A Tree Full of Memories

Some people prefer their Christmas tree to have precisely placed bows, dried flowers, and satin balls that match the room’s decor. Our tree, on the other hand, doesn’t match anything—except us.

It holds a hodgepodge of ornaments collected over the years, each with its share of memories. Paper angels, preserved from first grade, carol in bright, crayon-striped dresses; a plastic gold nativity ornament a Primary teacher gave one of the children a long time ago glitters on one of the boughs; pink, green, and yellow salt dough cookie-cutter shapes, relics from preschool, hang by shredding ribbons. There are reminders of places we’ve been—a rope and dried flower ornament from Hawaii, a wooden ornament from San Francisco for each child, a pewter drum the older boys picked out in a Philadelphia shop two years ago, olive wood Christmas shapes we got in Bethlehem this year.

Other memories are held in wooden cars and rocking horses that Grandma tied to the packages one year, and engraved, gold-colored ornaments the kids found in their stockings. Several are wooden ornaments hand painted by Mom one summer. Topping it all off is the treetop ornament that got broken as we were putting it on the tree our first Christmas as a married couple.

Each child knows which are his or her own special ornaments and delights in placing them on the tree (and each plans on taking his ornament with him when he grows up and leaves home). Sometimes crinkled foil “candy canes” and paper chains appear on the tree the week before Christmas when the kids are out of school.

Ours is not the lovely, symmetrically decorated tree it could be, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. When we open the boxes of Christmas decorations each holiday season, we take out boxes full of memories—and place them on our tree. Laurie Williams Sowby, American Fork, Utah

It’s More Than a Journal

I’ve enjoyed keeping a detailed journal for about ten years now. In doing so, I’ve learned that you can have a lot of fun if you express your own personality in it.

I purchase large journals so I can add things like pictures, newspaper clippings, obituaries, and graduation announcements without making the book too bulky. My journal is much more than a scrapbook, however. It contains thoughts and feelings as well as details of events and activities.

As I start each new year in my journal, I include several items:

1. I sign my name so posterity can see how I wrote it.

2. I make a photocopy of my current temple recommend, library card, company identification card, and driver’s license—all on the same page.

3. I trace my left hand (because it has my wedding band on it), and my right shoe (I think I’m right-footed). It’s been fun to go back and look at the outline of old sneakers or boots I’ve worn over the years.

4. I glue onto a page recent school pictures or snapshots of each family member.

5. I include an updated version of our ever-changing family group sheet.

6. I write down what I would like included in my obituary and funeral program. This might sound like a gruesome task, but it’s really quite fun—and I’m sure it would make my family’s decisions a lot easier if they happened to need it during the year. My wife, Shauna, knows where to find it.

7. I review my old journal for a few minutes, select the top ten events from the past year, and summarize them in my new journal. Some of my past Top 10s have been births, my mother’s cancer surgery and recovery, the death of a close friend, a unique experience, a new church calling, a hole-in-one on the golf course, a miracle, a special talk with one of the kids which changed both our lives, a trip, a daddy-daughter date.

8. I write a two-or-three-paragraph synopsis of the past year for my personal history.

9. I list a couple of goals that I want to achieve in the coming year, and I review my goals from the past year to see how well I did.

10. I write down my testimony, addressed to my wife and children, making certain that it includes my love for them, for the Savior, and for the gospel. (My father died before I turned eight. We had eagerly been awaiting my baptism. How I would love a handwritten copy of his testimony.) It’s a wonderful experience to go back ten years and see how my testimony has grown.

I’ve learned that it’s important to write in my journal daily so I don’t forget how I feel and can include my thoughts as well as the bare facts. Sometimes I’ve slipped out of bed fifteen minutes earlier, or stayed up fifteen minutes extra at night. Now I write during my lunch hour.

Have fun keeping your journal! Adding personal items and details like these can make it come alive for you and will be splendid reading for later generations.

And don’t wait until the new year to get started! Jon B. Fish, Peoa, Utah

“Home Study”

Many of us enjoy “how-to” classes such as cake decorating, sewing, knitting, and furniture refinishing. But it’s often expensive to pay tuition and purchase needed equipment for such classes. So, wanting to learn a new skill but having limited finances, a group of friends and I tried the “home study” approach to learning—in this instance, cake decorating. One of the participants donated her kitchen for our project, and we agreed on a day and time for our weekly class, which would meet eight times.

One person in our group was designated chairman. She presented each participant with a class schedule, based on the chapter titles of a fairly inexpensive book ($2.95) on cake decorating found at a local bookstore.

Each class member was encouraged to purchase the book, and was then assigned to teach a different chapter or chapters, as needed. Other books and manuals were borrowed from the library.

Four people in the area who already knew how to decorate cakes agreed to serve as “resource persons.” The class member who was teaching could call on these individuals if she needed advice on a certain technique.

Each of us obtained at least the most basic decorating equipment from a local kitchen supply store. Because the order was large enough, we received a discount on our purchase. We found it important to practice at home, and to bring our successes or failures to class. (Yes, our failures. We often learned how to do something right by doing it wrong the first time.)

On the whole, the class was rated a whopping success. Working as friends in a group, we were able to laugh at our mistakes, give sincere encouragement, and boost one another’s confidence. We shared our creativity, and, in the end, all of us were able to turn out nice-looking cakes for our families and friends. One of the participants became so skillful that she went on to teach for the local parks department and is in continual demand to decorate cakes for weddings and birthdays.

We saved money, too. The class cost us only the materials. Transportation expenses were minimal, because we all lived within a few miles of each other.

We are convinced that this approach to learning at home can be used for developing many different skills. Attending free workshops, and consulting books, pamphlets, “send for” instructions, and resource persons at local stores are all possible starting points. Barbara Starkey, Lacey, Washington

[illustrations] Illustrated by Michael O. Rogan