reading list: Broadway

Book one for 2023 is notched on my Goodreads scorecard! I read Hooked: How Crafting Saved My Life by Sutton Foster.

She’s apparently been some bigwig actress for a few decades, winning multiple Tony awards and acting in TV shows. But I don’t watch TV and only recently started paying any attention to theater, so the first I heard of her was that she was cast opposite Hugh Jackman in the revival of “The Music Man.”

So when I came across her book at the library, I picked it up. It was less about crafting and more about her life offstage, particularly her relationship with her mother. That had to have been hard to write – it was very vulnerable and candid, and even though she didn’t trash on her mother, I was kind of glad that her mother didn’t ever see this because she has passed on.

The book had an awful lot of name dropping – actors and singers throughout. But hey, that’s who she’s been associating with since she was 17, so what else is she supposed to do? Those people really are her friends and coworkers.

The name dropping that annoyed me, however, was the restaurants and clubs and other odd locations. “We ate dinner at [location] and then went to …” It added nothing to the story, and was an annoying distraction in a lot of instances. I have no idea what all these places are, so there’s no reason to list the name of the restaurant unless it’s to brag that you ate there. And sometimes, it could have been assumed that she ate dinner before she went to such-and-such event because it was an unnecessary detail – she didn’t need to tell us every time she had a meal.

Overall it was a good book – I would rather give it three stars than four, but there’s no half, so I rounded up.

Eagle or bust

You know how sometimes a person decides to do a crazy big project that’s completely out of their element, and blog as they go, and then publish their adventure in a book? I found my crazy, big, long-term project to write into a book:

I’m going to earn my Eagle.

Yeah, the Boy Scouts Eagle.

Scouts is for 13-year-old boys, which I most definitely am NOT. Let’s just be blunt. I’m a 50-year-old woman who is 50+ pounds overweight. Not exactly Scout material here.

But I’m going to do it anyway, because I wanted to be a Scout the entire time I was growing up.

When I was a kid – 3rd grade maybe? – I was briefly a “Campfire girl.” I vaguely remember that my adventure lasted only a few months and I have no idea why I stopped going. (Did my parents pull me out? Did the troop disband? I don’t know.) My brothers, on the other hand, were in Cub Scouts with all the meetings and accoutrements and camps that came along with it. Our mom was the den leader for awhile, so the meetings were even at my house. I can still, forty years later, rattle off the Cub Scout oath from 1982:

On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country, to help other people, and obey the Law of the Pack.

For decades, Scouts was the official program at our church for the boys. When my brothers moved up to Boy Scouts, they went to summer camp in the mountains with horses, a shooting range, and even a lake with water skiing. They did all kinds of activities all over the place, and all three of my brothers reached Eagle before they were 16.

The girls, on the other hand, got no such attention. There was no activity program at all for girls under age 12. When I moved up into the youth program, the girls did have weekly meetings but I don’t remember what we did. Probably crafts or cooking or talked about the scriptures. I do remember that our weeklong summer camp was in tents in the middle of an empty field and we all had to walk out to the road where two little outhouses stood next to some brush for our “facilities.” We did crafts and talked about the scriptures. At camp.

The Young Women medallion was supposed to be the girls’ equivalent of an Eagle but I was never convinced. I did complete it, but by the skin of my teeth because I just didn’t care. It was boring. I would rather have been in Scouts.

Fast forward a whole lot of years and I married an Eagle Scout. He was a Scoutmaster for a couple of years (only left it because we moved), and has done all the adult training, including Wood Badge. We are the parents of a bunch of girls, no boys. Sooo … no Scouts. When our oldest turned 8, (the same age boys were enrolled in Scouts in our church), I made darn sure there was a girls activity program. I created and ran it myself. By sheer force of will, my daughters and their friends DID have fun activities and summer day camp and a structure for consistent and frequent awards for reaching goal benchmarks. We played and made and learned. My strongest measure of success was when a couple of parents told me that their little girls COULD NOT WAIT to be old enough to join my group, because everyone had so much fun.

Four years ago, at long last, BSA opened enrollment to girls. I was STOKED. My girls could do what I could not! We would have registered them immediately, except they didn’t want to do it. Outside with bugs? Ewww! SIGH. Adam and I quietly put all of his Scout gear in the back of a closet and didn’t talk about it.

But we have more kids … Last summer on a road trip, we watched the old Disney movie “Follow Me Boys” and our 4th kid – who was now ten (and had been too young at the first announcement) – said, “I want to do that. Can I be a Scout?” Why, yes you can! As soon as you turn eleven. “I want to earn EVERY merit badge!”

Well, then …

2022 in review

January: It snowed, and my whole family got Covid. I read a couple of books while I was starting to get better but that’s about it. We didn’t do much. Certainly no editing or writing work.

Adam and I had decided at Thanksgiving to move from Connecticut to the Washington DC area in the summer, so we started searches for jobs and school districts and houses.

February: I helped Richard Ostler get his website correlated better with the Listen, Learn & Love books, and started a new project with McArthur Krishna – indexing and doing a line edit for A Couple’s Guide to a Divine Marriage.

March: I conducted multiple interviews for the LDS Women Project to try to frontload my publishing schedule through the summer, because I suspected I would not be focused on writing or editing while in the middle of moving.

I participated in the first half of a nonfiction writing workshop presented by the LDS Publishing and Media Association. It was twice a week, all online. It was great for my schedule, great that I didn’t have to be IN Utah for it, and I really liked my writing group. I worked on a book idea I have about celebrating Lent.

April: Part two of the workshop, and ultimately, I didn’t get very far with my Lent book. It wasn’t what I wanted to focus on. I kept the draft writing and I plan to pick it back up at some point. But it’s not the right time yet.

I started weekly phone calls with McArthur and Ashli Carnicelli, the three of us a co-credit team on a book about Heavenly Mother. We made a lot of major decisions about the book in April and May – the how and why behind the whole thing affected the target audience, the title, and the structure. And that’s before we get to the actual words on the page. The title we settled on is Cherish: the Joy of the Doctrine of Heavenly Mother.

On a personal note, Adam and I started working on the closing part of our potential move – prepping our house to sell, sorting through everything we owned, and packing.

May: I met McArthur in person! And Liz Ostler! And Bethany Brady Spalding! The LDS Women Project presented an in-person fireside for McArthur and Bethany to talk about Heavenly Mother in New York City. My house was only 90 miles away, so of course I was going. It was Aster’s 16th birthday, so the two of us headed to NYC for the day. The fireside was small but a great conversation. And it was so great to meet all of these women in person who I’ve been working with for the past couple of years within the LDSWP.

I hosted/chauffeured McArthur for two more events. We had a brunch at my house the next day with some women in the Hartford area, including Jennie Loomis who is another Heavenly Mother writer. And we went to Boston for another fireside discussion hosted by Zach Davis, executive director of Faith Matters. It was a busy 48 hours!

Adam received two job offers this month, so that part of the move was finally taken care of. For Memorial Day weekend, our family went to DC for the DC Temple open house, and to drive around and scope out neighborhoods. We didn’t find where we DID want to live, but we definitely found where we did NOT want to live.

June: Writing and editing work did not happen this month. I was painting our entire house. Including the ceilings. We had it ready to go on the market on June 28 as planned, but the new job paperwork was lost in transit somewhere.

July: So we were in a holding pattern and our family had to take a break. Vacation 1 was to Western New York: Niagara Falls, Watkins Glen, some other state parks with waterfalls, and the Women’s Rights national memorial in Seneca Falls.

Vacation 2 two weeks later was the Palmer family reunion in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, where we stopped playing board games only long enough to hike through the Luray Caverns.

I squeezed in an interview for the LDSWP between all of the drama, and occasionally checked in with the Cherish manuscript.

August: The move was excruciating. Adam had said that he felt we needed to be ready to turn on a dime – things were going to happen fast. We didn’t think it would be more than two months of waiting and then the entire move would happen in less than two weeks. But that’s precisely what happened. That is a whole other story.

September: In our new house in Virginia, I have an actual office! I’m not sitting in the corner of the living room!

Back to work on Cherish to get it finalized for the publisher submission. It is such a fantastic book and I’m so excited for it to be released to the world in April 2023. That was the priority for about eight weeks.

Marci McPhee, my Listen, Learn & Love co-editor, was in the DC area to visit one of her sons, and we got together for a lunch date. It is wonderful to be able to work with people online and get to know them through the magic of technology, but even better when you meet them in person. She’s much taller than I thought – she towers over me. I didn’t think I was THAT short.

October: Cherish went to the publisher on the 15th. I worked to get the LDSWP interviews geared back up because they’d been quiet since July.

November: I did a full manuscript review for a memoir of a transgender woman, who is planning to self-publish it. I continue to be astounded, in a bad way, at the emotional abuse people in my religion inflict upon LGBTQ people – it is the exact opposite of faith and love.

December: It’s like brackets! We got sick from Covid about 10 days into the year, and sick from Covid about 10 days to the end of the year. It was not how I had planned to spend Christmas, but here we are.

Listen, Learn & Love book 3 is now in the works, and I got the first chapter to work on the week after Christmas. Richard has already been working on it for awhile, and now it’s my turn with Marci.

Plans for 2023: 1 – I want to FINALLY hit the target of publishing every month for the LDS Women Project.

2 – the Cherish launch is going to be AMAZING. McArthur, Ashli and I will all be meeting in Utah for a couple of events in May. It will be the first time all three of us meet!

3 – I have a couple of other ideas for books that I’m tossing around in the back of my mind. We’ll see when they come to the forefront.

7 random things I’ve done

I have a lot of new followers on the Instagram account, so I wrote an introduction post with 7 random things I’ve done:

1 – Adam and I were balloon wranglers in the National Independence Day parade in Washington DC. We were on a team of five that steered an Uncle Sam hat down Constitution Ave.

2 – The first time I ever went to a symphony concert, it was in the auditorium of the Sydney Opera House in Australia.

3 – I have driven coast to coast across the US twice, Oregon to Washington DC both times.

4 – I was an extra for the movie “Sister Act 2,” in the competition auditorium scene at the end. No, you don’t see me on film. Yes, I saw Whoopie Goldberg and Lauryn Hill and the rest perform “Oh Happy Day” live.

5 – When I had two toddlers, I read 1000 different picture books to them. When I had three more toddlers, I read another 1000 different picture books to them. No repeats allowed.

6 – I showed up once to a wedding reception in jeans and a t-shirt because I was just dropping off a gift, but the groom greeted me in a bit of a panic. No one knew how to cut a large round wedding cake to plate for the guests … except me. (Rule 1: No triangle wedges like a pie.) I managed their cake table for over an hour. In jeans and a t-shirt.

7 – Adam and I went to DisneyWorld for our 1st anniversary and wore the bride/groom mouse ears. When we walked in the gate to the Magic Kingdom, we were asked to be the Grand Marshals of that day’s parade (we had to promise to wear the ears). We rode at the front of the parade in a car that had been owned and driven by Walt Disney.

reading list: birds, but not birds

I decided a long time ago to homeschool myself further into the writing and publishing world. Class is in session.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
by Anne Lamott

The fun part is that this book starts off with “When I teach a writing class,” and she refers to her students throughout the whole thing. So this book kind of IS taking a writing class!

SECTION 1: Writing

  • Good writing is about telling the truth.” Even if you want to write fiction, you can find the fiction in your own memories and experiences.
  • Short assignments in a “one-inch picture frame.” When feeling overwhelmed, focus on one memory, one description, one page, one tiny detail.
  • First drafts are supposed to be bad. Brain dumping, rambling, all emotion.
  • Overcome perfectionism.
  • Write your stream of conscious about what you remember of something – a one-inch picture frame about lunch in elementary school was her specific example – and see what you can extract from it for a fiction story. You will be surprised.
  • Polaroid development of a story: first of all, what’s a Polaroid? There used to be a type of camera, well before digital, that eased the actual piece of film out of a slot in the camera as soon as you took a picture. It was watery and murky, and gradually settled into focus over a few minutes. Do that with writing – keep going through the watery, murky phase as things gradually come into focus.
  • Characters: start with the people – who are they, what are they doing, and why?
  • Plot grows out of character.” Let the people do their thing, rather than trying to box them into a predetermined plot.
  • Dialogue: this should also be character driven. Read it aloud for flow and to make sure it makes sense for the character.
  • Settings: do your research, get it right. Don’t write about gardening unless you know about gardening, or ask a lot of questions of someone who does.
  • False starts are common. Start over, keep going.

SECTION 2: The writing frame of mind

  • Make observations. Pay attention to the real world, be a noticer.
  • Care, and write about the things you care about.
  • Use your intuition. When you don’t know what to do, get quiet and listen to your intuition.
  • Figure out how to work around your inner mean dialogue. There will be a voice in the back of your head telling you that you’re a failure. Learn tactics to get around it or to silence it.

SECTION 3: Help along the way

  • Take notes. Carry around something to write on and with, and write ideas down as soon as you think of them. This book was published in 1994, well before smartphones made this considerably easier. But the principle is still the same – type into a Notes app, a voice recorder to talk to yourself, take a photo, whatever … just make some kind of note so you don’t forget the idea.
  • Call people who know. We have Google now, didn’t when the book was published. But again – I think the advice still holds. Calling someone to discuss something you could find out on the internet is about the interaction as much as about the information.
  • Writing groups and writing conferences. In the past two years, we’ve obviously had a substantial increase in online conferences and groups, which is GREAT because it means that networking is even more accessible!
  • Get beta readers you trust. Again, “beta reader” wasn’t even a term when this book was written, but that’s what she recommends – a couple of people who you trust to give you an honest assessment of the status of your work.
  • Write a letter to one of your kids or a friend – an honest to goodness old fashioned letter – and tell them something that you remember.
  • To break writer’s block: write 300 words (or some kind of baseline), then go take a walk.

SECTION 4: Reasons to write

  • Write for an audience of one or two, to give it as a gift. Sure, it can still be published for widespread readers, but write for the one.
  • Write your truth in your own voice.
  • Be a giver, and give your best every day. If you hold back, it won’t work as well.
  • Publication: “If what you have in mind is fame and fortune, publication is going to drive you crazy. If you are lucky, you will get a few reviews, some good, some bad, some indifferent.” (p. 214) There is a sense of accomplishment and joy, “but you pay through the nose for this.” (p. 216)

SECTION 5: The last class

“So why does our writing matter, again?” they ask. Because of the spirit, I say. Because of the heart. Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship. (p. 237)

WYS: nature

WRITE YOUR STORY prompt: what is your favorite thing in nature?
My answer: Waterfalls. I love the noise of the rushing water, the mist coming off the cascade, how the light sparkles and makes rainbows. There’s even a smell to them, with wet plants and rocks. The full sensory experience of sitting at the base of a waterfall seems to be a mental massage, washing away stress and angst, taking it away downstream. And I feel refreshed.
It’s even better when you can swim under the waterfall, but the waterfalls I like to sit by are much too dangerous for that.
We hiked to Sabbaday Falls in New Hampshire last week, along the Kancamagus Highway through the White Mountains. A friend told me a fun family history story of her own about that fall: her dad baptized someone in the creek at the falls in the 1970s.

WYS: camp

WRITE YOUR STORY prompt: were you a kid camper? Are you a kid camp leader now?
My answer: When I was a kid, church day camp was for boys, not girls. I never got to go but had to hear my brothers talk about all of their adventures. I was never okay with that.
I still remember the year my mom went as a leader with my brothers, so my sisters and I had to go to someone’s house for childcare that was literally a construction zone. I read the entire book – really, the WHOLE thing – of “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott that week, and my favorite book from Alcott has always been “Little Men” because the boys in the story had way more adventures than the girls, like my brothers had more than me.
By the time my oldest child was 8 and in the usual age bracket for day camp in our church (ages 8-11), I had five daughters and zero sons. There was still day camp for boys and nothing for girls, and I still wasn’t okay with that. So I started it myself.
It took a couple of years to jump through the hoops but when my oldest was 10 in 2016, we had a three-day day camp for girls in my church region. We went hiking and swimming, did crafts and engineering games, and had an entire day devoted to the upcoming open house of the Hartford Temple (Oct 2016).
Church day camp for GIRLS is now part of our summer every year. My two oldest have aged up to the youth program, and this year, all three of the younger girls attended – this was the “baby’s” first year.
Day camp planning and leadership has been passed to other people but I’m still here as a parent guide. I’m grateful that that girls day camp has taken off and is now expected here. ❤️❤️🏕️

WYS: beach

WRITE YOUR STORY prompt: what are your beach memories?
My answer: I have always lived within 100 miles of the ocean on both the west and east coasts of the US so I could write for a long time about beach memories. Growing up, my honeymoon, and with my kids.
The two beaches that stand out especially are when I traveled – the white sand of the South Pacific 🤍 at Sydney Harbour in Australia, and the red sand ❤️ of Prince Edward Island.
My family spent time this summer at the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, Meigs Point beach, and the Mystic Seaport. We were hoping for a visit to the beluga whales at the Mystic Aquarium, but wow, that was crowded this year! We’ll catch up with them another time!

WYS: vacations


What are some vacations you remember from when you were a kid?

My answer: I grew up in Oregon, and our vacations were to visit cousins in California and Washington, with some bonus trips to Disneyland. 🎠 One trip that stands out was during my junior year of high school – my parents pulled us all out of class for a week. We went to Los Angeles for my uncle’s wedding – I was the maid of honor. And we paid a visit to the Magic Kingdom that year. My siblings and I carried around a map of the park and checked off the rides we went on.❤️
My kids have road tripped all over the Eastern seaboard, but they will likely always remember our day at Lake Compounce just last weekend – a small, local amusement park. We learned that we do NOT like wooden rollercoasters. 🎢 The first ride we went on, SM lost her glasses. She had taken them off and put them in her pocket to be safe … Not safe. 😳 She went blind for almost a week while the optometrist ordered new ones.