Monday, December 29, 2008

Animal Alphabet by Diddily Dee Dots

Animal Alphabet

A's For the Antelope always on view
Which Algernon saw,
When he went to the zoo.

B Was the bear that came up at a run
When Benjamin threw him
A very nice bun.

C's For the camel;
""Poor thing, what a lump!""
Was what Caroline said
When she looked at his hump.

D's For the deer with the soft
pretty eyes;
Doris found them so tame
She had quite a surprise.

E Was the elephant ;
sixpence a ride but
Eric soon found that
you can't sit astride!

F Was the fox very crafty and sly,
Watching Frank from his den
with a cunning old eye.

G's The giraffe which made
Geraldine smile;
She was sure with his neck,
She could see quite a mile.

H Was the hippo asleep in his pool,
Harry thought it an excellent
way to keep cool.

I Was the Ibex, a kind of wild goat.
Ida thought his horns nasty,
But liked his fine coat.

J Was the Jaguar like a big cat,
But Jane didn't think
She would like him to pat!

K Was the kangaroo off with a bound;
A fine way , thought Ken,
To get over the ground.

L's For the lions; they made
such a fierce noise
Laura wished she were safety
At home with the boys.

M's For the monkeys,
all patter and chatter,
But Miles couldn't tell
What on earth was the matter.

N's For the Nilgai which jumped
off a rock;
He took such a leap that
Nell had quite a shock.

O's For the ostrich,
A wise-looking bird,
But Olga remembered
the tales she had heard.

P's For the parrot
that had lots to say,
and tried to peck Paul,
As he passed by that way.

Q's For the Quagga
Which Quentin found tame;
He is quite like a Zebra,
with stripes and a mane.

R Is the Rhino,
A fierce-looking beast;
Rosie watched him with awe
In the midst of a feast.

S Is the snake which
Suzanne found asleep;
He was shiny and slimy
and made her flesh creep.

T's For the Tiger
that gave Tim a fright;
He was horribly scared
Lest they got out at night.

For U (That's the Unicorn)
Nobody looks;
As Una can tell you,
He's only in books.

V's For the Vulture,
A big bird of prey,
Veronica saw him
and soon ran away!

W's For the Wolf
Lying flat on the ground,
Though when Walter
came near he was
up with a bound.

X Just looks on
and has nothing to do,
There's no creature
That claims him
Through-out the whole Zoo.

Y Is the Yak;
He's worthy of note;
Yvonne was amazed
at his long shaggy coat.

Z's For the Zebra
That kept Zoe busy,
She counted his stripes
till she felt she was dizzy.
--Diddily Dee Dots (Maybe?)

This poem was either written or appropriated by somebody calling themselves Diddily Dee Dots. It's hard when I find a perfect poem online, and there's no attribution. I'm probably far over the edge of legal copyright use of poetry, but I tell myself it's mostly all right if it's already out there on the internet, and I give a proper attribution. Oh well...

Peter and I were at the mall the other day, and I saw something that really caught my eye. It was a zip up book with a little stuffed animal for each letter of the alphabet. I thought it was a great idea as a quiet activity, but the price was appalling -- $78! I also thought that the animals were kind of boring because they all looked pretty much the same.

I've been thinking about feverishly making one of these for Elizabeth's birthday, and have pretty much convinced myself that she won't care one way or another whether it's done for the actual birthday. I was also thinking that it would get pretty tiresome to make all those animals myself.

So here's my idea -- please tell me if you think it's doable for you in your present circumstances -- if each of Elizabeth's aunts and uncles (and grandparents and cousins and friends if they feel so inclined) makes a little animal out of felt, that would populate most of the book. If you made the animal 2 or 3 inches tall at the largest, it should only cost about 50 cents to a dollar in supplies (felt and embroidery floss are pretty cheap) , and it could be completed in one evening -- maybe as an FHE activity.

I don't want this to be a burden on anyone, so please feel free to decline the invitation. Also, like I said, it doesn't have to be done in time for her birthday -- that's pretty much impossible at this point -- but it would be nice to have it finished within a few months.

If you would like to participate, please coordinate with me about which letter you'll be making an animal for -- it would be sad if I ended up with 15 aardvarks.

The two pictures below are of the original book, and this link and this one are to give you an idea of the sort of felt animal I'm thinking of. Feel free to get as creative as you want, but if you feel intimidated, then simply cutting out two copies of an outline, stitching around the edge, and putting a little stuffing (or scrap felt) inside, is all I'm really asking for.

Thanks for even considering this. It would be so fun to have something for Elizabeth made by all the people who love her!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Oh, What Songs of the Heart by Joseph L. Townsend

Oh, What Songs of the Heart

Oh, what songs of the heart
We shall sing all the day,
When again we assemble at home,
When we meet ne'er to part
With the blest o'er the way,
There no more from our loved ones to roam!
When we meet ne'er to part,
Oh, what songs of the heart
We shall sing in our beautiful home.

Tho our rapture and bliss
There's no song can express,
We will shout, we will sing o'er and o'er,
As we greet with a kiss,
And with joy we caress
All our loved ones that passed on before;
As we greet with a kiss,
In our rapture and bliss,
All our love ones that passed on before.

Oh, the visions we'll see
In that home of the blest,
There's no word, there's no thought can impart,
But our rapture will be
All the soul can attest,
In the heavenly songs of the heart;
But our rapture will be
In the vision we'll see
Best expressed in the songs of the heart.

Oh, what songs we'll employ!
Oh, what welcome we'll hear!
When we kneel at our dear Savior's feet.
And the heart swells with joy
In embraces most dear
When our heavenly parents we meet!
Oh, what songs we'll employ
As the heart swells with joy,
When our heavenly parents we meet!
--Joseph L. Townsend

This seems to be a week of reexamining song lyrics. When I had heard or sung this song before, I always thought it was a nice song about the millennium--very much in the same vein as "Beautiful day of peace and rest...beautiful bright millennial day." Something along the lines of how great it'll be when Christ comes again and we won't have to deal with all the hassles of mortality anymore. When I got an email today asking me and my cousins to sing this song at Grandma's funeral, though, I read it with new eyes, and see that it's probably talking about a different ending to mortal woes. It really doesn't matter what the author intended, though. It's an excellent song to sing at a funeral, especially in these circumstances.

My Grandma, Helen Lela Valantine Stay, passed away today at 2:19 pm. She died peacefully, after a relatively quick decline, and had a few of her children there with her. I was there yesterday with Elizabeth to say my final goodbyes, though she was in a coma, and probably didn't know we were there. I last spoke with her on Wednesday of last week, when I went down for my weekly visit. I read her some Christmas cards, and sang some carols after doing the bills. Her visiting teacher stopped by with a strawberry milkshake and some cinnamon rolls (having dropped all pretense of trying to get Grandma to eat anything healthy, she brought some sort of fast food and strawberry milkshake at least once a week hoping that Grandma would eat anything at all).

We were very worried about Grandma last year when she was in and out of the hospital. She tried very hard to get well for Grandpa, and would often eat just to humor him after she lost her appetite. I think it surprised all of us when Grandpa's cancer suddenly returned and he died first. Grandma rallied at that point, and was the healthiest I'd seen her in months at the funeral and just after. I think that if she had been in the middle of family like that for the next few months, she may have found something to live for without Grandpa. There was no shortage of family that invited her to go live with them, or offered to come to California to take care of her, but one of Grandma's defining characteristics was the determination not to be a bother to anybody. I once joked that she would rather die than let somebody wait on her hand and foot -- and I soon realized that it was no joke -- she would rather die.

Grandpa's death was very hard on me, and came during a very chaotic month when it seemed like my life was about to fall apart. I really resisted the idea of Grandma dying so soon after, and would often leave her house and call my Mom for comfort and advice on the drive home. I finally realized, in October, that it wasn't my decision. Grandma was ready to go. This wasn't the way she wanted to live. She missed Grandpa, and spent most of her time being cared for by relative strangers. The most exciting thing that happened most days was watching an episode or two of Hogan's Heroes.

That's not to say that she didn't have some little pleasures. Sharon visited often, as did members of her ward. She liked to watch the sparrows and finches and doves and hummingbirds that came to her bird feeders. I planted some cheerful flowers in the back yard, and later, Sharon planted some more. She liked to listen to the books on tape that I brought from the library. And she loved to see Elizabeth.

She called Elizabeth her "little Kewpie doll" and was excited to see and hear about every new trick Elizabeth learned. Elizabeth, in turn, obligingly looked cute, and showed off her tricks by rolling over, sitting, pulling up on Grandma's shiny red walker, crawling under the foot of her recliner, and standing and walking along the edge of the couch till she could reach out and grab Grandma's foot and chew on her slipper. Most recently, she decided that Grandma's Life Alert necklace was the most wonderful thing in the world, and that she really wanted to grab it and push the button. She always brought a smile to Grandma's face, and always smiled for her. She loved to wave to Grandma as I held her up to see when Grandma was in bed.

Driving all the way to Grandma's and back every week was hard on Elizabeth. She didn't like sitting in the car, and she often couldn't eat or sleep well until we got home, but every time I thought about telling Grandma that yes, it had finally gotten too hard, I would think about how much those visits meant to all of us, and I'd reconsider.

I have been so blessed by having Helen for a Grandmother. She took me in when I was sad and lonely and at loose ends in 2002, and she took care of me until I could get out on my own again. She was a wonderful example of quiet strength and determination, and I found that she had an unexpected adventurous side too. Most of all, she was an example of Christian service -- and I have benefited my whole life from having a Dad who was taught at her knee. I also got from her, and from my dad following in her footsteps, a love of books and storytelling, and the ability to entertain small children in almost any situation.

I have also been blessed by the opportunity to be of service to her. I was telling her about Elder Holland's Conference talk on angels, and she said that I had been an angel taking care of her this last year or so. It is a great gift to be given the opportunity to give back something meaningful to someone who has given you so much. It taught me about the pure love of Christ and unconditional love. It let me be an example of charity to my daughter in her earliest days. It was an experience I'll never forget.

Once I came to terms with the fact that she was dying, even the process itself took on a kind of sad beauty. Grandma didn't seem sick or in pain, she just got weaker and weaker, quieter and quieter, until she was gone. I'm grateful that he kept her wits about her until the end. It would have been much harder to watch her mind go long before her body. She let go of everything material -- money didn't matter, food didn't matter, neither did any of her things -- all that mattered were the memories, and her house and her heart were full of those. I had wondered what on earth I could get her for Christmas since there wasn't a thing in the world that she wanted. I finally settled on a little toy seagull that flaps his wings in the wind to hang outside the living room window. He was absolutely worthless, but I think he would have brightened her day a little. I knew that the real gift was giving her as much time as I could justify, and doing things she couldn't do for herself anymore like sending out the Christmas cards, putting up the decorations, and singing some carols.

I know this is an odd post. It would have been nice to write a eulogy for her, but it has ended up being about me and my feelings about watching her die. I guess I needed to write this because I'm having a hard time knowing what to feel. Am I sad? Yes. I'll miss my Grandma, and I already miss my Grandpa. Am I happy? Yes. I know for a fact that this is what Grandma wanted. She gets to spend Christmas and her birthday with Grandpa (and the rest of eternity, too)! I know that she was at peace, and would want the rest of us to be as well. That's why she picked that song for her funeral. It's a happy song because she has gone ahead to the great family reunion in the sky, and she's rejoicing there tonight, and beckoning to the rest of us to follow in her footsteps so that we can join her there when our journeys are done too.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Holy Innocents by Christina Rossetti

Holy Innocents

THEY scarcely waked before they slept,
They scarcely wept before they laughed;
They drank indeed death's bitter draught,
But all its bitterest dregs were kept
And drained by Mothers while they wept.

From Heaven the speechless Infants speak:
Weep not (they say), our Mothers dear,
For swords nor sorrows come not here.
Now we are strong who were so weak,
And all is ours we could not seek.

We bloom among the blooming flowers,
We sing among the singing birds;
Wisdom we have who wanted words:
here morning knows not evening hours,
All's rainbow here without the showers.

And softer than our Mother's breast,
And closer than our Mother's arm,
Is here the Love that keeps us warm
And broods above our happy next.
Dear Mothers, come: for Heaven is best.
--Christina Rossetti

I was thinking of posting the Coventry Carol today, but while looking for the words online, I stumbled on a site full of Christmas Poems by Christina Rossetti (She also wrote "In the Bleak Midwinter" for those of you who don't quite recognize the name). Having a baby of your own changes the way you think about things, and for the first time this year, I realized that the Coventry Carol is not about protecting Jesus, but singing one last Bye Bye Lullay to all the other children that "Harod the King in his raging" ordered his soldiers to kill. I can't imagine how horrible that would have been, and I'm glad that I live in a world where nothing like that will happen to my sweet Elizabeth. Of course there are always tragedies -- this poem also reminds me of the one I posted after the Chinese earthquake earlier this year.

Now that you've been duly depressed for Christmas, let's lighten things up by posting our Christmas letter and family photo. I'm pretty impressed with myself for not only figuring out how to use the timer so that I could take the family picture, but also for getting a good shot of a Christmas ornament with pretty starbursts on the lights, and also for figuring out how to make GimpShop work well enough to merge the two images and put words on it with shadows and everything.

Merry Christmas Everyone!!
Let’s see what happened in our family this year...

In January, (Peter says: We expanded via an acquisition!) in other words, Elizabeth Anne Ahlstrom was born! She arrived on January 14th and weighed 8 lbs 10 oz. She had pretty red hair prompting her Grandma Becky, who was there for the blessed event to say, “A little Girl? And a redhead? You hit the Jackpot!” (And Karen is a Compulsive Capitalizer.) And I must say that we certainly agree with her. Elizabeth is about the sweetest baby you could wish for, and beautiful and clever to boot. (Peter asks: Does she have boots? Karen answers: She does, but they’re too big for her.)

In February, Peter gave Elizabeth a name and blessing (Peter notes that there were no surprises in the name or blessing). Grandpa Jim, Grandma Kathey, and Aunt Kirsten came to visit that weekend, as did Grandpa Randy and Uncle Mike with his three boys. (Peter says: Which was very nice.)

In March, we all got influenza. (Peter says: Which was not very nice.) We had to take Elizabeth to the Emergency room and let them do all sorts of horrible tests on her (Peter says: And they couldn’t find her blood) which would have been bad enough if we were well, but since I could barely stand and already felt like death warmed over, the whole experience was pretty traumatic.
Also in March, we welcomed another member to the family when we went to Steve and Rachel’s wedding. It was a lot of fun to get together with the whole family and talk and eat and take lots of photos. (Peter says: And it snowed and we got to see Barb and Kyle.)

In April, Elizabeth got a lot more “interactive” as Peter puts it. Looking back through old blog posts, I was reminded of the time when Elizabeth tried to grab the remote control, but only succeeded in knocking it down. Peter thought this was funny and said, “Baby, you have 0 DEX!” I thought that was funny, and said, “But her CHR is pretty high!” Yes, we are nerds. (Peter thinks that baby’s DEX might be up to 5 by now).

In May, Elizabeth became much more aware of her surroundings, which meant that I could no longer make her nurse and sleep wherever we happened to be at the time. I had my first Mother’s day, and sadly missed the Primary children singing because I was trying to get Elizabeth to nurse in the Mother’s lounge. I also had my birthday that month, and threw myself a little party.

By June, Elizabeth was sitting unsupported, and Peter had his first Father’s day (Peter says: I don’t remember anything about that day). June was a hard month with two funerals and two family reunions, only one of which was planned. On top of all that business, Peter’s company laid off 40% of their staff including him (Peter says: I need a new job).

In July, Elizabeth started pulling herself up on things, and trying to learn to crawl. We started talking evening walks as a family (Peter says: Walks are nice and I recommend them to everybody). On these walks, Elizabeth keeps her eyes peeled for one of the many stray cats that live in our neighborhood. She gets terribly excited when she sees one, while they either pretend to be indifferent or run away as fast as they can. (Peter says: I have discovered that it’s best to approach them from an oblique angle so that you’re not headed straight for them with the stroller, but sort of ease your way close enough to them for Elizabeth to reach out and grab at.) (Peter also says: At the end of July I started working at a temporary job and I’m still working there.)

In August, we watched the Olympics and were suitably impressed when Elizabeth took up the sport of crawling. She also managed to cut two teeth with a lot of angst. (Peter says: I went to Worldcon and saw my friends from Utah and was on some big panels.)

In September, Elizabeth and I took a trip to Ohio and Elizabeth met Great Grandma Fawnie for the first time. She had tons of new experiences, and enjoyed herself thoroughly, except when she was sad because it’s hard to eat and sleep in new places when you’re as curious as she is. (Peter says: And I was lonely.)

In October, I made several costumes including cute Pumpkin hats for Elizabeth and some of her cousins and friends. I also made elf and fairy costumes so that our family could coordinate at the Ward Halloween party. (Peter says: And we carved pumpkins—even the one that didn’t want to be carved.) I finally got the landscaping of our house sort of finished, with a brick path, beds of gravel, flowers, and a vegetable garden.

In November, Elizabeth got really interested in books. She will sit and ask for Mama to read her one after another after another (Peter says: after another after another). She also took her first few unsupported steps (Peter says: Wasn’t that in December? No? Wow...time flies). I spent a lot of time and energy making tutus to sell at a craft fair. I kind of went overboard and though I’ve sold enough to make back most of my investment in supplies, I still have LOTS of pretty tutus that need to be sold. At the end of November, Elizabeth got a stomach virus and threw up for days. When I took her to the doctor to see if she was dehydrated, they said, “Your baby is fine, but you, my dear, are not.” They called one of my friends to take the baby, and forced me to lie down while they pumped four liters of fluid into me. (Peter says: That sounds like a lot!)

Now it’s December. We’ve got the Christmas tree up, and lights strung outside. Elizabeth is fascinated by all the decorations—especially the jingle bell wreath on the front door and the Fisher Price Nativity set. (Peter says: Elizabeth and I are sick again with colds.)

Well that’s the major news from this year. In the days when there aren’t big events, Karen keeps busy playing with Elizabeth, doing the housework, visiting Grandma Stay, and socializing with the other mothers from the Enrichment park group. Peter keeps busy by going to work, listening to audiobooks on his commute, posting enigmatic—almost spoilerific comments on the Timewaster’s Guide forums, freelance editing, and not paying attention to TV commercials. Elizabeth keeps busy by being cute, working hard at learning how her toys and everything else in world works, sharing germs with her friend at church and the park, and generally being the apple of her parents’ eyes.

Karen says: Well, should we say anything else? Peter says: We Love Everybody! Elizabeth says: Bwaa baa baa!

Love Karen, Peter, and Elizabeth Ahlstrom

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Huron Carol by Jean de Brébeuf

The Huron Carol

’Twas in the moon of wintertime,
When all the birds had fled,
That mighty Gitchi Manitou
Sent angel choirs instead;
Before their light the stars grew dim,
And wondering hunters heard the hymn:
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born,
In excelsis gloria.

Within a lodge of broken bark
The tender babe was found,
A ragged robe of rabbit skin
Enwrapped His beauty round;
But as the hunter braves drew nigh,
The angel song rang loud and high:
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born,
In excelsis gloria.

The earliest moon of wintertime
Is not so round and fair
As was the ring of glory on
The helpless Infant there.
The chiefs from far before Him knelt
With gifts of fox and beaver pelt.
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born,
In excelsis gloria.

O children of the forest free,
O sons of Manitou,
The holy Child of earth and Heav’n
Is born today for you.
Come kneel before the radiant Boy,
Who brings you beauty, peace and joy.
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born,
In excelsis gloria.
--Jean de Brébeuf translated by Jesse Edgar Middleton

I knew that this Christmas carol was the earliest "American" carol, having been written in what is now Canada in the 1600's. What I didn't know before looking it up was that the English words above were written in the 1920's and have little to do with the original text besides describing the Christmas story. The modern English version puts the setting in something like Hiawatha's Indian village with braves and birch bark, whereas the original was the author's sincere attempt to explain the Biblical account of Christ's birth and its spiritual significance. If you want to see a more faithful, if less poetic translation, click here.

Stacking Cups and Sorting Cube

As you saw in the last post with videos, Elizabeth has been working hard at learning how to Put Things Into Other Things. She's especially interested in the stacking cups and the sorting shapes cube and will spend vast stretches of time working on fitting her toys together. One day, I was getting kind of bored with watching her do that, so I showed her how the cups can stack up and make a tower. This was incredibly exciting to Elizabeth, who started making happy exclaiming noises as if to say, "Wow! That's so cool! How come I've never seen anything that amazing before?!" She was quickly frustrated, however, by the fact that every time she tried to pick up the tower, it simply fell over. While she was angrily trying to pick up the pieces and make them all go back together, only in her lap this time, she picked up the littlest yellow cup.

If you look at the pictures, you will see that the littlest cup doesn't really belong with this set. It's hexagonal rather than round, and a slightly different color, and though you can stuff it into the green cup, it sort of goes halfway and sticks there. Up 'till now, Elizabeth has been treating the green and yellow cups as a unit to be stuffed into other cups. When I was building the tower though, I pulled the yellow one out, and put it on top of the green. When Elizabeth knocked the tower down, she was able to pick up the yellow cup and really look at it.

I could see on her face that she could tell that something was different about this cup. I could almost hear the song, "One Of These Things Is Not Like The Others," playing in the background. She looked at it, twisted it, tasted it, then crawled over to the sorting shapes cube, and shoved it in one of the holes! Yes, that's right. She figured that it looked a lot more like the sorting shapes than the stacking cups (which it does, it's even about the right size), she decided it ought to be with the other sorting shapes, she found the cube, and managed to get it into one of the holes on her first try (which she can't always do with the sorting shapes themselves because they have a tighter fit). I think this is an amazing leap of logic for a baby who's not yet a year old, and I'm terribly proud of her.

Christmas Ornaments

Elizabeth thinks, and rightly so, that the Christmas tree is awe inspiringly pretty and sparkly and wonderful. She has learned the sign for Light (her third after Hi and Book), and uses it for both lights, and other pretty things that she wants to have -- both of which refer to the Christmas Tree. She also makes the sign at the Jingle Bell wreath on the front door that she loves to jingle each time we go in or out, the dining room chandelier, and the little doll in the Strawberry Shortcake music box.

Still, no matter how much she wants the tree and the things on it, she is very careful when she reaches out to touch it. For instance, many times, she'll just tap the ornament with her fingers and watch it swing. When she does grab, if the hook or string catches, and it's not easy to get off, she'll try a different one rather than just pulling harder.

Her favorite ornament, the one she goes for first, and most often, is the Golden Snitch, which is actually a pencil sharpener, but which always looked like it belonged on a Christmas tree to me. She also likes the various jingle bell ornaments, and the candy-tin ornaments that she can pull apart and fit back together again (both of which are visible in the bhoto below).

Yesterday, while playing with the biggest jingle bell, she tried to put it back on the tree. She seemed disappointed when it slid through the branches and fell on the floor, and pleased when I picked it up and hung it correctly. We played that game a few more times, then she picked up another ornament that was on the floor, this time a gold snowflake. She managed to get this one to stay on the tree by laying it flat on a couple of branches, but again seemed disappointed. It took me a moment to see that she didn't like the way it sat still on the branch instead of hanging up by the string so it could sway and twirl. She was very happy when I hung it, and the other ornaments she handed me, the right way. Not only is my baby clever, she has an eye for aesthetics.


Her cleverness at making connections doesn't always pay off in ways that make me cheerfully applaud her and give her what she wants. We were at the grocery store, and she got very agitated when we went down the aisle with the Nesquik in it. She REALLY wanted to reach out and touch the big canisters of Nesquik, and when I let her do it, she REALLY wanted me to open one up. I was confused, and wasn't about to start opening containers for her in the grocery store, so I put it back on the shelf and started to move away. Something in the sound of her distressed cries finally rang a bell in my memory, and I realized that it was the same noise she makes when the bath water is going down the drain, and all her bath toys are being put a big Nesquik canister with holes drilled in the bottom! The poor thing, cold, tired, hungry, and sick of being dragged here, there, and everywhere by Mama, thought that she was going to get her bath toys, and maybe even a warm bath. Instead, Mama put it back on the shelf and went to look at soup. :(


This picture from October shows the cute little bluebird shoes I made for Elizabeth. Because it was so cold today (Yes, I know, you'd all love to get a nice warm day in the high 50's and low 60's but everything is relative), I thought Elizabeth ought to have a sweater and shoes for our weekly visit to the park. I put on the pink sweater Mom knitted (the one with flower buttons and embellishments), and the bluebird shoes. Elizabeth has worn those shoes before without any problem, but today, she just freaked out. She didn't want them on her feet. When I got them on and tried to stand her up, she wouldn't let her feet touch the ground, she was just one unhappy girl. I was pretty sure she'd get over it if I distracted her, so I tried showing her the big teddy bear that always makes her smile. She would have none of it, and shoved the bear away.

Then she started pulling on the sweater, trying to get it off. I'd seen her do this move a few times before when she was hot, so I obliged by taking off the sweater. She looked at me as if to say, "OK. You do understand the concept of take-it-off so now, get rid of these shoes!" and she started yanking on the shoes again. She worked so hard at communicating that I didn't have the heart to make her leave them on, so I took them off. Once that was taken care of, she let me put the sweater back on (it was never a problem in the first place) and even let me choose a different pair of shoes, which she wore without complaint for several hours. This may have been the first battle over what she's willing to wear, but with a little girl as strong willed as this one, it certainly won't be the last.

Well that's all for today. Next time, I'll post our Christmas letter and photo since the ones I sent through the mail should have started arriving by now.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Friendly Beasts by Robert Davis

The Friendly Beasts

Jesus, our Brother, strong and good,
Was humbly born in a stable rude,
And the friendly beasts around Him stood,
Jesus, our Brother, strong and good.

“I,” said the donkey, shaggy and brown,
“I carried His mother uphill and down,
I carried His mother to Bethlehem town;
I,” said the donkey, shaggy and brown.

“I,” said the cow, all white and red,
“I gave Him my manger for His bed,
I gave Him hay to pillow His head;
I,” said the cow, all white and red.

“I,” said the sheep with curly horn,
“I gave Him my wool for His blanket warm,
He wore my coat on Christmas morn;
I,” said the sheep with curly horn.

“I,” said the dove, from the rafters high,
“I cooed Him to sleep that He should not cry,
We cooed Him to sleep, my mate and I;
I,” said the dove, from the rafters high.

Thus all the beasts, by some good spell,
In the stable dark were glad to tell
Of the gifts they gave Emmanuel,
The gifts they gave Emmanuel.
--Traditional translated by Robert Davis

Though I enjoy Christmas Carols, and especially old traditional ones, I wasn't really aware of this carol until I got a book based on it at a library booksale (the picture above is from that book). I was reading the book to Elizabeth this Christmas, and thought I'd share it with the rest of you. If you don't know the tune, I've embedded a youtube video below.

There's an old legend that says that animals can speak at Midnight on Christmas Eve -- which is what they mean by the "good spell" in the last verse. I think what I like best about this song is the way the first and fourth lines of each verse are the same, and the second and third are just slight variations. It makes the carol very easy to memorize and/or sing along with if you don't know the words yet. My only real problem with it is that unless they sheared the sheep that night, it probably wasn't his personal wool that kept the baby warm.

I just wanted to share with the world how proud I am of my daughter this week. Not only is she contnuing to take a few tentative steps, proving that the first step last week wasn't a fluke, but she is figuring out how toys work right and left.

First, here's a quick video of a few steps.

Kathey Ahlstrom sent Elizabeth a Fisher Price Nativity set for Christmas, and I decided to open it early and let her play with it.

Elizabeth thinks it's the coolest thing in the world right now, and it's often enough to distract her from the very tempting Christmas tree.

The sweater she's wearing is one that Marcelle made for her. Isn't it cute? And it's big enough that she can still wear it now that it's finally getting cool here.

The two blue wisemen are her favorite characters. It was while playing with one of them that she made her first big breakthrough this week.

One of the activities she hadn't quite mastered on her big house toy was the waterspout. You can see it in the walking video -- it's the long purple tube on the side. The idea is to take a ball and put it in the hole at the top, then let it drop to the bottom where it flips a switch, counts how many you've put down, and sings a song. Elizabeth has been playing with the balls, but hasn't been interested in putting them down the waterspout. Well one night, she was playing with the wisemen, and wandered over to the house where she shoved him down head first, he fell down the tube, flipped the switch, and was very pleased when he made it play the song. She picked him up and repeated the process a few more times, looking over at me each time to make sure I saw what she did and was appropriately impressed. Since then she has figured out that the balls get stuck less often, so she's been using them. Once, she casually shoved a few balls in over her shoulder while looking at the TV instead of the waterspout.

As you can see from the Nativity videos, one of her favorite things to do with toys is smash them together to see how they interact. Sometimes they make a nice noise, and other times they kind of interlock, and often, they just sort of slide past each other making her drop them before picking them up and trying again in a slightly different configuration. She will keep this up for quite a long time, working very hard at whatever it is she thinks she's doing. This week, her hard work paid off with the stacking cups.

Until now, she has only been able to take the cups apart, and knock down the towers I make, but this week she worked out a method of putting one cup inside another! She still experiments with putting big cups inside small ones, and seeing if they'll work upside down or sideways as well as right-side up, but more and more often, she can take any two cups and get one inside the other. It was really cool to watch the concept finally click together in her head on Wednesday or Thursday evening. I even woke Peter up to make sure he got to see (he was sick, and resting).

Since then, I've been showing her how the sorting shapes work. She's more interested in fitting them together in her hands than putting them into the box, but she does understand what I'm asking her to do, and occasionally she'll give it a try to humor me, and sometimes, she even gets the shapes to go into the right holes. She really is a clever clever child.

She may have picked up a new baby sign -- Light -- since I put up the Christmas decorations, but it may jus tbe what her hands do when she sees something pretty that she wants. I don't know. Maybe we can reinforce the Light connection, and go from there.

Well, Elizabeth seems to NEED me right now, so I'll sign off.

Friday, December 5, 2008

How Firm a Foundation by Robert Keen

How Firm a Foundation

How firm a foundation, ye Saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in his excellent word!
What more can he say than to you he hath said,
Who unto the Savior, who unto the Savior,
Who unto the Savior for refuge have fled?

In ev’ry condition—in sickness, in health,
In poverty’s vale or abounding in wealth,
At home or abroad, on the land or the sea—
As thy days may demand, as thy days may demand,
As thy days may demand, so thy succor shall be.

Fear not, I am with thee; oh, be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid.
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by my righteous, upheld by my righteous,
Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.

When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not thee o’erflow,
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee, and sanctify to thee,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply.
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, thy dross to consume,
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.

E’en down to old age, all my people shall prove
My sov’reign, eternal, unchangeable love;
And then, when gray hair shall their temples adorn,
Like lambs shall they still, like lambs shall they still,
Like lambs shall they still in my bosom be borne.

The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
I will not, I cannot, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, I’ll never, no never,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake!
--Robert Keen

One of Heather's friends, Lindsay Kale Hilty has been writing a series of articles on mental health issues She is looking for ideas to put in a Bible Study book for those suffering from depression. I wrote her an email, and as these things so often do, it turned into something appropriate to post on my blog. So here it is!

One of my favorites is a scene from the story of Mary and Elisabeth in Luke Chapter 1:

41 And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:
42 And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
43 And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
44 For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.
45 And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.
46 And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,
47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
48 For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
49 For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.
51 He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
52 He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.
53 He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.
54 He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;
55 As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.

Elisabeth's name means "God will build you a house" or translated another way, "God will give you sons and daughters (a household)." Elisabeth knew that part of the covenant God made with Abraham, and through him, the whole house of Israel was that he would give them the promised land, and children as numberless as the sands of the sea.

Gen. 26: 4
And I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed;

Elizabeth's very name reminded her that God promised her children. Yet for so many years, she was barren. All the same, when she heard the news, she believed (it was her husband who needed a sign).

In verse 45, she says (paraphrased), "God keeps his promises to those who believe." Then Mary expands on the idea saying, "he has truly blessed me, and with this baby, he will bless the whole world. He's fulfilling his covenant with Abraham that through his seed, all the nations of the earth shall be blessed."

During the years when my life seemed so hard, and I didn't have the things I wanted, the things that God had promised me -- a loving faithful husband, children to raise and teach about Him, and the health I need to be able to accomplish His plans for me -- I read this section and said to myself, "God keeps his promises. God will build you a house. It may not be on the schedule you hope for, but Blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord. It will happen one day." And it did -- I have a loving husband and a beautiful daughter -- named Elizabeth.

And it's not just the promise of a family that he'll keep. There are SOOOO many others. One of my favorite hymns lists several that I have clung to in moments of despair (see poem above). Each of the promises in it come from the scriptures. For instance:

Isa. 41: 10
Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.

Much of my Bible study while depressed consists of looking for these promises in scripture, and reaffirming to myself that they will indeed be fulfilled -- maybe not on my time table, but they'll happen nonetheless.