Life Goes On & Happy Bday, Cass

There’s still snow on the ground. But the rhubarb finds a way.

Today is Good Friday, the day we commemorate Jesus’s trial, crucifixion, and burial 2000 years ago. Amazing, really, that such a long-ago event remains so central in our lives. Good Friday was not good, but with the belief in Christian doctrine, a necessary one. The “good” of Good Friday is incongruous unless viewed in what it heralds…on Sunday He rose.

You know I see “signs” everywhere. I relate to words of poet Mary Oliver, who wrote And mostly I’m grateful that I take this world so seriously.

I can’t help it. There has to be meaning in everything.

In New Hampshire the snow lingers to the point of exasperation. It’s mid-April and last week I was driving through a snow storm! But a day later I spotted it – the bright red of the rhubarb poking through the brown dead earth.

I was reminded of how I received this rhubarb. It was a surprise gift. Thank you, Tamar. She was sad. She was thinking of Heather. She felt a wreck. To top it off, she had killed her beloved rhubarb plant. Actually, she only thought she had. Hark! One day, growing out of her own dead brown earth was a baby shoot of scarlet red.

“Suddenly,” she said, “it was as if I heard Heather’s commanding voice behind me – ‘SEE! LIFE GOES ON!'”

Tamar dug up a piece of the rhubarb root, got in her car, and drove to my house. She gave me the tiny plant and said I was not capable of killing it. Indeed, I neglect it and still it grows. It has become a yearly reminder: after the winter, spring always come. Life goes on.

Easter Sunday is Cassie’s birthday. She would have been 38. In June it will be three years since we very unexpectedly lost her. I tried to reread the post I wrote and found I could not. I also hesitate on my word choice – “lost.”

My good brother. And sweet Scout who loves her mama and happy sunflowers.

Yes, “Good Friday” was a tragic day and yet it made possible to have “Good News” – that Jesus Christ would rise again. Because of this, we too, will rise again. It is both incredibly implausible and absolutely believable.

I find it significant, or perhaps only comforting, that this Easter weekend is Cassie’s birthday – and not the anniversary of her death.

She is gone from this earth, but she is not lost to us. She is there. Here.

Happy Easter, friends. What GOOD NEWS we’ve been given.

“Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.”
― Mary Oliver, Thirst

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Can I Send You Guinevere’s Secrets?

The REAL Willowdale Princess Deon Dawn – and my dad (Bear Lake, Idaho)

Dear friends,

It’s here.

All of GUINEVERE’S SECRETS, written by yours truly.

This is a companion guide to  THE UNFORGETTABLE GUINEVERE ST. CLAIR, where the true stories behind the fictional stories are revealed.

For instance:

Was this book inspired by true events? Was there really a burial? Did a gentle boy really kill the goose? What about that finger under the tractor?

The cow in the picture above? She was my dad’s…and yes, that WAS HER NAME.

CLICK HERE to subscribe and I will send Guinevere’s Secrets to your inbox right now! (If you’re already a newsletter subscriber, it should already be waiting for you – hooray!

Enjoy! It was a pleasure to write and revisit the many ways real life influenced this work of fiction.

Amy 

p.s. Know anyone who enjoyed Guinevere and would like to know her secrets? Please share this post or the above link – thank you thank you xoxoxoxo

Can’t wait to hear what you think!

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Good News for the Week: Soft Cinnamon Rolls

Twice a year I’m sure to make cinnamon rolls: the first Sunday in April and the first Sunday in November when we are watching “General Conference.” Instead of trotting off to church we listen to a series of talks on faith, love, and service to our fellow peeps.

I love this weekend. I want my children to love this weekend. I want them to associate these amazing talks and the good feelings they will feel, with a happy morning with their family. Believe me, food gets them to the table. Besides me throwing an apple at them, they’re usually on their own for breakfast, but this weekend it’s extra special. I make something.

And thus we have…the cinnamon rolls.

Now, I’ve tried my share of recipes. Until last year I made them with Rhodes dough, which is fine and everyone loves them, but my soul began to yearn for something more…something puffier, softer, less pre-fab. More homemade (the babies must be sleeping through the night).

I found them. King Arthur’s Soft Cinnamon Rolls.

Light, fluffy, absolutely delicious.

They are more time consuming to make than simply rolling out pre-made dough or popping frozen buns out of a can – but this is GOOD NEWS! This ensures that I will not make them more than a few times per year. They will remain precious and just out of reach.

If you need a favor, to get on someone’s good side, seek forgiveness, or simply want high praise and adulations I suggest THE BUNS! Out of 193 reader comments and reviews, this recipe enjoys 5/5 stars.

Mmmmm.

Yesterday one of my kids said we’ve trashed this world so much that “it’s not even worth saving.” The comment stopped me in my tracks.

Dear child. There are cinnamon rolls to be made. The world is definitely worth saving.

Love, Amy

Subscribe to Amy’s Author Newsletter: A Monthly Dose of Book Love

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Book Review: A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

As an Indian family gathers for Hadia, the eldest sister’s wedding, parents Layla and Rafiq reflect on raising their children – what happened, what they wish they could take back, did they do their best?

This literary fiction novel announces Fatima Farheen Mirza as a major literary talent. FOR REAL. I marveled at Mirza’s ability to write from four different points of view without ever announcing who was speaking or from what time period – you just got it.

I grew up in the suburbs of Omaha, Nebraska. Next door lived the Huqs from Bangladesh. They were Muslim, we were Christian. The mothers of both families traded stories over watering the hostas in the garden. Kea Huq was strikingly beautiful with her long straight dark hair and beautiful salwars. She made her tiny gold nose ring incredibly classy. Of her arranged marriage, my mother asked, “Did you love him?” Kea answered, “Of course I did. He was my husband.” It’s been a lesson for us, I tell you.

In A PLACE FOR US, Hadia has balked Indian tradition and is marrying for love, though he is still a muslim and a man of Indian descent. Even with many personal cultural and religious differences, I found myself relating to so much of the thoughts and feelings of tradition, home, and belonging.

Amar is the youngest child and only son. He’s different. He just can’t do it right. He’s not as naturally school smart, dreams of being an artist, has a penchant for always pushing the envelope, wonders if there is even a God, and eventually turns to substances to cope. His mother and sisters are his protectors. His father loves him but doesn’t know how to deal with such a son. He has a temper.

There are secrets, there are betrayals, there is guilt that is hard to let go of. This is the story of every family, but told from a very unique point of view. I loved it.

By the end, Rafiq is sick. He’s an old man holding his arms out for his youngest child to come home. Will his beloved Amar ever return? Is there really a home for each of us to return to?

This story is a love story on many levels – between a husband and wife, between Hadia and Abbas who dies young, between Hadia and her chosen husband, and between Amar and the beautiful Amira who loves Amar but cannot watch him self-destruct – yet longing to be with him anyway.

There’s also the great love story of how much a mother and a father love their children, even when they cannot say it out loud. The mother, Layla thinks, “She was stunned and stunned again by them, and her love for them. How much had been lost? Never made it into her memory, never been captured in a photograph?”

Oh, my heart.

I read this book more slowly than I usually read, forcing myself to slow down and enjoy each sentence – you’ll want to. The writing is at once reflective, aching, and beautifully constructed.

Half the pages of my book are turned down so I can go back and reread sentences – aspiring and inspired to write as wondrously as Mirza does.

Have I convinced you? Read this book. It’s tremendous.

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Book Review: The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller

How do you grow a miracle?

This is middle schooler, Natalie’s, big question. Her botanist mom is suffering from depression. Natalie also has a big egg drop competition for Mr. Neely’s science class. Can she use the scientific method to solve both problems?

I really enjoyed this book. Keller does a great job nailing the voice of middle school days. Also, I love books that have girls thinking scientifically – and hopefully. Goodreads says: “Because when parents are breakable, it’s up to kids to save them, right?”

Eggs are breakable. Hope is not.

Recommended for all ages!

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Book Review: “Small Fry” by Lisa Brennan-Jobs

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs (her father is Steve Jobs, you know, that Apple guy) is a terrifically-written memoir. From the start, Brennan-Jobs has a difficult task. She’s going to be judged by a higher standard. Is this a celebrity memoir or something else?

It’s something else.

Phillip Lopate’s review: “No other book or film has captured Steve Jobs as distinctly as this one has.”

It begins like this:  Lisa is born to very young unmarried hippies who don’t mean to have a baby. Lisa’s mother keeps the baby while Steve travels and has no parenting responsibilities. Lisa’s mother is an artist with little business-savvy and can barely make rent. Steve invents the computer “the Lisa,” becomes very famous and rich and often publicly denies his paternity.

But he loves Lisa. He comes to roller skate with her sometimes. He gives money to Lisa’s mother (though she has to sue him for child support.) He sometimes has Lisa stay over at his mansion (which contains no furniture.) They eat salad and freshly squeezed juice. It is hard for him to relate to his child, yet he obviously wants to.

The characters are complex, like real life.

Lisa’s mother: Even though she’s moody, prone to rage for the life she’s saddled with, I admire her. Poverty and stress make for a hard life and I could easily understand the emotional hysteria. She raises Lisa with the world is on her shoulders and her art in the backseat. She’s mostly kind to Steve even when he’s cruel.

Steve alternates between creeping me out and making me angry, though in the end you think maybe he just didn’t know how to be a dad, didn’t know HOW. Wealth and stress? Well, that’s a combustible combo, too.

Lisa’s writing is both succinct and beautiful. On her mother:

“She pulled over, jammed on the brakes, and sobbed into her arms. Her back shook. Her sadness enveloped me, I could not escape it, nothing I could do would stop it…at the height of her hopelessness and noise, I’d felt a calm presence near us, even though I knew we were alone in the watery hell, the car jerking. Some benevolent presence that cared for us but could not interfere, maybe sitting in the back seat. The presence could not stop it, could not help it, only watch and note it. I wondered later if it was a ghostly version of me now, accompanying my  younger self and my mother in that car.” (a memory at age 3)

“But it didn’t matter what she said, or how she explained. I saw us as a seesaw: when one of us had power or happiness or substantiality, the other must fade. When I was still young, she’d be old. She would smell like old people, like used flower water. I would be new and green and smell of freshly cut branches.” (a memory around age 4)

As a teenager, Lisa goes to live with Steve, who requires that she cut off contact with her mother for six months. Lisa writes:

“I would leave my mother – I’d said the words out loud. I felt giddy and guilty and numb. Maybe this was the origin of the guilt that seized me later and left me hardly able to walk sometimes, after I had moved in with them: having stolen her youth and energy, having driven her to a state of perpetual anxiety, without support or resources, now that I was flourishing in school and beloved by my teachers, I cast her out and picked him, the one who’d left. I chose the pretty place when she was the one who’d read me books of old stories with admonishments not to believe in the trick of facades.”

Oh, so good.

On her dad, whom she always calls “Steve,” after he’d been particularly cruel:

“We all made allowances for his eccentricities, the ways he attacked other people, because he was also brilliant, and sometimes kind and insightful. Now I felt he’d crush me if I let him. He would tell me how little I meant over and over until I believed it. What use was his genius to me?” (8th grade)

I found the ending to be cathartic and satisfying. Lisa’s mother says to Lisa:

“‘He’s following you around, your father,” she said, when she came to visit me after he died.

“A ghost?”

“Him. I don’t know how else to say it. I can feel him here. And you know what? He’s overjoyed to be with you. He wants to be with you so much he’s paddling behind you. I mean, he’s delighted just watching you butter a piece of toast.”

I didn’t believe it, but I liked thinking it anyway.'”

Like many memoirist, Brennan-Jobs writes from a place of sadness and reflection (though I did laugh out loud when she flushes her tights down the toilet.) She longs for what we all long for: to be loved by a mother and a father. I turned the pages greedily, at once enraged and empathetic. It’s a fascinating story. Also heartbreaking, but redemptive, all the same.

Highly recommended!

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Good News For the Week

It’s Maple Season in New Hampshire!

“One of the great innovators of our time, Steve Jobs of Apple, had this insight: ‘you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.’

…Don’t get overwhelmed by the many large, difficult tasks of life. If you commit to doing the “easy” things – the “small” things God asks you to do – and you do them as perfectly as you can, big things will follow.

In a sense, your small and simple sacrifices are the dots of daily living that make up the masterpiece painting of your life. You may not see how the dots connect now, and you don’t need to yet. Simply have faith enough for the moment you are living in now. Trust in God, and ‘out of small things [will come] that which is great.'”

-Dieter F. Uchtdorf

 

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good news for the week {& daughter eats chicken comb}

Some times you just need a break from the typical news cycle of doom and gloom. Here’s something to lift our spirits: my daughter as exhibit A:Cope is a missionary in Taiwan. She LOVES pho (yum yum!) Do you know what she’s holding?

A chicken’s comb!

Let’s get a closer look. Exhibit B: I see…feathers. And you know what she did with the chicken comb? SHE ATE IT.

This is what Google says about a chicken comb: “A comb is a fleshy growth or crest on the top of the head of gallinaceous birds, such as turkeys, pheasants, and domestic chickens. … The comb may be a reliable indicator of health or vigor and is used for mate-assessment in some poultry species.”

Mmmm to fleshy growths! (where is the vomit emoji?)

Missionary Cope also writes (and this is really the good news of the week!):

“Fun stories: no rats this week, BUT last night as we were calling all our friends a man started SCREAMING in Taiyu (the native language of Taiwan that sounds just similar enough to make me think I’ve forgotten all of my Chinese every time I hear it) at a cashier. This went on for a little while, as he went out and then came back in. Then the police showed up and they started yelling in Taiyu as well! We learned that he didn’t have enough money to buy bread, and lost it when the cashier wouldn’t give it to him.
As we reflected on the situation, I was overcome with a deep sadness. We would have gladly given him the money he needed if we had understood what was going on before the police arrived. Had he not been yelling at the cashier, or had we the ability to understand him better, the situation could have been resolved. Had he not exhibited such anger, the police need never have been involved. How often is this sort of interaction played out every day? It is all well and good to say we would give our neighbors our bread, and even better to do it, but how many faceless “others” are we unable to help because we have not the understanding?
This is the miracle of the Atonement, and of the gospel of Jesus Christ. No matter what our problems are, no matter our capacity to explain them to ourselves or others, the Savior knows them completely and has already given us a way to be whole. This is the wonder of the system of ministering as friends and as disciples of the Savior that we see in the church. As his representatives and led by his spirit, we can give the aid needed by others. We may not even know we are doing it, and perhaps they will not either, but our father always does.
2 Nephi 26:23-25 teaches us ‘For behold, my beloved brethren, I say unto you that the Lord God worketh not in darkness.
He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation.
Behold, doth he cry unto any, saying: Depart from me? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; but he saith: Come unto me all ye ends of the earth, buy milk and honey, without money and without price.’
We are always welcome and invited to the Lord’s presence. He will never command us to depart.”
Thanks, Cope!
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my despair {& hope} over the college admissions scandal

This admissions scandal highlights a problem that’s been going on a for a long time – and it makes me so so angry.

You know that quote? “Even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.”

As a mom of one graduate and another graduating this year, this admissions cheating and deception hits very close to home.

I am well aware that I, myself, write from a position of privilege. I have had opportunities that few in the world have had simply because I was born in America. I’m white. I come from a middle class family who valued education and could help me pay for it. I went to an incredible college-bound high school.

But I’ll tell you what. I had parents who were fairly hands-off. I wrote my own essays. I didn’t have the advantage of “knowing people in high places.” My parents weren’t in the position to donate heavily to the alumni fund. No one wrote my essays. The chips fell where they did. I was wait-listed at my first choice school. I still went to college – and realized a few things along the way. No one was going to make life happen for me.

Thank you, parents, for not making it too easy.

As my son waits on his last school today, my heart aches a little bit – what will it be?  The chips will fall and he will deal.

The extent to how far we will go for our children can be a very slippery slope. I want so very very badly for all of my children “to succeed!” and I sometimes do too much for them, forgetting that the struggle is GOOD.

And, as my wise mother says – “they are COMPLETELY missing the point of what an education really is.”

Photoshopping faces onto legit athlete’s faces (this scandal also highlights the great value of athletics over, say, an amazing violinist or, say, a student who does an extraordinary amount of community service…) bribing SAT and ACT proctors…

This is WRONG.

So it’s all bad. It’s really really bad. As I try to see the big picture of this landscape, I’m thinking of what this scandal is really highlighting: the great anxiety we have over getting into “the right college” and how we apparently are not willing to let our children “fail.”

Those who can pay, often do. And it continues to create an incredibly unfair advantage. It’s immoral. It’s deceitful and goes way beyond even writing your kid’s college essay, bombarding the admissions department, or securing a top-notch recommendation from an influential person.

So the richer get richer b/c they get into the “best” schools and make higher wages out of school. Class distinctions grow wider. For minorities, for non-athletes, for low-income students, for kids working really really hard, for those with great character but no “outstanding thing” – are put at an even more of a disadvantage.

I read this today: “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Matthew 16:26.

Said slightly differently:

“What goes around comes around.”

“We will all get our just reward.”

But in the meantime, how about this: what kind of world do we want to live in?

What kind of life do we really want to create for our children?

Don’t mistake making your children’s life EASIER as a good thing. Stop the comparing! Don’t be so concerned with creating an exceptional child that you forget you already have one.

Let’s be better. Let’s BE GOOD. I think we live at a time where it takes a considerable amount of bravery to be good. Have courage to do the right thing when it seems like there’s no reward for it. There is. We will get our just reward. We will keep our souls.

 

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