Books, Books, Books

As an avid reader and aspiring writer, I am getting really tired of hearing someone say they're about to read Twilight for the thousandth time.
Just stop it.
I'm tired of ranting about those books.
But I didn't feel like I had any room to complain without giving some suggestions of my own! So, here is my list of books I'd read before ever touching Twilight again.
The Giver- Lois Lowry  I have loved this book ever since Elementary school- such a cool concept and leaves you wanting more!

The Wednesday Letters- Jason F. Wright  This used to be my favorite book until I re-read it and realized how incredibly cheesy it is. Jason F. Wright, bless his heart, is just a very cheesy dude. But if you can get past that, it's got good morals and some awesome plot twists. 
A Complicated Kindness- Miriam Toews  My new favorite author- I cannot get enough of her books, but I'll save some time and just recommend this one. Ok ok, and this one:
The Flying Troutmans- Miriam Toews  She is just awesome. They are all written with deadpan humor, which I clearly enjoy. And they are so unique, I love when I can't predict an ending.
To Kill A Mockingbird- Harper Lee  I know, I know, we all had to read it in 8th grade. But try reading it when someone isn't forcing you to. It's one of my favorite classics.
Tuck Everlasting- Natalie Babbitt  I think I re-wrote knock offs of this book when I was little for like a year after reading it. Good book, that's all!

The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance- Elna Baker  I hesitate to recommend this one for fear of who will read it and blame me for some of the content. But it is one of those books I can read over and over- she is so funny and a great story teller.
The Harry Potter Series- J.K. Rowling  I know, this goes without saying. But it amazes me how many people have still never read Harry Potter. Sit down right now and read the whole series. You will be waiting for your Hogwarts acceptance letter within days.
Flowers for Algernon- Daniel Keyes  Another one of those classics that everyone was whining about having to read in Middle School and I finished eagerly in 2 days. Yeah, I've always been this way.

Someone Like You- Sarah Dessen  She has a lot of good books, but this is my favorite of hers. If you've seen "How To Deal", that was based off of this book. She partly inspired my first book, A Place Like Heaven!
Which, ok, I might as well add to this list, along with my soon-to-be-published book, Parallel!

What You've Got

It's the worst when something bad happens and you look around for an adult to help and realize... you are the adult. 
I'm not sure when that happened. The last thing I remember is being little for what felt like an eternity, and all the while wishing I could be a grown-up. Grown-ups had it all. They could eat as many cookies as they wanted. They didn't have to go to school. They were allowed to watch The Simpsons, a show I was certain must have been the most glorious show on the earth simply because I wasn't allowed to watch it.
I remember when I was 9, for some reason I wanted to be 11 really bad. I thought 11 year olds were the coolest. When I was 11, my life would be made.
But then, when I really did turn 11, I wanted to be a teenager. And once I was a teenager, I couldn't wait for High School. But once I was in High School, all I wanted to do was graduate.
I'm not sure what it is in us that always makes us want what we don't have. Because now, I look back and I wish I could be a kid again, at least for awhile. I didn't have to work. I had someone monitoring my cookie intake (turned out to be necessary for me). My biggest concern was whose house I was going to play at that day. And when I was going to finally grow up, of course.
It's not any better now that I'm older. Once I finally get the thing I've always wanted, I enjoy it for about two seconds before I start dreaming about the next thing. It's not even material things: when I was in college, although I pretended not to be, I was always really concerned about finding a husband. I was worried that if I didn't find him soon enough, all the good ones would be taken and I'd inevitably die alone, or worse, scouting out dates from the Brigham Singles Ward. Once I found Caleb, it was like this huge sigh of relief: Oh good, there he is. If I could have just relaxed and trusted that it would happen when it was supposed to happen, I could have enjoyed those years a lot more. I would have been a lot less concerned about the future, and more thoroughly enjoyed the present.

Of course, I say that, but I can't take my own advice. I finally married the man of my dreams, but then I needed a house. And then I needed a puppy. And then I needed that house to be fixed up nicer. And then I needed a baby. And until I have that, I won't be happy. I can't. But I'm patiently waiting until that day when I can be happy.
What skewed thinking. I finally sat back and really thought about it. I thought as far into the future as I could imagine, and asked myself if I would allow myself to be happy then. After we have all our kids, after our debts are paid off and I've made millions writing books, will I be satisfied? Will I at least be able to sit back and enjoy it?
As it turns out, this dude was a few thousand years ahead of me with this quote:

“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” -Epicurus

And it's true. There was once a time in your life where what you have right now is exactly what you'd always wanted. -Anndee Fonnesbeck

ALSO Thank you to everyone who clicks on the ads at the end of these posts. I really appreciate it! Click away! :)

Finances: Just my 2 cents

I remember when I was younger I would always say that when I first got married, I wanted to be "poor" with my husband for awhile. We would live in some tiny, dumpy apartment, but I would make it cute with my amazing decorating skills. We would eat Top Ramen every night and be forced to walk to work. I don't know what was wrong with me, but I thought that sounded appealing.

 The problem is, that is what a lot of people actually are living. Just a little disclaimer: I realize that as a 23 year old who has been blessed to have a job and a husband who has one too, this can come off sounding a little pretentious. But after a year of working at a bank and years of managing my own finances, this is simply what I have learned.
The year after High School, I had a great nanny job. I made more than enough money, so I lived very comfortably. I bought a nice car, I bought clothes all the time, and I went out and played nearly every night. I had it made in the shade. 

Then, I lost my job and decided to go to college.
I don't want to be a stereotype here, but the two years I spent up at college were the poor-est of my life. I was so poor I never turned down dates because I couldn't afford to miss out on a free meal. I was so poor I would drive home to Brigham, then have to beg my parents to borrow gas money so I could get back home. I was so poor that I took out school loans to pay for my rent and school, and I will regret that decision forever. The problem, really, was that I was inexplicably poor, because I was working two jobs and really not spending a lot of money. I can honestly tell you I don't know where my money went.

Finally, I couldn't afford to stay in Logan anymore, and I couldn't afford another semester of school without some serious grants. So I moved back home, and then it just so happened that I ended up getting married. I didn't realize it, but this was a major turning point for me. My husband is very good with money and I am so grateful for that! (And as a side note, weddings are great because people pay you for it. You will never again receive so much money from strangers for doing something you were going to do anyway. It's great.)
I won't say we haven't struggled, but I am always amazed at how a few small choices we made have made all the difference for us financially.
First and foremost, BUY A HOUSE.

I know plenty of people will disagree with me on this one, but hear me out: Homeowners get rich, Renters get poor. We pay a heck of a lot less for our mortgage payment than we do for rent, and we're essentially paying it to ourselves. It's the sad, sorry truth. Here's my response to the excuses I've heard: 
"We're planning on living out of the state someday." Great. Move out of the state someday. Until then, own a home. When the time comes, you can sell your house, or rent it out. Caleb and I have lived in our house for 1 year, and I'm confident that if we decided to pack up and leave tomorrow, we could sell it, most likely for more than what we paid. Which means we not only lived here rent-free for a year, but we also got paid to live here.
"We need to save the 20% down." Not right now! The loan we got allows you to move in for 0% down. That's like renting... with no security deposit. That's like getting paid to save the 20% down on your next house.
"I will have to pay for my own repairs if there is no landlord!" This is true, as we realized soon after we moved in. We had a flood in our basement, and getting the pipes snaked was not cheap. However, if I paid $500 a month to a landlord, I would expect a lot more to be getting fixed. Whichever way to turn it, you're still throwing money out the window.
"We don't qualify." That's what we thought too. We were actually kind of embarrassed to go in and give our information to the mortgage lender. I thought she'd laugh us right out of there. But we were both working part-time at Maddox, and we qualified for quite a bit more than what we actually spent. Which brings me to an important thing: buy what you need, not what you want. We would have loved to spend an extra 50,000 on a house and be somewhere really nice, but our house will fit our needs for the next 10 years, and that's also enough time for us to pay it off.
I realize I sound like a bad realtor's brochure, but buying a house was honestly one of the best decisions we've made, and we've never regretted it!
Finally, working at the bank taught me one very important lesson: It's not how much you make, it's what you do with what you make. I was always amazed to see that most people who were old enough to be my parents, who each had great jobs and made significantly more than I do, had a lot less money in the bank. They made a lot more withdrawals than they did deposits, so despite their high incomes, they had less and less money each month. So, my biggest advice: learn to save, and be diligent about it. We decided to save a certain amount each week to pay off our debts (back to those horrible school loans again) and we've been able to do so pretty well. 
I don't mean to offend anyone or act like I have any clue at all what I'm talking about, but I've learned a lot these last few years. I've learned that you don't have to live the way I was living before. I went from having my credit line maxed out at all times, to actually being comfortable, and if I can help someone avoid feeling how I felt in college, then it's a success!

The Preview

           I am happy to announce that after 4 1/2 years, I am officially publishing another book!
           It still needs a lot of work, but I'm pretty proud of where I'm at so far and wanted to get my future fans excited about it too! So this is just a quick preview and a very rough draft for my new book, Parallel.
           Just a little background: Parallel is about a girl named Quenn who lives hundreds of years in the future after our government has collapsed. She has a big Husky dog named Ryka (yes, Dega inspired this one). The country she lives in is very different from what we know, but you'll have to read the whole book for those details. :) For this, all you need to know is that Quenn is on the run after her family has disappeared. Many people disappear mysteriously and ever since her last family member disappeared, some "officers" have been after Quenn. She has just found a safe hideout in the woods where people don't often venture.
             I set up our tent in the thick of some trees a few hundred yards away from the lake. I’d even gotten so comfortable there as to unpack some of our things and build a firepit where we could sit and keep warm at night. It kept away the mosquitos which could bring dangerous diseases, and it made me feel safer, or at least more relaxed. I remember my mother telling me that before the collapse of the government and the wars, people used to go places like this and stay in tents the way I was doing and consider it a vacation. I couldn’t understand why that would be appealing, but some nights by the fire as I felt the stress of the day slowly melting away, I understood. Even if it’s worse than your current circumstances, sometimes you just have to get away.
I woke up one morning and started to feel that strange tingling you get when something is wrong. I ignored it, too comfortable in our cozy new home, too unwilling to give it up. All day the feeling lasted, until finally it happened.
                It was the middle of the night, and I was half-asleep next to Ryka in the tent, my ears strained for anything abnormal. I was ready at any moment to fight, to save myself. I awoke to the sound of footsteps, of twigs breaking under heavy feet. Ryka jumped up immediately, her snore turning gracefully into a low, menacing growl. I slowly scooted out of my sleeping bag and grabbed the knife I kept next to me at all times. The hair on the back of my neck was standing on end, and my heart was pounding in my ears. For several minutes, there was nothing but silence. I started to wonder if I was hearing things, psyching myself out. Even Ryka seemed to relax. Then, out of nowhere, I smelled smoke.
                Ryka ran frantically to the edge of the tent, which was now billowing with thick black smoke. The tent filled quickly with its minimal ventilation, and soon I couldn’t see my hands right in front of my face. I choked, trying not to breathe too deeply, grasping for the door to the tent.
                The material of the tent went up quickly in the flames. I finally found the zipper and pulled hard, but it wouldn’t open. It was as if it had been locked from the outside.
Pieces of hot plastic began to rain down on us, melting to my skin. My lungs burning, I started slashing at the tent frantically with my knife. I finally ripped open a hole big enough to fit through, and I tumbled out onto the cool dirt. Ryka appeared seconds later, looking scared and confused. We both lay on the dirt a few feet from our tent, and now the entire night was filled with the light of the flames. The heat and noise made it hard to see if there was anyone around, but there must have been. Just as I started to pull myself to my feet, I felt a stabbing pain in my back that dropped me to my knees. Ryka ran to my side, concerned, then tensed suddenly to stare at something behind me. I saw her muscles tense, then saw her leap at something I could not see. I could barely think, the pain was so excruciating. It seemed to be coming from inside me, radiating throughout my body. I heard Ryka make contact with something large. There was a grunt and lots of growling before I heard Ryka yelp in pain. Strangely, as soon as her pain seemed to have started, mine immediately ceased.
                My veins coursing with adrenaline, I searched on my hands and knees for the knife in the tall grass around me. Finally feeling something metal, I grasped the object. The sharp part of the knife cut my hand, but I refused to let go. I turned to see a large officer in a black uniform standing over me. In his hand was a small black box. It was simple, with only one button and a flashing red light. He looked me right in the eyes, his face covered, and pressed the button. The device was aimed at my leg, and I felt a sudden pain emerge from just where he was pointing it. It was as if a million invisible knives came from the device and devoured me from the inside out.
                I felt my brain shutting down from the pain, my body growing weak. The officer knew it too, and he came closer to me, bending down as if to pick me up. I wanted to let him, to just lie there until I fell into the darkness where pain couldn’t exist. But my brain was screaming, No, no! You can’t disappear too! I somehow knew if I gave in in those few moments, I would be gone forever.
                Summoning all my strength despite the intense pain, I seized the handle of the knife and lunged at the man. He backed up just in time, looking surprised and missing the blade of my knife by mere inches.
                “Not so fast,” he said, his voice low and rumbling. “there’s someone waiting for you.” Something in the back of my mind lit up. Someone was waiting for me? My family? If I gave in, would he take me to my family, to Leto?
                The more logical part of my brain took over. It sounded great, but it didn’t make sense. Why take me by force? Why all the secrecy? And if my dad knew the truth, why would he spend so much time teaching me to hide, to fight, to live? Why not just let me give in?
                Of course, I thought, the easiest thing of all would have been to just tell me the truth. If he had just told me what he knew, I could protect myself much better.
                Before I could act, the officer had knocked me on my back. The force of the blow knocked the air out of my lungs, and both my back and leg were tingling in pain, as if I had been stabbed and the knife was left there. He practically fell on top of me, pulling out handcuffs and seizing my wrists. He was huge, only needing one hand to pin both mine down, but he couldn’t do that if I kept them far enough apart. I flailed my arms and legs like crazy, hoping to frustrate him to the point that he lost focus. Suddenly, he was thrown off me, and the weight on my abdomen was lifted. I took a huge breath, filling my lungs, and turned to see Ryka had tackled the officer down yet again. She was big and powerful, and it helped that most people in our world weren’t familiar with pets. A big beast like Ryka probably scared him more than I ever could.
                I wondered, briefly, why he hadn’t hit Ryka with his strange weapon, but then noticed it lying just a few feet from me. Ryka was biting at the officer, but his right arm was free, and he reached into the holster of his belt loop and pulled out a small black gun.
                “No!” I screamed at the top of my lungs. I ran as fast as I could, pushing Ryka with all my might. It was as if the world moved in slow motion, I couldn’t get there fast enough. I heard the bullet click into the barrel. I saw, as if it were the only thing in the world, his finger bearing down on the trigger. Just as I dove on top of the two of them, pushing Ryka aside, the gun went off.
                I felt a searing pain in my left arm, and the world started spinning. I could see blood running down my arm and into my lap, but it didn’t make much sense. Where was all that blood coming from? I felt light headed and nauseous, but no pain. I just wanted to lie down and sleep, to wake up again in my tent and discover this had all been a dream.
                Ryka was at my side, alternating between whimpering at me and growling at the officer. He seemed taken aback that he had inadvertently shot me instead of my dog. Did that mean he had never intended to kill me?
                Just as I thought this, he bore down on me again, this time with the device back in his hand. He didn’t care that I was hurt, his one and only job was to take me, and he was going to do it.
                I forced my eyes to stay open, forced myself to stay awake. I let him click the handcuff across my left wrist, where my whole arm felt too numb to move. As he went for my right wrist, I squeezed the blade of the knife in my fingers. It was still there, good.
                In one swift motion, I swung my arm up to meet his chest, which hovered just above me. If the officer wore some sort of protective armor, I had found the weak spot. The knife sunk in deep, and I heard him gasp in surprise. He fell right on top of me, pushing the blade deeper into his chest. It didn’t matter, he was already dead.

                I pushed him off me using my good arm, and the force of the effort nearly knocked me out cold. I could still smell smoke, could still see the fire glowing several yards away from me, before everything went dark.

Self Esteem

I've written a lot about girls: the way we dress, the way we act, the way we treat each other. But there is something even more important that I never thought to write about until now: the way we treat ourselves. Because, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I can count on one hand the number of women I know who don't have some issue with their self-esteem.
I never realized it until I got married.
I knew I wasn't the kind of girl who thought she was the greatest thing around, because those girls drove me crazy. I would watch them, wide-eyed, as they demanded attention from everyone. Those girls said things like, "My hair looks great today" and "I am really good at ____". I just wasn't that way. I thought that was being conceited. I didn't realize that I could have used a huge dose of that kind of self-esteem.
When I got married, my husband started to notice my poor self esteem in a way I never had. I told him "funny" stories about some of the boys I dated in high school and the way they treated me. He watched my interactions with some of my friends, the way I got nervous before I was with them and how all I cared about were my looks. And one day he asked me, as gently as he could, "Did you just not have any self-esteem?"
It had honestly never occurred to me before. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. A lot of the problems I had in all my relationships, whether with boys or with friends or with family, really came back to me not feeling that I was worth much.
I knew the things I was good at. I knew that I had friends, that I was generally well-liked. Yet, those weren't the things I ever focused on. Instead, I thought about the people who had been unkind to me. I thought about every negative comment I'd ever heard about myself. The comments about my looks, my intelligence, anything negative I ever heard or even assumed someone thought about me slowly knocked down my self-esteem to nothing. I spent way too long in front of a mirror worrying about what I was wearing or if my makeup was perfect. I didn't enjoy my time with my friends, because we were all doing the same things: sucking in our stomachs, putting on lipgloss, fixing our hair, counting down the minutes until we could go home and relax.
I wasn't myself.
Myself was hidden somewhere deep inside, somewhere where people couldn't find it and hurt it. I left only the superficial things out in the open. I was careful who I shared personal things with, because I learned that most people didn't care. 

Once I realized all of this was going on, I started to notice it all around me. In the way we act defensively towards each other, the way we always assume someone is mad at us or doesn't like us. The way we write people off, and get angry about trivial things. The way we keep our friendships light and superficial, never letting anyone get too close. I know, it sounds like a bad Nicholas Sparks novel, but a lot of us are living it every day. We don't give ourselves nearly enough credit for being the wonderful people that we are.
So I decided I had to do just that. I had to give myself credit.
The first thing I thought of was writing. Writing is the one thing that I know with any certainty I can do well. Ever since I published A Place Like Heaven (this is me and my mom at my first book signing!) I slowly lost that confidence. People, well meaning people I'm sure, told me all the things I should have done differently. Rather than announcing from the rooftops that I was 18 years old and had a published book, I would get embarrassed whenever anyone asked me about it. What's worse, I would start apologizing. "Don't read it! I don't even like it, there is so much I would change."
Which is exactly why it's taken me 5 years to get this far with a novel again. And this time, no apologies. I am a good writer, and I will be proud of what I do.
For years I have had a passion for Photography. I still get apologetic about this one, because these days everyone and their dogs is a photographer, so it's lost all it's clout. It's not a "special" hobby to have. I'm not a real photographer. 
Except that I am.
It's an art form, so I really can't be doing it wrong. And what's more, I love it. So who cares if a whole bunch of other people do too?
I'm good with kids. I've been a nanny for years, and I'm planning on finishing school so I can be a teacher. I love working with kids and it's something I've been doing since I was a kid myself!

But do you see what I mean? Even the things I know I'm good at, I doubt because someone, once upon a time, might have told me that I wasn't as good at it as I thought. I wish we could all have the confidence we had as kids, knowing that we could grow up to do anything we wanted, encouraging each other on the way because it's so much better if our friends make it to the top, too.
I don't know why it happens this way, just that it seems to be a mass epidemic, and it's heartbreaking. It's heartbreaking to look around and see the people that I love not seeing themselves as amazing as they really are. It's sad to think of your kids growing up to be shy and careful with people because they don't want to be cut down. It's frustrating to think of things that I put up with in the past just because I thought that I deserved it.
I wish I could tell you I had some secret formula to fix it. The truth is, once your confidence gets broken down, it's hard to build back up. So all I can say is, be extra careful not to be the person breaking down someone elses self-esteem. Let's do all we can to build each other up. Because, honestly, it's the people around me that give me my self-esteem. Not my talents, not my religion, not some mantra I chant in the bathroom mirror every morning to convince myself I'm great. It's my family and friends and the people I interact with every day that make me see myself the way I do.

So be extra choosy about who you have in your life.
Make a list of the reasons why you're awesome, and look at it when you notice you're beating yourself down.
Look for the good in others, and I promise you'll start to see it in yourself, too.