Tag Archives: Christmas

Courage at Twilight: Sleds and Toboggans

On Christmas Eve 1941, Dora shooed Nelson (barely turned 6) and his siblings, Louise (7) and Bill (4) up to bed: “Santa will not come until after you are in your beds asleep.” After sleeping for some time, Nelson awoke and, thinking it was morning, woke his siblings: “It’s Christmas morning,” he whispered.  “It’s time to go downstairs.”  In fact, Nelson had awoken after being asleep for a very short time, perhaps one-half hour.  The children stepped quietly down the stairs to see the presents Santa had left for them under the Christmas tree.  Instead, they saw their mother putting presents under the tree.  The main object they observed was a new Flexible Flyer sled.  Dora turned from the tree and saw the children spying from the stairs.  “You get back upstairs and go to sleep!” she bellowed.  When morning had really come, the children came down the stairs to see their new sled.  Christmas night had brought new snow, which the morning’s cars had packed down on the Millcreek Canyon road.  Dora bundled the children up and drove them to the top of a straight portion of the inclined road.  She instructed the children that she would drive to the bottom of the hill and signal when they could safely launch.  From the bottom of the hill, after the several cars had passed, she waved at the children, and they took turns flying down the icy road on their new sled.  Whichever child had sledded down would pull the sled back up the road.  Bill, being small, had the benefit of sliding down on each run and being pulled back up the hill by his older sister or brother.  Sometimes a car would begin to drive up the road after the sled run had begun, and the rider would have to steer off the road to avoid the car.  Thirty years later, Mom and Dad bought a Flexible Flyer for my siblings and me, and we passed many shrill happy hours racing down the hill at Johnson Park, in Piscataway, New Jersey.  Whether sitting or prone, we could twist the cross-bar to navigate handily around tree trunks, though once Dad took us down the hill on an old wood toboggan that did not steer well and he crashed us into a tree.  We all tumbled off, thrilled with the adventure and mishap, but sad for the cracked toboggan.

Pictured above: the Baker Flexible Flyer, still in use after 50 years.

Courage at Twilight: Sledding and Gingerbread Houses

My ten-year-old hot-desert-weather Arizona niece Amy came to visit for the New Year holiday week, bringing my sister Jeanette with her. The night their airplane arrived (actually one o’clock in the morning), a dark wall of low purple clouds dumped six inches of new powder on the valley, just in time for Amy to take us sledding.  Jeanette had dug their winter clothing out of her attic and checked a suitcase-full on the flight, so the girls were prepared.  Continue reading

Courage at Twilight: Winter Holiday Crafts

A number of years ago, Tooele City, where I have worked for 28 years, began to host craft workshops for the locals.  A color flyer showed the projects, often holiday themed, and we could order them online.  On the appointed evening, we gathered to collect our crafts, mostly preassembled, to paint and decorate them.  Several times I took one of my children for a crafting date—Hyrum made a small sledge.  I have made snowmen, scare crows, pumpkins, pilgrims, and Easter bunnies.  Often more than 50 people would come—and I was always the only man there!  Covid-19 shut the program down temporarily, but then it resumed, with the public picking up their projects from city hall, and taking them home to finish.  This Christmas season, I ordered a winter village scene (pictured above), which my daughter Laura and I painted during her short trip from Houston.  Mom ordered a wood block nativity set (pictured below).  These crafts have been an important activity for me, for the chance to socialize with nice people, and to exercise what little artistic inclination I have—not to mention having fun holiday decorations to exhibit on the front porch or on the dining room table.  I appreciate my town for providing this enriching quality-of-life activity, and for finding a way around a pandemic to keep the program going.

Courage at Twilight: December 23

We moved our Baker extended family Christmas Eve party to December 23 this year. My (former) wife and I began the tradition in 1992 when we lived with my paternal grandmother Dora, in the basement of her little house, after our return from Portugal, where I had been a Fulbright student.  We enjoyed a simple “shepherd’s meal,” with bread and cheese and nuts and fruits and cold meat.  We recounted the birth of the baby Jesus, and we sang Christmas carols.  Dora, a cute 83 years old, dressed up as Mother Mary and held on her lap my two-year old son Brian.  This year Brian brought his two-year-old Lila as we continued the tradition with Mom and Dad and our extended family of Baker siblings and their posterities.  We moved the party from December 24 to December 23 to add Dad’s birthday to the Christ-child celebration.  We had planned the move for last year to celebrate Dad’s 85th birthday, but Covid-19 dictated otherwise.  So, we rescheduled for 86.  But Dad would not allow us to celebrate his birthday at the party.  Though December 23, this party, he insisted, was to celebrate the birth of Jesus, not the birth of Dad.  He grudgingly allowed a few gifts, but focused on his Savior, and on another notable birth, also on December 23, the 1805 birth of Joseph Smith, the founding prophet who established the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to whom the Father and the Son appeared in 1820.  Those two birthdays counted, Dad said, not his.  We rebuffed him with a respectful, “Yeah, whatever” and added Dad’s birthday to the trifecta celebration.  Card tables and folding chairs accommodated the crowd, which passed by the kitchen island for plates of ham, scalloped potatoes, and my French glazed carrots and parsnips touched with ginger.  And Sarah’s perfect homemade whole-wheat bread.  We sang Christmas carols and rounds and hymns.  We played a matching game with carol names and lyrics.  We played again our indispensable traditional “Left-Right” game in which the group sits in a circle, each person with a wrapped gift, and passes the gifts to the left or to the rights as those words appear in the story Mom narrated about the “Wright” family, with laughter and chaos and flying wrapping paper—one never knew what gift one would receive.  And Brian read the Birth story in Luke 2.  And Dad blessed us again with his Christmas message of love for his Savior and love for his family and how the two inseparably embrace.  The time came for everyone to disperse from whence they came, and Mom, Dad, and I felt content and happy and relieved that the Christmas Eve Birthday party—our 29th annual—had been a success, having celebrated the births of Jesus, Joseph, and Dad: quite our favorite trio.

(Pictured above: a family service project with Mom and Dad.)

Courage at Twilight: Christmas Bittersweet

My thoughts and feelings on Christmas are bittersweet.  Since divorcing seven Christmases ago, the season brings sadness and uncertainty and a nagging sense of failure, along with the traditional excitement and joy and love.  I ruminate on knotty questions: Do I pull my children away from their mother? Will their mother pull our children away from me? How do I plan? What activities do I undertake? How do I think about gifts and meals and parties?  My seven children are mostly grown and gone, but orbit back frequently.  They are my life’s joy.  At Hannah’s holiday choir concert with the Millennial Choirs and Orchestra, six of my seven children were present, with their spouses and granddaughter Lila, even Caleb and Edie on the night before their wedding.  I am grateful for such times—they become joyful memories.  The children’s mother and I are peaceable, both devoted to the success and happiness of our children.  We have found ways to share the Christmas celebration together, to not pull the children apart, but to give them the best broken-family experience we know how.  “Broken family” is the 20th Century’s nomenclature for our family status, but I loathe the label.  We are still a family, and there is nothing broken about us, just different, a bit challenging, like in all families.  We are doing our very best for the family, for the children.  So, I try to set sadness aside, and work to find ways to give and to enrich, to find ways to remember Jesus, our loving Savior and Redeemer, who gave us the example of giving and forgiving.  I look for ways to celebrate Christmas.  So, I watched the children open their gifts, enjoyed the traditional strawberry waffles, talked and plunked the guitar, and played card games and board games and laughed.  And Hannah affirmed in a letter, “I love you so very much Daddy!  I am so blessed to have you as my father.”  Ways to celebrate Christmas.

 

After Hannah’s Christmas concert.

 

My children, with Mom and Dad.

Courage at Twilight: Here We Come A-Caroling

“Can we come around 7:00?” she asked.  “That would be lovely,” I answered.  And they came, on a very cold Tuesday night, a small group of church youth with their leaders—two young women and two young men.  “Merry Christmas!” they cheered.  Mom and Dad brought them into the living room, where the group sat visiting on the sofas.  The leaders sparked up a Christmas carol, and the youth sang in shy murmurs.  Until Mom joined, that is.  Though the youth came to serenade her, she jumped right in with her cheerful choral charisma and had the small group singing enthusiastically.  After half-an-hour of caroling, the group called again, “Merry Christmas!” and filed out the door, Mom and Dad waving, everyone happier for the visit.  “We had so much fun,” Mom beamed when I came home late from work.  The youth left a beautiful gift basket with a poinsettia, various fruits, a loaf of Great Harvest cinnamon-raisin bread, Stephen’s mint truffle hot cocoa mix, and two pair of warm winter socks.

Courage at Twilight: Decorating the Christmas Tree

Steven and I pulled the black garbage bags off the high closet shelf.  Each bag held a section of the Christmas tree.  Boxes of ornaments and lights followed.  My brother Steven was visiting for the week from North Carolina, visiting his beloved, elderly parents.  We spread and fluffed the wire branches, wound bright tinsel ropes, strung strings of white lights, and hung red baubles and ornaments.  Many of the ornaments were homemade, some decades ago in our New Jersey childhood home.  Ornaments made from the lids of frozen orange juice cans, punched with nails in patterns, and painted by little children.  Steven was two years old when I left home for a university 2,200 miles away.  How does an adult brother have a meaningful relationship with a distant two-year-old in the 1980s when long-distance calls cost as much as mortgage payments?  He doesn’t.  But I am in my late 50s now, and he in his early 40s, and the ages no longer matter.  We are brothers, sons of common parents, and we are friends.  Steve laughed as he hung a particular ancient ornament, a humble thing belonging only on our family tree.  We turned the lights on with pleasure, and stood back and looked at the Christmas tree with pleasure.  And Mom’s and Dad’s faces lit up with love and smiles to see their little boy all grown up into the best kind of man.

 

Courage at Twilight: Church Christmas Party

Our church held a neighborhood Christmas party on Friday.  The poster announced the location: Whoville.  The cultural hall (aka full-court gym) had been transformed into the snowy town from which Mr. Grinch had attempted to steal Christmas from the Whos.  The setting including an ice skating rink for kids in stockinged feet (the rink enthralled my two-year-old granddaughter Lila), a genuine snowless alpine sledding slope, the Whoville Charities booth accepting new winter coats, boots, gloves, and hats for the Boys & Girls Club, the Whoville Post Office where visitors could send cards to young people serving church missions abroad, a Who-house chimney into which little Whos tossed wrapped gifts that tumbled down into the house, the Whoville Hair Salon, a cookie decorating station, the Whoville Photo Studio taking pictures of children with the Grinch, and the Whoville Sweet Shop where children lined up for banana and orange and berry cotton candy faster than I could spin it.  Wisps of sugar gossamer tickled my face and clung to my hair and clothing.  Three-year-old Gabe exercised his insider privilege and stood on a chair spinning his own cotton candy, with a little help from me.  Lila, too, helped herself to the sugary puffs.  Mom and Dad brought a large bag with their donations, happy to have helped children who need warm winter clothing.  Mom and Dad sat smiling with mirth as Whoville teamed with happy little Whos running around in their Who pajamas.  Mom declared it to be “the best Christmas party I’ve ever attended.”  Our Mr. Grinch already possessed a big warm throbbing heart, and made friends with all the children.  In fact, the Grinch is Gabe’s new favorite superhero (so long Spiderman).  A framed 8×10 of the duo sits prominently on Gabe’s nightstand.

Pictured above: Gabe and the Grinch

The Whoville Ice Rink

Granddaughter Lila enjoying the rink with her dad

Alpine sledding slope

Where Gabe met Mr. Grinch

Sending Christmas cards to far-flung missionaries

Decorating sugar cookies

Donations to the Boys & Girls Club

Gabe and I spinning his cotton candy

Courage at Twilight: Stringing Christmas Lights

While I cooked dinner, Dad dressed in his gray winter coat and his pom-pommed snow hat and stumbled outside with a bag of rolled up strings of Christmas lights and a hot glue gun, a bag of glue sticks in his pocket.  The temperature dipped into the low 30s.  I wondered at the hot glue gun, thinking hot glue would not work well in cold temperatures.  After near an hour, I thought I had better check on him, to make sure he wasn’t collapsed and freezing.  But there he was, painstakingly gluing the light string to the brick every six inches.  He was nearly finished, gluing the last six feet to the wall.  “I didn’t think the hot glue would work on cold brick,” I commented.  “Actually, the glue works better in the cold, because it sets faster, and I can move on to the next spot.”  Just then he let out an “Argghh!!” as he pressed a fingertip into a dollop of hot glue.  “I seem to be gluing my fingers as much as the lights!” he cursed.  I reached in and held down each newly glued spot until the glue hardened, while he moved ahead to the next.  I dipped my finger into the hot glue myself, and I rubbed furiously against the cold brick to wipe the burning glue off.  “I see what you mean,” I commiserated.  With the last section in place, we extricated ourselves from the tangled bushes and stood back to observe.  “You did a great job, Dad,” I complimented.  The white LED lights climbed one end of the brick wall, ran along its adorned top, and ended at the base of the other end.  The next day we wrapped red and green and amber lights around the boxwood bushes.  “Let’s get your mom,” Dad enthused as the sun sank and the cold set in.  Mom was duly impressed, “You men did a great job with the lights!”  Every evening, Dad flips a switch by the front door, contended at the cheery beauty at the corner of the front yard.

A Tree to Remember

A Tree to Remember

At the time, I felt proud and childlike and utterly cheerful to plug in the new two-foot-tall artificial Christmas tree with multi-colored lights pre-strung—just slide it out of the box and plug it in—and skirted with a checkered flannel pillowcase hiding three plastic feet.  I hung fragile little ornaments I keep in an egg carton.  This lighted loaded twig brightened my living room, a quiet understated new friend demanding nothing of me, content to glow and keep me company.  Continue reading

Merry Christmas, Sunshine!

Amy helped decorate the family Christmas tree: with lights, ornaments, and…a lizard. Sunshine’s pretty color fits right in. Sunshine is such a good friend to Amy, and Amy to sunshine. Everyone needs good, loyal, supportive friends. As 2020 winds down, we can find someone to be a friend to, someone who needs our friendship, our kindness, even our love. We can do it. We should do it. Try.

Consecration Cooking

Consecration Cooking

I cooked for hours.  Even though just yesterday I had roasted the annual turkey, yet today I had cooked for hours, for my children, who would arrive at 6 o’clock for dinner with dad.  Tó Brandileone crooned in the other room as I kneaded five parts butter to four parts flour, simmered sliced leeks in butter and their own juices for a long time until totally tender, whisked eggs and cream, rolled out the cold dough and baked the shells in 10-inch springform pans—they would be enormous quiches, Continue reading

Christmas Barn

 

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Amidst all the holiday gift-giving, certain gifts stand, gifts of more than things but also of the heart.  My son Hyrum’s gift to his sister Hannah was one such gift, a gift to always remember. Hyrum (14) conceived of the idea, drew the idea, and saved his money for the materials. Together we engineered the structure, bought the materials, and began construction.  His gift: a miniature barn with hinged roof.  This series of photographs shows each step of the construction process, culminating with Hannah (10) opening her gift on Christmas morning.  I think of Hyrum’s gift as a miracle gift, for he gave part of himself along with the present.

The base frame, 18″ x 18″, allowing for a two-story central main building with an attached lean-to on each side.

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Adding posts to support the main barn roof.

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Completing the barn and lean-to frames.

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The completed frame with the interior floor installed and the wall siding begun.

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Wall siding and lean-to roofing completed with lathe.  The roof frame sit, hinged, on the main barn structure.

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The completed hinged roof frame atop the barn.

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The completed barn, prior to painting.

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Hyrum painting the barn.

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And . . . the completed barn project.

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Most importantly, Hannah on Christmas morning opening her special gift, inside which Hyrum placed a wrapped bucket of perfectly-sized farm animals.

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Hannah’s Christmas barn became my favorite Christmas gift, too.  I enjoyed working with my son for weeks to engineer, construct, paint, and wrap the barn.  I witnessed the joy on my daughter’s face (and on Hyrum’s face) as Hannah opened her special gift.

Rag Rugs

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(Large rag rug crocheted by my mother for my kitchen–October 2015.)

When my mother, Dorothy Lucille Bawden Baker, was a child, perhaps age 6 or 7, she accompanied her mother, Dorothy Erma Evans Bawden (born 1915), and her grandmother, Dorothy Ellen Beagly Evans (born 1895), to visit her great-grandmother, Elizabeth Esther Pierce Beagly (born 1875).  Grandmother Elizabeth was crocheting an oval rug from strips of cloth cut from old clothing.  My mother noticed it and told them she liked it.  Looking back, what caught her attention most was the notion of making something so beautiful from practically nothing: rags. My mother’s matriarchs encouraged her interest and offered to give her a crochet hook and strips of cloth.  Grandfather James Edmund Evans (born 1889) carved for her an oak crochet hook.  Her mother cut some cloth strips from old clothing for my mother, and taught her the crochet stitch.  After my mother’s marriage in 1962, she began her serious crocheting of rag rugs, for she and her new husband, Owen Nelson Baker, Jr., had no carpet or rugs in their home.  For her first project, she sat on the floor and crocheted an enormous round area rug.  After retiring and moving to Utah in 1998, she began crocheting again in earnest.  She found her sheets at the Deseret Industries thrift store, and bought a cutting board and cutting wheel.  Her rugs can be found throughout her home and the homes of her children.  She has given away many rugs as gifts to family and friends.  I recently asked her to teach me to crochet.  These small rugs, intended as prayer mats, are my first efforts to crochet something from nothing.  I made them for my three daughters and my daughter-in-law for Christmas (2015).  I hope that my girls find enjoyment in them, and in knowing that they hold a humble work of art six generations in the making.

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The beginnings of Hannah’s rug, with a sun at the center.

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Ringed with a light sky, ready for a darker ring of sky.

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The sky is complete.

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Ready to be circled with dark, rich earth.

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Hannah’s rug completed.

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Laura’s rug: blue evening sky trending toward sunset and night.

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Erin’s rug: sun, sky, and atoll surrounded by ocean.

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Avery’s rug.

Shoe Shine Boxes

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ONB

When I was a boy, my father scrounged scraps of oak plank and made himself a beautiful shoe shine box, of his own design, with his initials “ONB” carved on one end and chiseled greenery on the other.  He made a similar box for me, bearing my initials “REB”.

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REB

As boys, my four sons often watched me shine my shoes, asking me if I would please shine theirs.  Then they began asking if they could use my shoe shine stuff to shine their own shoes. They have enjoyed using my shoe shine box during their boyhood years.

This Christmas I presented to each of my sons their own shoe shine box.  It was time for them to have their own, to carry on the tradition.  For lack of tools, time, and skill, I simplified the design.  But I still find their shoe shine boxes elegant.

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I had planned to make the shoe shine boxes over the Thanksgiving weekend while staying with my parents.  Caleb (16) asked if he could stay one night with me, so I decided to let him in on the secret and help.

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After Caleb left, Grandpa, the original shoe shine box carpenter, helped me finish the boys’ boxes.

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My sons may be the only living boys to have such shoe shine boxes, in a three-generation genealogy of shoe shine boxes, made by their father and grandfather.

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I hope my sons find years of enjoyment and pride in shining their shoes with their shoe shine boxes.  And who knows: perhaps they will make such boxes for their own children someday.

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I hope you will find a unique and meaningful way to connect with your sons and daughters, and to carry on the traditions of your generations.

Church Bells

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(Liberty Bell, Philadelphia, PA)

Walking in the snow on Rabbit Lane I began thinking about Christmas bells ringing from church towers all over the celebrating world.  I pondered the many emotions associated with pealing church bells.  Happiness in marriage.  Sorrow in death.  Fear in disaster.  Hope that “all is well”.  The Liberty Bell rang in joyful celebration of America’s independence.  I composed this song about church bells at Christmastime, attempting to embrace all of these emotions, especially excitement at the birth of Jesus, the Savior of the World.  Here is the sheet music for you to enjoy: Church Bells.

Christmastime

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My favorite part of Christmas is playing Christmas music all the month of December.  For me, Christmas music brings out the Christmas spirit like nothing else.  And I’m not talking about songs that celebrate a reindeer’s red nose and such, but about the hymns and carols that celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Savior of the world.  My family gathers each Christmas Eve to recite the story of Jesus’ birth and to sing the songs of Christmas.  I previously posted my little Christmas lullaby Nativity.  With this post I bring you the happy song Christmastime.  What it may lack in musical sophistication it hopefully makes up for in simple Christmas cheer.  Here is the sheet music for you to enjoy: Christmastime.

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The star on my 30-inch-tall Christmas tree is this Pysanky egg blown, waxed, and dyed by my daughter Laura (20).  I treasure it.

Nativity

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The mere thought of adding to the Christmas repertoire intimidated me from making the attempt.  But one quiet evening, as Christmas approached, I began to think of the baby Jesus, and to hum.  I thought of the star and the heavenly choir, of the Magi and their gifts, and of Mary holding her child wrapped in rags.  The Christmas lullaby “Nativity” arose from my musings.  Here is the sheet music for you to enjoy: Nativity.  Sing it softly to your own little ones as you put them to bed.

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