all the things I do in my hideaway

Archive for the ‘Traditions’ Category

Memories of Memorial Day

I’ve been thinking about Memorial Day recently.  I’m the daughter of a Battle of the Bulge survivor/veteran, and the mother of a member of the US armed forces, a veteran of multiple deployments to the Middle East.  Several of my high school classmates left this life in the jungles of Vietnam, while others returned home.  I understand the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day, and the original reason for these holidays.  That said…

As a child, Memorial Day included remembering family members who have died, too.  With the cemetery close to our home, it was just a walk to “visit” Grandma and Grandpa, and, in time, Uncle Walt.  In more recent years, uncles and aunts have joined them, as has my sweet sister, Marilyn.

Memorial Day four years ago is especially memorable to me, and to some of my family, who were there with us.  The story of that day was written by my daughter, Jenn, shortly after Marilyn passed away two months later.

It was Memorial Day 2013; and Matthew and I were going to meet family members at Elysian Gardens Cemetery to place flowers on the headstones. For once, the weather cooperated and was sunny with just the right amount of wind. Matthew was initially more excited about seeing his Great-Grandma, PoPo (Wayne), and Marilyn.

As Marilyn was having a hard time with the side effects of chemotherapy, she wisely chose to stay in the car. With the car parked in the shade and the two front windows down, it provided a great place for her to see everything going on in comfort. I went over and stayed by the car with her, talking about anything and everything, watching all that was going on.

Everywhere you looked, headstones had been decorated with flowers, teddy bears, flags, and pinwheels. Remember I mentioned that there was just the right amount of wind? Well, all those pinwheels were happily turning in breeze, displaying quite a rainbow of colors. Being a typical four year old, Matthew couldn’t contain himself, he just had to stop all those pinwheels! He would stop one of them and go to stop all the others; only to race back to the original because it was turning again. Back and forth he ran yelling, “Stop turning! No, stop it!” and other things. Marilyn begin to laugh and not a small laugh either. This was laughter that I had not heard from her for many months; and hearing it made me laugh. We laughed until we were breathless and had tears in our eyes, which only served to make us laugh more.

Poor Matthew, he never did get all those pinwheels to stop turning, but what he did accomplish was something so much greater. For a brief moment in time, Marilyn was completely free of all her worries and cares, setting aside the physical and mental problems.

He gave me something too. He gave me the perfect memory of Marilyn to keep in my heart and his, the sound of her laughter that was as joyful as those pinwheels turning in the breeze. 

And so it is, that pinwheels spin in my front yard, as well as in cemeteries around the country this weekend.


While Monday may be the day set apart for remembering those who gave their lives in the service of our country, it is also a day I remember those who have gone before me, who await my arrival, someday, in the presence of the Father, where all tears and sorrows have passed, and joy is found.


Memories…and nativity scenes

Christmas is a magical season for children, a time of gifts and celebrations, school vacations, dreams of snow, family.

My earliest Christmas memory is from the Christmas just before my fourth birthday.  We spent Christmas Eve and Christmas in Provo at Aunt Verena and Uncle Eph’s home.  This is my earliest memory of my Uncle Gary, who I thought was a really neat guy.   I worried that Santa would not find me there, because our Christmas tree sat in the front window of our home in Murray.   Mom and Dad promised me that Santa knew I would be in Provo.   Santa found me in Provo, and all was well.   When we returned home, to my joy and delight, there were gifts under the Christmas tree there also!  Santa had found me in two places!  And what a brave Santa!  There were two drums under the tree, one for me and one for my brother!   I’m sure I was taught about the birth of the Savior, but that Christmas, it was all about Santa finding me.

The next Christmas I remember was after we moved back to Salt Lake City from Denver.  There, our tree was in front of the bay window on the south side of the front room.  Next to the bay window was a door that opened to the outside, but was never opened.  I imagine Grandpa had planned to put stairs there, perhaps a porch, too, but that was never built.  Just a door with about a four foot step straight down if one was inclined to use it as an exit.  There was a great advantage to this placement, as we children learned in years to come.  The door leading into the front room was a “pocket” door, a door that slide into a recess in the wall.  It was possible to open this door just over an inch before it made a sound.  We would use that for early peeks at what Santa brought.  But that is a later story.  This Christmas had been preceeded by some frustration, I remember.  We were living with Grandpa Ohlin, who was a carpenter.  He had a separate shop in back of our home, heated by a little pot belly stove.  I was always welcome to visit there, except for the few weeks before that Christmas.  It seems that there were secrets hidden in that shop.  Under the tree on Christmas morning were three toy chests, one for me, one for Steve, and one for Kathy.  The toy chests were open, and, on the lid of each chest, were new clothes for each of us.

Clothes and Christmas…always a pair.  Every Christmas, there were new clothes, sewed by Mom, late at night while we slept.   As my children were growing up,  I did the same thing.   Mom and I talked about it one Christmas.   With money tight, making new clothes filled two needs.  A gift was created to gladden a child, and needed clothing provided at the same time.  That new clothing almost led to the “year without a Christmas” when I was in fifth or sixth grade.  Girls were required to wear dresses to school, so I had several dresses, skirts, blouses, and sweaters.  A very popular skirt at that time was a plaid wool skirt, pleated on the plaid, so at the waistband of the skirt, only one of the colors showed.  I wanted a skirt like that.   About 1 a.m., Christmas morning, we crept down the stairs from the attic bedroom, to the oh-so-convenient door.  Carefully opening the door, we peeked through the small crack.  Hanging on the hinge of the “door to nowhere” was a red/black/grey pleated skirt!  Kathy, three years younger than me, immediately felt it was HER skirt.  I was equally convinced this was MY skirt.  Hustling back upstairs, there ensued an argument about the ownership of that most coveted gift.  I pulled the “age card” and announced the skirt was mine, because, “I’m the oldest.”  To that, Kathy responded with tears and proclaimed she was going to tell Mom and Dad that we were peeking.  In fact, she was going to go downstairs and tell them that very minute.  Horror of horrors – that would be the worst thing she could do.  We had heard many times that there were no presents for children who peeked.  There would only be coal in the stockings.  I wasn’t so worried about that threat, but knew we would be in trouble anyway.  After much discussion, it was decided that we would never mention this indiscretion.  The skirt was mine, but Mom made a turquoise one for Kathy soon after that.  We had all been adults for many years before Mom and Dad knew about that Christmas morning!

Although Dad didn’t paint like his mother did, one year he decided to paint a hillside in Bethlehem on the front room window.  It was great fun to see the hill, the buildings, and the star appear on the window.  At night, from outside, the silhouette of the land, with the shining star was magnificent.  I only remember one painting like that.  Perhaps the clean up was the problem.  As I recall, Dad had to scrape the paint off the window with a razor blade!

Growing up in Utah brought white Christmases.  We would worry, as children, that if the snow was missing, Santa won’t come.  One year, Dad suggested that if it didn’t snow, Santa would use his helicopter.  I remember trying to stay awake and listen for his noisy transportation, but fell asleep.  When morning came, even without snow, that magical man had come to our home!  I must admit that, while I love the Pacific Northwest, and hate having snow in a place where an inch of snow brings the city to a halt, seeing white flakes at Christmas time makes the season special.  There was a possibility of a few flakes this Christmas morning, but the temperatures are too high, so we will have liquid snow.  Our children also dreamed of white Christmases.  In the days before internet weather maps, learned well from their parents to call the ATIS at Boeing field and listen to the current aviation weather.  They learned the importance of relative humidity, temperature, and dew point in creating that most desired of Christmas weather.

I have a collection of nativity sets, and perhaps my love for that particular decoration in my home began with those early Christmases.  I don’t remember how we got the nativity set, but we had a cardboard nativity.  The base had cardboard half-circles that we pushed up and stood the figures on.  I don’t know what happened to it, but for many years, I remember the excitement of setting it up.  It was simple and inexpensive, but a reminder to all of the true meaning of Christmas.  I thought of that nativity, so many years ago, last night.  A knock at the door brought us a gift.  Opened, it was a nativity set, unlike any I have.  And, for years to come, when I set up that set, I will remember the wonderful friends who brought that to our home, just as I remember those who have given me other nativities, and that first nativity in my life.

There were many other Christmases celebrated in that home on 7th East, then in the home on Brookwood Circle.  As the years progressed, more and more gifts were under the tree, as the family size increased.  On two most memorable Christmases, all seven of Mom and Dad’s children were there, bringing their own families to the celebration.  Not all could sleep at the home.  The last of these celebrations, in 1982, had about 35 people for Christmas morning.  My family slept at Aunt Fern’s home, and my children have wonderful memories of sleeping upstairs in the room Aunt Fern built herself, many years after Uncle Walt’s death.  In fact, the older children loved many things about that home.  But that is a blog for another day.  Mom bought Christmas fabric and we made fabric drawstring bags for the children to put their gifts in.  Mike and Kathy brought treats from Frito-Lay (his employer) and the children earned “money” to buy their treats at the store Mike ran.  My children remember that year, too, for our trip to Mesa to see their paternal grandparents, where we went swimming in an outdoor pool.  That was our last Christmas with their Grandpa Christensen, who suffered a stroke while we were there, and passed away the next spring.  We drove home from the visit with a stop-over in St. George, where we visited with Aunt Jocile, spending an extra night because of snow.  My older children might remember visiting the tabernacle there, where the Church filmed The Windows of Heaven video.  Aunt Jo showed us the different patterns on the stone bricks, each characteristic of the mason who shaped the stone. We returned to Salt Lake on Christmas Eve, having spent  nine hours very snowy hours on the road.  A memorable year,  the last in which all the descendants of my parents celebrated Christmas together.

Since then, the grandchildren are grown, and the greatgrandchildren are many.  The family is scattered across the United States, while Kathy and Mike are in New Zealand.  Wherever we are, I’m sure many of us will think of those Christmases this Christmas Day.  Memories…what Christmases are made of.  Memories of snow and Santa…family and friends…the greatest memory of all…the gift of our Savior, Jesus Christ.


A few of the nativity sets in my home.


Some of the other nativities in my collection.


A very special set, made with the assistance of a good friend and neighbor, Liz Salterelli, many years ago.


The newest of my collection.

May your joys be many on this Christmas day.  With recent events in our country, I have felt sadness, too.  My nephew, who writes some brilliant posts on his blog, has a beautiful perspective for the season.  Feel free to read his thoughts at:

May peace be with you this day!

Fruit of my labors…

A unique month, not found on the calendar, has begun in the Pacific Northwest.  This is the month known as Blackberry Season.  Drive around, and you’ll see men, women, children, of all ages, picking berries into buckets, cups, grocery bags, bowls…and some just eating!

The Himalayan Blackberry was brought to North America in the late 1800s, valued for its large, juicy berries.  Loved by birds and many other animals, the plant spread widely.  This beautiful corner of God’s creation is prime real estate for these berries.   Leave land unattended, and chances are, blackberries will be comfortably taking over within a few short years.

As a science teacher, I love to mention this plant.  This is a perfect example, growing on the perimeter of our school grounds, of seed dispersal by animals.  Animal eats berry, animal digests berry – expect the seed, animal performs what is known, in a life science classroom, as “excretion.”  You know about that.  The “offerings” from the birds, found on cars, sidewalks, trees, patios, and occasionally, oops!  On you…or me.  Teachers call this a “real world connection.”  What a tasty connection!

Just a side note:  Those animals are often birds, but I know for certain that porcupines participate in the great seed dispersal.  A few Blackberry Seasons ago, my daughter, Suzanne and I were hiking on Cougar Mountain.  We stopped at the top of the hill to just look around and spotted a porcupine, up on his (or her – we didn’t ask or try to look) hind quarters, picking and eating blackberries as fast as it could.  Other animals like this month, too.

For eleven months, residents despair of eliminating these plants from their yards.  Herbicides claiming to eliminate the canes – nice sales pitch!  Dig, cut, burn,…what?  There’s another one growing in a new spot in the yard.  A few enterprising souls even have a unique business – “Rent a Goat.”  Those four-legged creatures,  immortalized for eating Bill Grogan’s three red shirts off the clothesline, will eat blackberry canes, thorns and all.

But this is Blackberry Season.  So, this morning…


Almost a gallon today…

What should I do with this wealth?

I have so many choices; pie, cobbler, ice cream topping, ice cream, jam, jelly, pancake syrup, …think I’ll just freeze these.  Then I have choices all winter.  And Blackberry Season has just begun.

Quilting weather…

The back yard, with icicles hanging from the eaves.


Our recycle bin, topped with snow. The bottom, thicker layer of snow, then a 3/4 inch layer of clear ice, topped with the still falling snow...


“Snow days”…something I thought only happened to my cousins on a farm in southern Alberta.  I grew up in the Salt Lake valley, and the best I could hope for in snowy weather was to be the last bus to arrive at school.  At that, second period in high school was the latest I ever arrived.  Then, I married, and we moved to the Pacific Northwest, where we have lived and raised our family.  I soon learned about “snow days.”  Through the years, certain traditions became a part of these special, “surprise” holidays.  Hot spiced cider or apple juice was a necessity after playing in the snow, and pictures in the snow, with a sign giving the date, memorialized the occasion.  Our family photo album contains many such pictures.

The seven children have grown up and moved to their own homes, but the snow days continue.  I am the teacher now, and I’m sure my students haven’t thought much about science, other than the weather, for the past two days.  Why?  Because these have been those special holidays – snow days!  Tomorrow will be another snow day, and hopefully, the ice storm that has paralyzed the Puget Sound will end, and the snow/ice/snow will melt away…to be a cold memory.

What have I been doing?  Quilting…sorting through fabrics, pondering ideas, reading quilt magazines, a birthday gift project, some mending, a quilted tote bag project, looking at fabrics again…a special, surprise holiday.  Oh yes, and, just for a few hours, I did think about science…

Continuing the tradition…

Christmas, 1936, brought an exciting Christmas present for my Grandma Ohlin.  Grandpa bought her an electric sewing machine!  Until then, she had used a treadle machine to create clothes for her family.  She was a seamstress, not by profession, but by necessity.  She made clothes for her family, for church bazaars, and for grandchildren, using whatever materials she had available.  She used scraps to make quilts to keep the family warm.  Mom remembers that Christmas, when she was 10 years old.  The gifts that year were all wrapped in red cellophane.  It was the Depression, and you used what you had.  Grandpa hid the machine at Aunt Fern and Uncle Walt’s house, to be delivered at the appropriate time.

When I was 4 1/2 years old, my family was preparing to move from Salt Lake City to Denver.  Grandma was tieing a flannel quilt for my brother, a grey background with red yarn ties.  I asked to help, and Grandpa said, “Sylvia, you are too young.”  Grandma had other ideas when she responded, “No she isn’t, Carl.”  Grandpa was sent to get the red crochet cotton and soon I had a needle in hand.  I’m sure the ties I added weren’t great, but Grandma left them there.  I’m sure she didn’t realize that would be the only quilt we would make together.  She died seven months later after a short illness, but the memory of that day didn’t die with her.   It is a treasured memory of a Grandma gone too soon.

The sewing machine became Mom’s machine after Grandma’s death, and with it, Mom clothed her seven children.  Mom didn’t follow Grandma’s quilt making tradition, although Aunt Fern did.  I was in college when Aunt Fern taught Mom to hand quilt, and I learned, too.  My stitches weren’t great or quickly set, but I knew the basics.  The sewing machine became mine when I was a freshman in college, since Mom had gotten a machine that would zigzag.

I had four children before I got a “modern” machine that did more than straight stitch, but Grandma’s machine was the one my older daughters sewed on first.  Eventually, I stopped using it, and it was a piece of furniture for many years.  Last summer, I had it repaired, ready for piecing quilt projects.  Many years after my “quilting day with Grandma,” I started doing some “quilt” projects.  I learned on my own, reading books and magazines, and sometimes, just “doing my own thing.”   Aunt Fern shared quilt ideas and skills with me, too.  Still, that memory of Grandma was with me each time I worked on a project.

As Christmas approached, I wanted to “make a memory” with my grandsons.  We have been blessed with three grandsons.  Matthew, 3 yrs. old, lives in another state and isn’t quite old enough for this kind of project. Aidan and Ryan, ages eight and five, live close and  are just the right age for keeping secrets and having fun.  We decided to make a quilt for their parents as a Christmas surprise.

The boys chose batiks from my collection during one weekend visit.  I cut 8 inch squares and sewed them together on Grandma’s machine.  Then the boys came over again to help tie the quilt.  We used flannel on the back and a puffy bat to make it into a “snuggle blanket.”

We had a system as we tied.  I put the needle down through the quilt “sandwich”, and Ryan would crawl under and pull the yarn through.  Then the needle came up, and again, Ryan pulled the yarn through.  Aidan came behind, cutting the yarn and tieing square knots.  They took out the pins and wrapped up in the blanket, finished or not!

I bound the quilt with the strips left from the fat quarters, and then we wrapped it up in a big box.  It was still a secret!  What fun to see them give that big box to their parents.   The boys want to make more quilts, this time for themselves.  We will, and the tradition will continue…

The quilt, not quite finished, but on the way.

Snuggling under the quilt...who needs a binding?

I’m sure Grandma, and Grandpa, smiled as they watched…and it all started with a Christmas present, 75 years ago.

Snuggling under Mom and Dad's Christmas present.

Traditions…revisited (a hideaway away from home)

Big Kachess

In 1975, we made our first appearance at our ward campout.  We packed up our GMC pickup with gear and two children, and camped at Lake Kachess for the first time.  We slept in the back of the truck, and had a great time.  We shared a campsite with a good friend (her husband couldn’t come) and their two children.  The lake (actually, two lakes made one by a dam) was very low that year.  Tree stumps, long underwater, and the stream that joined Big and Little Kachess were our “beach.”  The weather was beautiful.  Friday night was the ward campfire activity, Saturday morning was breakfast, cooked by the bishopric.  We went regularly as our children were growing up, and have many wonderful memories of the times there.  As the children grew older and ward boundaries changed, we didn’t attend for several years.  However, with the  boundary changes a few years ago, we are back in the May Creek ward.  We haven’t spent the night recently, but have driven up on Saturday morning for the breakfast.  This year, I went up on Thursday.  This was coming full circle.  I camped next to the same wonderful friend.  This time, she had her husband, some of her children, and grandchildren.  My husband came up for breakfast on Saturday morning, and we were able to spend some time walking around and remembering our times there with the family.  The lake is the highest I have ever seen.  The beaches where we played (and drove our van when the lake was really low)  are all underwater.  Thursday was rainy, off and on, with time clear for some good walks.  Other days were clear.  Both nights were COLD!  Think – all your blankets, socks on your feet, and a hooded sweatshirt to keep your head warm!  I did have a tent to sleep in.  Somethings don’t change – Friday night campfire and Saturday morning breakfast!  Great time….waiting to put the dates on the calendar for next year!

Our favorite campsite for many years, now very overgrown. This area was closed for several years, but is now open.

"Camp berries" - a tradition that sometimes isn't available. They were few this year, but good.