Friday, December 30, 2011


I love the New Year! I love fresh starts. I love being able to say "last year was okay. It was good, but this new year will be better." I still make resolutions or set goals, whichever term you choose to use. I actually did pretty good with them this year, and none of them included losing weight or exercising more or eating better. They included more time working on my family history, entering data into Ancestry and Legacy so I can get rid of the boxes of paper taking up space I could use for other things. And finding more info so I could perform temple ordinances for them. Practicing the organ so my arthritic fingers will still be able to play for sacrament meeting each week was one I stuck to diligently.

I also have a section in my New Year's plans for things I'd like to do and places I'd like to go; experiences I'd like to add to my life. Last year it happened to be the biggest on my list was one of the few I accomplished - the Panama Canal cruise. We did get to the Shakespeare Festival, but not to the things closest to us: the biggest Buddha in the US which is only an hour's drive from here - maybe two in traffic. History and other cultures fascinate me, so I love to immerse myself in them from time to time. Gardens of the World is just one hour - you'd think that would be a piece of cake to make, but I didn't really want to go alone and hubby loves his golf. He did give me some coupons for Christmas to cash in when I want to go somewhere so there is hope this year for that one.

I have to do some thinking about the section in my New Year's plans for "Things I've Never Done." In my 70 plus years, I've done a lot. Now is not the time to slow down and rest on my laurels. I still have so much living and accomplishing left to do! But that section will have to wait a couple of weeks. I just finished the ghost story (still doesn't have a name!) and I'm beginning final edits. My exciting new year will have to wait until I get this year's business finished.

Happy New Year to all - and may your wishes and dreams and goals all be fulfilled.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

3-2-1 2012

Three days until the beginning of 2012, and I am filled with expectation and a slight case of trepidation. After experiencing some sad and troublesome things in 2010 and 2011, I worry about the possible shadows lurking in 2012. I must keep reminding myself to live one day at a time. I want to take each day and live it through; I will laugh with gusto, gain strength from adversity, and learn from life's lessons.
It's also important to re see the world around me. I've always been a big lover of nature, and I vow to spend more time in 2012 hiking into the nearby majestic mountains and filling my soul with serenity.
I will break away from my busy schedule and spend time with friends and family (especially my daughter). My friends have always been able to lift my spirits and my daughter can make me laugh so hard that my sides ache.
I will learn to do something new. Perhaps I'll finally learn Tai Chi, which would be good for my physical and emotional health.
I will eat more apples.
I will eat less sugar.
I will celebrate getting older.
I will look forward with faith.
I do believe in the "eternities" where there will be no time, no minutes or months, and no countdown to a new year.
Until then, I will count my blessings and celebrate another year of possibilities.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

There is Hope in my Heart

Christmas is over. After weeks preparing, planning and looking forward the day, it has come and gone. We are still eating up the turkey (turkey pizza tonight, turkey fricassee tomorrow) and catching up with all the wonderful TV we recorded, and the children are still thrilled with all their new toys - more thrilled than I am at trying to figure out where we're going to put them all.

Christmas is over. The children go back to school on 3rd January, the same day I go back to work. And then we have three months of feeling cold and wet before the first signs of spring and lighter evenings start to breathe life back into the world. It's times like this I wish I could hibernate. (Or fly to Florida for 12 weeks.)

Christmas is over. But I'm not feeling quite as deflated as usual this year. In fact, I'm feeling somewhat buoyant. Tomorrow I am going to the Temple with my best friend. The following day, our family are going to Leeds (halfway across the country from us - a four hour drive) to visit family for New Year. So there's plenty to look forward to still, and I'm excited about the new start and new opportunities and challenges 2012 will bring.

One of my favourite new songs of this season is "When the Thames Froze" by Smith & Burrows. The tune is beautiful and the poetry is unusually good for song lyrics. It includes these lines:

"Another year draws to its close
And tired London slows...
So tell everyone that there's hope in your heart
Tell everyone or it'll tear you apart
At the end of the Christmas day 
When there's nothing left to say.
The years go by so fast
Let's hope the next beats the last."

Since my personal "Annus Horribilis" in 1996, each year has indeed beaten the last for me, and I do have hope in my heart that 2012 won't be the exception. The wonderful spirit of Christmas is something that those of us who know the Saviour we celebrate at that time can keep with us each day, and it does fill us with hope. So Christmas may be over, but the hope it brings us isn't.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Letter about Christmas

I've been troubled about a small group of folks who wish to take the Savior's name out of this joyous season. My friend sent along this special letter to me and I'd like to share it with you. May you all have a wonderful Christmas and Happy Hanukkah! Gale

Letter from Jesus about Christmas

It has come to my attention that many of you are upset that folks are taking My name out of the season.

How I personally feel about this celebration can probably be most easily understood by those of you who have been blessed with children of your own. I don't care what you call the day. If you want to celebrate My birth, just GET ALONG AND LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

Now, having said that let Me go on. If it bothers you that the town in which you live doesn't allow a scene depicting My birth, then just get rid of a couple of Santas and snowmen and put in a small Nativity scene on your own front lawn. If all My followers did that there wouldn't be any need for such a scene on the town square because there would be many of them all around town.

Stop worrying about the fact that people are calling the tree a holiday tree, instead of a Christmas tree. It was I who made all trees. You can remember Me anytime you see any tree. Decorate a grape vine if you wish: I actually spoke of that one in a teaching, explaining who I am in relation to you and what each of our tasks were. If you have forgotten that one, look up John 15: 1 - 8.

If you want to give Me a present in remembrance of My birth here is my wish list. Choose something from it:

1. Instead of writing protest letters objecting to the way My birthday is being celebrated, write letters of love and hope to soldiers away from home. They are terribly afraid and lonely this time of year. I know, they tell Me all the time.

2. Visit someone in a nursing home. You don't have to know them personally. They just need to know that someone cares about them.

3. Instead of writing the President complaining about the wording on the cards his staff sent out this year, why don't you write and tell him that you'll be praying for him and his family this year. Then follow up... It will be nice hearing from you again.

4. Instead of giving your children a lot of gifts you can't afford and they don't need, spend time with them. Tell them the story of My birth, and why I came to live with you down here. Hold them in your arms and remind them that I love them.

5 Pick someone that has hurt you in the past and forgive him or her.

6. Did you know that someone in your town will attempt to take their own life this season because they feel so alone and hopeless? Since you don't know who that person is, try giving everyone you meet a warm smile; it could make the difference.

7. Instead of nit picking about what the retailer in your town calls the holiday, be patient with the people who work there. Give them a warm smile and a kind word. Even if they aren't allowed to wish you a "Merry Christmas" that doesn't keep you from wishing them one. Then stop shopping there on Sunday. If the store didn't make so much money on that day they'd close and let their employees spend the day at home with their families

8. If you really want to make a difference, support a missionary-- especially one who takes My love and Good News to those who have never heard My name.

9. Here's a good one. There are individuals and whole families in your town who not only will have no "Christmas" tree, but neither will they have any presents to give or receive. If you don't know them, buy some food and a few gifts and give them to the Salvation Army or some other charity which believes in Me and they will make the delivery for you.

10. Finally, if you want to make a statement about your belief in and loyalty to Me, then behave like a Christian. Don't do things in secret that you wouldn't do in My presence. Let people know by your actions that you are one of mine.

Don't forget; I am God and can take care of Myself. Just love Me and do what I have told you to do. I'll take care of all the rest. Check out the list above and get to work; time is short. I'll help you, but the ball is now in your court. And do have a most blessed Christmas with all those whom you love and remember


Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Christmas cards are a custom that seems to be slowly dying.  I find this kind of sad.  I've always loved getting and sending cheery little messages at Christmas time.  Unlike some, I also love long, chatty Christmas letters and feel a little disappointed when a card arrives with only the sender's signature.  Yet even I cut my card list in half this year.  Unfortunately sending large numbers of cards has gotten too time consuming, too expensive, and like most other people I've found I can save time, money, and reach out to more people via the internet. Close family and friends whom I won't be seeing during the holiday season got cards, particularly those who never or seldom check email or Facebook.  For everyone else, this is my Christmas card and letter.  That doesn't mean you matter less; it simply means you're younger, more computer savvy, and more accustomed to computer communication with me than to paper communications.
If you read my blog, you already know the highlights of my year have been a new granddaughter in April, the release of If I Should Die in June, a trip to the Shakespeare Festival and to Touacahn in July, a reunion with my siblings and their spouses in October, and the purchase of a new car in late fall.  I've attended soccer games, piano recitals, a dance concert, and celebrated birthdays with my grandchildren.  There have been cookouts (sometimes cook-ins due to the past year's crazy weather), family dinners, ward dinners, and the acceptance of my next book Heirs of Southbridge slated for a March release.  Below are a few pictures taken during this past year. On top of everything else, there has been the ongoing problem with knees that no longer cooperate and numerous shots to delay surgery on them.

So now that the chatty part of this Christmas letter is over, I want to wish you a merry Christmas and tell you how grateful I am for the people who read my books, my Meridian column, my blogs, and even my Facebook posts. Most of all, I want you to know that though I love the songs of Christmas, the whole Santa thing, spending wonderful time with my children and grandchildren, becoming involved in service projects, and giving presents; the Christmas Season means more than that to me.  I cherish most those quiet moments, found most often in the temple, when I contemplate the awesome events of the night Christ was born, when I feel deep in my soul the enormity of God's gift to us.

May each of you be blessed with peace, hope, and an assurance of Christ's love as we commemorate His birth and as you embark on the coming year.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Sharing my cruise with you

The cruise from the Pacific to the Atlantic through the Panama Canal was incredible! Weather in Cabo San Lucas was hot and sunny. Water azure blue - Land's End and Poseidon's Arch just what I hoped! That had been on my bucket list, but wasn't sure I'd ever get to see it. I loved it, but Cabo is too expensive to spend a lot of time there! This was my first time anywhere in Mexico but the border towns and very different.

Puerto Vallarta was fun - also hot - expensive - beautiful! Didn't get in the water there. Visited a beautiful old church, walked on the new "boardwalk" which is really a wide curving picturesque sidewalk along the bay where everything happens. We were bused up into the mountains to see a UNESCO World Heritage site in Mismaloya - A Tequila Factory! Also stopped above the site where "Night of the Iguana" was filmed. There were not even roads into the site at the time. They brought everything into the pretty little bay by boat. Everything is so lush and green with huge trees of every kind and exquisite flowers of every hue.

Puntarenas, Costa Rica and the rain forest was lovely- also hot and humid but a great experience. We were bused to the top of the mountain, walked on suspension bridges above the rain forest for awhile, then worked our way down to the bottom of it. The little town of Puntarenas was nothing - quite poor in direct contrast to the resorts in Cabo and Puerto Vallarta. But our tour guide was delightful and gave us all the history and lowdown on her beloved country. We did get to see lots of crocodiles. Our boat man got out, almost wrestled with a huge monster, then put some fish in his mouth, bent over toward the crocodile and the behemoth snapped it right out! We thought he was going to lose his head!!

The Panama Canal was probably the highlight for Glenn. He spent the first part of the cruise reading David McCullough's book - 750 pages about the building of the canal - so it was very meaningful for him. What an engineering feat! We sailed through from the Pacific into the Atlantic - took about nine hours but didn't get to stop in the city which may have had more high rise buildings than Los Angeles!

Cartegena, Colombia was really special because Shelley (youngest daughter) was working in Colombia that week auditing the huge mine there (one of the biggest in the world) and flew up that morning to meet us at the big famous fort - one of the oldest in South America. She arrived an hour or more before us but chatted with the natives until our buses arrived. She said she'd look for the buses of old people - but that's all there was - bus after bus of old white-haired people! :) She spent the day with us seeing Old Town, the Fort, New Town, neat churches, learning about emeralds - we didn't buy any!

Then we dropped her off at Old Town and went back to the ship and she shopped a couple of hours, caught her plane and flew back to Bogotá, then to Miami, then home - arrived just in time to go to work the next day. This was the port they told us "If you aren't with an organized tour, don't get off the ship." Shelley worked with a girl from there (had been with her all week) who said Cartegena was one of the safest cities in South America because the President of the country loved to be there so he made sure it was safe. I loved it. It was my favorite city. I could spend a week there - all the beautiful old Colonial buildings and feel of history. But we learned that Michael Douglas didn't really jump off that fort in Romancing the Stone (Hollywood trick) because there is no water around it! They also had lots of high rise buildings surrounding the bay.

We were really blessed there - it had been pouring buckets of rain for the preceding nine days. That morning the clouds cleared and we had beautiful warm sunshine. Really warm! Then as our ship pulled out of port and back into the Caribbean, the rain began again. We were worried that Shelley's flight wouldn't be able to take of!

Next stop was Grand Cayman and this was really a super treat! We got into that incredibly azure blue Caribbean water out on a sand bar miles from shore and fed the sting rays! You hold a piece of squid in your fist, thumb tucked down, and they swim right across your hand and suck it up. I got a massage from one - our guide picked it up and held it to my back and it fluttered those marvelously soft fins across my back. The water was so fantastic we didn't want to get out! We had probably 25-30 sting rays swimming around us. The only problem was you couldn't bounce around. You needed to keep your feet planted in the sand, but the waves kept sweeping me off my feet! If you step on one, they will sting you with that long tail, so we did have to watch the tails!

Then they took us to another area over some coral reefs and we got to snorkel and watch the multi-colored fish swim in and out of the beautiful different kinds of coral. The white sand on the bottom was like sugar! What a day! We ended up going to Hell, a little tiny town with a post office and a patch of very sharp volcanic rock poking up, then a turtle farm which was fascinating! They had the world's largest (as far as they know) green sea turtle who has laid over 10,000 eggs. 80% of them have hatched. We were blessed again. They said if we had arrived on any one of the previous four days, we would not have been able to go out in the water because of the terrible weather they had been having!

Got back on the ship and steamed into Tampa Bay the next morning and after two excruciating flights home, we arrived to rain and snow! So much for Sunny California! But no complaints. We had our two weeks of "paradise." Now to prepare for Christmas, which can't possible be just next week! Merry Christmas to you all! And may you have a delightful cruise in your not-too-distant future.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A British Christmas

[This is the text of an article I wrote and which appears in the current edition of Latter-Day Woman magazine. Apologies for not coming up with something original - at least this version has more pictures.]

Why would anyone want to go to Britain for Christmas? Let’s face it; it’s a cold, wet, overcrowded  island and it’s a ten-hour flight away. All the tourist attractions will be closed, and even when they are open you’ve got less than eight hours of daylight each day to enjoy them in. The perilously narrow roads and roundabouts will be icy and even more treacherous than usual, and a night at a London Marriott for a family of four will cost you over $1,000 per night.

 And if you like festive fluffy snow at Christmas, stay in Utah. Snow is relatively rare in Britain in December, and when it does fall it’s the wet, mushy kind that chills you to the bone, refuses to form into snowballs, and soaks anyone stupid enough to try to make a snow angel in it.

So why come to Britain in for Christmas?

On this side of the Atlantic we haven’t had a big whole-family-gathered-round-turkey-feast celebration since last Christmas (as opposed to last month) so we are ready to party, especially since Christmas decorations have been in the shops since September sparking a slow-build of glorious anticipation. (Not to mention some rolled eyes and complaints about over-commercialised consumerism.) We don’t do Halloween with quite the gusto the Americans do, our version of Thanksgiving is a barely-there harvest festival in September only really acknowledged in primary schools, and we don’t have 4th of July. (The calendar jumps straight from the 3rd to the 5th.) So if you want to get that sense of Christmas being the absolutely second-to-none best ever day of the year, you need to come to Britain.

Over here it’s not “the holidays” or “the festive season”. We only wish people “happy holidays” when they are flying off to sunnier places (almost anywhere). We are not afraid to offend others by wishing them a “Merry Christmas”. Recent attempts by politically-correct types to stop schools doing nativity plays (we are allowed to sing hymns and say prayers in schools) have largely failed because the Muslim, Sikh and Jewish parents were quite vocal about enjoying this long-standing tradition. So if you want a group of six-year-old shepherds with dressing-gowns and tea-towels on over their school uniforms to wish you an unashamedly Merry Christmas , you’ll have to come to Britain.

Growing up, my mother always made the brandy butter on Christmas Eve while listening to Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College, Cambridge on Radio 4. Most churches, including LDS Wards, have a carol service on Christmas morning, and many have several other special services in the prelude to Christmas. The most popular, however, is Midnight Mass, a vigil service to welcome in Christmas day. This is generally fairly well attended, despite the fact that only 6% of Brits go to church regularly. Possibly it’s because the Parish church is a warm place to go when the pubs close. If you want to enjoy the candlelight, singing and anticipation in a church which has stood on the same spot since 600 AD, you’ll have to come to Britain.

Apparently Father Christmas used to wear a green suit trimmed with white fur, but at some stage he saw himself depicted wearing red in a Coca-Cola advert and decided that red suited him far better.  My own children have always been rather afraid of him. I think, being people of the twenty-first century, they are very suspicious about a man who likes to creep into children’s bedrooms in the middle of the night, even if he did claim to be doing so in order to leave presents in the stocking on the end of their beds. My eldest asked her father and I to wait up for Father Christmas, divert him from the chimney, and take the presents into her bedroom ourselves for her to open noisily at 2 a.m.  With heavy sighs, we agreed. Unfortunately Father Christmas is very ageist and he doesn’t come to adults, so if you want to wake up to the amazing feeling of your legs being weighted down with wrapped gifts, you’re out of luck.

Christmas lunch is almost always a huge turkey (which will yield several days’ worth of leftovers) with all the trimmings – roast and mashed potatoes, roast parsnips, Brussels sprouts (sometimes with chestnuts), sausages and pigs in blankets, roasted onions and those old stalwarts, carrots and peas. Naturally there will be stuffing both in the turkey and in little roasted balls, cranberry sauce to go with the turkey, bread sauce to go with everything and oodles of thick gravy.  Before we can carve our turkey, however, there are Christmas crackers to be pulled. These guarantee immediate bonding as you pull them with your neighbour at the table, hoping for a satisfying crack. Crackers always contain a paper party hat, a really corny joke, and a small cheap novelty such as a plastic spider or a keyring. Once silly hats are on heads and jokes are groaned over, the feast can begin. But if you want to enjoy a roast parsnip smothered in bread sauce, or pull a cracker, you’ll have to come to Britain.

Christmas day dessert is a little complicated for a Latter-day Saint. The traditional dishes of Christmas pudding, Christmas cake and mince pies are all laced with copious quantities of alcohol. Instead I make a yule log – a swiss roll covered in chocolate buttercream icing – and I usually make it on Christmas eve. I must remember, this year, to listen to Nine Lessons and Carols on Radio 4 as I do so. If you want to enjoy the moist, chocolately goodness of my yule log, you’ll have to … email me for the recipe. I have nine people to cook for this year, I’m not inviting you too.

After lunch we waddle into the lounge and switch on the television. The Queen’s speech is shown on several channels simultaneously, and in our house at least is greeted by everyone commenting on how old she looks, forgetting that the pictures they are used to seeing of her – on notes, coins and stamps – are somewhat sympathetic or just plain out of date. Following the Queen’s speech, the BBC generally pulls out all the stops with the biggest family film of the year. I’m predicting the latest Harry Potter this year. The BBC is funded by everyone in the country having to pay for a television licence, so there are no commercials. So if you want to settle down with the family to watch a great film with no one trying to sell you anything at crucial intervals in it, you’ll have to come to Britain.

There are always Christmas specials too. Doctor Who is the most eagerly anticipated, and it seems not to have occurred to the nation that it’s rather contrived for an alien time-traveller to insist on spending Christmas in London every year. (Perhaps he’s read this article.) There may also be a new Wallace and Grommit, or hilarious motoring show Top Gear, and the BBC’s mandate mean there will have to be a high-quality religious offering, but it will all be fabulous family viewing to guarantee that everyone spends Christmas afternoon and evening glued to the television. There’s nothing else to do after all – the shops will be closed for another two days at least. If you want to spend your Christmas afternoon browsing the sales, you’ll have to stay in America.

Tea on Christmas day is cold turkey sandwiches. Assuming anyone can eat. And then on Boxing Day (the next day, and another public holiday) it’s the same again. Television, and turkey curry/fricassee/casserole. Because Christmas day falls on a Sunday this year we then get another public holiday in lieu on Tuesday 27th. So if you want to … no, why would you? Who needs three days off over Christmas anyway?

You might then like to pop up to Scotland for Hogmanay. I hear that’s very good too. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Why I Never Took Part in Another School Christmas Pageant

This time of year has always been one of my favorites. As a child, (and an adult) I thoroughly enjoyed decorating the house, making Christmas cookies, and singing Christmas carols.Taking part in Christmas productions at school was another highlight that filled my heart with Christmas cheer.

One year while I was in elementary school, I was asked to portray the part of Mary in the school play. This could've been because I was one of the few girls my age who still had long, dark hair, (Pixie cuts were all the rage that year) but I also suspect the fact that my aunt happened to be my teacher had a lot more to do with it. ;) Regardless, I was thrilled and during rehearsals, I strived to live up to the expectations of this starring role.

The day of the much anticipated performance finally came. The night before I had been so excited, I could hardly sleep. When I woke up, I experienced waves of nausea, and was terribly unamused. This couldn't  be happening. I was supposed to be Mary that day!

I quickly dressed and hurried into the kitchen. Then I sat down on a chair to keep from collapsing onto the floor. By then I knew I had caught a vicious stomach bug that had been going around the school for a couple of weeks. The thought made me sicker than I already was. People were depending on me--I had a starring role. I had looked forward to this event for weeks and I wasn't about to let my uncooperative body ruin things for me.

Somehow I made it through breakfast--with the help of our family dog. I slipped her most of what was on my plate that morning. My mother had been so busy getting everyone else ready for the day that she hadn't noticed I was tilting sideways. It wasn't until she was helping me fix my hair for the play that she caught on that I was a bit pale. She asked if I was feeling all right and I assured her I was fine. She then counseled me to quit being so nervous, assuming that was the cause of the slightly green tint, and she continued helping me get ready.

I'm amazed I survived the bus ride to school. Plagued by a tendency to develop motion sickness under normal circumstances, the added nausea from the stomach bug was almost more than I could bear, but I was so determined to be the best Mary this school had ever seen, I gritted my teeth and forced my body to behave.

I arrived at the school, and hurried into the girls restroom where I splashed cold water on my face to ease the queasiness. Then I went into the classroom and laid my head down on my desk to make the world quit spinning.

Now I realize I shouldn't have attempted taking part in the school production that day--but in my seven-year-old mind, this was the most important thing that had ever come into my life. I had been picked to portray Mary, the mother of Jesus. It seemed like my entire world was centered on successfully seeing this part through to the finish.

The rest of that morning is pretty much a blur. I do remember my aunt asking if I was feeling all right, and I gave her the same answer I had shared with my mother earlier: "I'm fine." Then I forced a weak smile, hoping it looked convincing.

During lunch hour, I nibbled on a piece of bread, then when the lunch lady wasn't looking, I gave away most of the food on my tray to my friends, and threw the rest into the garbarge. My friends assumed I was experiencing a form of stage fright, and were only too happy to consume the special treats that had been prepared for us that day.

It was finally time for the production. All of our parents (mostly our mothers since our dads were still at work) arrived to cheer us on. I quickly dressed in the traditional Mary costume, experiencing a mixture of excitement, extreme nausea, and a bit of nervousness. This was the biggest part I had ever been assigned in a school production and I was determined to give it everything I had.

My mother sneaked in to where I was getting ready to make sure I was doing okay. She again commented on how pale I was and asked me a final time if I was all right. Assuring her that I was, I picked up the doll that would be playing the part of Jesus that day, and we hurried back into the room where everyone else had gathered.

The play progressed nicely that afternoon. All went well until it was time for me lay the baby Jesus into the small manger. Then disaster struck. The nausea I had been doing my best to ignore would no longer be denied. When I realized my body was taking the driver's seat, I dropped the doll into the manger, and ran off the small stage, but didn't quite make it out of the room in time.

Mortified by the mess I had made  . . . of everything . . . I ran into the girls' restroom to hide. My mother followed, and graciously helped me clean up. My aunt took care of the new carpet I had all but ruined in the other room. I heard later from some of my friends that she had not been amused by my performance, and was upset by the condition of the new carpet. (It was a brand new school we had moved into that fall. I have the honor of being the first kid who stained some of the new carpet.)

Later when I was lying in the comfort of my bed at home, I pulled a pillow over my face and cried, convinced I had ruined Christmas for everyone. I had shamed my family in a public fashion, desecrated the role of Mary, and ticked off my aunt. My life was in ruins . . . or so I thought.

My family rallied around me, my parents and younger siblings (I was the oldest in our clan) offering sympathy and love despite my less than stellar performance. My brother even commented on how cool it was that I had barfed in front of everyone. Boys always see things differently, even at that young age.

By Christmas Eve, I was feeling better, and my mother asked me to play the part of Mary in our own family production of the traditional Christmas Story. Donning a different costume (the other one was understandably thrown away) I gravely did my best to portray the mother of our Savior. With my brother playing the part of Joseph, our younger sister representing the shepherds, and our baby sister taking the part of the infant Jesus, we solemnly acted out the miraculous birth of our Elder Brother. My dad read from the book of Luke, and our mother furnished the piano accompaniment for songs like "The First Noel," "Silent Night," and "O, Little Town of Bethlehem." The only one in the audience that night was our chihuahua, Teeny, but she seemed very impressed by our performance.

I've never forgotten the sacred feeling I experienced that night. Though my life was in shambles, I still felt the love of our Savior during that Christmas season. And by the time I returned to school to start the new year, everyone had moved past my unfortunate performance . . . with the exception of my aunt who still had a pained look whenever she glanced my direction . . . and a young boy my age who was as impressed by my eruption as my brother. He later asked me to be his girlfriend. ;)

I learned some great lessons from that experience--the importance of never pushing one's body past the point of no return, boys are weird, and the love of our Savior is very real. May we all reflect upon His great love for us, and share it with others this holiday season. MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Multi-cultural Holiday Dilemma

In the main entry a large Christmas tree reached almost to the ceiling and in the office a smaller tree stood on the counter that separated students from the school secretary.  Someone taped a cluster of mistletoe above the wide arch that led to the cloakroom.  Minutes after the second bell rang files of junior high students left their homerooms one class at a time to make their way to the school's large auditorium to rehearse for the annual Christmas assembly.  Every homeroom class took a turn---except mine.

I was in the eighth grade when I learned not everyone observed Christmas.  My homeroom teacher was Jewish and refused to participate in Christmas or Easter observances.  Those of us in her class felt cheated.  We wanted to be part of the assembly even if all we did was join in singing carols.  It was hard to study and learn grammar rules while all of the other students in the school were in the auditorium rehearsing, goofing off, and having fun.  We did get to attend the assembly with the principal and assistant principal sitting with our class, but were painfully aware none of the talented singers or dancers in our class set foot on the stage.

Over the years many events have brought glimpses of understanding concerning that awkward Christmas.  Certainly a non-Christian school teacher should not have been required to participate in that assembly; I've never felt any animosity toward her for her refusal to be part of something she didn't believe in.  She was, in fact, an excellent teacher who did much to encourage me and her many other students.  However, I have wondered at times why a few parents weren't asked to chaperone our class and help us to be participants in an assembly that was a big deal back then.

A few years later in another community, I noticed a handful of students sitting in the library with their textbooks open before them as the rest of the students made their way to the auditorium for a Christmas program presented by a traveling university group.  I knew those students were Jehovah's Witnesses and a few were Jewish.  I found something sad about them studying while the rest of us were enjoying a delightful program.

These two instances were a stark contrast to another school I attended where every student was required to take choir, all thirty four of us.  It was a small school. If anyone checked, we probably represented a half dozen or more different faiths as well as including a Native American and a couple of atheists and our choir director was the Baptist preacher from a nearby town.  We sang at his church, at the LDS church, at the Catholic Church, and at several other protestant churches.  We sang for naturalization ceremonies, graveside services, Easter Sun Rise Services, and Christmas programs. It was one of the richest experiences of my school years.

In today's political climate too often the solution to mixed faiths and observances has become outlawing all such observances.  No one's God is allowed in school.  That's sad.  Our lives and our culture will only be strengthened and enriched by learning more of other cultures and the faiths of other people.  To shut away our history and religious traditions hurts more than helps world unity. 

I visited a beautiful historical church in San Antonio a few years ago where the priest conducted a short service for us, but knowing most of our group weren't Catholic he quoted some well-known nondenominational poetry in place of prayers. I was disappointed and couldn't help contrasting that service with the solemn warmth of a Christmas mass I attended once with a friend where the service was steeped in hundreds of years of spiritual custom .  My mother-in-law was a registered nurse.  In an attempt to be fair to everyone, the hospital administrator assigned everyone to work on Christmas Day, but a Jewish nurse went to Mom with a suggestion that my mother-in-law trade her Christmas hours for the other nurse's Hanukah ones. As a young reporter, I and my family were invited to a Lutheran Church for their festival of lights, Santa Lucia.  It was a choice experience my small children have remembered and occasionally speak of, though they are parents themselves now.  I believe attending other churches and honoring other faith's traditions leads to understanding and openness between various peoples.

When I worked for the City Library, I spent a number of years at a small branch library on the west side of Salt Lake City. Our patrons were very diverse since that seems to be an area where refugees settle first when they come to Utah.  It was fun to share the excitement and enthusiasm of our youngest patrons as various cultural and religious holidays arrived.  I particularly remember a little Vietnamese boy, who never stopped chattering, trying to explain to a shy little Muslim girl, who never spoke to anyone, why the library ladies had a tree with lights on it inside the library. Children have no problem observing every feast or holiday and inviting other children of different cultures to join them and they are anxious to learn about different celebrations.  We adults should be more like that.  We should welcome opportunities to share our traditions and beliefs and we should embrace occasions when we can be part of other cultures' and denominations' observances.  The peace and understanding most faiths claim to seek can best be found through sharing our celebrations, not by hiding them away for fear some might be offended.  We should go the second mile to enable others to observe those occasions important to them too.   Not only should no one be pressured to observe a religious holiday they feel uncomfortable with; neither should anyone be kept from openly participating in observances they find important.  Diluting a religious observance to something non-denominational isn't the answer either. Our culture can only benefit from sharing the events we find significant rather than hiding them from public view.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Being a Lifeline

My daughter borrowed my car the other day to drive from our home in Sandy up to Park City. It's about a 45 minute drive and luckily the weather was good that day. On the way home she called to chat and as we were talking she suddenly realized that the low fuel light was on, and she had no idea how long it had been on. There's a button in my car you can push to see how many miles you have left before your tank is empty. She had 7 miles left. If you've ever driven down Parley's Canyon you know that there aren't a lot of places to get gas. In fact, there aren't any. The closest gas station was just off Foothill Boulevard but she had no idea how many miles until she got there. I stayed on the phone, knowing that all I could do was pray with her and assure her she was going to make it (although I had no idea if she really would, I just wanted to help her stay calm). As we talked she counted down the miles as they dropped lower and lower. When the tank showed 2 miles she noticed a sign for the I-215 belt route. I knew it had to be close, but would she have enough gas to make it? 1 mile left. There was the sign for Foothill Boulevard. Just as the tank showed 0, she saw the Chevron station. On fumes, she pulled up to a gas tank and both of us heaved sighs of relief.
There are people in our lives that are always there for us. People we know we can count on when we find ourselves between a rock and a hard place. We, in turn, are able to be that person for others, someone they can depend on when they need help, support, love or just a safe place to unload their burdens or share a laugh.
I'm so blessed to have wonderful people in my life. The women of this blog are unconditionally loving and supportive. They've shared in joys and sorrows, successes and failures. How grateful I am for sisters and sisters-in-law's that I know will always be there for me, drop everything to help me. How grateful I am for daughters and a daughter-in-law, who are caring and loving and my best friends. How grateful I am for my sweet son who can make me laugh harder than anyone I know. And how grateful I am for my husband who supports me and love me, no matter how insane I get.
I hope that I am as much of a strength to others as they are to me. Who are those people in your life? Make sure you remember them at this time of year.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Journey into China

Yesterday I attended the funeral of Elder H. Grant Heaton, a brilliant man whose noble accomplishments deserve recognition. I had the privilege of interviewing he and his wife for my book on China, Letters in the Jade Dragon Box.

In 1949 Grant Heaton was one of the first missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be sent to Hong Kong, China. When the communists seized control of China in late 1949, Elder Heaton would serve out the remainder of his mission in Hawaii and Chinatown, San Francisco. A few years later, after schooling, marriage, and the birth of a son, Elder Heaton would find himself in, what he considered, strange circumstances. As a missionary returned from Hong Kong, he had been called several times to meet with Elder Harold B. Lee and Stephen L. Richards, counselor to President McKay, to discuss and evaluate the conditions in the Far East.

In his words. “Still a few weeks later, I received a call from President Richard’s office, requesting another meeting. It was almost the same as the first, except he did wonder, out loud, if it would be possible for me to go to Hong Kong this summer. I assumed that he wanted me to accompany one of the General Authorities, or even a new Mission President called to re-open the area. I knew that President Robertson had been urging for some assistance to continue operations in Hong Kong, which was then part of his “Japanese Mission”. I told President Richards that I would be delighted to go to Hong Kong for the summer. He asked if my wife would be willing to go. Because Grant Jr. had just been born, I suggested that I talk to her about it first. He asked me to return in one week for another discussion.
As we entered President Richard’s office, President J. Reuben Clark was there, and in a few moments President McKay walked in. He was very jovial, and made a great fuss over little Grant Jr. playing and laughing with him for some time.
Finally, seated in his large swivel chair, he turned and looked at me, and said, “Now President Heaton, this is a very important assignment. I have long been interested in the Chinese people and the missionary work there.” For the first time it dawned on me that all this was leading up to me being called as a Mission President. My first reaction of shock and disbelief, impelled me to say, “President McKay, I am neither capable, nor worthy to be a Mission President.” He very causally replied, “Oh, we are perfectly aware of that, Brother Heaton.” Our official call came in the mail a few days later.
Our next surprise was to become aware of the immense territory covered by this new Mission. President McKay said it was not only the largest Mission in the Church, but it contained more people than the rest of the world combined.
In subsequent meetings with the First Presidency, we learned how deeply President McKay’s interest in China really was. At the time we were set apart, it was mentioned that several attempts had been made in China, in failure. “This time we will not fail,” he promised!”

The Southern Far East mission began in Hong Kong with eight eager missionaries being led by a very capable Mission President, and being fed by a loving “Mission Mom.” Over the next months and years the gospel net was tossed wide as Cantonese and Mandarin were learned, lessons given, and baptisms performed. President and Sister Heaton would see the hand of the Lord in the missionary work, growth of the church, and in miracles for their family. President Heaton would be instrumental in securing floors of apartment buildings to serve as Branch chapels, and in purchasing a sizable piece of land in Kowloon for the mission home.

In later years when Gordon B. Hinkley was searching in vain for property on which to build the Hong Kong temple, the following experience is recorded in his biography. “Something very interesting came into my mind…I did not hear a voice with my natural ears, but into my mind there came the voice of the Spirit. It said, ‘why are you worried about this? You have a wonderful piece of property where the mission home and the small chapel stand. They are in the very heart of Kowloon, in the location with the best transportation. Build a building of several stories. It can include a chapel and classrooms on the first two floors, and a temple on the top two or three floors’…I relaxed and went back to sleep.” (Go Forward with Faith pg. 481)

The Hong Kong temple was dedicated May 26 &27, 1996. One year later, 1997, as the 99 year lease agreement between Britain and China expired; Hong Kong went back to the jurisdiction of mainland China. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would have a temple in a province of communist China.

At President Heaton's funeral, as words of tribute and love were spoken, my thoughts turned to the times I sat in the Heaton's living room, hearing many of the missionary stories and absorbing gems of wisdom about the Chinese culture. I remembered the feelings of love and respect this good couple had for the people of China. Through my research I was privileged to open a small window onto that beautiful landscape with its amazing people. My soul is richer for the journey.