Monday, December 26, 2011

Twenty Christmases together

  • 1992: Arrived home from BYU late on Christmas night. Met at the airport by my family and the recently returned missionary I hadn't seen since August 1990.
  • 1993: Married to that returned missionary, spent Christmas in Logan with my grandparents and other extended family. New husband promptly contracted chicken pox from my two little polka-dotted cousins.
  • 1994: Our first Christmas tree. I made ornaments out of salt dough and paper. My parents had moved to Salt Lake and we spent time with them in the condo where they were staying until they found the home they now live in.
  • 1995: We lived in Wymount Terrace. G gave me two zebra finches, whom we named Kirk (the chubby one) and Picard (the thin, cerebral one).
  • 1996: We visited Fairbanks for Christmas. I mainly remember his parents' dog as a hyperactive young thing, massive quantities of chocolate, and long, snowy walks and drives in the dark of Alaskan winter.
  • 1997: Arizona with G's family for Christmas. I got a beautiful brown velvet formal dress (still in my closet) and G's grandma said to me, "Where on earth are you going to wear that?" 
  • 1998: We spent Christmas in Colorado with more Shaws and experienced Pearl Street in Boulder as well as the Infamous Chinese Restaurant Centripetal Force Incident. (Think lazy susan.) I took care of a couple of adorable little nephews and some lights in my head turned on regarding adoption.
  • 1999: We lived in Minnesota with our four-month-old son, who loved the lights on the tree and would coo at them excitedly. We realized the guy G was working with in pursuit of a Ph.D. was an A-1 jerk and packed up and headed back to Utah.
  • 2000: First Christmas in our little pink house, a condo in Salt Lake City. After Christmas, we spent a few nights in a cabin in Escalante with my family, then visited G's extended family in Arizona.
  • 2001: We received a Christmas basket from our ward, which kind of perplexed us. I think it might have been because someone asked me about the costs of our two adoptions, I told them the honest answer, and they were flabbergasted, probably wondering how we could even afford to eat after spending that kind of money.
  • 2002: G's grandpa passed away in Arizona on Christmas Eve. We made a really insane trip down there for the funeral with two very small boys.
  • 2003: First Christmas in California, where G was again pursuing a Ph.D. We spent that whole December raking up yellow leaves from two huge mulberry trees and feeling a little homesick for snow country. G was struggling as the only sort-of grad student at UC Merced, which was so new he couldn't even be enrolled yet . Friends generously paid me $50 to sing at a Christmas party for their employees. We were pretty much desperately poor and needed every drop we could get.
  • 2004: I made UC Merced gingerbread men and excitedly gave gifts to my new co-workers. And had that embarrassing incident wishing my Jewish colleague a Merry Christmas. I also had daycare woes. G finally had some other grad students to keep him company.
  • 2005: S came up with some excellent Yuletide Funnies. I made a failure of pumpkin fudge, thereafter known as pumpkin sludge.
  • 2006: We got an artificial tree for the first time ever. Canceled an Arizona trip because we had a four-week old foster daughter who needed a court order to travel out of state. She played Baby Jesus in the family Nativity play. Joy.
  • 2007: We got a Wii and respiratory flu. The furnace broke and made us glad, momentarily, to be renters. We got the news that the county was going to try to take Z to an illegal extended-family placement after more than a year in our family. We were delighted by the recent verbal explosion of K, age 3, who had joined us in June of that year.
  • 2008: We still had four children, and after months in court we had a lot fewer worries. I enjoyed being back home with my kids after four years working for UC Merced. G and I started working on applying for jobs for him as a Ph.D. Z really enjoyed a cinnamon roll.
  • 2009: After the stress and chaos of our move to Montana, I almost didn't find my Christmas mojo in time for the big day. But we strung some lights and unpacked the decorations and rejoiced in being in our own home with a new job and four children all officially ours.
  • 2010: A beautiful and sacred Christmas at home. We'd had some tough things happen in the fall, but the upside of that is that our hearts were humble and open. I coordinated a donation for the homeless shelter from the church. G completed his first semester as a professor.
  • 2011: I planned a ward Christmas party, posted a Christmas song a day on Facebook, changed our gift focus from toys to family activities (snowshoes!), and made sugar cookies with my daughter for the first time. 
It's been twenty years since I spent a Christmas without the delightful, surprising, smart, hardworking, wonderful guy I love, the man I now call Dr. G. I hope I never have to. We have been up and down the roller coaster, for sure, but this Christmas I would say we are better than ever. We have a wild little family. We have stuff to work on. But we can do it. Bring on 2012.

Saturday, December 24, 2011


And one flash-lit. Have a wonderful holiday.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Why you might hear me say "Happy Holidays"

I am all about the Christ in Christmas. Nativity scenes, stories, songs, the family Nativity play, the church service. I believe Christ is the son of God and in his love for us chose to visit our world by experiencing life as we live it, starting as an infant in the most humble circumstances. Conceived before his mother's marriage,  carried in what we must assume was some shame, born in a stable and laid in a bed of straw. Then visited by rich and poor alike, recognized however momentarily as the promised Messiah, heralded by angels and a star in the sky. This is Christmas to me, and it moves me beyond description.

If I already know you have feelings about Christmas similar to mine, I will sure as shooting tell you, "Merry Christmas." Absolutely.

Otherwise, I find "Happy Holidays" to be a beautiful wish to give a friend, and I'll say that to you, instead. Here's why.

When I first started working in my university job seven years ago, I was so excited for Christmas. Well, that's not different from any other year. Anyway, as I left the office before we closed for the holiday, I bid a friend and co-worker farewell with my traditional "Merry Christmas" greeting. Gently she put her hand on my arm, and with a smile, said, "I'm Jewish."

Now, I know the bare bones of Jewish history and I'm also pretty well aware that in the culture I live in, even being a non-mainstream Christian puts me in a position of privilege. And although I never meant to exclude or insult anyone by sharing my Christmas cheer, I did give a greeting that emphasized difference rather than similarity, a vision that was not considerate and probably not appropriate for the workplace, at least with a colleague I did not yet know well. I felt like a jerk.

I don't really like feeling like a jerk. It's not fun. So sometimes now I don't use the holiday season as a chance to tell people I'm a Christian. While I am far from ashamed of my faith, sometimes that's not the way to build friendships and show respect for others.

So, Happy Holidays to you all. I hope they shine, and I hope they offer you closeness with friends old and new, friends who share your faith and friends who differ. I think Jesus would approve.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Making Christmas

After the ward party, I kind of feel like I've already done Christmas and want to lie around in my pajamas and play Scrabble-clone games on the computer. It's not going to work.

There are three sick kids in the house. The Christmas cold is a severely under-reported holiday tradition. We eat sugar, we stay up late, we mingle with people, we get sick. It makes perfect sense, actually.

Although my shopping is done, I still have a package to send and lots of wrapping and baking to do. Those are fun jobs, and when I find my energy I'm sure I'll accomplish them, no problem.

I seem to have misplaced a large stack of addressed, stamped Christmas cards. Dear friends, you might get your card a little late this year. I suspect they might be at the church where I was frantically covering cakes with whipped cream on Friday afternoon.

We have three different Christmas programs to attend this week - one at the preschool, one at the elementary school, and one for the Young Musicians' Club where A plays guitar. Fa la la!

Do you ever wonder what would happen to holidays if the mom didn't do the work? Sometimes I do. Not complaining. Just trying to find my motivation.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Ward party plans

Through a convoluted series of events, I ended up planning the ward Christmas party that took place last night. Twice. Thankfully I had to execute only one of these plans, the second one and with lots and lots of help. The first one was vetoed by people who, I think, weren't too sure the food would be satisfying. Whatever, I am not going to get all offended by that. I still think it was an awesome plan, so I'm going to post both here fore the benefit of others who may be looking for ideas. I found a dearth of simple, doable ideas when I was searching online, and you know, I always like to share my outstanding ideas.

Ward Christmas Party Plan 1: All On a Christmas Morning

Decor: stock Christmas items (garland, poinsettias) from closet; plastic tablecloths; red and green balloons in a row lengthwise down the center of each rectangular table. Each balloon has candy inside and is tied to a wooden skewer to avoid having to use helium. Skewers are anchored in long boards from quilt frames or other drilled boards placed under the plastic-sheeting tablecloths.

Food: Breakfast for dinner - cinnamon rolls made by YW; breakfast casseroles made by RS; fruit salad; juice and milk; hot cocoa bar with marshmallows and candy canes

Activities: Devotional from bishop, followed by food. After eating, children get to pop the balloons and keep the candy. Ward members may choose to come in pajamas and participate in a PJ fashion show. Prizes awarded for best adult, best teen, best child, and best family PJs. Carol singing with pre-designated leader and pianist. Visit from Santa Claus in foyer with photographer on hand.

Ward Christmas Party Plan 2: Together at Christmas

Decor: stock Christmas items (garland, poinsettias) from closet; plastic tablecloths; artificial tree; runner for serving table only. One poinsettia on each dining table.

Food: Prime rib with jus and horseradish cream sauce (cooked by culinary wizard ward member); garlic mashed potatoes and raspberry-pretzel jello salad (prepared by RS members from distributed recipes); green beans cooked from frozen in church kitchen. Candy-cane cakes prepared by RS presidency (purchased angel food cakes covered with whipped cream and crushed candy canes).

Activities: Devotional from bishop, followed by dinner. After eating, slide show of ward activities from the year just passed, with Christmas music. Then, decorating graham-cracker gingerbread houses pre-assembled (this could be done by the Primary, but in our case was done by the RS presidency). We made 25 graham cracker houses to be decorated by about 125 people. Families and friends worked in teams. As this winds down, start carol singing with pre-designated leader and pianist. Focus on kids' favorite Christmas songs - often the secular ones they learn in school, because this is about fun! Visit from Santa Claus in foyer with photographer on hand.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Christmas lit for kids

Because I am a little bit of an information and media junkie all year 'round, I guess it's no surprise that at Christmas some of the things I love most are the music and books and movies and TV specials and ... what else could we fit in there?

I've done posts in the past about Christmas music. And while I am not one to pull it out the day after Halloween (unless I'm in a really sad mood and need a pick-me-up that badly) I listen to Christmas solid from Thanksgiving through New Year's Day. That's not changing.

But I've never written about this other Christmas thing that is absolutely vital for me: kids' books. I have a growing stack of kids' Christmas books. They come out with the decorations and litter the living room for the entire season. The kids really read them, I think because it feels so special to have some different books for just a few weeks out of the year. And it's always special to snuggle up by a lighted tree or a cozy fire to read a story together.

Here are a few favorites. I make no claim that it's a comprehensive list, or anything.

The Nativity by Francesca Crespi is a beautiful pop-up book. I don't normally buy pop-ups, because you can imagine what happens to them in a household like mine. Destroyed! But this one survives, probably because it's only out for a limited time. And it's worth having; it's just lovely. The illustrations are reminiscent of eastern European religious icons, with gold accents and simple, strategic moving parts, and the story of Christ's birth is sweetly told.

Welcome Comfort by Patricia Polacco is a guaranteed heart-warmer. A child who is bullied at school becomes friends with the school janitor, and gains insights into Christmas spirit that are absolutely unparalleled. Anything by Polacco is worth adding to your library, but this is one of my absolute favorites.

Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck can't be beat! The writing shines, and the illustrations by Mark Buehner in this edition draw you in and make you almost feel you've lived the story. It helps, I guess, that the nighttime mountains you see all covered with snow look a little like southwest Montana to me. Oh, and I cry in this story. Without fail. It's a good cry, real, not button-pushing. Beautiful.

Snowmen at Christmas by Caralyn Buehner (more illustrations by Mark Buehner) is pure fun, a peek at how your snowman celebrates when you're not looking. And if you don't already have it, you had probably better add Snowmen at Night to your list, as well.

A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas. All right, confession. I don't have this book in my hot little hands yet. I just ordered it. But it's way down deep in my soul. This book was the one my dad made us sit through every Christmas Eve before we opened our one present (my family's tradition). I grew up before I realized that it was poetry, not torture. But now it's so full of memories, and I can't wait to bring this edition home this Christmas. I try to add a book a year, and this seems like the perfect choice.

The Polar Express. Come on, do I even need to say anything?

The Nutcracker, as illustrated by the incomparable Maurice Sendak. I cannot imagine a better illustrator to riff on the disturbing fantasia that is this traditional holiday favorite. I've never been a big Nutcracker fan, but I am a huge Sendak fan. And, OK, it's more for me than for the kids.

Mortimer's Christmas Manger by Karma Wilson tells a sweet story about a mouse who learns to make room for the Savior in the little stable he stole from the nativity scene belonging to the family in whose house he lives. Mice are gross, but when they're cartoonish and cute I don't mind them. My kids really enjoy this one.

The Little Match Girl, by Hans Christian Anderson, illustrated by Rachel Isadora. Oh, so sad. Sometimes you need a good cry at Christmas time, don't you? And my kids have been fascinated with it this year. It's given us a good opening to talk about poverty and helping others - so important.

A New Star in Heaven by Val Chadwick Bagley. This is a wonderful hands-on nativity book with a definite Mormon twist. I recommend reading it to one child at a time. If you have a kid on each side, they may be liable to fight over who gets to lift the flaps. Really, I love the way the story is told, and most importantly, the kids love to get involved with the book the way they do in this one.

What are your favorite reads at Christmas time? I'd love to hear!