Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Christmas Dreams Come True: They Do!





Well, the whole gang has gone home now, with the exception of our youngest son, who will be leaving next year (in a week or so...). heehee

Here's a shot or two (or three or four) of our Christmas fun. My daughter-in-law was the photographer, which accounts for my grandchildren being the primary subject matter!

A few of the highlights were...

1. beautiful Christmas program at the church on December 21st (thanks, Sheila)
2. evening horse and buggy ride to see the Christmas lights in a neighboring village and experience low-grade hypothermia first-hand
3. exciting but perilous treasure hunt at a nearby park (aargh!)
4. traditional Mexican food feast, featuring Heather's enchiladas and three kinds of homemade tamales 
5. Christmas Eve nativity play (waaaay, waaaaaaay off-Broadway)
6. Christmas Eve story by yours truly, followed by the infamous "circletime."
7. 'Twas the Night Before Christmas (props to Clement Clarke Moore)
8. Sprinkly cookies for Santa and crunchy carrots for the reindeer
9. Christmas morning extravaganza, including the traditional melt-in-your-mouth-wonderful tea rings by Grandma and Grandpa Robbins
10. trip to Carmel, complete with dinner at the Hog's Breath Inn. (I know, but it's delicious!)

...all interspersed, of course, with lots of game-playing, skateboard-riding, and walks to the playground.

A perfect Christmas. Hope yours was, too.

=)


THE GRANDKIDS...ALL DECKED OUT IN THEIR CHRISTMAS FINERY

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Carmel by the Sea


"...I must go down to the sea again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying..." 
 - John Masefield


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Christmas Eve Reading



Nativity Poem
c1981 Susan Noyes Anderson

We all have heard the story; it's been told and then retold,
about the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem of old.
Yet every Christmastide the tale bears telling once again,
as we reflect on that sweet Babe, born to redeem all men.
A decree went out from Caesar, and so it came to pass,
that Joseph and sweet Mary went to David to be taxed.
Though Mary journeyed wearily, for she was great with child,
when Joseph wept to see her pain, she looked at him and smiled:
"Fear not for me, dear husband, among women I am blessed,
but now my time draws near, and we must find a place to rest."
In desperate need of shelter, they pushed on to Bethlehem,
only to find the inns were full; no room was offered them.
Still Joseph knocked on every door till one innkeeper said,
"Seek refuge in my stable. Here's some straw to make a bed."
And Mary gratefully sank down into that new-mown hay
and gave birth to the Savior that first, sacred Christmas day.
A shining star rose in the sky above that holy place,
as Mary gazed upon her Child and touched His radiant face.
The shepherds and the wise men came, led by that glorious star,
and angels sang out praises as they journeyed from afar.
They somehow knew the Child was sent to bring the world His light,
and their hearts were filled with wonder as they looked on Him that night.
So was our Lord and Savior born, in humble majesty,
to save us from our earthly sins and seal our destiny.
On this and every Christmas Day, we thank  the Lord above
for sending our Redeemer to bless us with His love.

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL OF YOU!

Monday, December 22, 2008

O Come, Let Us Adore Him

Yesterday one of my sons and I narrated the Christmas program for our ward sacrament meeting. It went beautifully, with the Primary children singing Christmas Bells Are Ringing and the YW rendering Christ Child, Christ Child so beautifully that it brought tears to my eyes. Another young woman played Bring the Torch on the clarinet, while another performed a beautiful descant to a tender carol on her flute. Our ward choir director had chosen the music and placed it in order, then asked me to write a few words of narration to segue from one musical number to the next. I always love being involved in the creation of this Christmas experience for my ward.

What I loved even more, though, was looking down into the audience and seeing my entire family in attendance. The scenery was perfect:  my husband (who for once was NOT on the stand, but sitting with a grandchild on each knee), my son and daughter-in-law and their beautiful family (dressed in Christmas outfits to die for!), my daughter and her new husband, and my youngest son (who is home from the U of A to spend some time with us.) The other son was seated right next to me, reading scripture and quotes from President Hinckley like a pro and dressed in a red Christmas sweater he picked out for himself. (An endearing thing is that my husband had...all on his own...purchased antique Christmas tree pins for all the girls in the family and Christmas ties for the guys.)

Needless to say, my heart was full.

Here is the final poem that closed the program:

O Come Let Us Adore
c1997 by Susan Noyes Anderson

With joy and hope, we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
We speak of His example, of His love and sacrifice.
Our voices raise in carols praising Him, each sacred strain
a witness that the Lord did come and sank beneath our pain
to take our sins upon Himself, a perfect gift of love,
from our own Elder Brother, He who waits for us above.

And it was long before this life that we first knew His name.
He was the father's firstborn son...a bright, eternal fame.
Like unto God, He was, a Being of light and power and grace,
and yet so humble that He chose to take our lowly place
and come to earth, a baby born to suffer, bleed and die 
in our behalf. When Father asked, He answered, "Here am I."

"Send me," He said. "Thy will be done." "The glory will be Thine."
He loved us as He loved Himself, with love so pure...divine...
that our hearts swelled within us, and every voice was raised
in shouts of jubilation and choruses of praise.
For Father's plan required a Savior, free of any sin,
to pay the price and justify our souls to enter in.

And Jesus Christ agreed, offered Himself, made us His own...
inviting all to take His name and worship at His throne.
Jehovah, the Creator, He who did the Father's will,
who made this earth and calmed the sea, who whispers, "Peace, be still"...
The Son of Man, the Lamb of God, Messiah, Bread of Life...
The Good Shepherd, who spilled His blood to save us from the knife.

For we are sheep all gone astray, but He would take us in
and welcome us into His fold to ever dwell within.
He lived. He lives. He came to earth:  The Way, The Truth, The Light.
The course of all eternity was changed that sacred night.
A babe was born in Bethlehem, a star rose in the sky,
while hosts of angels sang; and we sang with them, you and I.

We sang as we had sung before, glad tidings of great worth.
We sang as we will sing again when He returns to earth.
And we will hear the trump, the trump of God, and Michael's shout,
proclaiming Jesus Christ to all, and those who would not doubt
will be caught up to meet Him, as in glory He appears,
the first fruits of His labor, sanctified in blood and tears.

And justified by faith and works to live with Him once more.
Oh come, let us adore Him. Oh come, let us adore!

After that, the choir sang Gesu Bambino. I only wish you all could have been there to hear it.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

In Parenting, Things Are Not Always What They Seem

When my youngest son was in kindergarten, I got a worrisome call from his kindergarten teacher, who had become quite concerned about his mental health. When I learned that she was inviting the principal to join the meeting she wanted to schedule, I became quite concerned, too.

I arrived in the classroom only to be shown a picture my son had drawn, at her request, of himself. He had created a pretty reasonable facsimile, as had the other children. The only difference was this:  After drawing the picture, he had taken a black crayon and scribbled all over it, as dark as he could. He had basically crossed himself out.

I don't think I need to tell you this was not a good thing. I'd seen no sign at all of the depression (or worse) that his teacher and the principal were talking about, and I just couldn't wrap my head around the idea. The whole thing was disturbing, though, and when I got home, I asked my little boy why he had taken a black crayon and scribbled all over the self-portrait he had drawn. His answer surprised me.

"I want to be black, like Michael Cooper," he answered matter-of-factly. (Michael Cooper was his then-favorite basketball player on the Lakers.) In other words, his "depression" was actually hero worship!

I tell this story for two reasons. One, because it's kinda funny. His answer really tickled me at the time, and I think the teacher was pretty amused too...well, equal parts of relieved and amused.

Anyway, the second reason I tell this story is because it's a good one for moms/parents to hear. Things are not always what they seem, and while it's important to investigate any red flags or warning bells that we see (or hear of) in regard to our children, it's also best not to jump to conclusions. Sometimes there are logical explanations for seemingly illogical things.

Just something to think about vis a vis the parenting process...

L8r, Sk8r - A Betty and Her Bro



Okay, I'm a California grandma, and I've definitely got some skillz! (Not at skating, just at talking about it.) 

Observe:

Ridin' in the leaves is a little bit sketchy, but oh dude, the J-man is smooth. And Queen C's stance is diamondz, even if the board IS backwards. (Kinda gnarly, but at least she doesn't bail, though she does ride goofy.) Hey, those kids can really shred! Now all they need is a ramp so they can get some serious air!!

Impressive, no? (Or have I overplayed my hand?)

Here's the scary part. Their dad, who used to do ollies and kick flips, has now decided he can still do those tricks 15 or so years later. I sure hope he's right! (Helmet and knee-pads, anyone?...Or maybe full body armor???) 

Yikes!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Guess Who's Coming to (Christmas) Dinner?




Guess who's making a repeat appearance for Christmas? Yep...the grandkids!! And their parents, too. AND their three uncles and aunt! In fact, ALL of my children will be here Saturday, and I'm trying to get everything done before they arrive so I can just relax and enjoy them.

Yesterday I spent literally the whole day sorting and wrapping the presents. The prior day was devoted to cleaning house and changing sheets, etc. Today? Well, today I think I will just go around with a dreamy look on my face, kinda putting the finishing touches on everything.

My thoughtful mom (who shouldn't have done it but I'm glad she did) baked me cookies of every kind that arrived in the mail yesterday...two jars of 'em to share with my family. Thanks, Mom. They look absolutely delicious, as do the tea rings she and my stepfather made. These tasty morsels truly melt in your mouth. None of this is going to help my Weight Watchers cause...but it's sure gonna put a smile on my face!

Not that there wasn't a smile on my face already.  =)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

So NOT the reason for the season!

Red and white block letters spelling S-A-N-T-A have graced the top of our family room TV for years. (The A's even have a Santa face...very cute, if I do say so myself.) 

When my sons were teenagers, one of their delightful friends was fond of rearranging those letters when I wasn't looking. Sometimes I wouldn't notice for a day or two, and I've often wondered what visitors to our home thought as they sat in our family room at Christmas time, nonplussed by this supposedly Christian family that apparently felt the need to give a holiday shout-out to S-A-T-A-N.

I have to say that this is a more amusing story to tell than it was to experience...At the time, I was definitely NOT amused!  

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Love Can Make You Happy: 36 years & counting


I met my husband when we were both freshmen at the University of Utah. He was only 18 years old at the time, and I was even younger...16. We fell for each other pretty hard, but it was four years until we got married. (His idea. He wanted us to graduate first.)

For the first ten years of our marriage, I never even noticed he wasn't perfect. The next ten years I resigned myself to the fact that he wasn't perfect. The next ten years I accepted the fact that he wasn't perfect. Today (six years into the next ten), I appreciate the fact that he isn't perfect.

So. Back to square one. We've come full circle. Except that this time the "not noticing he isn't perfect" comes with knowledge and appreciation. I see his imperfections, and I like them. They are familiar, endearing, and they balance out my own. I need that. Together, we bring each other from either extreme more toward the center, and both of us come closer to getting it right.

As people, we are still imperfect as can be, but our choice to be together (forever) is not. And THAT's perfect.

Today is perfect, too. It's December 16th, our 36th wedding anniversary. We're well on our way to accomplishing exactly what my husband invited me to do so many years ago: "Grow old with me, the best is yet to be." (In fact, this was an engraved invitation from him...on my wedding ring!!)

So Happy Anniversary, Dave! Comme toujours, je t'aime plus qu'hier, moins que demain. And here's a little anniversary poem for you:

When we were young, you made me blush
go hot and cold and turn to mush.
I still feel all these things; it's true.
But is it menopause, or you?

(Probably a little bit of both, heehee.)

I love you!


PS. If you want a hilarious laugh, go watch the You-tube video at Snarky-Belle. (Not related in any way to my anniversary, but well worth watching...)

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Healing Nature of Christmas Memories

Christmas is a time for reflection, and I love to look back on childhood memories of this wonderful season. Seeing my mom wrapping packages late in November was both painful and pleasant...pleasant in that I knew Christmas was coming...painful in that I also knew the tantalizing presents were for my cousins! Of course, my misery abated in the following week or two as I watched my mom's frequent shopping trips and noted her secretive entries into the house late at night carrying bags full of who-knew-what treasures. Such bliss! (And I haven't even mentioned the visions of sugar plums dancing...no, cavorting...in my head.)

My fondest childhood memory of Christmas, however, has nothing to do with brown paper packages tied up with string, raindrops on roses, or warm woolly mittens. My favorite memory is of my mother picking up a snow globe from a low table by the window and sitting me down with her in the window seat to tell me the real story of Christmas, symbolized by a tiny manger scene and magically brought to life by a round ball of glass, a few swirly white flecks of something unknown, and a loving mother's attention. What a warm and wonderful spirit filled my heart that night.

Every one of us wants to feel a warm and wonderful spirit at Christmas time, but most encounter a year or two where the lights seem a little less bright, the carols not quite so merry. Perhaps that year is difficult financially; maybe the family experiences some unusual pressure or even sustains a painful loss. Whatever the reason, in those years when the marvel of it all is a bit harder to glimpse, calling upon favorite childhood memories...especially the spiritual ones...can be the saving grace that uplifts your holiday season. Reflecting upon my own night of wonder, (especially the gift my mother gave me...a gospel story I recognized then as truth and will always hold dear) has reminded me more than once of the peace and joy that can always be found in celebrating the Savior's birth through times of abundance and (especially) adversity. In fact, a friend and I recently agreed that those Christmases where we struggled the hardest have frequently become those we value most. Why? Because peace was found where peace was needed, in remembering the birth of One who brought lasting peace to all of us so many years ago.

My Christmas wish for all of us this season is that we might recapture the humble joys of childhood by embracing anew the sights, sounds, smells and...most important of all...the spirit of Christmas.

"For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11).

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Christmas "Circletime" Tradition

Okay, in several posts I've alluded to a peculiar little family practice of ours called "Circletime." I've also promised to explain it and will do that today so anyone inclined to give it a go will have plenty of time to prepare. (Well, maybe not plenty of time...but more time than if I waited till next week!)

I started this when my children were young, which is definitely the easiest way...especially if you have boys...but it could still be adopted by families with older children as long as they are somewhat accustomed to sharing openly in the family group (or at least are willing to do so). I do have one friend who couldn't make it work because her boys and husband got too uncomfortable with all the "feelings" stuff and kept joking around. With few exceptions, though, I think most families could get it going just fine, especially if they are already used to family home evenings and testimony meetings, and definitely if their children are young.  

Having said that, I must admit that mine resisted a bit, at first, and ALL of the guys still tease me fairly mercilessly about it. (They, by the way, are the ones who named it "circletime" because they were making unabashed fun of it...likening the whole process to a kindergarten sharing time.) The name stuck, but their disdain for it did not, though even now they would be hard-pressed to admit that. Somehow, the making fun of it has evolved into part of the tradition!

Anyway, here's what we do, and it has become the heart of our whole celebration. Every year I write a Christmas Eve story for my family. If your creativity runs in a different direction, just be on the lookout for a beautiful one. (If you can't find anything you love on such short notice, leave me a comment, and I'll send you a good 'un.) I used to choose the themes based upon what particular message I wanted to impress upon my growing children that year, but as they got older, I started writing more for myself, out of whatever I was feeling or wanted to say to my family about Christmas and what it means to us as an eternal unit. (For those who are not members of my church, it is our belief that faithful families can be together for eternity because of the Savior and His atonement.)

After dinner, we all retire to our favorite spots in the living room, sing a song or two, and have a prayer. Then we read a couple of traditional Christmas favorites, like the verses from Luke and a nativity poem I wrote when my children were small to accompany their re-enactment of Christ's birth. I'm sure you have your traditional readings, etc., but if anyone would like to use the nativity poem, you can find it on my poetry site. (Be sure to scroll down almost to the bottom.)

Once we've covered the nativity, it's time for the story. These are usually poignant in nature. (My kids are laughing right now because my stories actually give poignancy a whole new and probably over-the-top meaning!) But hey, I like 'em that way, and they set the mood for the "circletime question," which is based upon a principle expressed in the story. For instance, once we wanted to impress upon our children the importance of having a family name and honoring it. We also wanted to link that concept in their minds to becoming part of Christ's family (taking His name upon us) and honoring that, too. So the story was written about a young Jewish girl in WWII Germany whose parents are taken prisoner by the Nazis. Their friends put the girl into hiding, but she has to take an assumed name and pretend to be part of a Christian family. I won't tell you the rest of the details here (I don't want to ruin the "ending," as someday I am going to publish these stories), but in the end her choices and their results show the importance of honoring both the family name and the name of Christ.

(Wow, this is taking forEVER to explain. Sorry about that. The next post will be short and pithy, I promise!)

Okay, at the conclusion of the story, everyone in the circle receives a small symbol of the story's message to serve as a reminder. (For the above story, it was a little name plaque.) These mementos are usually about the size of a nickel or a quarter but have been at various times such things as a pewter heart, one of those rubber bracelets with "I carry you in my heart" imprinted on it (in Latin, so the guys would wear them and not be embarrassed!), a stone with a word or picture inscribed on it, an acorn, a sterling silver butterfly, a star, a bell, a piece of post-it paper upon which the family had written our best qualities, etc. etc. It is fun to get creative with these, and I usually find them at craft or party supply stores online. (Try googling "pocket tokens." My rule is to try not to spend more than $1.50 per item, but I've gone as high as $2.00 before when I really like something.)

Next comes the "circletime question." The circletime question for the "name" story was twofold: (1) What does being part of this family and honoring our name mean to you? and (2) What does it mean to take the name of Christ upon us and how can we do it? I'm always first to answer (by popular demand) because I've had some time to think about it already. The question then goes around the circle until everyone has had a chance to speak. At first, it was difficult to keep everyone on track, but before long these became our most beautiful family moments as each person got more and more comfortable sharing at a deep level about Christmas and family and their feelings for both. It's funny. Sometimes these sessions run pretty long, and once two teenage friends of our youngest sons came over to wish us a Merry Christmas. We paused to invite them in and hadn't realized how strong the Spirit was in the room (even though we had stopped speaking) till we looked at their faces. You could tell they felt it, which made us more aware of it as well.

Circletime began as a Christmas tradition, but it mutated. The first time we used it for another purpose was when our eldest son went on his mission. We had a "circletime" for him. Then we started having it at the family reunion every summer in Newport Beach. Then we had it at a funeral, and then a modified version of it at a wedding dinner. Then we began doing it at Thanksgiving because the married kids were going to miss it every other Christmas so they wanted one on the Thanksgivings, too. That way, we'd have at least two a year...one during the holidays and one during our summer vacation. I might add that the summer vacation circletime has a different feel to it...still very personal but a little more secular in its slant.

What's fun is that many members of our extended family participate too, so we usually have at least 20 people involved. On the Christmases when someone can't be with us, I still send them "circletime in a box," which includes both the story and the little symbols for every member of their family. Once my niece even ended up reading the circletime story for her in-law's Christmas Eve celebration. Cool!

Anyway, as you can imagine, a lot of these little circletime "symbols" started to pile up, so we needed a place to keep them. Every person in the family who participates was given a box to keep them in, complete with his/her initials and a picture of a beautiful forest on top. The family reunion was a perfect place to give them out, and we talked about being able to figuratively "withdraw into our wilderness" in times of turmoil by opening the box and looking at the various symbols to evoke memories of our family love and faith (sort of a touchstone). While these are not expensive boxes...I actually had them made by a company that does packaging for various products...they are pretty neat! Last year, the group also requested that I give them a copy of all the stories, which I did.

So...This is circletime. It is a great family tradition, and it ensures that we remember what Christmas really means. Not that we don't enjoy all the "fun" stuff, by the way. We always go outside to hear Santa's bells and read "The Night Before Christmas" and sing "Up on the Housetop" and "Jolly Old Saint Nicholaus," etc. But the best part of Christmas is just being together in that circle, reminding ourselves and each other what the holiday is all about and just feelin' the love.  =)

Friday, December 12, 2008

How Do I Love My Daughter-in-Law? Let Me Count the Ways.

HOW DO I LOVE MY DAUGHTER-IN-LAW?........



(This is just the pictorial list. Here comes the written one!)

LET ME COUNT THE WAYS........

1. I love her for allowing and encouraging her children to express themselves freely (and often, messily).

2. I love her for inviting about half of her ward over for a "Sounds of Christmas" evening and calling me afterwards to say gleefully (even though the festive gang of kids in attendance had left her house a shambles) that she was going to make it a tradition.

3. I love her for taking my grandson to piano lessons every week and sitting out in the car with the baby to wait for him.

4. I love her for taking my granddaughter to ballet lessons and letting her wear her tutu everywhere she goes...especially to the Nutcracker!

5. I love her for finding a way to get her whole family together to cut down a fresh Christmas tree, even though my son is working six days a week and spends much of Sunday doing his duties as Elders Quorum president.

6. I love her for actually letting the kids place the ornaments on the tree...wherever they want them to be.

7. I love her for baking Christmas cookies with them and letting them make a total disaster of her kitchen while they get reaaaaally creative with the decorating of said cookies.

8. I love her for loving our family...for actually being happy to come to our home for Christmas and for cheerfully going along with all our crazy traditions. I especially love when she goes into her uncontrollable laughing fits caused by my other children's antics.

9. I love her for her love of hot chocolate with whipped cream (or any kind of chocolate with anything at all)...and for her beautiful sharing during "circle time" and her childlike excitement on Christmas morning.

10. I love her for honing her talent by taking LOTS of pictures (and faithfully blogging them!) (then letting me "borrow" them for MY blog!!)...and for making a concerted effort to ensure that her children remember us, the "far-away" grandparents, in between visits.

Can you see why I love her? It isn't hard. She is such a keeper, and I consider her my daughter in every way that matters. (I also love my son for finding her...and for more than a few other things as well!)

Merry Christmas, Heather! (By the way, this list actually goes on forever, which is why I oh-so-wisely limited myself to 10 items.)
 
PS. She's really cute, too.  :)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Gentle Night in Bethlehem



A Gentle Night in Bethlehem


Tonight I walk beneath a gentle sky
where stars are warm and whisper, "Peace, be still."
The silence beckons softly, as the moon
shines clear and bright upon a distant hill.

My eyes look up, and in the glow I see
reflections of another gentle night,
when o'er the quiet hills of Bethlehem,
one star proclaimed the everlasting light.

The Everlasting Light, Emmanuel...
A Child was born, by prophecy foretold.
A humble cave was shelter to a King
who lived and died to make our hearts as gold.

A mother who had never known a man...
A father who received her, and believed.
Together, they would walk a lonely road,
in service to the Babe that was conceived.

Thou rev'rence was their due, it went unpaid.
Few people understood what was in store.
Then Caesar, who had never understood, 
levied a grievous tax upon the poor.

So Joseph went with Mary to be taxed,
the glory of their calling still unknown.
And willingly, though she was great with child,
she bore the weight for all of us, alone.

She carried every hope and every dream
across a barren land and then pushed on
through pain and sorrow, Joseph at her side,
to Bethlehem, until her strength was gone.

The time was nigh, the Baby would be born.
Where would the weary travelers find their rest?
Inside the city, none would take them in,
and so a lowly stable was their nest.

A child was born of Mary, as foretold,
and in her loving arms He gently lay.
The Hope of all the world had come at last...
a baby, cradled in the new-mown hay.

The Son of Mary and the Son of God–
a newborn King descended from on high.
For lo, an angel voice proclaimed the birth
to shepherds watching o'er their flocks nearby.

And they were sore afraid, but they did hear
glad tidings, for the promise had been kept.
Their eyes beheld a star, a wondrous star...
above that sacred place where Jesus slept.

A host of angels filled the evening sky
rejoicing, shouting praises through the air.
As time stood still, the earth and heavens were joined...
for you and I, and all of us, were there.

The Wise Men brought Him gifts of purest gold;
rich frankincense and myrrh were in their hands.
They sought the newborn King to honor Him,
making their way in haste from distant lands.

Deliverance was the promise He fulfilled
when He descended from His throne above,
but He did not do battle with a sword.
Our Lord came bearing gifts of peace and love.

And peace and love were in the air that night–
that wondrous night when earth and heaven met.
Remember Him on this and every day...
and tell His story, lest we all forget;
and tell his story, lest we all forget.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Nativity and "Breath of Heaven"

Sometimes I get too caught up in all the doings of Christmas and need to get back to basics. This is just such a day for me, so I wanted to share The Nativity (which is well worth watching, even if you've seen it). 

I love best the expression on Joseph's face as he tries to find comfort for Mary, the play of emotion across Mary's own face, and the wise men.

(Before you play the video, be sure to scroll down to my playlist and click the mute button so you can hear the haunting soundtrack.)

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Christmas Stocking Tradition

My mother-in-law, Margaret, who is no longer with us, was responsible for what turned out to be a beautiful Christmas tradition in our family. (Yes, she can be credited with more than just the "grapefruit stuff" I lamented about in a recent post!) 

For every one of her children, her children's spouses, her grandchildren, some of their spouses, and even a number of her great-grandchildren, Margaret would knit a unique woolen Christmas stocking...the really cool, old-fashioned kind with the person's name at the top and one or several Christmas-oriented pictures below. Some of the scenes represented are Santa as a jack-in-the-box, a candle-tree-wreath assortment, Santa carrying a Christmas tree, etc. The stockings even have designs on the back, like a trio of dangling ornaments, a tree with sequined "bulbs" on it, a moon and star, and so forth. She would often use sequins and beads to decorate these mantle-enhancing works of art.

Doing this labor of love for her family entailed a LOT of work, because she had three children, their three spouses, 13 grandchildren, a number of their spouses, and so many great-grandchildren that I'd have to get out pen and paper and the Christmas list to count them all! We loved her for creating these heartfelt gifts (and for many other things, of course), which is why we all felt so sad when she had to stop making them a few years before her death. It had all became a bit too much for her, and with no other knitters on the horizon, the stocking tradition was stopped in its tracks, so to speak.

Oh, we tried to find similar types of stockings and have them made, but none were even close to the same, neither in quality nor in the whimsy of the creations. Remember, Margaret made each one unique in some way. No two of my children's stockings are remotely alike.

With that background, I want to tell you that something pretty neat has happened. When my family and I were visiting Cape Cod (well, we actually stayed in Chatham), we ran across a children's store where a lady makes Christmas stockings to order. Let me say right now that they are not on a par with Margaret's, not in the least...and you can only pick from two patterns...but they are the most similar we have found. In fact, the two patterns are actually identical to two of the many Margaret used; it's just that Margaret got a lot more creative with them.

Barring the negative comparisons to good ol' Mom's, these are TERRIFIC stockings, and I just bought one for my new grandson, as well as my new son-in-law. I also replaced with glee the "poor substitutes" previously purchased for my other two grandchildren. (I chose not to replace the one for my daughter-in-law because even though it does look different, it's similar enough and continues to be a spectacular stocking in its own right.) Besides, it's BIG...and we like to give her lots of goodies in little tiny boxes.  =)

Aren't Christmas traditions THE BEST? As I hang up these stockings every year, I am reminded of my husband's mother and her unparalleled love for Christmas. She was like a child about this season, all but dancing up and down with excitement...and she was very good at sharing that excitement with me, my husband, and our children...to say nothing of her unbeatable English toffee, chex mix, and caramel corn with nuts! 

Yep, Margaret was definitely Christmas magic. And we will be making some of our own magic tonight as we sit down for a yummy beef stew before we put on the Christmas music, pop the corn, and decorate our [REAL] tree with all the old bulbs that should have been thrown out years ago but whose sentimental value trumps their unsightliness. (kinda like me! heehee)

In times like these, it feels good to hold on to these traditions. For me and my family, they are life preservers.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Waaaay TMI...About ME!


This tag from my daughter-in-law seemed like a challenge, so I'll try it!

8 things I LOVE to watch on TV
(How about 4 things I LOVE and 4 things I like?)
1. So You Think You Can Dance
2. Brothers and Sisters
3. CNN, Fox, MSNBC (I watch all 3, then try to find some "truthiness")
4. Gray's Anatomy (a guilty pleasure)
5. Private Practice (an even guiltier pleasure)
6. BYU-TV (Does this make up for #4 and #5?)
7. American Idol, but only after everyone bad is finally voted off
8. ER, House, and most other doctor-related shows (frustrated MD=moi)

8 favorite restaurants
(This one's hard to LIMIT to 8!) 
**List subject to change on a moment-by-moment basis
1. Cheesecake Factory
2. Layang Layang (Malaysian food)
3. The Golden Rice Bowl in the sunset district - SF
4. Lawry's Prime Rib
5. House of Prime Rib (I will require this for my anniversary this month.)
6. Pedro's (for the carnitas tostada)
7. Chevy's (for the salsa chicken tostada)
8. Applebee's (for the Weight Watcher's menu)

I'm adding this one:  8 Favorite Authors
1. Mary Stewart
2. Jane Austen
3. Georgette Heyer
4. J.R.R. Tolkien
5. Anne Rivers Siddons
6. Rosamunde Pilcher
7. Jan Karon
8. Anyone Oprah doesn't pick

Also adding this one: 8 Favorite Singer/songwriters
**List constantly evolving
1. James Taylor
2. Joni Mitchell
3. Cat Stevens
4. Paul Simon
5. Jason Mraz
6. Brett Dennen
7. Neil Young
8. John Mayer

8 things that happened yesterday
1. Got my Christmas tree!
2. Wrote our Christmas card poem
3. Started addressing said Christmas card poem to our friends and family
4. Finally finished editing my Christmas Eve story for this year
5. Maybe finished editing the Christmas program for church
6. Had another low-blood sugar episode (new diet creating havoc)
7. Talked my daughter into taking some of my old Christmas decorations (She even seems to WANT to.)
8. Made an iTunes Christmas playlist that KNOCKS MY SOCKS (Christmas stockings?) OFF!

8 things I am looking forward to
1. Christmas!
2. Having all my kids and grandkids here for Christmas  =)
3. Doing our Christmas Eve "circle time" (more on this in a later post)
4. Christmas Devotional from the first presidency this Sunday night
5. Getting the decorations all up (NOT looking forward to the DOING of it)
6. Having everyone who got sick at my house over Thanksgiving get well, especially my parents and little Bryce
7. Celebrating 36th wedding anniversary on the 16th
8. Actually getting the rest of my poetry up on my poetry website

8 things on my wish list
1. Again, quick recovery of everyone infected on my premises
2. Me NOT catching what everyone else is getting well from
3. Fuller, thicker tresses (massive hair shedding this year)
4. Successful pound droppage with no more low blood sugar
5. Strong desire to take long, BRISK walks every night (fat chance)
6. Eating anything I want sans weight gain (well, it IS a WISH list, right?)
7. Perfect health for me and my family (and I guess, while I'm at it...all of YOU, too!) I'm nothing if not generous.  =)
8. Ability to fly, wings optional 

8 people I am tagging
1. Nikki
2. Kristin
3. Lisa
4. Laura
5. Natalie
6. Christine
7. Emily
8. Whoever wants to play (just be sure to leave me a comment so I can check out your post!)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Sue's Top Christmas Music Picks

I am a self-proclaimed Christmas music aficionado (okay, freak), as those of you who read my blog regularly are already aware. As such, I have decided in my munificence to share my expertise by compiling the following list of:
(1) my favorite Christmas CDs, and 
(2) my favorite "new" Christmas songs and the artists who perform them.
 
I hope you will check these out for your listening pleasure!

Best CD's (Albums)
1. Amy Grant - A Christmas to Remember
2. Bing Crosby - Merry Christmas
3. Nat King Cole - The Christmas Song
4. James Taylor - A Christmas Album
5. Amy Grant - Home for Christmas
6. Amy Grant - A Christmas Album
7. The Carpenters - Christmas Collection
8. The Carpenters - A Christmas Portrait
9. Jewel - Joy: A Holiday Collection
10. Barbara Streisand - A Christmas Album
11. Natalie Cole - The Magic of Christmas
12. Celtic Woman - A Christmas Celebration
13. George Winston - December 
14. Frank Sinatra - A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra
15. Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gourme - Happy Holidays
16. Kenny G - Miracles, The Holiday Album
17. Johnny Mathis - Merry Christmas
18. Andy Williams - Personal Christmas Collection
19. Wynona - A Classic Christmas
20. Jingles - A Voice Male A Cappella Christmas

"New" Christmas Renditions That Float My Boat
1. Jack Johnson - Someday at Christmas
2. Ben Jelen - River
3. Enya - O Come O Come Emmanuel
4. Hem - Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
5. Kenny Loggins - On Christmas Morning
6. Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson - Winter Song
7. The Weepies - All That I Want
8. Zach Gill - Silent Night
9. Ashley Tisdale - Last Christmas I Gave You My Heart
10. Kalai - I Need Thee Every Hour
11. Kalai - Coventry Carol
12. Paul McCartney - Wonderful Christmastime
13. James Taylor - Home by Another Way
14. Joshua James - Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel
15. Priscilla Ahn - Silent Night
16. Rosie Thomas - Why Can't It Be Christmastime All Year
17. Zee Avi - No Christmas For Me
18. Matt Wertz - What Child Is This?
19. Rosie Thomas - Christmastime Is Here
20. ALO - Christmas Time

For the younger crowd (does a younger crowd even read this blog??), my son loves the Babyface album: Christmas with Babyface.

And don't forget the old standard: Jimmy Durante singing Frosty the Snowman! (Though The Jolly Porter apparently disagrees with me on this one...) 

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Havoc and Heroes in Mumbai – from Ann in Israel

Rabbi Gavariel and Rivka Holtzberg

Today, with her permission, I am posting a direct quote from Ann Hansen in Israel. When I asked her if I could use her words, this was her reply: "Please feel free to use anything I write, and to use my name. I am passionate about the need for people to see what's happening around the world. In addition, although I didn't know the rabbi and his wife personally, I think that they were truly examples of angels walking on earth, and this would be a good way to honor their lives."

Ann is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who lives in Israel. Here are her thoughts:

"While focus in the US has been on Thanksgiving, and rightly so, I've been more or less glued to the news coming out of India since Wednesday night. I don't think the world will ever be able to comprehend the extent of the evil done there during the past few days. As one expert put it, a group of highly skilled, highly trained, and highly motivated young men filled with hatred went on a killing spree.

"The personal tragedies will never be fully known, except to those who experienced them, of course. Globally, this is yet another chilling reminder of the very real threat that the world is facing, regardless of who you are or where you happen to be. People determined to perpetuate evil will always find a way, and an excuse.

"Terrorist attacks in India are not new, unfortunately. My worry has been how this will affect the situation in Pakistan, which in turn will affect Afghanistan, and so on...like a row of dominoes. Pakistani forces have just finished a two-week campaign intended to damage the Taliban forces in the northwest of Pakistan. The country has a new government and is very unstable anyway. If Pakistan collapses, the entire region will go up in flames. Pakistan and India have been at war since both countries were created in 1948. The fact that most of the terrorists who committed the attacks in Mumbai [last] week are of Pakistani origin will pour fuel on the flames of an already tense situation. The attacks are also more proof of the extent and organization of the terrorist organizations who are operating in that area.

"On a more personal note, the Nariman House, which was in the news, was the Mumbai chapter of Chabad. Chabad-Lubavitchers are a stream of orthodox Jewry who are known for their charitable works and outreach programs. Ultimately they would like all Jews to return to the fold, as it were, but the function of a "Chabad House" is to provide a home for any Jew anywhere in the world. There are literally thousands of Chabad centers around the world. For example, while on his [LDS] mission, Allen [my son] and his companion attended Passover dinner at the Chabad House in the City in Russia where he lived at the time. The houses are usually staffed by a married couple (a rabbi and his wife) and have an open-door policy. If you are Jewish, no matter how religious you are or aren't, you know you can go there, get a free meal, just sit and feel at home, get help with problems, find refuge, participate in prayers if you choose to do so...whatever you need physically or spiritually. After doing their army service, many Israelis travel around the world for several months (a way to clean out their heads). Their parents know that they can send packages or leave messages at the Chabad Houses along their routes of travel, and their children will receive them when they get there. If Israelis get arrested, the Chabad people are often the ones who are the middlemen, and who provide legal help.

"This particular Chabad House in Mumbai was very well known to the thousands of Israeli backpackers in India. The rabbi was only 30, and his wife was 28. In addition to being warm, friendly people, the rabbi also ran a rehab facility to help Israelis who had become addicted to drugs during their stay in India. One of the Israeli stations yesterday rebroadcast a documentary made two years ago about this couple and the work they were doing. They were such wonderful people...helpful, cheerful and non-judgmental. What was chilling for me was to see in the background [of the documentary] the woman who saved their son [the couple's toddler] this week. The same station also interviewed returning Israelis, who were shocked. One of them had stayed with this family just the day before the attack. He said that everyone knew they had a big brother and sister out there and could be sure of a warm place to sleep and a good meal.

"That this particular place was included among the targets shows the hatred toward Israel and Jews. Unlike the other targets, this was an apartment house in a residential neighborhood, which didn't attract American or British tourists and certainly not rich, high-profile targets. I find it particularly sad that the rabbinit met her death at such an early age in India, of all places. She grew up in the city of Afula, which isn't too far from me. Afula is very close to the border of the Palestinian territories and has long been the target of terrorist attacks. In the late 80's and early 90's in particular, when she would have been in elementary school, Afula suffered  a series of bus bombings, with dozens of civilians killed. That she grew up in a city which was the target of terrorist attacks and went to India to offer selfless service to others, only to be killed herself by terrorists, is tragic. But at the same time it is a symbol of hope. Even though she was surrounded by violence and suffering her entire life, she herself could find joy and a love for mankind, which manifested itself in the service and love she showed to others. It is a lesson we should all take to heart.

"Ann"

Here is some background information about the couple, taken from Haaretz.com:

"Gabriel Holtzberg was born in Israel and moved to the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn with his parents when he was nine. His wife, born Rivka Rosenberg, was a native of Afula.

"Rabbi Gavariel and Rivka Holtzberg, the beloved directors of Chabad-Lubavitch of Mumbai, were killed during one of the worst terrorist attacks to strike India in recent memory," the Chabad's New York headquarters said in a statement.

"The couple ran the Chabad's Mumbai headquarters. Their toddler son, Moshe, was smuggled out of the center by an employee on Wednesday, and is now with his maternal grandparents, who arrived from Israel on Thursday. Another son, who was ailing, was in Israel at the time of the attack.

The Holtzbergs arrived in Mumbai in 2003 to serve the small Jewish community there."

We live in a troubled world, but those who choose to rise above the fray and show their humanity are able to lift us all. Apparently, the Holtzbergs were two such people, and they will be missed.

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