm still not sure if it was because the Zombie Elf "accidentally" knocked it or what, but the point is that it tumbled like Humpty Dumpty.  And when I picked it up gingerly and placed it back where it had been, the pumpkin went from smiling, to having a cracked frown.
    The Scribe cried when she saw it, then she ran into the house and started working on a sun catcher.
    "What are you doing?" I asked.
    "Seeing . . .," she said through her sobs, "what my real soul looks like.  I decided the Hippie is right.  Life is much better when everyone is wonderful on the inside.  It isn't very fun being on the wrong side of things."
    "No it isn't," I said.
    She ended up apologizing to the Zombie Elf.  We had a tasty dinner and after I tucked everyone into bed, I heard the Scribe asking the Hippie.  "Do you think God will forgive me for judging everyone?"
    "I'm sure He will," the Hippie said.  "Plus, you weren't really judging them, you were just judging their rotten pumpkins."
    The Scribe sniffed.  "It was a silly theory . . . wasn't it?" the Scribe asked.
   "Yeah, maybe it was."
    For some reason they both started giggling really hard.  I gently shut the door and thought how great it would be if the sun catcher theory is true.  
     Isn't it a neat thought, imagining that our souls are as beautiful as sun catchers?  Now that's something to aspire to.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

How to Become a Published Author; Part 4

   This is the final installment in my "How to Become a Published Author" series.
    Here are the other parts if you're interested.

    To recap: 

    Point 1--Don't Conform if it will ruin your book. (I'm talking about how a publisher wanted me to change "damn" to "dang.")  "Dang my son died," just didn't cut it for me, and going with that publisher would have been a mistake.

    Point 2--You Need a Platform (use the internet--it is your friend).  Study google keywords (for titles and blog content).  Blog consistently.  Make friends on facebook and twitter.

    Point 3--Hire an Editor even if you haven't found a publisher or agent yet.  (I can't stress this enough).
    Today I'd like to talk about how you need to find your audience, learn to advertise, and KEEP GOING!

    Before I decided what the right publishing direction would be for my journal, "The Golden Sky," I researched self-publishing.  I studied for days and the results were almost comical considering that the answers were obvious.  The most affordable place to publish a physical copy turned out being CreateSpace.  The best place for e-books was Smashwords.  
    I know I shouldn't have been shocked, but I was.  Their prices and quality are amazing.  They walk you through the process and even provide an ISBN!  On top of that though, their resources and ability to connect with other companies made them shine above the other options out there.

    No matter if you self-publish, or work with a traditional publisher, you need to know the market and your audience so you can advertise more effectively.
    I called every radio station in my state.  It's crazy, but those hosts actually talk in the same weird auctioneer voices they use on the radio!  Almost all of them were very nice.  I was able to set up an interview--which I'm super excited about.  The only crazy thing is that although their voices are as sexy as hell, some of those sweet announcers do have faces for radio. 
    Anyway . . . I found out that day, it's very important to know your audience.  A rock station won't advertise for a memoir about infant loss, but a country station THEY WILL!  Thank God for country music--it doesn't always have to be sad!

   Moving Along, to the audience . . . 

    My son died, so at once I knew who my main audience would be.  I wanted to meet other people who had suffered the loss of a loved one, or needed help coping with grief.
    I went to a medical website and found a forum where I could respond to questions about this.  Now here's what I wasn't expecting.  
    When I logged into the forum there were hundred of questions WITHOUT ANSWERS!  It was like taking a boat ride down the River Styx.  All of those questions reached out reminding me of hands seeking refuge from the river surrounding Hell.

        I started from the oldest threads and responded to as many as I could.  "My infant son has CDH; we don't think he'll make it.  Has anyone else gone through this?" a woman had asked in 2008-- and NO ONE had responded.
        My heart practically broke into pieces as I read her question because MY SON had had CDH (Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia).  My son died after months of battles and struggling.  My son, the same one I'd wanted to have my whole life.
        I answered as best I could, ended up sending the woman a free e-copy of my book, and moved along to more questions.
        "My husband has cancer."
        "I'm so sick.  Does anyone have advice for me?" 
        "My twins are dying in the NICU."
        To each I gave a free copy of my book.  It got to the point that I could only write "I'm sorry" so many times.  I figured if they could see the hope that came through my story--how I realized I could make it through--then maybe that would help them more than any comment ever could.
        I only made it through one hundred posts and e-mails before I stopped.  That was the day I considered quitting writing.  I know it sounds silly because the experience should have shown the need for a book like mine, but it was so much sadness and pain, I just couldn't do it.
       But right when I was on the brink of failure, right when I decided I couldn't do it anymore, e-mails starting coming in again.  
        "I read your book in one day!" one woman wrote. "It helped me so much.  I gave it to my sister and several of our family members have read it now.  They love it just as much as I do."
        "I thought I was over the death of our daughter, but your book brought healing!  I gave it to a friend so she could understand what I went through."
        "It was nice reading another mother's experiences.  I blamed myself for our child's death too.  Your realization made me feel better."
        And with each e-mail, I gained the resolve I needed.  That was the day I wrote the post about the blogfest.  Here it is: 
        "Only 50 more days," I wrote, "until my book about Zeke will be released."

        Now, I'd like you to keep in mind that last January, I had no followers, no twitter account and hardly any friends on facebook.  It was around that time when I friended 800 random people and gained 799 friends.  I'd felt like such a loser pursuing a pipe-dream.  I'd turned down two publishers because they didn't "feel" right.  I didn't have a platform.  
        Later, although people had said wonderful things about my book, I still felt a bit hopeless.  Was it the right thing to put my journal out there for so many people to read?  Plus, I still had to change certain people's names because they didn't want their real identities in my journal.
       So, last month, I wrote the post about the release of my book, and this is the one thing that still makes me cry . . .
        I got an e-mail a few days later.  It was from an e-mail address I'd never seen before.  This is basically what it said:

    Dear Elisabeth,
         Nine months ago I got a friend request from a girl I didn't know. I originally thought about just denying the request, but when I asked why she had contacted me, the girl responded with such honesty, I couldn't help but befriend her.
        Like I said, nine months have passed.  I've seen YOU grow from an aspiring writer, to the author I knew you'd become.  I've never met you, but I feel like I know you.  
        Many years ago, I lost someone close to me.  I shut myself off from everyone, but your ups and downs have given me strength.
        I read your blog every day and I must say I am so proud of you.      
        Your son must be watching from Heaven.  I hope he sees how hard you're working to keep his memory alive, and how much you want to help other people.
        Thank you for requesting to be my friend. 
        Thank you for helping me with my own grief.
        When your book comes out in November, I will be the first one in line to buy it.

    The  Military Man

        I'm crying as I write this because the support and love ALL OF YOU have given to me is amazing!  I can't explain how much your reviews and advice, your KINDNESS and comments have meant to me.
        I started this journey, just hoping to get a book published, but in the process, I've grown and learned so much.  I've gained over 2,500 friends on facebook!  Over 4,400 followers on Twitter!   Over 1,300 followers on my blog!
        I just had to tell each of you, this success is because of you.  My journal will be released in 20 days . . . and I have a platform--because of you.
        This gift you've given me--you've given Zeke's story--is amazing.

       To that military man, his wonderful words, and all of you:
        You've touched my life more than I can express.  I never hoped for so much.  
        THANK YOU!

    Friday, October 28, 2011

    How to Become a Published Author; Part 3

    This is a continuation from yesterday and the day before:

       To recap, I needed a platform in order to get a publisher.  I friended 800 people on facebook, and when people (especially an older military man) started asking how I knew them, I told them about my book (my need for a platform) and how my son had died.  Honesty--would it be the best policy?
        I drank a chocolate coke (which happens to be my favorite thing other than coffee), pulled on my big-girl boots and faced the computer.
        The first messages were from some random people.  "I'd love to help support you."  
        One woman said she'd lost a baby.  I was shocked, but we even got to be friends in the following months. I remember crying at the computer because EVERY ONE of those people accepted my friendship on facebook.  (Well everyone except an old woman who said she hates technology and that it's connecting everyone--even strangers.)  
        But out of all my new (799) friends, the one I worried about the most was the military man.  He sent me a very short reply, "Thanks for being honest.  I've confirmed our friendship."
        Now, let me tell you something about that older man.  He only had 30 friends on facebook.  I knew he was only keeping contact with people he was closest to.  So, although I met many wonderful people, I really respected my friendship with the military man.  His comments to other people were hard and resolved.  The pictures he shared were of war and victory.  We had little in common, but I found myself admiring his resolve.
        So, back to the publication process.  I hired two editors.  I think (no matter who you are--whether you've found an agent/publisher or not) this is a must.  Professional editors will pick up on things other people (even fellow writers) might not find.  There's a reason professional editors are around.  
        One of the editors went over my journal for content.  I ended up removing several of the entries that didn't need to be there.  I also had to clarify other things, such as who certain people were.  Since it was my journal, I had just named people and not explained any background.  I never thought anyone else would read my journal--I guess that's why it's so honest. 
        Anyway, were the revisions hard?  Yes, but as the editor noticed, those minor revisions would make my journal shine. 
        The other editor fixed grammatical errors and typos.
        I've written three more books since finishing my journal.  Before even thinking about submitting them to publishers, I will hire an editor.  It's hard enough getting published, why not give my manuscript the best chance possible, and hopefully submit it error free?
        So, after hiring the editors and implementing their corrections, I decided it was time for another test.  I found twenty famous authors, e-mailed them my query and asked if they'd consider reading my book and endorsing it.
        Five of them wrote back to me.  Three of them would consider reading it!  I nearly bit my nails in anticipation after sending them my book.
        Then, a few months later, I received their answers, and I couldn't believe my luck!
        Here's what they said:
    "Praise for 'The Golden Sky'"

        But that isn't the end of this story.  I have one more part I'd like to tell you about.  This next part makes me want to cry.
        To be continued . . . again.

    Thursday, October 27, 2011

    How to Become a Published Author; Part 2

        This post is a continuation from yesterday:
        To recap, I turned down two publishers.  One was small and didn't have a non-fiction audience; the other one was religious and wanted me to change "damn" to "dang."  But let's not get into religion again. I already wrote a post about that last week.
         Back to the point.  I tried finding another publisher over the next year, and toward the end, all of the rejections sounded the same. 

    "The market is tough right now."  
    "We're only representing established authors at this time."
    "I'm sorry your son died, but I don't feel there is a large enough audience of people who have miscarried or lost children because of birth defects."

        Maybe I had missed the boat.  Changing my book--my journal--maybe it would have been the right thing--dang it!

        I did some research after that.  Here's what I started including at the end of my query: 180 babies are born every minute and 1.8 of them are born with defects.  A vast number of people can relate to my story but regardless of that fact, everyone has experienced grief, everyone has experienced loss.
        The rejections were softer after that.  (Adding facts to my query had helped.)  Two editors even said that if I had an audience, they would have published my book.
        "What kind of audience?" I asked.
        "More friends or 'likes' on facebook.  You need a blog.  You need a following on twitter.  You're the one who will be able to connect with the people who need to read your book.  You're the one who needs to build this platform."
        That's when I got crazy.  Last January I started a blog.  I had a small number of friends on facebook, no idea what twitter was, ten cents in my pocket, and no followers.
        One day I looked at my blog and was thrilled because I had ONE FOLLOWER!  My heart dropped when I realized who it was--I'd followed myself on accident.  I quickly unfollowed and continued on.
        My friend came over a few days later.  She watched me clicking away on the computer.  "What in the hell are you doing?" she asked.
        "I'm friending people on facebook."
        "Do you actually know any of them?" she asked.
        "Not yet, but someday I will."
        I made it to almost 800 friend requests that day.  One lady said, "I looked just like Aunt Esther."  Her comment was great, except I don't have an Esther in my family.  
        A man said he hadn't talked to my father Roy in years.  I just didn't have the heart to tell him, I don't have a father named "Roy."      
        I got a message from a young man.  "Didn't I meet you at the bar?" 
       "Don't you remember?" I responded, and he accepted my friendship immediately!
        It was the next morning though, when I almost died.     
        Another person had e-mailed me from facebook.  "I don't know you.  I see you've had a lot of connections recently.  Why do you want to be my friend?"
        My face flushed.  The guy was military--which meant he'd see through ANY LIE!  It was like the time I'd heard that if I slept without a bra on, my boobs would get bigger, but once I tried it, nothing spectacular happened--talk about disappointment!
        I faced the computer.  My little cursor blinked--the damn thing knew I was in trouble.
        But I grew some woman balls then, and did the best I could.
        This is what I wrote back to the man and ALL of the other people who had mistaken me for someone else (well everyone except bar-boy):
        "Eight years ago my son died in my arms.  The day God took him from me, I felt like someone had ripped out my soul, but through everything, I gained the courage to face an uncertain future.  I realized God never left me . . . and things would get better.  
        "My son's life and death made me who I am.
        "I kept a journal through the whole experience, and now I might find a decent publisher if I can just gain a platform--friends on facebook and followers on my blog and twitter.
        "I know we haven't met in person, but I'd love to start a friendship with you, here on facebook.  Will you be my friend and help me with this cause?  
        "I know my book can help someone out there--if it just has the chance."

        E-mails started pouring in after that.  I was too terrified to read them though, at least until I could put on some fancy boots and drink a huge thing of coke.  (Boots and coke--they just make things better.)

        To be continued tomorrow . . .  

        If you'd like more information about my book launch, 
    please click here: 

      Wednesday, October 26, 2011

      How to Become a Published Author; Part 1

          Since my first novel is coming out in less than twenty-five days, I thought it might be fun to share the journey I went through.  It's taken a lot of work to get where I am. 

          I started keeping a journal over nine years ago.  Little did I know, six years later, that journal would be my lifeline to a time so altering, I'd tried pushing it out of my mind.  But through my own words, my own struggles, I saw a new part of myself.  I found the joy and happiness--the healing--that miraculously came in the year after my son died.
          I kept thinking how much a book like that would have helped me earlier, right after my loss; it was sad because at the time I'd only found things written by doctors and therapists.  So, from the encouragement or my brother and two good friends, I decided to make small grammatical revisions and try to find a publisher.  


          Now, finding a publisher IS NOT easy.  I went through several market guides.  I visited and called every single listed publisher in my state.  I knew I'd meet a ton of great people, but what I didn't realize is how many authors are self-published and listed as having publishing companies.  Through this process, that single day of phone calls helped me more than anything prior to it.
          I met a self-published cook who sold over a million copies of her cookbook.  A lady who'd been to Africa had sold over 50,000 copies of her novel about photography.  I met a man who knew how to write AND make bullets during the Apocalypse.  I even talked with an author's wife--her husband wrote "The Christmas Box."  (I had no idea what a big deal that was at the time and we just shot the bull like it was nothing.)
          After calling over seventy people, and sending several queries, I found two publishers who were interested.  One had never published a memoir or a journal before, but felt drawn to my cause and my little boy who had died.  
          The other publisher wanted me to remove "damn" and replace it with "dang."  I kindly declined the small publisher who had never released a memoir, and I almost signed with the straight-laced bigger company.  
          I was so close, but the thought of my treasured journal reading, "Dang it, my son died," was too much for me.
          I rejected their offer as well and continued on with little luck.     
          Several bigger publishers said I needed a platform before they'd even consider my work.  So, another part of the process began. 

          I'll share part 2 tomorrow.  On a side note, would you have changed "damn" to "dang" if it meant you'd be a published author?   

      Tuesday, October 25, 2011

      My Brother Was On the News; Real Steel Robots!

          I just had to share this.  My brother is the handsome operator with the blue hat on.  This video has already been viewed over 260,000 times!  
          Check out the awesome robot--this makes me want to watch "Real Steel."

          I know you've seen the silly blog war with my brother.  Here's one of those blogs:

      Manly Man, Leg Crosser or Intellectual

           But on a serious note, I had to show you what an amazing engineer he is.  He's actually done a lot of work on the robot shown in the video.
          Isn't that cool how "Real Steel" robots and possibly Iron Man-like suits might be real someday!
          Have you seen "Real Steel" yet?  

          If you'd like to visit my brother's blog, here's the link:

      Middle Damned

      Monday, October 24, 2011

      Heroes Who Fought in Vietnam; Only 25 More Days

          Several years ago I had another strange dream.

          There was a long corridor, stretching far from sight. Odd doors thronged both sides, doors that made me crawl with fear. I edged closer to the eerie noises coming from the millions of doors on either side of the endless hall.  Blinking exit signs hung above me.  I looked around, confused.  Where was the exit?  
          I gazed farther along the ceiling, my eyes suddenly catching on exit signs that hung above each door.  The place felt like an old hotel, the kind I'd stayed in when my dad went out of town.  Green designs weaved throughout the beige carpet and I tip-toed across the straight lines as I walked along.
      Photos of Lake View Garden Hotel, Wuhan

          "How did I get here?  How . . ." I heard someone scream behind a door. "How, do I get out of here?"
          "This is war, man," another guy said.  "You're protecting the country.  We're protecting the country!  You can't leave yet." 
          "But they don't even appreciate what we're doing!"
          I stepped back, wrapping my arms around my chest and clinging to my light shirt.  The place reeked of death as if mortality pulsed from the wall-papered walls.  
          The exit signs, the only light in the hall, flickered as a wind ripped through my skin.  I shivered and wished there was a way out, but even as I turned around, I realized the hall didn't end.  It went forever in both directions, like a big circle.
          "My, my.  You've finally arrived.  And why is it that you've come?"
          I jumped, looking back to where nothing had been before.  A small man hobbled toward me.  He stood as high as my waist and his graying beard tickled the ground.  He wore a black, fat hat and his bulbous nose bespoke evil.  "So, why have you come.  You've traveled an awfully long way, just to stand here like a mute."
          "I . . ."  I wanted to touch his face.  Poke him to make sure he was real.  "I seek the one true . . . I seek . . ."
          "Knowledge," he finished for me.
          I nodded, thinking he looked like the face of war.
          "Many have come to this hall.  Many have never left.  If you truly seek enlightenment, then you must face the rooms of death."
          I swallowed.
          "One room you must go in, though only one may fail you.  Test it now although you try, it must then completely avail you."
          He looked at me and tapped his foot.  "I said, one room you must go in, though only one may--"
          "I heard you, but what does it mean?"
          "You go in a room.  You're tested.  You probably won't even come out.  But if by some chance, by some act of God, you come out, then you'll find what you seek."
          "And that's it?"
          "Yep, enjoy."  He opened a door to his left.  As he walked through, he turned to vapor and I heard a distant scream.  The door swung shut behind him and I decided that would not be my first pick.
          I walked down the endless corridor, grasped a handle, opened the door, and then . . . I woke up.

          For some reason, I have strange dreams, and a few of them never leave me.  That, was one of those dreams.

          But let me go back.  I need to explain things so this will make sense.
          In July, I wrote this post: 

      Dick Donathan (my uncle) Died in Vietnam

          I was surprised and delighted when, a few days later, I got an e-mail saying my uncle's fiance and her sister had found my blog!
         I sent e-mails to the sister, and after a few, she invited me and my mom to meet them and some men who had known my uncle in Vietnam.  
         I was so excited!  What an amazing opportunity.  My mother agreed to go, and so we went to meet my uncle's fiance, her sisters, and a group of marines in Vegas.
          I blinked and the elevator opened.  We were finally there--to meet the marines--but I couldn't gain my composure.  As I looked down the hallway, I suddenly had the strongest sense of deja vu.  
          I'm not sure if my mother knew how nervous I was because she seemed worried too.  But we went on, walking down the carpet that practically came from my dreams and the doors which loomed oddly.
          "There it is," I told my mother and she nodded, it was time to meet them.
          I knocked, but no one answered.  I knocked again, my heart beating faster and faster.  Still, no answer.  I heard someone talking from inside, "They're protecting our country,"  a man said.
          It sounded so much like one of the voices in my dream that the realization hit--I'd had a dream similar to that moment.
          "They're here," I said, and decided to try the handle.
          I closed my eyes tightly.  My hand went out to touch the metal.  I couldn't believe everything seemed so familiar.  Was I in the right place at the right time, or was I just going nuts? 
          I remembered the little man in my dream, and how his face looked like war.  His words flooded my mind, "Many have come to this hall.  Many have never left.  If you truly seek enlightenment, then you must face the rooms of death."
           "Do we have the right room number?" my mom asked.
          "I think so," I said.  "But it's locked." We backed up and looked at the room across the hall.  They were all conference rooms and various voices drifted and laughed through the doors.  
          "Well, should we go ask the front desk again?" I asked, feeling really out of sorts.
          That's when another door down the hallway opened.  "There you are," a woman yelled.  "We thought we heard someone knocking."
          She smiled brightly, truly a beautiful woman. My mom and I walked closer, then went into the conference room.
          Now, let me tell you, the second I walked in there, I started loving every minute.  Those men are amazing!  My uncle's fiance and sisters are wonderful.
          One man pulled me aside.  "People now will tell you that smoking will kill ya."
          "Yeah?" I said.
          "Well, I remember when a good cigarette would save your life."
          "How's that?" I asked, smiling. 
          "In those swamps, the leeches, they'd suck your blood and if you pulled the damn things off, their heads would stay.  But if you had a cigarette, you could burn 'em off and they'd leave you alone."
          I nodded from the irony.  
          I talked with another man after that.  He told me more about what each of the men went through, the insane weather, the swamps which could swallow a man whole; he even told me about my uncle and called him the best thing ever!  He said my uncle was  "a good man--the best there is.  Your uncle," he said, "was a good shit."
          I heard a few people talking about how Vietnam changed everyone who went there.  "We came back damaged," one guy said. 
          The next day we all said "goodbye."  I watched as one man left the hotel.  I thought about my dream and that little man whose face looked like war.  I thought of his words saying how so many people went through the rooms of death and how many have never left.
          His words hit me as I watched one of the survivors from Vietnam leaving the hotel.  He has leg problems from getting shot, but that man ALL OF THOSE MEN are still alive and they are inspiring.
         I know some of them said they're damaged, but I had to write this because when I talked with each and every one of those people in that room, I didn't see men and women who were damaged; I saw amazing people who beat the odds.  I saw strong men, willing to face anything.  Men who would stand valiantly even after the war had ended, but would still threaten to take over their futures.  Those men in that room weren't damaged--they are heroes.  They are survivors!  And I am PROUD to have met them!  Plus, now I have something to aspire to--one day, I want to be a good shit!

          So, I had that strange dream years ago; I still don't know if it's meant to be connected or just a coincidence, but what I do know it that in my dream, I was looking for knowledge and answers.  Well, when I went to Vegas, that's what I found. 

          To all of those who I was able to meet and talk with--THANK YOU!  I know Vietnam changed your lives, but I want you to know, that you have forever changed mine.  Thank you for your sacrifice.
      Thank you for your time.  Thank you . . . for being my heroes.

          In closing, I wanted to share a poem that a soldier gave to  Ravi Zacharias when he was in Vietnam.

      Lord God I have never spoken to You
      But now I want to say, “How do You do?”

      You see God, they told me You didn’t exist
      And like a fool I believed all this
      Last night from a shell hole I saw Your sky
      I figured right then they had told me a lie

      Had I taken time to see the things You made
      I’d have known they weren’t calling us spade to spade

      I wonder God if You’ll take my hand
      Somehow I feel that You’ll understand

      Funny I had to come to this hellish place
      Before I had time to see Your face

      I guess there really isn’t much more to say
      But I’m sure glad God, that I met You today

      I guess zero hour will soon be here
      But I’m not afraid since I know You’re near

      There’s the signal, well God, I’ll have to go
      I like You lots, I want You to know

      Looks like this’ll be a horrible fight
      Who knows I may come to Your house tonight

      Though I wasn’t friendly to You before
      I wonder God if You’d wait at Your door

      Look I’m crying, I’m shedding tears
      I’ll have to go now God, goodbye

      Strange now since I’ve met You
      I’m not afraid to die

      This has been posted as a sample tribute for
      "The Golden Sky" Blogfest.
      (Only 25 more days!  Yahoo!)

      Sunday, October 23, 2011

      Am I Losing My Mind?

          I grew up next to the mouth of a huge canyon.  It was beautiful and amazing--like living inside the pages of "Little Red Riding Hood," or "Hansel and Gretel."
          Here's a picture of where I grew up:
          The winding road we lived by, arched high, past a tiny grocery store and then into the mountains.  Even though there were a million things to do exploring and hiking, when I was in seventh grade, I often found it better to visit with my best friend in front of the grocery store.
          We'd sit on the salt bags and talk for hours.  There was something magical about that salt--once you sat down you couldn't leave, like you'd be breaking the law or something if you moved.
          It was on one such day, when I kept thinking, "Am I losing my mind?"  It wasn't that things were bad, I was just starting to change. Plus, Jr. High is hard for almost everyone (at least I think it is).
          Anyway, my best friend plopped down onto the salt bags next to me.  We'd climbed to the very top of the pile and it felt cool being there.  We'd seen some high school kids sit there once, and that made it extra dangerous.
          We'd bought some ten cent candies from the store and I chewed with my mouth open because at home that wasn't allowed!
          "See that hill?" my friend asked, let's call her "Angel."
          I nodded because everyone had heard about Dead Man's Hill.
         "Do you know why it's called Dead Man's Hill?"
          "No," I said, which was funny because I'd known the name for most of my life.
          "Well," she said in a spooky voice, "the plastic-loving witch lives at the top of the hill, right by the canyon.  But that isn't the bad part.  Everyone who's gone down that hill has died or gone to the hospital."
          It was a steep hill.  I didn't doubt the story for one second, and suddenly I felt so involved, I forgot about my silly teenage problems.
          "A skateboarder tried going down that hill.  He cracked his head at the bottom and died."
          I gasped.
          "Then another kid rode his bike down . . .  He held a coke in one hand and his handlebars in the other.  He waved to some cute girls, lost control of his bike and crashed into a mail box!  He broke both of his arms."
          "Is that what happened to Dane?" I asked because a kid in our school had recently broken both arms.
          "Exactly," she said, and I got the chills.
          "That's crappy.  I had no idea it was really cursed."
          "Yeah, many have fallen prey to the curse of Dead Man's Hill."
          It seemed like a true problem, which needed to be fixed.  
          I didn't like injustice in any way and the hill had beaten far too many people!  
          "I bet we could break the curse," I said, jumping from the top of the salt bags.  I stood on the ground, put my thirteen-year-old hands on my hips and pretended a cape flew behind me.  I spotted a cart in that moment and I nodded to it.
          "You're right," she said, "let's do this thing."
          That's when we grabbed a shopping cart and struggled pushing it up Dead Man's Hill.
          Cars rushed past us.  People honked and yelled out their windows.  We felt like celebrities because we were about to do the unthinkable--we'd conquer that hill or die trying.
          "Who goes in the cart?" Angel asked.
          "We could do rock, paper, scissors?"
          She looked at me and then the cart.  "No, if we're gonna beat this thing, we need to do it right.  I'm a lot lighter than you.  I'll go in the cart."
          I didn't like the idea.  That was putting a lot of pressure on her AND me, even though I couldn't deny the truth in her words.  We were both twigs, but she was the shortest kid in our grade and I was the third tallest.  That made a difference.
          "You sure about this?" I asked.  A creepy feeling kept going up my spine.  
          She nodded.  "But let's go soon.  I'll do almost anything to get away from that house."  Angel motioned to the home not far from us--it was the plastic-loving witch's house.
          Now I know it sounds silly, since I was thirteen and everything, but I was terrified of that house.  We'd heard horrific things about children and teenagers who went in and never came out the same.     
          Her yard was filled with strange plastic decorations.  I swear there were hundreds of plastic animals in her front yard.  She had a fake pond with plastic frogs and dragonflies by it.  There was a section with deer and bunnies.  My mom thought it was cute, but I knew the truth--all the kids did.  Those plastic decorations used to be people, really we thought they were.
          My friend hopped into the cart fast after that, and for me to even hold her in place was a struggle.
          "You ready for this?" she asked, sitting in the cart and facing me instead of the hill.  She gripped the same handle that I did.
          A wind rushed past us, making both of our hair dance because we were like two little warriors facing death.
          "I guess," I said, then bared my teeth.  "Let's do this."
          I looked toward the witch's house and then pushed hard.  The cart went down the gravel hill.  We were lucky no cars seemed to be around in that moment.
          I ran as fast as I could, but then things got wild.  The wheels rocked from going to fast.  I dug my Sketchers into the pavement, but I couldn't stop the thing.  
          Before I knew it, I tripped up a step and the cart flew from one of my hands.
          "Oh my gosh!" I screamed as it pulled me after it.  Angel looked a bit terrified because we knew I couldn't gain control.
          "It's the curse of Dead Man's Hill!  This was a dumb idea!"
          "Ya think!" I said.  I scrunched my feet closer to the cart, and stumbled, still being dragged behind the cart. 
         My pants were trashed from being raked along the ground, but I didn't realize any of that yet, I was too worried.  Somehow, in a few seconds, my adrenaline must have kicked in because I managed to put both feet onto the back of the cart.  My body threw it off balance though and we careened toward the center of the road.  I prayed then, that Angel wouldn't die or break both of her arms.  If she died, that meant I would die, and then God would judge me for being such a bad shopping cart driver!
          Why had we tried ending a curse anyway? The witch had probably put it on the hill, and what were two kids against someone who could control plastic!
         "You need to jump out," I screamed.
          "But we're almost to the bottom."
          "But there's a CAR!"
          She looked back and fear tore at her face.
          "One . . ."  She said.
          The driver didn't seem to see us.
          "Two . . ."  She crouched in the cart and we veered toward the other side of the road.
          "THREE!"  We both yelled at the same time.
          She jumped from the cart and  so did I.  I watched as blue paint blurred in my vision.  Someone honked, in a complete panic.  The whirring of air, flooded past my face, before Angel and I landed on someone's lawn and the car swerved past closer to the canyon's mouth.
          I heard someone swear out the car window, but I just wanted to cry with joy.
          My heart beat faster than eggs in a blender, and I couldn't catch my breath for a second.  
          "You okay?" I finally asked.
          "Heck yeah," she said.  "We both just went down Dead Man's Hill and we survived to tell the tale!  We didn't break our arms or nothing!"
          I suddenly laughed so hard.  I thought about when we'd been sitting on the salt bags.  I'd been so sad over such stupid things.  Why hadn't I appreciated life and everything I had.  Everything looked brighter.  
          "And all those boys at school said they were scared of going down this hill!"
          "And two girls just did it."  I laughed.  It really felt like we were floating on air.
          I sat with my friend and we watched as the cart flew down the hill and eventually crashed into the side of a pizza place.
         "Wow, that was a rush.  I'm just happy we're alive!" I said.  And it was true, there were so many great things to live for.
          "Yeah, that was a miracle . . . the curse of Dead Man's Hill has been broken."
          "I still can't believe, how we swerved at the last second.  It did seem a bit strange," I said.
          "Yeah." she nodded.  "We made it down the worst part, too!"
          We both looked back up the hill, and saw as a strange, old woman stared at us from the place we'd started.  Her long gray hair twisted and turned like steam from a hot bowl of soup.
          "It's the Plastic Witch!" I whispered.
         "And maybe us surviving wasn't a miracle at all."  Angel wouldn't take her eyes from the woman.  "I think she just saved our lives."
          "Really?" I asked.
          "Yeah, not all witches are bad, anyway.  I think we need to thank that woman."
          "Tomorrow?" I asked.
          "Tomorrow," she said, and we decided it was time to meet the infamous Plastic Witch.

      Saturday, October 22, 2011

      Is Mormonism a Cult?

          No one believes exactly the same thing about what happens after we die.  Even if they're the same religion, everyone has different beliefs and opinions.  I have to say, I find the notion romantic.  No matter what, everyone has their own spin on things.
          But living in Utah, my opinions don't seem to matter.  All I hear is how I should be Mormon (or LDS as many people say).  No matter how much I politely ask them to leave me alone, they won't. 

          Before I go on, let me mention, this isn't a post to discount Mormonism or prove it right; I just want to give you my side of the story as a non-Mormon living in Utah.

           To start off, here's a quote from Rutherford Birchard Hayes.  (I got this from an irate LDS woman who I don't even know; she sent me several e-mails yesterday after reading my post.)

          The woman who sent me that quote said she didn't appreciate my post yesterday.  Here's that link if you're curious:   
         She also said (and I'm paraphrasing here), I made it sound like all elderly LDS women like soft porn.
          Wow!  That's not what I was going for AT ALL.
          Over the next couple of e-mails, she proceeded to try converting me.  She sent that quote, saying, "People use this to help sway others from converting to the LDS church, when really it proves us correct.  We've been persecuted far more than other religions; we're even persecuted in our own state."
          More than other religions, huh--that's a bit of a stretch.  Also, who said this is their state?
          Really?  She's seriously persecuted?  Then why is it, that I've been terrified to write a post like this?  Terrified--literally! Why is it that I lost my best friend in grade school when her mom found out I wasn't Mormon.  I got stood up to a high school dance because kids threatened me AND my date after finding out he was Mormon and I was not.
          Once, I had a teacher call me a Born Again CRICKET!  The list goes on . . .
          But the one that's killing me, the one thing I will NOT tolerate happened to the Scribe (my daughter).
          My oldest daughter stopped wearing a cross to school because kids wouldn't play with her and instead asked why she had "dead Jesus" on her necklace.
          What are certain--extremest--parents teaching their children?     
          Most Mormons are good people, most folks in general are decent, but THESE actions are uncalled for.  And that is what this post is to address.
          Utah is great if you're Mormon, but most LDS people here don't know what a struggle it is for the rest of us who aren't a part of their church.  And now they think they're oppressed even here? 
          But I'm letting my womanly pain out too soon.  Let's get down to the facts.     

         First of all, what is a cult?
         A dictionary will tell you that a "cult" is a group of people who are regarded by others as strange.  That particular group must have a devotion to a certain object or person.

          In a loose sense of the term, there are many cults out there.

          But, I'm getting away from myself.  I'm writing this because I'm sick of religious persecution.  I got that string of e-mails yesterday, and then to top it off, I saw this picture on facebook for THE MILLIONTH time.  One of my old friends from Jr. High posted it:

          Despite the fact that this is OBVIOUSLY photo shopped (check out the fuzzy lines right next to the words--the same lines that aren't fuzzy in other places), why do people need to post this?
          Want me to point some things out?
          Here you go:
          My opinion?  Well, it's time to get spicy:
          This sign is written BY IDIOTS, for idiots.  How does it feel putting others down to build yourself up?  Dozens of people had "liked" the picture my friend posted.  Well, I took my kids to a Baptist church on Sunday and I'm not laughing.  On top of this--it's been photo shopped--bearing false witness?  I hope that'll work out well when you're trying to get into Heaven.

          For everyone who "liked" and "shared" that picture, think about this:   
          Taken from the Salt Lake Tribune: LDS Church officials declined interviews. But they issued a statement in response to questions submitted by The Tribune: "The church has always extended a hand of friendship and fellowship to those of other faiths, and will continue to do so."
          I suggest you take this into account next time you want to "fix" a photo.   

          So, do I think Mormonism is a cult?
          Yes, by definition.

          Do I want to hear why you might think I'm wrong.  Not really.  I've heard it my whole life.

          In closing, will I ever be Mormon?

          I just want to be treated cordially like anyone else.  Enough said.

      Friday, October 21, 2011

      What Type of Person Are You?

          My girls are obsessed with the library.  It seems to be their favorite place in the world.  They want to stay for hours, and it makes me happy since I used to work at a library.
          As I stood waiting for my oldest daughters, a librarian approached me.  Now, I'm not dumb and I immediately knew why she came closer.  She would act like she wanted to help me find a book, but really she was just being nosy.  The point is, I know how librarians work!  I've taken lunch breaks with them and everything!  
          See, they reel you in by acting helpful, but when you're not listening, they try guessing what types of books you like.  

          "See that gentlemen," I once heard a librarian say years ago, "he's into romance.  I'd bet a million dollars on it."
          "Him?" I asked, but I knew better than to bet on it.  I also figured old Helen had helped so many people find books, she had all their genres memorized.  "Fine," I said, "what kind of books do I like best?"
          She put on her glasses, these big . . . thick things, and then appraised me.  "By looking at you, I'd said Jane Austen?"
          "Wrong!"  I was so happy I could have peed--well maybe that's a bad comparison, but you get the point.  "Jane's all right, but I LIVE for fantasy."
          "So, you're one of those."  She pursed her lips and nodded.
          "What's wrong with fantasy?"
          "Nothing, I'm just shocked that I guessed wrong.  You look too proper, and I think you're making it up."
          "Am not!"
          She giggled then and went back to her desk.  "I knew it was fantasy all along.  You're always off in your own world anyway."
          I still don't know what she meant.  Hopefully she said it endearingly, but I can't really remember.
          So, anyway, back to yesterday.
          This old librarian approached me.  She had eyes of silver and hair to match.  I knew she was religious because before she came closer, she'd been reading some book about Mormons being right.
          For the record, I AM NOT Mormon, but there are about a million of them around here.  Sometimes it's hard being the minority. When I grow some guts, I'll tell you about that . . .
          Well, the lady looked at me and smiled.  "Can I help you find something?"
          "Sure, do you have any suggestions?"  I asked her because I knew she'd already pegged me for a certain type of reader.  If you ever want to know what people really think of you, go to the library.
          She thought for a minute, then nodded discretely.  "You know what, I have the perfect thing for you!  I've only recently found this author myself, but I think you'll love him."
          The old woman winked at me, grabbed my elbow and pulled me to the back, dark section of the library.  I thought for sure she'd pegged me for an Austen lover--everyone does.
          "Do you like vampires?" she asked, shocking me.
          "Ummm . . . I guess they're okay."  But I smiled inside because she'd still guessed WRONG--ha ha.
          "Well, try this out for size."  She shoved two books toward my chest and I couldn't help but grab them like we were starting a game of football.
          "What are they?" I asked.
          "They're romance.  But us librarians consider them soft porn for women."
          I almost swallowed my gum.  Was this a joke?  The elderly woman probably wore LDS garments that had been dipped in Holy Water and she wanted me to read porn?  "What?"  What kind of a reader did she think I was!  I knew I'd worn a push-up bra, but that didn't make me a porn lover.
          "Just try it out," she said.  "I'm pretty religious and there's nothing wrong with reading a GOOD book every now and then, if you know what I mean."  She winked, grinning like a ghoul.
          I blinked, once . . . twice.  The old MORMON librarian was an erotica fanatic!  I broke down then and confessed all of my sins.       
          "K, the point is that I used to work at a library."
          She nodded.
          "You know how all librarians can usually guess what types of books patrons like reading?"
          "Yeah, I guess," she said.
          "Well, I wanted you to make a suggestion so I could see what you really thought of me."
          She laughed so hard, I thought she'd get Alzheimer's right there in the erotic section.
          "Oh, I like you," she said.  "Maybe you aren't as stiff as you seem.  You want to know the truth?"
          "You remind me of myself fifty years ago.  I thought I could bring you here so you'd loosen up.  There's no point in being wound up all of the time.  Plus, erotica is fun."
          I just gaped, but after a minute I couldn't hold it in.  I started giggling too, like the day I first went to sex ed.  "I like you, too."  I smiled.  "But I don't think I'm ready for this just yet."
          "You didn't expect this from me, did you?"
          "No," I said very quickly.
          "Well, it looks like we're both wrong."  She tapped a book that looked proper even though it was in the spicy section.  "Never forget that," she said.  "You can't judge a book by its cover.  You're not a square and neither am I."
          "Agreed," I said before grabbing a Terry Brook's book and checking out with my girls.  I'll never forget that librarian, or the fact that she'd taken me to the dark side of the library.  I know I didn't actually read Erotica, but I still feel courageous anyway.  After all, I went to the dark side, and I'm still here to write about it!
         On a side note, would you ever read Erotica?