What you really need at Christmas

This Christmas, I’m posting my best gift, early:

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Yes, it’s merely a picture of my husband shoveling the snow this morning. Two days ago he came home from working on the other side of the country. We haven’t seen him since he drove away last summer. (No, I didn’t chase him away. He willingly came back for the holidays, see?)

Over the past six months I’ve gained a deeper appreciation for single parents and the stresses they deal with all by themselves. It seems that each month I had a new little crisis I had to deal with, without another parent to pick up my slack.

But not this week. My sweet hubby got out of bed, looked out the window, and willingly headed out. That means I don’t have to guilt and nag my sons into doing it—Merry Christmas to me!

As he shoveled, I read online about a family whose healthy, college-aged daughter just died unexpectedly in her sleep. About a young husband whose wife and unborn baby recently died in a car accident. About a military family which is facing Christmas without their husband and dad at home, again.

And here I was, taking pictures of my hubby shoveling.

At Christmas we don’t need as much as we think we do. If you’ve got most of, or even all, of your family around you, that’s huge. This year we’ll see everyone except one, but we’ll be able to skype him Christmas afternoon.

But if you don’t have all of your family with you this year, and may never have them again in this lifetime, you most especially need Christmas.

Or, more specifically, He who’s birth we’re trying to celebrate in the middle of the over-scheduled chaos: the Savior.

Bring to Him your heartache. Bring to Him your longing. Bring to Him your anger, and He will give to you the greatest gift that you truly need: Peace of Mind.

Image result for lds jesus

Thank you all for a wonderful year, and may you find and feel that peace that the Savior brings–that lasting peace which tells you that while your life may make no sense right now, it will in the end. Just hold on, believe in Him, and no matter your circumstances, every Christmas will somehow be merry.

In a way, Mahrree felt almost cheated, almost dismayed, for feeling such dejection in the world, and had she only known how swiftly all that loneliness and longing would be swept away—

No, she did know. A small part of her had always known that whatever misery she was enduring would be seem but a small moment in retrospect. The Writings had said so, but it was as if her physical brain couldn’t fathom what her spiritual mind already knew. No wonder her feelings were often in so much conflict.

But now, with the limitations of her mortal mind lifted, suddenly everything was easier. She could remember the sadness, but marvelously she no longer felt it. She held the memories, but none of the pain.

No wonder they called it Paradise.

(Teaser from future book 8; don’t worry, book 6 is coming, very soon. And so will be books 7 and 8!)

Christmas–it’s not what you may think it is.

Despite the many “feel-good”—and “feel-crappy”—movies and TV shows out there with a holiday theme, Christmas is not about families (or anti-depressant medication).

Despite the numerous sightings in stores and malls, Christmas is not about Santa, or even children, as noble and sweet as that sentiment sounds.

Despite the Obamas’ introduction to the 50th airing of Charlie Brown Christmas special (one of the very few shows that blatantly states what Christmas is about), Christmas is not about “tiny trees” that “need a little love.”

It’s also not about getting the best deal-of-the-year on TVs, cars, movie tie-ins, clothes, furniture, or bacon flavored anything.

It’s not even entirely about a tiny baby born in Bethlehem, although that’s the start.

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(Four years ago my ninth–and last–baby was born. I staged this photo of him with #7 and #8 children. This became our Christmas card that year, my favorite one so far.)

Christmas is about Christ, about his inauspicious birth in a cave, about his utterly selfless life and example which culminated in his laying down his life for his friends—us—and then his astonishing resurrection three days later.  Luke 2:6–7, The holy family

Christmas—along with Easter—is a reminder that death is temporary, and that life can be eternal.

It’s a reminder that our big brother Jesus Christ understands our pain, our struggles, and our despondency because he also experienced it all so that he would know how to comfort us. John 20:3–18, Mary hears Christ while looking for Him at the tomb

It’s a reminder that he took upon us all of our sins, and that if we do our part and repent, he can do so much more for us; he can take away our sin and leave us clean and new and whole again. Mentally, spiritually, and physically.

It’s a reminder that we can be renewed, and that every person who ever walked the earth will one day be resurrected with a glorified, perfected body, and that all pain will be taken away and replaced with such joy that we mere mortals can never imagine.

It’s about granting us the ultimate desire people have dreamed of since the dawn of time: immortality.

John 20:3–18, Mary Magdalene speaks with the resurrected Christ

Talk about the greatest gift in the world!
Christmas . . . it’s all about Christ.

(Thank you, lds.org, for the photos.)

Thanks, Etsy shoppers, for my inability to sleep!

Last year we were dragging ourselves out of a financial mess. After many months of being severely underemployed, our situation was slowing improving with new jobs. But we didn’t yet have any funds for Christmas. I wondered if I could generate a few dollars to provide Christmas for our family of eleven—nine children, plus an in-law and a grandchild. We’ve never spent a lot at Christmas—about $50 a person—but our budget by October was literally nothing. (Writing novels and giving them away for free doesn’t produce much income; go figure.)

I’ve always been crafty, had read about successes on Etsy, and wondered if I any success could be mine. So after several prototypes and a few failures, I came up with this:

House Elf (Dobby) Laundry Room Sign--A fun place to store those single socks

I liked it, wanted one, and hoped maybe someone else would, too. Nervously I put it up for sale.

About a week later someone bravely took a chance on my new shop and . . .

 . . . bought one!

In my head I thought, “That’s enough profit to buy one paperback for a child!”
Then another one sold.
“I can buy a used DVD!”
Then another, and another.
“A handful of matchbox cars! A Minion t-shirt!”

And then the avalanche hit, mid-November. One week, the payment that went into my bank account on Monday was in the triple digits—over $100.

I was ecstatic. And stunned. And overwhelmed. I needed to get cutting more wood and painting and packaging, quick! Get the kids to help—it’s their Christmas we’re buying, after all.

The avalanche grew, and by the second week of December I realized something astonishing: we had earned enough to have a regular Christmas.

I was both humbled and thrilled. My faith in the free market system was also restored as I realized that people all over America were buying my little sock holder, and giving my family a Christmas.

My oldest daughter, whose birthday was in December, said, “Mom, years ago you tried making a Harry Potter/Mrs. Weasly clock. I think you should try it again. I really want one for my birthday.”

I hesitated. What I had made as prototypes were beautiful, but since there were out of solid wood they were heavy, bulky, and ridiculously expensive.

“So try something else,” my daughter was persistent. (Oldest children tend to be the naggiest.) “See what’s out there now. I really want a Harry Potter clock for my apartment.”

My husband and I searched all the hobby stores looking for ideas, but nothing that was reasonably priced. Finally I decided to try a trick I’d done years ago for Mother’s Day gifts: I purchased a clock, dismantled it, made a new face, and reassembled it again. I showed the prototype to my daughter who said, “Very good. Now start selling these on Etsy.”

Harry Potter Clock, 8.75 inches

Why would anyone want this? I mean, I loved, loved coming up with the fonts, designing the face, creating the sayings, but would anyone want it?

I also made the Geek/Nerd clock for fun. For years I’d thought such a clock needed to exist, so I designed it and listed it just in case.

Geek Nerd Clock, 8.75 inches

I got an order here, another one there. But it was January, and things were normally slow. I ran into shipping problems, packaging problems, other worries, and stressed about my ability to make something consistently good enough. I almost, almost pulled the clocks from Etsy.

Why was I so arrogant as to assume someone would find my tinkering worth $21?

Someone was, in Australia. Would I ship a Harry Potter clock internationally? Uh, I guess I could . . . and I realized that international shipping wasn’t that tough.

I also hadn’t understood before the power of websites like Buzzfeed and ThinkGeek and other sites that stroll around the web looking for something mildly interesting, then posting about it.

Someone thought my Harry Potter clock was mildly interesting, put it on a piece about decorating with Harry Potter decor, and within one day I was sold out. An avalanche of orders and requests came, half of them internationally. Gee, people still love Harry Potter as much as we did?

The next month that happened again, with my Geek/Nerd clocks. Several websites picked those up, and in one day I had over 50 requests for those clocks. And the next day, and the next. Every time I opened my email I cringed in worry about how many more requests there would be. It took me three weeks to catch up to the demand. I’d never been afraid of my email before.

etsyshop header

(I realize the name of the shop isn’t too representative of what I sell. I initially was going to sell something completely different, for which the name made sense, but that didn’t pan out. With no idea of what else to name my shop, and not thinking I’d sell more than 30 items, I just kept the old name. In a way, it works. At least, that’s what I tell myself.)

Overwhelmed, I stared at my Etsy stats as they reached numbers I’d never seen before. And when a weekly payments went into my bank account that month sporting four figures, I could do nothing but stare at it.

The timing (ha!) was perfect. We had some major financial needs to fill, and the sales—and my working about 40 hours a week to make all of the products—filled it.

Then another website posted about my sock signs, and someone found out I made Star Wars key signs. More avalanches.

Star Wars key holder

By June my sales had leveled off, but I realized I could quit my part-time job and work from home, never leaving the house to earn money, but always being available for my kids. Another welcomed, wonderful miracle. Etsy buyers were consistently paying for our groceries each month. And for a family of eight, that’s a few dollars. I’ve added a Disc World clock (my personal favorite), a Lord of the Rings clock, a Disney Princess activity clock, and two Star Wars clocks–Light Side and Dark Side, whatever your preference may be.

Have I ever mentioned before that we’re a bit geeky at our house?

Now, a little over a year since I started, I’m once again overwhelmed—happily—with orders for Christmas. There’s no time to work on my books, or keep my blog updated (except for this). Our Christmas is already paid for this year, and now we’re hoping to pay for someone else’s. This bounty is also letting me donate $1 from every DiscWorld/Terry Pratchett clock I sell to the Alzheimer’s Association, and much of our proceeds from last week and this week will be donated to help the Syrian refugees via the LDS Church’s humanitarian organization.

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It’s tough to be three years old and see giant rolls of bubble wrap in your mom’s room, just waiting to be used. Even tougher when you sneak in her room and start popping the rolls when you think she can’t see you. Amazing how she still hears it, though . . .

A year ago, I never would have suspected I’d sell over one thousand products, a number I hit a week or so ago. I realize that for a lot of Etsy sellers that’s not a big number. But I’m not used to success. This feels huge! I’ve sold to every state in the union, and sent orders to a dozen other countries. My kids enjoy seeing the places where our little ditties fly off to.

But there are some disadvantages to working from home. Try this: go to your place of work or business, get your pillow and blanket, then have a good night’s sleep there.

Yeah, not too easy, is it? My storage and packaging room is also my bedroom. We have a small house and a large family, and while we’re down to only 5/6 kids (depending who’s home from college/army), every room is filled with kids, so my bedroom is also where I keep my orders chart, my shipping boxes, etc. When I lay down at night, I stare at the shelves crammed with work that needs to go out in the morning. Not the most restful.

Nor can I get away from it. When you work out of the house, you can leave your job and relax at home. But even as I sit here happily typing away and “relaxing”, I see out of the corner of my eye the stack of shipping labels that will be taped to packages tomorrow, and while I never work on Sundays (I desperately need a day of rest and renewal) my job sits there, watching me, waiting for early Monday morning . . .

But that’s ok—I don’t mind. I’m fine losing a bit of sleep because of success.
It’s a lot tougher to lose sleep because of failures.
I’ve been down that road.
This one’s a lot better. Thank you for this sleepless journey!