Friday, December 25, 2009

Welcome, Christmas!

It's not Who-ville, it's an even sweeter alternative.
On Christmas Eve, some of my day was spent shooting the breeze with my brothers at Hansen's Auto, Shooting things with my brothers new rifle, and playing with my nephew and nieces. It's great to be home for the holiday break, to be home for Christmas.
Before Christmas is over entirely, I wanted to do a post that captures this Christmas -in words and pictures.
We had a lot of family here this year, horse rides, ham, orange rolls, fajitas, and more festive moments than you could shake a peppermint stick at.
Let it be said that we made more than "rather merry". We made very merry all day long. This year, the gift that stands out above the rest is the gift of being surrounded by home and family -these are memories to cherish.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

It's That Time of Year Again

"It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its Mighty Founder was a child himself."
From Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol

Tonight was a night of family, of gathering around the ol' piano in the parlor, and "making rather merry" (as Bob Cratchit put it).

I only wish Suzy Snowflake could've made an appearance. Maybe next year...

Our sing-a-longs debut the talents of any who choose to share. This time around, Alicia and I did some fun impromptu duets on the piano, and had a great time at it. It brought back the laughter we once shared before I was a stressed college boy and before she was a busy Mom.

Christmas, I've come to find, is more about love than anything else -and Joseph City is overflowing with it. It's great to be home.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I've Gotta Tell Ya...

Ok, so I promised that I would offer you all a story for each day of December. I always think it best not to promise something you can't perform, but darn it if I didn't try. Did I even make it through 12 days? I don't think I did. Whatever. I'm sure whatever let-down you feel can be filled by the Christmas Spirit of the season. If not, go stuff yourself on fruitcake.
Yeah, I'm done with the stories. I think it was good while it lasted, and now I have other things to focus on: final exams, moving to a new apartment, grading work for the classes I'm a Teacher's Assistant for, ...going out to the cheap theater. See. I told you I was busy.
I have a rather different story to tell today:
I wanted some Subway. It's finals week and Subway sometimes just makes the world seem ...fresh? Anyhow, I usually never vary from my usual order: footlong spicy Italian on white -no cheese, not toasted. All veggies (yes, even the banana peppers and jalapenos) except onions and olives, with whatever sauce I'm in the mood for.
Today my order was no different. My sandwich sure was though ---now I never use my blog to gripe. No one likes a frowny face. I'm sharing this because I found humor in it, and thought it should be shared.
The girl who started my sub was great -nice even slice on the bread, perfectly-placed meat, ...then there was the other kid in charge of the veggies and sauce. He was pretty slow going, his attention drifted to the other two (gorgeous female) sandwich artists as he worked. Rather than placing the vegetables evenly, he sort of just plopped a handful on. He sprinkled a tiny bit of lettuce on (I hate a flat sandwich) so I asked him for a little more. A little more is what I got! Ha ha. He grabbed a pinched of lettuce and threw it onto the end of my sub. Whoa, turbo. Easy now.
I have come to the conclusion that Subway, in the screening of their applicants, asks them to define the word "extra". If they don't know it, they're hired. I want to take them to Payless. That place knows what's up. The Buy One Get One deal -now that is extra. Maybe I should ask for BOGO on the lettuce next time. Yes, exactly twice what you just put on there for no extra cost, please.
I had to just chuckle as he moved on, half of his attention on his work, and the other half divided evenly between two pretty faces. The tomatoes he didn't use got thrown into the lettuce bin --oops! And I could tell by the looks of the veggie bins this had been going on for a while.
So in the end, the only evenly-distributed parts of my sandwich were the meat, bread, ...and sauce. One bite was bell-peppery, one was super spicy. The next bite full of pickles, and the next a stack of spinach leaves. Quite the specialty.
And to think you can experience it all for just 5 bucks. Now that is a Christmas gift to my mouth.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Christmas Memory

I'm telling this from what I remember from when it happened, a Christmas nearly two decades ago. I was around 8 years old. At that age, it's next to impossible to get to sleep on Christmas Eve -the excitement and anticipation is unlike any I've ever experienced.
J.C., Mike, and I would plan out our entire Christmas Eve routine. We made sure to be extra active during the day to try and get good and tired so that when it came time to try and sleep ...well, it was wishful thinking.
We would go to bed that night, turn out the lights, and be real quiet. After about an hour or so of whispering about our schemes and presents, we'd sneak out of bed to a fort we'd built -usually in the closet. There we'd have a stash of Christmas goodies and card games. We'd also have a radio that we'd turn on really quiet and listen to Christmas music. That would help pass the time until ...well, until we initiated our secret operation. Mom, you're reading this, and I'm not sure how much of this we've told you. Feel free to laugh!
We even had an abbreviated code for what actions were to be executed at what time:

P.Q.G.- play quiet games
L.A.G.- look at gifts

But this Christmas wasn't that planned. It turned out as more of a "we were too young to know any better".
Here's what I remember:
Me and Mike went upstairs at some insanely early hour to see if Santa had come, (no doubt, our parents had just gotten to sleep). To our delight, he had been there! He came and he'd left a great assortment of exciting things! Well, since Santa had been there, and since we were awake, it was Christmas! What do you do on Christmas, but open presents?!!! We played with our gifts from Santa and opened all the gifts under the tree that were to the "family". One of those gifts happened to be "The Land Before Time". Yeah, the first one, and the only good one, on VHS ...and we just HAD to watch it. One of Mike's presents from Santa was a big inflatable stegosaurus. It was big enough for us both to lay under its belly, side by side, and so we did. We cued up the movie and were having quite a merry time of it. I think we may have fallen asleep.
When Mom and Dad came out to discover what had happened, they didn't seem too pleased and that was so confusing to me at that age. Weren't they happy too? Santa had come! We were having so much fun! It was Christmas! They explained that even though it's Christmas, we need to wait for everyone to be awake before we start the festivities of the day. After that, we always had a specific time (or "Pacific") when we were allowed to come wake everyone up and start Christmas.
It didn't stop us from our schemes of at least seeing our gifts -that actually helped curb off some of the excitement in order to get some sleep.
That was a fun memory though - me and Mike, laying under the belly of a big stegosaurus, watching Little-Foot and his friends on their way to the Great Valley.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Christmas Wish

May the warmth of the season protect you from the cold ...and from bullies.

Here's a trailer for a documentary made by some crazy fans of the movie:


I got so caught up in getting caught up with homework that I forgot to post a story yesterday! I'll tell you what - let me make it up to you by posting a personal story, not just one I found online.

It was December of 2003. I was a missionary in Calgary, Alberta Canada. Though it's always a bit of a bummer not being "Home for the Holidays", Christmas time as a missionary were some of my most memorable and special ones.

One clear night in mid-December, we had our Christmas zone conference. Our zones went to the mission home. We had our usual reporting and training business, then while dinner was being prepared, our APs took us out Christmas caroling to houses in the neighborhood. While people are usually unreceptive to 2 Mormon missionaries on their doorstep, they couldn't very well say no to a whole throng of us, singing in the spirit of the season, and giving them a candy cane, with a small decorated card to explain the meaning of the symbol of the candy cane. I will cherish in my memory the snow-covered ground, the starry sky above, and the sweet spirit of warmth I felt as we went singing house to house in the bitter cold of a Canadian winter.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

An Awesome Christmas Eve

by Katherine Kehler

“All who are oppressed may come to Him. He is a refuge for them in their times of trouble” (Psalm 9:9)

My father was born and spent his first 15 years in the Ukraine. One Christmas his two older brothers bought their parents a German-made Christmas musical wind-up tree stand. It was mechanical and played Silent Night. It brought great joy to this family of ten.

Not long after, the country experienced World War I and then the Russian revolution. Many people endured tremendous persecution - women were raped and fathers were kidnapped and murdered. Thieves arrived at the homes, demanded food and stole whatever they wanted, including the horses.

It was during one of those raids that God used this Christmas tree stand to perform a miracle and save their lives. It was Christmas Eve and the tree was in the stand playing Silent Night. The door burst open and a gang of ruffians stormed in, all holding guns. Fear spread through each family member as they wondered what would happen next. They were astounded as they watched these uninvited guests stop and become totally still. Then, without saying a word, they backed out of the house and closed the door. God used the tree and Silent Night to save their lives. A miracle on Christmas Eve!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Christmas Quotes

So it's not a story today, just some points to ponder. My favorite is the last by Ben Franklin. Enjoy!

What are we to of make of
Jesus Christ? . . .
The real question is not what
we are to make of Christ,
but what is He to make of us?

God's gifts
put man's best dreams
to shame.
-Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Somehow, not only for Christmas,
but all the long year through,
The joy that you give to others,
Is the joy that comes back to you.
-John Greenleaf Whittier

Where there is faith, there is love;
Where there is love, there is peace;
Where there is peace, there is God;
And where there is God; there is no need.
-Leo Tolstoy

The flow of blessings in our life
is directly related to our passing
blessings along to someone else.
-Thomas Kinkaid

Blessed is
The season which
Engages the whole
World in a
Conspiracy of love.
-Hamilton Wright Mabie

How many observe
Christ’s birthday!
How few, his precepts!
O! ‘tis easier to keep
Holidays than
-Benjamin Franklin

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Why Jesus is Better...

Santa lives at the North Pole...
JESUS is everywhere.

Santa rides in a sleigh...
JESUS rides on the wind and walks on the water.

Santa comes but once a year...
JESUS is an ever present help.

Santa fills your stockings with goodies...
JESUS supplies all your needs.

Santa comes down your chimney uninvited...
JESUS stands at your door and knocks, and then enters your heart when invited.

You have to wait in line to see Santa...
JESUS is as close as the mention of His name.

Santa lets you sit on his lap...
JESUS lets you rest in His arms.

Santa doesn't know your name, all he can say is "Hi little boy or girl, what's your name?"...
JESUS knew our name before we were born. Not only does He know our name, He knows our address too. He knows our history and future and He even knows how many hairs are on our heads.

Santa has a belly like a bowl full of jelly...
JESUS has a heart full of love

All Santa can offer is HO HO HO...
JESUS offers health, help and hope.

Santa says "You better not cry"...
JESUS says "Cast all your cares on me for I care for you."

Santa's little helpers make toys...
JESUS makes new life, mends wounded hearts, repairs broken homes and builds mansions.

Santa may make you chuckle but...
JESUS gives you joy that is your strength.

While Santa puts gifts under your tree...
JESUS became our gift

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Gift of Forgiveness

by John William Smith

The Christmas of 1949 we didn’t have a tree.

My dad had as much pride as anybody, I suppose, so he wouldn’t just say that we couldn’t afford one.

When I mentioned it, my mother said that we weren’t going to have one this year, that we couldn’t afford one, and even if we could – it was stupid to clutter up your house with a dead tree.

I wanted a tree badly though, and I thought – in my na├»ve way – that if we had one, everybody would feel better.

Taking Matters into my Own Hands
About three days before Christmas, I was out collecting for my paper route.

It was fairly late – long after dark – it was snowing and very cold.

I went to the apartment building to try to catch a customer who hadn’t paid me for nearly two months – she owed me seven dollars.

Much to my surprise, she was home.

She invited me in and not only did she pay me, she gave me a dollar tip!

It was a windfall for me – I now had eight whole dollars.

What happened next was totally unplanned.

On the way home, I walked past a Christmas tree lot and the idea hit me.

The selection wasn’t very good because it was so close to the holiday, but there was this one real nice tree.

It had been a very expensive tree and no one had bought it; now it was so close to Christmas that the man was afraid no one would.

He wanted ten dollars for it, but when I – in my gullible innocence – told him I only had eight, he said he might sell it for that.

I really didn’t want to spend the whole eight dollars on the tree, but it was so pretty that I finally agreed.

I dragged it all the way home – about a mile, I think – and I tried hard not to damage it or break off any limbs.

The snow helped to cushion it, and it was still in pretty good shape when I got home.

You can’t imagine how proud and excited I was.

I propped it up against the railing on our front porch and went in.

My heart was bursting as I announced that I had a surprise.

I got Mom and Dad to come to the front door and then I switched on the porch light.

"Where did you get that tree?" my mother exclaimed.

But it wasn’t the kind of exclamation that indicates pleasure.

"I bought it up on Main Street. Isn’t it just the most perfect tree you ever saw?" I said, trying to maintain my enthusiasm.

"Where did you get the money?" Her tone was accusing and it began to dawn on me that this wasn’t going to turn out as I had planned.

"From my paper route." I explained about the customer who had paid me.

"And you spent the whole eight dollars on this tree?" she exclaimed.

She went into a tirade about how stupid it was to spend my money on a dumb tree that would be thrown out and burned in a few days.

She told me how irresponsible I was and how I was just like my dad with all those foolish, romantic, noble notions about fairy tales and happy endings and that it was about time I grew up and learned some sense about the realities of life and how to take care of money and spend it on things that were needed and not on silly things.

She said that I was going to end up in the poorhouse because I believe in stupid things like Christmas trees, things that didn’t amount to anything.

I Just Stood There
My mother had never talked to me like that before and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

I felt awful and I began to cry.

Finally, she reached out and snapped off the porch light.

"Leave it there," she said. "Leave that tree there till it rots, so every time we see it, we’ll all be reminded of how stupid the men in this family are."

Then she stormed up the stairs to her bedroom and we didn’t see her until the next day.

Dad and I brought the tree in and we made a stand for it.

He got out the box of ornaments and we decorated it as best as we could; but men aren’t too good at things like that, and besides, it wasn’t the same without mom.

There were a few presents under it by Christmas day – although I can’t remember a single one of them – but Mom wouldn’t have anything to do with it.

It was the worst Christmas I ever had.

Fast Forward to Today
Judi and I married in August of 1963, and dad died on October 10 of that year. Over the next eight years, we lived in many places. Mom sort of divided up the year – either living with my sister Jary or with us.

In 1971 we were living in Wichita, Kansas – Lincoln was about seven, Brendan was three and Kristen was a baby. Mom was staying with us during the holidays. On Christmas Eve I stayed up very late. I was totally alone with my thoughts, alternating between joy and melancholy, and I got to thinking about my paper route, that tree, what my mother had said to me and how Dad had tried to make things better.

I heard a noise in the kitchen and discovered that it was mom. She couldn’t sleep either and had gotten up to make herself a cup of hot tea – which was her remedy for just about everything. As she waited for the water to boil, she walked into the living room and discovered me there. She saw my open Bible and asked me what I was reading. When I told her, she asked if I would read it to her and I did.

The Truth Comes Out
When the kettle began to whistle, she went and made her tea. She came back, and we started to visit. I told her how happy I was that she was with us for Christmas and how I wished that Dad could have lived to see his grandchildren and to enjoy this time because he always loved Christmas so. It got very quiet for a moment and then she said, "Do you remember that time on Twelve Mile Road when you bought that tree with your paper route money?"

"Yes," I said, "I’ve just been thinking about it you know."

She hesitated for a long moment, as though she were on the verge of something that was bottled up so deeply inside her soul that it might take surgery to get it out. Finally, great tears started down her face and she cried, "Oh, son, please forgive me."

"That time and that Christmas have been a burden on my heart for twenty-five years. I wish your dad were here so I could tell him how sorry I am for what I said. Your dad was a good man and it hurts me to know that he went to his grave without ever hearing me say that I was sorry for that night. Nothing will ever make what I said right, but you need to know that your dad never did have any money sense (which was all too true).

We were fighting all the time - though not in front of you - we were two months behind in our house payments, we had no money for groceries, your dad was talking about going back to Arkansas and that tree was the last straw. I took it all out on you. It doesn’t make what I did right, but I hoped that someday, when you were older, you would understand. I’ve wanted to say something for ever so long and I’m so glad it’s finally out."

Well, we both cried a little and held each other and I forgave her – it wasn’t hard, you know.

Then we talked for a long time, and I did understand; I saw what I had never seen and the bitterness and sadness that had gathered up in me for all those years gradually washed away.

It was marvelously simple.

The great gifts of this season – or any season – can’t be put under the tree; you can’t wear them or eat them or drive them or play with them. We spend so much time on the lesser gifts – toys, sweaters, jewelry, the mint, anise and dill of Christmas – and so little on the great gifts – understanding, grace, peace and forgiveness. It’s no wonder that the holiday leaves us empty, because when it’s over, the only reminders we have are the dirty dishes and the January bills.

The Great Gift
The great gifts are like the one gift – the gift that began it all back there in Bethlehem of Judea. You can’t buy them, and they’re not on anybody’s shopping list. They come as He came – quietly, freely, unexpectedly – and if you’re not careful, you’ll miss them entirely.

We Interrupt our Regularly-Scheduled Program... bring you this unimportant announcement: Hi. I'm still here.

I've got the urge to just write out some stuff. I do, so sue me.

First, have I told you that I officially love the show Cash Cab? I love trivia, I love surprise, I love the host Ben Bailey. I could watch it all day, but then my homework wouldn't get done. I actually did several hours of homework today. I just printed out a 3-page paper for a class on Monday, and felt satisfied that I had finished all of my homework. Except that 10 minute persuasive speech that I have to finish writing to be given on Tuesday, oh ...and those two peer-evaluations I have to do. I guess I was correct in saying that I "felt" satisfied.

Life is pretty busy, but also pretty fun and interesting. I guess that's pretty typical for the life of a student.

Can I tell you what thrilled me the other day? While in the donor chair at the plasma center, they played "Monsters Vs. Aliens". I found it to be really clever and entertaining. So I was enjoying myself, needle-in-arm and all. Then that ended, and they started a new movie. I'll give you a hint at what it was: "A Red-Rider BB-gun with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time..."

I spent the last minutes of my donating chuckling, smiling, and bursting out in full-blown laughter. It's interesting how psychological the whole donating process is. With a little bit of experience, getting familiar with the place and process and people who work there, you actually look forward to that needle stick. I never thought I'd say that. I was the world's biggest wuss when it came to needles. Now, they hardly phase me. Ok, I still don't watch them poke me, but I'm completely fine with it. Another interesting note -yes, I am paid for giving plasma. But they technically are not "buying" your plasma. They are compensating you for the time spent donating. So you really are donating your plasma to help make life-saving products for others. Just so you know.

That about does it. I'm still here chief. Er ...chiefs. Chieftains? Whatever.
Let's end with a quote:
"OK, Ralphie -you win this time ...BUT WE'LL BE BACK!!!"

Friday, December 4, 2009

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Fooling Santa Claus

A true story by Kathleen Culligan Techler

"I hope Santa Claus will put something good in my stocking this year," Daddy said as he hung everyone's stockings by the fireplace. "Last year he left me a stick."

"But Daddy, you said you don't like Santa Claus," Tommy said.

"I don't think he will remember that," Daddy said hopefully. "I really didn't mean it."

Tommy wasn't so sure about that. Santa Claus remembered everything.

On Christmas morning Tommy, Ellen, and little Mick tiptoed downstairs. In the sun room was a beautiful Christmas tree sparkling with lights and tinsel and colored balls. Under the tree were presents wrapped in red, green, and gold.

"Let's check our stockings first," Tommy said. He pulled a chair over to the mantle and climbed on it to reach his stocking and Ellen and Mick's. They each found an orange down in the toe of the stocking, and the rest was filled with nuts and Christmas candy. They sat on the floor and ate some of the candy. Tommy liked the candy shaped like ribbons. Ellen liked the ones that looked like little raspberries. Mick liked it all.

While they were eating, Daddy and Mommy came downstairs. Daddy went right over to the mantle. "Here, Mommy," he said. "I think you have an apple in your stocking. And there's something in mine!" Everyone watched him reach into it. He pulled his hand out and opened it. "A lump of coal!" he said. "I don't like Santa Claus."

After Christmas came nice sledding weather. In the spring the snow melted and the grass turned green. In the summer they went to the lake to swim. In the fall the leaves turned red and yellow and brown. And after that it was time for Christmas again!

Daddy hung everyone's stockings by the fireplace, except his own.

"Where's your stocking, Daddy?" Tommy wondered.

"This year I'm going to fool Santa Claus," Daddy said with a laugh. "Mr. Norton down the block said I could hang my stocking by his fireplace. I'm sure I'll get lots of candy and nuts this year!"

"But you did say you don't like Santa Claus," Tommy reminded him.

"He won't remember that," Daddy said. "Besides he won't know whose stocking it is. I'll be right back. I'm going to Mr. Norton's house." Carrying his stocking, he went out.

On Christmas morning Tommy, Ellen, and little Mick tiptoed downstairs. In the sun room was a beautiful Christmas tree sparkling with lights and tinsel and colored balls. Under the tree were presents wrapped in red, green, and gold.

Tommy was taller this year and able to pull the children's stockings off the mantle. They were sitting on the floor eating candy when Daddy and Mommy came downstairs. Mommy's stocking had an orange in it this time.

Daddy put on his hat. "I'm going to Mr. Norton's to get my stocking," he said. "I can hardly wait to see what Santa left me."

In a short time Daddy came back, but he wasn't smiling. He held out his stocking so everyone could see into it. In the stocking was a lump of coal and a stick.

"You really can't fool Santa Claus," he said sadly.

And Tommy knew that was true.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Heart of Christmas

By Christine Duncan

It was ten days before Christmas and Jenny Lindley had already settled back at her desk after lunch at Worldwide Bank when her cube mate, Rita Howard came in laden with Christmas packages.

"Look, at all the neat bargains I got," Rita bubbled, her bobbed dark hair tousled, and her eyes crinkled from her wide smile. "I'm going to be the Santa with the mostest."

Jenny smiled at her friend's enthusiasm, although the smile didn't quite reach her blue eyes. She leaned her blonde head on her hand. "You do look like you bought out the stores."

Rita set the packages down and shrugged off her coat. "You should have come with me, Jenny. I found the best sales."

That went without saying. Rita, was a veteran sales prowler, her generous heart kept her searching for presents not only for her own grown children and family, but for all her friends.

"And guess what? I saw that Baby Bubbles doll that Emma wants."

Jenny's smile faltered. Her daughter Emma, who was only three, had been happily chattering about the doll since the ads started on all the cartoon shows months ago. But first Jenny couldn't find the doll anywhere. And now, when it looked like the doll might be going to be available, Jenny had spent all her Christmas money on emergenc repairs for her aging Honda, and medicine for baby Justin's croup.

Christmas this year was going to be tight for the single mother. She'd bought a few stocking stuffers months ago, just after Michael left, as a way of trying to concentrate on a better future. Now she had just enough left to think about a small present for each child. But there was nowhere near enough money for "Baby Bubbles." As a matter of fact, she wasn't sure there would be enough money left over to even think about Holiday baking.

"That's nice," Jenny mumbled.

Rita dark eyes watched Jenny more carefully than Jenny wanted right now. "Are you going to your parents?" Rita asked.

Jenny shook her head. Her parents were five hundred miles away from Jenny's home in Wyoming. Her car was better, but there was no point in straining it. Besides her dad was recovering from surgery after an auto accident and her mother was stressed from the bills and the worry about her dad. "We're just staying here, this year." Jenny tried to maintain her smile.

"Why don't you come over to my house then? We're going to early service and then having lots of people over for brunch. It will be fun."

Jenny was tempted. But she couldn't even offer to contribute anything toward the brunch. And if she were there for Christmas, wouldn't she need to bring presents for her hosts? No. She couldn't, though Rita was a dear to ask. Jenny turned toward her desk, hoping her friend would take the hint and get on with work, dropping the subject. "That's sweet, Rita. But I can't."

Out of the corner of her eye, Jenny saw the older woman turn away, her brow furrowed in confusion. But Jenny's eyes were silently dripping tears and she couldn't--wouldn't explain why.

The evening before Christmas Eve, Jenny walked from the apartment's car port to the house, Justin in her arms, Emma tugging on Jenny's worn black wool coat. It was already getting dark, and the wind whipped cruelly at her face. She'd been late to pick the kids up from daycare again and the center had had to wait for her to come before they closed, causing a scolding from the center's director. She'd been working frantically, hoping that by putting in some overtime she could get more money for Christmas. But this week one of the tires on the car had gone flat, and the doctor told Jenny that Justin's frequent respiratory infectons were caused by asthma and asked her to buy a nebulizer. That was over two hundred dollars, and it didn't look like her insurance would cover it. She was farther behind than ever.

"Sarah is getting a Baby Bubbles, too." Emma informed her mother, with a smile on her small pink cheeked face.

A lump gathered in Jenny's throat and she reached down to smooth her daughter's tangled golden curls. "Maybe Santa won't be able to bring you Baby Bubbles, Emma," she cautioned.

"My daddy will then," said Emma, confidently.

But Michael hadn't even sent child support since the divorce, and the last time Jenny had tried to call him the number had been disconnected. She shifted Justin on her hip and looked down at Emma, making her eyes big so her daughter would know she was serious. "Emma, honey, sometimes we can't get all that we want for Christmas."

"But all I want is a tea set for my babies and Baby Bubbles," Emma pointed out reasonably.

Jenny swallowed, and inserted her key in the lock of the small apartment. She had gotten Emma a small plastic tea set. The tiny tea pot had roses on it and the cups were sized just right for small hands. Jenny had been thrilled to find it and had done without lunch the last few days to help afford it. She'd gotten Justin a small plastic police car with lights and a loud siren. It came with two small police figures. Both presents were already wrapped.

That was it. All she could do. Jenny stared blankly into the darkened apartment, her eyes not focusing on the blue plaid sofa or the silent hum of the heater.

They would do all right, she reassured herself. She'd finally accepted Rita's coaxing to come to brunch on Christmas, so she wouldn't feel so alone that day. If she could only bring just a small gift. Something she'd baked or something. She'd feel better.

"I'm hungry, Mommy. And it's cold. I want to go in,"Emma whined.

Jenny swallowed again and smiled. "What was I thinking of? Of course, let's make dinner."

But that night, after she'd made dinner, read the kids a story, bathed them and settled them in bed, Jenny couldn't sleep. There had to be some way. Something she could sell. Some way to get more money for Christmas.

Her eyes searched the apartment desperately. But the TV was a hand me down, as were most of the furnishings. Really, there wasn't anything.

She looked down at her own threadbare slipper socks. She should have taken on a second job. She'd thought about it, but didn't want to take the time from the children. And then there was always the problem of after hours day care. Any job that she got would have to pay pretty well to cover that. As it was, day care was her second largest expense. Really it was almost as bad as rent. So what was she supposed to do?

There was nothing she could do now, she realized. And she cried herself to sleep.

Christmas Eve was a Saturday, and Jenny slept in, only to be awakened by Emma chattering. "Mama, Santa's at the door. He left us a package. Come see."

Jenny stumbled out of bed, gathering her old robe around her. "What on earth?"

She peeked out the front door's small window, sure that her daughter was just caught up in the excitement of its being Christmas eve.

Snow was falling in fitful starts, driven by the wind. But sure enough, out on the front step stood a box, with Jenny's name on it in large print letters.

She opened the door and looked both ways down the walk, but no one was in sight. Not enough snow had fallen for there to be footprints. If it hadn't been for Emma seeing "Santa," the package might as well have fallen from the sky.

She stooped over to pick it up. The box was heavy. What could it be? She examined the label once more. To Jenny.

Pushing aside thoughts of bombs and pranks, she heaved the box up and took it in, depositing it carefully on her coffee table. It was sealed firmly, with tape. She nodded at it thoughtfully.

Not sure what she would find, she set the kids to drawing at the kitchen table. Justin was hardly able to grasp the thick crayons yet, his little tongue touching the corner of his mouth. Emma was busy coloring a tree she'd made when Jenny tiptoed out of the kitchen.

Quickly she attacked to the box with scissors opening it carefully. Inside was a bag of baking supplies: nuts and chocolate, flour, brown sugar, granulated sugar, powdered sugar and cream. Jenny's heart lifted.

She poked around the box some more. Next to the grocery bag were green and red gaily wrapped packages, which she was careful to conceal from the children in the next room. The packages were marked in the same lettering as the box was. To Emma, read two big boxes. To Justin. To Jenny?

They know us, she thought. Whoever did this knows us.

Open me first, said an envelope which she found slipped toward the bottom of the box. So she did.

Dear Jenny,

Rest easy, my dear, it said. Emma will get her Baby Bubbles. And there are a few things here for you and Justin to make Christmas Merry.

In love,


The Christ Child

Jenny's tears rose from a lump in her throat so that she choked, crying.

Emma ran in at the sound, small face twisted in concern. "What's wrong, Mama?"

"Oh honey," she said, putting her arm around Emma and drawing her close. "I'm just so happy that Santa came early. Look at these gifts! Let's put them under the tree."

"Justin, too, Mom." Emma said.

Jenny moved out to the kitchen to get Justin from his high chair. "Of course, Justin too. And when we get the presents under the tree, we'll make some fudge and some cookies to take to Aunt Rita's tomorrow."

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

For December

Here is what I am attempting:
I want to post a Christmas Story for every new day until Christmas. I hope that it might be fun for some of my readers to have a good daily story along with some good Christmas music. It's what I would like, and give said the little stream ---so I'm giving.

I've shared this one before, but I really like it, so it deserves a double-posting. I think it's gotta be one of the best for kicking off these 25 days of the beautiful season we call Christmas.

It's called Amy's Song. The author is unknown. It was recited (by memory, like they did in the old days) by a lady in Flagstaff at last year's Stake Christmas fireside.


"There are advantages and disadvantages to living in a small town. One advantage is that everyone knows everyone else. One disadvantage is that everyone knows everyone else. Everyone knew Amy Williams, only child. She had been born seventeen years ago, crippled in body if not in spirit. No one expected her to live, but she had. Everyone knew Amy Williams. Her hunched back and twisted spine were recognizable at a distance. Here she sat outside the choral room door, agonizing.

What am I doing here? She thought to herself. I’ll never be chosen for a part. One advantage to small towns is that they develop traditions. A Christmas tradition in Marysvale was the annual pageant performed in the school auditorium. It had been performed for so many years that no one could remember when it had begun or even who had written it. But it had become the focal point of the Christmas season for many of the townspeople.

I don’t want to go through the rejection again, thought Amy. I try not to care, but I do. I don’t want to be hurt anymore. More people tried out each year for parts in the pageant than could possibly be used. Young children hoped to be shepherd boys, older ones the shepherds or the Wise Men. Those who sang hoped to be part of the angelic choir; a chosen few, the innkeeper, the angel of the Lord, Joseph, Mary. Many were turned away, for the stage in the old schoolhouse was small. The choir was a dozen or so voices. There was room for only a half dozen shepherds and three wise men.

Mr. Simons will never choose me for a part. I just don’t fit. But at least I don’t have to audition in front of Mrs. Prendergast, mused Amy.

Mrs. Prendergast had been the music teacher at Marysvale High School for more than thirty years. She had cast, coached, directed, and accompanied the pageant all those years. When Amy had been a freshman three years ago, she had tried out for the pageant. Mrs. Prendergast had taken one look at Amy’s misshapen body and in her dragon voice said, “Child, you just don’t fit. I don’t remember anywhere in the script where it calls for a crippled girl.

Everyone would stare at you and that would make you uncomfortable. It would make them uncomfortable, too.”

Without singing a single note, Amy had been thrust back through the choral room door. She shuffled home hurt and humiliated and vowed never to try out again.

Then . . . Mrs. Prendergast retired.

This year they had a new choral teacher, Mr. Simons. He was the opposite of Mrs. Prendergast. She had ruled with fear and force. He led with love and compassion. Amy liked him from the first. He demanded perfection, but understood when it was not reached. He coached and corrected with kindness.

And he sang himself with such power. It was he who had asked Amy to see him after class and had suggested she audition for the pageant. I ought to leave now and avoid the pain. There’s no place for a girl like me in the pageant. I don’t want to be rejected again. Still . . . Mr. Simons asked me to try out. I owe it to him. But he’ll never choose me.

I’m going to leave before it’s my turn. As Amy struggled to her feet, the door was pushed open and Mr. Simons called out, “Amy, you’re next.” He sat at the piano, waiting to accompany her.

When she finished singing, Mr. Simons said, “Thank you, Amy. The list will be posted tomorrow.”

She struggled all night long. Back and forth her mind went between the reality of knowing she didn’t fit and the great need to be accepted. By morning, she had a knot in the pit of her stomach and could not bring herself to look at the list on the choral room door. But as her third-period music class approached, she knew that avoiding it would not change the outcome.

Timidly, fearfully, she looked at the list. At the bottom of the page was listed the heavenly choir. As she suspected, her name was not among those listed. Rejected again! She turned to enter the class when her eye caught her name posted at the top of the page. She, Amy Williams, had been chosen to sing the only solo part in the whole pageant. She was to be the angel of the Lord. She was to sing to the Christ child, the Son of God.

There had to be a mistake. Certainly Mr. Simons would not put her in that part. It was so visible. “Amy,” called Mr. Simons from the piano, “we need to talk about your part after class.”

Class seemed to last forever. Finally it ended and she made her way to Mr. Simon’s side. “You wanted to talk to me?” “Amy, I hope this doesn’t upset you, but I need to stage your part a little differently this year.” Hidden offstage, she thought.
Mr. Simons continued: “I would like to have a pyramid built, place the other angels on it, and put you at the very top. I know in the past they’ve put the angel just a bit above the shepherds, but I think the message you sing is the central part of the pageant.”

The years of hurt exploded. “You don’t want me in the middle of the stage! Won’t the way I look ruin the whole thing? You don’t want me where everybody will stare at me!”
“Amy, I chose you because you deserve the part. What you think of yourself, I cannot change. That is something only you can deal with. I have no problem with you singing this part, and in this pageant, the angel of the Lord is center stage. You must come to peace with yourself or you must tell me to choose someone else for the part. It is your decision.”

That night, Amy made her decision. The rehearsals were exhausting. Her body ached after struggling to the top of the pyramid, but great joy filled her heart.

One advantage to living in a small town is that when there is a community event, everyone attends. And so it was the Sunday before Christmas when the whole town of Marysvale attended the Christmas pageant. Amy Williams, only child, misshapen of body if not of spirit, stood on the top of a silver-white pyramid and sang her heart out to the Christ child:

Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord . . .

What Child is this, who, laid to rest, On Mary’s lap is sleeping? . . .

Never had the angel sung more sweetly. No one had realized how sick Amy really was, I suppose, because they were so used to seeing her broken body. So it was a shock when she died that next Tuesday.

Her mother conveyed a last request from Amy to Mr. Simons. Would he please sing at her funeral? “I’ve never been in your church. It would be very difficult.” The excuses continued, but in the end he agreed.

And so that Christmas Eve, two of Amy’s classmates, two boys from the bass section, helped Mr. Simons from his wheelchair and supported him as he sang for a daughter of God, as she had sung for his Son. There are advantages to living in a small town."