Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Let's Have Snow (and mistletoe!)

New! and improved! pictures added! (much more dramatic than before!)

I must say in all honesty that I mocked the forecast. One thing that I love about the East Coast is the morbid fear of snow and the quick effort to shut down. Last weekend the prediction was for two feet of snow on Friday night through Saturday and into the wee hours of Sunday. My friend received a text from her airline canceling her Saturday afternoon flight, even before a snowflake appeared. (She subsequently received several other messages, each pushing the rescheduled flight back until she flew out Monday morning!)
After a graduate student end-of-semester obligatory happy hour (gotta love free diet Coke!), and a quick trip to JoAnn's for some Christmas sewing material and to Trader Joe's for my favorite seasonal candy cane Joe-Joes and chocolate-covered cranberries, the flakes started to dance. Nothing in my mind to warrant the snow plows at the ready at the mixing bowl of 495 and 395. I laughed.

In the parking lot that had been plowed that morning...

I also laughed at Alicia's traditional hors d'oeuvres party. People came in covered in snow and threatened to leave early to make it home. East Coast pansies, I said. But then when I drove home, the roads were quickly icing up under the accumulating snow.

Saturday morning my roommate was all set to move. I popped out of bed, made muffins for the angel movers from church, and then tried to problem shoot with her rapidly declining party of movers. She went out to shovel the walk (the first time that California girl had ever shoveled!). We rolled back the carpet. To no avail. The snow was winning.

And so I let the snow win. I surrendered. And LOVED it. Later in the afternoon, Marni and I trudged through two feet of snow across the street to the grocery store. The bare shelves--no milk and no bread whatsoever!)--resembled a Soviet-era market. On the way home, we stopped at James and Lauren's house for a Christmas party. Too bad with the complete lack of snow plows, the only people to attend were those locals in the neighborhood. Better for us--more ham and rolls to go around!

Saturday night I played games with the girls down the street. Church was canceled. (Note: I don't think church was ever canceled the whole lifetime I lived in Utah with the Greatest Snow on Earth. No complaints from this girl!). By Sunday morning the storm had stopped but had left the most snow this region has seen in 100 years. We took turns digging each other's cars out of the snow banks (up to the windows!), settled in for some hot soup, and sang Christmas carols.

Pure delight.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Thy Leaves are So Unchanging

There's something about a Christmas tree. I think it's the smell, the promise of a green that remains constant throughout the changing seasons, the opportunity to adorn the branches with light and symbols of the season, and the excitement of celebration. I love the line from the famous song: "O Christmas tree! You fill my heart with music."

I've had such fun with Christmas trees over the years.

One of my favorite things about being in London for study abroad was experiencing all the Christmas festivities. We went one wintery Sunday evening to Trafalgar Square for the lighting of the Christmas tree and witnessed protesters from Norway, where the tree had originated. We didn't let that hamper our BYU Christmas spirit... we had our own It's an Emily Christensen Christmas special and danced to Yahoo Dooray around the tree in the parlor. Anyone have a picture of that?!?

I remember one year living at the Riviera in Provo. We had a delightful roommate, Tanya, who kept her bike in the living room corner and NEVER rode it. Not even once. So one late night, Tammy and Jamie and I made it into a Christmas tree. We hung it from the ceiling hook in the corner and wrapped it in fake evergreen boughs from my mom's attic. Then we decorated it. If ANYONE has a picture of this, PLEASE send it.

Then, of course, my Christmas in Italy. We found this little teensy bitty tree tucked away in the closet and brought it out into our beautiful Palermo home, with torn wallpaper and disgusting furniture and cockroaches and running water only every other day or so. We decorated it with ornaments Mom and Barbara made at Thanksgiving and mailed to Sicily--can you believe they made it in time for Christmas with the Italian postal system? We also found one of those Primary paper nativity scenes and an Italian Libro di Mormon to complete the decor. I loved that little tree. I loved that Christmas and the memory of the African branch Christmas party and drunk Italians singing "They Say This Is Christmas" to us because it was the only Christmas song in English they knew. Oh and the food! (the exclamation is NOT for the panettone pictured here).

Yes, my sweet mother sent me that big, comfy knit red dress for Christmas. And can you believe those shoes I'm wearing? I'm SO 1990s sister missionary...

The next year I had just returned from my mission. I came home to a crazy Christmas--divorced parents, three cousins killed in a car accident on the way home from my homecoming, not to mention the crazy transition of returning home from the mission, feeling awkward, fat, white, and between two worlds. We got a Christmas tree that year but never decorated it. Instead we went to Disneyland and sat in the sun.

When I moved to New York City with my three suitcases of all my worldly possessions and living on the tightest student loan budget, I didn't know how Christmas would shake out. My good friends shipped me my little artificial Christmas tree, and Becky and D'Arcy and I decorated it with cheap lights from Rite Aid. We made ornaments out of dried apples and oranges and strung popcorn and cranberries. It was our cheapie Harlem Christmas tree and we loved the light and excitement it brought to our little apartment.

As I've lived in the East, I've come to love the big Christmas trees set up around town. Of course the tree at Rockefeller Plaza in NYC. A couple of years ago I loved a date night to the National Christmas tree on the ellipse, complete with a visit to the designer Christmas trees in the Georgetown Plaza hotel, with my boyfriend pretending to be interested in purchasing a couple of them and making arrangements to come back and pick them up. It was great fun!

For some reason, this year I just couldn't make do with my little artificial Christmas tree. I'm not going home for Christmas and what with a lot of crazy changes around this little house, I needed the real deal. So Ivy and I ventured out to Home Depot after Thanksgiving and got our little Douglas Fir pictured above. Even better was the little red purse ornament my GranNomi sent for "your first Christmas away from home."

I love walking in the door, dusting off my snowy or leafy feet, and taking in a whiff of the real deal evergreen scent. I love plugging in and basking in the light of the tree. I love the constant green and the music that it brings as I forge forward.

For every year the Christmas tree
Brings to us both joy and glee.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

No Cookies from Me this Year!

Count yourselves lucky. No cookies from me this year. None with glass shards in them.

On Tuesday I made cookies for the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers Old Dominion Camp Christmas cookie exchange. Homemade devil's chocolate Oreos with peppermint cream cheese frosting with crushed candy canes. Delicious.

Tonight I made a big old batch of peanut butter Snickers cookies drizzled in chocolate. Half of them were for the Relief Society cookie exchange, and the other half were for the 8th annual Christmas gift card exchange party on Saturday. And a few to give to my roommates and friends here and there.
Only look what happened when I came home from the church and packed them all up in a pyrex dish on top of the fridge. Slam. It was pretty cool-looking.

I thought about trying to save the cookies. But then I realized the power of glass shards. Not going to do it. Not even to people I don't like.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Peace On Earth

Every year we read the same words and sing the same songs, proclaiming the same idea. Don't get me wrong; I am not a scrooge. In fact, I feel myself fully embracing the season this year. I need the lights and the excitement, the planning and the parties. I love the regularity of it--and yet the fact that these words and notes and decorations have been packed away for a while. It's all fresh again.

I made a fascinating observation last week. I had been assisting with the Festival of Lights at the Washington, D.C. temple. It was an exciting--and slightly stressful--evening. I was assigned to greet guests at the door, including ambassadors, diplomats, dignitaries, and representatives from the White House, Congress, and other churches. I was nervous, especially after the whole White House State Dinner crashers the week before. I had to run through a list to check off names and prevent interlopers. I also had to welcome these people in out of a terrible rain storm, from horrible traffic out on the Beltway, and help them feel comfortable at the visitor's center. No pressure. As the event progressed, and the bulk of the guests had arrived, I relaxed enough to listen to the program and observe the tired, anxious faces of the people. For the closing song, the choir sang the familiar "Let There be Peace on Earth," which, although not a Christmas song, presented a very clear, powerful message to a room full of international representatives and policy-makers.

All of a sudden, I got the message. This idea of angels proclaiming "Peace on earth" is very real. And we repeat it every year--even in a world raging with wars and strife and contention all around. But we work for it. We meet together to try to come to a common understanding, across racial and geographical and cultural and class divides. We seek escape and deliverance from each other and for each other.

But we also have to--we get to--repeat the same message and same songs. Year after year. And although not all in that room were members of my Church--not all were even Christian--we all, every one there, want peace. We share that one hope. And we keep trying, year after year.

Thank goodness for multiple opportunities. Thank goodness that peace can be a daily affair. And thank goodness for the realization that instead of waiting for it, it must begin with me.

This Christmas, mend a quarrel. Seek out a forgotten friend. Dismiss suspicion and replace it with trust. Write a letter. Give a soft answer. Encourage youth. Manifest your loyalty in word and deed. Keep a promise. Forgo a grudge. Forgive an enemy. Apologize. Try to understand. Examine your demands on others. Think first of someone else. Be kind. Be gentle. Laugh a little more. Express your gratitude. Welcome a stranger. Gladden the heart of a child. Take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of the earth. Speak your love and then speak it again. Howard W. Hunter

Friday, December 04, 2009

Dirty Fingernails and Blisters

Note: NOT my picture (see here)
NOT my hands--my hands were caked in dirt and my fingernails are NOT that short, and I was wearing my BYU football T-shirt and the rest of me was caked in glorious dirt. For the record.

'Tis the season!

When my friend Mark moved into a new house, I jumped at the chance to plant bulbs. There is something delightfully magical about planning a spring garden this far in advance--the anticipation kills me! Tulips! Daffodils! Hyacinths! Those little purple flowers that aren't crocuses and the name I canNOT remember!

I love digging holes. I love squishing down into the dirt with my shovel to find the perfect place for the bulb. I love getting into the groove and yet feeling like each spot is different and requires a different tactic. I love the warm, crisp November/December sun. I love filling my days with the hope of a new seed that will grow and thrive in a few months. I love that I can create something by getting dirty and by covering things up with dirt. I love having spring to get me through the winter. I love the new idea that mothball crystals will keep the squirrels away from the tulips. I do NOT love the smell of mothball crystals, but oh I hope they work.

Here's to spring, and to preparing now, and to looking forward with anticipation.

Yes, I scrubbed and scrubbed and got most of the dirt out of my fingernails before the big event last night at the Festival of Lights. How can you shake an ambassador's hands with dirty fingernails? Those Americans...

Thursday, December 03, 2009

This One is Married

What a day! I think my favorite part was watching Annie walk in with Ben. I have never seen her look so happy or feel so beautiful. It made my heart happy. It was a beautiful day at Sundance and it was so fun to see family and friends. I love Ben & Josh in this picture... so typical... I just wish you could see Lisa's Uggs in this picture. She was DONE with her fancy wedding shoes.

And I leave you with some Thanksgiving pictures...Wait, are Mom's eyes closed? Weird. Her rolls were awesome--although they took oven precedence over my sweet potatoes. I must say my new recipe of stuffing turned out fine... even better... don't tell GranNomi her recipe has been trumped...Savannah had only apple juice. I think she ate too many peppermint JoJos before dinner. What can I say--I admire her taste...