Monday, December 29, 2008


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


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


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


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


(Bruegel's "The Adoration of the King"

Laurie LC Lewis

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



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 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!

Thursday, December 11, 2008


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


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


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.”


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.