This year has felt a little more calm, coming into December. With John home now (RETIRED) we can just chip away at getting ready for Christmas. It’s been so nice. We are so happy to have our kids around us. Adam and his family will arrive from Kansas City in a week on the 17th, then we’ll all be here together again.
There are not many Christmas tree lots in Orem this year. We know of only 3 small ones, and one had already closed down. The price of trees has doubled since the last time we bought a tree 2 years ago. Times are changing.
We love going together to pick out a tree. We love having a real fresh fragrant tree filling our home with the Christmassy scent of fir.
Jason Allred (Aaron’s roommate), Graham & Claire, Aaron, John
I took a trip to Yakima, Washington this week to visit some dear friends and my special friend, Penny, who invited us all to join her for a special celebration at the Mat & Savannah Shaw Concert in Spokane. Penny is battling cancer and other health issues and I wanted to see her again while she is still able.
We had a wonderful week together, welcoming in the Christmas season. I love Penny and I loved being back in Yakima for this quick visit.
It moved my heart strings to drive past the Mission Home in Yakima where we spent 3 of the most wonderful years of our lives. Interestingly, the new Mission President living here now is Phil Welch, who served in my hometown Reedley Ward when I was a senior at Reedley High. We became friends then. Who would ever have imagined how our paths would cross in Yakima!
Here’s an article I helped to write for the Friend magazine. This story is taken from my journal and blog entries of our Christmas in Bamako last year.
Christmas in Mali
By Jessica Larsen
(Based on a true story)
The author lives in Texas, USA.
Judith couldn’t wait to celebrate Jesus’s birth with her branch.
“Angels we have heard on high sweetly singing o’er the plains” (Hymns, no. 203).
It was Christmas Day. Judith hummed as she walked to the church building. She and her siblings were going to their branch’s Christmas party.
Her sister, Esther, smiled. “Is that ‘Angels We Have Heard on High?’”
“Yes! It’s my favorite. I hope we sing it today.” Judith grinned.
“I love that song!” Désiré, her brother, added. He loudly sang, “Gl-o-o-o-ria!”
They all laughed. Judith couldn’t wait to celebrate with their branch. Not many people in Mali celebrated Christmas. In this part of Africa, most people didn’t know much about Jesus. To them, Christmas was just an ordinary day.
The streets were full of people. Vendors sold light green melons. People young and old carried jugs of water on their heads. A young boy led a donkey pulling a cart. Judith looked up at the tall, narrow tower of a mosque. It was a beautiful building where many of their Muslim neighbors worshipped.
Judith, Esther, and Désiré used to go to Papa’s church. But last summer, they joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Now the three of them walked to church together every week. Judith loved learning about Jesus in Primary.
At last they got to the party. Most of the families in the branch were already there. A projector was showing Christmas videos on the chapel wall. Judith watched Joseph lead Mary through Bethlehem on a donkey. The busy, dusty streets reminded her of Mali!
After the video ended, a taxi pulled up. Sister Valerie, the Relief Society president, got out.
“I’ve brought the food!” she called.
Everyone helped bring dishes up to the balcony. It was a feast! Potato salad, carrots, green beans, bright yellow rice, fried chicken … it was all delicious!
“Thank you so much, Sister Valerie!” Judith said.
Then the youngest children each got a ball, doll, or toy car. There weren’t enough gifts for Judith to get one, but she didn’t mind. She loved seeing the little kids smile.
The party ended with singing. Judith smiled when they sang “Angels We Have Heard on High.”
The whole branch sang together. It was so beautiful. Jesus really was born all those years ago! Judith was so grateful that she, Désiré, and Esther knew about Him. And she was so happy to celebrate His birth.
After our Thanksgiving Feast, we brought out our chimes and everyone settled in to learn their parts. We’ve marked the music to make it as easy as possible for everyone. I gave these chimes to John for Christmas many years ago. They’ve been so much fun everywhere we’ve gone. We play them in our ward each year for Christmas and every other excuse we can find with family and friends.
I love Thanksgiving. Our Lewis family has settled in to a pretty perfect traditional celebration and meal every year. We all have our assignments and we all do them well. Our feast menu has been refined over the years until it’s reached perfection: Turkey, gravy and stuffing (Jeffrey and Kathleen), homemade rolls (Diana), corn soufflé (Barb), candied yams (John), mashed potatoes (Claire and Graham), fresh cranberry relish (Ann), and Leah Camp’s jello (John). The rest of the menu may vary year to year. This year McKay grilled fresh asparagus, Marie Owens added green bean casserole and Jeffrey made a cucumber, tomato and avocado salad.
This year we missed having the David Lewis family, who were out with Covid at their home.
On Thanksgiving morning, we all are busy with our assignments. John is always assigned the candied yams, which he loves and I always make the fresh cranberry relish.
Here are the recipes we use year after year:
Of course, we use BUTTER instead. Here are the simple instructions: Steam large yams (Do Not Overcook!) in lightly salted water. Cool. Peel. Slice “a good 1/2 inch.” Melt butter in a large skillet. Add brown sugar and milk, bring to a boil for a minute or two. Carefully lay each slice of yam in the syrup and let it cook for a minute or two, turning it over and over again until well-coated with the syrup. Place in serving dish.
This fresh cranberry recipe (in my mom’s handwriting) is everyone’s favorite. I usually make a double recipe, using navel oranges. I trim the ends off the orange first, but leave the rest of the peel on. Sugar to taste. This is also really good with chopped apple and chopped pecans added.
Yesterday Uncle Jeffrey brined the 2 turkeys. Claire and Graham went over to his house (where we traditionally gather on Thanksgiving) to watch and learn how to do it. Here’s the recipe he’s perfected:
Prep Time: 36 hours Cook Time: 2-4 hours Total Time: 40 hours Difficulty: Medium Source: Jeffrey Lewis
BRINE – DRY INGREDIENTS:
1-1/2 cups Kosher salt
6 bay leaves
2 Tbsp. whole coriander seeds
2 Tbsp. whole black peppercorns
1 Tbsp. fennel seeds
1 tsp. Mustard seeds
BRINE TURKEY (36 hours ahead of baking):
Prepare a 5-gallon plastic bucket, by lining it with a white kitchen trash bag. Combine the dry ingredients with 2 quarts of water; boil until salt is dissolved. Cool 10-15 minutes. Remove innards from turkey; discard. Place turkey in the bucket; add boiled liquid; add all fresh ingredients; add wine; add cold water to top off bucket. Close top of bag. Refrigerate.
AFTER 18 HOURS: Flip bird!
PREP FOR BAKING: Discard brine; DO NOT RINSE TURKEY! Let bird sit while making stuffing. Mop up excess liquid with paper towels. Season turkey with fresh thyme, fresh rosemary, fresh sage, fresh garlic. You can smash softened butter all over turkey, at your option!
Use heavy duty foil to make enclosure around the turkey. Bake at 425 until pop-up thermostat comes out (140-150 degrees).
Rest turkey up to 25-30 minutes (while making gravy).
CRITICAL CARVING TIP:
Remove the breasts from the carcass; place on cutting board. Cut across the grain 1/2-3/4″ thick. Be sure to use drippings on cut turkey!
Our family loves traditional stuffing. Here are the recipes from my mom and from John’s mom. Jeffrey’s recipe is similar.
Claire and Marie played some Christmas duets while we finished the food prep.
Kathleen is always in charge of the table decor. She always scavenges fall beauty from different yards to put together a spectacular show.
Before the blessing of thanksgiving on our feast, Aunt Barb shared a few words, including this beautiful poem:
Here is the famous Lewis corn soufflé recipe (pictured above).
2 cans whole corn or equivalent frozen corn
1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. evaporated milk
1 Tbs. flour
2 eggs, well beaten
1/4 c. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
Preheat the oven to 350. Heat butter with sugar; stir in flour, whisk together. Remove from heat and whisk in milk. Add eggs and baking powder; whisk together. Fold in corn and pour into shallow buttered casserole dish. Bake 40 minutes. Immediately after you remove from oven, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Serve hot!
Uncle Lowell’s mother, Leah Camp died last May. We served her beloved Jell-o salad this year in her honor:
Pineapple Cream and Cheese Jell-o Salad
20 oz can of crushed pineapple (2 1/2 cups)
3/4 c. sugar
1 3-oz pkg. lemon Jell-o (1 c. boiling water)
1/3 c. chopped pecans
1 c. shredded cheese
Combine pineapple and sugar and cook for about 3 minutes to dissolve the sugar. Cool. Dissolve the Jell-o in boiling water. Add the pineapple mixture and cool. Add chopped nuts and cheese. Mix and cool until almost set. Whip cream until stiff. Fold into Jell-o. Chill until firm. Use 7×11 pan.
We topped off out feast with the pies made yesterday at Pie Day (see previous entry). It’s almost more than our bodies can handle, but somehow we manage!
Our Lewis family Thanksgivings traditionally fill 2 days, beginning with Pie Day on Wednesday. We all have our roles. Aunt Diana Wakimoto usually hosts the event at her home. Cousin Chrissy Lassen is the resident crust maker. We are each assigned certain pies to work on.
The Pie Makers have been known to make up to 35 pies in a a day. This year, we scaled back a bit, for a smaller crowd (some Covid in the family). Twelve pies for 22 people. Not bad. We each can eat half a pie!
This year we made 2 pumpkin, 2 pecan, 2 banana cream, 1 coconut cream, 1 berry, 1 cold raspberry cream, 1 chocolate candy bar and 2 apple pies in a sack (my favorite, recipe below).
Diana has professional baking racks, which are the best ever on a day like today!
Apple Pie in a Sack
1 ½ c. flour
½ c. salad oil
1 ½ t. sugar
2 Tbl cold milk
1 t. salt
Prepare crust first. Combine dry ingredients, then oil and milk. Stir and form into a ball.
Form into a 9” pie pan by patting or pressing.
5 c. apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
1 t. lemon juice
½ c. sugar
½ t. nutmeg
2 Tbl flour
½ t. cinnamon
Toss together and put into shell. (I do enough apples so that it mounds as high as I can get it to mound—they really cook down.)
½ c. flour
½ c. butter or margarine
½ c. sugar
Combine with fork until crumbly. Sprinkle over apples.
Place the pie in a large brown paper bag and fold and staple it closed.
Bake in preheated oven at 350 degrees for 1 hour 45 min.
Granny Smith apples are our favorite, and I add a dash or two of Mace because it’s my favorite spice.
The secret to good pecan pies is to double the amount of pecans, leaving plenty of them whole or not chopped.
Here come the apple pies! Yum!This Lewis Family tradition has been celebrated for many years. Claire was little when she first started joining the fun. The cousins have all learned how to make pies from the best. We always remember Aunt Bonny on Pie Day, she was our master teacher before she died. Chrissy and Di now carry on and the rest of us happily follow.
We came home from taking our last load of humanitarian aid for Zimbabwe late this afternoon and found the kids hard at work here, hauling load after load of leaves from our yard across the street into Farmer Ron’s fields.
Fall is a restful time of year, until the last days before snow or rain comes. There is a lot of work to do to finish winterizing all of our yards. I’m not sure how we’d manage without the fields next door. I think we spread more than a dozen tarps full of leaves between the rows, a great mulch for the orchards there. Farmer Ron was always so pleased to receive our leaves. I hope he is smiling down on us now.
A few years ago, Challenger School donated about $500,000 of brand new school uniforms to a friend of ours to send to Africa. The uniform styles had changed and the schools were no longer able to sell or use these. The uniforms have been sitting in boxes for several years now, waiting for a chance to be shipped. With the COVID restrictions and the back log of containers at sea, these uniforms were going nowhere.
My friends with Eyes for Zimbabwe, who ship humanitarian supplies each year, were able to arrange for 2 containers this year. Our friend agreed to let us take the uniforms for the children of Zimbabwe. He was happy to empty out his storage space and get these uniforms into the hands of school children.
John and I and some other helpers have spent the last 3 days taking load after load to the LDS Humanitarian Center in Salt Lake, where the containers are being filled.
We took these uniforms and almost 3000 hygiene kits to our friends, who gratefully received them and prepared them for shipping. Reeve Nield is helping to direct this work from Zimbabwe. CC Lundgreen from Norway was here to receive the offerings.
Cecilie Lundgreen (CC) center, with a volunteer and Ann Lewis at the LDS Humanitarian Center in Salt Lake City
Here are some of the loads we brought this week of uniforms and kits.
There were several helpers inside who unpacked the boxes and sorted the uniforms by type and size. Then the clothing was taken to be bundled for packing in the container.
Here’s how the bundling machine compresses the clothing and packs it into tight bales for shipping:
The LDS Humanitarian Center is a busy place, where aid of every kind is prepared to be shipped all over the world. With the backlog of shipping containers this year, there were plenty of supplies here waiting for shipment to those in need.
Volunteers work here every day, sorting and baling clothing and supplies. Here’s a look at some of the sorting rooms:
I love how the Church of Jesus Christ takes care of people in every corner of the world. If there are needs, the Church is there to help.
I am so proud to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am grateful for so many who do what Jesus would do to help. Being involved in that good made me feel so completely happy this week. There is joy in serving others.
We had many Americans serving in our Abidjan East Mission who are now home. We decided to organize a reunion here to get everyone together again. Many are in school here in Utah, some are now married, others are working. It was really fun to see everyone again on this side of the ocean.
Our menu for the evening included the things we ate and loved in the Ivory Coast: pizza was always a treat, but at just about every zone conference we were served rice and drumsticks, so that’s what I prepared!
John made a batch of brownies and a couple of batches of our favorite Ivorian chocolate chip cookies.
We also had a few returned African missionaries join us, which was a treat.
One of the most fun parts of the evening was that EVERYTHING spoken was in French. We all dove back in with our language skills for games and visiting.
Those who wanted to wrote notes to former investigators and members they knew when we were there.
Elder Mark Tenney hosted the party at his parents’ home in Provo. He organized a very fun Ivorian Jeopardy game that was really fun.
We are grateful for lasting friendships and good missionaries who served their hearts out among people we all love.
We are reacquainting ourselves with our yard and with a world with seasons. It’s been a glorious time to return–I love the fall. Now winter is coming and the last of the leaves are coming down. The kids helped us haul about a dozen tarps full of leaves across the street to Farmer Ron’s orchards. It was a lot of work and it felt a little sad to put the yard to bed for the coming winter.
I hope that when I die, it’s after fall and before winter, like my mom, who departed on Halloween and was buried a day before the first snowfall. The time to rest from worldly cares and hunker down for winter. Perfect timing.