Wednesday, December 31, 2008
I am grateful for Christmas and the emotions it brings. I love the way it seems to bring out the best in others, I feel joy in giving, I feel gratitude in the sacrifices that others make in behalf of my family and myself, and certainly most important, I am grateful for the remembrance of the birth of our Savior and every wonderful blessing that that event entails.
However, each year as Christmas comes and goes, I am often left with a feeling of sadness. I hate to see it all end. Though I always vow I will try to keep “Christmas in my heart all year” it seems the feeling changes as sure as the season.
The New Year brings with it a time for setting goals and for me it’s one of the most depressing times of the year. I always attempt to change the impossible. Every year is the year (like every other year for the last ten or fifteen years) I want to lose 150 lbs. and to do that, I will stay away from everything but carrot sticks. That goal starts at midnight on Dec.31st and lasts clear up until I wake up on New Years Day and see what is still sitting on the kitchen table… all the yummy treats from our friends, family, and neighbors. I then make a vow to start as soon as I have polished off all the temptation before me. After all, I would hate to throw it all away. There are people who went to a lot of work and expense for us and it’d be really rotten of us to not eat it after all they did for us.
Then there is always the thought that haunts me and stops me from throwing anything away unnecessarily; in breaded in me from the days when my mother forced me to eat things on my plate that I thought were icky. “There are starving children in this world…" So, you see? You can’t just throw things away! Before I know it, there goes all my good intentions and rather than needing to lose 150 lbs., I have gained 150 more! I hated the whole “News Years Resolution” thing.
Until recently. I have done some thinking and I have changed my mind. Or rather, after a lot of thinking, I have decided it’s my attitude that needed some adjusting.
If I am going to pick goals that are impossible to achieve, I am destined to fail.
President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “Try a little harder to be a little better.” I can certainly do that. I can set smaller, reachable goals and feel good about what little success I can obtain rather than feel guilty and ashamed of myself for the continual failings with the impossible goals.
Rather than changing every single thing about me and planning to do an extreme makeover from the inside out, I can pick a few things and start there. Once I have accomplished them, I will go on to something else.
I realize that it’s not a new concept I am writing about here, but it’s a new concept for me to try. My problem is I tend to be a perfectionist. I want everything to change and I want it all done now. (I also tend to be a little impatient as well) I see too many imperfections with myself and I want them done away with immediately. Unfortunately, that’s just not realistic. No wonder I have set myself up to be destined for failure when it comes to goal setting.
So, this year I am going to do it different. This year I will try harder than ever to achieve what I set out to accomplish.
With a new attitude, I have set a few goals. With renewed hope, a new beginning of sorts, I look forward to working on each goal I have set. At the end of the year I want to look back-- maybe around Christmas, and think to myself that I did try to do as our Prophet said. I tried a little harder to be a little better and FINALLY I succeeded in my realistic goals.
Wish me luck ;)
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
First off, let me say that - forgive me - I am glad I don't live in America. I returned just a couple of hours ago from visiting relatives who live halfway across the country. This involved an exhausting four-hour drive. That's quite as far as I ever want to have to go in one day. My sympathies to those of you in the US of A who have relatives "out of state" and think nothing of a road trip lasting several days.
But what I really wanted to talk about was Gambling. Like any good Latter-day Saint, I don't gamble. Well, not much. I bought a raffle ticket as part of the entry requirement to a school fete earlier this month, and won a bottle of champagne which I then generously donated back to the school. I like to think they will re-raffle it, but suspect there was, in fact, some unnatural merriment in the staff room on the last day of term.
My other foray into the sin of gambling came in the latter part of last year. The jackpot to the Euro Lottery was up to £92 million (that's about $150 million I think) and finding myself in the Post Office with a pound in my pocket, I decided to indulge in the right to dream for a day, and I bought a ticket.
In my 24 hours of planning exactly how to spend such a huge sum, I discovered some interesting truths about myself. For example:
- However rich I was, there is no way I would ever have any plastic surgery.
- Similarly, I would never send my children to private schools (or public schools as we call them over here, just to confuse the Americans)
- I am nicer than I thought - the plans which most excited me were those involving anonymously paying off mortgages or giving large cash gifts to friends and deserving causes.
- However much money I had, I would never buy a brand new car. Probably a car that's one or two years old (as opposed to the twelve-year-old car I currently push around), but never something straight from the production line. I just couldn't face seeing it depreciate by half its value as I drove it off the forecourt.
- There are no houses currently for sale in my area - even with asking prices of over £1 million - which I like well enough to tempt me to leave the home I currently live in.
What I really learned about myself, then, is that I don't actually want or need £92 million. I think discovering that was well worth £1.
The punchline to this is that I won. I got four numbers out of the six, and won £6.10. So despite a considerable return on my investment for my foray into gambling, I shan't be doing that again. Hubby Dearest (who is an accountant, and thus genius) says that the National Lottery is "a tax on people who are bad at maths".
Here's a conundrum, though. I confessed my sin to the Bishop and he said that buying one lottery ticket was not a serious enough sin to keep me out of the Temple, unless I really felt that I was fixated with greed and love of money, and thus not worthy - not the case, I think. So I told him how much fun it would have been to write a cheque for tithing of £9.2 million, and he replied that he would have been unable to accept it since it was the proceeds of gambling. This means that at my next Temple Recommend interview, I would not be a full tithe-payer, and unable to enter the Temple. In other words, according to my warped logic, gambling is not a serious enough sin to keep you out of the Temple - what is really heinous is winning. (Don't all write to correct me at once.)
Anyway, I promise faithfully never to gamble again (unless it's the only way to get into the fete), however much I find myself longing to pay off your mortgage.
Monday, December 29, 2008
*If you mop your kitchen floor, someone will—before the sun sets—spill his juice.
Last year when we took a family snapshot for the Christmas cards (we didn’t take one this year—we haven’t changed that much), we combed our hair, dressed in sort-of-coordinated clothes and herded everyone into the backyard. We were, of course, operating under the regulations imposed by the Law of Family Photos, the first of which reads:
*In any photograph containing four or more people, a minimum of one person must, for any given shot, have a goofy look on his or her face.
We had seven people in our photo, five of whom aren’t old enough to vote, so we were definitely subject to this law. We took a bunch of pictures, downloaded them, and evaluated the results. Take your choice—the manic chipmunk look, the “we are not amused” look, the winking look, the hand-over-face look, the nearly-closed-eyes look and—my personal favorite—the Fish Lips. Apparently someone was getting bored, which brings up the Second Law of Family Photos:
*If you speak the words “Just stand still and smile and we’ll be done with this!” then any child under the age of ten will interpret these words to mean, “Hey, you! Act like a crazed weasel!”
Actually, the kids did quite well, all things considered and several of the photos weren't bad. But given that we didn’t get one really good shot, my husband—who had apparently been snorting Froot Loops—mentioned that we could try again the next day. We quickly nixed that idea. Why go through the photo shoot ordeal when you can . . . Photoshop!
Truth be told, I can’t Photoshop—don’t know a thing about it. But my sister can. I e-mailed her what I thought was the best of the pictures. All of us fell somewhere on the not-bad range in that shot, but my older son had a very solemn look on his face. He was smiling in other shots, so I sent her one of those reject shots along with the good one. In a techno-version of the "smile-that-frown away" song of Primary fame, she replaced the frowny face with a smiley one.
I also asked her if she could change the color of one daughter’s shirt. This shirt had bold white stripes, and I worried that maybe it was too striking compared to the solids everyone else was wearing. My sister fixed the shirt, laboring to darken the white stripes so they didn’t stand out so much. She sent me the finished picture and I decided that I liked the white stripes better after all, and asked her to change it back, after which she sent me a rotten tomato in the mail and placed a curse on me and my descendants.
Just kidding. She said that, luckily for me, she’d saved her layer shots—I’m not sure what that means, but I sense that it’s important—and she promptly sent me the picture with the smiling son and the white stripes. Isn’t she a genius?
If we take a family photo next year, I think I’ll just send my sister random photos of family members taken at different points in the year and she can arrange us in portrait formation. And maybe she can give me toned abs in the process.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Several years ago our bishop at the time, gave each family in our ward a small, beautiful white stocking. He explained that he would like us to think about a special gift that we could give to the Savior during the coming year. It could be items like having more faith, being more patient or kind with those around us, etc.---gifts that would indicate we're striving to be more Christ-like.
Each year since that time, our family has kept this tradition. On Christmas Eve, we bring out the white stocking and empty its contents on the table, giving each family member the piece of paper that bears their name. Then we spend a few moments in silence, pondering the past year. We take a mental inventory, considering if we succeeded in giving this gift to the Savior.
Fresh slips of paper are then passed around. We spend another few minutes deciding on what our Christmas gift to the Savior will be during the next year. Writing it down, we then fold our pieces of paper, write our names on the outside, and set it inside the white stocking. The white stocking is then placed inside of my china cabinet where it can be seen all year. It is a reminder of what we have offered to our beloved Elder Brother.
I love this tradition. It helps me keep a perspective of what is really important. What we are offering are gifts of the heart, items that can never be purchased, wrapped, and placed under the tree. These are gifts of compassion and faith, presented with love to Someone we can never fully repay for the sacred gifts He has freely given to us all. I don't think any of us can quite comprehend what He has made possible. His gift of love paves the way for us to inherit eternal life if we so choose. His sacrifice atones for our mistakes if we will humbly submit to His will. The price we pay is so small in comparison to what He endured on our behalf. It is my hope that this Christmas season as we bustle around with last minute preparations for the days ahead, we will spend some time thinking about the reason for the season. That we will remember the humble way our Savior entered this mortal realm---a reminder that it is truly the simple things in life that matter most.
Here is a poem I wrote a few years ago that hopefully captures what I'm trying to say in today's blog:
Ode to Christmas ‘95
‘Twas the month of December and all through the house,
I continuously cleaned up after my sons and my spouse--
In preparation for celebrations ahead,
Various activities I was beginning to dread.
First on my list, decorate the tree,
After assembling it from a box filled with debris.
Finally the tree was in its place, limbs attached with loving care,
We pushed it into a corner to hide a hole that looked quite bare.
Then my husband cringed—it was time to string the lights,
This is an adventure that never quite delights.
A tangled mess from last year; we stared with great dismay
Wishing we could throw the jumbled strands away.
Instead we persevered, though it was tempting just to pout
The tangles at last were gone, but half the bulbs were all burned out.
The mystery of the moment then became
Quite an entertaining little game.
Finding the bulb that affected the line
Caused contention and the occasional whine.
Finally the lights were hung and lit,
I found myself wishing that was it.
But no, the bliss of things to come
Kept me on a steady run.
Shopping, wrapping, hiding gifts,
Wishing I could be more swift.
As cards arrived and guilt nudged,
Knowing my own stack hadn’t budged.
Quickly to the computer I flew
Hoping to type a clever thing or two.
Copies were made, and cards were stuffed—
I wondered if my ancestors had had it this tough.
Cards were mailed, allowing the true fun to begin,
Time for candy-making skills to kick in.
I bake and sweat and bake some more,
Another wondrous Christmas chore.
Relatives come to spend the week
As the house is trashed, I stifle a shriek.
All that scrubbing—all for naught,
Everywhere I look the place is shot!
Christmas Eve comes—it’s here at last,
And we quietly reflect on what has passed.
Tired but happy, we realize,
Christmas isn’t about the gifts we buy.
Nor the cooking or cleaning or even the lights,
Nor caroling about the town on frosty cold nights.
Christmas proclaims the birth of the One,
We call our Savior—God’s Chosen Son.
Who gave us a gift we can never repay,
The chance to return to our Father someday.
And so as we hurry with errands galore,
Let’s try to remember Christmas means so much more.
We must reach out to others with love in our hearts,
For that is how the greatest of all gifts starts.
Cheri J. Crane 1995
MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!!! =)
Saturday, December 20, 2008
The tall skinny ones are from Kenya and made from reeds and sticks.
The fourth one is a Bedouin tribe in a colorful striped tent from Jordan. The figures are made from some kind of smooth putty - Shelley visited Petra and found it - which is one of my dreams - to climb all over those ruins! It may be hard to see because of the lights.
The last one is from Swaziland, tall stylized figures carved from wood and painted wild colors - Shelley got that one when they climbed Kilimanjaro.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Once when I was very young, my parents took me to visit someone, I have no idea now who the person was other than that he herded sheep, but this person had a marvelous nutcracker. It was made of metal, looked like a battered soldier, and had a lever on the back that when operated opened and closed the soldier’s mouth. When a nut was placed between the soldier’s ragged steel teeth and the lever employed, voila! The nut cracked. I was in love! I dreamed of having a nutcracker like that.
Sometime later I happened on a story about a little girl named Clara who received a soldier nutcracker as a gift, which her brother promptly broke. I could relate to that, having two younger brothers and three older ones. The man who gave Clara the nutcracker repaired it on Christmas Eve while she slept. Also while she slept, she was attacked by mice. The soldier nutcracker came to life and, along with sugarplum-filled adventures, saved her from the mice and became her hero. The story was a great fairytale, but I was more interested in the nutcracker’s practical application, getting those pesky hard shells off of nuts.
I was an adult with children of my own when I finally saw Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Ballet. It was a thrilling performance, but the part of me that was once a little girl who loved eating nuts, still loves the doll-like nutcrackers more than the fairy tale or the ballet. Long ago I began acquiring nutcracker dolls whenever I got a chance. Mine aren’t the expensive collectors’ nutcrackers, but they’re of invaluable worth to me and are an essential part of my Christmas decorations.
My first nutcracker was a reward for spending so much money on other things at a local furniture store. He’s not much good for cracking nuts, but I like him. He's the guy in blue next to the Mountie. The Canadian Mountie is a souvenir from a wonderful trip to Victoria, Canada, with my husband, our daughter, Mary Jo, and her husband, Rich.
My second nutcracker came from ZCMI the year I decided to buy myself a gift. I miss that store. He's the tall soldier in red with the assorted nutcrackers atop a bookcase.
When family and friends discovered my fondness for nutcrackers, I was inundated with the dolls. Suddenly everyone knew what to get me for Christmas. I received tall nutcrackers, short ones, characters from the ballet on a music box, and even nutcrackers for the twelve days of Christmas.
My daughter Lezlie made a special nutcracker for me to commemorate 9-11 and to honor the brave firemen who lost their lives trying to save others that day.
My grandson, Brandon’s favorite nutcracker is the one wearing Army fatigues he calls the “daddy one.”
All of my grandchildren love the big nutcracker and try to entice each other to put their fingers in his mouth. Fortunately none have gotten hurt. Even this nutcracker will only crack soft shell nuts.
I’ve never been too sure what nutcrackers have to do with Christmas except for the fairytale/ballet which is set at Christmastime and that in earlier times, children, like I once was, received nuts in our Christmas stockings. But gradually, I’ve developed my own reasons for decking my home with nutcrackers each Christmas. Just as the Christ Child was a gift of love to God’s children, my nutcrackers represent the love family and friends have given me. They’re bright and colorful and make delightful decorations, but sometimes I think about that old sheepherder and wonder what became of his marvelous nutcracker. Mine are a delight, but there isn't a one that will crack a decent nut.
A few nights ago we went to downtown Ogden to see the lights. The Christmas Village is growing and is a whole lot bigger with more displays than when I was little. It was fun to see the whole thing through my 4-year-old's eyes. As we drove down the hill and all the lights came into view, he said, "I'm so glad we're going to Christmas Town!" He even got to ride the train around the block.
Then we went to my parents' house and had Norwegian pancakes and the annual viewing of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. Well, by then it was a little late and we just saw the first part where Clark takes his family out to find the perfect Christmas tree. And it's just as well, because we'd have had to skip parts for the kids- you're better off watching the t.v. version if you have young-uns- but it was fun because it's a tradition, and as wacky as some traditions get through the years, they're still comfortable. They're still home.
We have a few holiday movies that are must-sees. A Christmas Story is number one on the list, despite the fact that my daughters aren't really fans. (Boggles the mind. How can you not like that movie?) My parents and husband and I enjoy It's a Wonderful Life, but my siblings and children hate that one, too. My dad has a tradition of stashing himself away in a vacant room on Christmas day and watching it by himself. My youngest sister found out he did that and was all kinds of distraught, thinking it was tragic that my poor dad watches that sad movie all alone on Christmas day. (Like he's in there sobbing into his bowl of popcorn, "Oh, no, George Bailey, no! You have so much to live for!") In reality, my dad is so glad to get away for some much-needed alone time that he's kicking his heels in unabashed glee.
My kids and I love Elf. That's already become a Christmas movie tradition for us, and I also like The Grinch, both animated and Jim Carrey. Then there are the old- time kids shows, like Rudolph, (which used to give me nightmares and make me throw up as a kid, what with the scary Abominable Snowman and all), Frosty the Snowman, and the 70s cartoon, Twas the Night Before Christmas. (There's a certain person of some significance in my stake who resembles Joshua Trundle, but I won't say who).
Such good stuff, and all the more fun because there are a few select weeks during the year when it's acceptable to watch them. Perhaps that's why I love them so much. They herald in the season for me, and they're a treat. Now all I need is a James Bond Christmas Special. Ah, then life would be complete. :-)
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
But I made a discovery today. I learned about a tradition that I can get excited about. If you go to npr.org, you’ll find a list of Christmas books and a radio program where a family was interviewed about how they use Christmas books as part of their holiday tradition. The box of Christmas books comes out only in December of every year and so it’s a special event for the family (kind of like Lynn’s nativities—which I could get excited about--thanks for sharing, Lynn).
So I just ordered several copies of “Santa’s Youth” which sounds like a fun story about Santa’s “career path” to his current job—apparently he started with cleaning chimneys, did a stint at the zoo, and ultimately found his calling as a gift giver. I have two nieces with young families and a brother who still has some children at home he can read to. Plus I’ll keep one book for my own personal Christmas collection. And if you can believe it, I’m already excited about next Christmas.
Monday, December 15, 2008
I confess, I have a passion. It encompasses all that is Christmas, the music, the decorations, the food, the lights, the smells, the sounds, the increased love in the air - but I also love nativity scenes. I love how different cultures present the manger scene of the Christ Child and his loving parents. I made my very first one on Long Island, New York in 1978. I poured it, cleaned it, painted it, glazed it, and it's beautiful! It is also a very popular design and everyone else seems to have one - but not just like mine because I put a blue wash over the white paint, then a pearl glaze. Though I now have close to 100, it is still one of my very favorites.
My daughter has also become passionate about collecting them for me as she travels all over the world, (could one reason be that she will inherit them?) She brought this from Vietnam, with the Holy Family carved from driftwood and sheltered under a lovely slab of beautiful driftwood.
The biggest, and the one that gets the most comments at the Creche Festival, is one I had made in Armenia. At the Vernisage - Art Market - I asked a lady who made dolls in Armenian costume to make me a nativity set. She didn't understand nativity. "Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus?" "Oh," she said. "Miriam, Hoseppi and Hesu." Yes! The next Saturday I went back and they were finished. Then I asked for shepherds and wisemen. We eventually settled on the translation for that and I had a lovely beginning set. Each Saturday as we "helped improve the local economy," I added to my set which was now becoming a village. Other vendors made delightful donkeys and goats and sheep, which added to my eclectic collection. But the most fun was trying to describe a camel. I didn't know the Armenian word, and she didn't understand, so I found a toy camel and took it to her. She made three (for my three wisemen) and her 90 year old mother got in the spirit and made one out of bits and pieces of red fabric and trim - Glenn calls it my sunburned camel. (It's on the far left in front.) There are white-haired villagers, a wedding couple, dancers, soldiers, a little wagon drawn by a burro with flowers in his saddle bags, a woman with rolling pin, one with water jug, one carrying a tray of rice and even chickens to complete the village scene. Mary is holding baby Jesus right behind the sheep in the photo.
This Zulu nativity is a small one from my Africa collection - I have them from Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and several other countries. Next time I'll share more with hopefully a little more expertise in manipulating the pictures and text. No matter what the language, the message is the same: Jesus came to earth as a babe in Bethlehem to save us from our sins. I'm eternally grateful for that knowledge and my testimony of it. Merry Christmas in whatever language you prefer!
Friday, December 12, 2008
by Gale Sears
Christmas memories for me are filled with pine. I think of the wind moaning through the pine trees on a cold winter’s night, and waking up to deep stillness, knowing that outside Mr. Winter had laid down the first gleaming snow of the season. Peeking out my bedroom window I’d see the pine needle fingers cupping great puffs of white. I’d sit in my jamies by the fire as the pine logs crackled in a merry blaze. My mom would decorate the mantle with giant Sugar Pine cones, and, oh the wondrous smell of the fresh cut pine tree gleaming with all our treasured Christmas ornaments. Yes. I have precious memories of Christmas in the High Sierra’s. The years have flown by since those carefree days, bringing adventures and challenges, but each time I snowshoe through a pine forest or hang a pine bough wreath I am reminded of how good life really is.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
One of my favorite memories of Christmas was one where my oldest son Tyler, then only eleven, taught me a lesson I have never forgotten.
The year had been one that had led us into some financial difficulty. Without boring you with all the details, it was a pretty lean year for us. Though we had the means to get Tyler Christmas from “Santa” it would be a meager one. Brad and I had decided the only option we had would be to forego getting anything for each other.
I certainly realize Christmas is not about how many gifts you receive, but it was really difficult for me to think of all my husband had done to work so hard to provide for us and come Christmas morning, not a single thing for him would be left for him under the tree. I felt terrible, to say the least. We had done our best to make sure Tyler didn’t know of the financial stress we were under, but we told him not to be too disappointed if he didn’t get everything on his list he had written to Santa that year. That made me feel awful as well, as Tyler didn’t usually ask for much.
About that time I realized that one particular neighbor was asking Tyler to babysit a lot. Tyler was also staying after school quite a bit. I kept catching glimpses of him as he would run in one door, grab a bite to eat and then run out the other door. He had been doing this throughout most of the month of December.
Christmas was only a couple of days away when Tyler came to me and asked if we could do something different with Christmas that year. I asked him what he wanted to do. He said he had changed his mind about what he wanted for Christmas and really didn’t want anything after all. Just some gift from mom and dad would do because that year he was hoping that we would let him play Santa. All we had to do was go to bed on Christmas Eve and promise to let him take care of everything. And of course, NO PEEKING ALLOWED.
I had no idea what he was up to, but I figured that after he did whatever he had planned we could bring out our gifts to him and it would be fun. So, sure, we’d play along.
Come Christmas morning, Brad and I were in for the shock of our lives…
We woke up to two colors of string being strung throughout the entire house. There was a letter from Santa outside our bedroom door telling each of us what colors to follow. The string would lead us to our gifts along the way.
We were each given a Christmas mug. I got a pair of earrings, some lotion, and several books. Brad got a pocketknife, some aftershave lotion, and some rollerblades.
How had my son done this for us? The whole month of December he gave up his recesses and stayed after school to work at “Santa’s Workshop” offered by the sixth graders. He had asked the teachers if he could work there as much as they would let him. With his points he earned from doing so, he bought most of our gifts there. The books and the roller blades came from his babysitting money. Tyler’s reason’s for picking those two gifts for us was because he knew how much I love to read, he thought it would make me happy and take some time for myself, and the rollerblades for Brad was so that father and son could spend more time together. (Tyler was really into rollerblading at the time.)
You should have seen Tyler teaching Brad to rollerblade…another cherished memory.
Christmas morning was wrapped up with Tyler producing homemade menus and making us a Christmas Breakfast. We used our brand new Christmas mugs for hot chocolate. We still have our mugs today.
Tyler is now 23, married, and living in Idaho. The lessons he taught me of truly giving of yourself and making the sacrifice to give from the heart is just and strong and poignant today as it was all those Christmas’s so many years ago. The gifts he gave and the lessons learned are priceless to me. Thank you, son. I love you.
Merry Christmas to everyone!
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
First of all, let me note that it is Christmas. Over here it is not called “the holidays” and no one will wish you “Happy holidays” unless you are jetting off to sunnier climes for a couple of weeks (over here the word Holiday means what Vacation means in American). It is Christmas, and not ashamed to be so.
Put away all notions of Victorian urchins scampering merrily through snow-covered cobbled streets. It never snows at Christmas. The last time we had a white Christmas was my eldest daughter’s first Christmas, and she is now 13. And even that wasn’t really a white Christmas, more a brown mushy one. Because of our damp climate, our snow isn’t the delightful powdery, moldable insulating stuff I discovered in Utah – it’s wet, slushy, horribly cold, and generally gets dirty pretty quickly. But luckily we only see it for one or two days a year, and the children love it because it means the schools will be closed.
Us Brits haven’t had a major family-sitting-round-a-laden-table festival since Easter, so Christmas is terrifically exciting and it is a Big Thing. Schools close for two weeks around Christmas, but not before putting on a nativity play, carol service (sometimes in the nearest church) and bazaar. My middle daughter played Mary in the school nativity this year (having been a sheep for the previous two years) and was thrilled to don the blue headdress.
There is often also a trip to a pantomime – a lively musical stage rendering of a well known tale (our local theatres are doing Aladdin and Snow White this year) with lots of audience participation (mostly shouting “He’s behind you!” or remonstrating with the characters, “Oh no he isn’t!” “Oh yes he is!”) and a traditional pantomime dame – see photo. The main characters are usually played by minor celebrities – former soap stars, for example, who all claim to love appearing in Panto. And I’m sure it is as much fun for them as it is for the audiences.
On Christmas Eve it’s still traditional in many families to go to Midnight Mass, a service of carols (sometimes by candelight) held at the local church around midnight, to welcome in Christmas. I used to love Midnight Mass, I only wish Mormons did it, but there is usually a Midnight Mass from St. Paul’s Cathedral on the BBC so I can at least watch it while waiting for the children to fall asleep and Father Christmas to knock on the door (our chimney has been blocked up). The children will have left their empty stockings on the end of their beds, but my daughters have always been sensibly wary of a strange man coming into their rooms at night, and have asked that Hubby Dearest and I get the presents from Father Christmas and bring them upstairs to put in their stockings ourselves. Naturally Father Christmas is always left a mince pie. In non-LDS homes he usually gets a glass of whisky too, but in our house he has to make do with milk. And after all that whisky, he’s usually quite glad for it.
There will be church in the morning – just a service of carols and scripture readings – and then we will go home to open our main presents round the tree. Lunch is always roast turkey with all the trimmings – stuffing balls, roast potatoes, bread sauce, cranberry sauce, chipolata sausages, bacon rolls, carrots, leeks, parsnips and Brussels sprouts. There will be Christmas crackers on the table (see picture) and we will pull these, wear the silly hats and groan at the jokes. Dessert will be Christmas pudding with custard. Brandy butter or rum sauce are more traditional but again, not acceptable in our home. Then we’ll all stagger to the television to watch the Queen’s speech and comment on how good she looks for her age.
Christmas television is always wonderful. The Christmas Radio Times (the BBC’s official TV guide) is always a double issue, and is published midway through December to give everyone plenty of time to plan their Christmas viewing. There’s always a blockbuster film and several TV specials. We, and most of the rest of the country, are most anticipating the Doctor Who special. So we will probably spend the rest of the day staring at the screen while eating Christmas cake and trying to find scissors to unpack the toys, and batteries to make them work.
Boxing Day is more of the same. Visiting any family and friends who didn’t come over on Christmas day, eating leftover turkey, watching the Sound of Music, or the Wizard of Oz, or whatever classic the BBC has decided to treat us to this year, and despairing at ever getting the house clean again.
And being super-organised, I will start my Christmas shopping for next year on December 27th, in the sales. But the decorations and tree will stay up until twelfth night because I love Christmas. I love it not only for the Queen's speech, the Christmas Radio Times, stuffing balls, Doctor Who and Midnight Mass from St. Paul's, but because wherever you happen to live, it is a time to remember the amazing gift God gave us and feel the joy we all share at this time of year.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
If I were a winter sports fan, I might feel mildly regretful about living in a place where the nearest snow is a long car ride away, but I’ve only been skiing once in my life and I was terrified. My innate athletic ability is nil, and strapping slick pieces of plastic to my feet and careening down a hill in search of trees to hit just didn’t appeal to me. But I did enjoy playing in the snow as a kid, making snowmen and having snowball fights. It was especially delightful if school got canceled (which happened a lot more when we lived in Arkansas than it did when we lived in Utah. In Utah, if you can tunnel to school, school’s on).
Tubing was fun as a teenager. A youth snowmobiling trip to West Yellowstone was fun, at least until our snowmobile veered off the path and onto a steep hill and we rolled the snowmobile (no, I wasn’t driving at the time—I was the hapless passenger on the back. We didn’t get hurt, but boy was I nervous after that when my partner was driving.). Snow can be fun and certainly it's beautiful; I’m not Mr. Heat Miser. But I don’t miss driving in a snowstorm. When I was a teenager with a newly minted driver’s license, my first solo venture in the Blue Beast (a 1976 Gran Torino station wagon) was to an early morning orchestra rehearsal. While we waxed musical within, an April storm did its deeds without. When the rehearsal ended, there I was, a novice driver, faced with driving home in lots of snow. I drove home so slowly that the drivers behind me were probably chewing through their mittens in frustration.
I'm so out of practice with white Christmases that it seems perfectly normal to have the only snowflakes on the premises be those that my daughter cut out of paper. Even when we lived in Boston, we didn’t usually get a white Christmas. We were a lot more likely to get snowstorms in March. No white Christmases for us in Ireland either; the most snow we saw there was an inch or two of accumulation when we were vacationing in Dublin over the holidays. Being used to the relatively mild winter weather, we hadn’t brought much in the way of cold weather gear along with us (for instance, one daughter just had a raincoat). We nearly got frostbite wandering around the Dublin Zoo and envying the meerkats huddled around a warming light.
And now, years removed from snowball fights (okay, I did see a bit of snow in Yosemite once, and it's possible someone threw some of it at someone--but I'm not sure it counts in June) I have reached the nadir of winter wimpiness. If it’s in the forties or fifties, it’s COLD!--but that doesn't mean my twelve-year-old son will want to wear a sweatshirt. He walked to school today in shorts and a T-shirt. I tried to tell him it was cold, but he wasn’t impressed. I told him he’d shoot his eye out, but I don’t think that impressed him either.
Monday, December 8, 2008
I love this time of year. I enjoy planning menus, savoring visits from loved ones, and remembering what this holiday is all about. I even enjoy the hustle and bustle of traveling around to spend time with family and friends. Through the years I've learned what makes for successful holiday traveling. I will share this wisdom in today's post.
1) Put fuel in the car before the lines form at the local gas stations. =) Sadly, I have spent precious time waiting to gas my car on the day we try to head somewhere. And since I usually manage to get gas fumes all over me whenever I put gas in my car, doing so on the day we travel is not pleasant. This makes for bad moods all the way around. So I take measures to remind myself to take care of this chore ahead of time. My children mock me when I post notes to myself on the fridge like "Get gas!" but lately, if I don't write notes to myself, I tend to space important things. Perhaps it's all of those head injuries coming back to haunt me . . .
2) Since we live in an area that can go from record heat to surprise blizzards in no time flat, this is the time of year to take precautions. I make sure my trunk contains the following items: A small shovel (in case I manage to wedge the car into a snow bank along the way); kitty litter (it might seem embarrassing to keep a container of this in one's trunk, but it does provide great traction under your tires if you're stuck in icy snow); a first aid kit (my sister gave this to me as a "gag gift" one year, since she seems to think I have my share of boo-boos, but we've used it a lot and I rarely travel anywhere without it); blanket(s) (in case we get stranded and it's cold); snow boots, gloves, & winter hats (these items come in handy if one has to get one's car unstuck during a blizzard. Don't make fun . . . it has happened); snacks (these come in handy even if we don't get stranded. I have found that if you feed people as you travel, they remain friendly. Plus, if you're a Type 1 diabetic like me, it's a good idea to have a few carbs on hand if the blood sugar level drops along the way.)
3) Bring great tunes to get everyone in the holiday spirit. Since I love Christmas music, you can be sure I will be bringing my favorite Christmas CD's for everyone's enjoyment. (Yes, posterity, you heard me right. All of your favorites, including the Carpenter's Christmas Album. You'll thank me later, I know.)
4) Since my trunk will already be stuffed to the gills with emergency preparedness items for this trip, (see item # 2 above) bringing food for holiday feasts will be a challenge. I have found that there is less complaining when we put everyone's name into a hat and draw for things like holding pies, cheesecake, coolers, etc. It's a little like game show: "Son # 1, you get the distinct honor of holding this year's huckleberry pie(s) on the way to Grandma's house. Come on down!"
5) Avoid being negative while driving among people who don't seem as inclined to be courteous drivers. Nothing ruins a holiday mood more than road rage tendencies. Try to focus on the positive things like, "Hey, so what if we're stuck behind someone who doesn't understand speed limit signs---it's giving us a chance to appreciate the scenery along the way." Or: "I don't mind if our fellow traveler is practically hanging off the back of our trunk. Maybe he\she is tailgating because they want to hear the Carpenter's Christmas Album, too."
6) Do not attempt to use a cellphone while driving. This is not safe, and it's just bad karma. Trust me.
7) Watch out for the wildlife who tend to frolic on the highways this time of year. Now that hunting season is over, all of our woodland friends like to come down and wish everyone a happy holiday season. Unfortunately, some of them get carried away . . . literally . . . on the grills of our vehicles, under tires, etc. Just be careful out there.
8) For entertainment purposes, and to remind everyone of why we put ourselves through this, take turns listing what you're grateful for this year. I know high on my childrens' lists will be items like: Mom's copy of the Carpenter's Christmas Album. ;) My children will be delighted to know that I found where they stashed it last year. =D
9) Enjoy the journey. Appreciate the beauty you see as you travel. Tune out the negative things taking place in your life, and ponder the great blessings you enjoy on a daily basis. Not only will this enhance your mood, but it will help you keep a great perspective.
10) Take a nice nap after you enjoy a bounteous feast. That way you'll be rested for the journey home. As you can see, my offspring enjoy this tradition. Here they are in nap mode at their paternal grandmother's house a few year's ago.
Happy traveling everyone! =)
Friday, December 5, 2008
So I've been sick for two weeks and am finally feeling like I'm back among the living. Cyberspace has sped right along without me, and the inboxes are stuffed full.
But feeling under the weather has made me appreciate Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs all the more. Man, that guy was really on to something when he came up with his triangle. (Actually, he built on the work of Skinner and others before him, but anyway. The Hierarchy of Needs was his own creation).
So at the base of the triangle, you have your physical needs. In order to build upward and appreciate other facets of life, one first has to have those physical needs met. After the physical comes safety, then love, then self-esteem and finally self-actualization where we reach the pinnacle and find our full potential.
Some of us are still on the lower levels, but hey, it's all part of the game, right?
So anyway, I was sick over Thanksgiving. THANKSGIVING. What a waste! So much fantastic food and I barely enjoyed it. I did force myself to eat more than one piece of pie because, really, it's pie, but the satisfaction level was dismally, depressingly low.
I also had all this time to get some writing done, work on the house, decorate like crazy--I envisioned myself singing the Happy Little Working Song a la Enchanted in a beautiful Cinderella dress. Instead, I was sick. Absolutely drained. Had time to write. Didn't care. Had time to decorate. Didn't care. Had delectable food to eat. Didn't care.
I was sunk below the bottom-most level of the hierarchy and couldn't enjoy the most basic levels of the pyramid because of it! When you don't feel good physically, it's hard to make yourself enjoy anything else. It makes me appreciate friends of mine who are currently seriously sick and undergoing procedures and treatments. Makes me appreciate my mom who's had a minor stroke and botched heart surgery, who's on so many meds she sometimes veers to the left while trying to walk in a straight line.
When I was in high school, my history teacher had a bunch of lame sayings on his wall. One of them was the old, "Health is a crown on the well person's head, but only the sick seem to see it." I'm ashamed to admit I thought of this lameness more than once while I was sick, and I vowed that once healthy, I would never again just take it as my due. Good health is a blessing, and now that I'm starting to feel it again, I'm so grateful for it.
Of course, I had preschool this morning which totally wiped me out. Which is why I figured the laundry and dishes can wait. I'd rather sit and blog. ;-)
Missed you all!
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
A few years ago I was working at the desk of a major library when a young man came to the desk with a book he was desperate to check out for a class he was taking at the University. Unfortunately he had fines on his card that had exceeded the limit I could override and allow him to take the book. He had no money. A stranger waiting in line stepped up and paid the fine. “I try to do one good deed for a stranger every Christmas season.” She brushed off the young man’s thanks. I love that concept. What a wonderful Christmas it would be if we all did just one kind thing for a stranger this holiday season.
Since then I’ve tried to emulate that woman’s action. Some years I’ve been more successful than others. With my family we’ve dressed up one family member or friend as Santa and made a few surprise visits. I keep a pocketful of change handy for the Salvation Army buckets at stores where I shop, mailed a few anonymous Christmas cards with cashiers checks, gave up a choice parking space to a woman with a van full of small children, but yesterday was one of the most fun and it didn’t cost me a penny. Waiting in a long checkout line, I became aware that the woman ahead of me was pregnant, trying to keep track of a pair of helpful twins, and her cart was piled high with necessities; pajamas, socks, panties, shirts, jeans, etc., all in children’s sizes. Even with the great 50% off sale taking place, her bill was staggering. In my purse was a fifteen percent off card for any day of my choosing at that store. You know the rest of the story. The look on her face when I handed her that card will remain one of my choice Christmas memories for years to come.
When our first child was small, we took in a series of foster children. One little boy arrived a couple of days before Christmas. He was not quite two and we had already spent our meager Christmas funds on a doll and toys for our little girl. With just days before Christmas and one of those days Sunday, we badly needed the allotment from the County to purchase gifts for him. Friday no check had arrived and Christmas was on Monday. Even if the check arrived on Saturday our delivery wasn’t until about four in the afternoon, sometimes later with the heavier Christmas deliveries. I rushed to the post office that Saturday morning to see if someone would check to see if the check would be in that day’s delivery and if so let me have it early. I was told it would do no good to check because it was against regulations to hand out mail at the post office that is slated for home delivery. Half an hour later, I got a telephone call from our mailman (I know they’re called letter carriers now). He said he’d been sorting mail for his route and overheard my request. The check I needed had arrived and if I’d meet him at his first stop, he’d give it to me. That dear man is someone I think of every Christmas season.
Little acts of kindness and compassion won’t miraculously make Christmas wonderful and white, but they go far in helping us feel the spirit of the season. Sometimes all we can manage is a smile or to wish someone merry Christmas, but most of us can surely find some small gesture of kindness that will bring a measure of Christmas cheer to two hearts—a stranger’s and our own.
Monday, December 1, 2008
Likewise, another big savings is NOT participating in the "Twelve Days of Christmas." I mean, the original one, not the copycat versions you do for your neighbors. According to PNC’s Christmas Price Index, there are 364 items mentioned in the song, and the total price tag would be $78,100 to buy them all, from the partridge in a pear tree to the lords, milkmaids, and drummers, up 4 percent from $75,122 last year.
Remember, this includes those necessary reappearances of the items from days one to eleven up to day twelve. If you only bought each item in the song just once it would cost $19,507 (up from last year's price tag of $18,921). For those who shop online, plan on paying more for convenient shopping--$128,886 unless you just bought each item once, which would be $31,249.
Part of that comes from higher hourly rates for the lords, milkmaids, and drummers, but we’re also seeing the effects of higher food costs. Those six geese a-laying went from last year’s $300 to $360. And those five gold rings, up 21.5 percent, now costing $395 (last year they were only $325). On the bright side, that partridge is still only $15, the two turtle doves are still $40 as are three French hens.
But when it comes to the seven swans a-swimming, that’s going to run you $4,200. And for the nine ladies dancing, you might try hiring a high school drill team. They’re sure to be happy to perform at much less than the ladies’ $4,759 command performance. So when you go do your Christmas shopping, those of you who still have some to do, pass on the aisle with the swans.You can get nine French hens for under $400.
All this great info taken from an article by Dan Nephin, Associated Press. (But hopefully sufficiently rewritten.)