Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Memorable Christmas

This Christmas turned out to be a memorabe Christmas for our family.  Our oldest grandson is engaged.  His fiance and her little brother spent Cristmas Eve with us, bringing our Christmas Eve family celebration to twenty-five.  We enjoyed good food, the grandchildren presented the nativitypageant, and all of our little piano players shared a Christmas carol with us.  Opening presents (we open family Christmas presents on Christmas Eve, leaving Santa's bounty to reign on Christmas morning in our children's individual homes) was as usual wildly chaotic, but there seemed to be something sweeter about just being together.  Christmas morning we attended one of the most touching Christmas services ever.

When our first two grandchildren were small, we started taking a picture of the grandchildren on our stairs on Christmas Eve.  The number of children on the stairs has grown over the years and this year we added three new ones---our grandson's fiance and her little brother and our precious new granddaughter were added this year.  Getting thirteen children ranging from ten months to twenty-one to sit still for a picture is a challenge.  Finally I said if they'd sit nicely for a few pictures they could act as silly as they wanted for one.  This is what I got:

The December Wish List contest is drawing to a close.  Only those who post comments this month are eligible to win a book of their choice.  To begin with I limited the contest to those who shared a Christmas memory.  I'm broadening that requirement to include those who wish to share a snippet of this Christmas.  The contest ends Dec. 31 so comment on as many of this month's blogs or reviews (on Meridian) as you wish.  Each comment is an entry.

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 a 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.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Engage the Senses

Enhance both your writing and Christmas by employing all of your senses.  Early in my writing career I learned that the more senses engaged in a story, the greater impact the story would have on the reader and the more memorable it would be.  In studies not related specifically to writing, I learned this concept holds true in every facet of human life.  Learning is closely linked to the employment of sound, sight, touch, taste, and smell; the more of these senses involved in the learning process the more deeply imbedded in our minds are the concepts learned.  In nothing is this more exemplified than in our memories of Christmas.

The sounds of Christmas bring a flood of memories.  The first Christmas carol or hymn I remember learning was Away in the Manger in a little pre-school Sunday School class in Lost River, Idaho.  That's where I, a little farm girl, understood and my heart was touched by a tiny infant with no bed, but a cow manger.  Star Bright takes me back to a cold crisp Christmas Eve when I stood in our back yard gazing at glittering diamonds in a velvet sky and saw a meteor streak across the sky.  Chimes remind me of Christmas in a small Montana valley where the cold, crisp air carried the ringing of church bells on Christmas morning ringing up every slope.

The sights of Christmas are many.  Lights and color play a prominent role.  I stood among the crowd with swollen feet and belly the first year the lights on Temple Square were lit to mark the season. Nine months pregnant with my first to be born, I stood in awe as the lights proclaimed the miracle of the Savior's birth.  I've always loved the various cr├Ęches I've seen displayed and I own several. A neighbor used to set up a live nativity each year with a real donkey, sheep, and a cow. These are among the sights that bring memories flooding back for me.  I don't suppose there is any other day in the calendar when more pictures are taken than Christmas.  I love looking at those pictures of Christmases past and seeing the wonder in the eyes of my children and grandchildren and remembering the concerts, school programs, and trips to visit Santa they represent. Each of the thirty-five nutcrackers I display each Christmas in my home visually reminds me of precious events and people.  And is there anyone who doesn't associate the combination of red and green with Christmas?

There's a physical feel to Christmas too.  The prickly touch of pine needles, the soft silk of a shawl worn by my daughters and granddaughters as they take turns being Mary in our family pageant, the metallic key that turns the music boxes, plush velvet of little girls' dresses, the smooth glass of balls that have hung on our Christmas trees for 47 years, and of course my aching feet after each shopping marathon.

Taste and smell are closely linked and of paramount importance at Christmas.  It is said that smell has the capacity to bring back memories more than any of the other senses.  I don't know if this is true, but the scents of pine, cinnamon, chocolate, and oranges are among the most pleasant of odors on earth and they invite warm memories I associate with the holiday season.  Warm bread or rolls, roasting goose, peppermint candy canes, chocolate  covered cherries, nuts, fudge divinity, apple pie with a heaping scoop of vanilla ice cream, waffles with chokecherry syrup, bacon, clam chowder, pineapple slices---the list is endless of the foods that make up our Christmas feasts.

Christmas is a time for memories, for reflections on the birth of Christ, for giving and sharing, for families, for celebration, and for quiet prayer.  Christmas is the most celebrated holiday in the western world and its impact is felt so strongly because our worship is linked to all of our senses.  Inviting readers to view our stories through their senses is something every writer should remember.

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.
This month's Wish List contest is only open to those who comment on this month's blogs here, on my blog on the V- Formation or on any of my December reviews on Meridian.  (Meridian's comments do not post immediately, but are on a delay system and can usuall be seen the next day).

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Christmas Spirit is Alive and Well

Christmas isn't even here yet, but this past week will go down in my Christmas memories as one of those special Christmases and each time I think of these past few days, I'll think of the kind and generous people in my ward.  The past couple of weeks have been really busy and I've been struggling with pain in my knees as well as an editing deadline for my next book. Thursday was our Relief Society service auction.  This is a fun event each year where the women including the Young Women in our ward enjoy a nice dinner, then through a points system, bid for services provided by each other.  It's always fun and everything from lovely handmade items to babysitting or mopboard scrubbing is auctioned off.  This year I was in charge of the ward Christmas party scheduled for the following night and my committee wanted to set up and decorate for that event right after the RS social. 

At the conclusion of the Relief Society auction, their committee pitched in to clean up and help my ward party committee set up. When we discovered we were short tablecloths, Laurie drove out to her aunt's home some distance away to borrow more for us and a few of us worked on decorations until eleven, then came back at eight the next morning to finish up.
Friday was filled with preparations and at least fifty more people than we were told to expect, but everyone volunteered to crowd more chairs at tables and set up more tables.  Fortunately there was enough food, but it caused some worry as the potatoes began to run low.  The Kearns Madrigals provided a wonderful music program.  Even Santa showed up.  After the ward party concluded, again everyone pitched in to clean up and set up for a funeral to be held the next day.

All this time I was worrying about getting the edit for my next book finished by my deadline. Every moment possible I was working on it.  Fortunately my editor gave me a few days extension.  Only taking time out of editing on Saturday to attend the funeral, I buried myself in trying to finish it.  Late in the afternoon, the Relief Society president called to say she was bringing us a surprise.  A short time later Holly and Steve walked in carrying a delightful surprise.  Steve used the leftover ham bones from the party to brew up a huge pot of ham and beans, and knowing that's something I really like, they brought over a generous share for us.  It was delicious and much appreciated.

Yes, the Spirit of Christmas is alive and well. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Shared Glimpses of Christmas Wish List Contest

December has a way of becoming too busy to think straight.  I'm slow posting the winners for November's Wish List contest due to the fact I'm in charge of my ward's Christmas party which is tonight and a few dozen other excuses.  I picked the winners a few minutes ago and they are Cheri Crane and Vicki Firth.  Congratulations!  Of course that means it's time for a new contest to begin and I'm changing the rules a little bit for this month.  Only those who share a true Christmas experience will be eligible to win the prizes--an LDS fiction novel from my over-flowing shelves.  There will be two winners.

First Candycane

Everyone, for good or bad, has a memorable Christmas story tucked away in their memories.  Please share those experiences here.  I'll try to share some of my memories of Christmases past each week too. The memories may be simple such as the Christmas my son-in-law was at Walter Reed Army hospital and I sent a big package to my daughter's family at
Andrews AirForce Base for Christmas.  My almost three-year-old grandson saw the postman leave the package and became the postman's best friend because there was no way he could be persuaded the gifts came from Grandma and Grandpa.  He knew it was the postman who gave him all those surprises.  Your story may be longer, spiritual, funny, or however you remember the event.  You may enter more than once too.  I'm looking forward to reading glimpses of your past Christmases.
Checking out the Christmas decorations.