Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Goal

Dee 2010

Dee was checking the progress of his soup. Feeling reflective, I was rummaging around for purpose and meaning in life. I asked him, "What should be our goal for the new year?"

He suddenly twirled around the kitchen in his socks, struck a familiar pose and started to sing his answer:

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

Good goal, Dear!

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

Friday, December 30, 2011

Set Your Own Pace!

"Is there really a human race? Is it going on now, all over the place?"

At twenty I started out at my own steady pace.

At thirty I ran faster. I was losing face.

At forty I stumbled late in the day.

At fifty the finish line seemed further away.

At sixty I wonder:
How long is this race, anyway?

Do you ever feel you're running faster than you can?

Years ago a well-meaning teacher set a goal for herself and included the whole class in her challenge. She was going to do a good deed, something extra, outside her normal responsibilities, every day. Each week she passed around a sheet to sign if we'd met the goal, which even included a place to record how many "service hours" we'd given. I was totally caught up in what became a contest to be "the most charitable woman."

Looking back I realize how nutty this was. I had a husband, seven kids and a dog at home who needed to be fed. Bedraggled plants begged for water from their macrame hangers; the dryer beeped endlessly; the closets glared messily, all calling for my attention. Teenagers sat in class every Sunday expecting a lesson, and great-grandmas called, wondering when I was coming to visit. Birthday cakes, haircuts, ear-aches, dance lessons, science projects—none of these counted as good deeds. They were my normal responsibilities.

Although I was running as fast as I could go, I felt like a failure because my to-do list left good deed unchecked more often than not. When the weekly sign-up sheet came around to me, I was embarrassed to pass it on, knowing I looked pretty uncharitable with my meager service hours.

Years later I was in a class on budgeting. The teacher cautioned us about living beyond our means—spending more than we had. Suddenly it dawned on me: I have 24 hours a day. Circumstances already claimed most of them. Setting goals with time I don't have is living beyond my means. One woman's finish line had become my stumbling block.

Misty wrote a cute post about her New Year's Resolutions, reflecting on the baby books she hasn't started since her twins were born. But how many baths has she given? How many late nights and early mornings has she put in? She probably doesn't even have time to count the appointments to the obstetrician, and then the pediatrician, that have kept her kids healthy. Misty's running a different race right now, pushing a triple jogging stroller at full speed.

Don't despair young moms. Someday your course will lead back to your baby books. In the meantime, give yourself a breather, and skip once in a while.

There's no human race. The run itself is the pay.

(Where am I going in such a rush, anyway?)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Be a Star!

Heroes at Reunion, 1983

Have you ever stopped to count the people in your audience? There's lots of admirers watching your performance in life, and you're pleasing a lot of folks. Did you do a bit of good in the world today? Did you cheer someone up? Did you lift someone out of their doldrums for even a minute? The shouts and clapping might be silent to your ears, but they're happening just the same. Look around at YOUR audience. You've got some fans! Give them your best.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

What Do You Want to Have Happen?

Illustration by Esther Wilkin

It's Time!

In my planner, calendar and journal I scribble a code when I organize a project or target an objective: wdywthh? Asking myself What do you want to have happen? is my most effective method of setting goals. Let me illustrate.

A common goal might be: Don't eat dessert. The first time I fudged I'd be disappointed, the second time I'd be discouraged, and the third time I'd be a failure. And, as a failure, I'd stop trying.

With the wdywthh? method I'd state the goal differently: I want to feel good about myself. There are many ways to accomplish this goal. I always list some ideas. For instance: have the Lancome lady teach me how to do my eye make-up; change the color of my hair; exercise; don't eat dessert; smile at myself in the mirror; read something uplifting every day. Doing anything that makes me feel good about myself gives me a charge, and I have a better chance of achieving success.

Last year I wrote:

Wdywthh? I want to forgive myself for not looking like I did when I was eighteen. Some ideas:
  1. Dress the body I have. (If I like how I look, I'll have more incentive to take care of myself.)
  2. Stay active. Enjoy all the things my body still lets me do.
Wdywthh? I want my family to be strong. Some ideas:
  1. Communicate support to each individual whenever I can, however I can.
  2. Rejoice in the fact that they are conscientious and capable. Let them know how proud I am of their contribution to their world.
  3. Respect their responsibilities and step back so I'm not in their way.
  4. Keep in touch with each kid and grandkid and keep them informed about each other. Be positive, sensitive, and tactful when talking to (and about) them.
I use this formula to plan family activities, trips, furniture arrangement, gift buying . . . it works for everything!

Furniture arranging: Do I want to encourage conversation, have a couple of reading nooks or make it easy to play games? Instead of randomly setting chairs here or there, I know what I want to have happen, and prepare the room for that activity.

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 organize a talent show. How will the kids 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 a different way of thinking that helps me recognize what my goal actually is.

The other part of my New Year's planning is writing a Mission Statement. I always start it out with
  1. "My life has meaning, purpose and direction because . . ." and then I elaborate on that.
  2. I continue with "I am dedicated to . . ."
  3. "I find joy in . . ."
  4. I list "Qualities I value and want to develop."
  5. 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 2012?
It's time to make a plan!

Monday, December 26, 2011

What Did You Give?

Art by Eloise Wilkin

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

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

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

Sunday, December 25, 2011

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 23, 2011

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 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.)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Call the Doctor!

"My hormones are skeewampus," I told the doctor. "I have too much testosterone. I think I might be turning into a man."

He rolled his eyes and I could tell what he thought of women who diagnose themselves on the Internet. "Let's run a few tests," he said. After a battery of blood tests his nurse called and said, "Everything else seems normal, but your testosterone is abnormally high. (Really?) The doctor wants you to see an endocrinologist." (Why? Am I becoming a man?)

The next week I visited an endocrinologist. His interview was thorough: "How did your maternal grandmother's paternal grandfather die?" and "Did your father's grandfather ever have an irregular heartbeat?" Do people actually know this stuff?? Then he gave me a sheet of instructions to take to the lab.

"This is a butt-load of tests!" said the technician. "He'll find something for sure." Then she drew eighteen tubes of blood. "What's he looking for?" I asked. "Everything," she answered. "Does he think I'm becoming a man?" I asked. "One of these tests will tell him," she said.

I went in for the results on Monday. He didn't have everything he needed, he said, so he scheduled me for two MRI's and an echo-cardiogram on Tuesday, and another three blood tests on Wednesday (today.) It was not a reassuring visit. He suspected adrenal or ovarian cancer, and wanted my heart checked out in case I needed immediate surgery.

After the echo-cardiogram the cardiologist informed me I have a thick heart. After scaring me to death with questions and explanations, he told me not to worry. He wrote a prescription, scheduled a follow-up test and patted my hand. "You'll do fine," he said. "But I'd be concerned about a surgery." (So would I, buddy; so would I.)

It was time for the MRI's. I took my prescribed Xanax ("chew it so it will work faster," the lady at the desk told me) and I was strapped on a table. Another technician put earphones on me to block out the loud noise and I was rolled into a long tube barely wide enough to fit me. I kept my eyes closed for the first few minutes, and then when a voice spoke my name, I accidentally opened them. Three inches above my nose was the top of the tube—not a pleasant sensation for a claustrophobe!

The Xanax must have kicked in, because although I thought I was awake, I don't remember much until the guy said, "only five more minutes, Martha." I counted to sixty five times, slowly, (hoping I wouldn't totally lose it and start screaming) and then they pulled me out. He said I'd been in there for over an hour! I was panicked on several levels.

This morning I had to fast, and have three blood tests taken an hour apart, drinking horrible stuff in between. By the time I was through with that, I was weak, bleak and freaked. Dee told me I ought to go shopping (that usually cures me of anything) but I thought, "Why? I'm probably going to die soon. What will they do with my new clothes?"

It's been a roller-coaster of a week. Tonight the doc called and said there were no masses to indicate adrenal or ovarian cancer. I have what appears to be a non-malignant ovarian cyst which could be causing high testosterone levels. He said it happens to lots of women. (Finally he acknowledged that I haven't become a man.) So tomorrow I'm going shopping.

He's sending me back to the original doctor to treat my high testosterone.
I've been checking things out on the Internet.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Writing Dawn til Dusk

Yesterday morning I woke up with an idea for an Oma book. I sat down immediately and started writing the story. Six hours later I realized I was still in my nightgown and probably hadn't even eaten. I love it when I'm inspired. This came together like it had been hovering around my mind waiting for me to invite it in.

It's an autobiographical kids book about saying bad things to people you love. I got it written in about six hours (it's twenty pages long, kid's style) so then I started illustrating it with photos—finding them, tweaking the exposure, scanning, changing them to black and white,cropping them just right, laying them out on the pages. That took from 3:pm this afternoon to right now (2:am) and I have to say I'm pleased. I used photos of our grandkids to illustrate it, plus photos of me and my siblings and parents back in the day when I was at my bratty peak.

This will be an expose' of my own bad behavior and encouragement to improve our own—their own—it will apply to anyone who has trouble thinking over everything they say before they say everything they think.

I'm excited about it! I hope my little grands will learn from my experience and never say a naughty, mean, rude thing all their lives. I'm sending the PDF to the printer in the morning and hopefully I'll have a cute little Oma book to give for Christmas. I'll show it off to you sometime this week!

Tomorrow it's Christmas card design, print, address and mail, plus design and send my scrapbook page for my kids, for our round-robin exchange. I'm psyched to be getting it done, but I'm freaked because I only have a few more days! It's all fun stuff though, so it feels like a party all day long every day. And now, although I've never been drunk in my life, I feel totally drunk on words and I feel spacey and I need to go to bed! Or you'll really see my writing skills go wild—when my ambien kicks in I'm out of control.

Merry Christmas week and I hope you finish all your projects and still have time to sit down by the tree and just look at it and remember important, touching Christmases past.

Do you have time to comment on what your big plans are?
I'm anxious to hear!!!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christmas Scenes

The Griswold's House

How do you picture the perfect Christmas?

I loved this talk by Dieter F. Uchtdorf:

"Sometimes it seems that our efforts to have a perfect Christmas season are like a game of Jenga ... each of those little wooden blocks is a symbol of the perfect Christmas we so desperately want to have. We have in our minds a picture of how everything should be; the perfect tree, the perfect lights, the perfect gifts and the perfect family party. We might even want to re-create some magical moment we remember from Christmases past, and nothing short of perfection will do.

"Sooner or later, something unpleasant occurs; the wooden blocks tumble, the drapes catch fire, the turkey burns, the sweater is the wrong size, the toys are missing batteries, the children quarrel, the pressure rises; and the picture-perfect Christmas we had imagined, the magic we had intended to create, shatters around us. As a result, the Christmas season is often a time of stress, anxiety, frustration and perhaps even disappointment."

"When we set aside our expectations of perfection, we will see Christmas in details around us. It is usually something small; we read a verse of scripture, we hear a sacred carol and really listen, perhaps for the first time, to its words, or we witness a sincere expression of love. In one way or another, the Spirit touches our hearts, and we see that Christmas, in its essence, is much more sturdy and enduring than the many minor things we often use to adorn it."

You must hear the rest of his talk!
To watch this Christmas devotional, click here.

Here are a few details from scenes that have lit up the Christmas season for me:

Long-lost cousins.

My own personal St. Lucia.

Displaying old decorations in a new place.


Plays, recitals and Christmas concerts.

Meeting the stars after the show.

What are the Christmas scenes you'll remember from this year?

(Here's some ideas of where to look:)

  1. The dreaded family Christmas party will be better than you think.
  2. Drop in on a grade-school program and you'll leave jolly, I promise!
  3. Send a note to a friend from your past and remind him (and yourself) what was special about your friendship.
  4. Listen to some old Christmas CD's (Oakridge Boys, John Denver, Peter,Paul and Mary do it for me.)
  5. Bake that cake your mom used to make and tell your kids how you got your tongue caught in the beater.
  6. After you hear the whole Dieter F. Uchtdork talk, consider how you'd react with love if your darling four-year-old set your house on fire Christmas Eve.
  7. Look up Luke chapter 2 in the Holy Bible. Read it out loud to someone, or have them read it to you. Listen for the words, but notice the majesty of the language and feel the Holy Ghost testify that the story is true.
  8. Write a letter to a teacher/friend/frenemy? who you could thank for something.

Leave us an idea to make someone's Christmas' better
(which is guaranteed to make ours better.!)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Random Musings

Els Mere Village

I've spent a lot of time in a foreign land lately. Kirby Puckernut lives on WordPress, and they speak a different language over there. After I post on Kirby's blog, I come back to Blogger whispering "There's no place like home, there's no place like home . . ." The icons along the top of the page are familiar, the publish post button is colorful, and save now is easy to find. Images don't jump randomly through the text, but land neatly where I want them to go.

My website is on Square Space, and I feel like a stranger there, too. It's a different culture. I love Blogger—plain old Blogger, not the new version. Why do they keep updating everything? Gmail changed things around just after I got comfortable, and Google Reader has a disappearing navigation system now. I'm an old dog and new tricks are confusing.

I'm getting tired of my ghosting gig. Writing is its own reward and I love putting words together, but it's difficult to write in another person's voice and wonder the whole time if I'm getting it right. Because they get the feedback, I never know. So far, however, people are more willing to pay me when my name's not on it. Just like William Porter—he was an ex-con and nobody wanted his name on stuff either. So he signed his work O. Henry. I guess Kirby Puckernut can work for me.

Since I pose as an elf, I did a little elfing myself today.

Oma's traditional Open Me Now package,
filled with trinkets, activity pages, stickers and bubblegum,
hit the assembly line.

Opa hit the post office line.

Back to my original theme: I love Blogger, I love blogging. And I love you for reading my blog, (even when it's totally random.)

Visit Kirby's blog
(See how music saved one family's Christmas.)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Our First Christmas Morning

Our 8' x 35' home, and our VW Bug, 1969

As newlyweds we never noticed how cold it got in our trailer at night. Christmas morning we woke up to find our shower curtain frozen into it's folds. The moisture had turned to ice! To save money, we left our coal oil furnace off, so Dee jumped out of bed to light it while I stayed snug under the covers. I told him to open his first Christmas present before he lit the fire: his new extra-long matches (in a decorative box) took up residence on top of the "fireplace" as objects d' art.

When the room warmed up, we made hot chocolate with candy canes, and freshly whipped cream, and Dee lit the candles on the tree (which was dry and a huge fire hazard.) A tiny stash of presents was piled underneath. Although we'd set a $10 budget, both of us had overspent. Dee gave me a book of Bruegel art, a slip of ivory lace, and a small hymn book. Besides the matches, Dee got some 4711 Cologne, a collage of our memories, and a red flannel nightshirt that I had made. (He only wore the nightshirt once because it stuck to the sheets, and turned them red.)

Our first Christmas, 1969

The opening ceremonies took about five minutes. Part of me wanted to rush home to my parent's warm family room where a giant tree glittered and a real fireplace roared. Dad would be passing out presents for an hour, and Mom would be fixing a lavish buffet, and I could be a kid in receiving mode. But this year I was not a kid anymore—I was a wife with a home of my own and it was our first Christmas as a family.

Dee's enthusiasm for all our firsts made them fun: I cherish that about him. He has always put our family above anyone or anything else; since the day we were married his goal has been to strengthen and unify our little (now big) family. At first I would have been happy to play house, but return to my parent's home several times a week to enjoy their TV, refrigerator, and full-size tub. About a month after we were married I remember thinking, "Well, this was fun, but I want to go home where Mom does the dirty laundry, and Dad makes the scary decisions." I realize that we would have stagnated that way. It would have diminished our shaky self confidence, and kept our fledgling abilities unnoticed and unnecessary. I'm glad it was only a fleeting thought, because those attributes needed opportunity and reason to grow—too much supervision or hovering would have smothered them.

One of our great thrills 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 spouse brings into the mix and what ideas they come up with together (Anna). (Click the links to see their versions of our traditions.) I love hearing that somebody celebrates St. Nickolas Day (Gabi) and that somebody else remembers our George Bailey Award (Marta). They also incorporate new traditions such as the Nutcracker Ballet, sleigh riding or cooking their own fancy dinner on Christmas Eve.

We decided long ago that we would never put pressure on our kids to split their time equally, or keep track of on and off years. Now they have extra sets of parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents they want to fit around the traditions they're trying to establish in their homes. Our main gift is to take the pressure off, support their decisions, and enjoy being together in whatever configuration works best that year. Our old traditions have served their purpose, and now there are seven unique families we try to strengthen in whatever way they need—by being there, having them over, or giving them space.

Someone said, "Your traditions must not mean as much to you as mine do to me." I answered that as fun as our traditions have been, they have evolved over time. I want the tradition to work for the family, rather than the family have to work for the tradition. Although Swedish thin hot cakes were our favorite tradition for Christmas breakfast, trying to wedge in a thinny between breakfast and brunch (at three different houses, hauling three babies) seems ridiculous. The thinny won't have its feelings hurt and neither will I! "We'll be thrilled to see you anytime" has become our new holiday tradition.

Memories are worth making. I'm so glad our stubbornness in establishing that first Family Christmas in our trailer overrode my mom's heartbreak, my homesickness, and Dee's granny's disappointment. We established some traditions that year that have lasted 42 years—mainly that our marriage made us a family, and no matter how inexperienced we were, strengthening our family was our main responsibility as long as they were ours. Some year we would see them leave to establish their own family, and we would stand back and let them go. We each get our own turn—the Christmas of 1969 taught me that.

Monday, December 12, 2011

St. Lucia Day

Marty's Rice Pudding Recipe
Salt Lake Tribune, 1980

Tomorrow 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.

TravelinOma'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!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Yes Mom, There is a Santa

Art by Norman Rockwell

Today my alter ego, Kirby Puckernut, wrote a post answering the question "Is Santa Claus real?" (Personally, I've never doubted.) I love the true story of a little eight-year-old girl who wrote to the New York Sun in 1897 asking the same question.

“Quite naturally I believed in Santa Claus," said Virginia O'Hanlon. "He had never disappointed me. But when less fortunate little boys and girls said there wasn’t any Santa Claus, I was filled with doubts. I asked my father, and he was a little evasive on the subject.

“It was a habit in our family that whenever any doubts came up as to how to pronounce a word or some question of historical fact was in doubt, we wrote to the Question and Answer column in The Sun. Father would always say, ‘If you see it in the The Sun, it’s so,’ and that settled the matter.

“ ‘Well, I’m just going to write The Sun and find out the real truth,’ I said to father.

“He said, ‘Go ahead, Virginia. I’m sure The Sun will give you the right answer, as it always does.’ ”

And so Virginia sat down and wrote her parents’ favorite newspaper.

Her letter found its way into the hands of a veteran editor, Francis P. Church. Son of a Baptist minister, Church had covered the Civil War for The New York Times and had worked on the The New York Sun for 20 years, more recently as an anonymous editorial writer. When controversal subjects had to be tackled on the editorial page, especially those dealing with theology, the assignments were usually given to Church.

Now, he had in his hands a little girl’s letter on a most controversial matter, and he was burdened with the responsibility of answering it.

“Is there a Santa Claus?” the childish scrawl in the letter asked. At once, Church knew that there was no avoiding the question. He must answer, and he must answer truthfully. And so he turned to his desk, and he began his reply which was to become one of the most memorable editorials in newspaper history.

Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus

By Francis P. Church, first published in The New York Sun in 1897.

Dear Editor—

I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.” Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?

Virginia O’Hanlon

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see . . .

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment . . . the eternal light of childhood that fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world . . .

Santa Claus! He lives and will live forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Kirby said that Santa is as real as you want him to be.
I want him to be very real!
(I can't imagine getting Christmas ready without him.)

What do you think?
How do you answer the question
"Is Santa Claus real?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Meeting Santa Claus

Marty and Santa Claus 1951

I sat on my dad's shoulders in a long line outside a tiny pavilion (near the statue in Sugar House) waiting for my turn. Cars and buses honked, surrounding our little island, and animated Christmas scenes decorated the Keith O'Brien store windows across the street—it must have been nighttime.

My coat and leggings were made of itchy red wool, and I sucked on the black velvet ribbon that tied under my chin. Santa Claus seemed scary and I cried at first, but the lady with the flashbulb held a candy cane that would be mine if I smiled for the camera. Meeting Santa Claus that year is my earliest memory—I was two. He must have made a good impression!

Do you remember meeting Santa?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

St. Nicholas Day

Some folks are just naturally merry.

Take St. Nicholas, for instance. Can you imagine him complaining about the cold? Or feeling sorry for himself because he works 24/7? He's a jolly old soul whose main goal in life is to make us smile.

Today is St. Nicholas Day. Children in Holland and Germany (and lots of other places) know that St. Nick is out and about, so they leave a carrot or apple in their shoe as a snack for the reindeer. When they wake up, the carrot has been replaced with a tiny thank-you surprise, and the season of giving is ushered in.

In honor of St. Nicholas Day, I'm thinking of people who always live life as if it were filled with twinkling lights, inspiring music, exciting adventure and endless promise. The ones that make my life better just by being part of it. Optimistic people, merry people.

A cute lady I know brightens a room whenever she enters, not because of her appearance but because of her attitude, her smile and her friendliness. She has lots of interests and is very interesting, but she still seems genuinely interested in me! Another friend always asks about everyone in my family, laughs about funny things I said years ago, and finds the best in any situation. Her enthusiasm is contagious; it's a gift I get whenever we're together.

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

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

As my St. Nicholas Day gift to you, I asked the jolly old man his secret. "I wink a lot," he said. Mmmm . . . maybe that's why he sees only the best in us. (Haven't you always wondered why he leaves presents whether you're naughty or nice?) He looks at the bright side: maybe that's why he's so merry!

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Long-Distance Grandparents

Homemade donuts

There are perks to having out-of-town kids.
For one thing, when you visit, you get in on breakfast.

Saturday morning treat.

The women in our family are fabulous cooks,
so we go from house to house and sample their specialties.

"Has anybody noticed you guys are twins?"

Micah's birthday was a perfect reason to drive to Denver. It's so fun to see our kids in their natural habitat! Although we love to have them at our house, at their house they're most comfortable being the people they've become.

I was chatting with Candice this morning while she made a meatloaf (wrapped in bacon!) The kids were upstairs getting ready for church and from the kitchen I could see each one go into their parent's bedroom and come out with Sunday outfits draped on a hanger. "Micah is the ironer," Candice said. "Every Sunday he presses everybody's clothes." This was their family in action, and we saw the details.

There are tons of advantages to having kids in town. I can watch the progression of a loose tooth, go to kindergarten programs and see Halloween costumes in person. We can bring each other soup, pop in to see the Christmas tree and know there's emergency help just a few minutes away.

But there are advantages to having faraway kids, too. Visits are condensed and intense--for a few days we see it all. Not only did we see Lauren's play, we saw her chattering nervously for hours before, and acting like a diva for hours after. Three kids have a piano recital tomorrow night and not only will we see the performance, we've enjoyed practice sessions all weekend. The boys shoveled a neighbor's driveway as a good deed, and were thrilled when she gave them $20. Their dad reminded them that a good deed is its own reward, and they willingly took the money back. These are details we don't see with our in-town kids, although I know they happen in their homes, too. Observing life close-up is compensation for missing out on the day-to-day.

The Colorado Cousins Club

Long before our kids grew up we imagined them living far and wide. Dee said we'd sell everything, buy an RV and travel around the country visiting one kid or another. In our old age we realized we prefer indoor to outdoor plumbing, and nobody wants us to live for months at a time in their driveway. So the RV idea was scuttled (grandkids and grandparents are preferable in small doses anyway.) But we're friendly with some faraway places because they've lived there: Minneapolis, Seattle, Yardley PA, Cleveland, Toledo, Denver, San Diego, Boston, St. Louis, Idaho Falls, Fountain Valley CA, and Phoenix.

It's great to be a traveling Oma!

How do you stay close to faraway loved ones?
(Here's an idea.)

Any long-distance Christmas ideas?
(Here's an easy one.)

I've already done all mine. Tell me some of yours!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Children's Nativity Play

Kids Nativity Play

(I'm repeating myself here—this is a post from 2008.)

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

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

Kids are the stars of Christmas

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

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

Shepherd costumes for one, or a whole herd.

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

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

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

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

All illustrations by Wendy Edelson from One Baby Jesus.

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

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

Short and Sweet Nativity Script

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

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

"Sleep in heavenly peace."