Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Goal

"I dare you, while there is still time, to have a magnificent obsession."
--William Danforth

Thursday, December 30, 2010

What do you want to have happen?

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

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Planning Ahead

"The question is not can you make a difference?
You already do make a difference.
It's just a matter of what kind of difference you want to make."
---Julia Butterfly Hill

Monday, December 27, 2010

Happiness Project

Now and then it's good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Part of the Gift: Day after Christmas

Art by Eloise Wilkin

An African child listened carefully as her teacher explained why Christians give presents 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 little girl brought the teacher a seashell of lustrous beauty. "Where did you 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 she named the place, a certain bay several miles away, the teacher was speechless. "Why, it’s gorgeous . . . wonderful, but you shouldn’t have walked that long distance for a gift for me." Her eyes brightening, the girl 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."

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Did he come yet?

Wow! That was fast.

He's already in my rear-view mirror.

Hope your Christmas is merry and bright!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas 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—it's where I come from.

All Illustrations by Richard Cowdrey

Snow glittered in the late afternoon sun after a snow storm. We made snow angels in the backyard as lacy snowflakes floated from the sky, and wished the deep, fluffy powder would hold shape for snowballs. It caught in my eyelashes and melted on my tongue.

Leggings weren't made of spandex, and they weren't form fitting in those days. Mine matched my coat—red wool—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 my mittens, and our mountain powder snow didn't feel quite as cold then as it does now. My hat had a little brim in the front, with itchy earmuffs that tickled where they tied under my chin. Red rubber boots (with metal buckles on the front) 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 dining 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. Maybe I'm just dreaming, but Childhood seems filled with laughter. I think that's why I want to visit at 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."

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 22, 2010

We're On Our Way!

♫ Santa Claus is comin' to town! ♫

"Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit another city."

—George Burns

Arizona Heroes

"And being able to visit."

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Monday, December 20, 2010

Entertaining Angels

"Refugees from Eastern European countries need a Christmas."

I heard this announcement on the radio in November, 1982, and called for information. Maybe we could help.

Our Sub-for-Santa tradition started on our second Christmas. Dee was in school, we lived in a tiny trailer with a new baby; 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, also as poor as could be, but miserable. Anonymously we left a couple of presents and a small 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, and over the years the kids earned money and bought a gift for a child in the family we were assigned. Just before Christmas we cleaned out closets and toy boxes, and spiffed up items that were in good condition, but outgrown. Some years we could afford more, sometimes less, but we always had enough to share.

It was important that the families kept their dignity, and knew we respected them. We didn't want to intrude, or inject ourselves into their holiday, either. Santa does his work quickly and quietly and disappears, and we were his substitutes. It pleased us that the kids didn't pass judgment on the people we visited, and we talked about how to be friendly to strangers who usually felt awkward and embarrassed.

Since our kids were always part of the planning and earning process, we wanted them to experience the actual giving as well. They were always 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 duplex 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 in the living room providing a bit of privacy. They were Vietnamese refugees, and nobody spoke English. We were directed to the kitchen 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 smiled nervously at the people sitting on the floor staring at them. Micah (who had just turned eight) stuck out his hand to shake hands with a very elderly man, and said, "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 from Europe with nothing, and needed Christmas early.

The Hlinovski's had escaped from Czechoslovakia. There were two children, and the parents were both doctors. The father in the Paslowski 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.

The adults 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 carried our offerings of toys, pajamas and food into an apartment that was almost empty. Three children and their parents had been sleeping on the floor under newspapers for a week. There was a card table, but not a single chair or piece of furniture. A crucifix hung in the living room, and they had the clothes on their backs. 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, a couch and card table. They had been in Utah a couple of weeks and had some acquaintances in the city, so their situation wasn't as desperate, but they were in need of more than we expected.

On the way home we decided to keep the kids out of school the next day. Providing basic necessities was going to take some effort. After a few phone calls to neighbors and family, we sent the kids off to collect blankets, towels, groceries and clothing.

Dee borrowed a truck and he and the boys went to Deseret Industries to purchase some used furniture. We had two old beds, so they loaded them up while the girls and I cleaned out our closets to find everything from coats to quilts. After seeing their condition, it was almost sickening to realize how much extra stuff we had.

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

At the Czech home, they offered us beer and biscuits. We turned down the beer, so they made 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. Our kids bravely drank (chewed) the thick, bitter concoction and ate leetle keeks, which turned out to be cookies.

The young Polish mom sat and cried as we carried in our old scratched up coffee table, and the wobbly bunk beds. 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 three) ran and hid in the drapes, but she chased after him and scooped him up to kiss him on each cheek.

We lost track of both families by spring. I'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.

Illustrations from: The Truth About Santa, Green Tiger Press

"Be not forgetful to entertain strangers:
for thereby some have entertained angels unawares."
—Hebrews 13:2

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas Priorities

It's a Wonderful Life

"The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing."

Sometimes my Christmas packages are tied up with guilt—the zest I had on Thanksgiving starts to seep out until I feel like a tired balloon. So many people to see, so many places to be, so many things to make and bake and take. It's a challenge to focus and choose: things I'd hoped to do don't get done, friends get checked off my to-do list like chores, and I have to turn off the Christmas music to concentrate on finding a parking place. The Grinch is stalking me.

I get defensive when I feel guilty, and I start arguing my case in my mind (although it sometimes spills out) justifying myself to myself. And, as always when there's any kind of contention, the Spirit of Christmas leaves. It's time to check my list of priorities:

What do I want to have happen?
  1. I want to remember the baby Jesus, the grown up Jesus, and the lessons He taught about how to find joy in living, and peace of mind.
  2. I want to communicate love, encouragement and support to my husband, kids and grandkids—all thirty-five of them—in an unhurried way.
  3. I want to share my heritage with them.
  4. I want to slow down and bask in the beauty of the season.
  5. AND . . . I want to see old aunts, new nephews, cousins, siblings, friends, neighbors; send cards, go caroling, frost cookies, listen to Handel's Messiah; write an Oma book, shop, wrap presents, read Christmas books . . .
Checking my priority list has calmed me down. Scrooge isn't out to get me and that lump of coal thing doesn't apply just because I can't do it all. There will still be life after Christmas. For now, the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. (A silent night can bring joy to my world, if I let it.)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Swedish Christmas Traditions

Marty's Rice Pudding Recipe
Salt Lake Tribune, 1980

Today is Lucia Day, which (as all Svenska tjejer know) is the beginning of Christmas. Rice pudding is traditional with an almond tucked into the creaminess. (Whoever gets the almond will have good luck in the coming year.) Once I won a newspaper contest with this delicious baked version.

Marty's Rice Pudding
  • 6 eggs
  • 3 Tablespoons honey
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cups milk
  • 3 cups cooked rice
Beat eggs until lemony in color. Add honey, sugar and spices; mix well. Stir in vanilla, cream, milk and cooked rice. Pour into a two-quart casserole. Bake at 325 degrees for 45-60 minutes until a knife comes out clean. (A custard rises to the top.)

Saint Lucia could serve the warm pudding with rolls and cocoa. She's another Swedish tradition.

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 have done it for centuries—singed hair is the price of our heritage. There are many versions of the Lucia legend. This is the one I've passed down:

Saint Lucia and the Star Boys

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.

For me, St. Lucia 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.

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

God yul!

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Christmas Carol

and then close your eyes for a surprise.
There now, don't you feel restored?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Sending Christmas Kisses

A Christmas Oma Package
  1. Packet of cocoa mix (with baby marshmallows) for each kid
  2. One package of candy cane Hershey Kisses
  3. A note that says "Have a kiss in your cocoa from us!"
Tuck it all in a padded envelope decorated with Christmas stickers, and send it off while blowing kisses to faraway kids of any age. You'll get some blown back to you, I promise! (They'll taste like chocolate mint. Yum!)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Twinkly Wrinkles

♫ It's always fun when Grandpa comes,
When Grandpa comes, hooray!
He always says the kindest things,
And in the kindest way. ♫
He has a wrinkly, twinkly smile,
♫ He's jolly all the day . . .
It's always fun for everyone
When Grandpa comes. ♫

And when does he come? On Christmas! When I remember Christmas Past, my grandpas are always there.

Christmas 1959

Grandpa Lundgren lived in a gingerbread kitchen with Grandma and his dog, Tuffy. Of course, there was more to their house than the kitchen, but in the winter, that's the room that warmed me in spite of the cold linoleum floor.

Mormon grandpas don't usually drink coffee, but my grandpa did, and he dipped sugar cubes in his cup and popped them on my tongue when Mom wasn't around. I'd learned in Sunday School that we shouldn't smoke, or drink alcohol, tea or coffee. So I asked, "Why does Grandpa drink coffee?" Mom replied, "Well, he's Swedish." (I guess they got a special dispensation.)

Dinner at Grandma's 1960

I knew I was Grandpa Bagley's favorite because I was left-handed. (Sorry everyone, but I was.) For Christmas dinner he set our places with the silverware backwards and then he and I sat next to each other admiring how skilled we were in a right-handed world. Grandma bragged about his left-handed penmanship and showed me the love letters he'd sent her before they were married.

A letter to Adelila from Hawley, sent in 1918.

My Loving Sweetheart and Little Pet:

I get so used to receiving notes from you everyday, that I was lost when one failed to arrive this morning. Lover, I can't help missing them, but pet, it's now only a little over a week until we will be together again.

Darling, I don't know how I'll act to see you once more. I never supposed a man could miss anyone on earth like I have missed you. Do you get tired of me writing nothing but this same old stuff every time? Lover, I'm afraid you might sometimes, but there is nothing here to write about.

With a whole heart full of love, kisses, and a big squeeze,
I am always your only,

She was twenty years old, teaching school for $60 a month in Lava Hot Springs, Idaho, and he was seventeen, starting law school at the University of Utah.

I was lucky to know both my grandpas, but I didn't learn all they had to teach me. That's why I was thrilled when Erin Bried sent me her new book: How to Build a Fire, and Other Handy Things Your Grandfather Knew.

Erin interviewed grandfathers across the country, all of whom survived the Great Depression and served during World War II, to discover some essential life skills. Her book has fabulous chapters on:
  • How to split firewood
  • How to read animal tracks
  • How to paint a room
  • How to strip wooden furniture
  • How to change the oil
  • How to comfort a loved one
  • How to bounce back after failure
  • How to get a raise
  • How to find self-confidence
  • How to shake hands
  • How to shoot pool
  • How to iron a shirt
  • How to banish monsters under the bed
  • How to make beef jerky
  • How to make root beer
  • How to play the harmonica
  • How to apologize
  • and lots more
Everything you've wanted to know but had no one to ask.

These guys were proud to share their amazing stories and incredible advice. One of the grandfathers told Erin, "Modesty is overrated."

If you have a grandpa come over for Christmas, ask him how he shines his shoes. If you are a grandpa, show off your turkey carving skills. And if you need some great pointers, give somebody Erin's book.

Grandpas know how to put a twinkle in a wrinkle!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Christmas is Light

The snow was glistening in the sunshine when I sat down by the window with my book. I got so caught up in the story, and it happened so gradually, I didn't even notice the sun going down, and the shadows that crept into the room. Mom walked past a while later and asked, "Why are you sitting here in the dark?" and then she flipped on a light.

The action and suspense of my everyday drama sometimes takes over and I lose sight of the Son. Shadows creep in and I start to dim out. Luckily Christmas comes along and turns on the light.

Everything looks brighter!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Nativity Play

Kids Nativity Play

Last year I made an Oma Nativity Kit. It contained 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 fit in a $7.00 Rubbermaid box from Target.) Here my how-to for a family nativity play.

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

Kids are the stars of Christmas

The Nativity Scenery Committee got 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.) They stuck on the stars to make scenery that looked like a night sky. Two of the scenery people held up the scenery during the play.

The Impromptu Nativity Choir practiced 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 cut the material into 45"x 45" squares (roughly, depending on the width) and then cut a hole in the middle for a head. The actors 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, we had a several cows as well as a camel, a donkey and two lambs in the cast.

We're short on short people in our group, so a few adults had 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 were for head coverings and belts to hold them on. Mary wore a silk scarf draped over her head. I twisted some gold pipe-cleaners together and made a halo for the angel. She wore white and carried a star, made by gluing a large yellow foam star to a dowel.

All illustrations by Wendy Edelson from One Baby Jesus.

Props included 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. Last year we had a real baby, so a fleece covered his car-seat which was the manger.

So, when everybody was dressed and standing in their places, with the artistic scenery behind them, we were 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.

♫ Away in a manger ♫
no crib for a bed,
The little Lord Jesus laid down his wee head, ♫

♫ The stars in the heaven looked down where he lay ♫
The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay. ♫

♫ Sleep in Heavenly Peace . . .♫

Friday, December 3, 2010

Letter to Santa

Dear Santa,

Can you leave extra presents for the people who write the blogs I read, and read the blogs I write?



Thursday, December 2, 2010

Christmas is Kindness

Illustration by Mary Englebreit

Emma 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. Emma recognized Jonathan, 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. Emma 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 Emma's doorstep. She put her oldest daughter in charge of her own five children until their father came home, then she 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. Emma 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 Emma had tended to her responsibilities, she sat down in a chair close to the fire, rocking the baby 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 Emma 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.

Emma 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 Emma 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 1, 2010

Movie Night

"We're not really into Harry Potter," we told Christie.
"You'll love this movie, I promise," she promised.

An adult's only theater?

Our usher first showed us how to use the seat buttons:
(relax, recline, heat back or tush.)

Then he gave us our menus.

Waiters were on call throughout the evening,
with gelato, ravioli, artichokes . . .
all the usual movie fare.

Christie was right. We loved the movie!

We never figured out the Harry Potter thing, though.