Thursday, December 31, 2009

Resolution for 2009

After a day of repairing antique books, and perusing his stamp collection with Jake, Dee was checking the progress of his secret recipe for soupstock. Observing his various activities, I was feeling lackluster and reflective, rummaging around for purpose and meaning in life. I asked him as he inhaled the aroma of his masterpot, "What should be our 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 man who makes me laugh
is a fun way to live.)


PS: This is a post I wrote last New Year's Eve—before the heart attack, the pneumonia, the hospital stays, the ambulance rides. I have to say I'm glad Dee is a follow-through kind of guy!

Dee's 63rd birthday!
(It almost took his breath away!)

#1 Blessing of 2009:

Dee stayed alive!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Blogging Identity Crisis

What's my point?

I'm truly wondering. Not "what's the point," but what's mine. A good thing about being a mid-life blogger is that I can decide what I'll be. There's no job description—I'm making it up. The bad thing about making it up is that I know it's made up. (It's hard to take myself seriously when I'm my own imaginary friend.)

So, I'm asking you, my other imaginary friends: if you had a person like me somewhere in your blogging life, what would you hope she'd contribute? I'm not pandering for compliments or validation; I'm really asking what you find worthwhile. (Leave your suggestions in the comments box.)

I just finished reading a book called Creating a Blog Audience. The over-riding suggestion was to find your niche, read other blogs like yours, research the popular keywords so you can write about what people want to read about. Define yourself.

When I googled "Grandmother" I got a whole bunch of racy phrases that weren't my niche at all. And when I scrutinized the blogs I love, I was reminded that I'm not a crafter, a business, or a mommy. That's when this particular identity crisis really blossomed. I have no definition.

I like telling myself that I'm just me, I'm unique. However, another way of putting it is that I don't fit in. After sixty years you'd think that wouldn't matter, and it doesn't on the days when I feel confident and wise. But I have days like today when I wonder, "What's my point?"

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Oh, I Got Something Else!

The sniffles.

Dee's coughing and sneezing.
My ears are popping and my throat is sore.
He's unwrapping brand-new Kleenex boxes.
And I'm going back to bed.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

What Did You Give?

Art by Eloise Wilkin

An African child listened carefully as his teacher explained why Christians give presents to each other on Christmas Day. "The gift is an expression of our joy over the birth of Jesus and our love for each other," she said.

When Christmas day came, the boy brought the teacher a seashell of lustrous beauty. "Where did you ever find such a beautiful shell?" the teacher asked. The child told her that there was only one spot where such extraordinary shells could be found. When he named the place, a certain bay several miles away, the teacher was left speechless. "Why . . . why, it’s gorgeous . . . wonderful, but you shouldn’t have gone to all that trouble to get the gift for me." His eyes brightening, the boy answered, "Long walk part of gift."

When you look at the living room today, and wonder why you worked so many weeks for an event that lasted only one day, remind yourself: "Long walk part of gift."

Friday, December 25, 2009

It's Here!

Did he come yet?

Wow! That was fast.

He's already in my rear-view mirror.

Hope your Christmas is merry and bright!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Strengthening Marriage: Evergreen Christmas

It was hard to fit our Christmas Spirit into our 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.

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. Since we couldn't afford lights, or new ornaments, we were creative with strands of popcorn, tissue-paper-snowflakes, and 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.

Our first Christmas, 1969

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.)

I have to admit, I wanted to stay at my mom's that year. I couldn't imagine being away from my family on Christmas morning. Mom's Christmases were something from a fairytale, and the presents were always stacked to the rafters. It took us a couple of hours to open them all. There were fires in both fireplaces, sweet rolls for breakfast . . . how could I miss all that?

Dee, however, was very excited for our Christmas, so I decided to be excited, too. My parents were urging us to stay. It was the first time they had to recognize that I had new loyalties, and it was hard—I felt a little guilty choosing my family over theirs. There's a great quote for parents in this situation: "Hold your loved ones to you with wide open arms."

As newlyweds we didn't notice how cold our trailer got at night. Christmas morning we woke up to find that our shower curtain was frozen into it's folds. The moisture had turned into ice! To save money we usually left our little coal oil furnace off, so Dee jumped out of bed to light it while I stayed under the covers. I told him to open his first Christmas present before he lit the fire. His new fireplace matches (in a decorative box) took up residence on top of the fireplace (as we referred to it) as on object d' art after that.

When the room warmed up, we went into the kitchen and made hot chocolate with our candy canes, and real whipped cream. Dee lit a few candles we'd put on the tree (which was dry by then, and a huge fire hazard, I'm sure.) A few presents were piled underneath.

We had agreed to a $10 budget for each other, but both of us had overspent. Dee gave me a book of Bruegel art, an ivory lace slip, and a tiny hymn book. Besides the matches, Dee got some 4711 cologne. I had made him a collage of our 11 months worth of memories, and also a red flannel nightshirt. (He only wore the nightshirt once because it stuck to the sheets, and turned them red.)

Our opening ceremonies took about five minutes. There we were at 7:05 am on Christmas morning with nothing else to do. I think we reminisced a little, and probably fixed something fun for breakfast. I can't really remember the rest of the day.

Dee's priority that year was for the two of us to establish ourselves as a family. I cherish that about him. He has always put our family above anyone or anything else since the day we were married. It has given us strength and unity. At first I would have been happy to return to my parent's home several times a week to get waited on and pampered. In fact I remember thinking about a month after we were married, "Well, this was fun, but I want to go home where my mom does all the work, and my dad makes all the decisions." Now I realize that would have diminished our abilities and self confidence. I'm glad it was only a fleeting thought.

It's our 41st 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. But every Christmas reminds me to be excited about the season of life I'm in, and the need to be evergreen.

Art by Guy Untereiner

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Subbing For Santa

"Refugees from Eastern European countries need a Christmas."
I heard this announcement on the radio one year in late November and called for information.

Our tradition of Subbing-for-Santa had started on our second Christmas. Dee was in school, we lived in a trailer with our new baby, and we were poor as could be, but happy. Our neighbor was a single mom who lived in an even older, smaller trailer. She was a student with a two-year-old, and also as poor as could be, but miserable. We anonymously left a few presents and a turkey outside her door on Christmas Eve and discovered it made our meager celebration brighter. Charles Dickens said, "No one is useless who lightens the burden of someone else." Our new tradition made us feel useful.

The newspaper offered sub-for-Santa opportunities. Over the years we had the kids earn money and buy a gift for a child in the family we were assigned. We cleaned out the closets and toy boxes and spiffed up items that were in good condition, but outgrown. At Christmas time we often received a turkey or sack of oranges, chocolates or a ham from friends or business associates. These extra gifts became part of our offering. Some years we could afford more, sometimes less, but we always had enough to share.

I remember the Christmas Eve we visited a little family comprised of two children and a mom. The little boy let us in, but the mother was nowhere to be seen. We could understand that she was embarrassed to be in her situation, but still anxious for her kids to have something under the tree. She knew to expect us, but chose to be occupied, so we sang a Christmas carol, and carried in the loot.

Dee told the kids that Santa had left their presents at our house by mistake. and then we left. The kids didn't say a word, but just watched, and the mom didn't come out of the bedroom. But as we got in the car their cute little faces were pressed against the window as they grinned and waved. The mother waved from behind them.

It was important to us for the families to keep their dignity, and know we had respect for them. We didn't want to intrude, or inject ourselves into their holiday. Santa does his work quickly and quietly and disappears, and we were just his substitutes. It pleased us that our kids never made disparaging comments, and they didn't pass judgments on the people we visited. They were often concerned (and we were, too) about how to be friendly and kind to strangers, who felt awkward about how to treat us.

If we could leave our bag anonymously, that was our preference, but we didn't want the new bike (or whatever) stolen off the porch. Since our kids were always part of the planning and earning process, we wanted them to experience the actual giving as well. They were so sweet and generous, even though they knew this came out of their own stash of stuff.

One year we took some gifts to a tiny, old home in a very poor area of our city. The family had three children, but there were grandparents and other adults all living together. Curtains were hung between several beds, providing a bit of privacy in the four room house. They were Vietnamese refugees, and nobody spoke English. We were directed to the back of the house and we walked through with our bags of goodies, while they all looked on, expressionless. It was an opportunity for us to see circumstances very different than our own.

On the way back to the front door, the kids held hands tightly, and nervously smiled at the people sitting on the floor staring at them. Micah (who was about 8) stuck out his hand to shake hands with a very elderly man, and said, "This is a nice condo." When we were outside, we looked at him with amusement and he said defensively, "Well, it was."

After hearing the radio announcement in 1982, we signed up for two families. It was just after Thanksgiving, but we were told these people had arrived with nothing, and needed Christmas early. The organization that helped them escape from behind the iron curtain worked with the government somehow, and they were given a state assignment, so no one state had an overabundance of refugees looking for homes, jobs, etc. Both families had left everything behind. Neither family had a phone or a car, but we were given the addresses to their apartments.

One family had escaped from Czechoslovakia. There were two children, and the parents were both doctors. The father in the other family was a political refugee who had been highly placed in the solidarity movement against the Communist government in Poland. His life was in danger, and they were lucky to get out. These people were highly educated and respected in their homelands. They loved those places enough to fight for freedom and a release from the bondage of Communism. Now they were at the mercy of a new country, where they didn't speak the language, and were lucky to get jobs as janitors.

When we arrived at the home of our Polish family, we were totally unprepared. We carried our offerings of toys, pajamas and food into an apartment that was empty. Three children and their parents had been sleeping on the floor under newspapers. There was a card table, but not a single chair or piece of furniture. The mother had hung a crucifix in the living room, and they had the clothes on their backs. That was all. They didn't have silverware, or dishes, or a pot or a pan. It was shocking to us. We felt silly giving them dolls and toy cars when they needed soap and toothbrushes.

The other family had beds and a couch and card table. They had been in Utah a couple of weeks and had some acquaintances in the city. The situation there wasn't as desperate, but they were in need of more than we had expected.

On the way home we decided to keep the kids out of school the next day. We wanted to provide necessities, and it was going to take some effort. Phone calls were made to neighbors and family members and we immediately started collecting blankets, towels, groceries and clothing.

Dee borrowed a truck and he and the boys went to Deseret Industries and purchased some used furniture. We had two mattresses and beds in a storage garage, so they loaded those up while the girls and I cleaned out our closets and cupboards to find everything from coats to quilts—anything we didn't need. After seeing their conditions, it was almost sickening to realize how much extra stuff we had.

Later that afternoon we returned to the apartments and unloaded everything.

Afterward, at the Czech home, they offered us beer and biscuits. We turned down the beer, so they said they'd make us some orange juice. The dad put a few whole oranges (with the peels) into the blender we'd brought, and ground it all up. The kids bravely drank (actually we had to chew) this strange, thick and bitter concoction. We were given "leetle keeks" which turned out to be cookies. That was a phrase that was used affectionately in our home for many years.

I'll never forget the young Polish mom. She sat and cried as our kids carried in our old scratched up coffee table, and the well-used and wobbly bunk beds. Her new set of silverware was our cheap and flimsy wedding present. But she was so grateful. Her children spoke a little English and translated her words of thanks. Then she grabbed each one of us and hugged and kissed us. Peter (who was 3) ran and hid in the drapes, but she chased after him and scooped him up to kiss him on each cheek.

We followed up with them over the next few weeks, but lost track of them by the spring. We've always wondered what happened to them as they assimilated into our society and culture. I hope things worked out for them, and that they are happy now.

In Hebrews it says, "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." The strangers we tried to entertain in our Sub-for-Santa undertakings were always angels that gave the Christmas Spirit to our family.

Illustrations from: The Truth About Santa, Green Tiger Press

Tuesday, December 22, 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.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Bah, Humbug!

I got Scrooged.

I always thought Sub-for-Santa was a voluntary thing, but last night I donated a few presents I hadn't planned on giving. My Christmas spirit was shattered when I saw broken glass all around my car this morning, but the only thing the burglars took was a catch-all box I keep between the front seats. They got:
  1. Six empty CD covers
  2. Four different "Oma's Christmas Mix" CDs
  3. A full package of raisins (my healthy snack)
  4. An empty package of Peppermint Bark (my reality snack)
  5. Some extra parking validations
  6. Six bucks
  7. My make-up kit stocked with well-used favorites
  8. A cherished, old, blue bandanna from Salzburg
  9. The little notebook with addresses of restaurants I want to try
  10. Dee's clip-on sunglasses
I wish they'd just left a Christmas list. I would happily give them a lot more than they took. I'm just not that thrilled with the snowflake pattern decorating my car window. Guess what I'm getting now.

oh yeah. merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christmas Company

A wise man from the east,

A little man from the north,

And some wanderers from Bethlehem.

There's lots of room at our inn!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

In My Dreams

Frosty the Snowman by Steve Nelson and Jack Robbins

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

I like to visit Childhood at Christmastime. After all, it's my hometown.

All Illustrations by Richard Cowdrey

Snow glittered in the late afternoon sun after a snow storm. I remember making snow angels in the backyard as lacy snowflakes floated from the sky. We waited for 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 in 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. I know I'm just dreaming, but Childhood seems filled with laughter. I think that's why I want to go home for Christmas.

Henry B. Eyring said, "What all of us long for in our hearts, at Christmastime and always, is to feel bound together in love with the sweet assurance that it can last forever." Wouldn't that be nice?

He goes on to say, "This is the promise of eternal life, which God has called His greatest gift to all his children. That is made possible by the gifts to us of His Beloved Son: the Savior's birth, Atonement, and Resurrection. It is through the Savior's life and mission that we have the assurance that we can be together in love and live forever in families.

"The feeling of longing for home is born into us. That wonderful dream requires faith, and enduring bravely the trials of mortal life. Then, in the next life, we can be welcomed by our Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son to that home of our dreams."

I hope when my little angels remember Childhood, 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.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A True Christmas Story

Illustration by Mary Englebreit

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 young 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 relief . . . how glorious 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.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

St. Lucia Day

Heidi as St. Lucia 1986

Every December 13th 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, a little singed hair is the price of heritage.

With Scandinavians on both sides of the aisle, we embraced this time-honored tradition.

James Andrew and Mary Vincent Halverson, 1914

Axel Herman & Agnes Matilda Lavin Lundgren, 1914

There are many versions of the Lucia legend. This is the one I've passed down:

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 people in a poor village 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 Jesus Christ brings to the world, and the Bread of Life He provides for us. He gives a dark world hope. It's a lovely way to remember the reason I celebrate Christmas.

What lights up Christmas for you?

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

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Christmas Card to Grama Bagley

Adelila Hogensen Bagley

Grama was "chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf," like I have become. Soft and squishy like a well-loved stuffed toy. She had gray hair most of the time, although I do recall her having a tinge of blue or pink when that was the grandmother trend. Dresses and aprons were her daily attire, with nylons rolled at the knee so they would stay up without a girdle. She wore black shoes with laces and stacked heels.

I remember going to her house at Christmastime to bake sugar cookies. First flour was sprinkled on her kitchen table and then I got to create shapes with her unique cookie cutters. While she transferred them to the cookie sheet, I'd eat the scraps. (Scraps from dough that has already been rolled out are better than the actual cookies.)

Grama decorated them like an artist, with paint brushes. Her Santa Claus cookies set the standard for the rest of my life: coconut enhanced his beard, red hots and silver ball candies trimmed his hat. The frosting was made with real butter so they tasted as good as they looked.

She could decorate cookies very fast, and my feeble attempts usually left me disappointed and impatient—until I ate them. We saved hers on a plate for me to take home, and I made sure mine disappeared.

An unheated room behind the kitchen 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.

Fudge, caramel, divinity and nut centers were made first, and then the marble was smeared with melted chocolate. She quickly rolled the center in the chocolate and made a tiny swirl decoration on top to indicate which center was inside. It was fun to watch her at work.

In the living room a Christmas 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 learned who was "expecting" and what that implied 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, sunflower girls and building blocks.

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. He 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 the age Grama was when we made Christmas cookies together. It would be so fun to visit her as she was then, and as I am now. I really think we would be good friends. Maybe thinking about her is a way of visiting.

Merry Christmas, Grama.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Nativity Play

Kids Nativity Play

I'm making a new Oma Kit. It contains everything necessary for the grandkids to act out the first Christmas at the family Christmas party: a simple nativity script in rhyme, no-sew costumes, easy-to-store props and scenery. (It all fits in a $7.00 Rubbermaid box from Target.) Here my how-to for a children's nativity play.

I've assigned the kids their parts ahead of time. At the party, while a couple of moms help them get their costumes on, the adults are divided into two groups—choir and scenery.

Kids are the stars of Christmas

The Nativity Scenery Committee gets a tri-fold display board (it's like three sides of a cardboard box, navy blue, and I got it at Michael's Crafts for $8.00) plus a baggie full of star-shaped foam stickers. (I got three bags of 30 multi-colored, multi-sized stars for $2.00 each and picked out the yellow ones.) The committee will stick on the stars to make scenery that looks like a night sky. Two of the scenery people will hold up the scenery during the play.

The Impromptu Nativity Choir will practice singing Away in a Manger and Silent Night.

Shepherd costumes for one, or a whole herd.

No-sew nativity costumes: At the fabric store I searched for very cheap remnants. I got a couple of yards of several different fabrics (a black and white cow print, gray fuzzy wool, white terry cloth, light blue silky something, tan jersey knit, striped drapery stuff, etc.) I've cut the material into 45"x 45" squares (roughly, depending on the width) and then cut a hole in the middle for a head. Everyone will just slip them on like a cape, and tie them around the waist with a length of rope. Or they can be draped over their heads and shoulders like a shawl.

Because of a great deal on cow fabric, I asked if any little kid wanted to be a cow. Now we also have a camel, a donkey and two lambs in the cast!

We're short on short people in our group, so a few adults will take some extra roles. From year to year we could add or subtract animals, shepherds, angels, wise men and shift around the speaking parts. Hopefully the kids full-length costumes can be adapted to a shawl or shoulder drape on a bigger actor.

Left over strips of material are for head coverings and ties to hold them on. Mary will wear a silk scarf draped over her head. I twisted some gold pipe-cleaners together and made a halo for the angel. She will wear white and carry a star, made by gluing a large yellow foam star to a dowel.

All illustrations by Wendy Edelson from One Baby Jesus.

Props include some fake jeweled pins, two boxes wrapped in gold and silver foil, an empty perfume bottle, a broom-stick for a staff, a few stuffed animals (lambs, a camel, and a cow) and a doll. This year we have a real baby, so I'm bringing a fleece to cover his car-seat for the manger.

So, when everybody's dressed and standing in their places, with the artistic scenery behind them, we're ready. I wrote the lines in rhyme so they're easy to remember; no rehearsal necessary. (Please feel free to use or adapt my poem for your own nativity play.)

Short and Sweet Nativity Script

(Choir sings "Away in a Manger" to set the mood.)

  • Joseph: My name is Joseph. I've been walking all day. In Bethlehem I hope there's a place to stay.
  • Mary: My name is Mary. I'm tired and worn. I need a place for my babe to be born.
  • Donkey: I carried Mary until she could lie down. There is no room in this whole town.
  • Innkeeper: No, no. I haven't a place. In the back with the animals there's some space.
  • Camel: We have a place where it's safe and sound, with loving animals all around. "Can my baby sleep there?" Mary said.
  • Cow: Let my manger be his bed.
  • Baby Jesus: (Sleeps peacefully.)
  • Shepherd 1: I am a shepherd watching my sheep. I think I hear singing in my sleep.
  • Shepherd 2: There's an angel above us. I'm filled with fear. But peace is the message that I hear.
  • Angel: Jesus is born today. He's sleeping in a bed of hay.
  • Lamb 1: Let's follow the star.
  • Lamb 2: It's not very far.
  • Wise Man 1: I'm a king from far away. I've looked forward to this day.
  • Wise Man 2: In the east a star shone bright, on that sacred, holy night.
  • Wise Man 3: Gifts of love we all can bring to worship Jesus Christ, our king.
  • Reader: The Bible tells the story like this: (Reads Luke 2:1-16.)
Choir sings Silent Night.

"Sleep in heavenly peace."

Monday, December 7, 2009

Give a Merry Christmas

Illustration from The Truth About Santa Claus

Some people are just naturally merry.

Take Santa Claus, for instance. Can you imagine him complaining about the cold or feeling sorry for himself because he works 24/7? He is a "jolly, happy soul" whose main goal in life is to make us smile. He's the ultimate optimist.

There are "those who always live life as if it were filled with bright lights, beautiful music, happy children, exciting adventure and endless promise." Don Gale wrote this about optimists. "They make life better just by being part of it. They enjoy people, places and things. Their enthusiasm is contagious."

Don says, "You have undoubtedly met these individuals—the woman who brightens a room when she enters, not because of her appearance but because of her attitude, her smile or her friendliness—the man who stops you on the street, asks about your family, remembers something you said two weeks ago . . . The greatest gift anyone can give another is a positive attitude, a smile and genuine interest.

"Like all human behavior, optimism is learned. No one is born with it or without it. You learn it. You practice it. You try it out until it becomes a habit. And then you can't imagine behaving any other way . . ."

Don's advice: "Begin with a smile. Take a real interest in what others are thinking, saying, and doing. Get outside yourself. You can (and do) change everyone with whom you come in contact. The question is whether you add to or subtract from the day's experience."

Is there an optimist that makes your life better? What do they do to influence you?

Santa has some happy characteristics. He winks a lot. He smiles, laughs and eats cookies. But the main thing is this: he thinks of others, and forgets himself. That must be the secret of giving a Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Have You Ever Felt Like This?


She's eight. Her blog is one of my daily reads, and I think I'm her one daily reader. A recent post said:

Hi. Here's a little weather report. It just rained so outside is wet. And it's also a titch windy. I have NO idea how many degrees it is, so, there's the weather report for you.

You can see why I'm a fan. I was gone for a few days and didn't attend to my commenting duties. When I got home I had an email waiting, all in caps, decorated with blinking frowny faces:


(It's so awesome to be missed.)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Agnes Lavin Lundgren

Birthday Girl

My grandma often told me about a day when she was just six years old. Her brother, who was eight, was babysitting her, and she fell and cut her head open. Terrified by all the blood, she begged him to go get the church ward teachers to give her a blessing.

Without a phone, and afraid to leave her, Great-uncle George decided he'd have to manage on his own. He got out the sewing machine oil, and consecrated it the way he'd seen Priesthood holders do.

He said a prayer, and explained to the Lord that although he was only a little boy, he had the faith of a grown man, and hoped his prayer would be accepted. He then laid his hands on Grama's head using the oil, and blessed her. The bleeding stopped.

That kind of faith was a tradition in my family. I was taught that our Heavenly Father hears and answers prayers, even those of little children.

Agnes Matilda Lavin was born 119 years ago, December 1, 1890, in Salt Lake City. Her mother Tilda and her father Anders Peter Lavin had immigrated from Sweden just before Agnes was born. They lived on Regent Street, in an apartment above a tailor shop.

When she was six weeks old, they moved to Quince Street, and later to Grape Street, a neighborhood of hills called the Marmalade District. One day Tilda was strolling Agnes in the baby carriage. She stopped at the top of the street to visit with a friend, and the buggy started rolling. It careened down the hill, gaining speed with both Tilda and the baby screaming for each other. As Grama told it, "A China-man, in white pajamas with a long black pig-tail, ran down the street after me and caught hold of the carriage just before I went off the curb. He likely saved my life!"

Agnes had two little brothers who died, so the family consisted of George and Agnes and their parents. They moved to Social Hall Avenue, right downtown, where Tilda organized a boarding house for Swedish people. Anders Peter was a carpenter, furniture maker, and violin craftsman. When the church called for skilled tradesmen for work on the Salt Lake Temple, Anders responded and helped do finish carpentry in the temple. He worked on the beautiful curved staircases, and did intricate carving on the elegant doors.

Anders divorced Tilda and left his family when Agnes was eight years of age. Though the parents couldn't seem to live together as husband and wife, they remained friends for the rest of their lives.

Two teenage brothers from Sweden, Gus and Axel Lundgren, moved into the boarding house when Agnes was just thirteen. Axel was smitten. Agnes had grand plans to go to college and become a nurse, and was not interested in romance, although she was willing to become Axel's tutor. Axel learned English, and all about the Latter-day Saints. He realized he'd need to become a Mormon for Agnes to see him as a serious candidate for husband. As they became more familiar with the teachings and lifestyle, both he and his older brother joined the Church.

Grandma and Grandpa as newlyweds

It seems there were two romances blossoming: Agnes and Axel, and Tilda and Gus (who was 20 years younger than his sweetheart!) Both couples got married within a few weeks of each other. So Gus was Axel's brother and his father-in-law, and Agnes married her brother-in-law and step-uncle. (The confusion is part of the charm.)

When Agnes and her brother George were grown with their own families, it was routine for Grandma Tilda to attend family parties with her new husband Gus, and her old husband Anders. They often arrived together as a three-some! When Tilda lay dying at a party on Christmas Eve, Uncle Gus played host, while Grampa Anders tended to Tilda's needs and sat by her side, holding her hand. The children saw it all as normal.

When we walked through her apple orchard holding hands, she linked me to the past and pushed me toward the future. I was happy to follow her in both directions.

Happy Birthday, Grama! You were my first history lesson, and I loved it.

Grama and Grampa Old
(probably about our ages