“O god, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is,

To see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary.

Because thy loving kindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee.

Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name.

My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness, and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips;

When I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches. Because thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice.” Psalm 63 v.1-7.

This Christmas I have felt a visceral longing for God. This psalm speaks to that ache, that divine shadow where my soul rejoices.

As a child witnessing the story of Christmas in church and in creches, I loved to look at the comfortable tableaux of the mangered babe nestled safely between Mary and Joseph. Never once did I discern a trace of irony in its presentation. Instead, the straw bed seemed appropriate for the King of the World; after all, didn’t it glow gold in the light?

For years the nativity story retained a peaceful aura for me. This luminescent scene annually awakened glimpses of glory, worshipful adoration, feelings of awe both familiar and fresh.

But this year something felt different. Before awe and adoration I felt, above all, wonder. God, who art Thou, that comes to me in the form of a baby, lying helplessly in the feeding trough?

When I look at a nativity scene, I discern ironies, an ache. The juxtapositions embedded in a scene that not long ago sweetly supported my assumptions about God spur me to journey in question farther than I have before.

For example: I used to think that you came to earth the way you did because, of course. I had always known you to annually appear as the Baby Jesus, just as every Christmas comes complete with carols, cookies, and a tree.

But you hid the essence of divine nature in this seasonal showcase. You are the God of the unexpected. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

The people of your day expected a political messiah, someone who would free them from an undeniably brutal, unjust Roman regime. And here you came, a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, with the Slaughter of the Innocents at your heel. As the mothers in Israel wept over their slain sons, were you yet the God they needed? Am I, another mother in Israel, to trust my precious ones to you knowing full well what happened to them?

But I do. Obviously I do. Didn’t David answer that himself? “Thy loving kindness is better than life.” And: “O god, thou art my God.”

And you will teach me to find you where I have come to assume you are not. I will find you in the unmet expectation, the flat out disappointment, the shadowy doubt, maybe–probably!–even the cliché. The next time someone goes to the pulpit and recites a rehearsed script with conviction, instead of feeling annoyed and impatient, I will look for You, my God who hides in plain sight. I know I will find you in every place I assumed you were not.

I will rejoice in the shadow of the divine wing. Here are some of my shadows, where I expect our meeting: Polygamy. The way Joseph Smith practiced polygamy. The patriarchal order of the church and the temple. Do You love women? Do You love us as much as You love men? Do You love me?  I weep that I have to write the question, and Lord, I expect to find You here, in the ache. We will meet and you will cause me to bless you while I live. I believe this because I know about the babe in the manger, the filled inn.

More shadows: Blacks and the priesthood–why the lag?? Why isn’t Your church at the vanguard of social progress? Shouldn’t the church light the way for the world? And while we’re at it, how come LGBT people are not allowed to hope for the tremendous, blessed, sweet marriage I enjoy? Why is this crown of existence available to only a few?

Lord, whose ways are not my ways, meet me here.

You meet me with the flight to Egypt; Rachel, who would not be comforted, those slain little boys–those sweet, tender boys.  

This Christmas You are why I wonder, and adore.

Master Class (because Abe reads minds, apparently)

On Friday morning the girls decided to have a tea party. We all joined in and had a tea party breakfast. Abe had gotten up early to do cross fit with Lucas, so I supplemented the sweets and hot cocoa with avocado toast, eggs, and Hawaiian poke. I don’t know how many tea parties involve poke, but there’s a first for everything.

In the afternoon we tried to go ice skating, but we forgot to check the rink hours, and it turned out to be lesson time instead of free skate time. We headed home and the kids played outside instead. It was almost sixty degrees out!

Then Abe headed to get a hair cut and our fabulous piano tuner came to tune the piano. I took the kids outside again while my mom watched Clarissa sit in the Mamaroo inside.

In the evening we headed to Lehi to meet up with Karin, Jay, Jere and David for Thai food.

After we got the kids to bed, Abe and I watched some classes in my new Master Class package. Abe got me an all access pass to Master Class for Christmas, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. I was also shocked because I didn’t even mention that I wanted a Master Class pass, but I had longingly watched the Annie Liebowitz ad several times. Abe didn’t know any of that but managed to be inspired enough to get me what I secretly wanted for Christmas anyway! Isn’t that amazing? We loved the few classes we watched before I fell asleep.

Lily makes a friend! Also: The Lights on Temple Square

On Thursday I finally, finally got a hair cut to fix the bad one I got months ago. I absolutely LOVED Lindsay, my new hairdresser, who is also now my friend. The first thing Lindsay did when she saw me was light up and say, “I’m so excited! I love cutting ethnic hair!” I about fell over. In thirty-four years, no one has ever said that to me. Usually at best they tell me I have really thick hair and then admonish me to schedule more time to cut it if I come back.

Anyway, Lindsay and I immediately clicked. I felt so open with her, and she ended up telling me about her struggles with addiction and how she got clean a couple years ago. We talked about lots of other things too, including everything from secret gold mines in the mountains to family to the second coming. When she was done with my hair, we gave each other big hugs. I love her and hope she never moves.

I rushed home to try to get Abe to go to her, but he didn’t have time. He was busy wheeling and dealing, trying to hit his quota. It looks like, against all odds, he will hit!! But it’s taking years off of his life stretching to make it there.

Then I went to my physical therapy and had another great interaction with my doctor’s assistant. She was so nice.

Lydia and my mom had a Nana-Lydia date while I was in therapy and Abe took the other kids around town on errands.

At 6:30 Abe picked me up and we headed into Salt Lake to go to Trader Joe’s and then see the lights with Tom.

Greenish day

On Wednesday we just stayed home all day. I literally did not step outside all day, and by the end of the day I started feeling like I was caught in a Maurice Lautrec painting; around 8pm the whole house appeared to take on a greenish cast. Since I am not, as Lautrec was, addicted to absinthe (absinthe can make you see the world as slightly more green), I suspected I was starting to feel depressed. Being stuck on the couch nursing in poor lighting can make me feel that way. I addressed the problem by going straight to bed.

Before then it wasn’t such a bad day. I had a lovely time with Mary during a Mary Mommy date. We made cookies together. I am reading The Shack, and the abduction of the little girl struck horror in my heart. I resolved to spend a lot more nurturing time with my kids because you never know what lies ahead. So I tried to put a lot of love into our activity, and at the end Mary said it was the best time ever.

Abe got some good news from work, and so he has a little hope for his quota. He took a little break between work calls to play with Clarissa. She adores Abe and gives him her best smiles.

Darais family Christmas

Tuesday morning brought this beautiful sight. Abe and I had finished Insanity, and Abe studied his scriptures with a sweet little cuddle buddy.

The girls had fun playing bunny and puppy all morning.

In the afternoon we headed to Sandy for the Darais family Christmas party. The Daraises are uniformly gorgeous people, inside and out. We were asked to bring dessert, and I informed Abe in the car that it didn’t matter what we brought because I’ve been watching the Darais dessert table for years and it seems to me that no one ever touches it. Daraises are generally a very health conscious crowd. But we went to Dairy Queen and picked up an ice cream cake and…lo and behold, for the first time in my memory, people seemed to–sort of–eat dessert this year!

During the family program I watched Ammon chase Spencer Toone, his cousin once removed. I also had to keep Ammon from running off the gym stage. He would get behind the curtain and then charge forward with no idea where he was going. Without me in front he would have plummeted off the stage multiple times. It was crazy. Mary had fun playing with Sadie, another cousin once removed–and only a month younger than Mary! They were really cute together.

After we survived the chasing and gym stage stunts, we exchanged gifts with Tom and Suzanne. They gave the girls the cutest stuffed animals. Ammon really liked his toy too, and while he played with it I could relax for the first time all evening. When he stopped playing I took him straight to the car and strapped him down in his seat. He has me beat.

Merry Christmas!

On Christmas morning the kids gave us the most welcome present of sleeping in. We didn’t get started on the morning until around 8:30, and the kids didn’t start opening presents until 9am.

I was a little apprehensive because I scaled back a little this year on presents; we are short on money and we don’t have space in the house for more stuff. All of the kids were so wonderful and didn’t appear to notice that there were slightly fewer presents. They admired each present they got and warmed our hearts with their appreciation.

Lydia made this amazing calendar for Abe and me. It has cute pictures of her dressed up in props for each month of the year. Her teacher is amazing!
This sweet card was from Lydia. “Dere Mom and Dad I Love you. I am sree (sorry) if some times I am mene (mean) to you. I hop (hope) Santa brings you a lot presents this year.”
I love Lydia’s drawings.
This present from Mary warmed my heart so much. “I love my family because my mom does piano with me. Mary Darais”
Mary opening her gift from Lydia.
Mary was thrilled with Lydia’s pictures for her.

Honestly, I could probably have just gotten Mary one coloring book and she would have been happy. She had to be reminded to open her other presents because she liked coloring in her new book so much, and later when she headed into the snow, she declared that snow was the only thing she really wanted for Christmas–and she got it!

Lydia rolled this snowball all by herself and pushed it to the fort by herself. We were amazed.

Mary is happy to be sitting in the only thing she really wanted for Christmas: Snow!
Ammon LOVED the snow and did not want to come back inside when it was time for lunch. He cried when we forced him inside again.
The kids begged Nick to play with them, and Nick kindly obliged.

Nick joined us for lunch. We had soufflé, citrus salad, panetone, spiced nuts, wassail and homemade hot cocoa.

Then Abe, Clarissa, and I napped during Ammon’s quiet time. The girls played nicely together while we napped, and then I got up and cooked The Feast of the Seven Fishes. Originally I thought I hadn’t succeeded and only cooked six fishes, but I tallied it after the fact and realized that indeed, we made it to seven! Here’s how:

Cioppino: Mussels, clams, halibut, and shrimp

Spaghetti with anchovy sauce: Anchovies

Arugula, blood orange, and scallop salad: Scallops

Slow roasted salmon with lemon and thyme: Salmon.

See? Seven!


This is me during half of Christmas dinner. Clarissa wanted to eat, too. 🙂

After dinner we exchanged gifts and ate Karin’s dessert, a berry cake and berry turnovers.

David with Walter, David and Olivia’s new French bulldog puppy. He was the star of the show.
Walter wanted so badly to stay awake for the excitement, but he kept falling asleep in spite of himself.

This was truly a delightful Christmas. Surprisingly, it didn’t feel too crazy even with all of the cooking and celebrating. I just loved the whole day.

Christmas Eve

On Christmas Eve we only had one hour of church. Clarissa napped through it, so I stayed home with her. Apparently church was beautiful, with lots of gorgeous musical numbers and hymns.

I prepped lunch so we could eat when everyone came home. We had quiche, leftover banana bread and a citrus salad.

After lunch we watched The Nativity, the New Line Cinema production. I adore this movie, even though the girls think it’s scary. I just think the movie does a wonderful job grounding the nativity story in earthy realism, to say nothing of the story itself.

The nativity story is so fresh, so prismatic. It is so full of irony, tenderness, joy, and deep sorrow. I can turn it in my mind over and over, every year, and learn many new things each time. This year I was reminded that finding favor in the eyes of God has literally nothing to do with earthly appearances or mortal trials.

I belong to a religious culture that sometimes confuses earthly prosperity with heavenly favor. The nativity story is a sweet rebuke to that misunderstanding. Think of Mary giving birth to the Son of God and laying him in a manger. Think about the shame Mary endured to submit to God’s will, and the faith Joseph had to share in it. Think of the slaughter of the innocents. One thing that strikes horror in my soul is the thought of all the sorrow innocent children have to endure on this earth. And yet, the slaughter of children is a part of this story, and so we know God is yet over all.

This story is a treasure, a facet of that pearl of great price spoken of in the New Testament. This is the source of my wonderment this holiday season.

After lunch we napped and then headed to the Miners for their Christmas Eve dinner and program.

Ammon trying to bat down the piñata, filled with homemade caramels.

Making and placing luminaries in the Miners’ yard.

Lydia played Silent Night  in the program PERFECTLY. That was one of the best gifts of the season, in my book.

After the Miners, we headed home. The kids fell asleep in the car so Abe wrote their Christmas letter to Santa himself. He then played Santa and turned the letter over to write the reply. 🙂

After we cleaned and put out the presents, Abe and I turned out the lights and admired the peaceful Christmas tree scene.

Christmas Eve’s Eve with our dear friends

On Saturday we spent the day with Jon, Shirley, Helena, Anthony, Malika, Emile, and Asfalta. It was the absolute best way we have ever spent Christmas Eve’s Eve. Instead of running around succumbing to the busy-ness of the season, we rejoiced in the company of these beloved friends and their sweet children. It was one of the highlights of my whole holiday. I just wish we all lived closer because I admire and love these two families so much.

First we met up at the Museum of Natural Curiosity, and then we headed to Slab Pizza for lunch. After lunch we went to Harmon’s for gelato and had the entire upstairs almost to ourselves. It was such a delightful time.

Jon and Clarissa at the museum. Jon, Anthony, and Abe guarded the exit to this exhibit so Ammon could not escape.

These two became fast best friends. Later they held hands! We didn’t get a picture of that, probably because we were so busy cooing.

Gorgeous Asfalta.

After we came home and put the kids to bed, Abe, my mom and I stayed up late wrapping presents. We felt it was worth it at the end, even though staying up late is so painful now that we are on an earlier schedule.


hard Friday

On Friday I baked five loaves of banana bread and two more batches of chocolate chip cookies for neighbor gifts.

I also tried to make a sweet dinner for Abe because he has had a horrible ending to his quarter. He will probably miss his quota and the promotion he was hoping for. It has been very hard on him, and so I tried to have the house nice and dinner made. To be honest, my mom ended up cleaning more than I did because it was a really hard day at home. Clarissa needed me a lot and so did Ammon. I was in a really bad mood by the time Abe came home, which was the exact opposite of what I had been hoping for. He was still glad to be starting Christmas break, but I don’t think in the end I helped much.

Lydia still lit the world today cuddling Clarissa. Both Lydia and Mary love holding Clarissa, and I will catch them entertaining her or cooing at her often throughout the day. I don’t know why I don’t snap more pictures of Mary with Clarissa, but I got two today of Lydia with Clarissa.

Clarissa appears worried to be the object of so much ardent affection.

Cookies complete! And Mary warms my heart.

On Thursday morning Abe and I got up at our usual 5am wake-up, but instead of working out we started assembling cookie tins for his co-worker friends. I baked the last batch of sugar cookies, and then we put everything together. I must say, I was SO proud of these cookies and how they turned out. It was crazy trying to bake hundreds of cookies while nursing Clarissa and keeping Ammon alive, but I suppose this is one instance of “where there’s a will, there’s a way.” It’s not like I crossed the plains or gave birth in the snow, but hey. This feels like an accomplishment during this crazy time of life.

Some of the final baked products.

Speculatas with a cookie stamp. I made and burned several batches, but enough turned out to include in the final tins.
Zimmsterne. I had to make THREE batches because these trip me up every season once or twice. Third time’s the charm.
Anise flavored springerle, molded with my grandma’s springerle rolling pin.

The final tins, all ready to get their lids and be given away to work friends!
The final boxes had America’s Test Kitchen chocolate chip cookies, Dorie Greenspan’s “Best Ever Brownies”, Martha Stewart sugar cookies, Martha Stewart Zimmsterne, Martha Stewart Jam-filled cream cheese cookies,Martha Stewart’s stamped speculatas, and Joy of Cooking springerle.

After Abe rushed off to work, I rushed to get Mary and Clarissa ready to drive to Saratoga Springs for Mary’s eye appointment. Mary’s eye has been crossing more, and I wanted to get her in to the doctor in case she needed ANOTHER surgery. I figured for insurance purposes it would be great if we could get it scheduled before the end of the year.

Thankfully, she doesn’t need surgery. Apparently the anesthesia from her hernia surgery throws everything off and might have made her eyes seem more crossed than usual.

I should also report that Mary really lit my world at her appointment. She was so polite, sweet, and helpful. When it came time to go to our room, I was carrying Clarissa, several bags, and had a hard time handling everything. Without being asked, Mary picked up the car seat (which is almost as big as she is), and heaved it all the way from the lobby to our room. My heart overflowed while watching her struggling with each step to the back room. She was so determined to help, even though the task was clearly difficult for her. I LOVE this little girl.

After she triumphantly placed the car seat down in our room.

In the evening I had my second physical therapy appointment. I am starting to feel a difference and wish I had gone to physical therapy while I was pregnant. Oh, hindsight. You are so good at filling me with regrets.