Monday, December 29, 2008

Resolve to be Resolute =)


This time of year we tend to take a hard look at ourselves. A new year is on the horizon---what can we do to make it a better year than the one we just survived? ;) We look for ways to improve, perfect, and polish. That said, here's my take on things.

I suspect that we're a bit too hard on ourselves at the beginning of each new year. We ponder what we can to do be better people, not realizing how wonderful we already are. True, there's always room for improvement, but I think it's more important to compose an inventory of positive aspects, rather than a daunting list of items we can do to make ourselves the new, improved version. That way when we're having a bad day, or a series of bumps in the road during the new year, we can pull out our composition of "things I have accomplished" and bask in the wonderment of proficiency, instead of suffering pangs of discouragement for not meeting our goals for the new year.

If I were to create such a list it would include the following:


This past year I:

Survived the heartbreaking loss of a loved one.
Explored Zion's National Park for the first time ever.
Survived girls' camp despite a slight head injury. (Don't make fun---it could happen to anyone. Tents fall on people. Even tents with heavy metal poles, but I digress.)

Enjoyed several fun family reunions, including two that took place in Lava Hot Springs. Way cool!
Picked lots of huckleberries. (My family rejoiced over this item---this means awesome desserts for special occasions.)

Out-fished my husband. (I caught my limit and part of his. This is a secret.)
Camped . . . a lot.
Became a professional blogger. =) {again, don't make fun}
Grew one of the best gardens ever with my limited green thumb capabilities and our area's climate handicaps.

BECAME A NEW GRANDMOTHER!!!! Truly the highlight of my life thus far. And I'm sure my little granddaughter is the cutest baby ever. =D
Encouraged my missionary son to take better care of himself after a brief episode of dehydration. Silly him.
Talked to this same beloved missionary son three times this past year. Most excellent. I can't wait to see him this coming May.

Spent precious time with the rest of my kids. They are amazing people and I love hanging out with them.

Improved my average blood sugar level. (Quite the balancing act for a Type 1 diabetic with a crazy life.)

Exercised when life permitted.
Read the entire Book of Mormon, again. It was a challenge we gave the youth in our ward, so I figured I'd best be willing to tackle what we had asked of them.

Spent quality time with the young women that I serve. (I'm currently their fearless leader)
Made Christmas gifts for each member of our family this year. (Yep, I was crazy, but in a good way.)
Enjoyed this holiday season with our clan.

Wow! Now in my opinion, that's an awesome list of things accomplished. So during this next year, when life periodically takes a dive, I can reflect on what has transpired and know that come what may, I may actually love it. (Borrowing from Elder Wirthlin's last conference talk.)

So, as this new year sallies forth, don't come up with a list of resolutions that will cause discouragement. Pick one thing (if you want) that you would like to improve upon. Don't expect perfection. Do the best that you can and enjoy this new year. =)

Here's a poem I wrote last January that I think sums things up nicely:


Resolute

It’s January season

I survived the holidays
But now I have a reason

To feel some strong dismays.

It’s time for resolutions

I can’t even remember last year’s vows
I’m pondering solutions

That won’t lift local brows.


“It’s tradition!” is the war-cry

“Get yourself in gear!”

I feel like I’m on stand-by
About to get booted in the rear.

“I resolve to never worry!”

Oops, I already blew that goal
Making resolutions in a hurry
Took care of that loophole.

I promise to lose weight!

To only eat healthy food.

I won’t tempt an ugly fate

I’ll strive to be so good!

Does it count if I ate naughty treats

To celebrate New Year’s Day?

Or late-night snacks or sugary cheats

I met along the way?

What if I promise to never swear
Even if I’m in great pain—
Oh, yeah, I already kicked a chair,
It caused me to profane.


There’s always good old exercise

Working out to tone some flab,
Or getting enough rest to make me wise
And perhaps not such a crab.

Both of those take effort
Both take strength of will
Maybe I’m not such a sport
I think you know the drill.

Inspiration arrives at last
I resolve to dutifully prepare
Next year’s goal forecast

When I’m sure I just might care.

Cheri J. Crane
January 2008

HAPPY NEW YEAR OUT THERE!!! =)


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Friday, December 26, 2008

Winter Wonderland


"Oh the weather outside is frightful . . ." =) Literally. True, we live in a mountain valley and wintry storms are to be expected. That said, I will simply share that we have seen some impressive winter storms this past week. Good times. ;)

On Friday, December 19th, I headed to Utah. We had been watching the weather reports carefully and while a storm was supposed to descend that day, it was predicted that the worst of the storm would hit our area around noon. I figured I could leave that morning and reach Logan before the worst of it came through. Guess what---the weather people lied. It began around 7:00 a.m. Originally I had planned to leave around 10:00 a.m. But when I opened the garage door around 7:00 a.m. and saw the mini-blizzard already bouncing about, I decided to leave earlier.

There were a couple of important reasons why I braved the weather to drive to the Utah realm that day. For starters, I was playing Santa. I had picked up a major gift from my mother to my youngest sister a couple of weeks before, helping my mother in keeping this gift a secret. It was important to deliver this gift to their abode before Christmas. Also, this year I had this same sister's name in our sibling gift exchange, plus I needed to take down a couple of gifts from my family to my mother, so in my opinion, this trip was crucial.

I had also made arrangements to pick up my oldest son (Kris) on my way through Logan. We were planning on spending the weekend with my family since we were spending Christmas with my husband's family this year. We were also looking forward to the pre-Christmas celebration with my side of the family tree and were hoping we could make it down to participate.

I loaded everything into my car, making sure I had emergency items like kitty litter (useful if one buries one's car in a snowbank), a small shovel, extra warm clothing, etc. and left Bennington around 8:30 a.m. In this area, the snow plows are usually out and about by 8:00 a.m. so I thought that was my best shot at making it through the canyon. (Incidentally, my husband had to work over the weekend, so he wasn't able to go with me.)

The first thing I noticed as I pulled out onto the highway was how much snow this storm had already managed to plaster all over the roads. A layer of ice existed beneath the snow, so things were rather slick. But I slowed down accordingly and did just fine. Then I reached an area known in our valley as
Sharon. During stormy times, we always dread hitting this section before reaching Emigration Canyon. This is where some of the nastiest white-out adventures take place.

This area lived up to its reputation that day. It was one of those much-feared white-out moments. Everything was white. The sky, the road, the snow alongside the road, not to mention what was swirling through the air. If I could have turned around right then, I would've retreated back home. But there was no where to go but straight ahead. I aimed for what I assumed was the middle of the road (the only things visible at this point were the mile marker extensions located on each side of the road.) and prayed that nothing was coming the other way.

I knew if I could reach the canyon, it would be easier to see, since the mountains would help break up the wind. I eventually found this to be true. But it was still snowing in an impressive fashion, so the canyon wasn't a piece of cake, either. A snowplow was coming down out of the canyon as I headed up, but unfortunately, the road on my side was covered with 4-5 new inches of snow. So when conditions permitted, I kept one side of the car on the recently plowed and sanded side, and the other in the snow that had fallen since the plow had come through that direction. I shifted down into the lower gears and got through the canyon just fine.

Normally I can drive from my home to Preston, Idaho in about an hour when conditions are good. It took me closer to two hours that day. But I made it, and called my husband to let him know that I had made it safely through the canyon. In Preston, it wasn't snowing or blowing. I grew excited thinking the worst of the storm was behind me. Au contraire.

About the time I reached an area known as Lewiston, Utah (located just below Preston) I learned the error of my ways. We were back to blizzard mode. It was so bad, everyone silly enough to be out on the roads at that time traveled at a snail's pace. Except for one Utie driver. A small black sports car sped on past us all about the time we reached the town of Richmond. Evidently, he\she was in a hurry. Can I just state that people who drive in this fashion under such conditions aren't usually the sharpest knives in the drawer? ;) I fully expected to see that same car off in the barrow pit alongside the road. I never did see that car again, but there were others who slid off as we traveled.

I reached Logan around noon, still making fairly good time all things considered. Now my problem was that my son didn't get off work that day until 2:00 p.m. So I needed to kill some time in a fairly safe, warm place, since it was still storming like crazy. I weighed my options, and headed for a huge store loacted on the outskirts of town: Wal-mart. Not only did this store contain some last minute items I needed to purchase, but it also contained a SubWay sandwich deli located in one corner of the store.

I spent an enjoyable time shopping, eating, and people watching. Before I knew it, it was time to brave the elements again and head to my son's apartment. The good news was that by 1:45 p.m. the storm had blown itself out. So I re-zipped my coat, grabbed the plastic bags that held my recent purchases, and walked out to my snow-covered car. It took a few minutes to scrape things off, but by 2:00 p.m. I made it to my son's abode.

He didn't think that I had made it down. While he was at work, he had heard all kinds of reports about accidents, road closures, etc. so when he finally pulled into his driveway around 2:30 p.m. Kris was surprised and excited when he saw his mommy sitting in her car waiting for him in a patient fashion. =)

He hurriedly changed clothes and grabbed his small suitcase and we headed off before the weather fairies changed their minds again. We had both heard bad stories about Sardine Canyon, so we took the back way from Logan to Brigham City, driving on 200 North out of Logan. The road was slick and snow-covered in places, but when we turned off to head toward Brigham, the roads were surprisingly good. They hadn't been hit with the worst of the storm in that area. I drove on the best roads of the day from there until we reached our destination in Clinton, Utah.

We enjoyed ourselves thoroughly during the time we spent in Utah. Some of our relatives thought we were crazy to brave the storm that day, but in retrospect, I'm glad we did. We were never in any danger (aside from the white-out moment in Sharon) because we followed important rules for winter driving:

1. Drive speeds that are conducive to staying on the roads, as opposed to silly people from Utah who drive flashy black sports cars.

2. Keep something for traction in your trunk (I prefer kitty litter). Then if you do slide off the road, you can sprinkle this around the tires and get back on track.

3. Check your fluid levels before leaving home. I must confess I failed to do this. It wasn't until a massive semi-truck threw dirty icy snow all over my windshield as we headed to Brigham that I realized two things: a) the windshield wiper fluid level was pretty much non-existent in my car & b) the tiny spickets that spray this important fluid onto the windshield were frozen. Most uncool. We had to keep pulling into gas stations to clean my windshield.

4. Pray . . . a lot.


5. Take your time and remain calm. Panicking causes driving boo-boos.

6. Be considerate of other drivers who are enduring the same road conditions.




On the way home Sunday afternoon, the roads were much easier to travel. This was good. =) I even stopped at a couple of turnouts through the canyon to take some pictures of the resulting winter wonderland. =) I'm including them in this blog for your enjoyment.




Ah, yes, it is indeed winter. Travel accordingly, and take along your sense of humor. It just might help you keep your sanity as you hit those stormy surprises along the way. ;)


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Monday, December 22, 2008

The Best Gift


Several years ago our bishop at the time, gave each family in our ward a small, beautiful white stocking. He explained that he would like us to think about a special gift that we could give to the Savior during the coming year. It could be items like having more faith, being more patient or kind with those around us, etc.---gifts that would indicate we're striving to be more Christ-like.

Each year since that time, our family has kept this tradition. On Christmas Eve, we bring out the white stocking and empty its contents on the table, giving each family member the piece of paper that bears their name. Then we spend a few moments in silence, pondering the past year. We take a mental inventory, considering if we succeeded in giving this gift to the Savior.

Fresh slips of paper are then passed around. We spend another few minutes deciding on what our Christmas gift to the Savior will be during the next year. Writing it down, we then fold our pieces of paper, write our names on the outside, and set it inside the white stocking. The white stocking is then placed inside of my china cabinet where it can be seen all year. It is a reminder of what we have offered to our beloved Elder Brother.

I love this tradition. It helps me keep a perspective of what is really important. What we are offering are gifts of the heart, items that can never be purchased, wrapped, and placed under the tree. These are gifts of compassion and faith, presented with love to Someone we can never fully repay for the sacred gifts He has freely given to us all. I don't think any of us can quite comprehend what He has made possible. His gift of love paves the way for us to inherit eternal life if we so choose. His sacrifice atones for our mistakes if we will humbly submit to His will. The price we pay is so small in comparison to what He endured on our behalf. It is my hope that this Christmas season as we bustle around with last minute preparations for the days ahead, we will spend some time thinking about the reason for the season. That we will remember the humble way our Savior entered this mortal realm---a reminder that it is truly the simply things in life that matter most.

Here is a poem I wrote a few years ago that hopefully captures what I'm trying to say in today's blog:

Ode to Christmas ‘95

‘Twas the month of December and all through the house,

I continuously cleaned up after my sons and my spouse--
In preparation for celebrations ahead,

Various activities I was beginning to dread.


First on my list, decorate the tree,

After assembling it from a box filled with debris.
Finally the tree was in its place, limbs attached with loving care,
We pushed it into a corner to hide a hole that looked quite bare.

Then my husband cringed—it was time to string the lights,

This is an adventure that never quite delights.
A tangled mess from last year; we stared with great dismay
Wishing we could throw the jumbled strands away.


Instead we persevered, though it was tempting just to pout

The tangles at last were gone, but half the bulbs were all burned out.
The mystery of the moment then became
Quite an entertaining little game.


Finding the bulb that affected the line
Caused contention and the occasional whine.
Finally the lights were hung and lit,

I found myself wishing that was it.


But no, the bliss of things to come
Kept me on a steady run.
Shopping, wrapping, hiding gifts,
Wishing I could be more swift.

As cards arrived and guilt nudged,
Knowing my own stack hadn’t budged.
Quickly to the computer I flew
Hoping to type a clever thing or two.

Copies were made, and cards were stuffed—

I wondered if my ancestors had had it this tough.
Cards were mailed, allowing the true fun to begin,

Time for candy-making skills to kick in.


I bake and sweat and bake some more,

Another wondrous Christmas chore.
Relatives come to spend the week
As the house is trashed, I stifle a shriek.

All that scrubbing—all for naught,
Everywhere I look the place is shot!

Christmas Eve comes—it’s here at last,

And we quietly reflect on what has passed.


Tired but happy, we realize,
Christmas isn’t about the gifts we buy.

Nor the cooking or cleaning or even the lights,

Nor caroling about the town on frosty cold nights.

Christmas proclaims the birth of the One,
We call our Savior—God’s Chosen Son.

Who gave us a gift we can never repay,
The chance to return to our Father someday.

And so as we hurry with errands galore,

Let’s try to remember Christmas means so much more.
We must reach out to others with love in our hearts,
For that is how the greatest of all gifts starts.

Cheri J. Crane 1995

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!!! =)




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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas Carol Contest


Since we seem to be having fun with Christmas songs this week, a fine tradition in my opinion, here’s a different slant. I’m going to share 20 twisted Christmas titles. See how many you can figure out. And to make it even more fun, I’m going to offer an autographed copy of my book, “Moment of Truth,” to the person who can guess the most titles. This particular blog will run in the LDS Neighborhood on Monday, so I’ll keep this contest open until until December 25th. Happy sleuthing. ;)

1. The apartment of 2 psychiatrists.

2. Sir Lancelot with laryngitis.


3. ABCDEFGHIJKMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ


4. Boulder of the tinkling metal spheres.


5. Cup-shaped instruments fashioned of a whitish metallic element.


6. Have hither-ward the entire assembly of those who are loyal in their belief.


7. The lad is a diminutive percussionist.

8. 288 Yuletide hours.

9. The smog-less bewitching hour arrived.

10. Do you perceive the same longitudinal pressure which stimulates my auditory sense organs?

11. Leave and do an elevated broadcast.

12. Frozen precipitation commence.

13. Oh, member of the round table with missing areas.


14. Tranquility upon the terrestrial sphere.

15. Behold! I envisioned a trio of nautical vessels.


16. Stepping on the pad cover.

17. Exuberation to this orb.

18. Monarchical triad.


19. Parent was observed osculating a red-coated unshaven teamster.


20. May the Deity bestow an absence of fatigue to mild male humans.


Good luck and let the guessing begin. ;) Send your answers to this e-mail address: righter03@yahoo.com





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Monday, December 15, 2008

Fun With Christmas Music


Having been egged on by a fellow blogger (Cindy Beck) last week, I decided to go for it and share the lyrics I tampered with a few years ago to a holiday classic, "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer." It was a tribute to our bishop at the time. I'll change the name of his wife to protect the guilty. ;) {Additional note: some of the lyrics won't rhyme if I change her name. Sorry about that. I'll have to leave it as is.}

Here it is, as it was rendered during a ward Christmas party several years ago. Hopefully it will inspire a smile or two out there as we all continue to get ready for the holiday season ahead:

Bishop Got Run Over By A Reindeer

Chorus: Bishop got run over by a reindeer
Comin' home from the church house Christmas Eve
You may say there's no such thing as Santa
But as for we ward members, we believe.

1st verse: There had been a priesthood meetin'
Uncle Jack was sharin' wit
Suddenly there was a phone call
Bishop hastened to answer it.
Seems there was a tiny crisis
His wife, Susie, was stressfully sick,
She'd caught her hand deep in the chimney

Tryin' to clean it for St. Nick.

2nd verse: Bishop laughed till he was cryin'
At his wife who was forlorn
There were ashes on her features
And some say her dress was torn.
The neighbors thought it was exciting,
As they gathered 'round to see
The situation on the roof-top
Belonging to McBishop and Susie.

3rd verse: Bishop pulled himself together
Grabbed a ladder and commenced
To save his bride from her dilemma
Before she grew indignant and incensed.
He tugged---he pulled---he hollered
But it was to no avail

He tried hard not to snicker
As his wife began to wail.

4th verse: It got late and we were worried
We began to fret and doubt
So we called the fire station
To come pull poor Susie out.
They brought their trucks and ladders
We were all so darned impressed
But the rescue was a failure
And poor Susie remained stressed.


5th verse: Bishop had a revelation,
He asked us all to pray
For a tiny Christmas miracle

Hoping this would save the day.
In the air there was a tinkling
The sound of bells from overhead

It was Santa and his reindeer,
Flyin' by in his nice sled.

6th verse: Santa blinked at the commotion

He flew down for a closer peek
And poor Rudolph in his excitement
Caught poor Bishop in the beak.
Santa snapped his magic fingers,
Susie grinned, her hand was free,
She blew a kiss to Santa
As bishop flew into a tree.

7th verse: This tale has a happy ending
The firemen proved their worth
They rescued Bishop from the pine tree
Despite the snickerings and mirth.

Cheri J. Crane

1992

Remember, laughter is the best form of exercise. Keep your sense of humor intact as you bustle around this week. Not only is it good for you, for it will help you keep your fetchies about you---a distant grandmother's way of saying the little grey cells are in good working order.



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Friday, December 12, 2008

Chaotic Candy Capers


For years one of my Christmas traditions has been to make lots of homemade candy. It is something that my family and neighbors have come to expect from me. And I enjoy making candy. I usually make items like mint flavored bon bons, chocolate fudge, cream cheese mints, caramels, various chocolates, and pretzels dipped in white chocolate. I then give most of this candy away to neighbors, friends, ward members, the mailman, etc.

One year when I was swamped directing\writing a Christmas musical for the community, I decided to cheat and pass around bottles of pop instead. I bought it when it was on sale and came up with a cute little card to stick on each bottle that said something about "Popping in to wish you a Merry Christmas!" I even attached a nice bow to each pop bottle that was delivered. The repercussions were ugly. "But you always make candy," I was told repeatedly, as sad puppy dog eyes conveyed disappointment.

So I've tried to stick to this tradition, since most people seem to enjoy my candy creations. They might not feel that way this year, however. In all honesty, I was forewarned. My mother told me that when one begins to age, one loses the ability to cook masterpieces. "You end up leaving out important ingredients, or you add in something you shouldn't," she confided one day. She went on to tell me that her mother, my grandmother, and one of the best cooks I've ever known, had shared this secret in her later years. Since that time, my mother has found it to be sage advice.

Still, I've persevered, and for the most part, I've been able to cook in a confident manner. There have been a few glitches here and there, mostly when I'm trying to impress people, but I digress. Incidentally, I've decided that's just Murphy's Law. Your best recipes go to crap whenever you try to make them for someone else, or when you've been asked to create something for a dinner party, etc.

This year I decided to try my hand at a new candy recipe, one that involved yummy ingredients like white chocolate, Craisins (I use the orange flavored variety), almond slivers, Rice Krispies, and your choice of things like M & M's, chocolate chips, etc. When I purchased the needed ingredients for this adventure, I found to my delight, colorful white chocolate chips that were swirled with red and green. I envisioned making up this white almond bark candy with lovely red and green swirls running through it. Certain I was on the verge of a candy masterpiece, I began excitedly mixing things together upon my return home.

First, I melted the white chocolate in what I thought was a microwave-safe glass bowl. (Eventually, you'll see the error of that line of thinking.) It melted without a hitch. Then I added the Craisins, the almond slivers, the Rice Krispies, and finally, the beautiful red and green swirled candy. And at first, it looked wonderful as I stirred. I was listening to Christmas music at the time, and it seemed like a perfect holiday moment. Then things went very wrong.

Years ago, in grade school, if I had been asked what happens when you mix the colors red and green together, I could have answered without a hitch. I seem to have forgotten that knowledge in my old age. To my horror, the mixture turned an interesting shade of brownish grey with a green and red streak here and there. Hoping it would look better after it set, I didn't bother trying to fix it with food color. Instead, I hurriedly pulled out the cookie sheet I had shoved inside the freezer compartment of my fridge earlier, and poured the candy mixture into it. I spread it out evenly, crossed my fingers, and stuck it inside the fridge to hasten the setting up process.

Several minutes passed, but it didn't help my poor batch of candy. When I pulled it out later to break it into pieces, it still resembled something made out of Play-Doh, and not the attractive colors, either.


Deciding all was not lost, I hurried back to town to buy more colored chocolate chips. I was making this candy for a special YW party that we were embarking upon that evening. I knew our YW would not be attacted to grey\brown candy pieces. But thinking I could remedy the situation, I found and purchased more red and green white chocolate chips, then I sped homeward to start a new batch.

The first thing I did was to separate the green and white chocolate chips from the red and white chocolate chips, setting them into small bowls for safe-keeping. I had already decided the girls would probably like red swirls in this white candy, so I set the red and white chips next to the other ingredients I would be using to make this batch.

I carefully cut up another package of white almond bark into my trusty glass bowl. Since the first batch had melted inside my microwave without any problem, I didn't even give it a second thought as I set the second batch inside and set the timer for two minutes. I then called my mother to tell her about the funny first batch of candy. We had visited for a few seconds when a loud bang caused us both to drop the phone and duck for cover.

My eyes widened as I saw the mess inside of my microwave. The glass bowl had exploded into several pieces. I carefully opened the microwave and viewed the damage. Then I picked up my phone and told my mother what had happened. She laughed and gave me one of those, "I told you so," lectures, before I began cleaning this huge mess.

Envision if you will, a large glass, orange-colored bowl, one I've had since Kennon and I were first married, (it was a gift at our reception), shattered beyond recognition, with goopy white chocolate covering everything. And it was not only all over the pieces of my beloved bowl, but all over the microwave, too. Good times. ;) I was puzzled. I've used this bowl for years, and I've never had any problems with it until this spontaneous combustion moment.

Needless to say, it took me a loooonnngg time to clean up the resulting mess. Then I started over, again. Good thing I had purchased 3 packages of that white almond bark stuff. I selected a newer bowl and cut up the almond bark and placed it carefully inside. Then I offered a quick silent prayer for success, and bravely tried the freshly scrubbed microwave again.

This time, all went well and the white chocolate melted just fine. I mixed in the other ingredients, saving the red and white chocolate chips for last. And when I mixed them in, it was glorious . . . at first. Then as the chips melted, I relearned yet another important color scheme lesson. White mixed with red equals pink. And this wasn't an ordinary pink. It looked like Pepto-Bismol gone awry.


Silently grieving for this final batch of candy, I set inside of the chilled cookie sheet, knowing there wasn't a thing I could do to remedy the situation. By then, it was too late to try for another batch, and I was out of white almond bark.

Later, when I broke it into pieces and set it on a plate, my husband arrived to sample my creations. He didn't seem to mind the bright pink color and loved how it tasted. He even ate some of the grey-brown variety and proclaimed it delicious. I sampled both myself and realized it really did taste wonderful. It just looked bad. Very bad. Embarrassingly bad. I must've looked crestfallen. My husband said something about using this candy as an object lesson.

"Teach the girls that you can't judge a book by it's cover, or candy by it's color," he comforted. Having worked with the YW for lo these many years, I knew that wouldn't fly, but I didn't have much choice. We were putting up the ward Christmas tree that night, and then scurrying off to the YW's room to share favorite Christmas stories and Christmas treats. We started this tradition last year and the girls had asked to do it again this year. So I was stuck.

There was one bright side; a few days before I had made up a batch of caramels I was planning on using for the plates my husband and I will take around to our hometeaching (yep, I'm his partner) and visiting teaching (yep, I'm still a visiting teacher, too) families. The caramels had turned out great, aside from the fact that they were a little soft. I hadn't cooked them quite long enough, silly me. But if you kept them inside the fridge, they didn't stick to the wax paper. I figured I could keep them stored inside the fridge at the church, and just bring them out when we were ready to share stories and treats.

Long story short, the caramels were a hit. So much so, I returned home with only 5-6 caramels out of about 30 pieces. I brought home nearly every one of the almond bark candies. Sigh . . . Not one girl went near that candy, even when I explained what had happened. My advisor picked up a piece and nibbled on it, to show her support. She even smiled and told me how delicious they were. I think she was pleasantly surprised. =) At least, that's what I told myself later in an attempt to cheer myself up.

No worries, I will continue to make Christmas candy. But I will be watching myself carefully to avoid cooking boo-boos. The next batch of caramels will be cooked the correct amount of time. I will watch the fudge like a hawk until its completion. And I may even attempt another white almond bark creation, only this time, I'm using M & M's. They're supposed to melt in your mouth, not in your melted white chocolate, or so I'm told. ;) I'll let you know how that turns out.

And to show true Christmas Spirit, I'm now going to share one of my favorite candy recipes (not the almond bark thing). Here is my recipe for fudge that always turns out. Knock on wood . . . and maybe you'd better throw some salt over your shoulder. ;) Enjoy!

Quick Chocolate Fudge

One 12 oz. package semi-sweet chocolate chips------1 Cup sweetened condensed milk
2 Tbsp. Butter--------------------------------1 Cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Melt the chocolate chips in a double-boiler on medium heat. Mix in butter and melt together. Add condensed milk and stir until glossy. Remove from heat and add chopped walnuts if desired. Pour into a lightly greased (I use cooking spray for this) 8x8 sqare pan and place inside the refrigerator until firm. Cut into serving pieces and serve either chilled or at room temperature.

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Monday, December 8, 2008

It's the Little Things

There is a tendency in our culture to be in a hurry. To be so focused on our own concerns and worries that sometimes we neglect those around us. I’m as guilty as anyone else with regard to this unfortunate state of mind, but I am learning the importance of reaching out in small ways to help others whenever I can.

I put this to the test the other day. I had driven down to a Utah village to run several errands before the wintry storms make traveling through the canyons entertaining. My list of things to accomplish was long. There were numerous items to be found and purchased in my quest to be ready for the upcoming holidays. Since my oldest son lives in this fair city, he went with me to assist on my big day of shopping.

We ventured to a fabric store where I was hoping to find satin binding for a couple of blankets I’m making for a certain new granddaughter. In our haste to enter the store, I realized I had left a card in the car that contained the measurements needed. Calling myself not nice names, I exited the store to find that card. It didn’t take long to locate this item and upon my return to the store, I noticed an older woman was approaching behind me. She was limping, walking with the aid of a cane. I paused, sensing she might need some assistance. Two or three people gave me disgruntled looks, walked around me, and hurried into the store. I continued to wait, then held the door open for this good woman. She smiled and thanked me profusely, giving me a much-needed warm fuzzy. This small act of service didn’t take much time. But as I considered how long it would have taken her to manage things on her own, I was struck by how much a simple thing on my part had helped.

As the day progressed, there were other opportunities to render aid. Some came in surprising forms. We entered a one-stop shopping type of store where I found numerous items that were on my list of things to buy. Included were several baking ingredients I will be using in the days ahead as I make holiday candy and cookies. When it came time to check out, the lines at the front of the store were long. But this gave me a chance to spend some time visiting with my son as we waited. We had a good visit, and then it was our turn to empty our cart onto the checkout counter.

I noticed that the clerk was an older woman who looked extremely tired. Figuring it had been a long day for her, I then observed her nametag. She possessed the same name as my mother. Since this is an unusual name (Genevieve) I commented on how pretty it was. She smiled and thanked me, stressing that it was unusual. I shared that my mother had been given this same name. We visited about the challenges of learning to spell such a name in the first grade as this good woman continued to ring up the items I was purchasing that day. Her countenance changed. And when a silly bottle of molasses leaked on her scanner (son # 2 dearly loves homemade ginger-chip cookies) she didn’t complain. She hurriedly cleaned things up and told me she would buzz for someone to replace that item. Knowing that other people were impatiently waiting in line behind me, I declined her offer, but thanked her for her willingness to go the extra mile on this. She was still beaming when we left the store.

My son commented on how our brief conversation had seemed to help this woman. It hadn’t taken much effort on my part, and very little time to make that difference. We talked about how important it is to be kind and considerate, realizing that everyone is struggling in today’s troubled world.

A few minutes later as we drove on to our next stop, my son stopped the car and graciously allowed someone who was trying to pull out from a nearby parking lot a chance to enter traffic. This person waved and smiled their gratitude at my son’s thoughtfulness. Again, it hadn’t taken long to render a small act of service that may have altered someone’s mood for the better. (We ignored the honking behind us.)

I suspect these are the things that will really matter someday. I seriously doubt I will be lauded for my shopping skills while in mortal mode, nor the holiday baking. What will be called into account will the times I neglected to help someone when the opportunity presented itself. We’re all busy, we’re all stressed. It seems to be a current theme of our day. But we can make a huge difference in the lives of others if we so choose. Small acts of selfless service are truly the best way we can emulate the example set by our elder Brother. In my opinion, this is the best way to honor His upcoming birthday. So my challenge is this: as we all hustle and bustle to get ready for the days ahead, take a look around. It doesn’t cost a cent to be gracious, to smile, to be patient, or to simply hold a door open for someone who needs it. These little acts of service won’t hinder us in our daily quests, but they just might make all the difference in the world to people who need a small boost.




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Friday, December 5, 2008

What Christmas Means to Me


With Christmas right around the corner, I've been pondering what this particular holiday means to me. I love all of the holidays, but Christmas will always hold a special place in my heart. This is a magical season when we commemorate the birth of our Savior. The beautiful passages from Luke fill our hearts with sacred imagery. Touching lyrics and songs capture what this holiday affirms. Hearts soften as we remember loved ones, and help those who may be in need.

Early this morning, I found myself bombarded with rhyming words. Don't make fun. This happens to me on occasion. ;) I blame my grandmother Jackson who taught me to write poetry at a fairly young age. Since then, I've utilized this gift whenever the whim surfaces. Hopefully today's attempt conveys what I'm trying to say:

Charity for others
Helping those in need
Remembering we're sisters\brothers
Intervention is our creed
S
acred songs inspire

Timely for this day
May our hearts' desire
Always reflect our
Savior's way.


And here is a blast from the past, lyrics from a song I wrote a few years ago for a community Christmas musical production. I think it pretty well sums things up.

What Christmas Means to Me


1st: Christmas is sharing
Christmas is caring
Smiling at all that you see
Doing for others and making hearts light

That is what Christmas should be

Chorus: Christmas is often a feeling inside
A warm glow that touches your heart
A feeling I wish we could carry all year
Giving this world a fresh start.

2nd: Christmas is children
Their smiling faces
Eternal hope in their eyes
Snowflakes and wonder
As stockings are hung

A sleepless night watching the skies.

3rd: Christmas means loving
The people around you

Looking past faults to forgive

The best gift of Christmas
Is peace on this earth
A way we can all learn to live.

Cheri J. Crane


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Monday, December 1, 2008

Take Me to St. Louis, Louis . . .


Or Kennon, as the case may be. Incidentally, my father-in-law tried to teach me the infamous song about St. Louis years ago, but that is a story for another time. ;)

A few years ago, my husband was informed that he needed to go to St. Louis, Missouri for a session of training classes. Several fellow employees were given this same opportunity, and they were all told that they could bring their spouses along for the ride.

I was thrilled. I had never been to St. Louis and I was excited to explore this area. Arrangements were made, and we soon found ourselves on a flight bound for this nifty location. Since several of us were flying together from Idaho, when we arrived at the airport, we were loaded into a special bus that took us directly to the hotel where we were staying, the Hyatt, in downtown St. Louis.


I was so impressed with this hotel. Not only was it huge, but it was connected to a three story mall. This was great---during moments when I wasn't being entertained by my husband's company (I'll explain this in a moment) I could wander the mall and explore numerous shops. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. =D

My husband works for Monsanto, and since this company owns plants all over the United States, and around the world, there were people here for this training adventure\convention from all over the place. We met several of them at a special social held that first night at the hotel. Lots of good food, and plenty of excitement as we contemplated this tremendous opportunity.

We were told during the social that first night that buses would be provided to take the spouses of the Monsanto employees around the town. Since I'm an avid tourist, I could hardly wait. Before retiring for the evening, I prepared my trusty camera bag, intent on taking several pictures. I loaded it with film (since my camera at that time was a 35 mm); glucose tablets (a diabetic's best friend to combat insulin reactions); and important items like money, my debit card, etc.

The next morning, my husband and I arose early and ate a bite of breakfast. We merely wandered down to a handy eatery located inside the hotel\mall and enjoyed delicious breakfast croissants. Then we walked down to where the other spouses were gathering for the ride around town. This is when I learned that we were being taken to a local mall. I know my jaw hit the floor.

"But . . . I wanted to doing some sightseeing," I silently complained. Sighing, I decided to make the best of things and I sat on the bus with a friend of mine whose husband also works for Monsanto. As Joan and I visited on the way to the mall, I found that she was as disappointed as I was.

"We can always travel to a mall, no matter where we are, but this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to see the sights of St. Louis, and we're stuck spending the day at the mall."

I agreed. We both sighed, resigned to our fate. Before we exited the bus, we were told to travel in groups of 4-6---the infamous buddy system. So Joan and I joined up with a couple of ladies who live near the Monsanto plant in Soda Springs, Idaho. I didn't know them, but I quickly learned that they possessed a fun sense of humor and both of them were as disappointed about the mall scenario as we were.

An interesting thing was, all four of us were approximately the same height. This meant that none of us play basketball for a living, being relatively short. Possibly because of this, we appeared non-threatening, since a shy young woman from Thailand politely asked if she could hang out with us for the day. We quickly agreed and we were off to explore the mall.

This mall was like other malls I've been in. It contained lots of stores. =D As such, I didn't take many pictures of what we were seeing. The prices were relatively high in most of the stores, so we Idahoans finally headed for the food court for a bite of lunch and to commiserate about this sad excuse for seeing the sights of St. Louis.

Our Thailand friend seemed as disappointed in the high priced stores as we were. She asked if there were stores around that were better priced. It took us a few tries to figure out what she was asking since none of us speak the Thailand language and her English was often challenging to decipher. But we finally put it together and Joan nodded excitedly.

"I spotted a Target store not far from the mall. We could wander over there and be back by the time our bus leaves," she exclaimed.

I thought this was a great idea, but our fellow Idahoans bowed out. So it was just Joan and me and our new Thailand friend who left the mall for this adventure. Sure enough, as we exited the mall, I could see the tall sign that indicated a Target store was in the realm.

"Good prices?" our Thailand friend inquired.

"Good prices," Joan assured.

And we were off. We had no problem crossing the mall parking lot, nor the couple of streets past that. The challenge was crossing the freeway that lay between us and our desired destination. This is when we learned that our Thailand friend was wearing platform heels. Not good, since we had to sprint for our lives across these busy lanes of traffic. But we persevered and it didn't take us long to play frogger and cross the freeway.

Our Thailand friend, although not very thrilled over the "frogger adventure," did fall in love with the numerous bargains she found in the Target store. She bought clothes for herself, and several items for her family, souvenirs of her stay in St. Louis.

After quite some time had passed, we realized we needed to hurry back to the mall parking lot to catch our bus for the hotel. Once again, we had to run like crazy, darting around cars to cross the busy freeway. Joan and I had already decided we weren't going to share what we had done with our husbands, who would very likely lecture us a great deal about the unsafe measures we had taken to provide a good quality shopping experience for our Thailand friend. They found out anyway later on---our Thailand friend blabbed to her husband, who in turn shared the story of the two crazy Americans who nearly got his wife splatted on the freeway. ;) For the record, we were as safe as we could manage under the circumstances.

We reached the bus in plenty of time for the return trip to the hotel and figured all was well. Joan and I had time to freshen up before we met up with our husbands, and while we waited for them to appear, we explored the mall connected to our hotel. We watched, fascinated, as a talented young man spun fudge up in the air at a candy making shop. We found cool souvenirs for our offspring in some of the stores. All in all, we enjoyed ourselves immensely. Then we went to dinner with our husbands at one of the restaurants near the hotel.

Joan and I told our husbands how disappointed we were in the mall tour. Evidently, we weren't the only ones who complained. The next morning, we found that another option was being offered. Instead of taking us to yet another mall, we could go sightseeing if we so desired. Joan and I were thrilled. So were our buddies from Idaho who had spent time with us at the mall the day before. Our Thailand friend wandered over just in time to hear our prospective tour guide explain what we would see that day, if we elected to go with him instead of on yet another mall jaunt.

"I will take you ladies to see the famed botanical gardens, the St. Louis zoo, the home of the Budweiser Clydesdales, and several historical sites."

"What is Clydesdales please?" our Thailand friend inquired.

"Huge horses," our tour guide explained.

This is when our Thailand friend shared a horrified look with all of us. "You ride huge horses today? You crazy ladies get me killed."

And before we could explain we were only riding out to see these famous horses, she disappeared into the crowd of women who were intent on seeing yet another mall. So there were only four of us who opted for the official tour of St. Louis. We rode around in a small bus and had the time of our lives seeing places like the botanical gardens:


The St. Louis Zoo, where we saw all kinds of fun creatures, including a water-logged hippo:





The Clydesdales in question:


And several historical buildings:

We loved our tour and took numerous pictures to record this adventure. We later returned to the hotel, pleased with our day.


That night, Kennon and I walked down to the nearby Mississippi River and went for a ride on a riverboat. We saw the famed St. Louis Arch up close and personal, climbing all of those stairs to see inside the visitors' center located at the base on one side of the arch. If one wanted to, one could ride a roller-coaster around the arch, but we decided not to because one of us (me) possesses an extreme fear of heights. And my husband struggles with claustrophobia, so the cramped roller-coaster didn't appeal to him either. ;)


I fell in love with St. Louis. Most of the people I met were so gracious and laid-back. The city itself was clean and attractive, at least the parts of it that I saw. We did experience one scary moment while on a bus ride back to the zoo. Kennon had some free time on the last day we spent in St. Louis and that was the one spot he wanted to see. We arrived just fine, but we did run into some brief trouble on our way back to the hotel. Some young toughs on the bus were out to give us a bad time. I guess it was all too apparent that we weren't natives to St. Louis. But it all turned out okay. As we exited the bus, hurrying to the light-rail train that would take us back to our hotel, we saw a group of young people that looked familiar. It was a group of LDS missionaries who were traveling around that day to see the sights on their P-day. When we linked up with their group, the young toughs turned around and left us alone. We had found a safe zone, and I don't think it was by chance. It was another witness to me that we are watched over more than we fully understand while here in mortal mode.

That night, my husband and I and about eight other Monsanto men hit a temple session in the St. Louis temple. It was great, even if I was the only woman who went with them. =) Let's just say I was spoiled rotten the entire evening. They all fought over holding doors open for me, etc. as we left the temple and went to a fancy Italian restaurant for dinner.

All too soon our trip came to an end and we flew home, savoring the adventures we had experienced in St. Louis. It is still one of my favorite trips of all time, and a place I would love to see again. Perhaps one day we will. I know this, I won't be going on any mall tours if we do. =)


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Friday, November 28, 2008

Surviving Black Friday


Black Friday. Interesting concept. When I first heard the phrase, I associated it with things like black heartedness, for example. Black eye. The night was black. The black knight. Stuff like that. You can understand my confusion. And if you don’t, it’s not nice to make fun of people. ;)

Not long ago, my offspring pointed out that this is actually a day when the stores hope to boost their sales records into the black, instead of the red. Or in other words, they’re hoping to make a haul from bounteous shoppers in one fell swoop. This clarified things for me greatly.

Shopping big time the day after Thanksgiving is a unique tradition and part of our culture. I know of several women who plan for this day months in advance. They join with friends, neighbors, and family members to hit every major store they possibly can and partake of bargains galore. They study the ads faithfully, underlining or circling the desired sales items. Coupons are clipped and hoarded. Lists are composed and battle strategies planned.

This is a time of great contemplation with the Christmas season on the horizon.
Since a lot of these special deals are only available at the crack of dawn, it behooves one to go to bed early the night before. There are several women that I know who get as little as two hours sleep before this great event. I’m sure it must be the excitement of out-shopping their fellow kind that keeps them going. That and lots of chocolate.

Last year at this time my husband, oldest son and I found ourselves in Utah hanging out with my side of the family tree for Thanksgiving. Since our son had to work the next day, he headed home Thanksgiving night. My husband detests shopping (is it my imagination or do most men feel that way?) so he bowed out of the Black Friday shopping adventure that my mother, sister, and I were planning for the day after Thanksgiving. Instead, he planned to spend the day hanging out in car lots, motorcycle shops, etc.

The day dawned bright and cheery, as I recall. Perhaps it was the excitement of finding treasures galore. Regardless, we ate a quick bite of breakfast and we sallied forth to hit a few stores. A new elegant department store beckoned. We had looked over the ads and noted that it offered wonderful sales items. So we started with it. True, we didn’t hasten over at the crack of dawn like some people I could mention. We arrived somewhere between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. like civilized people.

To our astonishment, the store was filled to the brim with shoppers intent on finding bargains. And tremendous deals abounded. We found our share of them as well. There were a plethora of nifty sweaters that were half their normal price. Fun seasonal jewelry enticed. And since my mother was looking for a new microwave, we managed to find one of those on sale, too.
After we had filled our cart with the desired bounty, we tried to find where the line started that led to the checkout counters.

Imagine our dismay when we learned that the line of people that snaked around at the back of the store, and threaded through every possible aisle, was the line we were seeking. The way we had it figured, we were going to be standing in that line until supper time, and then it was doubtful that we would arrive at the front of the store before it closed.

We pondered our dilemma. Since my mother and I are both diabetics, and my mother’s health isn’t the greatest, we figured this was a bad plan. So we dutifully unpacked our cart, replacing the items in the correct locations. Then we exited the store, still marveling over the line of people that filled every nook and cranny.

Disappointed, we decided to try another store. This store wasn’t as fancy, but we discovered some interesting things. It offered riding carts, which is about the only way my mother can enjoy shopping. She has lupus and a form of rheumatoid arthritis, and her little body doesn’t like walking around in stores. So when we found her a riding cart in this second store, she was elated. It meant that we could take our time cruising the aisles, savoring the holiday atmosphere.


It is fun, watching people, looking at the Christmas displays, and finding cool gifts for a bargain price. We had a delightful time enjoying all of these things. And we found similar items in this second store that had caught our eye(s) in the first store. Most were for less money than what we had discovered in the fancy store. The best part was, when we were ready to leave, we didn’t have to wait long at all to be checked out. It was our suspicion that most of the Black Friday shoppers were frolicking in all of the high-priced, fancy stores . . . standing in line . . . forever. ;)

We left this store in high spirits and journeyed to a nearby restaurant for lunch. We beat the lunch crowd there, since they were all still standing in line somewhere. It was great. And the lesson learned was this: you can still find holiday bargains galore even if you don’t follow the usual trends with regard to Black Friday. Make up your own rules, be flexible, and enjoy yourself. That’s what makes this season fun. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a good time. We didn’t, and with the economy tanking like it did this year, our family plans to keep things pretty simple this holiday season.

Today I imagine we’ll still mingle with holiday shoppers on Black Friday, but it will be done on our terms.
So if you’re out there this Friday, here are a few suggestions to enhance your holiday shopping experience: Be nice, be cheerful, be considerate, be aware of where the restrooms are located, and beware of long lines. ;) {My version of the Beatitudes.} Have fun out there and strive to remember what this upcoming holiday is all about.


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Monday, November 24, 2008

Why I Love Christmas Music


I was so excited yesterday. As I was driving around attending things like ward choir practice, youth council, bishop's devotional, etc. the Sounds of Sunday music that I usually listen to on Sundays transformed into Christmas music. It was wonderful!!!

Listening to Christmas music is a huge tradition in my family. Some of my earliest memories of Christmas are centered around music. Since my father (Tom Jackson) was blessed with a beautiful bass singing voice, and my mother played the piano by ear, music was a huge part of my childhood. My father sang on musical programs most of his life.

(My dad is the taller dude, with the glass case sticking out of his shirt pocket.)

During his college days at good old Ricks, he took part in musical productions like Handel's "The Messiah," rendering solo performances that I understand were quite impressive.

(My dad is in the top row of soloists, the one in the middle, wearing glasses.)

As for my mother's talents, she comes from a family that tends to play multiple musical instruments by ear. We loved attending the reunions on her side of the family. Everyone brought along their guitars, accordions, etc. and rendered fantastic musical performances in the woodsies. It was great.

(This is a shot of my siblings and me singing with our dad at the Sibbett reunion.)

So you might say that music is my lifeblood. Not only did my parents ensure that their offspring had a healthy appreciation for most kinds of music, (we called it culture hour during these educational moments) but it was an important tradition to learn to sing early on. And when December rolled around each year, we sang beloved Christmas carols at the drop of a hat. Or whenever Mom sat down the piano to plunk out her favorites.

Here is a picture of my siblings and me singing Christmas songs at my paternal grandmother's house years ago. (I'm the tall one in the stripes) Our mother was accompanying us as we entertained our grandmother and uncle. My father was no doubt the one who shot the picture. I inherited my photobug tendencies from him. ;)


I can still hear my father singing Adeste Fideles as he practiced for a special Christmas program in our stake years ago. Click here for a little background on this beautiful song, more commonly known as "Oh Come All Ye Faithful." How cool is it that a little nine-year-old girl came to memorize this song in Latin just from hearing her father practice it for a couple of weeks one December?!

We sang Christmas songs all month long. And my parents made sure that we listened to classical Christmas performances repeatedly, like Bing Crosby's "White Christmas," Nat King Cole's, "The Christmas Song," ("Chestnuts roasting on the open fire . . ." etc.); or numerous Christmas ditties by the duo, Sandler and Young. I think I loved their music the best. Their rich harmony appealed to me in a way I couldn't explain. Then we eventually caught on that, like my brother, I had inherited an ear for picking out harmony parts. This gift has served me well through the years, even if I tend to make up my own harmony periodically during choir practice. ;)

By the time Christmas Eve rolled around each year, we had polished several Christmas ditties to perform for family and friends. As you can imagine, a big tradition in our family was a short Christmas program where we sang all of our favorite carols.

If I was asked to select my favorite Christmas carol, it would be a toss up between Silent Night and Silver Bells. In keeping with family tradition, I taught myself to play the guitar when I was twelve-years-old. Those were the first two Christmas songs that I figured out how to play on my guitar. They've been favorites ever since.

Through the years I have tried to share my love for music and Christmas carols with my offspring. All three of my sons can play musical instruments by ear. All three of them play the guitar. Son # 1 also plays the mandolin, and an electic guitar. Son # 2 can also play the bass guitar. Son # 3 plays the drums by ear, and shortly before he left on his mission, we learned that he can play the piano by ear. Way cool. These three talented youngsters formed their own "garage" band when they were in high school. There were many fun-filled hours listening to them practice and perform for their friends. It is my hope that they in turn will teach their own families to love music.

So this week, when you start hearing Christmas ditties on the radio or in stores, don't cringe. Consider for a moment how wonderful Christmas music really is. Most of these songs touch on the true meaning of Christmas. They invite the wonderful spirit of Christmas into our lives. I think it's sad that we only have one month to appreciate them. As such, make the most of this next month. Saturate yourself in the wonderment of carols, and sing along every chance you get.

What are some of your favorite Christmas carols? (Yes, this is a hint.)

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