Merry Christmas

As an art teacher, I’m constantly telling students to push their value contrasts – the areas of dark and light that make their drawings more interesting. This year has been one of contrasts; moments of light and shadows of darkness.

The HIGHLIGHTS include:

  • Tim graduating from the University of Utah with a BS degree in Economics.
  • Andrew, Annie and Ender returning from a 3 – year deployment in Italy, Andrew now working as an Army recruiter in Bakersfield.
  • A family reunion in St. George to visit see the grandparents and hike Zion Nat’l Park.
  • Pam teaching art at Layton High and doing radio spots for BYU Sirius XM Radio 143
  • Getting buttery smooth new carpet in our house – it’s like walking on a teddy bear.
  • A great vacation in Newport Beach; seeing a Bouguereau exhibit at the San Diego Museum of art and Manet at the Getty. We visited with 5 of our 7 children and most of our grandkiddos.
  • Looking for a site to build a house on.
  • Welcoming “Grandma Great” Nixon Lawrence  into our household as she needs more companionship and care and Cindy and Dave move to St. George, UT.
  • Newell planning to retire in less than 2 years and getting ready to do instructional videos about science and creativity.

The SHADOWS were saying goodbye to some of our favorite people as they wrapped up their time on earth – Pam’s Dad Larry Layton and Uncle Dave Roberts. These 2 good men served their country in the army and communities as Elementary School Principal in Oceanside and Fire Captain in Santa Barbara.

Now as we look through the lenses of 2020, we see more light with shadows to complete the experience.  We wish you a wonderful year filled with love and those that bring you JOY.

                       The Nutcracker

        Charcoal drawing by Pam McMurtry

Merry Christmas from the McMurtrys!

Open House to be rescheduled. Because of a family emergency, we need to cancel this event. Our apologies for any inconvenience this causes you and we encourage you to continue to support Katie’s campaign. Thank you for your understanding.

Our civic-minded friend and neighbor Katie Witt has agreed to serve the people of Northern Utah as a congresswoman and is now running for the 1st Congressional District seat held by Representative Rob Bishop. Congressman Bishop is retiring after many years of faithful service and with his departure there is a need for strong conciliatory leadership in Washington. Katie is a vetted, capable candidate who has been involved in public service for many years and is serving as the mayor of Kaysville, Utah.

We are hosting an open house and fund-raiser for Mrs. Witt on Monday December 16 from 7:00 to 9:00 in the evening. We invite you to come meet Katie, talk about your hopes and concerns for our country, donate if you wish and share some delicious homemade artisan desserts and treats. Flex your patriotic muscles and participate in the democratic process on a personal level!

Don’t forget to tune in to BYU SiriusXM Radio 143 Friday, December 13th at 6:40 a.m. for a lively conversation about one of Salt Lake’s favorite holiday traditions – the candy windows at Macy’s City Creek. As a 2-time participant, I’ve been invited by host Lisa Valentine to share the backstory and process involved in these confectionery community greetings!

Over 80 hours of planning and labor and 120 pounds of candy go into the creation of each giant ornament.

The process starts with a concept. I thought a vintage-looking Santa with a bag filled with toys on his back would be a fun way to honor holiday traditions and my ancestors who were early pioneers in Utah. My great…great grandfather Christopher Layton was the president of the department store where the windows were displayed when they moved to Main Street in 1876.

My design was approved by Chad in Salt Lake and sent with a couple of dozen others to Macy’s Corporate Headquarters in New York City. The head of display for Macy’s and Chad selected my concept because “Macy’s needs a Santa in the window at Christmas.”

The supplies started arriving. I set up my work area in the kitchen/dining area because I didn’t want to work in the cold garage.

I carved some dimensional details from the packing material surrounding the 42″ diameter foam sphere.

In came 6 cases of candy and 1 case of silicone caulking. We set up the candy like a palette of paints.

My team and I worked for several weeks gluing candy to the sphere. Macy’s picked up the ornament and placed it in the windows of the store for staging. Here are behind the scene shots before the unveiling.

Yeah, it was overdone, but when have I not overdone anything holiday-related?

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And 3 years later, we did it again!

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Here’s a link to the original article and a KSL interview on television.

This is Halloween!

It’s autumn, that beautifully hued season of fun and frolic. A Harvest and Halloween Handbook – the “Hot New Picks in Design” award winner from Amazon is ready to rock your world with recipes, party plans, decorations and everything you need to enjoy a happy Halloween!

How do you feel about teenage trick-or-treaters? I shared my views in this article in Celebrity Parents Magazine.

This year I am loving using medallions in centerpieces.

Be sure to check out my Pinterest boards for more holiday inspiration – this October over 113,000 people have visited!

Happy Halloween from 5 little pumpkins sitting on a gate!
An owl that hitch-hiked home with us from Florence, Italy, plaid Ray Bans and the tiniest pumpkin from our garden – ready for autumn!
With grandkiddos arriving soon , I shopped for a Halloween centerpiece. When I couldn’t find one I liked I hauled out a kit that had been in storage for a couple of years and had fun playing with candy, frosting and petrified Peeps.

The following cute images were taken at a few of my favorite haunts.

On a recent trip to California to see my aunt and cousin and pay respect at my uncle’s memorial service, my sister thought a trip to Disneyland would cheer everyone up. Now I have not supported Disney Corp. after their CEO threatened to stop filming in Georgia because of their pro-life laws. I thought it would be a very long time before I returned to a Disney park but I wanted to support my sister and I caved. We had a lot of fun.

First stop on arrival in Orange County is Roger’s Gardens in Newport Beach; known far and wide for their holiday decor.

Cartloads of pumpkins
Embellished masks for costumes
Vintage and contemporary decor
And more pumpkins
And as the gardens become more enchanted…
A white rabbit appears to show you the way to Wonderland where you are greeted by
The Queen of Hearts who welcomes (?) visitors
With her Jabberwocky who guards Halloween treasures
Lumiere’s buddies
And treats
A look at an artisan piece as we depart to our next destination.

After a visit with niece Amanda, dinner at California Pizza Kitchen and a good night’s sleep we Ubered to Disneyland

Disney designers are the pros at Halloween decorating.

The Haunted Mansion is dressed up as the Nightmare Before Christmas every fall. More colorful and less macabre, this is a favorite holiday haunt for many visitors, including yours truly.

Fortunately, the only occupants of this “hearse” were more Jack-o-lanterns.
Nothing says Halloween like a wave/mountain of smiling Jacks.
Coco’s Dia de Los Muertos is a colorful Latin American nod to Halloween.
Cindy’s daughter and children made the day even more enjoyable.
Recently landed at Disneyland – this Star Wars ship and characters
Cindy’s son and family gave us a tour of the new Star Wars area
While waiting for the Main Street Electrical parade we found a few more Halloween decorations to oogle.
Sitting on a corner we had front row seats to the parade. We were even kissed by Pinocchio! A bright ending to a rainy, fun day at Disneyland. Disney photo.
Back home, the market greeted guests with a stack of happy jacks. Up next – Gardner Village and Black Island Farms with the grands…
Gardner Village in Salt Lake City celebrates Halloween

The shops at Gardner Village are all ready for Halloween

Look who I found on a witch hunt! My daughter and her family finding all of the witches on the list to get a snickerdoodle cookie from the bakery for 50 cents.
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A red fox joined us on the hay ride to the pumpkin patch
Image may contain: 7 people, including Heather Anne Tehcuot and Pam McMurtry, people smiling

Back at home and almost ready for Halloween!

For more Halloween fun download your copy of A Harvest and Halloween Handbook today! On and

Happy Halloween from Roger’s Gardens

It’s not Halloween without a visit to Roger’s Gardens in Newport Beach, California. Every year the talented designers work their magic with a new theme; this year it’s Malice in Wonderland. I did an Alice Halloween a couple of years ago so this one particularly interested me.

If you’re not in the spirit yet, a trip to Roger’s will lift yours. Happy Halloween!

Saying Goodbye

Uncle Dave was always one of the cool guys. He played football and baseball in high school, had the pre-requsite 1950’s flattop and when I was old enough to realize he was gone; off in the US Army in Japan, I explored his room and discovered his cache of Mad magazines and bongo drums at my grandparents’ house.

And now he is gone again. This time he won’t be returning. We visited him about 3 weeks ago at the home where he was being cared for while in the final stages of Lewy Body Dementia. He didn’t wake up while we were standing there, we didn’t expect him to. But when I whispered that we were there and we loved him, he blinked and I don’t think it was a muscle contraction. I’d been watching him sleep for a while and he didn’t wince or move. So we said our goodbyes knowing it would be the last time that we would and took his daughter Tc to their favorite Mexican cantina for dinner. Looking over the menu, my husband and I both ordered a chile relleno and cheese enchilada plate. Tc told us that was her Dad’s favorite combination too.

It’s funny just how family we are in so many ways. From Dave’s interest in the Civil War (Brian too) to the service we give and the people we love. When he returned from the army, he found a job working in the oil fields with his dad. He also found a beautiful young lady who agreed to marry him but not until he had a “real job.” So he joined the Fire Department in Santa Barbara. They bought a house had a baby girl and stayed there from 1969 until now. His wife of 51 years, Marlene was having a hard time imagining life without her partner. Alternating between tears and laughs, we reminisced and I thought hard about the eternal nature of families. We don’t believe Dave is gone forever, he just slipped quietly into another room where his parents and nephew Brian were waiting for him. His pet Chrissie, his grandparents, aunts and uncles and other people and friends he’s loved were there to greet him.

When my brother Brian died, Dave and his family came to his funeral. He was stoic and resolved the entire service and as we got up to leave the chapel. he burst into large heaving sobs. This experienced First Responder and veteran felt it with us and I had forgotten that under that armor that firemen must develop to cope with the ugliness of their job’s realities, beat the tender heart of an uncle burying his only nephew way too early.

As hard as the separation is, I have no doubt there will be a glorious reunion and we will listen to his silly jokes and feel that bigger-than-life heart when we hug. In the meantime he’ll be watching over his bride and their daughter like he always did, only we won’t be able to see him.

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To an American hero, patriot, uncle and loved one – thank you Uncle Dave for your service and your goodness. Until we meet again.

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David Miles Roberts 1940 – 2019

Brain-boosting breakfast and munchable lunches

By Pam McMurtry Deseret News Oct 10, 2018, 11:05am MDT

This article was published in 2018 – I wanted to share it again as school is starting for many of our favorite kiddos.

Breakfast on busy school mornings is more important than many parents and children realize. According to the American Dietetic Association, the brain needs a consistent carbohydrate source for fuel. Because the fiber in food slows down carbohydrate digestion, fiber helps provide the sustained energy a body needs for brain and nerve function. According to University of Utah dietitian (and my husband) Gene McMurtry MS, RD, CDE in addition to the student’s brain working hard, a young growing body needs more protein per pound than adults do.

According to a study by the ADA published in a 2005 article titled “Breakfast Habits, Nutritional Status, Body Weight and Academic Performance in Children and Adolescents,” children that eat breakfast are more likely to graduate and perform better on math tests and, in theory, keep trying longer, make better decisions and have more success overall.

McMurtry also states studies, such as “Breakfast skipping and health-compromising behaviors in adolescents and adults,” published by the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (online at, show people who skip breakfast consume fewer calories, but are more likely to be overweight because they make worse health choices such as smoking, abusing alcohol and exercising less.

How does one fuel all of this amazing physiology in a few minutes before the dash to school? Here are a few tips for healthy school-day eating. Three words: Protein, fiber and complex carbohydrates.

By including whole grains and fresh fruit, but not juice, that supply the carbs and fiber and protein-rich foods such as eggs, nuts and dairy as a starting point, you can plan healthy menus for your children’s dietary needs and taste preferences.

Also cut sugar way back or eliminate it altogether. If you are interested in doing calorie and nutrition analysis for meals try websites such as or LoseIt.

Tips for breakfasts

• The classic standby of oatmeal and milk with fruit makes a balanced meal.

• Serve a fruit smoothie with whole grain toast and peanut butter or a whole grain muffin and string cheese with fruit.

• Eggs, whole wheat toast and tangerine are a healthy choice as is a breakfast burrito made with whole grain tortilla; note: watch out for bacon, as it can have too much fat to be considered protein source, according to “Can Bacon Be Part of a Healthy Diet?” on

• Occasionally a protein bar with fruit and a breakfast “biscuit” like Belvita can be a good fast breakfast.

Lunch for school

For school lunches, continue on the same course with a bread, milk, vegetable or fruit and a protein source. A peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread with an orange and milk make a balanced meal. Use containers to keep sandwiches and fruit from getting squished, and an insulated lunch bag and a frozen blue ice block to keep foods cooler, especially if they contain mayonnaise or eggs.

McMurtry says to eliminate fruit juice or sugary drinks which are huge contributors to overweight in the U.S. according to Harvard Nutrition‘s “Sugary Drinks and Obesity Fact Sheet,” online at Include a piece of fresh fruit instead which digests slower and is more nutritious than fruit juice or fruit-flavored drinks or most canned fruits. If your child doesn’t want to stand in line to buy milk, send a small frozen water bottle to keep the lunch cold and a string cheese. If you are adding chips, try the baked variety rather than fried. If you send a dessert, try baking homemade treats and substituting one-third of the enriched or all-purpose white flour in a recipe with whole wheat flour. Or send nuts or trail mix.

If they tire of sandwiches, try whole-grain bagels, muffins, breadsticks or crackers, tortillas or wraps. Many stores sell peeled hard-boiled eggs, string cheese, yogurt (Greek yogurt has more protein), packaged nuts and fresh fruit. For children, smaller apples, clusters of grapes (washed and cut with scissors to speed things up) and berries are sometimes preferred.

Don’t forget an occasional love note in the lunchbox and drop in for lunch, get to know your children’s classmates and check out the culture and goings-on in the cafeteria which influence your child’s lunchtime more than you might suspect. Discover where lunches are stored — some sit out in the sun and need insulated containers — or ask the teacher if there is another location that will improve food safety.

Here is a quick, economical and nutritious morning smoothie recipe. Divide up the ingredients the night before to make it super-fast in the morning. I realize that there is a small amount of fruit juice involved and I’m OK with that fact because of the large proportion of yogurt, whole fruits and vegetables.

A fruit smoothie with whole grain toast and peanut butter makes a balanced breakfast.
A fruit smoothie with whole grain toast and peanut butter makes a balanced breakfast.

Back-to-School Smoothie

6-8 ounces yogurt

1 cup fresh or frozen spinach leaves

1 ripe banana

1 cup pineapple or fruit juice or liquid of your choice

1 cup frozen berries

½ cup wheat germ (optional)

In the jar of a blender add the yogurt, spinach, banana, juice and wheat germ, if included. Blend at high speed until smooth. Add berries and blend again. Pour into juice cups and serve with spoons. Makes 3-4 servings, add whole grain toast and peanut butter or toast and string cheese.

French Toast Cracked Wheat Cereal

¾ cup cracked wheat

2 cups water

¼ teaspoon sea salt

1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen

ground cinnamon to taste

ground nutmeg to taste

brown sugar, maple syrup or honey (optional)

With a hand-cranked grain mill set on extra-coarse, grind whole kernels of red or white wheat. Place in a large saucepan, add water and sea salt. Bring to boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 20–25 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in berries, nuts, spices and sweetener if desired. Add milk and you have a protein-rich hearty breakfast that tastes and smells divine.

Early Holiday Prep!

“Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.” Hamilton Wright Mabie

Welcome BYU radio listeners! If you missed the broadcast, you can access it here: Are you looking at ideas for Christmas gifts? The Platinum Rule (Golden Rule upgrade) states – “Do unto others as they would like to have done unto them;” in other words – give them what they want. The most appreciated holiday gifts match the receiver’s wish list. In his book, THE 5 LOVE LANGUAGES, Dr. Gary Chapman clues us in on individual preferences; he states that people have different gift values that fall into these categories:

Gifts (items wanted or needed)

Quality Time

Words of Affirmation


Physical Touch

The earlier you start planning/making/shopping the more time you will have to create/purchase/ideate thoughtful, appropriate gifts. For instance, this year for Father’s Day I found a book with prompts to fill in about my Dad’s influence and effect on my life. To go with the copper foil lettering on the blue and navy textured cover, I found blue, copper and gold gel pens to write in some of the answers. Others were printed in a vintage typewriter text to match the retro style of the book and collaged. I copied old photos and used scrapbook paper to embellish the pages. I poured my heart and memories into each page and the result brought tears to both our eyes. The book took an entire week to complete – not going to happen if you begin in December. For gifts like this for loved ones, you need to start early.

As you plan your gifts for Christmas and the autumn and winter holidays; try for things that fill the needs and wants of the recipients. Here are a few ideas to tickle your gift-giving fancy from my A Christmas Handbook


Earlier in the year, start a small notebook or record in your electronic device the names of people you will be giving gifts to, their sizes and preferences. Then as you buy gifts, make a note of the gift and where you put it (trust me on this). Why not wrap a few gifts at a time when you are watching a movie?


Collections of family stories are valuable gifts that help build loyalty and character. Think of the scriptures and the good they have imparted; the experiences and wisdom of great people aid us in our decision-making. Family histories help establish our identity and connect us to the larger culture.

If you have inherited family treasures from a parent or grandparent, select those that would be meaningful to family members and give them as gifts and reminders of the relationship and love shared. Books, family records, copies of family movies, jewelry, silverware, art, serving dishes, photos, sports memorabilia, tools, collectibles, family furniture, anything that has special significance.


Using a shadow box, frame a hand-written favorite recipe card with photo or memento of the family chef and a spoon or a spice tin, apron or something small from the kitchen.

Fill a scrapbook-style cookbook or create an ebook with a collection of favorite recipes and photos.


Add to a treasured collection. In our family we read a Christmas story a night from December 1st on. We love Christmas books, other people collect things that interest them or increase in value such as art.

I also love vintage stuff; but giving a pre-owned gift is a delicate task, you need to know your recipient. Some people treasure pre-loved items, others will not. Unless you are sure of your exquisite taste or exactly what the recipient likes, you might first walk through a store that features upscale refurbished furniture and accent pieces to see how the pros put things together and pick up a few ideas. Then visit thrift stores, antique stores, garage sales, etc. If you have ReStores in your area, they are charities that benefit Habitat for Humanity that sell salvaged or recycled building supplies that can be repurposed and embellished. Again, look for natural materials such as wood and glass; tins and glass dishes can be thoroughly washed and used for food gift giving and proceeds go to help people in need. If there is obvious wear or rust, be sure to package food gifts in a barrier/liner like a cellophane bag. Personally, I adore anything with red plaid, new or used; I’m easy that way.


Scroll down to discover ideas for retail purchases and usual timelines for sales and discounts.

Love that happy feeling when you find something pre-loved and precious that will be again useful with just a little TLC? For many items you will want to make sure they are squeaky clean and shiny before you give them unless the “patina” of age and wear is a desirable characteristic. Here are potential gifts and decorations to look for at your favorite antique or thrift shop:

  • An old drawer or cupboard door painted with chalkboard paint and tied with a ribbon bow and bag of chalk
  • A small wooden picture frame repainted: add a favorite quote from C.S. Lewis or a scripture
  • A domed glass cake pedestal with a favorite desert, tied with a wide satin ribbon
  • A vintage suitcase relined with cute fabric and filled with supplies for a favorite hobby
  • A redecorated wooden dollhouse
  • A cradle repainted and furnished with a new or family member’s favorite doll
  • A great jar or container to fill with marbles, old army men, cowboys, gumballs or other favorite old or vintage-style toys
  • Glass luminaries can made of two vases or cylinders; one that fits inside the other. Place the smaller inside the larger glass or paper container and hot glue or attach it with florist putty. In the interior space between the two, fill with Epson salt or fake snow and glitter snowflakes. Attach a candle and tie a bow and sprig of greens around the large cylinder.
  • An old empty gumball machine, antique jars or apothecary jar can be outfitted with bottle brush trees and a winter snow scene
  • Silverware or dishes that the recipient collects.
  • Vintage quilts, jewelry, purses, linens and books
  • Old-school wrapping paper, tags, cards, notebooks, frames (filled with a cute vintage card or print.)
  • Turn vintage dominoes, buttons and other small items into refrigerator magnets by attaching strong magnet to the back with an epoxy like JB Weld ® or E6000 superglue.
  • Decorated antique kitchen accessories – tins, scales, serve ware, tools like old knives and whisks – again you need to know the taste of the recipient.
  • Collectibles – vintage art, postcards, binoculars, whistles, milk glass, spectacles, pocket watches, typewriters, garden tools, Christmas lights and ornaments, calendars, vinyls.

Check small businesses and online import sites and stores. Amazon and other retailers have Certified Refurbished items, also check Ebay, Ebid, and online classified sites.


As you may choose to buy some gifts retail, here are a few money-saving tips:

  • Use coupons and watch for specials at Hobby Lobby, Michaels, JoAnns, JC Penneys, Macy’s, Dillard’s, TJ Maxx, Home Goods and your favorite retailers. Get in the habit of checking the clearance aisles for treasures. Get their apps and/or sign up for their newsletters and sale notices.
  • House Credit – if you are shopping at a large retailer, you can often save 15% or more by making the purchase with their credit card. Then tell the cashier you want to make a payment and pay it off on the spot with your debit card, check or cash. It just takes a minute.
  • Check discount retailers; my favorites are TJ Maxx Or TK Maxx in the U.K., Home Goods, Marshalls and Tuesday Morning – there are a lot of greatly discounted higher- quality buys; and don’t overlook outlet mall stores, like William Sonoma, Pottery Barn, Pottery Barn Kids and DownEast; some of which will ship for you.
  • Linens and serving pieces, again look for after holiday sales and save until next year. A brand-new Waterford Stewart plaid tablecloth that sold on Ebay for $125, was purchased at Home Goods in January for $15.
  • Support local business and artists as well as hand-craft holiday boutiques.
  • Watch for tent sales – Some retailers have tent sales during the summer. I learned to bring a bottle of water and wear comfortable shoes – it can get hot in the tent. Look for  higher-end merchandise for pennies on the dollar.

RULE # 1: If you see something you like grab it quick, it may be gone in a minute; if you change your mind later you can put it back – someone else will surely see its value.

RULE # 2: If an item has a stitched monogram, decide whether it can be removed with a seam ripper or covered with a piece of ribbon or applique stitched over it. Often customers order personalized merchandise and later return it for whatever reason. I found a $230 monogrammed suitcase with my initials for $23.

  • 2 words: BLACK FRIDAY also pre-Black Friday sales – check for online deals; you may not even have to fight the parking lot crowds.
  •, Etsy, etc. more online shopping at your fingertips and they ship so you don’t have to stand in line at the Post Office.
  • Post-holiday sales; Barnes and Nobles, Target, Walmart, Talbots; watch your favorite retailers.

Again, don’t forget to patronize small businesses; you might not save as much money but your support helps the community as most business owners belong to service organizations and help support sports teams and school activities.

This list from Money Under 30 shares optimal shopping deals in retail


  • Air conditioners
  • School supplies
  • Dehumidifiers
  • Lawnmowers
  • Outdoor furniture
  • Snow blowers
  • Swimwear


  • Big appliances (except for refrigerators)
  • Bikes
  • Cars
  • Gas grills
  • Outdoor perennial plants
  • Thanksgiving travel tickets


  • Air conditioners
  • Camcorders
  • Christmas travel tickets
  • Digital cameras
  • Toys


  • Baby items
  • Fresh Christmas trees
  • Recreational vehicles
  • GPS navigators
  • TVs


  • Home appliances
  • iTunes gift cards
  • Tools
  • Holiday decorations (wait til after Christmas)

And these tips from DealNews:

Top 5 Stores for August 2019

  1. Home Depot
    The home improvement store will kick off its Labor Day sale early — around mid-August — and will discount a wide range of items. This will be an excellent opportunity for DIYers who want to shop deals for remodeling projects.
  2. Reebok
    Last year’s Reebok Friends & Family Sale was one of the best we saw from the brand. If it returns this year, we expect discounts of an extra 50% off outlet styles for the whole family, making it good for back-to-school shopping.
  3. REI Outlet
    Outdoor enthusiasts shouldn’t miss this REI Outlet event, where you can expect to shave at least 70% off apparel, shoes, and outdoor gear. Discounted brands will include Columbia, Marmot, Mountain Hardwear, The North Face, and Oakley.
  4. Target
    The bull’s-eye retailer will kick off its Labor Day sale toward the end of the month, about a week before the holiday itself. Expect savings of 30% on a variety of items, including indoor and outdoor furniture, home items, and TVs. Additionally, Target will probably have a stacking discount to take an extra 15% off select products.
  5. Walmart
    The retailer will host its Back to College sale, which will be a great opportunity to snag discounted school supplies, furniture, decor, and dorm-appropriate appliances like minifridges. Even better, Walmart will kick off its own Labor Day sale later in the month, providing even more chances to save.

Best month to buy stuff? Here’s a list

Image result for pottery barn christmas advent calendar
$5 at a DownEast tent sale!

The best day to start Christmas shopping? December 26! Since that boat sails every year, this December remember to hop on board at Hobby Lobby , Michael’s, Walmart, Target, Home Goods, World Market, Barnes and Noble and any retailer that carries the style of decor, gifts, wrap and accoutrements that make your heart happy. In the days and weeks following the holiday prices gradually drop until one day you walk into your favorite market and find holiday items at a 90% off sale. And that is when you wish you owned a large truck. 🙂 Pottery Barn and PB Kids, Williams Sonoma and other higher end retailers also have clearance sales in store and online!

Get ready for Valentines Day with glitter Xs and Os and anything red from candles to candies.

Here’s a fun gift guide for Christmas

And more unique and fun gift ideas for 2019 –

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Here’s an app that will help you make shopping decisions based on the political contributions of the companies you support. or in the app store – goods unite us. They keep track of political donations; for instance I recently learned that L’Oreal cosmetics makes 96% of their donations to Democratic candidates, so I switched to Revlon which is more evenly split.

Preparedness and Living Happily Ever After – another idea for practical giving

 What would you do if you couldn’t get to market? Stay home? Have roast beef? Or have none? Cry wee, wee, wee? No, you don’t have to affected by the winds of disaster, whether economic or natural. Why not add emergency preparedness to the gifts you give this year. Here is a guide to the amounts you might need of a little somethin’ somethin’ to feed your family just in case. 

Here are links for more ideas for preparedness, camping and family reunion ideas, enjoy!

Everything Under the Sun by Wendy Dewitt gives tons of valuable advice for emergency prep – thanks for sharing Wendy!

***Blast from the past: Don’t hate me but I just finished my Christmas shopping. August 2016

The history of four Christmas food traditions:

You may not want to hear this, but girls and guys, I just finished my Christmas shopping. Don’t be a hater, I will share my secrets for getting 50 – 90% off Christmas presents for the 30+ people we exchange gifts with every year.

1. Watch for sales at your favorite retailers. I live near a DownEast Outlet that has a tent sale every July. They have deep discounts on Pottery Barn, Mark and Graham and other quality lines. A pair of $150 pajamas cost me $6 plus an hour with a seam ripper to remove the unwanted monogram or to sew a piece of ribbon over the initials on the cuff. I picked up a a red plaid (my addiction) wool weekend bag for $10 and a set of Pottery Barn luggage for 90% off – one piece even had my initials. Leather accessories are priced at up to 95% off. Many have monograms that can be altered or removed – sometimes I get lucky and find something for a loved one with their initial. Good quality scarves and travel blankets were $2 and $3 dollars and Pottery Barn velvet Santa bags were about the price of paper gift bags. Call your local DownEast, there may be more sales coming soon.

2. Target toy sale. Target is getting ready for Christmas merch and is marking toys and games way down. I picked up Monster High and Barbie items for 50% off. Disney clay animation movie-making kits were about 70% off. Baby toys, art supplies and games are on clearance too; many at 75% off.

3. Barnes and Noble clearance sale. B&N not only marks down all kinds of fascinating books, but toys and readers are also on sale. The clearance begins at 50% off, but if you can hold out, after about 3 weeks goes to 75%, then $2 an item. We will be well-read this Christmas.

The only problem I am still having is that Christmas paper is not yet in stores. Fortunately I had a few rolls put away and was able to find some $1 red and white striped and polka dot rolls at Michael’s. Make sure you grab a few rolls after Christmas for next year if you want the jump on wrapping before the busy holiday season. I am so excited that I am wrapping all of the treasures and stashing them so I can enjoy a peaceful and creative holiday season without the mad rush to shop in December. I’ll have time to bake and visit family and friends and focus on the real meaning of Christmas – the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 
Down time? probably not. I’m waiting to hear from a publisher about my manuscripts they are considering and I might just do another holiday candy window for City Creek Macy’s in downtown Salt Lake City. I’ll let you know. 

100 pounds of candy! (Francisco Kjolseth  |  The Salt Lake Tribune)  For the second year, Macy's unveils the holiday candy windows at Macy's City Creek on Thursday, Nov. 21,  2013, including the ornament called Merry! by Pam Layton McMurtry and her son Tim. The windows which kick off the holiday season, are made entirely out of candy and reflect Salt Lake City and the luster of the holiday season. Six local artists were chosen to design the windows.

Between now and Christmas comes Halloween! If you don’t have yours yet, download a copy of A Harvest and Halloween Handbook from amazon or – you’ll be glad you did!

Sunflowers, Skulls and Back to School

Late summer: the bees are buzzing, sunflowers are popping up like daisies and the back-to-school countdown has begun. Any day I can walk into my favorite retailer and find pencils, paper and Halloween decor sold simultaneously is A-OK in my book.

Moms are looking for ideas to keep their kiddos ones engaged until school starts; one of my favorite things to do is work on Halloween decor and costumes. In the world of creativity Halloween is king – no holds barred, nothing off-limits, it’s all good (or bad depending on how you roll…) costumes. decor, cards and invitations – the sky’s the limit.

When I was perusing Pinterest for my daily visual fix, one of my coloring pages popped up and I knew it was time to look at Halloween – after all its only 3 months away.

32 Halloween party coloring pages! Dozens of ideas for your autumn carnival games and fun.

So if you are looking for a fun way to spend the last few days of summer with your kiddos download a copy of A Harvest and Halloween Handbook and start working on Halloween ( you know how busy fall gets once school/sports/lessons… start.)

Lots to do! Coloring pages, recipes, costumes, decorating and gifts for Halloween – enjoy!
Go fish for prizes
Decorate cookies!

If these don’t grab you, start thinking about costumes… check my Pinterest board for cute ideas

What’s in your closet?

Creative outdoor decor – for some reason I always come back to Alice in Wonderland themes like this picnic in Wonderland and spectral tea party. I shared ideas for economic decor in US News and World Report.

Paper plate sunflowers and rustic turkey pesto sandwiches to die for.

Pull out a few pieces of Halloween decor like this gorgeous skull model and do a still life drawing lesson that does double-duty as an anatomy lesson and decoration for Halloween. This is charcoal on textured paper. Many artists love charcoal for its richness and ability to vary light and dark values. With art supplies on sale, now is a good time to experiment with different media.

If you need a simple activity – consider pulling up drawing lessons on YouTube. Here’s a cute simple bat that your kiddos can draw.

Have them watch the whole demo, then go back to the beginning. As the artists adds a couple of lines, have them pause the video and draw the lines on their paper. Then do it again every few seconds. It is empowering for children going back to school to have talents to share and show off with the others in their classes.

Please President Trump, Halloween has been celebrated on October 31 internationally for about 1200 years, leave it there! From its earliest roots in Sukkot through the dark days of Samhain, into medieval All Hallow’s Eve and the present, people have enjoyed harvest festivals. If people want to party on the last Saturday of the month – go for it!

*****School Districts – make November 1st a teacher prep day and let Junior stay home to sleep off his sugar hangover.

Don’t forget – A Harvest and Halloween Handbook on Amazon and!

Prairie Princesses and Pioneers

Let’s celebrate those hearty souls that braved the dangers of the land to settle the west! This year marks my family’s 400th anniversary in America. We have participated in many chapters of the building of this great nation including the mid-nineteenth century westward migration.

These ideas for Pioneer Day celebrations and family reunion heritage events are from my A Holiday Handbook II, Pinterest and other interesting sources.

SLC Brass Doorknob

July 24th is the anniversary of the day my ancestor, Chauncey Gilbert Webb, entered the Salt Lake Valley, Utah with Brigham Young and the first company of Mormon pioneers in 1847. The Webbs owned one of the 48 blacksmith shops in Nauvoo, Illinois. As the pioneers moved westward, Brigham Young invited the Webb brothers to accompany his wagon train; sort of like taking your auto mechanic on a long cross-country trip. Chauncey’s great…great grandmother Margaret, and William Shakespeare’s mother Mary Arden were sisters. You never know who you’ll meet on the plains. 

Happy Pioneer Day! 

Here in Utah it’s celebrated on July 24th, in Kansas it is celebrated on January 29 to commemorate the anniversary of the state’s 1861 admission into the Union. Other states celebrate their founding or admission to the U.S. on different days.

Tallgrass Prairie Sunrise

Children learn best when they are having fun. So I created activities to help them learn about the lives of pioneer children and I hope your littles enjoy them too.
Some of the members of the Mormon Battalion were working at Sutter’s Mill near Sacramento when gold was discovered. You might let children pan for gold (shiny pennies) in a sand box and use them to buy treats if they wish. We had salt water taffy that they could buy for a penny each.

Authentic pioneer activity: beanbag game

One of the fun games from that era is a beanbag toss competition, it’s easy to put together with beanbags and a target like a bucket or cornhole game.

Round up stick horses for racing and add squirt guns for putting out prairie fires and bagging buffalo.

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Children of all ages enjoy writing in another visual language. Try sharing stories written in Indian pictographs. We used cut-out brown paper pelts for the structures. You can recycle grocery bags or buy a roll of brown paper. You’ll find a printable download with 72 Native American signs and symbols in my Etsy shop:

This scavenger hunt can also be downloaded from Etsy

Children’s Scavenger Hunt: Hide items around the yard that represent activities and chores of pioneer children: tend animals (a small stuffed animal), make cheese (wrap string cheese in brown paper and tie with a string), sew on a button, gather firewood, hunt for eggs, make a quilt, sing a song, pick fruit, make candles, make soap, plant potatoes, milk a cow (bucket)

Newell and Tim made their own hammers at a forge in Salt Lake City.

Have a few more activities that they can do: as hammer nails into boards and collect glass beads for bracelets. You can even pan for gold (shiny pennies) in a small wading pool – stay nearby for toddler safety.

Teen Challenge – See how many points you can get by completing these challenges:
Say the alphabet backwards: 1 point for each correct letter in backwards order. Name 10 flowers: 1 point each. How many buttons are on your clothes? 1 point for each button. Write your name and phone number. Count the letters in your name for 1 point each. Add together the digits in your phone number then add the number of letters in your name. How many large marshmallows can you stuff in your mouth? 1 point each,no you don’t have to swallow them – ewww. Blow a bubble with bubble gum, 2 points for each piece you can chew.

BEAN For Adults (could you have bean a pioneer?) Its like a bingo game – use dry beans for markers and move the activities around to different places on each card, cut one up to call with. To win, get four in a row

Do you have what it takes to be a pioneer? Make this into a bingo game or play charades.

If you are hosting a celebration and don’t want to serve a whole meal, you might want to make honey butter and raspberry butter and freshly-baked breads. Serve ice cold watermelon and fresh lemonade for a cool treat.

pioneers with style

Prairie Party Menu 
Serve this on a quilt picnic blanket; use bandanas for napkins and enamelware dishes, canning jars for glasses.
A handful of wildflowers in a jar will add beauty.

Fried Chicken Salad – make it easy on yourself by using a prepared bagged green salad from the produce department, a couple of green onions; cut up, a cucumber; a peeled and sliced cucumber, fried chicken strips from the deli, crumbled Gorgonzola cheese, Ken’s Steakhouse light bleu cheese salad dressing. Serve with sourdough rolls, honey lemonade, homemade butter (let the children shake a jar of cream with a sprinkle of salt to make butter – they love it), cold watermelon and homemade ice cream

Pretty bottle and tag

Need a bit more Pioneer Day eye candy? Check out the cuties at:

One year on Pioneer Day, I invited my granddaughter Ellyza to have a treasure hunt in the yard. She took her tiny basket and began collecting oak leaves, flowers and small pebbles. A two year-old knows what treasure truly is. 


Hot Fun in the Summertime

Every summer, I experience a condition that can only be described as throwbackitis. Do you suffer too? From music to scents to those tender little feelings that tickle the memory; they all transport me to a different time and place.

Little me.

Destination: Carlsbad, CA – 1779 Guevara Road

Time: Mid-1960’s

Dad is holding Cindy, Mom is holding baby Brian and I got to hold the red balloon. I should have been smiling harder but I don’t like crowds. This was taken at a fund-raising church bazaar.

My family, the Laytons; my Dad, Mom, sister Cindy and Brian and I, are living in a cozy 3 bedroom house with a big grassy backyard and a dichondra/clover lawn in the the front. Mom and Dad bought their first house, a simple ranch-style on a street just a few blocks from a eucalyptus grove and a stinky lagoon (estuary) and the beach! My genius Dad built a wooden fence and installed sprinklers.

He also built us a sandbox out of wood which might have been a good enclosure for the tortoises we babysat one summer for the Headstart program at his school but they were of the Houdini genus. Our gray part-Persian cat Puff was both our purr baby and a watchcat keeping dogs out of our yard.

1779 Guevara Road, Carlsbad, California. the window on the left was Cindy and my room, the one behind the palm tree was Brian’s room. When we lived there it had a lush green lawn. Our funny little cul-de-sac had no sidewalks.

I am pretty sure my Dad used his GI Bill to buy his first home. After serving in the Korean War as a rocket scientist in Germany, he attended USC in Los Angeles. He earned his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in education then took a job teaching in the Oceanside School District. He had determined it was better not to live in the town he taught in and found this house in Carlsbad. My Mom hadn’t learned to drive yet when we moved to Carlsbad!

Dad took his first teaching job at North Oceanside Elementary School. Within a year or two he was the principal. Then a big construction project took eminent domain and the school was demolished to make room for the I-5 being built from Los Angeles to San Diego. Dad worked as the Vice Principal at Lincoln Junior High in Oceanside and then became principal of The newly-built San Rafael Elementary School at the front gate of Camp Pendleton.

Cindy and I shared a bedroom which our parents painted lavender ( I don’t know where that came from, I was more of a turquoise fan and I think she liked yellow.) We had lavender floral print bedspreads and fiberglass curtains – a new thing.

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We collected Liddle Kiddles.

We had matching teal-padded vinyl toy boxes in our closet where we stored our valuables; dolls, stuffed animals, crayons and coloring books, paper dolls, Barbies and their wardrobes, etc.

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We had great dolls – Raggedy Anns, Chatty Cathy and Chatty Baby, highchairs, strollers. I had a doll named Hilda that had a removable hairpiece that could be styled. We had trolls and stuffed animals. I had one I called Wonderdog – he was a kind of Basset hound that I could put my head on when we watched TV. And Batman rings from vending machines – you had to wear your batman ring while watching the TV show.

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One Christmas Cindy and I got talking Mr. Ed puppets; Mr. Ed the talking horse was a tv show character. Brian got a talking Larry the Lion ” Rrroarr – oo, I scared myself!” One of the little neighborhood girls came to our door on Christmas morning looking for the Larry the Lion – she was sure it was hers and Santa had left it at our house by mistake. That stoked my emerging territoralism.

The original kitchen featured birch cabinets and Mom’s home-baked cookies.
Was our kitchen this tiny? It always seemed so big when I was small. A lot of memories were created in the dining room which held a Danish Modern dining table and chairs as I recall.

Brian was down the hall in his own room in a crib. Dad and Mom were across the hall. They even had their own bathroom – a big deal back in the day. The house had a fireplace and was furnished with Danish modern-style furniture that we call Mid-Century today.

At the risk of sharing TMI, I do remember a lot of baths in this tub. Dad usually got the water a little too hot but he did sing us funny songs so we forgave him. Mom let us hold a folded washcloth over our eyes while she washed our hair – it was nice of her but I really hated getting my hair washed.

Brian had a highchair and I had 2 rocking chairs; being the oldest grandchild, I think I got one of whatever I asked for from both sets of grandparents. 1 rocker was wooden with clown decals and a music box that played when the chair rocked. The other was white vinyl; the perfect canvas for American cheese collages (I wouldn’t eat American cheese, but found it came in handy for tearing into shapes to stick on my white rocking chair in artistic arrangements. )

We had a real fireplace! My Mom used to sit in a chair in the lower left corner and listen to me read Dr. Seuss’ One Fish Two Fish.

My best friend, red-headed Judi Chaplin lived in a cottage on Oak Street, a few blocks away with her Mom, Dad and enormous German Shepherd Pepper. Judi’s house was my favorite destination. Her Mom Lois made crafts and had a great supply of potato chips in their food storage in the detached garage.

Judi was a full 11 months older than me and knew all kinds of interesting things like how to trace around a picture to color in the lines and about new trends like the Beatles. She also lived down the street from a huge mansion (to us) that had a swimming pool and a homeowner that allowed Judi to bring neighbors over to swim. Her Dad, Don Chaplin, owned one, then 2 motorcycle shops in Carlsbad. Sometimes Lois would take me home on the back of her motorcycle. It was scary and thrilling all at the same time!

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The Schindler’s house were we spent many happy hours swimming in their pool.

I had some second-tier friends that were fun to play with if I didn’t have permission to travel the half mile to a mile to Judi’s. There was Debra Brunswick, the daughter of a Marine stationed at the Camp Pendleton base in Oceanside. Cindy had Linda Urbanski who lived almost directly behind us on Butters Road, I think her father was a policeman. Her family had a travel trailer parked next to the house and they let us play in it. Next to her were twins Pam and Kim Hendricks who were too old to play with but were cool tweens and taught me how to ride a 2-wheeler bicycle. Also their little brother Eric, but we hadn’t noticed that boys existed yet.

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We attended services at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints meetinghouse on California Street in Oceanside, California where we attended Primary one weekday afternoon a week, Sunday School on Sunday mornings and Sacrament Meeting on Sunday afternoons.

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I don’t know what happened – when I attended BV there were no prison bars!
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I attended Buena Vista Elementary School a few blocks from home. I think it was built a year or two before we arrived in Carlsbad. The principal was a towering man that wore glasses and a serious expression; Andrew Channel. I was far too intimidated to test or make fun of him for any reason.

Mrs Boyer was my first grade teacher and I don’t think a kinder woman ever taught littles. On hot days she would have us come in from recess, put our heads down on our desks and place a wet paper towel on our necks to cool us off. I don’t remember her ever raising her voice. My one complaint is that after a fabulous art-making experience, we would put away our pictures and drawings and she would get out the counting man, a metal figure that had spaces for magnetic digits. I remember my brain shutting right down when it was time for math.

On the playgrounds were blacktop game areas complete with tether-ball courts, basketball hoops, 2 and 4-square courts and dodgeball courts. On the dirt were climbing equipment like monkey bars, a pirate lookout tower, climbing ropes and a huge dome to climb. I was wary of heights and preferred to remain on terra firma. There were also giant cement rings that we would claim for forts and other defenses.

I started there in first grade and attended through 5th grade; 6th grade was at Valley Junior High. One year, the city built a street behind the school with an underpass for the students who now had to cross a road – it was thrilling and a bit scary to descend into the underpass that had puddles and earthworms when it rained and my first look at graffiti on the walls.

It was at Buena Vista that I had my first experience as an author. Every year the school held a book fair and each student made a book to enter. In second grade I made a book about dogs with a pink cover and a torn-paper dalmatian. My proud parents oohed and aahed over my clever little book. I knew right then I would need to write at some point.

Our parents had given us a swing set one Christmas, white, decorated with teal diamonds. We also had an inflatable pool that we could turn into a mermaid lagoon and whirlpool when the notion would strike. But our favorite playground was the ocean. I am pretty sure I am part mermaid. My parents could get me to do anything for the promise of a trip to the beach.

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This morning, in July of 2019, for the first time in a long time, my husband, son and I all got back in the water. We went to a public pool and swam laps for a long time. Even though it was a Monday, I was so happy.

If you need a little more beach time this summer – download a copy of A Mermade’s Tale on
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