Sun Salutation

Breathe in.  I bring my arms above my head, drawing my whole body upward as I inhale.  The spring sun warms my back and neck.  The grass feels pleasantly prickly against my bare feet.  How strange that I am out here breathing deeply, feeling my strong body move, and she is lying in a hospital bed, conscious of nothing.  A machine breathes for her.

Breathe out.  I bend from the waist and bring my hands to rest on the ground on either side of my feet, tucking my head against my knees.  When I saw her there in that bed, pale and broken, her feet, at least, looked almost as they had before.  I wonder how many times she rubbed my feet to express her love?

Breathe in.  I look up toward the house, Mom’s house, where one of my siblings is watching over my daughters.  The weather is fresh and bright and perfect, and her farm is coming alive.  I see why she loved this place.

Breathe out.  I step my feet back and move into my wobbly approximation of plank position.  As I hold, I notice a sparkle in the grass and look down.  Directly below my eyes is a single dewdrop, round and whole, reflecting the sunlight.  I stare at its shimmering perfection and treasure its depth of beauty.

Breathe in.  I push my body forward and look up, still relishing the gift of the dewdrop’s presence in precisely the place I needed it.

Breathe out.  I push my hands into the ground and come up into downward dog, and hold for several breaths.  I can never remember how many I’m supposed to hold it.  On our trip together last summer, I saw Mom doing sun salutations early one morning.  Her compact, powerful body formed a nearly perfect triangle in this pose.  I can feel that my triangle is not so perfect.  My knees bend.  My arms aren’t quite right.  But it still feels good, and I think I’m getting better at it.

Breathe in.  I walk my feet forward two steps until they are again between my hands, and look forward.  Mom always jumped.

Breathe out.  I tuck my head against my knees, looking up toward my navel, holding the rest of my body still.  I am not quite flexible enough to straighten my legs.  In this pose, she folded entirely in half, her legs straight and body tucked tight.

Breathe in.   I bring my arms above my head, drawing my whole body upward as I inhale.  The blue of the sky, the green of the grass, the crisp, sweet smell of the outdoors in spring–the vivid beauty of everything I see washes over me.  It is breathtaking.

I ache.  My heart breaks.  But the pain and surreal strangeness of this whole experience cause me to slow down, to observe, to really see.  In this moment, I am present to the world, with its shattering pain–and its wonder. She has given me this beautiful spring.

Breathe in.  Breathe out.

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Mining the past for understanding…

I have been thinking a lot about my mom recently, and about my time in the ICU nine years ago, when I came so close to dying myself.  That and so many other thoughts about my past have been rattling around in my mind as I try to sort out what all of these memories mean to me.  I feel like I am grappling with memories and emotions, trying to examine my past for clues as to who I am and who I want to be going forward.  I wryly think that I am not too young for a midlife crisis.  My mom died at fifty–so I’m overdue for one!

I feel compelled to write about my life, my mom and our relationship, to dig deep to try to understand myself and to try to craft a cohesive picture of myself for my family when I am gone.  I have always felt a deep need to leave a record of myself and my life, and that need has grown so pressing lately.  I don’t think that it’s any morbid thought or feeling driving this need, but the need is there just the same.  I think part of wanting to understand myself is so that I can show the world who I am; I want to represent myself accurately as I go about my daily life.  Not understanding myself feels deeply lonely, and I want to break down those walls of isolation and tell my story, even if no one else reads it.  I will see more clearly how to live as myself, and that will be enough.

I think I’m going to do a revised version of National Novel Writing Month this year.  I’ll call it National Memoir Writing Month :_).  I don’t know how many words or pages I’ll write.  Maybe I’ll set aside a  time to write every day.  I don’t know where I’ll find the time between home schooling and making Christmas gifts, but I think I’ll find a way.

I just finished reading Stephanie Nielson‘s deeply moving memoir, “Heaven is Here,” which coincided perfectly with my current state of reflection.  One of Stephanie’s many gifts to me was that she inspired me to tell my story, even if I only write it for myself.

 

Love that man…

A few days ago, I watched as my sweetheart played on our deck with our older daughter.  I saw him pick up a piece of chalk.  He bent down and began to write.  As I watched him form the words “I Love,” I felt joyful to think of the sweet message he was writing for our little girl, and thought of how special she would feel when she read it.  To my surprise, when my husband straightened to survey his work, it read “I love Mommy.”  I felt so cherished.

He is always doing sweet things like that to serve me and bless my life.  We joke about the seven-year itch; he keeps teasing me that this is the year I’m going to upgrade to a new model, but the truth is, I would never find anything this good anywhere else.  He lights up my life in so many precious ways.  I am so grateful that I am alive and married to him.  I love you, Sweetheart!

Loving that new dirt smell

I have been itching to write.  I am finally snatching a few moments before sleep to scratch that itch.

I carried food scraps to the compost pile today.  I turned the grass clippings that I spread on the edges of the pile to dry, aerated the center of the pile, and I felt delighted to find dirt, real beautiful dark dirt, forming in the middle of my compost pile.  It is working!

Much has happened since the last post I wrote about starting a compost pile.  One of the few things I have written about here was Mom’s death, but another big event was our move a little over a year ago.  We now own our first house, in a quiet neighborhood, with a fenced backyard and several established trees.  Behind one of these trees, a stout evergreen, we have a secret compost pile tucked away.  It started sort of by accident.  In fact, my sweet husband started it for me without meaning to.  He’s not the biggest fan of compost, and would not have started a compost pile on purpose.  After abandoning my last attempt at a compost pile after only a few weeks, I kept meaning to start a new one.  Every time I threw away food scraps, I felt guilty and sad.  I apologized to the banana peels and onion scraps as I dropped them into the trash, “Soon I’ll start a pile, soon…”  I murmured.  Eventually, I realized that guilt wasn’t moving me toward my goal, so I tried more positive thinking.  Any time I found myself thinking about what a shame it was to toss such lovely organic material, I pictured a thriving compost pile and beautiful rich composted soil, and imagined how delighted I would be with such results.  I did my best to actually feel the joyful emotions my lovely pile would bring, then said a little prayer for help moving toward my dream.

Early in the season, my husband switched from an old mulching mower, which was exacerbating the dead spots in our lawn, to a bagging mower.  We had several bags of grass clippings in our garage while we tried to figure out how to dispose of them–it’s not legal to put them in the trash here.  We couldn’t bring ourselves to pay a compost service to take our clippings and turn them into dirt that we would then have to buy back, so the bags sat in our garage and stunk.  I had no idea decomposing grass could smell so awful.

One day, my husband came in from mowing and informed me that he had finally just dumped the bags behind the tree.  I seized the opportunity!  Before long, I spread out the green grass to dry.  Soon after, I started taking little containers of food scraps out to the pile and carefully stirring them in, remembering that compost should always have a lot of air, and a mixture of “green” and “brown” material to help prevent the proliferation of smelly bacteria.

I keep my food scraps in the fridge until I am ready to take them out, so I don’t have stinky, fly-ridden containers of scraps cluttering my counters.  Every few days, I march out to the pile with shovel in hand to stir in the latest additions.  Though I do sometimes get behind, I have kept at it, just adding and stirring a little at a time.  And I am amazed that my gradual, steady efforts are actually having results!  I am thankful for this proof of the ideas that small and simple things bring about great things, that “slow and steady wins the race”  that continuous small efforts multiply and become something greater.  I have had so little experience with this in my life: steadiness is not my strong suit, and I don’t like to think of all the projects I have abandoned before seeing the fruits of my effort.

I turn over a shovelful of this dark, rich earth and mix in the leaves and grass and food scraps.  I see the slimy place where the pile has gone anaerobic and stir carefully, mixing the good dry grass and the fresh air into the slimy spot, helping it breathe.  I’m like the pile’s diaphragm, I think, drawing in the air to keep it alive.  It’s a quirky thought, and I like the odd shape of it in my mind.  Cicadas sing in the trees above me, the sun plays over the grass, the breeze dances toward me bearing the sweet smell of new dirt.  I think of Mom and smile.  I’m doing this, Mom.  It’s really working!  I pick up my shovel and bucket and head back to the house.

What I wish I’d said–Another Chance at a Good Eulogy

It has been a year since the accident.  After I gave the eulogy at Mom’s funeral, I knew that I had left out a thousand things, a hundred thousand things, that I should have said to paint a fitting picture of the person whose departure had just torn such a hole in the world.  When I recently had the opportunity to recognize someone who has been an outstanding mentor in my life, I made another attempt to capture my thoughts and feelings about Mom.  Of course, I still won’t get it right–how can any formulation of words capture the magnificence of a human soul?  But here’s my second attempt.  Thank goodness for “mulligans,” right Mom?

My Mom has been an outstanding mentor to me in many ways.  She brought me and my six younger siblings into the world, with only one epidural out of seven births.  She chose natural, un-medicated births, breastfeeding and babywearing out of her desire to give her children the very best start in life.  She made intentional choices about how to raise us, excluding junk foods for bodies and minds and turning us instead to higher and more wholesome things.  She carefully selected nutritious foods for our bodies, searched out the best in educational theory and hands-on learning materials–as well as excellent literary and musical works–to feed our minds, and fed us spiritually by immersing us in a rich tradition of personal and family worship and active service in our church family.

She knows the scriptures well, and hungers for the word of God with earnest intensity.  As I was growing up, she treasured solitude, and, particularly in the early morning hours, she was frequently found curled up in a quiet corner praying, studying the scriptures and writing in her journal.  She truly loves and worships God with her whole soul.  The intensity of her bright flame of a spirit can be seen in everything that she does, but one of the most beautiful demonstrations of her intense personality is the sight of tears streaming down her face as she leans eagerly into worship through song, her face bright with the rapturous joy she feels in drawing near to her creator.
Watching Mom serve in church has always been an inspiration to me.  I sensed that she saw the volunteer positions she was asked to fill in church as an opportunity to grow as a person and build God’s kingdom on earth, rather than as a drain on her already taxed resources.  Serving in church even seemed to renew and recharge her.  Her favorite job in church was to teach spiritual and uplifting songs to elementary-school-age children.  She carefully prepared each week, making her own visual aids and learning American Sign Language signs to help the children remember the words.  When she got up in front of the room full of children, she lit up.  She made eye contact, she moved back and forth across the room, she practically danced, and she beamed the most radiant smile.  She loved every minute of it, and the children felt it.  She cared about them; she established a deep connection with them, and they loved her for it.
Mom has a gift for seeing people as people.  In our world, this seems to be a rare and precious thing.  In our faith tradition, we visit the homes of other members and share a spiritual message each month, taking time to develop meaningful friendships, strengthen faith and help to relieve physical needs.  Sometimes people see this as a burden or begin to see those they visit as just a number to check off the list each month, but not Mom.  Because of my mom and her ability to truly love and care for others, at least three of the women she visit-taught over the years returned to church and to the enjoyment of active worship and fellowship with other believers, sometimes after years of allowing their faith to stagnate.  Because of Mom’s example to me, I have caught a vision of this inspired program and its true potential to knit believers together as members of the body of Christ, and draw us collectively closer to God.
Mom sees things differently than most.  She has her eye fixed on eternity, and makes decisions based on that vantage point with little consideration for petty concerns that often swallow so much of our time and energy.  Due, in part, to this long-range view of things, Mom chose to home-educate all of her children from the time I was a toddler until I went to private school in middle school.  She continued to home-educate most of my other siblings, several of them graduating from home school to college.
Mom is one of the most intelligent and well-read people I know.  She majored in English–with a minor in math–at Brigham Young University, speaks three or more languages fluently–including Mandarin Chinese, which she learned while living in Taiwan as a missionary for a year and a half during her early twenties–and loves philosophy.  She wrestles with the deep questions of life and, from my perspective, has entered into the “great conversation” of the brilliant minds of the world, studying the ideas of deep thinkers and responding to and expanding on their ideas in her own writing.  She loves to engage with other people on a deep level, and though she is capable of small talk, she deplores it as a waste of time.  She is skilled at drawing others out, in helping them to speak of their innermost selves and thoughts in a comfortable, I might even say sacred, space.  She is one of the most empathetic and skilled listeners I have ever met.  She loves to communicate clearly and seek answers to problems that transcend “my way versus your way” to work together to find the best way.  She is always devising systems to bring greater order into her life.  She is deeply curious and profoundly thoughtful.
After marrying my Dad and beginning a family, Mom filled our home with beautiful literature, and filled our minds with lofty thoughts.  Some of my favorite memories are of listening to her or dad read to us at bedtime from C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of NarniaAnne of Green Gables, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books, Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lambthe D’Aulaire’s Greek Myths, legends of King Arthur’s court and so many other favorites.  I also loved memorizing poetry with her, especially the way she made the lines flow so musically, with such great expression.
She also works hard to improve herself and is constantly learning.  One field of study she particularly enjoys is music.  She played violin in a community orchestra, trained in the Suzuki method of string pedagogy and the Kodaly method of teaching music to children, attended numerous church music workshops, is a certified O’Connor String Method teacher, and developed her own method of teaching music literacy which she used with great success in her large studio of violin, piano and organ students.
Mom is fiercely independent and has an unusual level of trust in the inspiration she receives from God.  Her innovative approach to life often seems audacious, but is rooted in her determination to do what is right, without taking for granted that the way things have always been done is the best way to do them.  For example, her unusual practice of preparing her young students–as young as six or seven–to play the organ for the Hymn just previous to the Sacrament of the Lord’s supper, the most sacred part of our worship service, at first seemed strange to me.  However, as I spoke with her about it, I came to understand that, like so many other choices in her life, this one was full of thoughtful significance.  I saw from her perspective what an honor it was for these young children to share their talents in such a sacred setting, and how it was laying the groundwork for future service in a church that still relies heavily on organ music, when few have any level of ability on that instrument.  In so many ways, Mom is a visionary ahead of her time.
Mom sacrificed to buy us quality musical instruments and give us lessons with excellent teachers, even when we struggled to practice and make it to lessons on time.  One week, when she apologized to my violin teacher for our inadequate preparation, Mrs. Duncan graciously replied that the people who learn to play the violin are the people who just keep coming to lessons.  Mom kept “coming to lessons”–doggedly persisted in doing the things she knew in her heart were right–even when our life looked tremendously messy and it seemed that her efforts were a waste of time and resources.  She just kept at it, in so many aspects of our lives.  I am finally beginning to understand and honor her tenacious efforts in the face of incredible opposition.
Unfortunately sometimes that opposition came from “within the ranks” at home, particularly when it came to food.  We didn’t always understand or appreciate the effort she put into keeping junk out of our hands and whole foods in our bellies.  Though much of our food was simple, she made the most delicious pumpkin-chocolate chip bread and whole wheat rolls that were light, chewy and buttery.  Like so many things, I didn’t appreciate what I had, and I always dove for the store-bought white rolls at potlucks, while everyone else raved about mom’s.  In addition to the hearty soups, refried beans from scratch, yogurt and other wholesome foods she served, mom made home-made pizza, turning it into a family affair as we all helped to add sauce and toppings to her whole-wheat dough.  In many ways, I find myself returning to the simple and wholesome kinds of foods Mom prepared for us.
Mom and Dad always had a garden, and I learned so many lessons from growing our own food and getting my hands into the soil.  After I was grown and gone, Mom was the driving force behind my parents’ and younger siblings’ move to acreage in the St. Louis area, where she set about establishing a small hobby farm.  In that, as in everything she does, she worked hard.  I have always been impressed by her level of intense effort once she sets her mind to something, and she tended her carefully-selected livestock with affection and thoughtfulness.  She also set about learning the best way to garden, thoroughly exploring permaculture and biodynamic agriculture and other methods.  Mom has always been one to seek out the best way to do something and move heaven and earth to ensure that she does things that way.
I didn’t always understand the ways she tried to do things, but I am beginning to.  I find myself more and more loathe to waste things, and her long drives to drop off recycling and her efforts to compost appear less extreme and more wise.  After reading Home Education by Charlotte Mason, I can see that the many hours of free play my siblings and I enjoyed in our large fenced backyard were likely a calculated effort to apply what mom had learned from that book, efforts to help us learn and develop to the fullest through much time in nature, as Charlotte Mason urges.  There are so many ways that I see Mom’s motives and understand her struggles so much more clearly now that I am a mother.  I am grateful that I have taken the time to call my mom a few of the times I have had such epiphanies, to express to her my chagrin for having misunderstood and judged her, and to express my love and overdue appreciation.  I am deeply grateful that I communicated those sentiments.
I am so grateful to be able to honor today a woman who, while imperfect, strives for perfection with zeal I have seldom seen equaled.  While she is not physically present to receive this award, I know she is here today, unseen, but powerfully felt.  Allow me to explain.  My mom has not only served as a model and mentor to me during her life, but also taught me much as she departed this world in March of this year.  After an accident on her farm, she remained in the hospital in a coma for two weeks, during which time my siblings, my dad and I watched in awe as a steady stream of visitors came to pour out their hearts in gratitude to a woman who had changed their lives for good.  We felt the power of prayer as hundreds of individuals, many of them strangers to us, but familiar with our situation, pleaded with the Lord on our behalf.  Though we did not receive the miracle of her recovery, we received exactly the miracles we needed.  I don’t know all the reasons Mom was called home after only fifty years of life, but I do know that I have received sweet and beautiful gifts from God to support me, that I have learned things through this refiners fire that I could have learned in no other way, and that Mom is with me and helping me, perhaps now more than ever.
Mom earnestly sought the best life had to offer and made tremendous sacrifices to live according to her convictions.  She threw herself into her endeavors with passion, and zealously kept the two great commandments, to love God with her whole soul and love her neighbor as herself.  I am honored to be her daughter.”

Little gifts to lighten the load

Tonight God gave me a sweet gift.

One month ago, my mom died.  She was young, and had no terminal illness.  The accident that claimed her life came as a complete shock to our family.  And yet, I feel an amazing sense of peace.

My mom had absolute confidence that God is real and trusted that because of Jesus Christ, she would someday be resurrected.  In my childhood, my mom and dad planted the seed of my faith and nurtured it, but as I matured, I had to come to know for myself whether what my parents had always taught me was true.  Through many experiences over the years, I have come to know for myself that God lives and that He is our father.  He loves each of us with a depth of love we cannot comprehend.  He sent us to earth to learn, to serve others, and to become more like Him.  When we have finished our work on earth, he will take us home to enjoy whatever level of light and joy we are willing to embrace.

Sometimes painful, even tragic, things happen to us, and He allows those experiences to come into our lives because He knows that they will make us stronger and better, that they will give us compassion and understanding and greater desire to relieve the pain of others.  He knows that in the times of our greatest suffering, we can draw near to Him and receive the greatest measure of His peace.  He weeps for our sorrows and sent His Son to relieve our suffering.

I know with certainty that I will see my mom again, and I am eager for that day.  I also know that God is giving me precious gifts to sweeten this hard time.

One of those gifts came tonight.  Early in the evening, my husband and I went on a date together and explored a small town near our home.  In one of the shops, one could buy a bottle and mix essential oils to create a unique scent that could be worn as perfume.  As I was getting ready for bed, I thought about going back to mix a scent for myself sometime.  I remembered that Mom had seemed interested in mixing a personalized scent for herself when one of my sisters told us about having mixed her own, and let us smell it.  As I thought about that exchange, I remembered that it had occurred during my last face-to-face conversation with my mom before her death, when she and my family visited my new home.

I teared up as I realized that Heavenly Father had answered a little prayer that mattered only to me.  A few days ago, I pictured Mom and my sister and me sitting on the floor in my younger daughter’s bedroom talking, and I could not remember what we had talked about.  I felt so sad not to remember my last conversation with Mom, and thought a little half-prayer that I would remember.  Tonight, in a quiet, simple way, Heavenly Father reminded me.  It was a beautiful gift.

Baby steps…

One of my friends once told me that I would be happier if I started with doing just one percent of something I wanted to do, instead of feeling like I have to do it one hundred percent right off the bat.  That way, I actually start chipping away at my goals instead of allowing them to loom over me until I feel I have time to “do it right.”  I have thought about that for a long time, chewing on it, and taking baby steps into various projects.  This blog for one.  I wanted to get it all set up and beautiful, replete with gorgeous photos and the perfect theme to set off my thoughts just right.  But I wanted to begin more than I wanted make it perfect.  Barely.  Maybe someday my blog will be beautiful, but for today, at least I am creating and sharing something.  Yesterday, I started something else that I have wanted to do for a long time.  I started a compost pile!

Every time I throw away food scraps–banana and orange peels, egg shells, carrot peelings and the like–I feel sad.  I think that those scraps have the potential to morph into rich, life-giving soil for new vegetables, and I feel sick thinking of that rich natural resource remaining trapped in a landfill where it does no good.

I have waited years to compost because I knew I didn’t want it to smell awful, and it seemed complicated to balance the ratio of “brown” and “green” components in the pile to ensure proper decomposition and preclude stench.  Hey, I can’t even keep straight what stuff is considered brown and what is considered green, let alone mix it right!  However, when my lovely family came to visit me last weekend and see my–relatively–new home, my “tiny bird mother,” who has had a compost pile for years, explained something that made composting seem suddenly simple.  She said that the green components are like a fire and the brown components are like the fuel, and both must be balanced for the compost to break down well.  I extrapolated that without the fuel, the “fire” “smolders” and that’s when the stench happens.

To return to where I began, feeling encouraged by the epiphany that I felt at mom’s simplified explanation of the process, I started my compost pile on Thursday.  I chopped up fruit and veggie peels to hopefully speed decomposition and carried them carefully to my selected spot, covered them with the leaves which have sat on the ground waiting for me to get up the guts to finally start composting, and smiled in satisfaction as I walked back to the house.

Friday afternoon, Big Sister helped me carry the scraps to the pile and raced about the yard gathering leaves to spread over them.  Before eagerly enlisting as my helper, she came into the kitchen and saw me chopping.  When she asked what I was doing, I told her about food scraps and leaves turning into new dirt to grow new food.  Seeming to catch the wonder I felt about the process, she said, “It’s like magic!”  Indeed it is.  True, divine magic.

This post on organic farming also inspired me to take my first baby step into composting.

Just a little one-on-one

“In family relationships love is really spelled t-i-m-e.”                                                                     Dieter F. Uchtdorf (“Of Things that Matter Most”)

Today, after we dropped Big Sister off at a friend’s for preschool and stopped briefly at the store, Little Sister and I went to the indoor playground of a nearby mall.  I want to spend more time with her than I do, more time just enjoying her presence and playing together, and this morning I did just that.

She looked around the brightly colored and beautifully lit play area with wonder.  She climbed on a few toys before discovering the slide, where we spent most of our time.  She said, “My turn!”  as she ran from the bottom of the slide to the steps, where she tenaciously found her own way up.  I watched her interacting with the other small children playing on the slide and gently assisted her to develop interpersonal skills, encouraging her to wait her turn or to politely ask others to wait for theirs.

When she got to the top of the slide, she called out “watch!” and waited for me to acknowledge her request before scooting her feet to the edge, rolling onto her belly and sliding down the slide.  “I did it!”  She exclaimed in triumph.  She called for my attention every time she was ready to slide, even when I had remained focused on her during her ascent back to the top of the slide.  I remembered a principle I recently read in Becky Bailey’s remarkable book Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline, which is that one of the things our children want most from us is for us to notice what they are doing, to actually see it and reflect to them what we see rather than judging it with a dismissive, “good job!”  The constant stream of “watch me!”  “Look what I can do!” and similar exclamations from children begs for us to truly look at them, to “embrace them with our eyes” (see “Become as a Little Child,” by Jean A. Stevens) and to acknowledge in descriptive terms, what they have accomplished.  “You climbed to the top of the slide and went down by yourself!”  Then, the child gets to feel the satisfaction, the elation born of his or her accomplishment as well as gaining the positive attention of the parent, without feeling that the parent must pronounce their efforts good before the child can feel good about them.

Speaking of satisfaction…I felt great joy when I planned ahead, set a “five-minute warning” alarm on my phone and gently got Little Sister into the car in time to pick up Big Sister as soon as preschool ended!

Little Sister and I had a sweet morning together, and I am glad she is part of our family.

Keeping Christmas

I love Christmas.  Christmas time has been one of my favorite times of year since I was a child.  I feel a special sense of wonder and a greater feeling of kindness and love in the world at Christmas, and that always encourages me to try to hold on to that sweetness for the whole year by being kind and generous.

I was just on one of my favorite blogs, Katie’s “Making This Home,” and I loved her idea of keeping a Christmas journal.  I want to celebrate our little family’s unique brand of Christmas by recording some of the sweet, special and silly things that are happening around here this Christmas season.

A few of my favorites are:

Our nightly scripture readings about the life and mission of Christ, and the paper chain we are making as we read each scripture passage. (Thanks to Emily, a friend from church for the scripture selections and paper chain kit).

Our beginner’s version of Advent celebrations on Sunday evenings: I discovered Advent too late in the year to put together a wreath, but couldn’t wait until next year to add this layer of meaning to our celebration of the birth of Christ.  So, starting the first Sunday in December, we have gathered in our darkened kitchen around our wreath-less candles, remembering our need for a Savior to light our lives as we teach the girls in simple terms why we need Jesus: to help us “try again” when we do bad things, to help us come alive again after we die and to help us go back to live with Heavenly Father some day…I can’t wait until they begin to really understand the depth of those simple phrases as I am beginning to understand them through experience with God’s grace for my own daily weakness.

Daddy reading “How the Grinch stole Christmas” to the girls nightly after dinner.  Last year,  Big Sister begged to read that book so many times that she memorized it, word for word, and “read” it for Daddy’s extended family at our Christmas Eve gathering.  Soon both of the girls will have it memorized!  I also love that this is a Daddy-instituted tradition.

Listening to Christmas music.

Big Sister eagerly asking if she can turn on the Christmas tree lights as soon as dusk falls–it seems to be earlier every night!  I miss the sun in the winter :_)  I also love the way our Christmas tree looks from outside, glowing through our tall windows into the darkness outside.  I hope our home sends light into the world in more meaningful ways too.

The unusual decorations that have found their way onto our tree, after Little Sister’s thorough removal of the original ornaments from the bottom half of the tree, and the candy canes from the entire tree.  The inventive new decorations include two halves of an orange plastic Easter egg balanced on two different branches, four or five of Big Sister’s plastic dress-up necklaces, each draped artistically over multiple branches, and a tiny plush fish sitting happily on its own branch.

Big Sister sitting quietly at her bedroom window, watching the neighbors’ Christmas light displays change colors.

Plotting with Daddy about the girls’ presents, shopping for said presents and wrapping them together.  Thinking about how excited the girls will be about their presents.

Finally finding some presents for Daddy that I think he will like–and feeling delighted about that.  Also, choosing to be optimistic and trust that I will find delightful gifts for the people I care about instead of worrying that I’ll never find the right thing.  Oh, and Christmas shopping on my own while Daddy watched babies.

Shopping for Daddy with the girls and wrapping his gifts with Big Sister while Little Sister napped.  Big Sis was so eager to help!  After she discovered that wrapped gifts had magically appeared under the tree overnight one night, and learned that mom and dad had wrapped them and placed them there, she pouted that she wanted to help wrap some presents.  Imagine her delight when I told her that she could help me wrap Daddy’s!  Daddy had her help him wrap mine too.

Helping Big Sister choose some of her toys to give to Little Sister for Christmas.  Her choices are amusing, but sweet.

Watching a hilarious dancing elves e-card from some of our best friends and plotting to make our own…

Watching the girls play happily with our Nativity set…although I’m not entirely certain that suspending the donkey upside down over the manger is reverent…nor is having baby Jesus slide down the sloped stable roof…

Making frozen banana “ice cream” with my juicer on a whim and having even Daddy say he liked it!  Both of the girls devoured it with relish.

Watching silly little Christmas movies like “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer and “Frosty the Snowman.”  They weren’t much a part of my childhood celebrations, but they have found a warm place in my heart, especially when I see that Daddy does have a few things he’s nostalgic about after all!  He and I both laugh at the plots, terrible claymation and sometimes strange transitions to irrelevant music, but we have a great time watching them with the girls.

Taking a walk with the girls when the afternoon sun is shining brightly enough to cut the wintry chill.  Big Sister gathered sticks and made a pretend fire.

Delighting in the first snow with the girls: peering out Little Sister’s bedroom window at the light dusting all over everything when we first woke up.  It had all melted by nightfall, but that did nothing to diminish the morning’s magic.

Going on a special date with Daddy while some friends watched the girls.  Sushi, Dave and Buster’s and frozen yogurt with my best friend in the world: priceless.

Taking the girls to see Santa Claus and proudly watching Big Sis overcome her nervousness and “give it a try”…

Watching the First Presidency Christmas Devotional broadcast from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints together; enjoying the wonderful spirit of the meeting and remembering that its alright if Christmas celebrations aren’t perfect: it’s more important to share love than to fuss over the details.  Thank you, President Uchtdorf!

Watching brand-new videos depicting scenes from the life of Christ with the whole family, and again during special one-on-one time with Big Sister, and remembering the wonder and glory of what–and Whom–we celebrate at Christmas.