Monday, December 31, 2007

What Do You Want to Have Happen?

Illustration from My Picture Book of Songs
Dalton, Ashton, Young

Here's a list of my 2008 resolutions. (Just kidding. I'm only going to list 2,007.)

I've never actually made that many resolutions, but it seems like I've broken even more. Usually before February! That was before I discovered a better way to set goals. I call it the WDYWTHH System. Throughout my planners, calendars and journals I scribble that code whenever I organize a project, or target an objective. It stands for What do you want to have happen?

This magic concept has enabled me to accomplish what I set out to do, and helped eliminate the guilt and discouragement I used to experience if I didn't reach my goals. For example, in the olden days I might have written:
  1. Lose ten pounds and a size by March 1st.
  2. Run on the treadmill every day for 30 minutes.
  3. Invite all the kids for dinner once a month to celebrate birthdays.
  4. Organize all my recipes into a giant family scrapbook for Mother's Day.
  5. Never gossip.
Opposition in all things struck in many forms. I'd get the flu on January 17th. Eight days without exercise. (One down.) We'd go on vacation February 3rd. Five days of restaurants. (Three to go.) Law school, busy season, new babies...what's the point? The birthday people can't even come! By then, since I'd already broken several of my promises, I'd decide to tear up the whole list. I'd never lose ten pounds by March 1st, while having birthday parties and trying out recipes. Who was I kidding?

With WDYWTHH as my strategy, I give myself a purpose plus some wiggle room. Instead of the inevitable list, I ask myself what I want to have happen, and that becomes my resolution. Why do I want to run on the treadmill? What is the difference between sharing news and gossiping? What's my reasoning? My resolutions end up looking like this:
  1. Eat healthy, and dress the body I have. If I like myself, I'll take care of myself.
  2. Stay active. Forgive myself for not being eighteen any more. Enjoy all the things my body still lets me do.
  3. Communicate love and support to my family whenever I can, by whatever means I can. Rejoice in the fact that they are conscientious, capable, contributing adults. Strengthen my family by respecting their responsibilities.
  4. Start a keepsake cookbook. Savor the process. Delight in the memories. Learn new computer techniques. It will be a treasure whenever I finish it. Then I will decide how to present it.
  5. Keep in touch with friends and family, and keep them informed about loved ones. Be positive and sensitive, thoughtful and tactful when speaking of others.
If I set myself up for success, I can see progress. I can also change direction if circumstances dictate without feeling inadequate, and have what I want to have happen happen in a different way. I use this formula to plan family activities, trips, furniture arrangement, gift works for everything!

When I plan a party, instead of thinking "What would be fun?" I list what I want to have happen, and then decide on the way to accomplish it. Do I want the kids to interact with the adults? Maybe a baseball game or a big puzzle. For a shot of self-esteem, I have a talent show. Do I want the kids to entertain themselves while the parents visit? A box of dress-ups and a full length mirror in the bedroom will keep them occupied. It's just a different way of thinking and it helps me recognize what my goal actually is.

Peer pressure goals always fail for me. Those are the goals set by someone else. "I'll pay you $5 for every pound you lose." "Let's all read ten classics this year." It doesn't work unless I want to accomplish something enough to think of it myself. I know lots of people accomplish things when they join forces, but I rebel under that kind of pressure. When a friend and I decided to walk together every morning, I started to resent her whenever she called. ("Doesn't she get it? I was up all night with sick kids! Why does she expect me to keep her company?") I know, I know.

For the past several years I have written a Mission Statement. I start it out by saying "My life has meaning, purpose and direction because..." and then I elaborate on that. I continue with "I am dedicated to..." and "I find joy in..." I list "Qualities I value and want to develop" and "Things I would like people to say about me." The final section is "If I could do anything I want this year, I would..." Then I sign and date it. I read my mission statement a few times a year and write an "addendum" with any changes, and then I sign and date it again. It keeps me focused in a loose, positive way.

So, what do you want to have happen in 2008? Do you set goals, or make resolutions? What works for you? Is January 1st a time of revelry or reflection?

Well, it's almost midnight, and I feel like a snack. I'm glad I didn't make any rash statements about giving up sugar or anything! See you next year!

TravelinOma's Mission Statement

Image by A. E. Marty

Travelin'Oma Blog Mission Statement

I blog to remember my life, to leave a legacy and to encourage, support and lift others. I will write about significant experiences that have influenced me. I will use memories, insights, humor, and history to share lessons on living happily. I will record stories that discern beauty in the daily ups and downs of life, where faith in God makes all the difference.

Write articles on various subjects, including: Beliefs, Blessings, Challenges, Expertise, Family, Happiness, Hope, Knowledge, and Wisdom.

I will post five times a week.


I will consider it a successful post whenever I have fun writing an honest article that says something of worth.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Christmas Between the Covers

"Book lovers are thought by unbookish people to be gentle and unworldly, and perhaps a few of them are so. But there are those who need books as wildly as the dope-taker in pursuit of his drug. They may not want the book to read immediately, or at all; they want them to possess, to arrange on their shelves, to place by their bedside." Robertson Davies

I can't imagine a better vacation! We stayed down the street from The Tattered Cover in LoDo and spent four or five hours there each day. Dixon's, the awesome restaurant next door, served us Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding with Anglaise Sauce for dessert, and custard soaked French Toast with pure maple syrup for breakfast (almost the same, but since it was served as the meal, I'm sure it was healthier.) While other people ski, snowshoe and sleigh ride, my heaven is a cozy barn that smells like cherry pie and features plump, soft chairs, oak library tables, and thousands of books.

Tattered Cover Bookstore, Denver

"When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left, I buy food and clothes." Erasmus

"Like the faces of people, books develop character as they age. Is there a more pleasant place than a room full of books?" Erik Christian Haugaard

"The great gift is the passion for reading. It is cheap, it consoles, it distracts, it excites. It gives you knowledge of the world and experience of a wide kind...I like being around books. It makes me feel civilized. The only way to do all the things you'd like to do is to read." Tom Clancy

From our earliest days together Dee and I have haunted bookstores...actually some of them are haunted, they say! Where else are there real ghosts from the past, telling their stories and inviting us into their lives?

When we go out, we usually have a fabulous meal somewhere, with the idea of going to a movie after. Most of the time we skip the movie, and visit a bookstore instead, and go home early to read our new purchases. There have been many nights that one of us has started a book, and found the other in the middle of it the next morning. Helen MacInnes was one of the first favorite authors we shared, then Robert Ludlum, and Frederick Forsythe.

Searching out bookstores in faraway places and spending hours in little cubby holes, between the covers of old books, is our favorite pastime when we travel, too. A few of our discoveries are:
  1. The Mysterious Bookstore, NYC
  2. Chapters Bookstore, Toronto
  3. Indigo Bookstore, Ottawa
  4. Mystery Books, Washington, DC
  5. Get Lost Travel Books, San Francisco
  6. Howell's Bookstore, San Francisco
  7. Shakespeare and Company, Paris
  8. Galignani, Paris
  9. Books of Wonder, NYC
  10. Hatchards, London
  11. The Tattered Cover, Denver
  12. The Bookbarn, West Chester, PA
  13. Banff Avenue Bookstore, Banff
  14. White Rose Books, Thirsk, Yorkshire
  15. Waterstone's Bookstore, York England
Our itineraries are often arranged around visits to bookstores, and I try to choose a hotel within walking distance of a great bookstore. Do you have any suggestions? Kris told me that Powells in Portland is fabulous, so when I'm going that direction, I'm anxious to visit. Look for me. I'll be next to this guy!

The Bookworm, by Carl Spitzweg

Logan Pearsall Smith summed it up this way: "People say that life is the thing, but I prefer reading."

Saturday, December 29, 2007

What's So Good About It?

Will (5) was talking a blue streak through It's a Wonderful Life. Having been told it was everybody's favorite Christmas movie he was stymied, and full of questions. "I don't get it!" he finally lamented.

Thinking it would help, I condensed the plot into a few sentences, explaining that George Bailey was having a terrible time and was going to kill himself, but his guardian angel would save him. As soon as I said it, I realized the phrase "kill himself" was pretty heavy for a little boy, but it caught Will's attention. If something that exciting was going to happen, he'd stay tuned.

Every second or so he asked, "When's he going to kill himself?" I said, "It won't be for a while. First he has to fall in love, get married and have some kids." "Yuck! I don't want to fall in love," said Will. "George Bailey doesn't either," I told him. "Most boys don't want to fall in love until they meet the perfect girl. So they just fall in love."

"Then they kill themselves?" Will asked.

A Wonderful Quiz
  1. Who was the first choice to play George Bailey?
  2. Who was the director's choice to play Mary Bailey?
  3. Why was Old Man Gower so angry that he boxed George's ears?
  4. Carl Switzer plays a boy who is also in love with Mary. What other famous character did he play?
  5. What is the name of the small town in Pennsylvania that Bedford Falls is based on?
  6. Uncle Billy is played by Thomas Mitchell. He played the part of whose father in another famous movie?
  7. After the run on the bank, the staff drink a toast to the two dollars they have left. What do they want the dollars to do?
  8. Ellen Corby is the actress who tells George Bailey she needs only $17. In her later years she was a famous Grandma. Who was she?
  9. How many Academy Awards did It's a Wonderful Life win?
  10. During the final scene of the movie, when Jimmy Stewart was happy with the whole town bringing him money and he knew he was going to be saved, who was watching the whole scene as if he were living it himself, with tears flowing down his cheeks?
The whole premise of the show is summed up by Clarence, George's guardian angel.
"Each man's life touches so many other lives. If he wasn't around, it would leave an awful hole."

Wonderful Answers
  1. Cary Grant was the studio's first choice, but Frank Capra's first and only choice was Jimmy Stewart.
  2. Capra asked Ginger Rogers to play Mary, but she thought the part was too bland. He also considered Olivia De Havilland.
  3. Mr. Gower had just received the news that his son had died.
  4. Mary's other suitor played Alfalfa in The Little Rascals.
  5. Bedford Falls is based on Indiana, PA, a town of 16,000 people in the western hills of Pennsylvania.
  6. Scarlett O'Hara's father was Uncle Billy.
  7. George hopes that mama and papa dollar will have lots of babies.
  8. Ellen Corby played Grandma Walton.
  9. It's a Wonderful Life didn't receive any Academy Awards and lost $480,000. It was ranked #27 on the list of movies released in 1946-47.
  10. The director, Frank Capra, cried as he watched the final scene. This was his favorite movie, and the one he was most proud of.
I think my little Will felt like George ought to just kill himself and get it over with.
Others might feel that way when it's on TV for the 1,000th time in a month.
I could watch it anytime. It always reminds me that
It's a Wonderful Life!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Merry, Merry

I need a little Christmas...Right this VERY minute!
Do you think Christmas ever really looks like this?

See you after the holiday!

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 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.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Yes, There is a Santa

I think I was three. I remember standing in a long line outside of a tiny pavilion (by the statue in Sugar House) for our turn. I was scared of Santa Claus and I cried at first. My coat and leggings were made of wool, and they itched.

Five more early Christmas memories:
  1. Having a taffy pull at Grama's house.
  2. Playing the part of Mary at the other Grama's house.
  3. Eating too much divinity and throwing up all night. In the morning Mom opened a present from Dad and it was a cream-colored leather jacket. It reminded me of the divinity and I threw up again.
  4. Going sleigh riding up Mill Creek Canyon on our new orange aluminum saucers.
  5. The smell of Youth Dew, a perfume by Estee Lauder. Dad always gave it to Grama and Mom, and when I was a teenager, he gave it to me.
What are a few of your childhood Christmas memories?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Sub-for-Santa, Republished 2009

"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 10) 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 here 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 a second hand store and purchased some furniture. We had some mattresses and beds in a storage garage, so they loaded those up while we 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.

Afterwards, 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 afterwards.

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 have tried to entertain in our Sub-for-Santa undertakings have often been the angels that gave the Christmas Spirit to our family.

Illustrations from: The Truth About Santa, Green Tiger Press

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Calling Mom

Today I miss my parents. I took them for granted when they were here. They died within 18 months of each other about 10 years ago. They loved me totally, absolutely and completely, and it was as real and unappreciated as the air I breathe. Sometimes I thought about it, and felt huge gratitude, but mostly I just lived on it.

I'm at an interesting stage of life that I would love to talk over with my mom. She was a very good listener. And I know Dad would have good advice. He was great at advising.

For 31 years I had kids at home. They were coming one by one for the first 12 years, 7 births, 2 miscarriages. All seven were together for the next nine years, and then they left, one by one, over the next 11 years, college, missions. marriages...It was definitely my busy season. I was overwhelmed with the activity around me, and the necessity of me. I was nursing or pregnant 128 months!! That's almost 10 years of physically supporting another life. Later I was the supporting cast to their starring role. I wonder how many shoes I searched for, how many coats I zipped, how many sandwiches I made. How often did I say, "Brush your teeth," "Fasten your seat belts, "Close the door."

Then, of course, they became teenagers. I remember feeling like I was riding a horse that wanted it's head, but I had to hold on to the reins until they were really ready to run free. I just switched from stallion to mare, and back, in mid-ride. I didn't even know how to ride horses! It's a metaphor for all the stuff I did, that I didn't know how to do. It was a wild ride, exhilarating but totally exhausting. I wouldn't change a thing. I'd never ride a horse again, either.

Except there wasn't a lot of time for anything else. In fact, for years I couldn't answer the question "What do you like to do?" I didn't know. I'd never found out. Raising a family was what I did: it was my hobby and my profession, and it became my talent. I was anxious for the kids to become independent, capable, and confident. They did.

I put myself out of a job.

I wish I could ask my mom how she felt when she experienced this. The funny thing is, she probably told me...maybe lots of times. But I was used to her being there for me, and I wasn't very concerned about being there for her. I didn't listen to her heart. I assumed my folks existed mainly to cheer me on, and encourage my endeavors. It was always more about me than about them, for all three of us, I think. Maybe my siblings were the ones my parents leaned on. I hope so, because I was busy inviting my parents to be available for all our stuff. I didn't stand still for them to lean a lot.

I'm ashamed to say I didn't grow out of this attitude when I was 20, or even 30. Mom died when I was 48 and I still felt like I was the center of her life. She just wasn't the center of mine. I had replaced her with my own spouse and kids, and grand kids. I think that's the way my parents wanted it and expected it to be, but still...She'd sacrificed most of her old friends to be available for us. We'd become her friends. But at my most friendly, she was always the mom and I was always the child. I took more than I gave. She didn't live long enough for me to take care of her, and obviously, if she were still alive, I'd be calling her for support and maybe to ask her to do something for me. Which she would happily do.

I guess I should have started earlier, listening to her concerns, getting excited about her new interests and friends. Maybe, as I friend I should have shown enthusiasm for her sewing projects, entertaining and decorating ideas. But I took my role of a daughter seriously, and acted in my own interests, rather than switching over to the friend role very often (examples: without listening too closely, telling her the Relief Society luncheon sounded great. Or secretly wishing she wouldn't confide in me about Dad's little annoyances (deal with them mom! You're 70 years old!") It didn't occur to me that all her contemporaries were fully wrapped up in their kids and grand kids; that Dad's career had taken off in 600 directions, that she was not part of AFTER her role to dream it up with him. He was the actual one to take the flying leap, finding prestige and associates in the process who replaced her initial supporting role. She was left behind, suddenly free to pursue her own interests (as long as they didn't clash with dad's time schedule.) I wonder how she found friends do take quilting classes, study classes etc. Did she do these things alone?

Maybe I would have become a wonderful caregiver daughter, bathing her, doing her hair and wheeling her through the mall, if she'd gotten old. I wasn't that great for my dad when he was sick the last few months of his life. I actually thought he was grouchy and needy--not surprising since he was sick--but I wasn't as wonderful as I would be now. ("I'm a wonderful daughter since I don't have to worry about my parents.") Now I'm more mature and I'd be full of compassion and patience. It's too bad they didn't find out how great I turned out.

But this is about me. In the past few years I've had to re-invent myself. Some women discover and develop interests when they are young. I took lessons and classes while my kids were growing up, but I couldn't ever put my heart and soul into anything. The guitar was left in the corner, after somebody broke the strings, and eventually given away; the kids climbed on my lap whenever I tried to practice the piano, the tole paints were spilled all over the storage room, the tap dancing shoes lost a tap, and my poetry class required finishing assignments on time...(the nerve!) I was a docent at an art museum for several years, and I volunteered at school and church, but my main role was to keep everyone else's lives going. I used to feel like I was the only person in the family without a real life. Nobody paid much attention to my efforts to become my own person. They liked me to be their own person.

But I always loved writing. I could sit on the milkbox and write while the kids played outside, or at the table while they did their homework. I wrote while I sat in the car waiting during their ballgames and lessons. I wrote about them, because it was what I knew. I wrote about being their mom, because it was who I was. It was cathartic. A few articles got published but by and large I was REJECTED. Not good for a shaky ego. Could I take up carving nativity sets? (We took a class.)

Writing is what I do. I can spend hours at it, and never notice the time. I wish for more time to do it. I know others feel this way about golf, water coloring, or gardening. It's fun to have a hobby I love. It's frustrating that writing requires a reader. It isn't exactly a solo sport. That's another reason I miss my parents. They loved everything I wrote, and gave me positive reviews. They always had time to read it, and they encouraged me to write a newspaper column, or booklet to give out at church. They often commissioned a specific poem for a lesson, or gift or invitation. It was a fun opportunity. They believed I had a future. They made me believe it, too.

Gary Paulsen, the author of Hatchet, wrote this:

Writing me.
I have loved writing for a long time now...and yet I come to love it more with each passing year.
The way the stories dance, the rhythms of the words...when it works, the hair on the back of my neck still raises up and I get chills up and down my spine.
I wish I could thank everyone who has read my writing for allowing me the thrill of being part of this dance with words.

That's how I feel. I realize I'm not a real writer, but I feel connected when I know someone has read my words. I am happy to have discovered another facet to myself, and appreciate this medium for making it so much easier to get published. You people out there are sometimes my incentive, usually my friends, and tonight you've been my mom. Thanks for listening.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Puppy Love

One year we got a new baby for Christmas. Her name was Flower.

After we had opened all the packages under the tree, the phone rang. My dad said Santa had left one present at the wrong house and he needed to go pick it up. He came back carrying a Bassett Hound puppy. Her ears dragged on the floor because her legs were so short, and her feet were huge. She was shaking like a tiny bowl of jelly. It was love at first sight.

When summer rolled around there were suddenly a lot of dogs visiting Flower. Dad realized they didn't have very honorable intentions, so he and our neighbor sat outside at night with a shotgun loaded with salt pellets. Apparently they weren't very good marksman.

Flower was "expecting." Her stomach was so big it dragged on the ground along with her ears. Even my mom (who had lost affection for her in her potty-training phase) had sympathy for Flower in this awkward and miserable condition.

I came home from the first day of school (it was also my 13th birthday) and found Mom in the garage, with perspiration on her brow and kitchen gloves on her hands. She had spent the day as a midwife, delivering ten puppies! Flower was in her bed, exhausted, with my cute mom to thank for her life.

Again, it was puppy love.

Friday, December 14, 2007


Fourth Grade Girls

I could hardly wait to turn ten. That's when the boys in Primary, and the girls in Primary went their separate ways. The umbrella girl's organization for 10's-12's was Homebuilders. Ten-year- olds were Larks, eleven-year-olds were Bluebirds, and 12-year-olds were Seagulls. We proudly wore our green bandalos (a piece of felt made into a wide necklace) every week, decorated with special pins and jewels we'd earned to signify our accomplishments in homemaking skills.

The activities were outdoor games, performing a service or learning a skill, and they were all fun.

I remember learning to dip candles, and another time we made Christmas candles by rolling sheets of beeswax around a wick. We made baby-sitting kits, learned to bake cookies and make scrambled eggs. Plus we did service projects that involved raking the neighbor's leaves, shoveling their walks, or pulling their weeds. We planted a little flower garden next to our church, and we had a luncheon for our mothers where we learned to properly set a table, which side the glass went on, and to wait for the hostess to take the first bite.

There were a few field trips to nearby cultural meccas. We took the bus and toured the State Capitol building. We walked to the local library which had an art gallery, and we hiked up the canyon to see a waterfall. It was fun, girly and I loved going. The most highly anticipated projects were saved for summer. We were each going to create an artistic masterpiece.

As a Lark I learned to embroider. I stitched a sampler with a motto that said:

Greet the Day with a Song
Work With a Smile (?)
Serve gladly.

Mine was framed proudly and hung in my room for years.

Seagulls, the oldest girls, and the most coordinated, learned to crochet. I wasn't quite there yet.

We were girls of the fifties, with pig tails and bobby sox, learning the arts of a bygone generation.

Bluebirds learned to knit. I was most anxious to acquire this skill. I had visions of Nordic sweaters adorning my body all winter, so I was ready with my needles and yarn. When we started to cast on, I could already see there was a problem. They were all doing it backwards! I was left handed and the teachers were right handed. The other 5 girls caught on easily, but I was twisting yarn into tangles, and holding the threads so tightly the needle could not get under the stitch.

One lady sat me in front of a mirror so I could imitate the backward display it projected. Another tried to knit left-handed herself, but became confused and frustrated. It was decided I could pass this skill off by doing something else. So I learned to tie a quilt instead, and it was an entertaining project. But I still wanted to learn to knit.

One Friday night my brother and sisters and I stayed overnight at Grama Lundgren's house. It was snowing when we woke up, and the linoleum floors were freezing. She made us buttermilk pancakes with fresh buttermilk, slightly burned around the edges, and then Grampa took the other kids out to see the cow and the chickens.

Grama asked what I wanted to do and I asked her to teach me to knit. She quickly saw that I was inept at knitting with either hand, so she just taught me right-handed. She gave me a pattern for slippers with pom-poms, and I decided I'd make a pair for each of my family members for Christmas.

In my enthusiasm, I finished off two pair for my little sisters rapidly. Dad's were the biggest and took the longest, and then a few days before Christmas I finished Tommy's. My mom's were going to be extra special with variegated blue yarn. Knit seven, purl 2, knit was coming together nicely when I got distracted by Christmas celebrations.

Christmas Eve about 10:pm I still had one and a half slippers left to finish, plus all the pom-poms. Tom's room was across the hall, so he willingly came over to my room and learned to make pom-poms. I was glad for the company. We sat up until 3:00 am until I purled my last stitch and gathered the toes together for the crowning balls of fluff.

I'd never been so proud of a Christmas present in my life! Love and sweet thoughts were knitted right into each slipper. The gift-giving experience touched me for the first time. True giving is caring about the person, spending time in finding or creating just the right thing, and giving generously from the heart. That leads to feeling joy in the presentation.

The slippers were made of wool. When I later made some for myself, they itched my feet and I never wore them, but I noticed the others had theirs on occasionally. My mom wore hers til the strings of yarn unraveled and the pom poms dropped off. She understood that gift-giving is even more fun when the recipient appreciates the effort. She knew I'd knit our hearts together in love by offering a gift of myself. After all, that's how she gave her gifts. I'd learned the art of giving from her.

"Hearts knit together in unity and love."

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I Photo

Marty! Open Me First!

That was the tag on a brightly wrapped present under the tree. It was 1957, and I had just turned eight. If you were alive in those days, I bet you had a tag like that on a present you excitedly opened first.

It was a brand-new Kodak Brownie with built in flash!! My own camera! I was thrilled. There were three rolls of film with it, and I took all 36 pictures in the next few days.

My Kodak Brownie Camera, 1957

I can remember many of the photos I took, even though I don't have most of them. One was of Grandpa L with his dog Tuffy. Another was of Polly wearing a hat that had a face embroidered on the back of it, with long, yellow, yarn braids attached. She didn't take it off for weeks. (She was four.) I took one of Tom and Dad building a very cool snow fort in our backyard that ended up taller than Dad. Plus a picture of mom in a full skirt and red lipstick, holding baby Jo over her shoulder facing us. My friend Karen captured me in my new plaid pants that glorious Christmas morning. We hadn't studied composition yet, but I love the memory of the way our living room looked, even off-balanced. I was pretty off-balance in those days, myself!

Marty, age eight, Christmas 1957.

One of the fun things about taking pictures is that my mind records it at the same time, so it's filed away in some box in my brain. Every once in a while, when I'm digging around in the attic of my brain I run across these old images, and I can imagine times and people, rooms, what I was wearing, and how I felt. The pictures aren't in folders organized on iPhoto, but they're part of the virtual photo gallery in my personal archive.

I married a true photographer with telephotos, and lens caps, a blush type brush to dust off the lens, and a special foam, cut with holes where every attachment would fit and be guaranteed not to bump into any other valuable piece of equipment. The prize possession was a heavy camera case that looked like a silver lock box bank security people have chained to their arms. I longed for the days when I just lugged a heavy back pack over my shoulders.

Hasselblad cameras are very good, very heavy and large. You don't tuck this into your pants pocket, or stash it in your purse.

I became the best boy, or the boom, or whatever they call the lackey who gets to haul all the heavy camera bodies loaded with various types of film for any sun condition. A true photographer must have his hands free from such encumbrances, so he can leap onto walls, or rocks behind trees to get the perfect light and position.

My little Brownie was tucked away with all the unworthy, unsophisticated gear. Dee was a man with a tripod, and I had learned early in our life together that my role was to tote the gear, brush off the lenses, blow (ever so softly, so no spit is accidentally expelled) and be aware of casting shadows. I'd learned about this etiquette faux paux by golfing with my dad. Men in hobby mode can become very obsessed and ornery about where your shadow happens to cross over their space.

I learned to set up the tripod and place it on walls, roofs, cars, benches, in preparation for the ultimate goal of a real photographer--the night shot.

The Rucksack and suitcase were traded in when I became responsible for dressing, coiffing, feeding, and keeping the new modeling crew we suddenly had in tow. They were darling, always available, and free. Not always co-operative, but those moments led to great candids that look funny in retrospect.

Last year I re-picked up the hobby I had experimented with on my eight year old Christmas. I have a digital camera now, with all the bells and whistles and I am good enough to produce some fairly decent pictures.

Mine is a CoolPix and it's red. It fits in my purse or pocket and after pouring over the manual for a week or so, I'm taking great pictures!!

Dee's still stuck back in time, with his numerous, heavy Hasselblad lenses and lost lens caps while I've moved along with technology. Dee has created a dark room in every house we've lived in--even the previously mentioned 8' x 35' trailer bathroom was often covered with black out fabric as he concocted formulas for developing his works.

It's amazing how quickly I can download my work to the computer, tweak them a little, organize and store them in their categories. I can order a hard copy, edited, sized, and emailed in a folder to share on Shutterfly, while he's still searching for the camera body that's holding the fast speed film. He's a real photographer that talks about apertures and white balance while I spin my little dial and choose "Party Mode" and "Inside the museum."

He now carries the tripod so I can keep my hands free for random, spontaneous shots. It is very fun. In a pinch, he uses the photo I produce rather than go to the trouble of taking his own, and not knowing for days whether it even turned out. (You know, that old unpredictable sun and shadow thing. Too bad he can't scroll down to "Sun"....oh, and I've got one called "Shadow.") It's almost like a real camera, but the answers are too easy for a real photographer.

To think it all started one fun Christmas morning because I opened my camera first. The lesson here is always have your camera out, at the ready for the unexpected expressions you can capture with the magic of Christmas Day.

Polly, Tommy and Marty, Christmas morning about 1955

What are your camera habits? Do you pose pictures, or randomly shoot? Do you download them immediately, or are they in your camera forever? How would you compare the old cameras to the new digital cameras? If you're giving one as a gift, what kind would you experts recommend? Are there books or classes that have helped you get started?

My camera still calls to me "Open Me First!"

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Christmas, 1969

Gleefully we left the doctor's office that December 11th. It was true! The next year we would be known as Santa Claus to someone. We were going to have a baby.

We'd been married all of three months, and it was our first Christmas together. Even though we were just kids ourselves, 20 and 23, we were over the moon with excitement. How could we celebrate such a momentous occasion?

First we went to a tree lot and found a Christmas tree. It had to fit in the corner of the 8' x 35' mobile home we owned, so it was pretty skinny. But it was green and it smelled like the forest. We couldn't afford lights, or ornaments, so we were creative. Strands of popcorn, and tissue paper snowflakes were hung, along with Christmas cards and little bows. The cost of a package of cranberries stretched the budget too far, so Dee surprised me by stringing red pyracantha berries that he picked off the bushes outside our trailer. They shriveled up very quickly, so every morning he threaded new ones for fresh garlands.

Over the years we've had professionally decorated trees in our home, as well as trees covered with ornaments we collected from Christmas shops in Europe. One of our trees was 10 feet tall, covered with dozens of lights. But no tree stands out in my memory like our first one. It was like our marriage: it represented love, hope, dreams and new traditions.

Dinner at JB's Big Boy was our big splurge that night. The extravagant meal included soup, salad, steak and baked potatoes with the works. We even got cokes and dessert! It was a big deal. We arrived home just in time for me to lose it all in a bout of nighttime morning sickness. Dee stood at the bathroom door and consoled me by saying, "There goes our $12 dinner."

Christmas Eve we announced our good news by singing at the family party, "For unto us a child is born...unto us a son/daughter is given..." (we each sang our prediction.) It was snowing, so we left early and drove home for our own cozy celebration. After reading the Christmas story in Luke 2 we put up the new stockings I had made from red felt (they were hung on the knobs of the stove! I can't remember if Santa put anything in them besides small candy canes,) and went to bed.

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 Dad's presents were always stacked to the rafters. It took us a couple of hours to open them all, and then our grandparents arrived with more. There were fires in both fireplaces, and usually some other fun surprises (like new skis hidden in the garage) later in the day. How could I miss all that?

Dee was very excited for our Christmas. Since I was the first child to leave home and miss a big family event, my parents were urging us to stay. It was the first time we had to recognize that I had new loyalties, and it was hard. It made me feel guilty that I was choosing my family over theirs, and I resented them for making me feel that way. I don't think that was their intention, but that was the result. I love the quote that advises parents to "Hold your loved ones to you with wide open arms."

As newlyweds we never noticed how cold it got in our trailer 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. I gave him some long fireplace matches in a decorative box that 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.) The presents were piled underneath. We had set 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. What I remember is that we laid a foundation for our own family. That was important for us. By the next year we were in the role of Santa Claus, and we eventually added so many fun traditions that we had to start eliminating them.

Dee was anxious 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 play house, and still 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 hard work, and my dad makes all the tough decisions." Now I realize that would have diminished our abilities and self confidence, and I'm glad it was only a fleeting thought.

One of the great thrills for us has been to watch our kids start their own holiday traditions. It's fun to see which ones they include from their childhood, what their new spouse brings into the mix and what ideas they come up with together. I love hearing that somebody celebrates St. Nickolas Day, and that somebody else gives a George Bailey Award. I am equally delighted to have them included in events with their new family, like a Christmas Eve Nutcracker performance, a brunch at the grandparents house, or a sweater and eggnog party. I know how awesome it was to discover together what unified us. The Christmas of 1969 taught me that.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Composing Herself

Where is Christmas music better than at a children's recital?

Jess (4) was the first on the program the other night, and she was as poised as a professional violinist. She marched up, said her name and song loudly into the microphone, and took a bow after her perfect performance, as calm as could be.

Her older sister is a composer as well as a pianist. The kids were all telling me their favorite songs: "Twinkle, Twinkle," "Jingle Bells," "Rudolph!" Chloe (6) casually said "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring." She played that in the recital.

One day while she was practicing the piano, she composed The Einstein Polka. "I just wrote down the notes while I figured out a tune." She's even got pedal written in (it's hard to know what the E, or backwards 3 means. I may not be advanced enough to recognize the symbol.)

I don't know if Mozart's grandparents kept copies of his first pieces, but I've got this filed away, just in case I ever have to prove that I knew her when.

I've always known we're children of God, but I've decided it would be better to be grandchildren. We'd all be guaranteed a place in heaven. After all, there's nobody more perfect than a grandchild!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Christmas Stocking Secret

Illustration by Dalton, Ashton and Young

Tommy and I both slept downstairs, next to where the Christmas Tree stood in the family room.

One memorable Christmas morning we woke up about 4: am and decided to investigate. (I was about 9, Tommy was 7.) We didn't want to wake anyone for permission (that would disturb the quiet of the house, and we were nothing if not considerate.)

We stepped into a magic world, with new bikes lined up ceremoniously, a toy sewing machine, and a beautiful Bride Doll inside a pink trunk that held a wardrobe made by Mrs. Claus. I don't know what Tommy had discovered, but we went to town ripping open our presents, and tearing into those of our sisters, as well. We even started to play with them. Unfortunately I broke the sewing machine on my first try. "What does i-n-s-t-r-u-c-t-i-o-n-s spell?" We didn't know.

Suddenly a Scrooge-like version of our dad appeared, rumpled hair askew, peering through his glasses at the presents we had opened, the pieces of our sister's special gifts that were already scattered on the floor, and in a very un-Christmas-y way, ordered us back to bed. Mom came down, and we heard them cleaning up the mess we had made as we celebrated the big day without the family.

Apparently they had an "agenda." It did not include a midnight gift exchange of their greediest kids. I really don't remember anything else about that day, if we were in trouble or what happened. But it demonstrated to me the lengths kids will go to, to spoil a very well-planned Christmas morning family celebration.

As parents, we did what we could to keep the party on our time table. It was the beginnings of the secret.

We decreed that Christmas morning started at 6:30 am, never earlier. The kids had to stay in their rooms til we called them out. (We eventually pushed it back to 7:am and even later.) One year we tried having a little devotional in our bedroom before we pounced on the presents, to remember Jesus and the Christmas Story. We weren't able to keep any body's attention, and we just gave up. Christmas Eve was our time for worship, and Christmas Morning was a wild, secular free-for-all.

Preamble to the secret.: We allowed a sleepover in one or two bedrooms on Christmas Eve, so the kids were all together when they woke up. They could go to the bathroom, but other than that, they had to stay in the bedrooms, wildly anticipating, dreaming, recounting what they'd overheard happening on the rooftop that night, and keeping mum about what they were giving each other.

The Secret: Santa left their filled Christmas Stockings in their rooms. They could open them while they were waiting for the main event. Here are a few things they'd find inside:
  1. Boxed drink
  2. Small boxed cereal to be eaten dry (Alpha Bits, Apple Jacks, Froot Loops, etc.)
  3. Granola Bar
  4. Clementine oranges, already peeled and sectioned, in baggies, ready to pop in your mouth
  5. Raisins or Peanuts
  6. Pepperoni slices or peanut butter and crackers.
(It was a semi-healthy way to stave off utter starvation with treat-type items that wouldn't make much of a mess in the room.)

Each stocking contained a small game they could play together: Old Maid, travel checkers, little dollar type prizes (like 3 crayons in a box with a miniature coloring book, or sticker book)--just something new that could calm the hyper Christmas spirit. A comic book, joke book, simple magic tricks, cat's cradle, Rubic's cube: these took the pressure off until show time.

One year I made a list of instructions which was posted on the back of their door. They were supposed to generally make themselves presentable for pictures. Nothing big, just brush their teeth and their hair (actually, that was pretty big back in those years!) Wipe their nose. Go to the potty, change any damp underwear or jammies, and wipe off last night's dried cocoa mustache. Depending on ages, they alone were responsible or they were assigned a partner to help in these private preparations.

Then Dee and I would put some Cinnamon rolls in the oven, start the hot chocolate, put on some music and gather the kids on the stairs. We tried to at least mention the real reason for Christmas (the flannel board presentation got eliminated early on), had a family prayer and sent them into the living room to oo-ooh and ahh-h-h.

Their Santa presents (usually 3--a toy, some clothes, a book) were grouped separately on an individual chair, or corner of the couch, and they had a few minutes to look their pile over before the unwrapping began. One of the kids was designated Santa. He dug under the tree and presented the gifts everybody had prepared for each other. Only one present was opened at a time, so we could all watch the reaction of the giver and the receiver. The giftee had to pay attention to the gift, and there were reminders to say thanks and you're welcome at appropriate times.

Some memorable presents I opened over the years: Make-up foundation in a color needed by a black woman (I'm as white as a sheet of paper.) Pictures of the kids glued into canning jar lids, orange juice cans covered with construction paper and decorated as a pencil holder, or a hand print make from plaster of paris. Their joy in giving us their offerings taught me that they did want to be unselfish and kind if they were given a chance.

We tried to drag the unwrapping process out, and as the kids got older, they even suggested "Let's take a break for breakfast," hoping to make the fun take more time.

After the opening ritual was over, and breakfast was cleaned up, creating displays became the main activity. The kids would (kind of automatically) clean up their rooms and ceremoniously carry in their new stuff to set up a display of their gifts on the bed. It was an art project in itself, with over-lapping, stacking, layering and arranging, to put each item in it's best light.

Then they would put on any new, or in some cases "newish" clothes for the expected guests. Grama and Grampa, and Aunt Marie always came; the Great-grandparents even came for a few years. Some little friend who could escape his own extravaganza would sometimes ring the doorbell, and they'd immediately disappear to the nether-regions of the Display.

I truly credit The secret of the Christmas Stockings in the bedroom, (giving them a friendly little built-in party of their own) for making our Christmas mornings manageable. At least no unruly kids ever held Christmas without us!

Good luck with your own planning. Remember, the parents are in charge. Right up until the moment the kids wake up.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Fake Post

I'm working on a manuscript and my blog has to take a back seat today. Even when they're fake, don't you like them anyway? (Posts, I mean.)

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Candle Carving

This tree was made from one block of wax. The red and green chain ornaments have been glued on, but the red and white curls are all part of the same green candle. It is an art form I've never seen before. Dee watched them being made, and was so impressed he bought several pieces and gave them to me for my birthday.

The candle is dipped successively in different colors of wax, and then while it is still warm the artist carves the sides down, shaping the shavings into twists and curls.

On the white ornament, the snowman is attached with glue, but the red, white and green twists are all part of the same candle. The green ornament is in the shape of an egg. The ribbon pieces are carved out and curled into the bow.

Creativity abounds at Christmas time!

Have you been inspired by someone's talent this season? Or are you one of the artisans?

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Birthday Boy

Micah was supposed to be born on November 13th. This was back in the day, before ultrasounds, so who really knew for sure? But I was definitely counting on it.

We were living in a trailer (which I recently learned is not called a trailer anymore. It's a manufactured home, now. But it seemed a lot like a trailer then. You could have hooked it to a strong car and pulled it somewhere.) Anyway, we had a 3 year-old, and an 18-month-old, and it was pretty crowded in our 12' x 48' little home. The kids each had a miniature bedroom, and Dee and I slept on a hide-a-bed in the living room/kitchen. I mean, can you picture how anxious I was to move? We had just finished building a new home 40 miles away, with lots of space, a garage, and a washer and dryer, but we were waiting for Micah to arrive.

Thanksgiving came and went without the awaited special guest, and I was still preggers in a big way. On December 1st I went to the doctor, depressed as could be, since I was now in another month from when I was due. The doctor checked me out, and said, "You know, you could go into the new year." The new year!! I burst out crying and said, "I can't! I just can't!" He patted me on the knee and said it would all be fine. How did we survive in the days before the OB started you? They must have been as happy as women were when they finally invented that technology. Who wants a 10-month pregnant woman crying on your shoulder?

So, two days later Dee called on a snowy, cold afternoon, and asked if anything was happening. "No," I said, glumly. "OK. I'm selling a house tonight, so I won't be home until about 8." No problem, I told him. At the very second I hung up the phone, I felt the tale-tale tightening band in my back that finished in a doozy of a labor pain. No cell phones, of course. The kids were in the tub, and too little to get out and dress themselves. So I called my neighbor.

Cute Merlene. She came and took care of the kids, fixed them dinner and timed my pains. They were stronger and coming every five minutes. She was terrified, but I wanted to wait for Dee. We agreed that she'd have her husband bring her two kids over so she could tend them all. Her hubby, Jim could take me to the hospital if Dee wasn't home by 7:30, or if the pains got to two minutes apart. The hospital was only a block away.

I had already had one baby without my husband (ROTC summer camp) and I did not want to repeat that experience. Especially with Merlene's husband holding my hand. It was very stressful. Her husband was more anxious to take me than to tend all the kids, so there was a "discussion" going on between them while I was writhing around, and reassuring my kids that I was fine. It felt very old-fashioned. Maybe I'd deliver on the kitchen table where my dad was born, with my toddlers observing the whole process. I was reaching the stage of "I don't care....just get this baby out of me!!!"

Right at the exact moment of decision we heard the truck arrive. Merlene opened the door, and told Dee what was happening, they loaded me in and then stayed with the kids, while Dee sped me to people who knew what to do. They put me in a wheelchair, and ran me upstairs, where I was checked, and they immediately said it was show time. Dee was still filling out paper work and they yelled to him to get on his greens (his little pretend doctor outfit), and he ran down the hall to join me.

Micah made his appearance 10 minutes later. My other two babies had been breach and posterior (all-natural births in those days of my hippy life. I never understood why all the other hippies were doing drugs for no reason at all, and my version of the code was having no drugs even when you were birthing a child.) Because of the enormous pain of the two prior inconsiderate entries to the world, Micah became the official favorite kid. He just pretended he was on a luge run, and slid out in record speed. He was darling, perfect, and it was close to a painless delivery. Well worth the wait.

His name had been Seth, Issac, Benjamin, and Jakob (pronounced Ya-cope) over the months we discussed it. The middle name was always going to be Micah. (We were apparently really into Old Testament names at the time) but he just arrived as Micah, and the decision was made. Bag those other names, we had a Micah.

I got a private room for the first time, through a fluke of hospital planning, but it was delightful. It was at the time of the Spiro Agnew scandal, so there was plenty for a political junkie to watch on TV. Micah never cried. He was good natured from the first minute. He laid in my arms while I bit the bottom out of every chocolate in the box searching for a good one, and we watched history play out on the screen dangling from the ceiling.

Dee told me he was moving us into our house. When the baby and I were released, Dee drove us straight to our new digs. Somehow I pictured being carried across the threshold into a perfectly clean, totally organized and decorated home-show type house.

Carrying me across the threshold was out. Dee couldn't carry me even in my pre-pregnancy phase: it was embarrassing to expect it, so I followed him in, carrying my diaper bag, my soggy baby and my now exhausted, soggy self. We headed directly for the bedroom. The bed was in pieces on the floor, with boxes stacked high on the bare, now dusty mattress. I changed the baby, and went into the bathroom. There was sawdust all over everywhere. I had to peel off the sticky labels on the faucets to turn on the water, which initially came out brown. The toilet had been used as a contractor's urinal for several months, and it was already stained and full of floating cigarette butts. The unpacking phase had only gotten as far as hauling boxes in and setting them down on any available floor space.

As this sorted itself out over a couple of days, I got calls from friends anxious to see our new little guy and our new house. I was dying to show it all off. Everyone already had houses, so I was late to the game, but mine was a new house, which had a little edge over theirs. Plus I had upped the ante, with 3 kids to their 2, so it was time to gloat.

I insisted Dee take the kids and get our first real Christmas tree, for our first real house. He said he wanted a living tree. Great! I didn't want pink aluminum, either. When he arrived back, with snow blowing in as he rolled the big stand (it turned out to be a giant pot filled with dirt) into our beautifully prepared living room, I was imagining a giant tree to match the pot. He turned it over and I thought the tree must have fallen out. There was only one skinny branch sticking out of the 3 foot high pot. No pine tree aroma, fresh needles falling off, crisp branches warming up and falling into a lovely triangle shape. The one branch we had was the tree. It was the trunk which was attached to enough roots buried in the dirt to grow a forest. Apparently, this was the living tree I had agreed to, which would later be planted in our yard in fond memory of the lovely Christmas we spent under it's branches----er, stick.

Picture this tree, half the size, with mostly the trunk and a couple of branches; the pot was bigger.

How embarrassing. To have all my friends come to greet the new baby and tour the new house, and have to explain that the (3 foot in circumference) pot of dirt which took up my entire living room, was my Christmas tree. We draped some icicles over the trunk, and luckily Micah was darling enough to keep their attention. This was my first experience with post-partum depression, and I don't think it had much to do with child birth.

I had been scared about life with 3 kids. Two was hard enough, but semi-manageable, but three was going to put a cog in the wheels. I hadn't counted on Micah being the third kid. He was smiley, observant, and funny. When he could barely crawl, Josh would carefully spread his blankey out on the floor. Micah would inch over and tweak the perfect edge, by turning over a corner. Josh would scream and Micah would laugh. He'd figured out how to tease all on his own. Sports teams (the boys that played in the circle) and women (the girl who showed him her underpants at recess) begged him to be their friend from the time he could talk.

As I was telling him off for a major character flaw, he looked up and said, in a totally serious tone, "Mom, you're beautiful when you're angry." Thirty years later I still smile when I remember that line. It's STILL working.

When any of our kid exhibit strange qualities, we always blame it on the other parent. "Yeah, he's a lot like you in that odd behavior." We've each claimed Micah as our clone. We would proudly accept any of his personality traits as our own. He's a gem.

This post has taken so long, that it's not even his birthday anymore. But I've been celebrating his birth the whole time. Happy Birthday, Micah!! You are the Christmas Gift that keeps on giving. Kind of like a tiny living Christmas tree that is now part of the landscape of our lives giving beauty and comfort all year long. You were definitely worth the wait!!!