Monday, December 31, 2007

5-10, 4-6

I was supposed to wake up to a boatload of snow this morning. No such luck. First I heard 5-10 inches. Then said 4-6 inches. Seems as if we got a mere dusting. I'm disappointed but the trees out my window look pretty.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Resolution time...

Eleven years ago my brother Robes gave this talk while serving as the Bishop of the Boca Raton Ward. I always share it with friends this time of year.


A talk by Bishop Robes Patton to the Boca Raton Ward

December 29, 1996

[This talk was read by Ellen Patton at Robert Pitchforth Patton's funeral on October 2, 1998 with the following introduction: I had heard about this talk from Kim's sister Holly so when Robes visited me in Boston in February of last year I asked him to bring a copy on a disk. We sat at my computer and as I formatted the document I asked him to give it a title and he said, "Closer to Heaven in '97". Kim said a lot of people asked her if he really set that many goals in one year. He did set a lot of small goals and then chipped away at the list. She said she was the tortoise and he was the hare. He made lots of progress with small goals and was always satisfied with what he accomplished. He never reached every goal but would re-evaluate and move onto the next year.]

In the past, I have made various New Year's resolutions that were a bit out of the ordinary.

Once, I set a goal to spend the year not influenced by time except at work. So I arrived a tad late for a few engagements, but found my stress level decreased.

Several years ago, my wife and I made a resolution to find and contact people who had influenced our lives or people we enjoyed spending time with who had drifted from our lives. Since then, we have reconnected with a number of good friends and our lives have been enriched by these relationships.

When people move into the ward, I try to sit down with them and outline the goals I have set for members here. My goals are quite simple: Be happy and make progress.

Now, a lot has to fall into place for us to meet these objectives. More than likely, we must be keeping faithful to personal religious practices such as personal prayer, family prayer, Family Home Evening, temple worship, Sunday meeting attendance and magnifying our callings. Serving others, extending a hand of fellowship and becoming a ward family.

These goals may sound simple. And for some, they might be simple.

For me, they are not.

They are daily challenges.

If this stuff was easy, our leaders wouldn't have to remind us all the time that these factors bring us closer to the Lord and salvation.

As Brother Cano, our high council representative, said a few weeks ago, if we don't all get to the celestial kingdom, it won't be as much fun.

With just a few days left in 1996, I hope you will take some time to reflect upon what you learned and how you lived last year. Please take time to contemplate positive goals for 1997. They don't have to be complex. They don't have to be lofty. Simple, solid goals can help us reach high levels of spirituality, peace and happiness.

As we come to the end of a year, I have been thinking of goals and resolutions I can set for the upcoming year.

I would like to share some of the feelings I've had about my goals for 1997 in the hope that it might provide some food for thought as you evaluate your lives this week. Maybe my list will help you think of some goals of your own or maybe it will just give you a list of things to remind me during the next year.

So here are some of the things I hope to accomplish next year:

At serious times, be more serious.

At less serious times, be less serious.

Show fewer forehead wrinkles, which my wife says accompany a scowl.

Find more to care about deeply.

Listen to loud music softly.

Listen to soft music loudly.

Read more books.

Gain an appreciation for and a better understanding of fine opera.

Live with zeal and passion.

Continue to love my work.

I was disturbed by an article I read this week in which Nina Shea of Freedom House, a human‑rights organization, explained that Christians are the chief victims of religious persecution around the world today. So I would like to do what I can to alleviate or end such persecution.

In that same light, do whatever I can to promote peace.

Discover and articulate righteous dreams for myself and my family and work toward making them come true.

Honor my parents.

Be a better brother.

Be a better brother-in-law.

Be a better father.

Be a better bishop.

Be a better husband.

Use my baseball mitt more.

Ride my bicycle more.

Sing louder.

Spend one less night in the hospital than I did in 1996.

Read one play by Shakespeare.

Pray more on my knees and less in my car.

Bring a feeling of family to Family Home Evening.

Find ways to extend our Family Home Evening to those who need to feel more part of a family.

Surprise people.

Laugh more.

Cry more.

Read my scriptures more.

Do enough genealogy to find out exactly where in England and Scotland my ancestors originated.

When I am in a city with a temple, attend that temple.

Be a more attentive listener.

Strengthen my testimony.

Be a good Christian.

Feel the power of the atonement.

Live my life and live the gospel at the same time.

Be more charitable, more Christ‑like and more compassionate.

Be happy.

Make progress.

It is my hope and prayer that we can all find peace, happiness and growth in 1997. That we can grow closer as a ward family. That we can feel the guidance of the spirit and the loving influence of Jesus Christ in our lives. Amen.

Saturday, December 29, 2007


That's my team. Undefeated. Can you believe how many home runs they got tonight?!?


Quick trip "down the Cape"

After not nearly enough sleep, I got up at 7:15am this morning, met two friends at 8:00am and was "down the Cape" waiting for Tumbleweed Quilts to open at 10:00am. I went to this shop last Fall and it's big and has lots of reproduction fabric--my favorite. My friends liked the shop and I found a few fat quarters for my stash. I didn't take any photos of fabric but did take some of a cool antique shop sign.

And now I'm ready for a long winter's nap.

Do you have any Pomeranssinkuori?

Didn't think so. It's a Finnish spice and an important ingredient in some gingerbread cookies that I make. I got the recipe (and the spice) from my Finnish friend Mimmu. Pomeranssinkuori is like lemon/orange peel.

I just made a double batch of the cookie dough and it called for 4 teaspoons of each of these spices: pomeranssinkuori, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, coriander, allspice, cloves and ginger. I've invited one of my friends over tomorrow to bake. I'll post pictures of my clever cookies tomorrow (I mean later today).

In the meantime, the dough is chilling. Mimmu told me once she had to hide the dough in her refrigerator so her kids wouldn't find it because they would eat it! I guess I can't really hide it from myself...

KORVATUNTURIN PIPARKAKUT or Finnish Gingerbread Cookies
shared by Mimmu Hartiala-Sloan

Combine and cream until light and fluffy:
8 ounces butter
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup dark Karo syrup

Then break in 1 egg, mixing well.

In another bowl combine:
3 cups flour
1 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
2 t pomeranssinkuorta or substitute 1 t each lemon peel or orange peel
2 t each ginger, coriander, nutmeg, cinnamon, cardemom, cloves and allspice

Carefully knead this might add up to 1 cup more flour. Put the ready dough into a ziplock bag and into the refrigerator for at least overnight, and don't tell anyone about it or they'll eat it.

When you are ready to bake the cookies preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Roll out the dough very thin (2mm) on a very well floured surface. Bake the cookies on an ungreased cookie sheet. Watch the cookies carefully for burned cookies are horrid. They should bake somewhere between 5-10 minutes depending on the thickness of the cookie. Immediately transfer them to a cooling rack. Pack them into tins and keep hidden for a few weeks if possible, thus the spices will mellow. Good luck.

Sadly, my friend Mimmu is moving to Finland in a few weeks (sad for her friends here -- wonderful for Finland!). She is like Mother Earth and is a dear friend. I feel lucky that she shared this recipe with me and the last of her pomeranssinkuorta!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Introducing IKEA

My friend Anna Banana had never been to IKEA so on my list of "places to go during vacation" was take Anna to IKEA. We went tonight and enjoyed meatballs for dinner and then moving quickly through the store for a half hour before it closed. I found some nifty notecards (20 for 99 cents) and Anna bought some lingonberry jam.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas cards

One of my favorite things about Christmas is receiving Christmas cards. I keep them in a tin on my coffee table all year 'round (can you technically call it a coffee table if you don't drink coffee?). My favorites are the ones with photos. And it's fun to get cards with photos that I've taken. I didn't take any of these photos but they are some of my favorites.

I've been organizing/sorting/tidying things up in my condo today and it feels good. My vacation is half over but I'm making the best of it. As long as I can't remember how to get to work on January 2nd it will feel like a great vacation!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Sleeping in, opening gifts, calls to family, humming carols, visiting wonderful friends, dinner with neighbors, resting, and remembering the true meaning of Christmas. I have had a very nice day.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The best Christmas story

Luke 2

My first Christmas

I love this picture of my very first Christmas. The back of the picture says, "Christmas 1960 - Ellen's first, Robby's second."

I love that we got a Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

I love Christmas music

And I especially love this song that my niece left on my answering machine.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

A Story of Riches

My mom sent me this story from The Oregonian a few years ago. It's one of my all-time favorite Christmas stories.


In the midst of what seemed a bleak and gloomy time, two girls give their mother her very best Christmas ever.

By Doug Bates
for The Oregonian

For years, Jill told no one her story of the red-wagon Christmas. Too much pain, I suppose. Or maybe it was pride. Whatever the reason, she wasn’t ready yet – until a night around a campfire in 1988, when the distilled spirits were flowing and Jill, my younger sister, was feeling a little better, perhaps, about life’s twists and turns.

She told us the story as firelight danced in her eyes. And afterward, as something else glistened in the eyes of her three brothers, journalists all, we insisted that she write about it.

No. Too personal, she said. Besides, her twin daughters, Deirdre and Caitlin, still didn’t know just how desperate their situation had been during that bleak Christmas, and Jill still wasn’t ready to tell them the full story.


It happened in 1983, when Jill was struggling through the financial and emotional morass that follows so many unpleasant divorces. “I had the girls, thank goodness, plus a Volvo that wouldn’t run, a house that was in danger of being repossessed by the bank and a marginal job that wasn’t keeping up with the bill. We were in serious trouble.”

Because of the house she was trying to keep in a Portland suburb, and the car she couldn’t afford to repair, she was told she was ineligible for food stamps. “By December that year, we didn’t have any money and we didn’t have much food,” she said. “The power company was threatening to shut off service, and I had nothing to spend on the girls for the holidays.” “I found myself staring at the worst Christmas of our lives.”

Jill’s big extended family had helped a little—and we could have helped a lot more, if we’d known the extent of her plight. But she is legendary in our family for her cheerful optimism and unwillingness to complain. Unbeknownst to us, as Christmas approached, her bank account and credit completely dried up, and she broke down and asked the school principal for help. The kindly woman put Deirdre and Caitlin on the subsidized lunch program, and the 10-year old twins, both fourth-graders, were spared from knowing about it. “The principal arranged it so the girls could go to the office to pick up their lunch tickets, which looked just like everyone else’s. They never knew.”

Jill, an art major in college, hand-crafted some Christmas gifts for the girls, but there would be no clothes or any of the popular commercial toys that they’d seen advertised on TV. And there would certainly be no holiday treats or traditional feast.

About a week before Christmas, Jill’s employer, a painting contractor, shut down for the holidays and she was laid off. The girls went off to school, and she stayed home to battle her despair in the private gloom of a dark, snowy day. That afternoon, a car pulled into the driveway. It was the school principal—the same woman who’d helped Jill put Deirdre and Caitlin on the government lunch program. “In the car she had a giant, foil-wrapped gift box for us,” Jill recalls. “And she was so respectful. She said, ‘Now, Jill, I want you to know that every single person who signs up for the lunch program automatically gets one of these around the holidays, whether or not it’s really needed. It’s just something the school district does.’ “Then she stayed a few minutes to talk and ask about our plans for Christmas, and she never once insinuated that we were poor people. This woman was wonderful.”

Jill set the box on her dining room table and discovered that it contained all she needed for a fine holiday meal. Among all the food there were also two pink boxes containing Barbie dolls. “I was hiding the dolls in a closet when Deirdre and Caitlin came home from school,” Jill says. Through the window they say the big box on the table and came racing in, squealing and jumping up and down.” Together, the excited girls went through the box, admiring the contents. There was fresh fruit, canned vegetables, candies, nuts, cookies, chocolates, a large canned ham and much more. “I felt so elated, like all my burdens had lifted, or at least the stress over how we were going to make it through the holidays,” Jill says. “I felt fabulous.”

Then Deirdre asked where the box had come from, and Jill gently explained. “All of a sudden, Deirdre’s whole demeanor changed. She stepped back and looked a little down. ‘Oh, Mom,’ she finally said. “This is so nice, but they’ve made a terrible mistake. They meant to give this to a poor family.’” Rather awkwardly, Jill tried to explain that the three of them, at least temporarily, were indeed poor. But Caitlin chimed in with Deirdre. “No, they must have meant this for someone who really needed it. Someone NEEDY.”

A sinking feeling swept over Jill as the girls pondered the dilemma. “Well,” Deirdre said at last, “you know what we have to do. We have to give this to somebody who’s really needy.” The twins talked it over for a while, came up with several ideas and finally settled on an elderly neighbor named Juanita, who worked in a nearby laundry. Juanita lived alone in a dilapidated old house down the street. Its wood burning stove—her only source of heat—had broken down, and Juanita had been ill lately. Even her dog was sick. The gift box should go to Juanita, the girls decided.

Jill didn’t stand in their way, but a touch of despair came creeping back. “Selfishly, I was thinking, ‘What am I going to do? I have almost nothing to give them for Christmas.’” As Jill watched, Deirdre and Caitlin repacked the gift box and hefted it out to the garage. There, beside the broken-down Volvo, they put the cargo on Deirdre’s red wagon. Minutes later, through her kitchen window, Jill watched the two girls, clad in coats and scarves and smiles from earmuff to earmuff, pulling the heavy wagon down the street to Juanita’s house.

“As I watched, the snowy street began to sparkle,” Jill recalls, “and a little sunlight broke through that dark sky. I stood there and began to realize the beauty and meaning of what was happening, and it changed everything. “I began to feel joy.”

Today, 12 Christmases later, Jill still treasures the warm blessing she and the girls later received in a note from Juanita. And this year, as Deirdre and Caitlin—two successful young women now—go out into the world with their college degrees, Jill finally feels ready to share her story and tell her daughters some things they didn’t know about the year of the big gift box.

“The truth is,” Jill says, “it was a great Christmas. Thanks to them, it was the best of my life.”

Friday, December 21, 2007

My little tree

It's actually not little; it's about ten feet tall! And, it seems prettier this year than ever before and has been a contributing factor to me feeling the Christmas spirit. Still to come before Christmas Day: I'm going to share one of my Christmas stories, one of my favorite Christmas stories, a sweet photo that I found recently and a special treat. Stay tuned and bring me some figgy pudding.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

O Christmas Tree(s)

I found the pattern here and the fabric here and made these cute trees for my family. The packages were mailed on Monday and at least one has been received. Unlike last year, my gifts of treats and trees arrived before Christmas and that's a good thing.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Precious Jeopardy

Precious Jeopardy
by Lloyd C. Douglas

(told by Brent A. Barlow in “A Christmas Needlepoint”)

The story is about a man named Phil Garland, his wife, Shirley, and their two children, Polly and Junior. Phil was very disgruntled as he was driving home on Christmas Eve. He had just lost his job. When he arrived home, Shirley greeted him in her usual pleasant manner. But she, too, became discouraged as Phil conveyed his job loss to her. Their financial situation had been difficult enough when Phil was working. He now seemed even more distant to Shirley and the children than he had during the past few months.

That evening Shirley tried to include Phil in some of the Christmas Eve activities with Polly and Junior. But Phil just grumbled at the price of the gifts. He reminded Shirley that in their tight financial condition they couldn’t afford any gifts at all. He said Christmas was overly commercialized anyway. Eventually, Shirley helped Polly and Junior get ready for bed. Then, tearfully, she retired to their bedroom.

A few minutes later she heard Phil calling from the hallway. He yelled for her to get the pliers. “I’ve stepped on a needle,” he groaned. Shirley brought the pliers, and Phil used them to tug on the needle protruding from his foot. Out came half of the needle. “That means,” he muttered, “the other half of it is still in my foot.” He and Shirley discussed the possibility of going to the hospital that night to have the other half removed. But Phil assured her it could wait until morning.

The next day, Christmas, Phil drove toward the hospital but then paused outside. Somewhere he had heard that if you get a tiny piece of metal in your body and do not remove it, it can eventually move to one of the vital organs and cause death. For some reason Phil decided to leave the other half of the needle in his foot and take the eventual consequences, if and when they occurred. He drove home and told Shirley that everything had been taken care of. From that moment Phil believed his life was in jeopardy. He really didn’t know if he was going to live from one day to the next. He decided he would try and make the most of life on a day-to-day basis. There was a marked change in him. He treated Shirley with more kindness and spent time playing with Polly and Junior. Phil had a very pleasant Christmas Day with his family. He didn’t know, after all, if he would be alive tomorrow. Tomorrow came and Phil Garland found himself alive. For the second day in a row he was extra considerate to his wife and children because it might be the last day of his life. The story proceeded with examples of Phil spending more time with Shirley, Polly, and Junior on a day-by-day basis. He also took daily odd jobs in the community to financially support his family.

Precious Jeopardy ended, as it began, on Christmas Eve on year later. It was in sharp contrast to the previous Christmas because Phil was so happy. On Christmas Eve, Phil played a few games and romped with the children. Before putting them to bed they exchanged a few small gifts they had made during the year. During those months Phil had made a walnut sewing cabinet for Shirley. He took her to his work area and presented his gift to her. Shirley was again tearful, but this year it was because of Phil’s thoughtfulness. As the clock struck midnight Shirley informed Phil that she also had a gift for him. She handed Phil a small box which he opened. There was a tiny fragment of steel pierced through red velvet. It was the other half of the needle Phil thought was in his foot. The story ends: “You’ll forgive me—won’t you dear,” Shirley begged. “It was just the next day—I was moving the rug and found the other half of the needle. I wanted to tell you—at once. But you see,” Shirley went on, brokenly, “this other half of the needle gave you back to us. I couldn’t risk losing you again, could I? And it made you so brave and kind!” Phil’s arms tightened around her shoulders, protectively. He slowly released a long pent-up sigh that sounded as if he might have traveled a great distance. “Well, thanks, Shirley,” he stammered. “I’m glad to have it. Just what I wanted. No, no, don’t cry, darling. It’s Christmas.”

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Monday, December 17, 2007

Choosing Christmas tree evokes battle memories

Choosing Christmas tree evokes battle memories

By Robes Patton
Sports Editor
The Daily Sentinel, Scottsboro, Alabama, Thursday, December 19, 1985

The holiday season is supposed to bring out the best in people, but it doesn’t always work that way. Family tradition, as a matter of fact, can draw the worst from even the mildest-mannered group. I know I’m not alone in surviving battles over Christmas tree decorations, festive meals or holiday entertainment. Our family had a unique tradition of staging a mild riot as we decided on a Christmas tree. My parents provided a learning experience by going to the source -- well, as close as we could get -- for our tree. So we’d pile in the car and Sluggo (our affectionate moniker for Dad) would drive us down to the Los Angeles railroad yards -- which won’t ever be confused with a Montana mountain or Connecticut forest. What wildlife existed along the way won’t ever be mistaken as inhabitants of a national forest either. We’d zip off the freeway near City Hall and pass the downtown bus depot, which, speaking of tradition is traditionally tucked in the finest corner of our nation’s cities. We’d continue past the Midnight Mission, countless winos and the garment district before we’d find the temporary forest. Entering the packed railroad yards we’d watch the workers unload trees, listen to salesmen shilling, and wonder why the flocked trees didn’t melt and how it snowed pink and blue. Each of us would inevitably pick a different tree: one taller than the house could withstand, one fatter than the space between. My mother would always choose some funky fir that looked like something you’d clean anti-aircraft weapons with, and Sluggo would always worry about price. We’d wander around to the different lots and try to find a tree that had just been handed down from the boxcar. That way, we could be assured it was fresh from the ground, not exposed too long to the trappings (and air) of Southern California. We never considered the trees had been grown on a farm a good sleigh ride from L.A. It was strictly our version of scrambling through the woods in search of the properly nurtured sapling. As the night wore on and tempers grew short, we’d argue and complain in favor of our chosen pine, then barter with each other and offer our finely-tuned points of debate. Sluggo would end the squabble the way Dads usually do (as traditional as the holiday season itself): he chose what he wanted and said “No more arguing...and I don’t mean perhaps.” It’s been a few years since I’ve passed through the L.A. rail yards, but I’m sure the trees still arrive and the smell of Christmas trees wafts across the asphalt. And I’m sure, of course, that one or two arguments rage over which tree to buy, keeping alive another venerable holiday tradition.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Church in my heart

It wasn't an official church snow day (argh...) but I'm home and having church in my heart (after digging out my car and my neighbor's car). Our parking lot is very icy and I'm sure the roads will be too at 6:30pm. I will keep busy with lots of projects; mainly Christmas packages for my family that must be mailed tomorrow.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Bring on the blizzard

This is how people act when New England is expecting a blizzard (or nor'easter). I've heard we're getting anywhere from 3-12 inches of snow tomorrow. I went to the grocery store tonight for baking supplies. I have enough food in my storm bunker to last a while. I needed eggs, butter, brown sugar and peppermint flavoring. There were NO eggs and NO Land O'Lakes butter (that was on sale for $2/pound). I guess I'm not the only one planning some Snow Day Holiday Baking. I went to a second grocery store and was able to get what I needed. The kitchen is OPEN!

Do you know a Kunz out in Utah?

I took a sociology class in college from this guy and remembered this article this week so will add it as a "Christmas story".

Do you know a Kunz out in Utah?
by Phillip R. Kunz
Mountainwest/December 1975

T’was the week before Xmas
When thru-out the town
Came a bag full of mail
Delivered around.

Season’s Greetings and Christmas joy
Who wished us all, but were so coy
Tho, you signed the cards
We are no dunce–
Just who in hell
Is Dr. and Joyce Kunz?

Thus read the cover of a Christmas card received by the author. Inside was added “And a Merry Christmas to you, too!” signed William and Dorothy Tanner. I confess that I never knew them either. And the cards came from others–one hundred and seventeen–from Omaha and South Dakota. All came from people I never met–people I never knew.

What elicited this well wishing? This cheerful Season’s Greeting? And who in Hell are Dr. and Joyce Kunz? I selected Omaha and Watertown for my study not because of some complex theoretical justification, but only because they were urban and rural, and the available Polk Directory from each area was of recent origin.

Six hundred of them were randomly selected to receive my cards. Half were high status folks–doctors, lawyers, accountants, and railroad vice presidents. The other half were people who had blue collar jobs–truck drivers, janitors, and bicycle repairmen.

My cards were carefully selected–three types in all. The best was a snow covered bridge with pines and ice and frost and verse. The second printed on card stock, “Merry Christmas” and a hand traced candle and flame–not bad at all for home designed and press printed. Finally there was the same card stock with a “Merry Christmas” quickly written by my secretary with a big red “Marks-A-Lot.” It was certainly not an artistic creation. I wasn’t too proud to put my name on that, but I did. On one half of each of the three types of cards was hand written “Dr. And Mrs. Phillip Kunz,” a title to match those of the high status receivers in the sample. The remainder were signed “{Phil, Joyce, Jay, Jenifer, Jody, Jonathan and Jana.” With the absence of the title, “Dr.” and the addition of several children’s names, the assumption was made that the sender would be perceived as lower class.

The response was surprising. First came the telephone calls–eleven of them in all, and none collect. “We have been thinking and thinking, but just can’t remember who you are.” They called during the day when I was at work so my wife had to answer. She wishes I would confine my sociological studies to the university!

On each of the envelopes I put an address sticker with my name and address, written to reflect the appropriate status. I decided to use my real pen name and address inasmuch as the return of a card, or some other like response, was the dependent variable for the study.

Then came the cards, one hundred and seventeen of them, in addition to the eleven phone calls. Some were just regular cards like “the Sister Madonna” and a name, printed Mr. And Mrs. Andrew Follet; or a Kaycrest Cotillion Card signed “The Paul Headmiller family.” Others were signed too, but also wanted to know who we were. “For some reason we fail to recall that we know you, when you sent your Xmas card. Happy Holiday to you all anyway. May Peace reign.” Or another, “We received your lovely X-mas card, but just can’t seem to place you. Could you please let us know your maiden name and how you know us? Bill, Jan, Lari, Lynn and Brian.”

There were colored photographs of new houses, new children, and pets. There were the cards with an apology for not having written sooner or regretting that “we see so little of you anymore.” Some were confused at first but were able to work it out and knew who we were in the end.

Dear Joyce and Phil: Received your Christmas card and was good to hear from you. I will have to do some explaining to you. Your last name did not register at first, so I had my niece stop on her way to Calif. To call you and ask if you were Dr. Ralph’s daughter. She did, but a youngster answered the phone and she said she tried to explain that she was my niece. She said I had better write or you would be confused. Please forgive me for being so stupid for not knowing your last name. We are fine and hope you are well. We miss your father. They were such grand friends. Until I hear from you some more, Sincerely, Hubert and Ann.

Long letters came with some of the cards–letters telling of local news, family health, and children’s progress in school. The record for length was a hand written letter of four pages. It closed with “It has been a long four years since we saw you.”

One well wisher said he was going to drop off three children with us for a week while they were to California. Another replied as follows: Dear Phil, Joyce and family, We received your holiday greeting with much joy and enthusiasm. We were so glad to hear from you again and we are very anxious to renew our old friendship. Bev, I and the children (nine, now) have been wanting to travel the southwest next summer and need a place to stop over for a few days, and refresh ourselves. Provo will be just the right place for such a stop. We leave here, June 1st, allow 2 days for travel and plan on us staying at least a week. Good to hear from you again, as it first right into our travel schedule. So on the way back the first part of July we could spend a few more days, resting and visiting with you. Merry Christmas & Happy New Years. Lou, Bev and the children. P.S. We are bringing our 2 St. Bernards along, as we cannot bear to leave them at a kennel.

To these two respondents my reply was “Touche.” No crank letters came from Nebraska, only from Watertown. A communicaster from the radio station called and later a newspaper editor. The radio commentator just mentioned in passing one day, “I got a Christmas card from a guy in Utah and I can’t remember him.” A later called on the air said, “Me too!” Many other called the station to say that they, too, received cards from a Kunz out in Utah. Who was this mystery man? A former resident on the military base in Watertown? When was he here? Why can’t we remember him?

Then the deputy sheriff called. “There is a family here with your same name–everyone is calling them and they are tired of it–who are you? What are you doing?” We talked a little and he said, “Interesting project! Merry Christmas,” and then hung up. Three weeks after Christmas was over, the Kunz family from Watertown sent a card and letter and said it was tough at first, but now they were glad for the experience and “good luck and a belated Merry Christmas to you.” They weren’t even part of my sample!

I sent a letter after Christmas to all of the people in the sampling explaining the project so they could relax their thinkers.

Incidentally, I received a lot more replies with me as a doctor than from just plain me. Only nine percent of the doctor and lawyer types sent cards while thirty-two percent of the blue-collar people sent a response to my card. I probably won’t send any cards this year, so a Merry Christmas to all of you!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Yes, Nancy, there is a Santa Claus!

Today I received a Christmas card ("For a special daughter--Snowbody makes me smile like you! Merry Christmas, Love, Mother & Dad") and money order from my parents (Nancy and Bob) today with this note: This is a modest gift for Christmas. Some modest suggestions for use:

pay a bill
buy stamps
a book you've been wanting
a pizza or maybe 2 plus friends
a movie and popcorn
gas in the tank (ours is hovering at $3 a gal.)
Good Will offerings
re-sole shoes if anybody still does that

What a nice gift from my very nice parents!

P.S. That is my mother with a Salt Lake City St. Nick (in the early forties?).

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Christmases past

This picture was taken at our Patton grandparents' house in Long Beach on Christmas Day 1966 (the film was developed in Jan 67). We got a lot of presents that year! I remember all our presents had nice ribbons and bows on them. The secretary in the picture is the only piece of furniture I have from that side of my family. It's downstairs in my condo!

This picture was taken at the Van Nuys III Ward Christmas Party in 1971 (the film was developed in Jan 72). I don't remember what part I was playing but the "presents" are Rachel Madrid, Sherry Whipple, and Debbie Klawitter (who had a twin named Denise). I wonder where those gals are...

This is a very important picture. It was taken with my first camera (a Kodak instamatic of my very own)! On the back of this picture I wrote: Ellen's Christmas Gifts - 72. I remember those gifts like I got them yesterday. The gold cap, hair ribbons, "American Gothic" puzzle, red bandana, blue furry slippers, a stuffed mouse, oil lamp, candy and a few other things. It makes me sad to see my green stocking in this picture. My Aunt Shirley made us each a stocking when we were born and though I remember having it my first Christmas in Boston, it has disappeared. We always got candy, nuts, and an orange in our stocking. I think that's a pretty fancy display of my gifts.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Christmas Orange

Rewritten from an anonymous source by Laura Martin-Buhler

Sometimes it is easy to forget the true meaning of Christmas. The busy traditions of the season and the appealing advertisements for material goods can leave the pure and simple truths far, far behind.

Jake was nine years old with tousled brown hair with blue eyes as bright as a heavenly angel. For as long as Jake could remember he had lived within the walls of a poor orphanage. He was just one of ten children supported by what meager contributions the orphan home could obtain in a continuous struggle seeking donations from townsfolk.

There was very little to eat, but at Christmas time there always seemed to be a little more than usual to eat, the orphanage seemed a little warmer, and it was time for a little holiday enjoyment. But more than this, there was the Christmas orange!

Christmas was the only time of year that such a rare treat was provided and it was treasured by each child like no other food admiring it, feeling it, prizing it and slowly enjoying each juicy section. Truly, it was the light of each orphan's Christmas and their best gift of the season. How joyful would be the moment when Jake received his orange!

Unknown to him, Jake had somehow managed to track a small amount of mud on his shoes through the front door of the orphanage, muddying the new carpet. He hadn't even noticed. Now it was too late and there was nothing he could do to avoid punishment. The punishment was swift and unrelenting. Jake would not be allowed his Christmas orange! It was the only gift he would receive from the harsh world he lived in, yet after a year of waiting for his Christmas orange, is was to be denied him.

Tearfully, Jake pleaded that he be forgiven and promised never to track mud into the orphanage again, but to no avail. He felt hopeless and totally rejected. Jake cried into his pillow all that night and spent Christmas Day feeling empty and alone. He felt that the other children didn't want to be with a boy who had been punished with such a cruel punishment. Perhaps they feared he would ruin their only day of happiness. Maybe, he reasoned, the gulf between him and his friends existed because they feared he would ask for a little of their oranges. Jake spent the day upstairs, alone, in the unheated dormitory. Huddled under his only blanket, he read about a family marooned on an island. Jake wouldn't mind spending the rest of his life on an isolated island, if he could only have a real family that cared about him.

Bedtime came, and worst of all, Jake couldn't sleep. How could he say his prayers? How could there be a God in Heaven that would allow a little soul such as his, to suffer so much all by himself? Silently, he sobbed for the future of mankind that God might end the suffering in the world, both for himself and all others like him.

As he climbed back into bed from the cold, hard floor, a soft hand touched Jake's shoulder, startling him momentarily and an object was silently placed in his hands. The giver disappeared into the darkness, leaving Jake with what, he did not immediately know!

Looking closely at it in the dim light, he saw that it looked like an orange! Not a regular orange, smooth and shiny, but a special orange, very special. Inside a patched together peal were the segments of nine other oranges, making one whole orange for Jake! The nine other children in the orphanage had each donated one segment of their own precious oranges to make a whole orange as a gift for Jake.

Sharing what we truly value is the true spirit of Christmas. Our Heavenly Father gave us His beloved Son. May we, like the children in the orphanage, find ways to share His love with others less blessed.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Where are my ice skates?

Everywhere I went tonight I was slipping and sliding on the ice.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Be thoughtful

One of my very favorite Christmases was in 2001. Thanksgiving weekend of that year my boyfriend and I spent a day in Maine. We did some antiquing and he noticed that I admired some Pyrex bowls (yellow, green, red, blue -- did your mom have that set?!?) while in one of the shops. A few weeks before Christmas he told me that he bought a gift for me on eBay and was driving a few states away to pick it up. I left him voice mail that "I was the lady he was buying the Easy Bake Oven from" and after that we joked that he was getting me an Easy Bake Oven for Christmas. Imagine my surprise when I opened a very heavy box on Christmas and there was a never-been-used set of those Pyrex bowls. I loved them! What a wonderful gift!! The next gift I opened was indeed an Easy Bake Oven--from 1964; the year my boyfriend was born. We gave each other very thoughtful gifts that year which made for a very memorable Christmas.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Who's my Santa?

Everybody's talking about their Christmas list this time of year. Since I don't currently have a husband or boyfriend (hey -- there's always tomorrow...) who do I give my list to? I'd like a new car, iPod or a disposal (with installation please).

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Friday, December 07, 2007

Oldroyd elves

My friends the Oldroyds came over tonight and helped me assemble and put lights my Christmas tree! Kim lived in our ward briefly when she came home from her mission (she's the eldest daughter in the Daniels family) and now she's got 5 kids and they are days away from leaving Boston (Jim has been an international faculty fellow at MIT) and weeks away from moving to Korea where Jim will teach business at a university. She went to NYC with me last Saturday--she had never been before! It was a fun evening and their kids are delightful! I showed them "Charlie Brown's Christmas" which they had never seen. They brought a yummy pie and this cute butterfly ornament. Just when we were starting to have fun they are going to be moving. Instead of crying about it I'm going to put the rest of the ornaments on my tree!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Greatest Gift

Greatest Gift
First Prize Winner of Woman’s Day “Greatest Gift” contest by Sandra Bateman, American Fork, Utah, Woman’s Day, December 18, 1979

It was but a few short days until Christmas in 1966. Two young Elders of the Mormon Church walked the streets of Laredo, Texas, knocking on doors in search of someone who would listen to their gospel message. No one in the entire city had time to hear the teachings of the Savior, it seemed; they were so intent on making the celebration of His birth suit their own social purposes.

Filled with discouragement, the two young men turned their backs to the approaching twilight and began the long walk home. Retracing their steps of the afternoon, they came upon a low, windswept riverbank. Jutting from its brow stood the barest means of a shelter, constructed of weathered wooden slats and large pieces of cardboard. Strangely, they felt moved to go to the door and knock. A small, olive-skinned child with tangled black hair and large dark eyes answered. Her mother appeared behind her, a short, thin woman with a tired bur warm smile. In her rich Spanish alto she invited the young men to come in and rest awhile. They were made welcome and seated on the clean swept floor. The little one-room shanty seemed to be filled with shy, smiling, dark-eyed children. The mother proudly introduced each of them—eight in all—and each in turn quickly bobbed his or her head.

The young men were deeply moved at the extreme poverty they saw. Not one in the family had shoes, and their clothes were ill-fitting and in a condition beyond mending. The walls of the little home showed daylight between the wooden slats, and eight little rolls of bedding were pressed tightly into the cracks to help keep out the draft until they were needed for sleeping. A small round fire pit dug in one corner marked the kitchen. An odd assortment of chipped dishes and pots were stacked beside an old ice chest, and a curtained-off section with a cracked porcelain tub served as the bathing area. Except for these the room was barren.

The mother told how her husband had gone north to find employment. He had written that he had found a job of manual labor and that it took most of his small wage to pay his board and room. But, she told the young men, he had managed to save fifty cents to send them for Christmas, with which she had purchased two boxes of fruit gelatin. It was one of the children’s favorites and would make a special treat on Christmas day.

Later, long after the young men had left the family, they stood and asked each other, “Fifty cents?...Fifty cents for eight children for Christmas?” Surely there must be something they could do to brighten Christmas for such children.

The next morning, as soon as the local shops opened, the young men hurried to the dime store and purchased as many crayons, cars, trucks, and little inexpensive toys as they could afford. Each was carefully wrapped in brightly colored paper and all were put in a large grocery bag. That evening the two young men took their gifs to the shanty on the riverbank. When they knocked, the mother swung the door open wide and invited them in. They stopped inside and in halting Spanish explained to the children that they had seen Santa and he had been in such a hurry he’d asked if they would deliver his gifts to the children for him.

With cries of delight the children scrambled for the bag, spilling its contents upon the floor and quickly dividing the treasured packages. Silently the mother’s eyes filled with tears of gratitude. She stepped forward to clasp tightly one of each of the young men’s hands in hers. For long moments she was unable to speak. Then, with tears still welling from her eyes, she smiled and said, “No one has ever been so king. You have given us a special gift, the kind of love that lights Christmas in the heart. May we also give you a special gift.” From the corner of the room she drew out the two small boxes of fruit gelatin and handed them to the young men. Then all eyes were moist. All knew the true meaning of giving, and none would ever forget that at Christmas the greatest gift of all was given.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Covered Bridge

I took this photo in December of '01 near Woodstock, VT. Quintessential New England I'd say...

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Gift of the Magi

by O. Henry

One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one's cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty- seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.

There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating. While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home. A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the lookout for the mendicancy squad.

In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was a card bearing the name "Mr. James Dillingham Young." The "Dillingham" had been flung to the breeze during a former period of prosperity when its possessor was being paid $30 per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20, though, they were thinking seriously of contracting to a modest and unassuming D. But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called "Jim" and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young, already introduced to you as Della. Which is all very good.

Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully at a gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard. Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a week doesn't go far. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling--something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim.

There was a pier-glass between the windows of the room. Perhaps you have seen a pierglass in an $8 flat. A very thin and very agile person may, by observing his reflection in a rapid sequence of longitudinal strips, obtain a fairly accurate conception of his looks. Della, being slender, had mastered the art. Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before the glass. her eyes were shining brilliantly, but her face had lost its color within twenty seconds. Rapidly she pulled down her hair and let it fall to its full length.

Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim's gold watch that had been his father's and his grandfather's. The other was Della's hair. Had the queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty's jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy. So now Della's beautiful hair fell about her rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters. It reached below her knee and made itself almost a garment for her. And then she did it up again nervously and quickly. Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on the worn red carpet. On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown hat. With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she fluttered out the door and down the stairs to the street.

Where she stopped the sign read: "Mne. Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds." One flight up Della ran, and collected herself, panting. Madame, large, too white, chilly, hardly looked the "Sofronie."

"Will you buy my hair?" asked Della. "I buy hair," said Madame. "Take yer hat off and let's have a sight at the looks of it." Down rippled the brown cascade. "Twenty dollars," said Madame, lifting the mass with a practised hand. "Give it to me quick," said Della.

Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. Forget the hashed metaphor. She was ransacking the stores for Jim's present. She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim and no one else. There was no other like it in any of the stores, and she had turned all of them inside out. It was a platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation--as all good things should do. It was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew that it must be Jim's. It was like him. Quietness and value--the description applied to both. Twenty-one dollars they took from her for it, and she hurried home with the 87 cents. With that chain on his watch Jim might be properly anxious about the time in any company. Grand as the watch was, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the old leather strap that he used in place of a chain.

When Della reached home her intoxication gave way a little to prudence and reason. She got out her curling irons and lighted the gas and went to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which is always a tremendous task, dear friends--a mammoth task. Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny, close-lying curls that made her look wonderfully like a truant schoolboy. She looked at her reflection in the mirror long, carefully, and critically.

"If Jim doesn't kill me," she said to herself, "before he takes a second look at me, he'll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl. But what could I do--oh! what could I do with a dollar and eighty- seven cents?" At 7 o'clock the coffee was made and the frying-pan was on the back of the stove hot and ready to cook the chops. Jim was never late. Della doubled the fob chain in her hand and sat on the corner of the table near the door that he always entered. Then she heard his step on the stair away down on the first flight, and she turned white for just a moment. She had a habit for saying little silent prayer about the simplest everyday things, and now she whispered: "Please God, make him think I am still pretty."

The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He looked thin and very serious. Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two--and to be burdened with a family! He needed a new overcoat and he was without gloves. Jim stopped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in them that she could not read, and it terrified her. It was not anger, nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she had been prepared for. He simply stared at her fixedly with that peculiar expression on his face. Della wriggled off the table and went for him.

"Jim, darling," she cried, "don't look at me that way. I had my hair cut off and sold because I couldn't have lived through Christmas without giving you a present. It'll grow out again--you won't mind, will you? I just had to do it. My hair grows awfully fast. Say `Merry Christmas!' Jim, and let's be happy. You don't know what a nice-- what a beautiful, nice gift I've got for you." "You've cut off your hair?" asked Jim, laboriously, as if he had not arrived at that patent fact yet even after the hardest mental labor. "Cut it off and sold it," said Della. "Don't you like me just as well, anyhow? I'm me without my hair, ain't I?"

Jim looked about the room curiously. "You say your hair is gone?" he said, with an air almost of idiocy. "You needn't look for it," said Della. "It's sold, I tell you--sold and gone, too. It's Christmas Eve, boy. Be good to me, for it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered," she went on with sudden serious sweetness, "but nobody could ever count my love for you. Shall I put the chops on, Jim?" Out of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake. He enfolded his Della. For ten seconds let us regard with discreet scrutiny some inconsequential object in the other direction. Eight dollars a week or a million a year--what is the difference? A mathematician or a wit would give you the wrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was not among them. This dark assertion will be illuminated later on.

Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon the table. "Don't make any mistake, Dell," he said, "about me. I don't think there's anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less. But if you'll unwrap that package you may see why you had me going a while at first." White fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper. And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of all the comforting powers of the lord of the flat.

For there lay The Combs--the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshipped long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jewelled rims--just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone. But she hugged them to her bosom, and at length she was able to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say: "My hair grows so fast, Jim!" And them Della leaped up like a little singed cat and cried, "Oh, oh!" Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present. She held it out to him eagerly upon her open palm. The dull precious metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit.

"Isn't it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find it. You'll have to look at the time a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it." Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head and smiled. "Dell," said he, "let's put our Christmas presents away and keep 'em a while. They're too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on." The magi, as you know, were wise men--wonderfully wise men--who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.

Monday, December 03, 2007

A Holiday Stop for Train Number Seven

I am going to post some of my favorite Christmas stories this year. Here's the first one.

A Holiday Stop for Train Number Seven
by Lavetus Mahan Wimmer, Medford, Oregon
Published in Family Circle December 11, 1984

My most joyful Christmas remembrance goes back 60 years, when a simple message in a letter brought together three nations. The great flu epidemic of 1918-19 had claimed my father several years before, leaving Mom to care for us seven children. An enterprising woman, she did the best she could providing for us. We were poor, but happy.

Many of our friends lived, as we did, close to the railroad tracks. There were the Hopi Indian boys we often played with and our Mexican friends, who lived in a section house. These houses were provided by the railroad company, which allowed only two rooms per family, no matter how big the family was.

As I think back now, we were a super bunch of kids. We all got along well and learned to respect each other's backgrounds. We visited each other's houses and enjoyed our families' ethnic foods as often as we could, though our parents never mingled.

The area between our house and the train tracks was our private playground. From there, we watched the trains go by each day. We waved to the crewmen daily. Although the passenger trains went by very fast, the crew­as well as the passengers­never failed to wave back. Our favorite train was the Number Seven, Chicago Limited; it was long, shiny and black, with its Pullman windows red-curtained.

The afternoon of Christmas Eve, with faces aglow, noses runny and hands blue and trembling from the cold, we 17 children lined up to wave and shout holiday greetings to our favorite train. We all watched in awe as the Number Seven, whistle blowing, topped the grade. And then, wonder of wonders, that long, magnificent train pulled to a halt right in front of us. We couldn't believe it.

The big engineer swung down from his cab. Close behind him came the crew, carrying boxes and crates filled with treats for us. As the trainmen approached us, the passengers leaned out of the windows, waving and calling greetings to join in the celebration. The conductor stood near the train, observing the festivities and holding a single package under his arm.

Mother had heard the commotion and came out to join us. The conductor handed her a letter along with the package. Then, before we realized what was happening, the train pulled away.

Mother began to read the letter, and soon she was shedding tears of joy. She sent the other children to get their parents, telling them to come back with baskets for the goodies.

When everything was divided among our families, Mother asked us to be quiet. She opened the package the conductor had given her, and there, under all the layers of white tissue paper, were 17 pairs of red woolen mittens in various sizes. With the help of our parents, we each found our size and eagerly put them on our cold hands.

Mother then took the letter from her pocket, and we listened very carefully as she read it aloud: Merry Christmas to our Junior League of Nations. You are the future of our country. We stand proud of you. It is our fondest hope that someday all races and nations, like their children, shall come together and live in peace.

From the Engineer and Crew of Number Seven, Chicago Limited