We're in the transition between the celebration of Christmas and the reevaluation of a new year; here's some of what I've been thinking about.
We just don't know all the long-term effects of our actions... but he does; he who knows the end from the beginning.  He tells us My name is Jehovah, and I know the end from the beginning; therefore my hand shall be over thee, and "I am God, and there is none like me, 10 Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done" (Isaiah 46:9-10).

I know that God has directed my paths, that I benefit most from this when I pay attention and listen for his counsel and direction.  I'm grateful for the struggles and learning he's helped me through; they prepare me to become more like he is, and to better serve him and his children.

photo credit: Alex Grichenko
This December, would you like a daily thought, song, scripture, story, and/or activity to help you feel more of the calm spirit of Christmas?  My friend Amy over at LDS Holistic Living has a Christmas Advent Calendar you can use or download for free.  It's designed specifically with members of the LDS faith in mind, but anyone can find great things in it.  If you're interested, you can get the calendar here.

Meanwhile, here's a sample:

The Real Story Behind the 12 Days of Christmas

Catholics in England were prohibited by law from practicing their faith, both in private and in public from 1558 to 1829. Being a Catholic was treated as a crime. There was no restored gospel at the time, however there were good Christians who knew without doubt the true church was not one that was mainly created merely for the convenience of King Henry the Eighth who wanted to sin and have a church justify his actions. So in secret they continued to teach their children their  religion. 

"The Twelve Days of Christmas" was written in England during this time frame. It was written to help children learn about their religion. The entire song is writing in symbolism and hidden meanings because it was illegal to have anything in writing that would indicate adherence to the Catholic faith. To be caught could mean imprisonment, hanging, or drawn and quartered.
Christmas referred to a twelve day period that starts with Christmas day. "The Twelve Days of Christmas" referred to a twelve day period that began Christmas day. While the world may have celebrated Christmas for about twelve hours, these Christians celebrated it for twelve days as a reminder that the gifts of God are with us for twelve months of the year. It also represented the idea that we should be thankful for the gifts of God and follow His teachings for all twelve months of the year and not just one day a year. 

The song begins, "On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me..." The "true love" represents God, as our greatest love should be for Him. The word worship means that which we love the most. The "me" who receives these presents is the Christian man or woman.

1. The "partridge in a pear tree" was Jesus Christ who died on a structure made from the wood of a tree. In ancient times a partridge was often used as mythological symbol of a divine, sacred king.

2. The "two turtle doves" were the Old and New Testaments - another gift from God. Doves symbolize peace and the Gospel contained in these scriptures, when practiced, brings peace.

3. The "three French hens" were faith, hope and love - the three gifts of the Spirit that abide (I
Corinthians 13). The French hens can also represent God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost.

4. The "four calling birds" were the four Gospels which sing the song of salvation through Jesus Christ.

5. The "five golden rings" were the first five books of the Bible also called the "Books of Moses."

6. The "six geese a-laying" were the six days of creation.

7. The "seven swans a swimming" were "seven gifts of the Holy Spirit." (I Corinthians 12:8-11, Romans 12, Ephesians 4, 1 Peter 4:10-11)

8. The "eight maids a milking" were the eight beatitudes.

9. The "nine ladies dancing" were nine fruits of the Holy Spirit.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law." (Galatians 5:22)

10. The "ten lords a-leaping" were the Ten Commandments.

11. The "eleven pipers piping" were the eleven faithful disciples.

12. The "twelve drummers drumming" were the twelve points of the Apostles' Creed.
"The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth", 1914, Jennie A. Brownscombe, public domain
First, a bit of trivia:  
Did you know? While pumpkins were certainly a part of the first feast of thanks-giving,  they were usually roasted or stewed.  And eaten very, very often!

For pottage and puddings and custards and pies
Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies,
We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon,
If it were not for pumpkins we should be undoon."

Pilgrim verse, circa 1633
Please take some time this week to gather your children, grandchildren, neighbors, or whomever you care about, and teach them of our nation's heritage of gratitude.  Some great resources are below, including what George Washington said in his Proclamation for a Day of Thanksgiving.  Each generation must learn this, or it dies out, leaving a gaping hole that entitlement and selfishness rush in to fill.

Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.
— Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 BC-43 BC), Pro Plancio (54 BC)

The following is from the Providence Foundation's Nov. 2013 newsletter.  (Thank you to them!)

Celebrating Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is an uniquely American holiday. We have been giving thanks to God in private and public from the foundation of the nation. In fact, governments regularly issued official days of Prayer and Thanksgiving from the planting of the first colonies up until the present. Over 1400 Days of Prayer, Thanksgiving, and Fasting were proclaimed by colonial, state, and national governments from 1620-1815, and hundreds more have been issued since then.  

A few items to help you remember and pass on our heritage of thanking God include:

Why We Celebrate Thanksgiving

You can use this article to share with your family the origins of Thanksgiving Day.

Some Early Government Thanksgiving Proclamations

1.       President George Washington, Proclamation for a Day of Thanksgiving, Thursday, November 26, 1789

2.       Governor Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, Thanksgiving Proclamation, December 9, 1779

3.       Proclamation for a Public Thanksgiving, New Hampshire, December 10, 1778

4.       Proclamation for Thanksgiving Day, Continental Congress, December 18, 1777
Issued during the American Revolutionary War by the Continental Congress, this was the first national Thanksgiving Day in America. The explanation of the proclamation is from W. DeLoss Love, The Fast and Thanksgiving Days of New England (1895). Love lists over 1400 days of prayer and fasting and prayer and thanksgiving observed by civil governments (colonial, state, and national) from 1620-1815.

5.       Proclamation for a Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer, Massachusetts, June 29, 1676
On June 20, 1676, the Council of Massachusetts appointed June 29 as a Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer, in response to the colonists’ victory in King Philip’s War. The broadside of this proclamation is the earliest printed thanksgiving broadside known. At the top is the seal of Massachusetts, which shows an Indian speaking the words, “Come Over and Help Us.”

Today while looking for ways to explain more about Veterans' Day to my children, I came across a Muppets version of "Stars and Stripes Forever". 
We started watching it, but then it became apparent that the music meant nothing to them. So we started on a learning journey.  If you want just the more serious side, skip down to the last video on here.  The one that, while we watched it, my 11-year-old turned to me and asked, "Is this something real?"  Yes.  Yes, it is.  I'm not convinced that we've been truly justified in many of the wars in the last 100 years, but I recognize the intent and courage of those who were doing the actual fighting, among whom are family members  Thank you, veterans.  

First, we learned that "Stars and Stripes Forever", by John Philip Sousa,  is our official national march.  (I didn't know we had a national march...)

A little about the music: Sousa was on a tour of Europe in 1896, when he got word that his band director had suddenly died.  Here's what Sousa himself said in his autobiography, Marching Along, about this time and how the march came about:

"Here came one of the most vivid incidents of my career. As the vessel (the Teutonic) steamed out of the harbor I was pacing on the deck, absorbed in thoughts of my manager's death and the many duties and decisions which awaited me in New York. Suddenly, I began to sense a rhythmic beat of a band playing within my brain. Throughout the whole tense voyage, that imaginary band continued to unfold the same themes, echoing and re-echoing the most distinct melody. I did not transfer a note of that music to paper while I was on the steamer, but when we reached shore, I set down the measures that my brain-band had been playing for me, and not a note of it has ever changed."

Sousa later wrote words to go along with the music; in the National Band version below, they use only these words as a verse:

Hurrah for the flag of the free!
May it wave as our standard forever,
The gem of the land and the sea,
The banner of the right.
Let despots remember the day
When our fathers with mighty endeavor
Proclaimed as they marched to the fray
That by their might and by their right
It waves forever.

If you want to know all of the words, they're at the very bottom of this post.
Now my kids had some context for the Muppets' version:
Complete lyrics- written by John Philips Sousa- to "Stars and Stripes Forever":

Let martial note in triumph float
And liberty extend its mighty hand
A flag appears 'mid thunderous cheers,
The banner of the Western land.
The emblem of the brave and true
Its folds protect no tyrant crew
The red and white and starry blue
Is freedom's shield and hope.

Other nations may deem their flags the best
And cheer them with fervid elation
But the flag of the North and South and West
Is the flag of flags, the flag of Freedom's nation.

Hurrah for the flag of the free!
May it wave as our standard forever,
The gem of the land and the sea,
The banner of the right.
Let despots remember the day
When our fathers with mighty endeavor
Proclaimed as they marched to the fray
That by their might and by their right
It waves forever.

Let eagle shriek from lofty peak
The never-ending watchword of our land;
Let summer breeze waft through the trees
The echo of the chorus grand.
Sing out for liberty and light,
Sing out for freedom and the right.
Sing out for Union and its might,
O patriotic sons.

Other nations may deem their flags the best
And cheer them with fervid elation,
But the flag of the North and South and West
Is the flag of flags, the flag of Freedom's nation.

Hurrah for the flag of the free.
May it wave as our standard forever
The gem of the land and the sea,
The banner of the right
. Let despots remember the day
When our fathers with might endeavor
Proclaimed as they marched to the fray
That by their might and by their right
It waves forever.
Click on the photo to watch the 'He Is Risen' Bible video.

There's a whole Life of Christ series available, as well.

I know that Jesus Christ lived, that he atoned for our sins, that he voluntarily gave up his own life for us, and that he was resurrected and lives today.  I'm grateful for this.  I know he will return at his Second Coming, and I try to live by his example of love for God and all others.  I know this brings happiness; the better I am at following Him, the happier and more fulfilling my life is. 

May you feel His love for you as we celebrate Resurrection Sunday.
It's easy to go along with the commercial aspects of Easter- 

But what can I do with my family to focus on its real meaning?

Yes, those Easter eggs have symbolism, but I want to go beyond that.  Usually we have a Family Home Evening the Monday before Easter, where we read the Easter story in the New Testament, and talk about the symbols we see this time of year- eggs for the seemingly lifeless tomb, chicks for new life, lambs for The Lamb of God who was their Passover.  But this year I wanted something each day for a week, something to learn and remember what our Savior did during his final week in mortality.  Something to help pull us into his life.

The April 2011 Friend magazine had something I'll use this year.  If you follow their suggested timeline, that begins today, two Saturdays before Easter itself.   Here's a quick day-by-day summary of it and some ideas of what to do each day; see the original article for more details.  

Our standard day starts with a song and family prayer (playing the 'hymn of the week' is the call to be awake and in the living room- it sure beats hollering down the stairs every day!)- we can have a new song each day this Easter week, to fit with the timeline below.  We sing the same song in the evening right before that family prayer, as well.  (If -WHEN!- someone is still talking or not kneeling, we sing the last phrase over again.  This is repeated until they're ready.  Usually it takes only once.  Except for some nights.   Again, it sure beats telling them to be quiet and get ready!)

Saturday, 8 days before Easter: Jesus walked to Bethany for a place to stay during Passover. See  John 12:1–3.
Song: Come, Follow Me
To do:  Point out that many people have traveled to Temple Square for the LDS General Conference (and we'll be watching or listening).  There is a great article on the symbolism of the Passover itself, by John Pratt; during our family scripture study we can talk about the symbolism.  There's a shorter summary in the LDS Bible Dictionary.

Sunday, one week before Easter: Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey; the people greeted Him as their king, shouting Hosanna (Save Us Now) and paving his pathway with palm leaves.  Also known as Palm Sunday, for this reason.  See Zechariah 9:9; Matthew 21:1–11; Mark 11:1–11.
Song: Joy to the World (really!  look at those lyrics!) or Easter Hosanna
To do Watch a Bible Video: The Lord's Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem                   

Monday: Cleansing the temple, to make it more holy.  See Matthew 21:12–17; Mark 11:15–19.
Song: I Love to See the Temple, or The Lord Gave Me a Temple (or if you want to learn a less-familiar one, try God is In His Holy Temple)
To do: Each person find some place in their room that needs cleaned and organized- and take care of it!  Also, have a Family Home Evening & lesson. :-) 

Tuesday: He taught in the temple and on the Mount of Olives.  He healed the blind and lame.  Judas agreed with the priests to betray Him. SeeMatthew 25:31–46; 26:14–16.
Song: Jesus Said Love Everyone   
To Do: Pick some spring flowers and take them to someone sick, lonely, or bedridden.

Wednesday: We don't know what he did this day.  See Matthew 25:1–13.
Song: I'm Trying to Be Like Jesus, or Build An Ark
To Do: Reading the Parable of the Ten Virgins is one idea (illustrated version here), print this activity;  or learn more about the Passover that Christ was there to offer. 

Thursday: His disciples got ready for and ate the Passover meal.  This became what we call The Last Supper, he also gave them the sacrament for the first time.  After singing a hymn, they went to the Garden of Gethsemane.  After his Atonement there, the priests found and arrested him.  See Matthew 26:17–29, 36–56.
Song: I Stand All Amazed
To Do: At dinner, serve one or more of the traditional Passover foods.  You might even manage having a Seder plate and ask The Four Questions; that would require some advance studying!   Chabad.org is a great site for this.

Friday: He was questioned by Caiaphas, Pilate, and Herod, and condemned to die.  He was crucified, died, and hurriedly laid in a borrowed tomb.  In Jerusalem, the veil of the temple tore and there was darkness for three hours.  In the Americas, there was a terrible storm for three hours, followed by complete dark until the third day. See Matthew 26:57–72; 27:1–2, 27–37; Luke 23:44–46, 50–56, 3 Nephi 8:5-23.
Song: O Savior, Thou Who Wearest a Crown, or There Is a Green Hill Far Away
To Do:  Have dinner by candlelight (yes, we'll have to shut the drapes because it's too light outside!) to remember the dark these people experienced.  Watch The Last Supper.
 Older children could watch Jesus Is Scourged and Crucified, but my littlest ones would be very disturbed by it.

Jesus' body lay in the tomb, the door covered with a large stone, guarded by order of the wicked priests.  In the Americas, it was still dark.  See Matthew 27:57–66  and 3 Nephi 9:12-22.
Song: To Think About Jesus      
To Do:  We have our Easter Egg hunt on Saturday-  to keep the "fluff stuff" away from the real holiday/holy-day.  

Easter Sunday: Jesus was resurrected!  An angel rolled the stone away, Mary Magdalene and others saw him.  He told them to teach and baptize others. See Matthew 28 Some time after His resurrection, he also visited the people in the Americas, see 3 Nephi 11:1-17.
Song: Christ the Lord is Risen Today
To Do: Watch the sunrise and think about the beauty of the earth and the sacrifices its Creator made for us.  Have each child and parent write a favorite scripture on the back of a small picture of Jesus.  Each person gives theirs to another  family member.  (Hopefully this encourages them to really think about which scripture to write!)      Watch all the Bible videos about the Savior's ministry.  

Some other meaningful Easter ideas can be found in the New Era magazine and  The Ensign

May we all have an Easter that helps connect us with family and our Savior!

Here is a great idea I heard this week:  go through all your extra stuff (house, garage, back of the cupboards, storage unit if you have it, basement) and tag everything you don't really need.  Even if you like it, if  you don't need it, let it go.  Sell it on Craigslist or ksl, or we could have a giant yard sale...   Then use the money to pay off debt.  Or get food storage.  Or to help someone else. 

Remember the church's website, http://www.providentliving.org?   Being provident means making the most of what you have.  What you have isn't useful if it's sitting.  Have fun!  You’ll be amazed at how thankful you feel for what you could clean out.  It’ll even help you spend less on Christmas!  

“‘Self-reliance means using all of our blessings from Heavenly Father to care for ourselves and our families and to find solutions for our own problems.’ Each of us has a responsibility to try to avoid problems before they happen and to learn to overcome challenges when they occur. …

“How do we become self-reliant? We become self-reliant through obtaining sufficient knowledge, education, and literacy; by managing money and resources wisely, being spiritually strong, preparing for emergencies and eventualities; and by having physical health and social and emotional well-being.”- Sister Julie Beck

 Chocolate Popcorn

One 10-12 oz. bag chocolate chips
8-9 quarts popped corn

 Melt chips, pour over popcorn and mix.  Put in a 225 degree F oven for about 30 minutes, stirring about every 10 minutes.  Cool and store. 

You can also skip the baking step, but baking makes it a little less messy to eat; less melting on your fingers.  That might not be important to you, though…

 Use any kind of chips: dark, milk chocolate, white chocolate, peanut butter, butterscotch, mint, or a combination.  Try chocolate  drizzled with a little bit of melted peanut butter chips.  Or use different colors for a baby shower.  Or stir in some toasted chopped nuts (butter toffee peanuts, anyone?)  Reese's Pieces, cut-up pieces of caramels or candy bars, or anything else that sounds good.
(Originally 9/2/10)

I love this time of year!  The temperatures have dropped enough that the roses are reblooming, the grass is having an easier time, and the mornings and  late evenings have the smell of earth and coolness.  The garden is in full swing, tomatoes are fragrant and sweet,  most of the lumps that come out of my garden are potatoes instead of rocks, and I get to be creative using squash again.  What a fulfilling time, enjoying the fruits of our labors (or others’ labors, if you prefer the farmers’ market or grocery store).  It brings to mind   D&C 59:18-19 “Yea, all things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart;

   Yea, for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul.”

I’m grateful for the beauties of the earth that the Lord has given us, for the wonderful things he’s put here for us to wisely enjoy.  The recipe at the end of the email uses nothing but some of these things that grow for us. Enjoy!

Here is a bit from Elder Maxwell, from a talk he called “Be Of Good Cheer”- both sobering and encouraging. 

“We are living in a time in which we shall see things both wonderful and awful. There is no way that we can be a part of the last days and have it otherwise. Even so, we are instructed by our Lord and Exemplar, Jesus Christ, to “be of good cheer.” (D&C 61:36; D&C 78:18.)

Jesus has given that same instruction to others before, when the stressful circumstances in which they found themselves were anything but cheerful.

“In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33; italics added.)

What precious perspective we obtain from the gospel of Jesus Christ concerning things that really matter—against which we measure the disappointments of the day!

Jesus calls upon us to have a deliberate trust in God’s unfolding purposes, not only for all humankind but for us individually. And we are to be of good cheer in the unfolding process. The Lord has made no secret of the fact that He intends to try the faith and the patience of His Saints. (See Mosiah 23:21.) We mortals are so quick to forget the Lord: “And thus we see that except the Lord doth chasten his people with many afflictions … they will not remember him.” (Hel. 12:3.)

Given the aforementioned grand and overarching reasons to rejoice, can we not “be of good cheer” in spite of stress and circumstance?

President Brigham Young said of a geographical destination, “This is the place.” Of God’s plan of salvation, with its developmental destination, it can be said, “This is the process”!   

(from “Be of Good Cheer” by Neal A. Maxwell,  Oct. 1982 Conference) http://lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?hideNav=1&locale=0&sourceId=1ca9c5e8b4b6b010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD
If you can make the time, please read the whole thing, it’s wonderful!

Now for the recipe: these fruit/nut bars are basically the same as the old-old recipe for ‘fruit balls’ or ‘dried fruit candy’, if you’ve run across those before.  The dates are there both for sweetness and stickiness to hold the whole thing together.  

Just-Fruit-and-Nut Bars (the original 'energy bar') and naturally gluten-free!

1/3 cup chopped pecans - toasting the nuts will increase the flavor
1/3 cup chopped dates
1/3 cup chopped dried apples 

 Put the pecans in a food processor (or blender?) and chop until finely ground.  Remove and do the same with dates and apples.  Add the nuts back in, add a pinch of cinnamon, and process until it holds together.  Divide into 6 pieces, mold each one into a bar, and wrap tightly in plastic wrap, waxed paper, or parchment.  81 calories each, if you care.   (I’m thinking these things ought to be double-sized- plus I’ll make my batch with 1 cup of each ingredient.)

If you can’t have nuts: the nuts are there to give body and fat for shaping, digestibility and energy, so try a combination of chopped-up rolled oats and coconut oil (or butter)


Apricot-Almond: use equal amounts dried apricots, dates, and almonds

Cherry Tart:  equal parts dried cherries, dates, and walnuts or almonds

Peanut Cookie: use peanuts and only dates (2/3 cup).  Add a pinch of salt and a bit of vanilla.

Cashew Cookie: same as Peanut Cookie, except use cashews.

How about using dates, dried pineapple, macadamias, then rolling in coconut?

Or use any nut and dried fruit you have, or whatever else sounds good…..