Christmas Memories, Sock Monkies, and Gratitude

Last night, I stayed up late making a sock monkey.  I started it around 9 pm, and I stitched as my son watched “Iron Man” and I stitched as my husband replaced “Iron Man” with audio-reading podcasts of the Book of Alma (chapters 30-37) (he’s determined to finish before the year’s end, and he will).  As my husband followed along with his scriptures, the kids grabbed their blankets and snuggled up on the floor, and I stitched and stuffed.  Soon enough, my husband was done reading.  He put the kids to bed and I stitched after helping change the kids into their PJs.

My husband went to bed and I stitched.

Finally… at 11:30, the monkey -sans eyes -was finished.  I thought about stitching buttons on, but I was tired.  I knew an alert eye would better handle a needle than the tired I eye I was using.  I sat back and looked at the monkey, and then I looked up at the clock.

Sitting next to the clock in a homemade stocking was the sock monkey my great-grandmother had made for me when I was a little kid.  Looking at that monkey always takes me back, and it’s impossible to feel anything but warm inside.  Grandmothers have a special way of doing that, you know… making you feel warm.  I took a moment to think about my great-grandmother as I stared at the sock monkey.  As I’ve stitched my own sock monkeys, I’ve often referred to my monkey.  I’ve studied her stitches and tried to decipher her techniques.  I wonder what she thinks of me as a 25 year-old, still cabbaging onto a sock monkey she made out of her husband’s old red heel socks.

Then I remembered the date.  It was December 13th.  December 13th…   And again, I went back.

December 13th, 1996 was a red letter day for me.  It was my brother’s birthday, and per tradition we were going to buy and put up a tree that night.  I looked forward to that day ALL Christmas season.  We always put up a real tree, and it was my brother’s (the birthday boy) job to pick a tree out.  He was very particular and always came home with the BEST of what was left in the Christmas Tree lot.  I knew what was to come…Dad and the brothers would stand the tree up and adjust it to fit JUST RIGHT in the tree stand.  Mom would pour a mixture of 7up and water into the base of the tree stand.  Then came the lights -multiple colors -and then mom would pull out the box.

It was a beautiful red Christmas cardboard box, and it was filled with ornaments of all kinds.  There was the green construction paper one I made with my school picture on it. The homemade wooden ornaments that Sister McLaws had hand painted for all of us.  The birds mom made out of ribbon, the little bear ornaments that were given to us so long ago that I don’t have a Christmas memory without them in it.  The singing plush gingerbread man.  The singing plastic snowman.  How we loved to make them sing together -of for no other reason than to drive our sweet mother mad!  Lastly, we would top the tree with strands of glittering icicles.  The colorful lights would glint off of them as they swayed to even the SLIGHTEST change in air movement.

What a night I had to look forward to!  I stepped into my classroom and was there named Student of the Week for being so bubbly.  Could the day GET any BETTER?!  I happily made my way to the old school bell where they took my picture (Polaroid) and within a few minutes, my picture was placed on the bulletin board where it would remain for the ENTIRE week.  How I had coveted that spot for weeks, and now… NOW IT WAS MINE!  It took all the courage I could muster not to ask to use the bathroom, just so I could walk by and see my picture with my name under the words “Student of the Week.”

I couldn’t wait to get home and tell my mother about it.  I couldn’t wait to get home and anticipate tree decorating.  I couldn’t WAIT to get HOME!

But once there, my mother pulled us all together and let us know that our great-grandmother had passed away.  It didn’t come as any great shock, really.  We all knew it was coming, but it still affected me.  I was born excessively sentimental -an affliction that persecutes me to this very day.  I didn’t want to cry in front of my older brothers -what great foddery for teasing that would make.  I bit my lip.  I looked down.  I tried to take the news cooly.   I looked up to see how my brothers were taking the news.  I looked first at my oldest brother.  He had a slight grin on his face.

“Are you going to write this in your journal?” He asked, teasing. His teasing sent my tears over the edge, and I escaped to my room where I did indeed write in my journal that my great-grandmother had died.

In the months proceeding her death, she had been miserable.  She had taken such good care of her mortal body that death seemed to evade her, much to her disdain.

“Don’t take such good care of yourself,” she’d advise me.  And I’d laugh.

“I took much too good care of myself,” she’d say.  And then she’d tell me how badly she wanted to die.  Having always been a very capable woman, living with her children wasn’t an easy thing for her to do.  They all lived conveniently within a block of her home, and she would spend a little time with one and a little time with another.

Before she lived with her children, I had spent a lot of time at her home.  Once a week on her daybed, she’d given me crochet lessons.  The skill she taught me has almost singlehandedly paid for my husband’s 30th birthday gift, and I know she wouldn’t have it any other way.  I’ve tried to think of ways to thank her, and only one thing comes to mind: teach others.  I know that’s what she’d have me do.

I missed our weekly meeting together, and so I’d visit her as she moved from home to home.  I decided, one day, that she deserved something she’d given to everyone else but never saved for herself: a sock monkey.  Even as a child, when I got an idea I was pretty determined.  Nothing really stopped me, even if in the back of my mind I knew it was going to turn out much less than perfect.  I sifted through my socks and finally found a pair of worn purple socks that I thought really fit the bill.  I cut and stitched and guessed at how to make a monkey.  I wish I had a picture of that monkey, I really do.  My very first sock monkey, and how awful it was!  It didn’t look a thing like a monkey, and I knew that… but it was all I had.  I also knew that my Nunna had something of a blind eye when it came to gifts from her grandchildren, so I took it to Uncle Doyle’s house (where she was staying) along with a note I’d written in EXTRA EXTRA LARGE lettering on account of her sight which I had reckoned was pretty near gone.

When I proudly presented my monkey to her, she cried.  She hugged me and she cried.  I didn’t know how to respond because I had envisioned that she would praise my crafting expertise… not cry.  Looking back, I can see why a gift of a haphazardly sewn sock monkey could make a woman cry.  Aside from inheriting my grandmother’s knack for writing and nearly-daily journaling (yes, even as a elementary school student), I had inherited her sentimentality.

I didn’t realize, as I journaled away the days of my life back then, that my great-grandmother also journaled away the days of her life.  As I read through her journals this summer, I found an excerpt she’d written about a visit she’d taken to a doctor’s office.  As she sat in the waiting room, she engaged conversation with other patients waiting.  They related to her the story of their ills.  She recorded her sympathy and went on to say that she could never be a doctor -she was always to concerned with the people themselves.  I smiled when I read that because I’m exactly the same way.

And as I sat there last night, staring in turn at the monkey from my childhood and the monkey in my hands, I was grateful for my great-grandmother.

What better way to show it than to write it in my journal?

Nunna, you would have made for a champion blogger.  I love you, and I’m grateful for you.  Your ability to inspire has reached far beyond the grave. 
If this monkey doesn’t get eyes soon, my daughter is going to have a conniption.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Rocky Mountain Oysters

I took the kids up to my folks’ house two night ago for a movie night.  I had planned to watch the old holiday classic “Christmas in Connecticut” with my mother.

I expected to be greeted by my mother’s warm smile and always-cheery smelling house.  As far as the warm smile goes, I got it.  But the cheery-smelling house? Not so much. Instead, I found my Dad over the sink with a knife and a bowl full of what I wished was jelly.


He had branded earlier that day, and his bowl was full of cow testicles.

He was going to cook them up, but he couldn’t find the mix he usually uses.  Instead of hunkering down on my parents’ leather couch to watch a Christmas movie, I made my dad A Cow Ball Cookin’ Assembly Line.  I filled a pie tin with an egg and milk mixture, and then I filled another pan with a seasoned flour mixture.  As he cut the oysters up, I dipped them in the egg/milk mixture and then into the flour mixture.

Dad then grilled them on his George Foreman.

My kids weren’t at all interested in the black and white Christmas movie.  But they WERE interested in helping grandpa.  PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don’t read on if you’re squeamish.  REALLY.

I’m BEGGING you.

Dad only grilled a few, but he did make sure the entire lot of balls was cut and cleaned before he went to bed. The kids were by his side the entire time.
After I had seasoned and coated the few he wanted to cook that night, I retired to the living room for a long winter’s movie.
But I laughed, as I listened to dad and the kids, in spite of myself.

“You’re going to squeeze it,” Dad would say.
“Squeezie! Squeezie!” My son would say. He’s been adding and “ee” sound to the end of everythingee these days. (“I want milky, milky, mliky.” “I want juicy, juicy, juicy!”)

As the kids would squeeze, the meat would come out of it’s skin and be nearly ready for cooking. My son couldn’t get enough of picking them up out of the water and THROWING them back in.


After they were grilled, we all got a taste.

Anyone is welcome to taste. Dad does make a mean cow ball.

After the movie was over, I loaded the kids into the car and drove home. It took about three minutes. When I pulled into my drive, I turned around and saw:

Cooking can really wear a kid out.

If My Life Could Be Summed Up In One Picture

I hosted Bunco last night, and my husband wasn’t home yesterday. The kids stuck around the house during the games. I did my best to keep a pile of distractions in their room, and I knew they would absolutely thrash it but that was okay. I tried to counter-act the trashing by having them clean their room beforehand. Thank goodness. Can you imagine what their room would have looked like had they NOT cleaned it up?

After most of the guests left, I walked into my kids’ room and found my son completely crashed on the floor. I had to laugh. Do you know how many times I’ve crashed on the floor? I mean, besides last night… do you know how many times I’ve crashed on the floor? So many. So very many.
I like floor sleeping. I think if I didn’t like food so much, I’d make for a great post-WWII refugee.

That seems to be my theme in life. Wake up, clean up, make a mess, crash… wake up, clean up, make a mess, crash…
Some things never change.

Christmas “Cards” are Here

Per tradition, our family usually makes cheeseballs every Christmas for family and friends that live ’round about.  This year, despite the fact that cheeseballs and hot cocoa mix cost about the same… I’m sending out delicious hot cocoa mix.  I’m not bragging on my cruddy cooking skills, but I AM bragging on the recipe.  Oh, ho brother!  It is go-OOD.

Last year, we got so busy that although we bought everything for the cheeseballs, we never actually made them.  The result was the untimely demise of any New Year’s Resolution involving weight loss, as I made and devoured an unspeakably shameful amount of grandma’s recipe for homemade cheesecake.

Oh, my mouth is watering.  Let’s change the subject…

I told my husband, in a fit of guilt over the selfishness of NOT delivering to the neighbors and devouring everything myself, that this year we would get right on delivering goodies.

It had to happen, even if that meant my already-neglected home would fall further down on my priority list -which it has.  And the Bunco ladies will see me for what I really am rather than what I WISH they thought I was when they gather here tomorrow night.

I’m a slob.

See my kitchen table? Absolute slobbery. I’m certain the ladies won’t actually care, and I’m also certain that I’m the only one what actually DOES care. Be that as it may, I’m still clawing my way out of Absolute Slobbery 101. I’m constantly fighting it. It’s my lot in life. Slobbery. Slobbery and brownies.
Slobbery and brownies and glee.

But I won’t sink so low as to buy department store Christmas cards (*sarcastic shudder*) because I keep a hard working personal designer on hand. See her in the picture?
Sad (or is it?) truth be told, we’re poor in finances. Hot cocoa mix was a smidge cheaper than the cheeseballs (on account of the cost of crackers, even when purchased in bulk). I had canning jars on hand. And I had green fabric on hand. And of course I had red yarn on hand (leftover from many-a-crochet santa hats). When I put everything together, along with the family picture my aunt had taken and which I had happily picniked before the kids woke up Monday morning, we had a working set-up going. The only problem? We didn’t have cards.
I sat and thought about it for all of two seconds before realizing that my daughter would love nothing more than to personally design every single card.
And, man… did she EVER. That girl is really something. This was my favorite of all the designs. She drew a Christmas bell, wrote “Hohohohoho” and then she drew a picture of something that looked like a butter knife but was actually something entirely different that I cannot recall at all.

They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and I say so be it. And thank goodness for that.

Accidental She-Grinch

Every year I look forward to the First Presidency Christmas Devotional.  Last year, it really helped me to feel Christmas.  This year, I started feeling Christmas around July when I pulled out my Reader’s Digest Christmas Book and started practicing.

Despite the fact that I’ve felt Christmasy for awhile, I was as excited about the devotional as I was last year.  Then I went.

I sort of remember President Uchtdorf talking about The Grinch.  That was all I got.

We walked into the chapel as a family united and excited.  Then I took the kids’ Santa hats off and the sides were formed -lines were drawn.  They armed themselves with colored pencils and crayons and I hovered threateningly over them.

“Shh,” I whispered, “No loud talking.”

“Santa hats are NOT for church.”

“We don’t stand on the benches…”

We ended up having one long bench to ourselves, and THANK GOODNESS because I ended up using the entire row and sitting at one end, at the other end, and in various places in the middle.  She had to go potty.  He tried to escape.  Hats were thrown.  Pencils were dropped.  Nerves were tried.

Fa la la la la la la la la!

We left the chapel frazzled, frustrated, and tired.

“I didn’t get a word of that,” I said to my husband as we pulled out of the parking lot.

“But at least we were there,” he said.  And that’s true.  At least we were there.  And I wasn’t completely honest with him when I said I didn’t get a word of the devotional.  I heard President Uchtdorf talking about The Grinch, and I thought about myself.  I think every one has Grinchy tendencies around the holidays.  This year, I vowed to simplify.  What ended up happening was I took on too many projects at home and I’m coming apart at the frayed edges.

On Monday, I had an extensive to-do list.  I accomplished everything on it, so far as I was allowed.  I couldn’t completely print our Christmas cards because the copy place ran out of toner, and I couldn’t mail a package off because my husband told me not to.

But everything else got done. At the end of the day, I curled up and crashed.  Tuesday.  Yesterday.  I failed.  I failed at everything and in every area 100%.

Here’s what I ate: Cheerios, cookie dough, gingerbread bits, marshmallows, oreos, and milk.

Here’s what I did: crocheted a hat, watched two episodes of glee and one episode of Bones, taught a piano lesson, tried to muster the energy to crochet more but never actually DID crochet more, and then I curled up and crashed.

I really shouldn’t worry too much about it because I accomplished three days’ worth of junk on Monday alone, and BELIEVE ME I’ll try not to do that again!  Today has been better.  I’ve eaten cheerios and minestrone and cheese and toast.  I’ve taught preschool, done half of my monster dish pile, played piano at the high school, and started making preparations for Bunco night tomorrow.

I’ve got too much going on, but that’s nothing new.  It’s really rather usual.  But after Monday and after yesterday, I’m realizing that it doesn’t take a small heart to be a Grinch.  All it takes is a to-do list full of piddly self-inflicted nonsense.  I will say this: I don’t want to stop Christmas from coming.  I simply want to stall it for a week, and THAT’S WRONG of me.  My heart isn’t too small -it’s just in the wrong place.

Here’s to a lifetime of NO MORE days like Tuesday, December 7 2010.

And here’s to a lifetime of holiday-like cheer.

How Do I Relate To Thee?

For the past few months, a marital concern has been weighing on my mind.  I can’t decide if it’s worth hashing over or not, and in trying to decide I hash and hash and hash.  I brought it up to my husband once as we were about to fall asleep.  The room was pitch black.  My husband was lying on his side, facing away from me, and I was lying on my back, staring up into the darkness.

“Honey,” I said.

“Mm,” he replied.

“Does it bother you that we don’t have any common interests?” I asked.

“No,” he replied.

And that was it.  It didn’t bother HIM so why should I worry?

To be fair: we do have many similar interests like politics and religion and our kids, but I guess I was hoping for something else… I spend hours reading classic literature and poetry and when I quote it to him, he blinks back at me with the same expression Dora the Explorer has on her face while she’s “waiting” for an answer.

Very good!

It isn’t fair to want him to be interested in what I’m interested in.  I should look to his interests and make them my own.  But basketball? Jay Z? While I’m more than willing to buy him game tickets and sit with him while he watches/listens to games… I’m not actually watching or listening at all.  I mean, I really TRY to.  I try my darndest!  I WANT to listen.  I WANT to watch.  But I always get distracted by watching the crowd or studying the player’s tattoos instead.  And hip hop? I can’t hack it.  I don’t complain about it, I just refrain from putting it on my iPod.  And when I drive, my iPod goes in and his takes a nap.

I realize that our differences are what makes us tick and I shouldn’t try and force anything.  One of the many beautiful things about our marriage is the way we can talk for hours, but we don’t talk for hours about just anything.  We talk about other people.   And THAT is where my hang up is.  THAT is what’s making me invest hashing-time into finding other interests.

Two nights ago, I brought it up again.

“Honey,” I said, “Don’t you think we ought to find an interest together?”

“Why do you keep bringing this up?” He asked, laughing.

“I just think that we should find something we’re both interested in so that when we’re talking we’ll have something to talk about.”

“Don’t you think we shouldn’t try to force conversation?” He asked.

“Yes, but I also think we should try to talk about something other than other people, even if it isn’t all bad.” I said.  He was silent for a minute.

“But it’s so fun,” he nudged me.

“That’s not the point,” my voice took on a super-righteous tone.

“Everyone talks about other people.  All couples do it.” He reasoned.

“That doesn’t mean we have to,” I maintained my tone.  He groaned.

“Walking, window shopping, gardening, our kids, the church… How’s that for a list?”

“You’re right!” I brightened up, “We can talk about walking and gardening!”

“There ya go,” he said.

“You know who I saw walking the other day…”

And so you see, we are doomed.  Our common interest is other people. I did mention to him that a common interest of “other people” is not really healthy and hardly the key to a rich, lasting marriage.  He agreed, and then we talked about people again.

There’s always politics and religion…
And thank goodness for mistletoe.

If You Could Pop Through The Picture, You’d Hear:

“Babe, let’s put the kids in a chair and we’ll kneel behind it. That way my after-baby belly will be hidden.”

“Sweetie, for the last time… keep your LEGS DOWN. No one wants to see your big girl pants.”

“I can’t take another picture until SOMEONE CHANGES THAT BOY’S DIAPER.”

“I should have worn panty hose, my legs are as white as the snow. Son, look at the camera…”

“Son, LOOK at the CAMERA.”

“It’s okay, I can always picnik it.”


The theme for today is thrones: polished white ones and invisible ones.

The things is: my son has taken to calling me “your highness.”  There’s no sarcasm in his voice because he isn’t 14, and it makes me laugh every time.

“Here’s your orange slice, son,” I say.

“Bank you, yo’ highness,” he says.

“Here’s your dirty diaper, go throw it away please!”I say.

“Bank you, yo’ highness!” He replies.

So I’m royal.  I mean, I always suspected it but my son has confirmed it.
(in this picture, he was standing in front of my cart and pulling it all over Safeway. He insisted on it, and why shouldn’t he? I’m royal.)

This morning, my daughter decided to try her hand at royalty and sat herself down on the porcelain throne. She held herself up with two hands behind her as most toddlers do. When she lifted one hand off of the royal seat to reach for the royal Charmin, she started to sink into the royal hole. She gasped and immediately put her hand back on the seat.
“Hey!” She yelled, looking down at the toilet, “That wasn’t very nice!”

One great thing about kids is you always know where you stand -whether you’re a household queen or a toilet.

TC (Christmas) Movies

I’ve been crocheting pretty much full time. Yesterday I made three pairs of slippers and one fluffy pink bear hat. Night before last, I stayed up finishing my aunt’s brilliant black adult-size elf hat for her missionary son.
Today, it’s back to the grind.
Four hot pads.
Three bear hats
Two flower hats.
One pair of slippers.

And a partridge in a pear tree.

While sitting on the couch all day is generally makes me feel like Fatty Fatterson, it does have it’s perks.

I ordered these movies last week from Amazon and I’ve been watching the snot out of them. I’m a HUGE fan of classic movies, and I’m so excited to have a few more Christmas movies around the house! Before they came in the mail, I had my daughter watching “A Christmas Story.” After it was over, she approached me and said, “Mom, Ralphie just said… sunnuva b#*@!.”
What sort of Christmas movie IS THAT for a toddler?!

Anyway, I highly recommend “The Shop Around the Corner” to anyone. Jimmy Stewart is just wonderful -as he always is. It has the same story line as “You’ve Got Mail” minus computers and Frank Something-Or-Other. I can watch it over and over and get wrapped up in the dialogue and characters.

I was pleasantly surprised with “Christmas in Connecticut.” It’s a story about a journalist who lives in a tiny stuffy apartment in New York. She pretends she’s a married woman with a baby who lives on a picturesque farm in Connecticut. Her editor knows the truth, but the owner of the magazine she writes for does not. He (the owner) loves her article so much he invites himself to her “farm” for Christmas. It’s a great story, and I’ve watched it several times over. My husband has too -he likes it as much as I do.

Today is going to be spent in much the same way, but I’ve GOT to get my dishes done sometime today. I took one day off from them, and my hands love me for it (they’ve stopped bleeding!) but my kitchen counter is screaming for mercy.

I’ll see you on the other side of four Christmas movies and 10 crochet projects.