Sunday, December 29, 2013

A New Year!

I haven't made New Year's Resolutions this year. Last year I read an article about a person who instead of resolutions decided she would make a list of things she wanted to do. I did that and of the 10 things/places I had on my list, I think I accomplished all but 8. We have the biggest Buddha in America just under a 2 hour drive from our home and I'd love to see it. It's been on the list for three years now. Maybe this will be the happy year! But today in Sacrament Meeting, a member of the stake presidency talked about hope and change and how that related to this time of year when we're thinking "new" and "change" and becoming better. He reflected what we've heard in general conference for the last few years...we don't have to set big major goals. They are too easily lost in the every day shuffle of life. But if every day we try to be just a little better...just say our prayers a little bit better; listen a little more carefully to promptings; reach out to someone who needs help. Just little things. Nothing earth shakingly huge. I can do that. I can even set a goal to call someone every day or send a note of encouragement or to say hello to someone I know may be hurting. I like that. A gift of service everyday. We have 11 missionaries we write to - a grandson, several grand-nephews and missionaries from our ward. I think that would count as a gift of service to write, especially if I tuck a few dollars in for lunch on the day member dinners fell through. Right now I'm quietly contemplating the blessings of the last week filled with family, fun, food and lots of chaos and laughter and music. As we opened a present on Christmas Eve, we all had to tell of a special Christmas memory, or our worst or best Christmas. This coming year, I hope to make a lot of very happy memories. I'm even thinking of keeping a special service journal to record what fun I had helping others. It might be a great reminder that there are many, many ways to serve. And that is my gift to my Savior this year: a gift of service all year long.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

MERRY CHRISTMAS, ONE AND ALL


Is there a word that carries more memories, hopes, faith, sadness, tradition, family bonding, and dreams than Christmas? It's a mixture of spiritual and secular, a day observed by both the religious and the profane. It's a time of giving and receiving. And for many it is also a time for quiet reflection and establishing new priorities. 

My childhood Christmases didn't include a lot of expensive gifts, though there was usually a new doll and a Christmas dress--even if the dress was made from flour sacks. The toe of one of my hated long, brown socks always held an orange, a few pieces of hard candy, a chocolate, and a handful of nuts. My siblings and I bought each other gifts at Kings or Woolworths.  Daddy read the Christmas story from St. Luke to us and Mama roasted a goose. 

Caroling hay rides, skating on silvery ponds, midnight mass, television specials, Secret Santa projects, making fudge, divinity, and popcorn balls, thought provoking firesides, along with band, drama, and choir performances eventually all became part of my growing up Christmas memories. 

As young parents, the Santa thing became important.  Money was tight and we did our best to give our small children a few of their wishes.  One Christmas we received a foster child four days before Christmas and struggled to buy him a few gifts.  The day before Christmas our mailman, recognizing that an envelope addressed to us held a check, called to have us meet him and pick up our mail at the beginning of his route instead of waiting until the afternoon when he would reach our house.  He made it possible for us to give our foster child comparable gifts to those already purchased for our own child. The lights at Temple Square, The Nutcracker performance, Christmas books, our children's choir and band performances, a soldier son far away at Christmas, Sub for Santa escapades, and various parties became part of our memories. 

As our children grew up, we spent Christmas Eves with my husband's family and exchanged family gifts that night, and since my own family always exchanged family gifts on Christmas Eve as well, we continued the tradition as our children began their young families.  How I love seeing my grandchildren perform the nativity pageant each year and share their musical talents, enjoy the pot luck style dinner my adult children and I put together for that special night, and treasure the laughter and fun as family gifts are exchanged. Each year I take a picture of all of my grandchildren sitting on the stairs in their new pajamas. Some have decided they are too old for the pajama part now, but we still do the picture.
 
 

 

Along with the warm memories of Christmases past, each year I feel excited for the coming Christmas.  I look forward to all Christmas is to me; an affirmation of my faith, the love of family, and a brief glimpse of a world where giving is front and center.  I believe each Christmas season should include at least one anonymous gift.  Those who pay off a stranger's lay-away bill, randomly distribute gift cards, carry out a sub for Santa or Angel tree project, drop coins in a Salvation Army bucket, donate food to a food bank, pay a stranger's library fine, give their waitress a big tip, or merely have a kind word and a smile for a fellow human being understand the spirit of Christmas.  I believe we observe Christmas best when we show the kind of love and kindness Christ practiced, but received little of in return.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Love my nativities!

My daughter is posting, one per day, her Christmas ornaments that she collects from countries she visits and has her friends guess which country they are from. It has been fun as we've had history, geography, cultural and ethnic discussions on each one. I didn't get a new nativity set this last year - the first 'barren' year I've had for a long time. Both my traveling kids were in Myanmar for business but apparently were too busy to look for a nativity set for me. Can't fault them for doing what they were there for! But I found one myself! We met my sister from Michigan and her husband and a couple of cousins who are wintering in Palm Springs at the Mission Inn in Riverside for lunch and as the guys sat in the sunshine and visited, we girls wandered through a delightful antique shop. And there it was in all its velvet and gold glory! I was going to post a picture on facebook for my friends who have seen my foreign ones at the Creche Festival, then decided maybe I'd just post a few each day before I got to this last special one. I really love collecting nativity sets as I am fascinated by the different ways different cultures portray the birth of the Savior. There is probably not a medium that isn't represented at the Creche Festival including a nativity set made of Twinkies! There are some made from coal, beeswax, and every other thing you can think of! My newest one is nothing like my own vision - or yours, I'm sure - of the birth of the Son of God as we know he was born in very humble circumstances. But knowing that He is the King of Kings, and had He been born in a palace, there is the possibility that the figures represented would have been clothed in rich velvets trimmed with gold. Here are a few some from Africa, one from Tahiti, a Bedouin tribe from Jordan, a beaded one from Zululand, and a clay one from Brazil. Hope they turn out!

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Best Christmas Gift


As Christmas approaches, I find myself thinking about last year. I was still recovering from a minor heart procedure, too weak to attempt many of the traditional items that I normally tackle each December. That may be why my children and grandchildren decided to set up the Christmas tree for me. I sat comfortably on the couch and watched as our artificial tree was pieced together, the ornaments were located, and the boxes opened for my grandchildren to explore. At the tender ages of four and one and a half, these precious children smiled with joy at the discovery of each ornament. Carefully they placed them on the tree in a random manner that to them seemed appropriate. My granddaughter sorted colors and shapes, while her younger brother made a nest on one side of the tree and lovingly set the ornaments he treasured in that safe place. Touched by their eagerness to help, the tree was left as they had decorated it, a reminder of that magical night.

I wrote the following poem this morning as I reflected on last year's experience. May I always remember the importance of reaching out to others in love. Gifts don't need to be large or expensive, but if they come from the heart, they are truly the best gifts we can give.

The Best Christmas Gift

Christmas
Can sometimes
Make us feel blue--
It’s sad to say but often true
This time of year we tend to miss
The items that bring true inner bliss
As we try to look impressive with lights and d├ęcor
Sending better Christmas cards than the year before
Tackling tasks we always think we must do this season
While we ignore the all-important behind-the-scenes reason
We celebrate this time of year—a time of hope, and love and cheer—
If we’ll reflect on what the best gift might be, an item not for sale, but given for free:
The love of our Savior—we can extend to others--the people around us, our sisters and brothers
He taught through love and the example He set, showing us it is much better to give than to get
Atoning for a world that doesn’t understand, the importance of being there for our fellow man
To emulate His life is the best gift to give, walking in His footsteps each day that we live
Reach out to those in need—lift the troubled soul
Make kindness, patience, and tolerance a goal
And in time we may begin to finally see
The path He walked in Galilee.
By: Cheri J. Crane

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

NOMINATIONS NEEDED


Think back.  What was the best book by an LDS author you read this year?  Did you nominate it for a Whitney Award?  Perhaps you read more than one book that made a lasting impression on you.  If you haven't already done it, nominate them all for Whitney Awards.

For a novel to be nominated for a 2013 Whitney Award, it must receive five nominations before the end of the current year and be copyrighted in 2013.  It must also be a full length novel, not a short story or novella. The author must be LDS, but anyone can nominate---except those who profit from the sale of the book.  That means I can nominate books by other writers, but I can't nominate my own book.  You can also nominate more than one book per category. Every year there are great books that don't get enough nominations because readers assume lots of people already nominated them or because readers aren't aware they are the ones who should be nominating.  I nominate lots of books and many other authors and reviewers do as well, which is great, but for the awards to have real significance more nominations are needed from the general reading public. It's kind of sad when nominations come only from fellow writers. The book doesn't need to  have an LDS theme, only be written by an LDS author. 

Award categories are General, Historical, Romance, Mystery/Suspense, Speculative, Youth Speculative, Youth General Fiction, Best Novel by a New Author, and Best Novel of the Year. Historical usually includes Westerns and Speculative includes Horror.  If you don't remember the titles or authors of the books you'd like to nominate go to Meridian Magazine's book reviews or to any other LDS fiction reviewer's web or blog page to refresh your memory.  You can also go to a bookstore's online catalog and scan the book jacket blurbs. 

Nominating a favorite book is easy.  Go here.  A form will pop up.  Fill in your name and email address, then add the book or books you wish to nominate along with the name of the author(s) and publisher(s), then submit.  You'll get back an acknowledgement that your nomination has been received by the contest chairman.  So get going! Nominate away! This is the big award for LDS authors and I assure you it means a lot to all of us to have our readers show their appreciation for our efforts to provide quality, clean books by nominating your favorites for these awards.