Wednesday, December 31, 2008

It's Time

Ring it in!

Illustration by Esther Wilkin

For Auld Lang Syne

York Cathedral 2006
Photo by Scott

The year is fading into the past,
and I'm raising my glass of Martinelli's to
Auld Lang Syne.

(This is a loose translation of the lyrics.)

Should auld acquaintance (old friends) be forgot (be forgotten),
And never brought to mind (And never thought about)?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days of auld lang syne (and the days long since past)?

For auld lang syne, (To the good old days) my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.
(We'll drink to the good old days)

Here's to 2008:
  1. Salzburg and Vienna Austria; The Czech Republic
  2. New York City and the Sista Trip.
  3. BYU Women's Conference.
  4. A new attorney, partner, house, lawn, deck, roof, project...
  5. The grand (kid) summer of memories.
  6. 4th of July Camp Out.
  7. Baby Benji.
  8. Paris and Colmar, France; Krakow and Bzianka, Poland.
  9. Thanksgiving in St. Louis.
  10. The book I wrote.
  11. Heroes who make me proud.
  12. The guy who makes life fun.
Here's to auld lang syne!

Saturday, December 27, 2008


Art by William Adolphe Bouguereau

Dee was checking the progress of his secret recipe for soupstock.
I was feeling thoughtful and reflective, searching for purpose and meaning in my life.
I asked him as he sniffed and stirred his masterpot,
"What should be my goal this year?"

Standing at the stove with his striped jammies tucked in at the waist,
he suddenly twirled around the kitchen in his socks
struck a familiar pose and started to sing his answer:

"Ah, ah, ah, ah...
Stayin' alive, just stayin' alive."

Good goal, Dear.

(Being married to a guy who makes me laugh
is a fun way to live.)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A True Christmas Story

Illustration by Mary Englebreit

This is an Encore presentation of my favorite Christmas Story.

Emmaline answered the knock on her door, and found a young man standing there. "Could you help us?" he asked. "My wife's having a baby and there is no one else for me to ask."

It was 1900 in a small rural community. Emmaline recognized Jonathan as Sarah's husband; she had seen them recently and knew their story. The neighbors had been scandalized when they started keeping company last winter. After all, Sarah was only 16, from a decent family with high standards. Jonathan was different, just 18, and not at all what her parents had in mind. He was from somewhere else, without relations, religion, resources, or respectability. Sarah was forbidden to see him.

The young love affair continued in secret, and a baby was soon on the way. They married quickly, but Sarah's parents made it clear that she had ruined their family reputation, and the couple was not welcome in their home. People who saw them in town self-righteously crossed the street to demonstrate their disapproval. Emmaline was one of the few friendly faces they saw over the summer months. She smiled and asked about the upcoming arrival, without judgment or reproach.

Jonathan was frightened when Sarah went into labor. She was obviously in trouble, and so was the baby. It was a December afternoon, already dark and cold when he arrived on Emmaline's doorstep. She put her oldest daughter in charge of her own five children until their father came home, gathered some quilts, and hurried into the night with Jonathan.

Sarah's labor was extremely long and difficult; the baby boy was born breach and the new mother was weak and exhausted from a loss of blood. Emmaline stayed around the clock, until she was certain all was well. It was a couple of days later when she finally felt comfortable leaving Sarah. Wrapping the newborn warmly, she took him home with her so the young couple could rest for a few hours.

Illustration by Louis Emile Adan

After Emmaline had tended to her responsibilities, she sat down in the chair close to the fire, rocking the baby wearily, until she fell asleep.

She had a dream that a man came and pleaded with her to help his wife deliver her baby. The woman was alone, without the comfort of loved ones around her, and Emmaline soothed and encouraged her as she assisted with the birth. Suddenly she recognized the new mother as Mary. The baby she was swaddling and rocking was Jesus.

Emmaline woke up, and soothed Sarah's baby, while she reflected on her sweet dream. Wouldn't it have been wonderful to help in that way? To respond to Joseph's appeal for awesome to take care of the Baby Jesus and his mother, to offer support and love.

Illustration by Henninger

As Emmaline cuddled the baby in her arms, a scripture from Matthew came into her mind. "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me."

This is a true story. Although I've changed the names, and left out some details, it happened just as you've read it. But you'll recognize that it has happened many, many other times with a few variations.

Often I am overwhelmed by all that I'm trying to do. I get "weary in well-doing," knowing that I fall short of my own expectations. I sometimes wonder, "What's the point?"
This is the point.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Remembering Christmas Again

Baking Cookies
from Cookies: Bite-Size Life Lessons
Illustration by Jane Dyer

Christmas is a magic time to step back into childhood, and I love to visit memories of Grama Bagley. She was chubby and plump (a right jolly old elf) like I have become. She had gray hair most of the time although I do remember her having a tinge of blue or pink when that was the Grama trend. She wore dresses and aprons, and nylons rolled at the knee so they would stay up without a girdle, and she wore black grama shoes with laces and stacked heels. She was definitely soft and squishy like a giant stuffed toy.

I remember going to her house at Christmastime to bake sugar cookies. She had really cool cookie cutters and she'd roll out the dough with flour on her kitchen table and then I got to cut the cookies out. While she transferred them to the cookie sheet, I'd eat the scraps. Scraps from dough that has already been rolled out is even better than the actual cookies! She decorated them like an artist. She even used paint brushes, and her Santa Claus cookies had coconut covering the frosting for the beard. She used red hots, and silver ball candies and sprinkles, and the frosting was made with real butter so they tasted as good as they looked. Grama could decorate cookies very fast, and my feeble attempts usually left me disappointed and impatient.

Making Caramels

There was a room behind the kitchen that wasn't heated and was used to store old furniture and boxes of clothes. That is where Grama set up a table with a big marble slab where she would dip chocolates. She made the fudge, caramel, divinity and nut centers first, and then smeared some melted chocolate on the slab. She quickly rolled the center in the chocolate and made a tiny swirl decoration on the top to indicate which center was inside. It was fun to watch her at work.

In the living room a quilt was usually set up. The furniture was pushed back to line the walls of the small room and we kids would play under the quilt while Grama and her friends sat around chatting and quilting. Their legs all looked the same from that vantage point, with the rolled stockings and clunky shoes, knees apart as they reached under the quilt to stitch. I listened and learned while I was laying underneath the quilt, staring at the pattern of stitches. It looked so different from the design being created on the top, with all the pieces of contrasting fabric telling stories of log cabins and sunflower girls and building blocks.

This captures a quilting bee a few decades before my time, but it was not much different.

It occurred to me that looking at the quilt from the bottom was like looking at life while we're in it. Heavenly Father sees the beautiful pattern from above, and knows how it will all turn out, while we're wondering if anything worthwhile can come from the pokes and knots we see from our perspective down here. I'm convinced God is mending the imperfect stitches and creating a masterpiece from our inconsistent, but well-meaning attempts.

I'm the age Grama was when I was little. It would be so fun to visit her as she was then and as I am now. Our interests and hobbies might be different, but our goals would be the same. I really think we would be good friends. Maybe thinking about her this way is a good way to visit her.

To Grama:
(Adelila Hogensen Bagley in 1967, almost 70)

Merry Christmas!

Marty in 2008, almost 60.

Love, Marty

Who will you visit in memory this Christmas Eve?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Santa's Workshop

Some of Santa's elves stopped by for a sleepover.
(There wasn't much sleeping, however.)

The gingerbread men were on the run!

But they were caught by these foxy little ladies...

...and all dolled up...

...before their demise.

This workshop really hummed. The elves danced to The Chipmunks ("Alvin!") practiced a puppet show, rehearsed the Nativity play, watched The Snowman (a darling movie for Oma and Opa, too.) There were paper dolls to dress, stories to read, and carols to sing. (They sang spontaneously to all the folks riding on the elevator, walking down the hall, and delivering the mail!)

After the flurry of little footsteps disappeared, I sat down to catch my breath.
For two days.

Illustration by Hazel Frazee, 1933

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas Carols

Anne Estelle Singing
Mary Engelbreit

I've lost my voice. With a burst of middle-age hormones I went from a strong alto to a raspy baritone in the middle of my credenza. And at Christmas time I want to sing!

It's an old refrain. I didn't appreciate what I had until it went missing. Happily my choir can get along nicely without me now; they each carry their parts beautifully. It wasn't always that way.

One year our family went Christmas caroling to the neighbors. At the first door we burst into a rendition of Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The kids were enthusiastic for the first few bars, but something dimmed as we sang "you would even say it glows." By name-calling time there were only a couple of little voices left, and it was just Dee and me warbling "then one foggy Christmas Eve..."

Have you ever noticed how long that song is? I did, as we were squeaking out "Won't you guide my sleigh tonight..." while our audience stood barefoot, with their front door open to the wind, impatiently waiting for us to hand over the cookies and go home.

I do my Christmas caroling in the car now.

A Winter Symphony
Sarah Brightman

I crank up the volume and pretend I'm a soprano!

Any favorites?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Home for Christmas

Illustration by Richard Cowdrey in
Frosty the Snowman

♫ I'll be home for Christmas...If only in my dreams. ♫

If you went home for Christmas, where would you go?
I'd go to the town in this picture.
It's what childhood looks like in my dreams.

The snow glistened in the late afternoon after a snow storm. I remember making snow angels in the backyard as lacy snowflakes drifted from the sky. We were waiting for our dad to come home from work, playing Fox and Geese and wishing the deep, fluffy powder would hold shape for snowballs. It caught in my eyelashes and melted on my tongue.

I had a red wool coat trimmed with black velveteen edging, and matching wool leggings. Leggings weren't made of spandex, and they weren't form fitting in those days. They were heavy, prickly trousers with suspenders crossed in the back so they wouldn't fall down. I couldn't manipulate my fingers into gloves, so I had mittens on a string running through both sleeves. Unless the snow was unusually wet, it didn't soak through the mittens, and our mountain powder snow didn't feel quite as cold then as it does now. My hat matched my coat and had a little brim in the front, with itchy earmuffs that tickled where they tied under my chin. Red rubber boots made footprints that my brother's blue rubber boots followed around the yard.

My memory is probably a composite of many winter evenings. I can see the Christmas tree twinkling through the French doors to the living room, and my mother in the kitchen feeding my baby sister in her high chair. It seemed that we played outside for hours, but having raised some kids myself, I know that it takes longer to get on the snowsuits than children can ever last in the cold out-of-doors.

After Dad came home, he built a fire in the basement "Big Room" as we called it. There was a Christmas tree down there, too, with blinking, colored lights, glittering with foil icicles. My folks were hosting a party for the 16-year-old kids Dad taught in Sunday School. Mom rolled up the big braided rug on the floor, and Dad sprinkled the linoleum with sawdust. Later when I peeked in, the room was lit by just the tree and the crackling fire, while the guests danced to rock and roll in their socks. They wore poodle skirts, and skinny ties and belts, ponytails and Brylcreme, and I could hardly wait to be a teenager.

Part of going home for Christmas to me is revisiting happy memories. But there are new meanings to the phrase with every year.

Today Santa brought a surprise!

This little angel came home to visit Oma and Opa.

And suddenly our house was filled with laughter. I hope when my little angels look back on their memories, the snow isn't cold, the lights shine like stars and love floods their hearts. That's how it feels to go home for Christmas.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

American Girl Dolls

Heidi as St. Lucia
circa 1984

Once upon a time I had some little American Girls. They were absolute dolls. Every December 13th at our house we celebrated Lucia Day, (because of my Swedish grandparents.) It was a great tradition where I made a crown out of a paper plate, clipped on little red candles, placed it on the head of one of my precious daughters and LIT IT ON FIRE! Little Swedish girls had done it for centuries...hey, singed hair is the price of heritage.

(Eventually we got a safe replica of a St Lucia Crown. It had fake candles lit with batteries.)

My version of the legend is this:

Lucy was a young Christian girl martyred for her beliefs centuries ago in Rome. She was made a Saint, and remembered as St. Lucia in the Scandinavian countries. One especially dark and hopeless December the village people were starving. From across the lake they could see a blaze of brightness coming toward them. It was Lucia, her blond hair encircled by a halo of brilliant light, wearing a white robe with a red sash, bringing them bread. She was accompanied by young boys, their faces also illuminated as if by the stars, hauling sacks of food.

Since then the day has been celebrated as the Festival of Lights in Sweden. In some families the oldest daughter wakes up before dawn, and prepares a breakfast tray for her parents. She dresses in a white robe, with a red ribbon sash and wears a crown of candles. Her younger brothers play the part of the Star Boys, also wearing white, carrying pictures of stars. This is the start of Christmas festivities in their home.

I'm not sure of the meaning others give this tradition. To me, Lucia Day symbolizes the light Christ brings to the world, and the Bread of Life He gives us. He gives a dark world hope. It's a lovely way to remember the reason I celebrate Christmas.

Five little American Dolls.

This year I took five of my little American dolls to see a festival of lights. There were hundreds of Christmas trees, each stunning and unique, all donated to the annual Festival of Trees in Salt Lake City. The trees are auctioned off for thousands of dollars apiece, and every penny goes to the Primary Children's Medical Center to help sick children. We were excited to see the elegant tree Aunt Polly (my creative sister) worked on for months and months. The girls were thrilled to see her name on the Decorated By plaque.

Click on these photos to see more detail

I was touched to see many trees decorated in honor of someone who had died, particularly those dedicated to children, using as a theme their hobby or interest, or treasured keepsakes. One tree was trimmed using golf balls painted bright colors, with other golf paraphernalia. There was a sign that read "If you can't golf in heaven, I don't want to go." Another was adorned with vintage toy trucks and cars, remembering a sweet "Little Trucker."

But there was a particular tree that captured the attention of my little girls.

Dozens of Dolls

It was adorned with dozens of American Girl dolls,
each character represented in every single one of her outfits...

...surrounded by all the accessory furniture and extra frills. It was amazing.

And there she was:
Kirsten, the Swedish American Girl Doll
dressed as St. Lucia.

My little dolls were beaming!

What lights up your Christmas season?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Simplify Christmas, Republished 2009

Dear Old Santa

It all started when I decided to simplify Christmas. I even bought a book about it. After it sat on my desk for a few days, unread, I put it on the soon to be read shelf, but I was afraid I'd forget about it. So I decided to consolidate all the unread organization/simplification books into one section. That involved rearranging the bookshelf.

The organization process.

Noticing what a fabulous selection of unread books I had, I decided to read one. It was full of suggestions about organizing files for everything you want to do. "Wow!" I thought. "Wouldn't Christmas be simplified if I pre-wrote a blog for every day before Christmas?" The book inspired me...I just needed some files.

My new file shelf.

The files looked cool and organized, but they were empty. If I just reorganized my old file cabinet Christmas Drawer, I'd have great material to put in my new files.

The simplification process.

One part of the file cabinet held I bunch of stuff I decided I wanted to scan. Wouldn't it be great if all the pre-written Christmas blogs had pre-scanned images? I just needed somewhere to collect my new collection.

Hmmm...This might not be so simple.

So now, I've simplified and organized myself into complicated chaos. And of course I've had to put off writing all those poetic Christmas blogs. I've got a room to reassemble.

Digging through some stacks today, I found my December To Do list, printed on cute Christmas paper. Suddenly I remembered how I had planned my Christmas celebrating so systematically back in October, with a few chores scattered among days filled with music and tranquility. It was all going to be so simple.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Our First Christmas

Art by Guy Untereiner

It was hard to fit all our Christmas Spirit into our miniature one-bedroom mobile home. We were the new kids on campus, married in September, and excited to start our own brand-new family traditions. They were bursting out of us.

Our first Christmas, 1969

I cut and glued the stockings, and stitched them by hand. You'll notice the fold-out cardboard nativity scene on our mantle, which cost an extravagant $3.00. But the piece de resistance was our Christmas tree.

Could we fit a tree in our 8' x 35' home?

We celebrated our 3rd month anniversary with a visit to the doctor's office where we found that I was, indeed, with child. Thrilled as only first-time unsuspecting parents can be, we dashed out to buy a full-sized evergreen tree: symbol of our ever-growing, everlasting little family.

Prickly and green, it perfumed our tiny home with the smell of the forest. It was tucked into the corner where it fit perfectly, and only needed a little embellishment. We couldn't afford lights, or new ornaments, so we were creative. Strands of popcorn, and tissue-paper-snowflakes were crafted and hung, along with Christmas cards tied with little bows. We borrowed a few shiny blue ball's from Dee's mom, but I still thought we needed a touch of red.

The cost of a package of cranberries stretched the budget too far, so we accepted our tree for what it was and went to bed. The next morning I was surprised to see beautiful red swags encircling the tree. Dee had strung red pyracantha berries that he picked off the bushes outside our trailer. Shiny and red at first, they shriveled up very quickly, so every morning until Christmas, Dee threaded new strands for fresh garlands. (Leaving me a little kindness-surprise in the morning is still a Dee trademark.)

Year 2, New Trailer

By Christmas 1970 we had moved up in the world. We bought a 12' wide, brand-new trailer, with two bedrooms and room for our new baby. We had a store-bought advent calendar, imported from Denmark no less, to decorate our kitchen...

Marty at Christmas, 1970

...and money for lights and real cranberries. But the only memory I have of our tree is just what you see in this photo.

Over the next 35 years we had trees decorated by creative professionals; we collected precious ornaments from foreign lands; we had cathedral ceilings allowing towering trees, and a fireplace crackling as nine of us strung popcorn and cranberries to strains of John Denver. For a couple of years our house was featured as part of a home tour to see the unique decorations. It was prettier every year, but more exhausting and less fun. I became so wrapped up in decorating , and lost in the forest of trees, that I couldn't see how lovely the Christmas season was.

Now we've come full circle, and we're back to one little tree, very simply decorated, sitting in the corner of a cozy apartment we love. It's our 40th Christmas, and we stroll through the aisles of our memories like we would a Christmas festival. Some years blend together, and we sort out which aisles we've visited twice and which ones we've accidentally skipped over.

But, our first Christmas, and the tree without lights, is my brightest memory. It represents our hope for the future, our willingness to sacrifice the frills of past Christmases and start fresh, with nothing but each other.

Nowadays we're still stringing our life together, day by day. (And this year we might have to go back to pyracantha berries!) But every Christmas reminds me to be excited about the season I'm in, and the need to be evergreen.

Art by Guy Untereiner

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Toys at Grandma's House

Braiding a Crown
W.A. Bouguereau

At my grandma's house I learned to braid daisies. Store-bought toys were few: there was a bare-naked doll having a bad hair day, some pick-up sticks and a tiny china tea set. At the other grandma's house I remember Chinese checkers, a 1,000 piece puzzle, some finger handcuffs made of straw, and a little ball.

Agnes Lundgren, December 1959
Age 69

But I was never bored when I visited. Grama L. showed me how to pile rocks and draw with sticks in the dirt to create a playhouse. We gathered eggs and I held the clothespins while she hung out the wash. Then I hid in the white, damp tent created by the sheets in the whipping wind. I visited the cow, and rode the old abandoned tractor which sat in the orchard. The older cousins played Andy-I-Over while the younger cousins played Red Rover, or ran races on the huge front lawn, with Tuffy, Grampa's dog.

Axel Lundgren, December 1959
Age 74 (with Tuffy)

Grama B. hid the Thimble and played the piano while I danced or sang. She baked cookies which I cut out and frosted. I explored her ancient, musty smelling basement with the hand-wringer and wash tub or searched through the back room which was unheated but filled with broken furniture, clothes and junk.

I had a fort under the quilt she was working on, which always filled the living room, where I listened, fascinated by the old ladies' conversations and their rolled nylon stockings and grandma shoes. If I was quiet, they forgot about me, and I learned some intriguing tidbits about the events in the neighborhood, as well as some of the facts of life.

Adelila and Hawley Bagley and Aunt Marie
(I'm the 12-year-old in the white blouse)

I rifled through Grama's old sheet music, played dress-up with Aunt Marie's jewelry and purses, dusting myself with a dressing table powder puff. We watched Lawrence Welk and waited anxiously for the Lennon Sisters, or listened to Grandpa recite Little Orphant Annie, Hiawatha and Casey at the Bat. I blew bubbles with empty spools in the dishwater and got my fingernails painted with shiny clear polish. On Thanksgiving we watched The Wizard of Oz on TV after dinner and sang to the tune of a ukulele. I remember making Hollyhock Dolls, climbing the apple tree and rolling down the hill in the backyard.

I'm a grandma now, and I want to give my grandkids memories that will bring them back to the time when they felt secure, confident, curious, safe, creative, resourceful and most of all, adored. By the time I had three grands, I had a whole playroom decked out with easels, kid-sized furniture, stick horses, a stuffed zoo, and at least a hundred books.

Amy 1979

Now, with nineteen grandkids between three months and eleven years I've pared down because of space and common sense. But I still want to have some cool stuff that's only at Oma's house. Memory makers.

Remembering friends from 1985.

Gabi wrote a post about Legacy Toys the other day, with a great list of toys kids love. There were even more ideas in the comments she received. For my Oma Legacy Toys I have some challenging parameters. They have to be easy to store, not need a giant space to be played with, adaptable for boys and girls of all ages, and timeless. I want to collect toys that the kids will love, but might not know they want. I'd love your suggestions!

These are a few of the things I have in my Oma toy collection:
  1. Books
  2. Brio wooden train
  3. Tea Set
  4. Dress-Ups
  5. Puppets
  6. Pick-up sticks, checkers, chess
  7. Uno and other card games
  8. Magnet shapes, letters and figures for the fridge
  9. Wooden dolls with magnetic clothes
  10. Flannel board characters and shapes
Chess Players
John Lavery

What do you remember playing at your Grandma's house?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

What Can I Do?

Art by Guy Untereiner

"In a world where there is so much to be done,
I feel strongly impressed that there must be something for me to do."
---Dorothea Dix

When I'm away from regular responsibilities I hatch ideas like chickens. They cluck around my mind, pecking to find their way out. I'm back home now, and it's time to gather them up and crack them open. It's December! Just the time of year to join in and get something important done.