Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

When I was a kid, I had a Magnus Chord organ (look it up) that used to be my mom’s. I loved that thing. It had a short keyboard to be played with the right hand, I can’t remember how many keys, and buttons that produced accompanying chords that were played with the left hand. The minor chords were my favorite. There were music books written specifically for the Magnus Chord organ and I played it all the time, especially between the ages of 7-10 or so.

One of my favorite types of music to play, and sing, was Christmas music. Like, in the summertime. Also in the spring, the fall, and in the long winter months after Christmas. I also listened to year-round Christmas music on my record player. Gene Autry, Burl Ives, The Carpenters. When we got the Avon Christmas tape, I was in heaven. I adored the melodies. the words, the sacred feel of it all. I still do. Of course, I was allowed to listen to it in my room, but playing it in the living room or in the car was taboo until Thanksgiving Day when Santa was given the key to the City of Detroit during the Thanksgiving Parade.

I still pretty much do that, the only exception is when we begin to practice Christmas choir music in October. The difference is that now, I don’t sing or play Christmas music on my own throughout the year like I used to. What changed? I’m not sure, but the best guess I can muster is that it just started to feel less special. I noticed myself getting sick of Christmas music by the time the holiday actually got here and that made me sad. I wanted Christmas to feel special again. Plus, now, it just doesn’t feel right until it gets closer and colder outside. Sometimes, it doesn’t even feel special, then. The feeling has to be just right.

This year, two radio stations that I normally listen to began playing Christmas music on November 1. I’m not upset about it, but I won’t be listening to them again until Thanksgiving. It’ll be great then; Nat King Cole can sing “The Christmas Song” and “The First Noel” 500 times in those four weeks and I’ll happily sing along at the top of my lungs. (Not Mariah Carey, though. I WILL change the station when she comes on.)

Again, I LOVE Christmas music and I have nothing against anyone who wants to start early, I just need it to be closer to actual Christmas.

Enjoy the holiday season, everyone!

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I’m a sappy kind of person. I can get rid of tons of “stuff” with no problem at all, especially after watching Hoarders, but there are a few certain things that I have which hold special meaning to me. Things like the necklace that my godmother gave me as a baby, the lens to my father’s last pair of eyeglasses, which has traveled with me around the world, and the outfits my babies wore home from the hospital.

Several Christmas decorations hold that same nostalgic feeling. In the spirit of the season, I’ll share a few here.

The tiny stocking Great-Grandma B crocheted for me when I was little.


Grandma B has been gone for a long time now, since 1995, but this stocking always goes on my tree. She was Grandpa Ballantyne’s mother and although we didn’t see her all that often, she would always write letters, mail cards at birthdays, and send presents at Christmas time. My mother gave me this to have when I moved out.

The ornament my Great-Aunt Stella made.


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Aunt Stella was a feisty, wonderful lady. My Grandma Ruth, her sister, adored her. She canned the most amazing peaches and pears, among lots of other things, sewed, farmed, and was involved in many small-town community organizations throughout her life. We usually only saw her once a year at family reunion time, but the fact that she took the time to make this little bell for me when she had dozens of great-nieces and nephews (literally; they were a family of ten kids) makes it special.

My skater ornaments that Marty gave me.


He gave me these the first Christmas that we were married and I love them. As tradition holds, the fancy ornaments go near the top of the tree. Originally, it was to keep the babies from playing with them (you should have seen what Oldest Child did to a satin-wrapped ball ornament. They unravel quite nicely.) but now it’s just habit. Anyway, the beautiful skaters stay safely at the top.

The Nativity set.


My mom gave me this when Marty and I got married. I think it’s beautiful. While playful Nativity sets like Little People and ducks are cute, I prefer sets like this. It reminds me of the one my Grandma Ruth had. She would set it up under the tree every year, but ours goes on top of the piano. Of course, Baby Jesus doesn’t enter the scene util Christmas morning. The boys take turns putting Him in the manger.

The tree skirt.


My dear friend and farm mama Jackie made this for us when we got married. To say that she is a talented seamstress is a gross understatement. She has her own company and designed and made my wedding dress and veil. In short, she’s bloody incredible. The tree skirt is double-sided and we change it up from year to year, but this will always be the only tree skirt I use.

Ornaments that my boys made, or that have their pictures in them.


My babies are precious to me and hanging their sweet little faces on the tree year after year makes me tear up.

“The Twelve Days of Christmas” bells.


I remember when Grandma Ballantyne gave these to “the girls” at Christmas one year, meaning my mom and the aunts. They were sets sold by J.C. Penney: twelve porcelain bells, each with a scene from the song. When she gave me my very own set the Christmas before I got married, I felt like I had finally grown-up, like I was one of “the girls”. It was special. Sadly, about eight years ago, a crazy squirrel broke into our house the week before Christmas and caused a bunch of damage, including a few broken bells. My mom graciously gave her set to me in order to replace the broken ones and the display was whole again.

And last, but not least…

Our name ornaments.


Grandma and Grandpa Ballantyne started the tradition of giving all of the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren a name ornament from Frankenmuth every year. In case you’re not from Michigan, Frankenmuth is a small town that boasts the biggest Christmas store in the world, Bronner’s. One could, quite literally, get lost inside. When my original gold name ornament broke, I was just sick about it. Grandpa had passed by then and Grandma wasn’t in any shape to go to Frankenmuth anymore, so Marty and I went to pick one out. They didn’t have my name in gold, so I got this deep blue one to replace it. Our name ornaments line up all the way down the front of the Christmas tree every year and are the first ones to be hung.

These are just some of the decorations that make the season special, things that I plan on passing down one day. There are more included in that group, but it would take a much longer blog post to catalog them all and I have to start Christmas cleaning.

I would, however, love to hear about special items that you celebrate with and the stories behind them. Feel free to post about your cherished items in the comments.

However you celebrate, I wish you a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year, and a joyous holiday season.

Thanks for reading.





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The holidays are coming up and what better gift to give your favorite reader than a NEW BOOK? Order your copy of Traveler today and if you’re out my way, I’ll even sign it.¬†
Available now in paperback and e-book for any device, Traveler will give your middle-grade fantasy reader a memorable adventure back in time.
Oh, and one more thing: If you’ve purchased and read Traveler already, and thank you so much to those who have, could you take a couple minutes and leave a review, even if it’s just a star rating? That would really help me out.
Thanks so much, and have a wonderful holiday season!


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I bought a new pair of gloves today. It’s been overdue for a while. Obviously, the pair in the picture, the ones I have been wearing for the past eleven years, are pretty beat up and falling apart, but there’s a reason I’ve worn them for so long.

My grandpa gave them to me.

You see, for a while on my dad’s side of the family, the adults drew names for Christmas gifts because there were just too many of us to continue buying for everyone. The kids got, and still get,¬†gifts from everyone until they, too, become adults. It got a little crazy with keeping it organized over time and we’ve since stopped drawing names, but it was fun for a while.

Grandpa got my name for Christmas of 2005.¬†Along with our names to put into the drawing, we each had to make a short wish¬†list in the price range, probably $25, but I don’t quite remember. I always wanted a pair of nice leather driving gloves, but for whatever reason, had never gotten myself a pair, so I put that on my list. Sure enough, Christmas Day, I opened the pair of gloves that you see above, only they looked much nicer.

“Are they okay? Is this what you wanted?” I remember him asking. Grandma shook her head.

“He picked them out all by himself and he’s been so worried that you wouldn’t like them.” There was no need to worry, they were exactly what I wanted. I’ve always hated big, bulky, poofy, winter gear and the streamlined leather gloves were perfect for me. (I do, however, concede defeat to the bulky stuff when the temperature gets into the single digits. My vanity goes out the window when it’s -5¬į,¬† as my friend Inez will tell you.)

I wore them immediately and often, getting them professionally cleaned every couple of years. Remarkably, I think it’s the only pair of gloves that I’ve ever had in my entire life where I haven’t lost one or both. They’ve traveled with me around the Midwest to various conferences and speaking engagements, always making it home safely. There was one time when I thought I had lost one and panicked, but it turned up on my classroom floor the next morning.

When Grandpa died, ten years ago this month, they became even more special. They’ve looked pretty bad for a few years now, but I’ve always resisted buying a new pair because he gave them to me and I want to keep him close. When the right thumb seam completely split this winter, the leather worn and frayed where I grip the steering wheel, I knew that it was time to put them to rest, but it’s still hard. Even going on Amazon to browse the (millions of)¬†gloves felt funny, but I did eventually pick out a pair, which should arrive in the next couple of weeks. This pair will then go where most of my heartfelt keepsakes go, in my cedar chest along with other remembrances I want to keep forever. Hopefully one day when my kids and grandkids have to go through my stuff, they’ll remember this story and not toss them out, but I’ll understand if they do.

Those gloves were bought and given with love by someone who thought that I was something special, who saw things in me that I still can’t see in myself, someone who called me his “princess” and did his best for me in all the ways that he knew how. He’s been gone for ten years now and I miss him every day. Putting the gloves away won’t change that, but I did like having that physical reminder of him for all of this time.

As for the new gloves, they’ll be pretty. Again, they’re black leather with lining and definitely not bulky; I’m a creature of habit. I’m sure they’ll be fine, but my favorite pair will always be the beat-up veterans in my cedar chest.

A presto.

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I’m finding it difficult to get in the Christmas spirit this year. Actually,¬†it’s been this way¬†for the past few years, so I don’t blame any particular event of 2016. I still find the story beautiful and meaningful, the lights pretty, the cards welcome. I’ve done all the shopping, all of the wrapping (almost), and made a respectable amount of cookies. I’ve sung the songs and felt my heart stir with the beauty of the melodies and¬†lyrics, but yet… I don’t feel it.¬†The magic hasn’t been there.

I will love spending time with my family on Christmas Day, chaotic as it can be. I want to see my nieces and nephews in their joy, and even their eventual crankiness, with all of the excitement. I want to see my brothers and sisters (including the brother- and sister-cousins), parents,¬†aunts, and in-laws¬†that I don’t spend nearly enough time with. I will grumble when making dinner, as I always do, but it will be good-natured. I will drink too much wine,¬†laugh too much,¬†and get all of the dishes done Christmas night because I don’t want to wake up to a mess. I’ll crash into bed around midnight and sleep in the next day until 8:00 or so. (My younger self would have thought that pathetic, but she didn’t have kids.)

I know a lot of people feel the Christmas magic every year, but the last time I remember having the “magic” was sometime when my kids were smaller. I have such fabulous memories of dancing with Oldest and Middle Child around the living room to Bruce Springsteen’s “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”, watching them rock out over and over again in their Pull-Ups as Clarence Clemons belted out the saxophone part. They will disown me for sharing this memory, by the way, but it’s worth it. I miss the astonishment on Youngest Child’s face when Santa KNEW HIS NAME!!! I miss the looks of awe of all three of their faces when it was finally time to go downstairs and see what Santa had left on Christmas morning. I miss the absolute reverence of them putting Baby Jesus in the manger. They still do take turns putting him in, but that sweetness has left with their baby chubbiness. Decorating the tree was a BIG DEAL when they were small, now they’re doing me a favor. Their excitement fueled my own and as they got older, it’s still lovely, but not quite the same.

I don’t know if it’s “normal” to feel this way or not, but I don’t like it. I miss the magic.¬†I want that feeling back. I don’t know if you have to be a kid or have a kid who believes for that to happen, but I want to feel Christmas again. Is it lack of time? Is it extreme busyness? Have I grown up too much, God forbid? Maybe it will come back when I don’t have so much to do, when I can focus on the mystery of the season. I told Mr. Marty Man that one year, I wanted to spend Christmas in Europe, just visiting ancient cathedrals, participating in local traditions, soaking in the feels. He’s not on board yet, but I’m working on it.

In the meantime, even without the magic, I will enjoy the next few days. I hope that all of my readers have a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanza, Happy New Year, or whatever it is that you celebrate. I wish you love and a prosperous 2017. Thanks for reading.



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One of the things that I look forward to during the holiday season (now that Thanksgiving has passed and it has officially begun) is when It’s a Wonderful Life plays on television. For those who have never seen the film, which takes place in the 1930s and 40s, here it is in a nutshell. It’s kind of a big nutshell, since this is a three hour movie, but it is sooooo worth it.

Small-town Bedford Falls man, George Bailey, unwillingly inherits the Bailey Building and Loan when his father suddenly dies. Instead of studying to be an architect and seeing the world, George is suddenly trapped in the responsibility of carrying on the family business and taking care of his mother while his younger brother, Harry,¬†is able to go off to college to follow his dreams.¬†George marries a local girl, Mary, and they soon have four children. (“George Bailey lassos stork!”) The going is tough, but for a while, he seems to accept his fate. He’s a family man who becomes a pillar of the community. Because he is excluded from the draft for World War II on account of his being deaf in one ear, he helps out on the home front, leading scrap drives, rubber drives, and air raid drills. All the while, faithful Mary is at his side helping with the business and raising the four children. His nemesis, a miser named Mr. Potter, owns most of the town and has schemed to get the Bailey Building and Loan for years, but George always manages to stay one step ahead of him. Of course, this infuriates Mr. Potter, leaving him a “warped, frustrated, old man”.

One Christmas Eve, just when his brother has received the Congressional Medal of Honor from the President of the United States, George’s Uncle Billy, a lovable¬†alcoholic, takes a deposit of $8000 to the bank. Upon arriving, he can’t resist taunting Mr. Potter with Harry’s success, and mistakenly gives him a newspaper with the money wrapped inside. Once at the bank window, he can’t find the money and panic ensues. Meanwhile, Mr. Potter opens the paper, realizes the mistake, but does nothing to give the money back. At last, it seems, he holds the key to the Baileys’ undoing. Of course, this is also the day that the bank examiner has arrived to go over the books, making the Baileys’ situation seem hopeless.

George certainly thinks so and soon his world is crashing down around his ears. He goes to Mr. Potter for help only to be told that he’s worth more dead than alive. He gets drunk and drives (this is the 1940s, remember) to a high bridge over a river and contemplates jumping in to end it all. At the last minute, an angel (second class) named Clarence jumps in the churning water himself, forcing George to rescue him and thereby saving himself. Clarence is trying to earn his wings and sees George as the perfect way to¬†do it.¬†In order to prove to George that his life means something, Clarence, with permission from Heaven, grants George the gift of being able to see what the world would be like if he had never been born. George returns to town to find out that Bedford Falls is now Potterville. Strip clubs, gambling dens, and chaos now reign in the formerly family-friendly streets. No one knows who George is, including his wife, Mary who is now a spinster librarian. (Why are librarians always spinsters in old movies?) Even George’s own mother has no idea who he is and turns him away. By the time George understands what an impact he has made on so many people, Clarence in tow, he is desperate for his old life back. He manages to cause a scene in town and ends up being shot at before running back to the bridge and praying for God to make him live again. Miraculously, he does, everyone knows him, and he’s soon back at home where the bank examiner and the sheriff are waiting to arrest him for Uncle Billy’s mistake. George is so happy at being back that he doesn’t care. Moments later, the house is flooded with townspeople who George has helped over the years, all contributing money to make up for that $8000 deficit, including the¬†sour-puss bank examiner, and telling George exactly what he means to them. To top it all off, Harry-the-war-hero comes in, having flown through a snowstorm to get there and declares his brother, George, “the richest man in town”, followed by everyone singing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “Auld Lang Syne”. During the excitement of it all, a bell ornament on the Christmas tree rings and George and Mary’s daughter, Zuzu, says, “Look, Daddy! Teacher says every time a bell rings, an angel get his wings!”, which means that Clarence has accomplished his goal of earning his wings, thorough George. Mr. Potter’s is defeated yet again¬†and tears ensue, as always.

Of course there’s much more to it, a lot that I’ve left out, but you’ll have to watch the movie for that. I saw bits and pieces of it growing up, but couldn’t be bothered to sit through the whole thing until after I attended an It’s a Wonderful Life-themed Christmas party at my boss’s house, almost twenty years ago. I remember being floored, absolutely floored by the message. If you follow this blog, you know that¬†I struggle with self-image and self-esteem, just like many other people.¬†There have¬†been¬†times in my life when¬†I have thought that it would have been better if I had never been born, especially after I make a wrong choice that ends up hurting someone, as we all do from time to time. When I feel that way, a quote from Clarence always hits home. “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

It’s very true, akin to the butterfly effect. Think about it. What would the world be like if you had never been born, if you received the George Bailey gift and had the opportunity to see the world as he did? What seemingly small events in your life would have never happened, perhaps changing the world for the worse, or preventing a particularly wonderful thing from happening?

If you have children, they wouldn’t exist. Wow. Let that sink in for a minute. You would not be a child of your parents. Would that have changed their lives in some way? Most definitely. Parents rearrange their entire lives, usually for the better,¬†for their kids and without you, what track might they have taken? Have you helped anyone along the way?¬†Did you let someone in your lane during heavy traffic? Maybe that person¬†arrived on time for an appointment that¬†changed his or her life. Did you make a point to be kind to someone? Maybe that made all the difference in that person’s day and enabled them to pass kindness on to others who needed it. Our lives are so very meshed with countless others, many that we don’t even realize and never will, which is the message, and the beauty, of the film. This isn’t a film about rich, powerful, or beautiful people, it’s about us, the normal everyday folks who struggle with lost dreams and self-doubt all the time.

When it begins to dawn on George that he is, indeed, in a world where he was never born, Clarence tells him that he has been given a wonderful gift, a chance to see what the world would be like without him. George sees all of the people in his life that he has touched and what would have happened had he not been there as a husband, an understanding loan manager, a loving son, a supportive brother. It shows us that no matter how small or insignificant we feel, especially when we compare ourselves to our friends and relatives that appear to lead big, exciting lives (Sam Wainwright, Harry Bailey), we do make a difference, especially¬†to the people who matter most. It’s a message that sometimes gets lost in the crush of ambition.

Do yourself a favor this Christmas season; watch it’s a Wonderful Life in its entirety, whether it’s on television or downloaded from Netflix. Be open to the message. Have the tissues ready. Merry Christmas.

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The first of November always brings the beginning of a great debate: how soon is too soon to start celebrating Christmas? Halloween is over, autumn has definitely moved in, and some stores have been setting up their Christmas aisles for the past couple of weeks or so. Target started sneaking in Yuletide decorations at least two weeks ago, shrinking the costume section into one crowded aisle while the Christmas craft sections at JoAnn’s and Michael’s have been up since late August. Santa arrives next Saturday, November 8th at many area malls while the Hallmark channel is showing non-stop Christmas movies all weekend. JoAnn’s and Michael’s I understand; sewing stockings and making ornaments can take quite a while. My own stocking is still only half-done and I started that three or four years ago. The rest of my family have had their home made stockings for a long time, I just don’t think about mine until, well, December 24 when we put them out. Anyway, loads of people complain about the early arrival of the Christmas season, but remarkably, there seem to be just as many who can’t wait and are even now begging the local radio stations to begin playing their 24-7 playlist of Christmas songs and carols.

I am not one of those people. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Grinch, I love Christmas. I always have. The way I love Christmas, however, has evolved over the years. As a child, it was all about Santa and the presents. Of course, the whole Baby Jesus thing was always fun, especially when one got to be an angel in the church play and wear a gold glitter halo (aka tree garland) that she refused to take off, but Santa took center stage. For several years now, though, the spiritual aspect of Christmas is what I look forward to. Before anyone jumps in to set me straight, I know that Jesus wasn’t actually born on Christmas and that the Church chose December 25 in order to replace a pagan holiday. Of course, there’s more to it, but there it is in a nutshell. History geek, remember? But there is something so special and so pure about what that day represents that it gives me the goosebumps every time, sometimes not on Christmas Day itself, but there will always be a moment where it hits home what I’m actually celebrating, apart from the cookies, Santa, and choir rehearsals, and even our wonderful family get-togethers. Jesus, the foundation of Christianity, the Son of God, was born (at some undetermined point during the year) and that’s what it means to me.

From my perspective, when we begin to celebrate on November 1, it diminishes the specialness of the holiday. We start taking it for granted. We get sick of it. With some minor exceptions, the Christmas season for our family starts the day after Thanksgiving. (Although, I have been known to cheat while going through radio stations if one of my favorites is playing.) Even starting at that date, I’m ready to put it all away before New Year’s Eve because I really can’t listen to “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” one more time and I want the stupid tree out of my living room because it takes up so much space. If I started celebrating now, I’d be almost done with it by Thanksgiving. Just think, that’s¬†two solid months of Christmas, especially if you’re one to leave things up until Epiphany. I try, I really do, but usually the only thing that makes it until January 6 is the Nativity set. But really, that’s one-sixth of the year! What is special about that? It becomes mundane, ordinary. As a kid, the anticipation would have killed me, having to look at that tree every day. If we’d had an elf-on-the-shelf back then, I would have cracked under the pressure of trying to be completely good. Or it would have mysteriously “disappeared”, leaving me in mortal dread of what Santa would do when he found out. I’d much rather enjoy one month of Christmas cheer and think, “At last!” on December 25 rather than, “Thank God it’s over!”

I know that there are people who don’t get sick of it, who start counting down during the summer. Some of them are Facebook friends/relatives who I love dearly, already posting their countdowns to The Big Day, like my adorable sister-in-law, Pam. I don’t begrudge them their enthusiasm, I just don’t share it…yet. Christmas is special, it doesn’t happen all year round. If I drag it out, it loses that magic, that wonder. In life, it’s the special and rare things, things that aren’t the norm, that are treasured the most: true love, true friendship, artwork, centuries-old artifacts. (There’s that history geek coming out again.) I always appreciate something more when I have to wait for it or work for it.

The retail industry begins fueling our enthusiasm for Christmas joy and begins promoting early in order to make more money. I shop for a lot of people, mostly a nephew, nieces, small cousins and honestly, I start in September, little by little so that it doesn’t become an overwhelming chore. I don’t want it to be a chore, it should be fun and normally it is, but with all of the early reminders to buy, buy, buy. it kind of turns my stomach a little. I saw the first Christmas commercial of the season for Best Buy the week of Halloween. Really? I hadn’t even carved a pumpkin yet.

In the nineteenth century and the early twentieth, trees usually weren’t even put up until Christmas Eve. Of course, people made gifts by hand and some planning was involved, but life continued as usual for most folks until then. I’m not saying that we should go back to those times. I love being able to space out events and fun all through December, but maybe there’s something to be said for holding off until the Thanksgiving turkey has had its day.

That being said, people will celebrate how they feel most comfortable and if that’s their thing, then more power to them. Again, I love Christmas, I look forward to it every year, but I also love that I have to wait for it. In the meantime, maybe I’ll dig out that unfinished stocking. It will give me something else to look forward to.

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