Geniel Jensen remembers sitting on the porch with a friend in Texas when the friend's little girl came running up. "Mama! I made it! I made it myself," the girl shouted, showing off a little rag doll.
"She was lit up from the inside. She radiated pure joy, just because she had made a little raggedy doll," Jensen says. "I've often wondered if that's how God felt when he made the world. Throwing wide his arms and saying, 'I made it!' Maybe that's why I've always cherished things that are handmade."
Now 88, Jensen still cherishes them and still makes things of her own. Her latest project involves making Christmas angels out of scraps of lace and ribbons and paper plates that she paints gold.
She draws faces on little wooden balls. And sometimes she adds glittler. "I love sparkle," she says. "I get it all over me and in my hair. My grandson comes and says, 'You sparkle today."'
Spend some time with Jensen and you'll soon realize that all her sparkle doesn't come from glitter. A lot of it comes from the bubbly personality that had kept her going all these years, through some extraordinary challenges.
Jensen is deaf. She lost her hearing while in her 20s. "But I decided then, I wasn't going to let it stop me," she says. She learned to read lips and also communicates with friends and family with the fax machine set up on her kitchen table.
She has three children one, a daughter, is also deaf. Her husband, Arthur, passed away a number of years ago. So it hasn't always been easy, but through it all she has managed to hang on to her sunny disposition. Crafts have helped her with that, she says. "Crafting is so satisfying. When I sit down and make something, I feel better."
In addition to her angels, she also crochets nativity sets, which she delights in finding special settings for. For one, she cut an old basket in half and used it as a shelter. Another is set on an old soap dish she found at Deseret Industries and painted gold. A third is posed under an arcing gold card holder that had been thrown away at Modern Display.
"I love to make things from scratch and scraps," she says. Not only does it help her budget, but she's also putting things to use that might otherwise be thrown away. "I learned that from my frugal mother. She taught us, 'Make it over, use it up, make it do or do without.' That's a good lesson."
Jensen gives away many of her creations. She's also sold them at craft fairs and bazaars. She knows the people who own Rafael's in Sandy. "They let me put some of my angels on the counter. I couldn't believe how quickly they were gone. Then I found out people were buying them to put on the Christmas tree of a friend who was in the hospital and was dying. I was really touched by that."
Sometimes, it's the small gestures and simple things that mean the most, she says. That's a philosophy that has served her well over the years. And that's why she thinks handmade things are especially nice at Christmas. "It's something that comes from the heart. Christmas has become so commercial. But it's very easy to make something nice with very little."
For example, she has a little tree decorated with peanuts she sprayed in gold and dipped in glitter. It's very simple, but there's something about it that just makes her smile.
"I took a tree like that to (LDS) President (James E.) Faust, back when he was just a lawyer. He was so helpful after my husband died, so I took him a peanut tree, and he put it in the center of his big, nice office, with peanuts all around it for people to help themselves. He said he was going to do that every year."
Jensen has also crocheted Santas and Christmas dresses for dolls and bears. But her favorite among her crocheted figures are the shepherds, she says. "I always see them as little boys. I came from a sheep-raising area, and the fathers would send the boys out to the sheep wagons. I said, 'How can you do that? Don't you hear the coyotes howl?' And they told me, 'That's OK, the boys know what to do."' How knowing what to do at the right time can bring peace that's the lesson of her little shepherds.
How did Jensen get started making things? "When did I first become addicted to crafting?" she responds with a laugh. "It was probably when I was 5 or 6 years old and my little sister, Beth, and I spent hours on our back doorstep making hollyhock dolls and ballerinas from the profusion of flowers growing along the fence in our back yard."
But she really got into it when she was asked to be the Cub Scout leader in her LDS ward. "That's where I learned the most. I loved it. We had a different theme every month. One time it was pirates, and we made paper-sack puppets. We made marionettes, and we did a puppet show we took to hospitals around the valley."
Another time they made papier-mache masks. "A while back one of my Cub Scouts called me. His son was going to wear that very mask for Halloween. Can you imagine?"
Jensen has always had a busy, productive life. Only once does she remember being overwhelmed. She was serving as PTA president. Her husband was the presiding elder for the Mexican LDS branch in the valley. She was also working in her home ward. "It was just too much. I knew I had to drop something, but I wanted to do it honorably. The very next day, my husband came in and said, 'How would you like to go to Uruguay?' He had been called to be the mission president there."
So they went to Uruguay. And do you know what? she says. "Some of the things I learned in Cub Scouts I taught to the sisters in Uruguay. We made marionettes and sold them and raised $5,000 for the chapel they were building. So you never know what you are being prepared for."
She still enjoys teaching others to do crafts especially children. She loves helping them find the joy of "I made it myself."Spend time with Jensen and her angels, and it won't take you long to decided who is the nicest angel of all. Tell her that, though, and she will just shrug. "I decided at my age I could vegetate or I could do something. I just want to do something."