Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Mountain Oma

Art by Lucille Patterson Marsh

Annie, of Annie's Song fame, told how she and her husband (John Deutschendorfer) spent a night camping in the Rockie Mountains with friends. Away from the city lights, they watched a meteor shower, and John penned the words, ♫ "I've seen it raining fire in the sky . . . folks around a campfire, everybody high . . . Rocky Mountain high . . ." ♫ He was John Denver when he sang it to us.

Although I've lived my whole life less than five miles from the mountain tops I've never thought of myself as an outdoor person. I don't like dirt, bugs, bees, buzzing, raccoons, rocks under my pillow or ashes in my hamburger bun. Natural is not a look I look good in. Bathrooms with spiders building webs and moths flitting in the corner are not where I want to go.

But I understand a Rocky Mountain high. I've got one! I'm packing for our annual 4th of July Campout, and I just calculated that I've been camping every summer (except four) since 1980! That's a lot of dirt under my fingernails. In a pinch I know I could pitch a tent, start a fire without matches, and dig a latrine, because I have. I've cooked a turkey in a pit, slept directly on the ground and hiked 26 miles pushing a handcart even though I was out-of-shape, old and cross.

These are the lows that contribute to the highs. Although there's dirt on the ground, the air is clean and crisp. It's quiet enough to hear a raccoon rustle in the bushes and a bee whirring in the wildflowers. After listening to wood crackling and loved ones laughing, their chatter soothes me enough that I don't care about the boulders beneath my shoulders.

Mountain kids wash up, 2008

I can't wait to unpack my Oma tent, and have a dozen little grands buzzing around my campsite. Maybe I've turned into a Mountain Mama after all!

Happy 4th of July!
(See you after the fireworks.)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Detective: Summit County, Utah

I married a detective. We're always looking for dead buildings,and the story of how they got that way. The cases are mysterious and the techniques are fascinating. For instance, there's a special kind of DNA to identify age: this broken-down old soul had personal, hand-made nails holding her together. (It's a little like having natural nails in an age of acrylic.)

At the autopsy, Dee modestly lifted up her floor boards, exposing private clues: old newspaper petticoats with dates like 1927. The tongue and groove herringbone boards, laid in specific patterns, were as time-specific as stocking seams.

He had to pronounce this old girl dead on the spot. Exposure, lack of fluids and no loving care had done her in. She collapsed right where she stood. Witnesses stood back and waited for help but she was old, gray and unbalanced. Her family run business dried up and blew away with the sheep industry, and she must have felt unnecessary like many folks do in old age. We paid our respects.

Dee attracts Ghosts and this week we're off to do some ghostbusting. Don't worry about me. I'll be with a history detective. I think of gathering history like gathering autumn leaves. We are finding the brightest examples of a former glory that beautified now barren places with life and growth. The people who created something from nothing, who raised huge families filled with hard working, inventive folks, while feeding vast numbers of citizens from the food they produced; these are the unsung heroes who built our country. Did they make any less of a contribution just because we don't know about them?

We've got our maps and our magnifying glasses and we'll bring home some news!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Photo Shoot in Midway, Utah

Getting Our Bearings
on the top of Memorial Hill

Mount Timpanogos from the back.

Drive straight South and you'll get to Provo Canyon. You'll never see it greener or more lush and beautiful. Wonder about the families who hiked up it 150 years ago,when there was no road, and a baby floated away down the river.

Look at all the canyons layered on top of each other. Hike one to get over to Sundance, another to get over to Park City, or go over Guardsman's Pass to end up at Brighton. Our valleys aren't that far apart if you go over the top. Dee's new book will name all the canyons, tell who they're named after, and the spectacular story that earned them that honor.

So many lives were lived in this peaceful valley. Indian raids, military containment, sons killed in war. Stand-offs, uprisings, or freezing winters didn't discourage early artists, musicians, photographers, teachers. Monuments to them are scattered all around town (in the form of homes, statues, businesses, ranches, and families.) Even the mountain peaks and canyons bear their names.

When you're halfway to heaven in these moutain valleys, you can hear those already gone still telling their stories. Anyway, Dee can. He found some new ones today.

Link here to see the dangerous adventurers of
a mild-mannered historian!

We're off gathering history this week!

I'll send you a postcard!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Family Reunions

Illustration by Christopher Canyon

While planning family reunions,
I found myself in a favorite memory.

"Sing The Teddy Bear Song!" we coaxed Dad and Uncle Mel. It was a late August night, and the moon was out. I was about nine, lazing on one of my grama's quilts with all my little cousins around me, looking up at the stars, while Aunt Ree strummed her ukulele, and the moths buzzed around the porch light. Family picnics always ended this way.

Grampa's fresh peaches had been cranked into ice-cream. In the cellar under the back porch, the freezer with the rock salt and ice were covered with newspapers and left to finish the process. The corn-on-the-cob dripped with butter, the cucumbers brined in vinegar, and the onions scented the air. Raspberries were eaten right off the bushes, and very sour, green apples begged for salt.

There was a big brick stove at the back of the yard where the hamburgers sizzled, waiting to be dressed with homegrown tomatoes. Watermelon rind pickles, and chili sauce were on the table along with an empty dish of olives. We kids scampered around the yard, with a black olive stuck on every finger. We almost fell into the goldfish pond, hid behind the hollyhock bushes, and rolled down the sloping lawn, while our moms hustled the food outside and in, and our dads re-hashed the ballgame. It wasn't West Virginia, but it was almost heaven.

The best part was after it started to get dark. Grama and Grampa harmonized as they sang Shine on Harvest Moon, and we all joined in on Are You From Dixie (for some reason I thought I was from Dixie when we sang that song!) Our sing-a-long was a crazy variety, including Little Grass Shack, Edelweiss, When the Saints Go Marching In, and Bill Groggan's Goat. The favorites, however, were totally ours. My dad and his brother used to combine lines from lots of songs and create medleys. The Teddy-Bear Song started out with "Honey won't you look into your baby's eyes..." rolled into "Sweet Adeline was singing down in Dixieland..." and somewhere in the middle ran into this ditty:

Well, I had a little teddy bear that had no tail,
Just a little patch of hair.
The sun came out and burnt the hair away,
And left the little teddy bare.

The song eventually ended with "Mister Mo-on, bright and shiny moon, please shine down on, talk about your shinin', please shine down on me."

Babies and toddlers fell asleep as we crooned to that moon. As the oldest grandchild I prided myself on staying awake 'til the very last song. I even knew all the words.

This is one of the memories I love to visit. In my heaven, we get to check out the DVD of our life, and do some kind of virtual reality time-travel to relive our most cherished moments. You'll find me almost dreaming on grama's quilt, listening to my dad sing.

This is what we looked like back in the day.
(I'm the cute one in the hair net.)


~Write about a time in your life that you would visit if you could.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Love Letters

Photo by Stie

Me: I think you're starting to rub off on me.

Dee: That's good. I've been trying to lose some weight.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Seeing Clearly

Emmie and Jake, 2008

"Go bold!" he said. "Use your glasses to add some pizazz." I met Rudy at Lenscrafters today. He followed me around with a little box, collecting the frames I liked and commenting on life in general:

  1. "When men try on frames they look in the mirror and see the frame. Women look in the mirror and immediately fix their hair. Then they notice the frame."
  2. "Your eyes feel dry because we're in a desert. And that's why our skiing is so great."
  3. "I lived in Wisconsin but people there are grouchy all winter. I like a place where people wear flip-flops in the snow."
  4. "I love kids who put their whole face into an ice-cream cone like that, even though I'll have to wipe down the door when they leave."
  5. "You look really young to me, but in case you have AARP I can give you a discount."
Rudy wiped off the smudges and adjusted my new glasses, but my vision had already been improved. In case your life is a little blurry right now, I'll share my new prescription:
  1. When I focus on myself I miss the whole point.
  2. If I turn my problem around, it might be a blessing.
  3. My attitude affects other people.
  4. I'm happier when I find joy in the joy of others.
  5. Getting old has lots of perks.
See what I mean?

("I see," said the blind man.
And he picked up his hammer and saw.


~Are you being near-sighted? Think about something that's making you unhappy lately: worry, jealousy, fear, pain, sadness, loneliness, whatever. Would one of the truths listed above change your point of view?

~Try it and write about the results.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Monday, June 21, 2010

Fear of Guns

The shoot-out.

Saturday I faced a fear.

I'm terrified of guns. Dee grew up with them, hunting pheasants and rabbits when he was just a kid. He took our sons duck hunting and target shooting even though my stomach would be tied in knots the whole time they were gone. "Boys need to learn how to shoot," he told me. (I've realized mothers and fathers are different, and that it's supposed to be that way.)

All our kids remember a major melt-down I had at the Holladay Gun Club twenty-five years ago. After an adventurous day in the mountains (the kids climbed rocks, built fires without matches, used ropes to cross the river on a log) Dee announced a surprise grand finale. Our Heroes (ages 14-3) cheered with anticipation as he drove up the hill to a shooting range. I practically threw up. Shots rang out as we pulled into the parking lot. I freaked out and refused to participate. As Marta and I sat in the car crying, my indignation and imagination ran wild—fear took over.

Oma takes aim at her fear.

As fears sometimes do, this one became irrational. Gun safety was a concept lost on me. I've assumed guns spontaneously go off and shoot people; that shooting ranges are filled with drunk militia weirdos in camouflage; that bullets fly randomly through the air in all directions constantly. Refusing to even consider a different scenario, I let it become a phobia.

Safety rules.

So now I'm ghost-writing a western novel. JJ, the star of the book, is a cracker-jack shot even though he's only twelve. This seemed preposterous to me. But Dee was like that, and my son-in-law Dan was, too. Even my own sons and grandsons have been familiar with guns by age twelve, in spite of my anxieties. In the old west most little boys learned to hunt and handle firearms when they were tall enough to hold a .22.

Colts, Winchesters, bullets and calibers—Dan has been my go-to guy, guiding me through the mysteries of 1870's hardware for the book. So he decided I needed a research trip. JJ can only be as knowledgeable as I am.

Dan planned our outing as my Father's Day gift to him. Because he's such a fabulous father of such a darling grandson, I couldn't say no. But I was scared silly.

Opa and Oma on the range.

Target shooting was so different than I'd imagined. No self-exploding bazookas, no crazies— everybody knew and followed the rules. Except me. I shot at another guy's target which is a major faux pas. (He was very nice about it, though.)

And there was an incident during the ceasefire. Every fifteen minutes there's an announcement and all shooting stops. Guns are unloaded and placed on the tables and everyone steps back behind a red line. Then, when it's totally safe, they announce that you can go check your targets. Shooters stay behind the red line until they announce the range is hot, and then you go back to your stations. Anyway, during the ceasefire, I forgot, crossed the line and started to load my gun. "MA'AM! STEP AWAY FROM YOUR WEAPON!"

My chaperones were very patient and assured the others they'd watch me closer.

Right on target.

A little experience shot my fear to smithereens.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Hot Dog!

The Heroes are heading to the woods!

As usual, I need your suggestions!

I like to have Oma Activities: games, crafts, books—stuff I'm prepared to do quite simply right there in the woods. In past years we've carved soaps on a rope, made rubbings of leaves, boondoggled, explored with magnifying glasses, had a contest to start a fire without a match, strung beads, etc. We need New and Exciting as well as Traditional and Expected.

They're on their way!!

I need activities for grade-school/pre-school age kids.

I'd ♥ your ideas in these categories:

  1. Books to read out loud (short enough to read in a couple of hours) What's your very favorite?
  2. Spooky stories to tell by the fire. Where can I find them?
  3. Crafts that aren't too involved
  4. Games for around the campfire (Not much movement)
  5. Other games/treasure hunts/activities (Lots of movement)
  6. Out of the ordinary snacks/meal suggestions.
PLEASE leave your ideas in the comment section. While you're there, collect some to use for your own family get-togethers this summer!

I'll share any of my plans!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Log Jam

I come from a family of lumberjacks.

Edward Bagley and his ten sons (he also had two daughters) lived in New Brunswick, Canada in 1842, and ran a lumber business on the St Johns River. During the freezing winter months, they chopped trees and sawed logs.

The snow made it easier to slide loaded sleighs and pile the logs along the shoreline while they waited for the ice to melt.

When the ice was gone and the rivers were flowing, the logs were sent down flumes (wooden troughs with a stream of water flowing down them) and chutes (troughs that were greased) which were built on the mountainsides. Then they were dumped in the river to be taken to sawmills downstream.

Almost every year the logs would pile up and jam in a sharp bend of the river, forming dams so thick they stopped the flow of water and created floods. The Bagley men walked across the slick, rolling logs, prying them apart with tools called peevees. Recognized by their red wool flannel undershirts, the lumberjacks scurried from log to log over the cold water, even eating lunch while they worked to turn them in the right direction.

If a man fell in the water, but didn't lose his hat, it was not counted as a fall; a drowned man's peevee was considered jinxed so they just let it float away.

River driving was dangerous work and men who fell were often drowned or crushed between logs. Edward's son David was 25 when he "came by his death driving logs in the narrows on Gibson Mill Stream, May 4, 1865."

Edward and his family joined the Mormon church in 1844. Ten years later his son John (who was just 18) set off from New Brunswick on his own, joined a group of pioneers and crossed the plains to Utah. When he arrived, he continued working as a lumberjack in Big Cottonwood Canyon, near Brighton. This story is told in a local history:

"Many Draperville residents were among 3,000 Saints celebrating the tenth anniversary of the arrival of the pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley. It was at Silver Lake in Big Cottonwood Canyon.
"On July 24th, 1857, the flag was unfurled from the summit of the highest peak. Prayer was offered and the singing and cannon roared. The juvenile rifle corps performed an excellent drill. Governor Brigham Young asked John Bagley to climb to the top of a tall pine tree and top it to mount a flag. So John climbed the tree, cut it off flat, and stood on his head on the top of the tree to show his courage and agility. In New Brunswick, where John Bagley was from, when a pine tree was cut down, the lumberjacks would top it for a log. Then if you were especially skilled, you would stand on your head on top of the topped tree. And, that is what John Bagley did."

Volume Two of History of Draper, Utah

My brain has a log jam. Over the past few months I've crammed it full of random information for my novel: the flora and fauna of Texas, how you load a Colt .44, western towns in 1872, roasting a venison steak, grasshopper bounties, prairie fires and soiled doves. Now I need it to flow down the flume and out of my fingertips, but it's all dammed up. Dammed, I say!

I'm digging deep into my roots to find the lumberjack genes. Maybe if I put on a red shirt I'll be able to get things unjammed and flowing in the right direction.

~Write about a log jam in your life. Now make a list of five ways to get things going in the right direction. Make plans to do the first one.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


The Blue Bengal was our inheritance. It had a giant steering wheel with the gear shift on the column, no power steering, and driving it dislocated my shoulder. It called out to a teenage boy, and we had one. They were made for each other—both totally unique.

Josh could make that car do anything. One busy Saturday he took it downtown and entered the twisting driveway of a parking garage. Halfway up the ramp, with several cars stacked up behind him, the Bengal stalled. Josh got it started again, but it wouldn't shift into first. With the honking becoming louder, and his face getting redder, he leaned all his weight on the gear shift and forced it to slip somewhere inside, allowing the car to drive forward. Later he realized he'd created a new gear. From then on Josh was the only one who knew the combination. The Bengal was his.

An email the other day asked, "What motivates you?" I'm like the Blue Bengal. A bunch of people who expect me to go forward, all waiting for me to get in gear—that motivates me.

The same email asked, "How did you motivate your kids?" I thought of another story about Josh.


He was full of energy, which we tried to channel. I signed him up for swimming, tennis, piano, astronomy . . . we went to the library and I pointed out books he'd love—all the stuff moms do. Then I'd pay, drive, insist, cajole, support, threaten—the other half of what moms do.

But when he said he wanted to take gymnastics, I put him off. We had all these other lessons lined up; it was too dangerous, expensive and inconvenient. One morning he found the Yellow Pages and sat down with the phone. Later he asked again, with specific details. He'd researched it all, found a gym and arranged to clean it on Saturdays to pay for lessons. He planned to ride his bike about 6 miles each way a few times a week if he had to, and told me the route. "So, can I, Mom?" Josh was thirteen at the time and totally self-motivated. Because it was his idea, we didn't have to coax at all.

So, my answer to the second question comes from Harry Truman: "Find out what your kids want to do, and then advise them to do it."

What the Blue Bengal lacked in fine-tuning it made up for with enthusiasm. It eventually gave out enough sparks to set the road on fire! Josh has done the same thing. In my experience, when someone is motivated, the best thing you can do is get out of their way.


~Use a story to answer the question: What motivates you?"

Monday, June 14, 2010

I Remember, Mama

June wrote:

December 10, 1969
: "After 23 years of marriage, years when I should have been writing about all the important days in my life, I am going to start a diary. Not because anything special has happened, but someday someone might like to become acquainted with me. So I will begin . . ."
"Snowflakes fell on the flag the day of my birth, June 14, 1925. My sisters—four of them and one brother—were at Sunday School. By the time they arrived home the sun was bright and the snow was melted and they had a new baby sister—which proves that I bought summertime!"
"A year after we were married we moved to Los Angeles. Three years later I came home to deliver an exceptionally beautiful child—Martha Ann. During the next seven years three more darling babies arrived, Tom, Polly, and Jolyn . . . We were disappointed when I lost twins, and then I had two more miscarriages. I often wonder what life would be like with four more children in our home."
"Today is our 27th wedding anniversary. How the years have passed like a flash. It doesn't seem any time at all since Jiggs and I were working and studying to get through school, having our babies, staying up nights with crying, sick children, and now, here we are grandparents, but still in love with each other. I somehow never thought of grandparents as romantic lovers, but we are proof that it can be."
"This is my golden anniversary month. I have been on this earth 50 years. That seems such a long, long time and yet I don't feel very old. I keep thinking, 'When I grow up, I'll do thus and so.' I guess I'm grown up and better start doing a few of those 'thus' and 'so's.'"

Marty and Junie, 1950

I got a letter from my mom last night—it's her 85th birthday, and I was thrilled to hear what she had to say about life. She lives in heaven now, so I can't depend on the mail, but her thoughts were right there on paper.

In 1996 my daughter-in-law Christie asked her to write down highlights of her life. She died very unexpectedly just a year later. I collected her assortment of diaries (one from 1937!) and read them all into a tape recorder for Christie to transcribe, along with the "Highlights" and a few other personal papers. As I read, I inserted little asides, memories of my own, (not to be included) just so Christie would get more of the story as she listened and typed. That gave me the idea of an interactive journal.

My daughter Amy took the transcript and laid it out for printing, creating space for the reader to add their own insights. It's like having a conversation!

After somebody dies, reading her journal is like getting a good, long letter.
Thanks for writing, Mom.

Oh, and Happy Birthday.


~Start on a good, long letter to your loved ones: It could be a diary, a blog, a poem, a song, a quilt, a painting, a recipe book, a book of your travels, a bundle of love letters, your day-timers, programs from plays you've been to, photos of your garden, a list of work projects, your labeled paint chips—anything to help them get acquainted with you when you're not here to chat.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The House That Built Me

Grama's House

Marta told me about a song called The House That Built Me. It made me cry. So I took a little tour and drove past the houses that built me. My grandma's house was for sale, all lonely and empty looking, so I pulled into the driveway and grabbed my camera.

Ever since she moved out thirty-five years ago I've wished I had some pictures; the succession of owners didn't seem welcoming. But now I could walk past the fish-pond, peek in the windows and conjure up some ghosts.

There was a sign on the front door. Could it be a message from my past? I searched for my glasses and got closer. "Danger. Keep Out. Stay Away. This house was used as a meth lab."

I almost fell off the porch in my dash for the car. So much for the house that built me. (I always knew Grandma was a good cook.)

To listen to the song, click here: The House That Built Me.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Hit Rewind

Micah and Josh, 1976

Youth Dew in the perfume aisle, and I am suddenly a little girl on Christmas morning, watching Mom open a present from Dad. Scratchy pillowcases take me back to sleepovers at my grandma's house, and the beat of ♫ "wish they all could be California girls" ♫ puts me in Natalie's bumble-bee-colored GTO. Fresh paint recalls a summer day when I sat under the carport sucking a lime Popsicle so hard it turned white, watching a neighbor boy touch up our eaves. I have a rewind button attached to my senses.

Today I smelled freshly laid asphalt, and I was transported back to a summer day when I was ten. Our street had just received a shiny black coat of the stuff to cover the winter pot holes, and I dashed next door, barefoot, while it was still hot and sticky. Just that whiff of tar in the air and I was back on the lawn, picking the burning muck off my feet.

Photos of my little kids always hit my rewind button. The sturdy canvas of those plaid pants, the worn softness of that red jumpsuit—I even remember how their hair felt (crunchy after dinner, silky after baths) and the minuscule cracks in their chappy cheeks. I hear the crackle of static from the crocheted orange and brown afghan laying on the floor, and the rip when bare legs were lifted off the vinyl chair. Jim-Bob called goodnight to Erin and John-Boy, and Gabi begged, "Can't we watch the scenes?" while I closed the blinds to the daylight we were saving and announced bedtime. It's been 34 years, yet it's so vivid it could be last month.

When I had little kids I lived in their time zone. Rainy afternoons putting the cushions back on the couch could last forever. Waiting for a birthday party, or Dad to come home, was as hard for me as it was for them. I couldn't imagine a day when I wouldn't have pieces of play dough stuck in the carpet and a bottle of pink amoxicillin in the fridge. There were no remotes in those days, so I didn't understand the concept of fast forward. It didn't matter. It happened anyway.

I wouldn't want to go back and actually live those days again. They were happy, but demanding. I'm glad I have a rewind button that zooms me back in time for a visit, though. And, looking back, I wish I'd used the pause button more often.

My daughter has a quote by Anna Quindlen on her bulletin board:

"The biggest mistake I made is the one that most of us make . . . I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs. There is one picture of the three of them sitting in the grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages 6, 4, and 1. And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night. I wish I had not been in a hurry to get on to the next things: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less."

What triggers your rewind button?


~Write a memory using sensory words: smell, touch, sight, sound, taste.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

History in the Making

Chelsea, Liza, Jill

So, Opa, how do you write a book?

Lucy and Opa

You have to read all this first?

Opa's Office

How long does it take to type?


Maybe we'll write about you someday!


~Find out something about your grandpa and write it down for future generations.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Create White Space

You walk into a bookstore, looking for just the right read. A cover blurb here, a dust-jacket there, an inviting display table—they catch your attention, and you thumb through some pages. Best-selling hardcovers, a rack of new paperbacks, an author you like, your book-club selection. How do you choose? Do you read a random chapter? Start at the beginning? Check the number of pages?

I pick a book based on it's white space. I'm not enticed by pages jam-packed with unrelieved words. Long, mind-numbing paragraphs invite skimming, and tiny margins scream "boring." White space suggests dialogue, characters, time to breathe and enjoy the story, or helpful sub-chapters and room to examine the facts. I like a built-in place to take a cocoa break and turn a book upside down for the night.

Some wisdom I picked up from the Blogging Zen panel was that real life needs some white space, too. Marta said she's had to choose between being a good blog reader and a good blog writer. Destri said she limits her facebook time to once a week. Susan's business has taken off, and that's where she focuses her efforts. These productive women have learned to prioritize.

When I was a young mom, the modern motto was "I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan . . ." implying that a woman could have it all, be it all and do it all. There was a built-in shame factor to that thinking. I assumed there was something wrong with me because I couldn't handle it all; I was embarrassed by my deficiency. So I put a lot of energy into appearing to be as capable as I thought everyone else was. Eventually I was just skimming all those long, unfocused paragraphs, missing the meaning of my story. I needn't some white space.

Wise editing makes a book readable. If a writer stuffed the pages with every locale, adventure, romance, or thrill she thought up, it would be an overwhelming fantasy. Even the characters would be confused by the dialogue and the plot could unravel. Enlightened authors, of books or life stories, learn to create some white space.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Faith in Blogging

Casual Bloggers Conference

Moderator: This afternoon's session is a panel on Faith in Blogging. (We're not talking any specific faith here.) Let's get acquainted with our panelists. Marty, tell us who you are, and how and why you incorporate faith into your blog.

Marty: I call my blog TravelinOma. It's about a grandmother (Oma) on a trek through life. Because I believe happiness is a way of travel and not a destination, I search for joy in the journey, adventure and fun in the twists along the path, and then write about what I find. I don't write about my faith (Mormonism) per se (although I have) but I often note how faith in God has made a difference in my life.

Moderator: Are you comfortable writing about your own religion? Are there things you avoid talking about?

Marty: When I first started blogging I had no idea who would read my blog. I wanted to be taken seriously, and I was afraid that if I announced up front that I was a Mormon living in Salt Lake City I would immediately be stereotyped. I am not a cliche, and I didn't want to be perceived as one. Eventually I realized I would be a stereotype unless I defined myself.

That's something I love about blogs. A blogger who writes regularly can't keep up a false image very long. The genuine person shines through, and labels and pigeonholes disappear.

I don't debate theology. Arguing religion is never productive. I don't want to thrust my religion down anyone's throat. But because my faith has influenced my choices, and therefore my experiences, it's apparent in every post. I've had emails and comments asking about Mormon beliefs and I answer them all. I know there's a difference between curiosity and interest, and I'm happy to go either way when I respond to people.

Moderator: Can blogging about faith make a difference in the world? What would you advise someone who wants to blog about faith?

Marty: I don't think my blog makes much difference to the world, but it's making a difference in my little world. There's a lot of harshness and ugliness on the internet. Writing something funny, helpful or encouraging and then sending it out to the blogosphere seems noble to me. It makes me feel noble. So for that piece of time in front of my computer I'm (sometimes) the kind of person I want to be.

My advice to bloggers would be to avoid sounding self-righteous, judgmental, overbearing or too pious. It's not our right to judge others, and it's impossible to change someone else. But we can be the change we want to see in the world—brighten up our own corner of the internet. Remember, a little leavening lifts the whole loaf.

Moderator: What gives a person authority to blog about faith?

Marty: "Middle age is the time of life when the most fun you have is talking about the most fun you used to have." I just write my own experiences. For what I'm writing I'm the expert. There is no other authority. I would never presume to speak for my church, and while I hope I'm a good representative, I'm just a regular person. But as far as my own personal religious experiences go, I am the authority. And those are the things I write about.

(This is an idea of what I hope I said.
I was so nervous that I have no idea what I really said.)

(By the way, the other panelists talked, too.)

The Casual Blogger Conference was a huge success. It was sold out (about 400 attendees) and the classes and workshops were varied and well done. I moderated a panel on Blogging Zen (organizing your on-line life) and attended a class called Finding Your Voice and another on Niche Blogging. A lawyer spoke on legal issues facing bloggers, and there were classes on design, photoshop, story-telling, photography and more . . . highlights to come!