Monday, December 29, 2008

SAVING THE BENJAMINS


Hopefully, we all were prudent and we'll be left without post-Christmas "Buyers' Remorse" for some goofy gift that we regret giving or for bills yet unpaid. There's not much we can do about that reindeer sweater with the light-up antlers we gave to our boss, thinking incorrectly that he would "appreciate" the joke. But we can make a vow about whittling away at unpaid debts and saving more in 2009.

Readers of this blog may recall a post from the fall, wherein I shared the shocking news that the difference between saving or spending $10,000 a year comes down to what we do with $27.40 cents a day. $27.40 a day!

Now that sum can either make us quake if we confess that we breeze through that much on a daily Wal-Mart run, or it can empower us into recognize that small changes really do add up. A small adjustment on our phone package may not seem like it will add much to our family net worth, but keep in mind that that savings will compute twelve times. Add to that small shaves off the cable bill, designate a "soup" night of the week, rent a video instead of seeing the movie first-run at a theater, etc. etc. and you can see how quickly you can plop $27.40 cents away. And if not every day, then aim for every other day and stash $5,000 away this year in your rainy day fund.

I've thought about making a chart and writing down every money-saving thing I do to track my progress. Seeing the dollars add up may make the taste of off-brand mayo more palatable if it saves me a buck a jar!

Also, I'm rethinking my warehouse shopping trends as well. After filling my cart and noticing how many impulse buys I make, (like that massive jar of chocolate-coverd raisins I would never buy during a normal grovery-shopping trip), I'm convinced that I can save more money by watching sales and then buying multiples of certain items at my local grocer and/or by buying certain items at the dollar store. I'm going to address some of these topics more fully over the next few days.

Here's one of my best tips. It's a site called "WalletPop" It's a great, practical site with good, common sense money-savings tips backed up by research that frankly, most of us don't have time to conduct on our own. Some of the tips may fit your lifestyle more than others, but it's a great one-stop place to get answers.

Likewise, let me know if you've got some great money-saving sites and tips as well, and together we'll try to skim the fat and save some Benjamins this year!

Friday, December 19, 2008

CHRISTMAS STORY # 6




THE LITTLE LEATHER BAG
by Laurie Lewis, 2001

It was a blustery day in mid-December when the last stubborn shafts of autumn warmth retreated, paving the way for winter's arrival, and with winter, Christmas. Marta, the dark-eyed and equally talented daughter of a gifted Tailor, sat in her bed observing the changing of nature's guard through worried eyes. Her previously nimble hands lay weakly folded in her lap, their deftness stolen from her, along with her vitality by the same fevered thief that had taken her good husband, leaving her widowed with five, young children.

Pushing back the layers of fluffy comforters, she wrapped her thick robe around her and shuffled down the hall to examine what was once her workroom, a room locked against the inquisitive and sticky fingers of children. Limbless forms stood guard in the corners, keeping watch over shelves laden with fabric and trim. Bolts of satin and velvet, and piles of brightly colored gingham and silks were heaped on every shelf. Stacks of leather and a few furs lay bound, awaiting their transformation into jackets and purses and hats. Brightly painted tins held buttons and notions while spools of threads and trims sat on tabletops, waiting to adorn her creations.

Since it appeared that her hands would never have the strength or dexterity needed to sew the intricate, lovely designs of her past, she accepted that her career was over and had considered selling off the goods. Still, something in her had resisted. She knew that the bolts and notions were more than mere goods. They were the envisioned, but as yet unsewn and unseen clothes of her children's future years. Within each fold lay hats for winters she may never see, and and dresses for weddings she may never attend. Saddened, she sighed, recognizing that there were so many gifts she longed to give to her children . . . gifts her hands would never create. It would be Christmas with no gifts at all.

A thought crossed her mind. Her oldest daughter, Janie, was fourteen, and Conner, her only son, was barely five. Between these children, three other daughters had been born--Katie, Jenna and Lily--each of whom had learned basic simple stitches from watching their mother mend by the fire. Marta knew that with some practice, they could become her hands! And she quickly set about to prepare a surprise.

After calling to the children, she gathered them into her workroom and opened the door. The wonder-filled eyes spied the brightly colored cloths and their fingers wriggled with the desire to touch and sample everything. Marta smiled at their reaction, wondering now if she had been wrong to deny their rambunctious hands the pleasure of touching and handling the beautiful fabrics.

From the pocket of her robe she withdrew five slips of paper, each bearing the name of one of the children. After each child drew a name, they were told to gather fabric, notions and trim and set about to create a gift to present to their selected recipient. They squealed with delight as they dashed about the room, touching and feeling every bolt and button. One by one they spirited their selections away to their rooms to set about their tasks. Janie, already a fine seamstress for her age, was making Lily a ruffled frock. Katie, not quite as certain of her talents, settled in to sew a furry muff for Jenna. Each child in turn considered their talents and fashioned their best gift to give.

On Christmas morning, each of the children exchanged their gifts. Marta watched through tearful eyes as their precious offerings were given and received. When all the hugs were given and the thank yous said, the girls each scampered off to their rooms, returning with other boxes tied in brightly colored ribbons for Marta. Tears wet her face and pride filled her heart. She drew them close and whispered "I love yous" to each giver until the fatigue swept upon her again and the children left to allow her to rest. Just as sleep fell upon her, a tiny knock sounded at the door.

Connor entered his mother's room, sullen and sad. In his hands was a small leather bag he had made for her. The stitches were uneven and the seams were puckered, but it had been fashioned by his own hands. He had been about to wrap it in bright green paper when he saw the tufted pillow Katie had made. Worried, he compared his gift to the satin robe Janie had sewn, and had found his own offering wanting. When he had determined that every gift was superior to his, he had decided not to give his own.

Marta patted the cover beside her and Connor jumped up and into the bed. After asking to see the little bag, Connor reluctantly handed it to his mother. Turning it over and over, she commented on its workmanship and beauty. Tenderly touching a crimson stain she recognized as a drop of blood when a needle pricked her son's finger. Her eyes began to sting as she asked Conner questions about his design and craftsmanship. In reply, Connor pointed out each error, unfolding the story of his distractions and sewing disasters until they both laughed and cried. Soon, his once burdened heart was filled with pride as he began to see his masterpiece through the eyes of his adoring mother.

"I didn't think it was good enough," he confessed through watery eyes now sparkling with relief. "My hands are like yours. They don't work as well as my sisters'. But the bag looks a lot better since I gave it to you."

As Marta drew him in close and hugged him firmly, her heart stung at the thought that he had almost forsaken his gift because in comparison to others' work, it had appeared less. Her finger tenderly touched the crimson spot again. "It's a magic bag, Connor. It seems to become more beautiful with every passing minute."

"Things don't have to be fancy to be beautiful?"

"No they don't, Connor. Love makes them perfect."

"Maybe love will help you, Mommy."

Marta smiled, envisioning the simple garments her hands could yet fashion. "I believe it already has, Connor."

Thursday, December 18, 2008

CHRISTMAS STORY #5


Despite my best intentions, things came up and I couldn't find time to type the old stories up and post. Remembering that people are more important than things or tasks, I offer this story, inspired by current events in my life. Thanks for understanding!

The Perfect Ending
Christmas 2008
Laurie LC Lewis

December in New England had indeed proven to be as enchanting as the old Currier and Ives print hanging over his father workbench had implied all those years ago. Seth Perry remembered standing on tiptoes, glancing at the old calendar page, watching his father mend broken appliances, things other people were throwing out, so they’d be ready when someone else needed them. Seth idolized his dad, and though he thought he was the smartest man alive, he remembered listening as the good man would go on and on, bragging about how his bright boy would someday leave their little home on the outskirts of Pittsburgh to attend college at a fine school in such a town, and become more than his “old man” had ever been.

That dream of college had indeed been realized. And as the freshman drove his old Jeep through Dartmouth’s entrance on his way home for Christmas, his smile remained undimmed as he glanced with but momentary longing at the clusters of foreign imports parked in the fraternities lots, many of which were owned by students whose surnames matched the names of campus buildings and Founders of both the school and the nation.

Seth twisted his hands around the steering wheel of his old, restored Jeep and smiled. “So what-dya-think, Allie?” he asked the old SUV rhetorically. “Do you suppose things like unemployment and gas prices ever touch them in their world?” Offering a wry smile, he checked the gas gauge knowing that regardless of the semester spent hob-knobbing with the young heirs of “old money”, he was simply a Perry, and Perrys did have to worry about fundamental issues like gas and money. Pleased that the fuel level in his tank was sufficient for a while, he headed west for his first leg of the journey home to Pittsburgh.

Yes, Perrys worried about a lot of things . . . and a lot of people, because as Seth had grown to discover, the Perry’s tended to adopt other people’s disasters. Take the Jeep, for example. Seth didn’t know exactly how the old Jeep had come to be his. All he knew was that one Christmas Day his father owned an old Chrysler sedan, and the next day he didn’t. Instead, in its place sat a rear-ended Jeep. “We’ll fix it up! It’ll be perfect for you, someday!” his father had assured him when he was barely able to peer over the workbench. And it was, as it turned out. But Seth wondered what sad story had been the catalyst in the deal that had netted him the old Jeep his father had lovingly nicknamed “Allie”. There had to have been one. After all, with a nurse for a mother, and a volunteer fireman for a dad, every person’s tragedy somehow landed at the Perry’s front door.

Each Christmas, his father loaded him up in his truck and carted him about to deliver turkeys and fruit baskets to every local family who had suffered a tragedy over the year. It was not unknown for a few of those families, relative strangers, to actually show up at the Perry’s dinner table at Christmas as well. The discomfort was further increased as the treasured leftovers were packed and sent to home with the guests, but he was always reminded that he had never gone hungry. Even now he recognized that though some did have more of life’s goods than he, he had plenty, and more than most.

With three hours left on his journey, Seth heard the Jeep’s engine sputter and then fail and the gas gauge register “E”. Guiding the car to the shoulder, he used his cell phone to call his road service, and after waiting for nearly an hour, a tow truck finally appeared. The operator added a gallon of gas to the Jeep’s tank but the car still wouldn’t start. Frustrated beyond belief, Seth watched sullenly as the tow truck operator rigged the Jeep for towing.

The man kept eyeing Seth as he walked around the car, examining every detail. Finally he said, “She looks good. Real good for a Jeep her age.”

Shoving his hands in his pockets, Seth replied, “My dad can fix anything.”

The man smiled and nodded. “That he can. People as well as things. And I’m sure he could replace this busted fuel line, but let me tow you back to my shop and take care of that for you.”

Seth eyed the man quizzically. “Do you know my father?”

Again the man smiled. “You don’t remember me, do you, Seth? Of course you wouldn’t. It was so long ago. Yep, I know your dad. Your mom too. And I know she’s one fine cook.”

“You’ve been to my house?”

The man pursed his lips and paused in thought. “My little girl’s thirteen now, so it would have been that long ago. My wife has a heart condition. It was discovered in the middle of her pregnancy. We were on our way to Pittsburgh, to Mercy Hospital to see a doctor who specialized in High Risk deliveries when we were involved in a multiple car crash on the Turnpike in mid December.”

“Wow,” said Seth, noting the feeling of helplessness the memory still conjured for the man.

“It wasn’t your dad’s company that rescued us at the scene, but he heard about us somehow, and understood what a fix we were in . . . a sick, expectant mother, a young father without insurance, both of us far from home and family at Christmas time. We were just strangers . . . kids really, but he and your mom cared about us and came by the hospital to see us every day. And when our baby was born, early and small, and unable to be discharged, they invited us to your home for Christmas supper . . . even gave us presents for the baby and loaned us the use of their sedan. Two days later, when our baby girl was released, your dad insisted we swap vehicles so I could get my family home.”

“The Jeep!”

“Yep. It was great for a single fella, but it was a terrible car for a married man with a baby on the way. Your dad knew it. I fought him on it at first, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He said things had worked out perfectly. I knew they did for me. They changed me in fact. I wanted to be a man like your dad after that, and as the years went by and we kept exchanging Christmas cards and letters, I could see that God had blessed your family in return.”

Seth felt a lump grow in his throat. “Tell me something. Did you name your little girl Allie?”

The man met Seth’s eyes and they both nodded. Things had worked out perfectly.

Monday, December 15, 2008

CHRISTMAS STORY # 4


Continuing on with a story a day, here's number four, written to honor my Mom.


The Real Gift of Christmas

Christmas 2006
by Laurie LC Lewis
(For Bernice)

When the Williams family moved in across the street from Sylvia Rodrigues, they could hardly know the impact the dear older woman would have on them. Over the next six years, cups of sugar, recipes, advice and hot bread passed from Sylvia to them, and in return, Mrs. Williams and the children regularly exchanged favors and kindnesses. However, aside from smiles and waves, and knocks on the door at for Trick-or Treat, few words had passed between Sylvia and Rick Williams, though he watched with increasing curiosity as seasons and holidays passed, bringing cars to and from Sylvia’s house, most of them loaded with exuberant relatives who exploded out of the vehicles, only to be scooped into the woman’s loving, expectant arms and herded into her fully festooned house.

One late November evening, after a particularly long day at work, Rick returned home to find his wife hanging up the phone.

“Honey? It’s Sylvia. Her TV’s on the fritz. Could you stop by and take a look at it?”

After two minutes of shoulder shrugging and excuse-making, Rick trudged off to Sylvia’s with a ham sandwich in tow. When she came to the door he thought she looked much older and more tired than he remembered her being, but her smile still beamed as she thanked him for coming and welcomed him in. They walked past a half decorated Christmas tree and he was more than a little surprised to see that other Christmas regalia was already in place. She showed him the broken TV set and as he set about to repair it, Sylvia left the room and returned with another box from which she pulled longs strands of tin foil chains. “What are those, Sylvia?”

“These old chains?” she chuckled. “Funny how much cooking foil plays into my Christmas celebration.”

Rick leaned quietly back against the wall giving Sylvia the cue to explain further.

“You see, when we were drawn into WWII, Americans were saving every scrap of metal for the war effort, so there was no foil for cooking. Instead, we slathered butter on the inside of paper bags and stuffed our turkey in to roast. I know they make special cooking bags these days, but somehow, every time I get my new paper bag from the grocer, I am reminded of the patriotism we felt when we sacrificed our foil for the war.”

“And the chains? I take it you made these after the war, when using foil came back into vogue,” he teased sweetly.

“Oh yes,” she blushed. “My father died when we were young, and my mother had to work long hours in a factory to support us. There was little money or time for Christmas decorations, so each day after school I spent dozens of hours wrapping strips of foil into links to form these shiny chains to make the house lovely for Christmas. It was my gift of love to my mother and brothers. Every year now, I question whether or not to hang them up. They’re nearly sixty years old . . . but as ragged as they are, they remind me that Christmas isn’t about money and presents. It’s about love.”

Rick rubbed his arms as a chill made the hair rise. “I know it’s supposed to be, Sylvia, but it’s all become so commercialized. The real meaning of Christmas just gets lost in all the advertising and hoopla. Every year, my wife thinks she needs to pull off some perfect Currier and Ives Christmas with the house all trimmed in Victorian splendor and a roasted goose with all the trimmings on the table. Of course, it never turns out the way she hopes, and she ends up feeling disappointed.”

Sylvia sighed and nodded as she hoisted a faded Father Christmas figurine to the top of her credenza. While fluffing his beard, she said, “I suppose I’m as guilty as they come. One good whiff of evergreen and cinnamon and my skin prickles with excitement.” She opened the Nativity box and withdrew the precious figures. “I love setting up the Nativity each year. As simple as it may sound, the Christmas story becomes so personal to me when I hold these figurines in my hands. My children, and now my grandchildren use them to act out the Christmas story while my son reads from Luke.” She chuckled softly and rubbed her arms as if the same chill had run through her. “I‘ve trimmed my lists way back but I still love sending cards to people and singing carols. I adore sharing treats with the neighbors and all the chaos that goes with it. I especially love whipping up the old foods from my childhood and reminding my family of where and whom they came from.” She pulled a jar of yellow, beans marked “Lupini Beans” from the cupboard. “The Portuguese consider these good luck beans.” She held the jar close and her expression became wistful as old recollections crossed her memory. “I remember how exciting it was when my grandmother presented the dish of beans and had us each take a handful. We’d squeeze them until they’d slip from their skin and into our mouths. As soon as we’d taste the salty flavor, we’d make a wish for the New Year.” Again she chuckled. “It was just a silly tradition I guess, but what fond memories I have of those dear departed faces as we joined in that happy little game. My children roll their eyes at me now when I bring out the dish, but I still hope they’ll pass this sliver of heritage onto their children.”

She sighed as she placed the jar back on the shelf. “I guess what I’m saying is, for a few weeks of the year, I just set aside my own troubles and let the magic of the season carry them away. I can’t do everything I once did, so I choose to do those things that bring joy. You see, I don’t believe the trappings of Christmas are bad, in and of themselves. Rather, I think it’s really about how we use them to add to the joy of the season.”

Rick leaned back against the wall and marveled at her enthusiasm. “And what about all the stress of selecting and buying gifts?” he exclaimed dramatically. “Don’t tell me you love all that too?”

Sylvia smiled a melancholy smile. “I tuck a little something under the tree for each of my loved ones, but all the rest of it . . .” she said as she waived her hands, displaying her preparations, “it’s all just the lovely wrapping for the only real gift I give.”

Sylvia turned and headed for the kitchen leaving Rick wondering what that ‘real gift’ actually was. The question lingered with him the rest of that day and into the following year – up to the week before the following Christmas, when he heard that Sylvia had passed away.

One by one, cars arrived from the funeral – but this time the people did not bound out of their vehicles, because Sylvia’s love filled arms would not be waiting to gather them close as they had always done. But then, something marvelous happened. The moist eyes of the sad people, who filed into Sylvia’s house, brightened into cheerfulness as soon as they crossed the home’s festive threshold. Confused children soon ran about the yard amongst a host of cousins with whom they had loved and laughed with since birth. Rick saw the lights twinkle through the windows long after the street had gone dark and he heard carols drifting from the house to each neighbor’s ear as the family regrouped and kept their matriarch’s memory alive.

Hours later, there were hugs and kisses as the last of the family reluctantly exited the house. A parcel was tucked in their arms and their once heavy hearts had had their burdens lifted, replaced with the real gift Sylvia had left them.

Her son moved into her old house and when Christmas rolled around again, Rick stopped by to drop off a plate of cookies. When the door opened, he caught a glimpse of Sylvia’s Nativity set on the mantel and noticed her old silver chains hanging from the kitchen ceiling, hovering over a jar of lupini beans, sitting on the counter, and his eyes teared. A few days later, the rest of her family gathered to celebrate Christmas together. Rick heard the carols drift from their house and saw grandchildren dressed as shepherds and angels passing by the picture window.

Again, he heard her words, “I tuck a little something under the tree for each of my loved ones, but all the rest is just the lovely wrapping for the only real gift I give.” He understood completely.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

CHRISTMAS STORY # 3

(Bruegel's "The Adoration of the King"

THE PUZZLE
Laurie LC Lewis
2005

The woodworker started his day like every other day. He stopped by his son’s house to walk his adored eight year-old grandson to school, and after dropping him, off he headed on to his little Main Street work shop. There in the shop, by the large bay window, stood a homemade table covered by a recently completed jigsaw puzzle. He loved puzzles. In fact, a day never passed where the table wasn’t covered with a puzzle in some stage of completion. He worked on them throughout the day, a minute here, a minute there, whenever he took a break from his labors. Sometimes he would pop a piece into place as he passed by, but generally he would set aside a block of time in the lull of his work to sit at the table while he stared at the intricately cut pieces, trying to visualize each part’s place. His favorite puzzles were the kind he could only buy at the hobby store, those whose pieces recreated the works of the great masters: Da Vinci, Matisse, Rembrandt, Rubens, and today he needed a new project to begin.

It was the third of December and the hobby store shelves had been thoroughly picked over by the holiday early birds. The only puzzle remaining had been opened and re-packaged without a photo of the completed image. It was the reason no one else had bothered with the toy, but the man found the dilemma intriguing and carried it to the shop to give it his best effort. After hours of work he still had no idea what the finished project would disclose but he continued to move the pieces around the old oak table. There were shapes colored in hues of scarlet and a few blues but the bulk were in tones of beige and brown, none of which were descriptive enough to give the man a ready clue as to what great work his completed project would imitate. He smiled. The difficulty of the work didn’t dissuade him. He knew that time and patience would reveal the image’s secret.

He was mulling over some blue pieces which he had snapped together. There were too few to build a sky but he could not yet place them in their proper context. He looked out the window to get a new perspective, and noticed some of the townsfolk dragging out the Christmas lights to begin decorating Main Street. He saw people on ladders hanging wreaths and others stringing lights and ornaments on the tree in the Town Square in anticipation of the evening’s annual tree lighting ceremony. The woodworker smiled and when he returned his attention to the puzzle he was immediately able to snap the three blue pieces precisely into their place.

Encouraged by his success and the lack of customers, he tackled the puzzle with renewed enthusiasm until Bruegel’s, The Adoration of the Kings, began to emerge. He continued to place pieces, soon revealing the stall and the donkey, some soldiers, a host of onlookers and of course, the three kings. The blue pieces had formed the veil of Mary who held the Christ Child in her lap, but after placing every piece he had, he sadly realized his puzzle was missing one crucial piece.

His grandson, returning from school, opened the door and called out a melancholy greeting to his grandfather who was on hands and knees on the floor. “Why so glum?” the woodworker asked.

“I want to help decorate the tree, but they will only allow me to hang one ornament.”

“And you want to do more?” smiled the woodworker who was still searching for the lost piece.

“Yes,” mourned the child. “I am eight now. I want to do something that will really help.”

The grandfather slowly rose to his feet and slumped into his chair. He patted his knee, calling for his grandson, and once the boy had scrambled up the man pointed to his puzzle.

“See. Despite all the work I have put into this puzzle it is marred because of the loss of one piece. One small piece,” he repeated sadly. “The story is incomplete because without that piece we cannot reveal the face of the Christ Child. We cannot tell if He was smiling or sleeping, how He responded to the loving touch of His gentle mother or the adoration of the strange kings. The story is obscured because one piece has not contributed its share to the story.”

The boy raised his large brown eyes and stared into his grandfather’s wise, crinkled ones. The man hugged the small child close and kissed his head. “It matters not what job we do, only that we each contribute what is required of us.” He tapped piece after piece of the puzzle. “When the work begins, who knows which contribution will be the one to reveal the face of the Christ?”

The boy scrambled off his grandfather’s lap and peered into a crack in the old, wooden floor. After withdrawing an object from the crevice, he returned to his grandfather’s side and opened his palm, revealing a single puzzle piece. He snapped it into place and there, lying on the table before him, was the smiling face of the Christ Child in his mother’s protective arms, surrounded by the three kings. He gingerly touched the holy face, then he began rubbing his hand over the completed picture, feeling the ridges that marked the boundaries of one piece’s contribution from another’s. He suddenly realized the importance of each part, then, smiling lovingly into his grandfather’s face, he hurried out the door, ready now, to simply do his part.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

CHRISTMAS STORY #2




ADVENTURE WITH GRANDMA


by Anonymous (But I'd love to find out!)


I remember my first Christmas adventure with Grandma. I was just a kid. I remember tearing across town on my bike to visit her on the day my big sister dropped the bomb: "There is no Santa Claus," she jeered. "Even dummies know that!"

My Grandma was not the gushy kind, never had been. I fled to her that day because I knew she would be straight with me. I knew Grandma always told the truth, and I knew that the truth always went down a whole lot easier when swallowed with one of her world-famous cinnamon buns. I knew they were world-famous, because Grandma said so. It had to be true.

Grandma was home, and the buns were still warm. Between bites, I told her everything. She was ready for me. "No Santa Claus!" she snorted. "Ridiculous! Don't believe it. That rumor has been going around for years, and it makes me mad, plain mad. Now, put on your coat, and let's go."

"Go? Go where, Grandma?" I asked. I hadn't even finished my second world-famous, cinnamon bun. "Where" turned out to be Kerby's General Store, the one store in town that had a little bit of just about everything. As we walked through its doors, Grandma handed me ten dollars. That was a bundle in thosedays. "Take this money," she said, "and buy something for someone who needs it. I'll wait for you in the car." Then she turned and walked out of Kerby's.

I was only eight years old. I'd often gone shopping with my mother, but never had I shopped for anything all by myself. The store seemed big and crowded, full of people scrambling to finish their Christmas shopping. For a few moments I just stood there, confused, clutching that ten dollar bill, wondering what to buy, and who on earth to buy it for. I thought of everybody I knew: my family, my friends, my neighbors, the kids at school, and the people who went to my church. I was just about thought out, when I suddenly thought of Bobby Decker. He was a kid with bad breath and messy hair, and he sat right behind me in Mrs. Pollock's grade-two class.

Bobby Decker didn't have a coat. I knew that because he never went out for recess during the winter. His mother always wrote a note, telling the teacher that he had a cough, but all we kids knew that Bobby Decker didn't have a cough, and he didn't have a coat. I fingered the ten-dollar bill with growing excitement. I would buy Bobby Decker a coat!

I settled on a red corduroy one that had a hood to it. It looked real warm, and he would like that. "Is this a Christmas present for someone?" the lady behind the counter asked kindly, as I laid my ten dollars down. "Yes,"I replied shyly. "It's ... for Bobby." The nice lady smiled at me. I didn't get any change, but she put the coat in a bag and wished me a Merry Christmas.

That evening, Grandma helped me wrap the coat in Christmas paper and ribbons (a little tag fell out of the coat, and Grandma tucked it in her Bible) and wrote, "To Bobby, >From Santa Claus" on it -- Grandma said that Santa always insisted on secrecy. Then she drove me over to Bobby Decker's house,explaining as we went that I was now and forever officially one of Santa's helpers.

Grandma parked down the street from Bobby's house, and she and I crept noiselessly and hid in the bushes by his front walk. Then Grandma gave me a nudge. "All right, Santa Claus," she whispered, "get going." I took a deep breath, dashed for his front door, threw the present down on his step, pounded his doorbell and flew back to the safety of the bushes and Grandma. Together we waited breathlessly in the darkness for the front door to open. Finally it did, and there stood Bobby.

Fifty years haven't dimmed the thrill of those moments spent shivering, beside my Grandma, in Bobby Decker's bushes.

That night, I realized that those awful rumors about Santa Claus were just what Grandma said they were: ridiculous.

Santa was alive and well and we were on his team.

I still have the Bible, with the tag tucked inside: $19.95.

Friday, December 12, 2008

CHRISTMAS STORY # 1



ONCE IS NEVER ENOUGH

Christmas Story 2007
by Laurie LC Lewis


John laid the Bible carefully on the end table and ruffled his young son’s head. He smiled as Ann bent low to place their toddler daughter near enough to receive a good night kiss. “How about we say prayers with Mommy and Sarah tonight, Jacob?” John suggested as he tenderly showed Jacob how to fold his arms. With eyes misting and his heart stirred by the too frequently neglected expression, the man found it hard to begin, finding his voice more easily as his son snuggled closer.

After the amen was uttered, Ann rose and guided the children to bed, leaving John to marvel at the simple turn of events that had precipitated the change in their family that night. He scanned the table where the critical shopping lists now lay, tossed inconsequentially upon the return home, their errands left incomplete. Odd, since just a few hours earlier he and his wife had sat there with their carefully balanced checkbook, newspaper ads and their list spread between them, strategically making the decisions about whom and what to shop for.

They had divided the errands between them— his wife and Sarah setting off in one direction while he and Jacob headed in another, beneath dangling snowflakes the size of garbage can lids, past inflatable snow people and their revolving, musical village. Twice, his rambunctious five year-old had dashed off to explore the colorful display, each time earning a stern rebuke from his father. His father’s reproach only unsettled the child further until the man finally relented, allowing his son a few moments to survey the dazzling display that showcased the gems of the season—the must-have toys which were set upon blocks of rotating, plastic “ice”, beneath which the names of stores and price tags were displayed.

With hands clenching his carefully-crafted list of errands, he stared at the scene, taking in the sounds of three dozen children, each one pointing out desired items while voicing their requests aloud. Soon he heard his own son’s voice joining in the cacophony, crying out request after request for each and every item on display, and for a moment . . . for just a regrettable moment, as the crowds jostled him and the music and voices raised all around, he voiced his thoughts. “I hate Christmas. . .”

The bitterness of the words chilled his heart as soon as they passed his lips. Hungry to find Ann, to have her reset his anchor, he lifted Jacob into his arms and whispered, “Let’s hurry and find Mommy.”

Clutching his son close, he dashed off to the first store on his wife’s list. As he approached the location he saw a crowd gathered around the store’s window and he marveled at the attitudes of the people coming away from the area, speaking in soft tones, their faces as bright and soft as their smiles. Curious, he drew near and to his amazement, little Sarah was the cause of all the excitement.

On tiny toddler knees with her nose pressed to the glass, she knelt before a Nativity scene, babbling as she pointed from one character to another. “Beebee!” she cried out with excitement. “Nicey beebee!”

“Yes,” her mother whispered hoarsely. “He is a very nicy baby, Sarah. He’s a very special baby too. His name is Jesus.”

“Jesus. . .” replied Sarah with reverence equal to her mother’s. “Nicey Jesus. . .”

With a trembling finger, Ann pointed to Mary. “And this is his mommy. Her name is Mary. She didn’t have a nice crib or a soft blankie for her baby, so she had to wrap him with pieces of cloth and lay him in this soft hay. The animals kept him warm and,” she pointed out various figurines, “angels sang to him . . . and shepherds and Wise Men came to visit him.”

Sarah slid her finger along the glass until it too pointed to Mary. “Pretty mommy. . . pretty beebee.”

John stooped down, gently placing Jacob beside Sarah and sliding an arm around his wife’s shoulder. Other children were now drawing close to the scene. Gazing at them, Ann wiped a tear from her eye and smiled as she explained the moment to John. “I was standing in line at the kiosk over there, struggling with Sarah who was crying and squirming. I was at my wits end when she suddenly became still and quiet. When I checked to see why, I noticed that she was staring at this store window whispering, ‘Beebee . . . beebee. . .’ After I paid the vendor, I put her down and she ran right over here. This is what she’s been doing ever since. It’s like she gets it, you know?” she sniffed. “It’s as if this little child understands what’s most important about Christmas.”

“I know this story, don’t I, Daddy?” asked Jacob with a furrowed brow. “Didn’t you tell it to me once?”

Sliding his list into his pocket, John squeezed his wife’s hand and raised her to her feet. Each bent down and picked up one of their children, placing kisses on their cheeks. “Once is not enough for the telling of the Christmas story, Jacob. Let’s go home and read it again, tonight, because once is never enough.”

Merry Christmas!
Love,
Laurie

Thursday, December 11, 2008

THE PINTO BEAN STRATEGY


The other day our monthly investment report arrived. There wasn't that much in the account to begin with, but it's down over 40% now, and that little piece of news, though not unexpected, still made my tummy lurch. Things are tough . . . let's face it! But I find it interesting how different people are coping with current events.

Some people are consumed by the news, while others choose to assume the "Ostrich Position"--turning off all media devices, inserting head in sand and trembling. Stocking up seems to be the strategy of choice for many people, but of what? Cash under the mattress? Sale items in the pantry? Guns and ammo in the back of the pick-up?

"Buy Pinto Beans!" is my battle cry.

Don't laugh. . . They may be the perfect storage items. Aside from the fact that they are one half of a complete protein, they are plentiful, inexpensive and versatile. With a little imagination, you can add them to your breakfast, lunch or dinner menu, not to mention the fact that there is actually a tasty fudge recipe that relies on the goodness of what exemplary legume? You guessed it! The Pinto Bean!

You can make chili, spreads, dips, soup, salad and a meat substitute with pintos. And for those of you who feel they need a more substantial means of defense, when dried, they can also be used as ammo. You doubt me? Ever heard of a pea shooter? I rest my case.

So this is how I am raging against the machine. When I'm worried about the economic impact of the seeming irresponsibility of handing out one billion dollars to host the Inaugural, what do I do? I buy more Pinto Beans! When I can't sleep over the auto maker bail-out? Yep . . . I buy more Pinto Beans! And when I was appalled by the minutest mention that that Hollywood might actually give Roseanne Barr another series? You got it . . . I clicked and ordered more Pinto Beans and their cousins-- Kidney Beans, Great Northerns, Black Beans and the dual-identified Chick Pea/Garbanzos.

Okay, so maybe beans won't single handedly save the economy or bring a return to pre-economic melt-down America. But people who have a supply of food in their pantry know that such staples bring a sense of peace and preparedness to the soul, and they do provide a good hedge against a difficult economy and a cheap way to nutritionally extend one's budget. That's a win in my book!

And I do really have some great recipes. For example:

BEAN SALAD (also makes a splendid dip for a sturdy corn chip)

1. Drain and mix together one can of each of the following: Pinto Beans, Kidney Beans, Chick Peas, Black Beans, Whole Kernel Corn, Chopped Green Chilies

2. Dice and add the following: 1 Green Bell Pepper, 1 Onion, 3 ribs of celery and 1 avocado

3. Shake and pour 1 bottle of Zesty Italian Dressing over and mix well.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

KINGDOMS




There was a little quiz on the Internet challenging us to match a jingle or slogan with its product. I was surprised at how poorly I tested. Some of the matches were easy, bringing the image of the product straight to my recollection. But even after I racked my brain, some could not be recalled though their jingles and catch phrases teased my brain. The problem? The little songs and slogans dwarfed the product.

The same thing frequently happens between people and the principles or products they endorse. Spokespersons and advocates take the podium to bring awareness to the cause they are promoting, and more often than not, they become the focus. Take Martha Stewart, Rachel Ray and George Foreman for example. Who'd a thunk that with a bowl of cookie dough or a pound of ground beef an entire empire could be born?

Now, to some extent, self-promotion is a necessary part of business. As an author, as in any other business, I too have to do a certain amount of "kingdom building" to establish my name, build a fan base and promote my work, but I have become acutely sensitive to how much time I spend promoting myself versus producing something worthy of promoting, and/or serving others.

Speaking at the 2008 BYU Women's Conference, Sheri Dew warned us about people who seek to "build their own kingdom". I've thought a lot about that phrase since hearing her deliver it. At what point do people's efforts turn from the task at hand and begin redirecting the light back to them? Do we notice when the "doing" becomes an opportunity for someone to "build" their own kingdom?

I was listening to the news and a feeling of foreboding washed over me. Thirty minutes later, nestled in the company of the members of our congregation as we prepared for a ward Christmas supper, all I felt was peace. The news and financial forecasts were the same. What had changed? One set of people was bent on building ratings while the other was building the kingdom of God, one smile and handshake at a time.

We are all guilty of building our own kingdoms at times, but perhaps the antidote is to test our motivation from time to time. When we raise our hand to comment in class, when we rise to the podium to bear a testimony, when we visit the sick, comfort the sorrowing, offer our hand, the building of whose kingdom is at our heart? I think it's a good standard to use for self-evaluation from time to time. I've done it, and sometimes it stings.

Imagine if we applied such a standard to our politicians, business leaders and social spokespersons, measuring their words against their actions. And imagine if we only supported people whose actions supported the building of His kingdom, whose decisions furthered the causes that not only pleased people but lifted them. Now that's the kingdom I'd like to build.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A TIME TO PAUSE. . .


An excellent man died this weekend after a long, brave battle against a relentless, ever-returning foe, and today his noble family laid him to rest. Valiant to the causes of Christ and family to the very last breath, he died as he and his wife lived--with courage and dignity.

When such a fine person falls from the ranks, it seems fitting that the world should pause for a moment in recognition of the great loss, but life goes on, barely missing a beat.

His family provided a glorious, well-deserved tribute, punctuated by this magnificent quote by C.S. Lewis that captured the mindset with which he faced his final foe:

“The work of the devil and of darkness is never more certain of defeat than when men and women, not finding it easy, or pleasant, but still determined to do the Father’s will, look out upon their lives from which it may sometimes seem every trace of divine help has vanished, and, asking why they have been so forsaken, still bow their heads and obey.”

WISDOM FROM THOMAS JEFFERSON


Here are a few pieces of wisdom to consider from the mouth and mind of Thomas Jefferson. Can anyone doubt that the Founding Fathers were inspired?
..............................................................................
When we get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, we shall become as corrupt as Europe.

The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.

It is incumbent on every generation to pay its own debts as it goes. A principle which if acted on would save one-half the wars of the world.

I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.

My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government.

No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.

The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.

To compel a man to subsidize with his taxes the propagation of ideas which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.

Very Interesting Quote In light of the present financial crisis, it's interesting to read what Thomas Jefferson said in 1802:

'I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around the banks will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

THE LAST SONG. . . or BOOK. . . .


Like many people, I was deeply moved by Carnegie Mellon Professor Randy Pausch (Oct. 23, 1960 - July 25, 2008) and his September 18, 2007 "last lecture" given before a packed university auditorium. In his intimate presentation, "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams," Pausch, a terminal cancer patient facing his final days, used his own life lessons and experiences to advise students on how they could also achieve their own career and personal goals.

The other day, as I was preparing the stuffing for the next day's Thanksgiving bird, I was listening to one of my all time favorite Cds, "Peace Like A River" by the Tabernacle Choir. I got chills and my eyes teared, as they frequently do it seems. It was the words, the magnificent, inspiring words that touched me so deeply, and I thought, morosely perhaps, that this CD embodied the themes I would want to leave with my loved ones as my "last lecture"--love God, love each other, have faith, be grateful, and let His peace distill over you no matter the circumstances.

I loved these words and the gentle, peace-giving melody: "So if you're worried and you can't sleep, just count your blessings instead of sheep, and you'll fall asleep counting your blessings." How wonderful is that bit of advice?

And how about this to give you courage under fire? "I have faith like a river. . . I have love like a river. . . I have peace like a river. . ." Who can stop such powerful love, faith and peace as that? That's what I'd like to leave for my loved ones as part of my last lecture.

There are so many wonderful messages that can inspire and give comfort, speaking the words we would want to say when we can't be there in person to say them. So I want to teach these songs to my grandchildren and play them often in my home when my kids come back, so these words will echo in their heads when we're apart. Imagine how comforting it would be for a college student or a missionary to carry Mom or Dad's favorite tune in his or her head? Or a passage of inspiring quotes from scripture or a great book? These are the jewels I want to begin dropping along my path, in hopes that a few might be picked up and carried on by those I love.

So what songs have touched your life? Play them often so anyone who passes your doorway will associate them with you. Jot down passages of tender scripture or thought-provoking passages from good books and post them on your fridge or on the bathroom mirror to bring peace to those you love.

And may we each count our blessings instead of sheep. . .

Thursday, November 27, 2008

911


So, if you've read the comments on the previous blog you know I was wounded in action--not "war action" but in home "improvement action", which for a non-home-improvement type like me is still a battle of sorts.

I was washing wallpaper paste off a wall situated right over a heating vent whose cover was missing. I dropped my rag. (Wanna guess where it landed?) Of course. . . right down the vent. Without thinking, I reached in to retrieve the cloth so it wouldn't clog the vent, What I didn't know was that a nail was sticking out of the floor joists at a downward angle. When I tried to pull my arm out of the vent it became hooked on the nail and I was stuck in the vent.

Luckily, the elders who live here were upstairs when this happened. One ran for a flashlight so I could see what was preventing my arm from being freed while the other called Tom home from his errand. I panicked a little, fearing I'd bleed to death before I could free my arm. (Okay, so it sounds a little melodramatic now but that's what was running through my head at the time.)

Anyway, I was blessed . . . really blessed. The nail was stuck an inch deep into the side of my wrist, but had my arm been turned a few degrees more, the nail would have been directly in my wrist where all those gooshy arteries and tendons run, and I would have been in dire straits indeed.

Last week I had a breast cancer scare with an amazing resolution. Now this. So you can understand my feelings of deep gratitude to Heavenly Father right now. Yes, I'm thankful. Very, very thankful.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

GIVING THANKS




Sometimes content-ment just tickles at your heart while other times, gratitude fills its every nook and cranny. My heart is overflowing today. I have good reasons--some are life affirming and mind-alteringly huge--some are small . . . the kind we generally tend to breathe a breath of relief over and then forget as we move on to the next detail of our life. Although who, besides God, really knows what blessing or goodness is small in the eternal scheme of things?

But today, even those smaller, less attention grabbing things are with me, making my throat tight, causing my eyes to sting a little, making me bite my lips a little just so I can write this.

I know people--wonderful, exquisite people--who are struggling this holiday with things beyond their control and through no fault of their own. I'm sure you do too. Why some of us get to walk a smoother path while others travail over rocky terrain has baffled bards and philosophers since time began. Why do some prosper and some suffer? Why some are healed when some wane? Why do some experience bountiful love while others' hearts are parched for the lack of it?

Believers in Christ hold fast to eternal promises, knowing that all things can and will work for our good if we have faith. But a toll is required each time we are blessed with the temporary privilege of walking life's easy road. Paths diverge, and at any moment ours could become the rock-strewn trail.

So I'm trying to get everything ready for our Christmas early to clear the usual holiday prep-panic from my ears and mind so I can better tune to the needs of others. I want this to be a different Christmas--a Gratitude Christmas where today's thankful attitude spills over for a long, long time. I want to be the hands and eyes and ears that do what's needed when it's needful. I want to hold fast to this for as long as I'm able.

I wish the same for each of us, and I hope it begins with a wondrous, joyous Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 21, 2008


I live in the Washington D.C. temple district, and though we have not been as assaulted by protesters as LA and some other areas, we too have had felt the backlash from those who opposed the Church's support of Proposition 8. But let me share a heartwarming story that clears the muck and madness from the issue.

Rising majestically from a knoll set on a bend in the Washington Beltway, the brilliantly white, Washington DC Temple is a landmark familiar to every DC traveler. The radio stations even use it as a traffic marker, so it's no surprise it was an easy find when the protesters wanted to set up shop. Except they picked a really miserable day last Saturday.

Sometime in the midst of their demonstration, they shifted one driveway down from the Temple's lane to the Visitor Center's drive, and soon thereafter the sky darkened, the winds picked up and the rain began to fall like stinging pellets of ice water.

Now some people might have gleefully looked upon nature's timely downpour as divine intervention, figuring the protesters were getting their just desserts. But I'm humbled and awed to report that that is not how the missionaries at the Visitor Center reacted. They did what Jesus would have done. They turned the other cheek. . . and more than that, they blessed their adversaries. How? They carried umbrellas out to the protesters so they could stay dry and comfortable while they picketed.

I don't know how long the protesters remained there, protected by the gentle kindness of the very people they were attempting to demonize, but I was at the temple today, and there were no protesters present.

I offer again these words of Elder Holland. "Something is going to be asked of this dispensation that has never been asked before. [We] must be prepared to present the church of the Lamb, to the Lamb. And when that happens, we must be looking and acting like His Church."

When we respond to the images of angry, disturbing mobs shown on CNN, lets remember whose countenance we are hoping to reflect. The message is love and "no unhallowed hand can stop it". We teach and reach the world best by presenting a living example of Christ's doctrine.

Thank you, thank you to all the strong, gentle hearts who have endured abuse and hurt so honorably in places like L.A., Salt Lake, DC and elsewhere. You have been living examples of President Faust's counsel on forgiveness from his April 2007 Conference. In the face of anguish, anger must be repressed. Despite hurt, there is no room for hate. Teach? Yes. Stand for truth? Absolutely. But we must keep in looking and acting like Christ's church.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

ENCOURAGING GOOD LDS ENTERTAINMENT


We've been counseled to "Seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith." -- D&C 88:118. Orson F. Whitney famously predicted that the Latter-day Saints "will yet have Miltons and Shakespeares of our own."

To that end, an organization was established to reward good, current LDS literature and to promote future authors in their efforts to provide readers with reading material that reaches a high literary caliber while promoting core moral and ethical values. It is called the Whitney Committee, and the Whitney Awards represent the most coveted acknowledgement of an LDS author's work.

To fund the awards, the Whitney Committee holds an auction/sale of items donated by the literary community. Please take a moment to visit the Whitney site at http://www.whitneybenefitauction.com/servlet/StoreFront, and peruse the list on the left column to see the autographed books sets and other items available. Some of these are a steal and would make wonderful, unique Christmas gifts.

Your support of the auction will help the committee promote and reward authors as they labor to produce uplifting, thought-provoking entertainment.

Thanks as always, for your support!

Monday, November 17, 2008

GRATITUDE FOR PEOPLE


My mom turned seventy-five on election day. Family complications forced us to delay her surprise party until Sunday and it turned out to be a good day. A very good day. And why? The food was good, very good in fact, and unlike some surprise party attempts, this one really did catch her off guard. She also loved seeing so many family members arrive solely for the purpose of seeing and celebrating her. But none of those reasons were the real cause of the day's excitement.

The real enthusiasm felt in each room that day was being generated by our excitement over a book of memories to which we had each contributed. It was simple, really. A survey was printed out with fifteen or so questions that stimulated thoughts and memories of Mom and her many sacrifices for us. Even the most independent and proud family members could not deny the impact this relatively simple woman's life has had in shaping theirs.

For Mom, the book was a reminder that despite have lived what she deems a routine, seemingly mundane life, on a very small stage, she had made a difference in this world . . . that her influence amounted to something far more grand than she dared imagine. She saw that her efforts to return to the classroom in her forties to secure a GED had pushed faltering grandchildren to stick it out in school and get that sheepskin. The many references to her proclivity for hard work and her passion for her animals made her proud to be a farmer, knowing that her work ethic had been passed along. She was able to see how her decision to join the Church and be baptized has changed lives three generations out. And though my little family and I are the only active members remaining, she can see how far the ripples of her faith have extended as grand children's valiant choices have left their own marks on this world, or as they marry and raise their own families, or as grandsons served missions in far-off places expanding the impact of her decision.

It quantified the vast scope of her mortality.

My daughter-in-law, Krista, did a similar, but much more beautifully prepared thing for me when I turned fifty, assembling tributes to me from my children, grandchildren, my husband, mother and friends. None of them will know how often I pull that book down and reread their words of love, but I understood completely when my mother referred to her new album, saying that she now knows she mattered in this life. Deep down she always knew, but sweet words spoken one minute are quickly diluted by another word spoken in frustration, while words on a page last forever.

We all need a little of this . . . a back slap that reminds us that we are cherished . . . a moment when our time on this earth is measured and found enormously unique and irreplaceable. And it needs to be in a permanent form. Not emails or e-cards or e-anything. It needs to require a moment of thought, and it must be written out in hard copy so it lasts, with a little embellishment that punctuates the words' meaning. We need to return to the diminishing art of communicating our love and gratitude for the wonderful people in our lives.

So today, buy a card, a really pretty or funny card and send it someone . . . for no particular reason other than to tell them what they mean to you. Then tell me how you felt as you stuck it in the mailbox. I'd love to hear!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Evangelicals Thank LDS for Proposition 8 Work, Call for Christians to Stand Against Attacks



This article so impressed me, I decided to post it in its entirety. We are not standing alone.

John Shroeder; LDS Living
11/12/2008 01:38 PM MST

Though Proposition 8 has caused divisiveness in California and within the Church, one incredible by-product of this campaign has been increased brotherhood and unity among Christian churches. While the LDS Church has been under attack, prominent priests, ministers, and writers—as well as common members—have come out against such attacks and shown their support of the Church.

The following blog entry, communicating such support, was recently posted by John Schroeder, a well-known Evangelical writer, on his Article VI blog:

Proposition 8 is now a part of the California constitution!

That is probably the best news from an otherwise difficult election for conservatives and Republicans. In very large part, we Evangelicals must thank our Mormon cousins for that fact. They, along with our Catholic brethren, were better organized than us and that provided a base from which we could ALL work together to get this job done What more, as we have chronicled here, Mormons took the brunt of the abuse, derision, and even threats of physical harm that came with this effort.

And like us, they have given thanks to the Almighty that is ultimately in control, even if their understanding of that Almighty is a bit different than ours.

I cannot help but wonder how much more thankful we ALL might be today if we had been more willing to embrace these religious cousins a few months ago - but alas, politics is always about governing today and looking forward to the next election.

Said John Mark Reynolds:

“In the battle for the family, however, traditional Christians have no better friends than the Mormon faithful. It would be wrong if that support were taken for granted. We are intolerant of the false attacks on Mormon faith and family. We stand with our Mormon friends in their right to express their views on the public square. We celebrate the areas, such as family values, where we agree.

“A heart felt thank you may not win points from other friends who demand one hundred percent agreement from their allies, but it is the decent and proper thing to do.

“Thank you to our Mormon friends and allies!”

Hard to do better than that. The “Ruth Youth” ministry proclaimed yesterday “International Mormon Appreciation Day.” Very appropriate, yet still inadequate.

In addition to our thanks, Mormons deserve our protection. They have been oppressed in ways during the Prop 8 campaign that this nation has not seen since the 1960’s and the civil rights movement. The rhetoric has been deplorable, but moreover. we have seen instances of vandalism, property destruction, and some leaders in the fight currently find themselves with armed protection because of the threats made against them and their families.

Our nation will not and cannot tolerate this sort of behavior - it is incumbent on all of us to stand against it, and the best way to do that is to stand between the Mormons and the forces that would perpetrate such evil.

Now I am sure the Mormons can, and probably want, to take care of themselves, but as a Christian, it is my duty to protect the innocent and free the oppressed. To turn a blind eye in this circumstance is not only ungracious, it is simply un-Christian.

Make all the theological distinctions you want, but in the political arena we are yoked with the Mormons (he said borrowing some religious imagery) and it is darn well time we started acting like it.

Absolutely, positively thank the Mormons - but don’t stop there. Stand up and be counted against the evil that has been perpetrated towards them in this campaign.

As Christians we can do no less.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Title of LIberty is Raised Again


I've spent quite a bit of time lately, listening and reading wonderful talks in preparation for a women's conference at which I was recently invited to speak. I've also been thinking a lot about the election and the Prop 8 results. Some people are still angry about the election. Some are filled with hate and no longer feel America is their home. Conversely, some are angry with the Church because of Prop 8. After all this thinking and pondering, what I've concluded is that I have no place for hate or anger in my heart. Resolve? Yes. But hate? Anger? Bitterness? No. My heart has no place for these. There is simply too much work to be done to allow ourselves to be crippled by these feelings.

I think the Title of LIberty was raised again by Elder Packer in October's Conference during his talk entitled "The Test". Americans who understand Democracy also understand that sometimes the pendulum swings away from their position, but the examples Elder Packer illustrated about the Saints and their love of America, despite being denied the protection of her principles, seems prophetic now.

Perhaps it was.

Is there any question that the Brethren knew about the battle to defend the family long before we did? I believe they knew this firestorm was coming way back before 1995 when they drew the line in the sand, defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman and asserting that gender matters. The Proclamation to the Family was as much an effort to align us on these principles as it was to teach the world. And in these last weeks, we discovered how critical it was to have unity among the saints on this.

Likewise, I don't think it was by accident that Elder Packer spoke about love of country and passing the test of patriotism, especially during times of adversity. The media foments what they will to drive their numbers up. But listen to the voices of the Brethren who advice us to find happiness in our circumstances, to be unified, to seek peace and to remember that God is at the helm.

Still, there is much work to be done. While Prop 8 passed this round, new battle fronts are being raised in new states. Like Captain Moroni's relentless efforts to rally and protect his people, I don't think we will ever be able to rest from this fight. The American Revolution was a young person's cause because those who began the fight knew they would be long dead and gone before the dust settled on the new republic. Likewise, this battle we fight to defend the family is also going to be our children's battle, and our grandchildren's.

But we must remember what our end goal is. In the words of Elder Holland, "Something is going to be asked of this dispensation that has never been asked before. [We] must be prepared to present the church of the Lamb, to the Lamb. And when that happens, we must be looking and acting like His Church."

As we rise to the task before us, we must look and act like members of the Church of the Lamb. We must be positive and joyful, and we must use our talents, which are many, to allow the Spirit, not force, to change hearts. I am going to work harder on this. I hope we all will.

I discovered this lovely song on youtube. Thank you, Barry Hansen, for inviting the Spirit to teach better than words alone. May we all be united in our cause, which is the cause of love.

Laurie


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ez0vgS5UDdg

Saturday, November 1, 2008

ADDICTED TO HOLLYWOOD



There is no question that the Hollywood establishment has pumped millions of dollars to fight passage of Proposition 8. Perhaps more upsetting is the influence they've peddled to voters, using their status and star power to influence voting and to persuade their fans, (might I say, the electorate) to vote "the Hollywood way".

I've already addressed how deeply saddened I was when one beloved celebrity went on the Jay Leno Show to issue a tearful plea to "stop the hate", her reference to the individuals who are fighting to protect the traditional understanding of marriage. I still can't understand why protecting the meaning marriage has held since the beginning of time is considered a hateful act. I wonder if anyone else would have seen it that way if Hollywood had not named it so.

I don't want to force anyone to do or believe anything. Free will is a sacred principle. But neither do I want to be coerced to call something right when I believe it is not, nor do I want to be forced to legally expand my definition of the traditional, historic, God-given meaning of marriage for fear of legal recrimination.

What happened to the separation of Church and State?

Hollywood exerts far too much influence. By painting the controversial with humor or victimization, what was controversial becomes sympathetic, until after seeing it frequently enough, it becomes the norm. Then, like the frog in the pot, we become deadened to the danger.

When a manufacturer produces something harmful or even possibly detrimental to my family, I don't buy it. When a vendor treats me poorly, I don't give them my business. When an institution betrays my trust, I withdraw my support.

In my mind, Hollywood has done all of the above, yet we give them our patronage. We fill the very treasuries they use to beat down our values.

I wish we could exercise the moral strength to boycott Hollywood--to consider our money as sacred as our votes. We wouldn't surrender our sacred vote to a candidate whose values undermine ours, so why do we turn a blind eye to the agendas of actors and production companies whose goals are so controversial?

I wish we would form an aliance, refusing at the very least, to pay ticket fees for movies or buy products from companies whose ads feature stars who openly, brazenly push these efforts. I wish we'd throw our support to those actors who bravely stand for truth and goodness, sometimes at the risk of their careers.

The next time we stand in line to buy a theater ticket or to rent a movie, let's remember that we're casting some of the loudest and most powerful votes available to us. And let's be wise.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

FINDING JOY IN THE JOURNEY TOGETHER, WHEREVER


A friend sent me a link to the funniest video ever! Remember the joy in being silly? In plain old corny fun? Remember when we took a few hours out of our lives to plan something meaningless and inconsequential, except for the pleasure it provided to us and others? Well, here's some good ole Mormon fun, and boy oh boy do I envy these people. Way to go, and I know there's more of this out there. So send me some links! Let's share the fun and enjoy the journey together! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f86qKQJg3Z8

Monday, October 20, 2008

HOW WELL DO YOU KNOW THE US CONSTITUTION?



Elections are coming, and some of you, like me, may have seen radio talk show hosts, late night comedians and others lampooning Americans and their lack of understanding of the candidates' positions, platforms and even running mates.

As sad and scary as that might be, I've long worried over the number of Constitutional questions that arise in elections these days, wondering about our individual "Consitutional IQ's" and our readiness to render a choice in defense of this landmark document.

It was the first, you know. There were other nations with governing guidelines, of course, but the infant United States broke ground when it established a written Constitution, creating the first codified law of government on the earth, and establishing a bench mark from which other nations have based their own.

If we don't understand the inspired intentions of the Founding Fathers, and if we don't have a grasp on the Constitution as it currently stands, can we confidently, prudently, and wisely decide its future as well as ours?

There are several good sites listed below that quiz you, providing explanations to the basic elements of our government and its beautiful Constitution. Take a few minutes and test yourself, then pass the link on to friends or your children to hone their own skills. It would make a great Family Home Evening activity.

A link is provided below to get a free copy of the Constitution, and may I suggest that every American should also buy a $3.00 copy of one of the most wonderful and inspiring dvd's I've ever seen"--A More Perfect Union. Here's the link: http://www.xmission.com/~nccs/constitution-week/a-more-perfect-union.html

Enjoy the quizzes:
1. The U.S. Consititution Test (Used by the Dept. of Immigration and Naturalization)
http://www.dailyrepublican.com/constitution-test.html

2. Constitutionfacts.com (This one provides scores and great explanations and could make a great family activity)

3. Conversations on the Constitution (This is a quiz sponsored by the American Bar Association explaining recent court rulings and how they affect us.)

Monday, October 13, 2008

IN DEFENSE OF MARRIAGE



A few weeks ago Ellen DeGeneres was on the Jay Leno show tearfully pleading for people to stop spending thousands of dollars to promote hate. Sounds like a cause any decent, moral person could get behind. Her cause was the fight to prevent passage of Proposition 8, the bill in defense of traditional marriage, and her plea was essentially an effort to label anyone attempting to defend the definition of marriage as a union between an adult man and woman, as a hate monger.

The scripture that warns of the day when good will be called evil and evil called good is upon us, it appears. My son lives in California where the youth of the church have been called up by Elder Ballard, Elder Cook and the rest of the Brethren to stand as modern-day Stripling Warriors, wielding the swords of their day-- technology--to blog, text, post, email and make phone calls in defense of the essential fabric of society--the family.

If we doubt the urgency of this issue, read one of the following articles:

Young Mormons Urged to Join Fight Against Gay Marriage in California at: http://www.sltrib.com/ci_10671847 or

The passage of Proposition 8 does not remove rights and benefits already in place for gay and domestic partnerships (they "shall have the same rights, protections and benefits" as married spouses, according to Family Code SS 297.5).

So opponents of Proposition 8 are not merely trying to promote tolerance. They're trying to redefine "marriage" and "family", and the consequences could be grievous. Anyone with a traditional moral position on this could find themselves prosecuted for teaching doctrine in opposition to same-sex unions. What about the separation of Church and State? Now the State could have power to define religious doctrine!

And we can't merely hope that our community or state will be untouched by the outcome of this vote. Look how many states are wavering. Connecticut is set to begin honoring requests for same-sex marriages next week. And remember this. It only took four California Supreme Court justices to reverse the will of 61% of the electorate in that state.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

THE POWER OF UNIFIED PRAYER

Ann Bradshaw received the following in an email this week, and found it invigorating. She invited others of us to share this message from an unknown author. What a powerful message--and so needed in light of the current US political situation. On previous occasions I have participated in a unified prayer effort in our stake, and I felt that power that comes from combining my faith with that of others. Let's all take this advice and have faith in the power of prayer.

ONE MINUTE EACH NIGHT



“This is the scariest election we as Christians have ever faced and from the looks of the polls, the Christians aren't voting Christian values. We all need to be on our knees.
“Do you believe we can take God at His word? Call upon His name, then stand back and watch His wonders to behold? This scripture gives us, as Christians, ownership of this land and the ability to call upon God to heal it. I challenge you to do so. We have never been more desperate than now for God to heal our land. This election is the scariest.

“2 Chronicles 7:14--'If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.'


“During WWII, there was an adviser to Churchill who organized a group of people who dropped what they were doing every night at a prescribed hour. For one minute, they prayed collectively for the safety of England, its people and peace. This had an amazing effect as bombing stopped. There is now a group of people organizing the same thing here in the United States of America and our citizens need prayer more than ever.

“If you would like to participate: each evening at 9:00 PM Eastern Time (8:00 PM Central, 7:00 PM Mountain, 6:00 PM Pacific), stop whatever you are doing and spend one minute praying for the safety of the United States, our troops, our citizens, for peace in the world, the upcoming election, that the Bible will remain the basis for the laws governing our land and that Christianity will grow in the US.

“If you know anyone who would like to participate, please pass this along. Someone said if people really understood the full extent of the power we have available through prayer, we might be speechless. Our prayers are the most powerful asset we have.


"Please pass this on to anyone who you think might want to join us.”

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

WOMAN vs. WALLPAPER


Literature's themes focus on the great dramas of life such as "man's inhumanity to man" and the triumph of "good vs. evil". Another popular theme is the idea of "man vs the mountain".

Allow me to add another oft ignored theme, though broad in scope. I speak of "Woman vs. Wallpaper".

Some twenty-five years ago I began the battle, taming dozens of wild rolls of unyielding flora and geometrical patterns. With daring precision, snoother and glue, I wielded my level and utility knife and slapped each soggy strip to my walls.

And then decades came and went, and with them went the 80's style that I had so fully embraced.

"Come into the Twenty-First Century, Mom!" my kids pled. Okay. . . I'm cool, I'm hip. I'm all up or down with it, though the very saying of such things clearly testifies that I am not. And so began the great "Wallpaper Scraping of 2008".

It has not been pretty. The walls were not properly prepped, it would appear, and my nails are worn, my back is hunched and I still have moist, sticky wall paper goo stuck between my toes. The struggle to remove the paper left the walls so pocked and damaged they now resemble the surface of the moon, a condition that will now require spackling and skimming and priming and and caulking, all before we begin to paint.

And what about selecting a paint color? Oh dear. . . I can't even go there yet!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Review of "THE LOVE LETTERS OF JOSEPH AND EMMA" by Angela Eschler, featuring portraits by Liz Lemon Swindle



THE LOVE LETTERS OF JOSEPH AND EMMA


The extraordinary love story of Joseph and Emma Hale Smith is tenderly portrayed in a unique new Covenant release entitled, Of One Heart: The Love Letters of Joseph and Emma, by Angela Eschler.

As an editor at Covenant, Angela Eschler has long exercised her writing and editing talents to improve the works of other authors, including my own. In Of One Heart: The Love Letters of Joseph and Emma, Mrs. Eschler’s first authored work, her exceptional writing skills and knowledge of the Prophet and Emma is evident. Punctuated by the emotional artwork of Liz Lemon Swindle, Eschler has carefully selected poignant excerpts from the Smith’s private correspondence and wrapped them in beautifully crafted historical content and corroborating scripture.

The Love Letters of Joseph and Emma is divided into five concise chapters, each one correlating to a period in Joseph and Emma’s marriage-- Love and Devotion, Sorrow and Separation, Consolation in Companionship, Faith in Adversity, Reunion and Peace. As a historical examination, “Love Letters” illuminates the great love that succored Joseph and Emma through the too frequent separations, the exquisite sorrows and the sweetness of the joys that defined their lives.

But there is much more here for the reader. From Mrs. Eschler’s intimate Dedication, which is drawn from the example of Joseph’s ministrations to Emma, to the triumphal promises of eternal reunion expressed in the closing scriptures from the Doctrine and Covenants, this book is a delicately crafted celebration of the power of marriage and love.

Counseled as we are to seek for “patterns” in our lives, Of One Heart: The Love Letters of Joseph and Emma, provides readers with a unique vantage point from which to observe the Smiths’ enduring love. From the secret elopement to Joseph, to which Emma consented saying, “she preferred ‘to marry him more than anyone [else she] knew,’” through seventeen turbulent years, theirs was a marriage imbued with loyalty, tenderness and faith. Being perhaps the ultimate example of enduring love under fire, Joseph and Emma may therefore provide the ultimate pattern for building a strong marriage.

In Of One Heart: The of Joseph and Emma, by combining the power of Angela Eschler’s beautiful writing with samples from Liz Lemon Swindle’s evocative portraits of the Smiths, Covenant has produced a work that reaches deep into the hearts of readers, personalizing the Prophet and Emma to a rising generation of Saints who may confidently draw upon their example of marital love and loyalty.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL


Elder Enzio Busche delivered a beautiful devotional to the students at BYU on 14 May 1996. Some talented, inspired person set his exquisite remarks to music, placing images alongside that drive the messages deep into one's heart. I hope you'll enjoy it as I did and share it with others.

It occurs to me how faithfully the members are heeding Elder Ballard's request that we spread the Gospel by using the Internet. It may not be the feet of full-time missionaries that take the Gospel message to far-flung continents. It may, instead, be the fingers of member missionaries, who use their talents to reach the minds of people in places now denied association with the Church.

Thank you Elder Busche! And thank you to whomever created this vehicle. Enjoy, and share.
http://www.youtube.com/swf/l.swf?video_id=snAjZ8mfoYw&rel=1&eurl=&iurl=http://i4.ytimg.com/vi/snAjZ8mfoYw/default.jpg&t=OEgsToPDskI53sHab9mjkmdHiKOJV8NF&use_get_video_info=1&load_modules=1&fs=1&hl=en

Thursday, October 2, 2008

LET'S REALLY THINK ABOUT THIS. . .


Okay, so maybe you're like me in that you can't quite get a good grip on all this bail-out stuff because CNN says Armageddon will happen if it doesn't pass, and Glenn Beck says we're doomed if it does. And maybe the whole nuclear proliferation question also boggles your mind. Should we sit down and have pumpkin pie and a chat with Iran or should we put the economic squeeze on them?

Yes, I have trust issues with the media, and the candidates aren't exactly clearing up the muddle, if you know what I mean. So while we're digging through all that stuff, here are some other pressing questions that also weigh on me. Gladly, the answers may prove foolhardy, but not fatal to any person, bank account or government.

So here's what I want to know. . .

1. I was recently at a Bridal Shower and a cute, chubby six-month old was wriggling around on the floor. Everyone was ooohing and ahhhing over him and these words came out of my mouth. "Look how chubby he's getting! Isn't he cute!" In the next breath, this thought occurred to me. "No one ever says that about me." Well, the first part, yes, though maybe not out loud. But the second part? The redeeming, validating line about chubby being cute? Nope. Nada on that. What gives with THAT double standard? Let's form a focus group and slam that around for a while!

2. You know those squiggly letters you need to decode before you can sign in to anything in the electronic universe? Those alien-looking figures that run together like undercooked lemon pie filling? You know what I'm talking about. What's the deal with them? Oh, sure. They say it's all about preventing electronic whatevers from invading the site. But, what about the humans that want to order a Ped-Egg and can't? Or what about the myopic, tri-focalled generation who can't send replies to their kids' blogs because the Internet is keeping everything safe from robotic cyber-invaders?

One day I tried five . . . count them . . . FIVE times to decode those little "alphabetical selections on LSD" and I could not crack the secret code. And each time I failed, the little screen would change and provide another squiggle-set until I finally thought I heard some byte of nano-technology mocking me from inside my own PC!

Scan my retina! Fingerprint me! Man alive, my entire life savings is only protected by a six digit code I punch into a key pad, but the "Keepers of the Blogs" want me to pass a visual decoder test before I can post "Happy Birthday?"

These little frustrations actually help me understand why the issues of the day become so tedious and bogged down. I think the world was much simpler when we just dialed the phone and made out a check and wrote letters, but then again, we needed all this progress, didn't we?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Political Wisdom from Fairytales


It's hard to deny the brilliance of the fairytale writers and their clever wordsmithing. Much like parables, great thought provoking truths are subtly disguised in story format, leaving the listener to ponder the intended message long after the tale is told.

One of my favorites is The Emperor's New Clothes, the tale of the prideful clothes-horse of a king who contracts with some tailors for the sewing of a fine suit of clothes. Playing on the King's arrogance, the swindling tailors convince the emperor that they are sewing an ensemble made of fabric so exquisite it cannot be seen by those too inferior to appreciate and recognize its value. The tailors bet that the pride of the king, his court, and his constituency, will prevent all of them from admitting that the only finery the emperor is wearing is his own sorry birthday suit.

And the tailors' ruse would have proven successful had a small child, untouched by the pressure to conform, not hollered out the truth that, though unuttered, was always obvious to all.

That pressure to conform, and the consequent tide of silent tongues, is not limited to fairytales. Ask the average Joe on the street what he thinks about the hot bed topics of our day and most likely his opinions are fairly traditional. If that's the case, why don't the polls on differing networks reflect this?

Has our fear of being labelled "unenlightened" or "unprogessive", caused us to keep our opposing points of view to ourselves, confessing them only in secret or anonymously? Or worse yet, have the "enlightened" and their glitterati spokepersons marketed their point of view so seductively that we too are beginning to see the fine tailoring of an invisible suit?

When did this happen?

Naked is naked no matter the political or intellectual spin. But right is right, and eternal princples like marriage retain their meaning only if we seemingly small voices holler collectively and call the world's bluff.