The Magic Remains

Our elves showed up last night.  (Well actually this morning.  Early.  Don’t ask me how I know.)  We have Christopher PopinKins, whom my Mama gave us years ago.  He doesn’t do anything really naughty.  He just leaves at night and goes to the North Pole to file his report, and then the adventure is finding where he is hiding the next morning.  Last year, three kindness elves flew in from England, and we enjoyed reading their daily notes on how to share a smile or offer a kindness each day.  It helped us focus on giving and not as much on the getting, which made for a lovely Advent and Christmas.


Christopher PopinKins hanging out with the Raggedy Ann girls. He’s loaded up with peppermints (apparently his favorite, I hear) and with letters to Santa to take back to the North Pole tonight. All of which was unprompted. Precious.

It was funny to me that my littles searched high and low for the elves yesterday morning, what with it being December 1st and all.  I didn’t know we were on a set schedule, but I stand corrected.  Our Princess was so concerned last night that she made up a little bed for the three smaller elves just in case, like the one she had set up last year.  So of course, she was certain that’s why they didn’t come until today.  They were waiting on their bed.


The three Kindness elves all tucked back into the bed, after having their little tea party. I’m not even sure where all she gathered things to make this little bed–she did it all on her own, convinced they needed a place to sleep. Bless.

I am also finding it very precious that she keeps calling the “Kindness Elves” the “Goodness Elves.”  It is good to be kind, isn’t it?  And kind to be good?  Out of the mouths of babes.


An elf tea party a la Princess style.

What really surprised me–and yet, maybe not so much–is that my sweet girl–yes she’s 11 now, found the cupcake eraser favors we had tucked away, and she set them out for a tea party for the little elves, complete with furniture from my fairy garden.  Well.

The magic is still very real for her.  I wondered if it would be.  And I’m so thankful to find that it is.

May it ever be so.

Love and a healthy bit of wonder at the magic to all.

Lying in Wait

Today I was out on a mission of madness and magic trying to find, hoping against hope, that something I didn’t get at the GW Boutique last night was still there.

Actually a couple of things.  Thought about them overnight and realized they were all good choices.

One was a Target return bamboo throw in the loveliest of off white shades.  (My Great Aunt who lived in, as Daddy would tease, “one of the finest homes in that there Eastman, Georgia” would have approved–it was just that elegant.) Why I didn’t grab it last night, I cannot say.  I offer as my only excuse that perhaps I was overwhelmed with the cart full of treasures hidden from this one and that one, and that I just wasn’t thinking straight by that point.

Figured out today it was at least a $75 throw.  I think they were asking 5 or 6.

Let’s all gnash our teeth together, shall we?

Ah well.

It’s not like there’s a blanket or throw shortage in this house or anything.


But I did find a couple of really awesome treasures otherwise, so it was still a successful trip.  One thing is going to make the Fella laugh on Christmas morning, I’m pretty sure.  (and that’s all I’m saying since he does venture over this way every now and then)

On the way to the GW, as I was by myself in the vehicle and could listen to anything I wanted to, I had the radio on a classic Christmas station.  About halfway there a song started playing, and when I realized who was singing, I could scarce believe my ears.

Cary Grant.

Cary Grant?



It is called “Christmas Lullaby” and in the song he is speak-singing to his baby girl who is already asleep.  He tells her how much  he looks forward to Christmas morning and seeing her joy.  And all of the magic.

And as I teared up–CARY GRANT, Y’ALL!–I thought about all the years of lying in wait in my twin bed at Blackberry Flats and in the double bed in the house on Boy Scout Road before that–waiting for the magic of Christmas morning.  I could hardly wait.  I remember late one Christmas Eve sitting up in the bed, talking to the air, hoping Santa could hear my last minute wishes.

There is a Santa and the magic is real, because I was not disappointed.

And now that I’m “grown up,” just as Mr. Grant did on Christmas Eve, when I do get to bed (I’m all about the staging y’all–it’s a production such that I have elves quitting on me who just can’t stay up that late), I find myself lying in wait for the magic all over again.

And it really doesn’t feel that different.

Well, maybe I’m a little more tired than I was when I was young.  Maybe I fall asleep a wee bit quicker.

But for the most part, I find myself lying in wait with the giddiness and excitement of a child–a child waiting for Christmas morning.

The song was written by Peggy Lee for Mr. Grant.  The sweet words that touched my heart this morning–


It’s Christmas Eve

and you are asleep, my little one

This is such a special night for you

and for me

For you, because you will awaken to a joyful morning

filled with wonderful surprises

and all the things our love can do to delight you

There’s a shiny Christmas tree

and a doll, a music box

and some toys

And for me, because I will watch your happiness

All this joy we will share because of the birthday 

of the Christ child,

who taught us that in loving and giving

we find our own happiness

and that angels do watch over us


Angels bless you, little one

While you’re fast asleep

You’ll awake to dancing toys,

candy canes,

Christmas joys

And I pray your whole life through

angels will watch over you

loving you 

the way I do

my little one, sleep well


Loving you the way I do

Oh my dear little one, sleep well


Merry Christmas



One day my children will learn that on Christmas Eve it’s not just the children who are lying in wait with excitement, and they will find the joy in creating magic for the children they love.  All the time and energy put into making magic for the children–my own and those who are not–every minute is worth it.  To share the delight that our love can do.  The loving and giving do bring great happiness.  Precious.

Just like Mr. Grant, I pray that angels will watch over my children their whole lives through, loving them the way I do.

But I’m not sure that’s possible.  Because, even when they are being real stinkers, I find myself giving thanks (well not every time, I’m no saint) that they are here and are mine for a while.  And loving them through it all.

And all that joy and delight and magic?

I’d best be getting my sleep now, because Christmas Eve is a time of lying in wait for all of us in this house.  It’s so hard to sleep the closer it gets.

And it’s for the joy and anticipation that comes with lying in wait that I am most thankful.

We are so fortunate.

Wishing for you all to have someone to make joy and share delight with on Christmas morning and every day.

Love to all.




Kaleidoscope of Christmas Memories

1914 Santa Claus in japan

1914 Santa Claus in japan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just a few things from this Christmas season SO FAR (’cause y’all know it ain’t over yet, right?)…..

–Playmobil packs their playset pieces in different plastic bags inside the boxes.  If there are “people” in the bag, the bag has air holes.  Just awesome, right?  (Thanks to my oldest Aub who discovered this in the very wee hours on Christmas morning.) I really think that’s just brilliant.  Love it.

–There was some weird stuff going on with the underwear this year.  The thing in our family lore is that if Santa really loves you he will bring you underwear.  (I was so hoping for some this year.)  As Santa was getting ready to fill the Fella’s stocking, he realized that the underwear, five pair I think, came in a resealable pack.  Uh, say what?  ‘Cause you need to be able to reseal your underwear in the package they came in? All righty then.  Also one of the pair that Santa was bringing to my oldest had a security tag still attached.  Y’all.  They were not expensive–I do happen to know that.  And the still present tag did not trip any alarm systems.  Short of taking them back to the store for the removal of said tag, we have no way of getting the it off.  I wonder what the store will think when we go walking in with one pair of underwear with the tag still on them.  Would you believe we didn’t walk out with them without paying to begin with?  *sigh*  I really don’t like it when things are harder than they should be.  (I mean, seriously, a security tag on underwear?  We’re not talking VS here… was a department store…..)

–Christmas Eve when we went to the candlelight service at 7 p.m., our Princess asked me where Santa was.  (Aren’t these apps amazing–they can actually track Santa!) I looked and saw that he was in Germany and that he was expected to arrive in our area in five hours (around midnight).  She immediately went into planning mode.  “Okay, as soon as Evening Prayer is over, we need to leave and get home as quickly as possible.  And I’m afraid we won’t be able to take baths tonight.  We have to get in the bed quick.”  Oh my.  In the end she did enjoy the candlelight service, and everyone did take care of personal hygiene as appropriate.  And they were in bed asleep before midnight.  But it was still after 3 before Santa called it a night at our house.  (It’s all about the magic, people.)

–On the way home from church that night, Princess and Cooter got in a conversation in the backseat about the naughty and nice list.  They were starting to get a little concerned about which list they might be on.  (Seriously, here at the very last minute?  Where was this concern at the beginning of the school year?  Last spring?  Two weeks ago?)  As they talked, our Princess took a deep breath as if to calm herself and said, “Well Santa Claus does forgive.”  And Cooter replied, “Yeah, like God does.”

That right there.  That’s why Santa/Saint Nicholas is still very much alive in our celebrations.  Because you can never have too many folks who love you unconditionally–through good and bad, wise and poor choices–like that.

–Christmas morning I was about to unwrap a gift labeled “from Cooter.”  He looked at it and said, “Well I don’t know what that is, so I can’t spoil it.”  Yeah.  He’s been the leak this Christmas.  And the peeker.  We set the tree up in a different room for the first time this year so we wouldn’t have to supervise the puppy around the tree and gifts.  It worked, except for figuring in that Cooter’s snooping would kick in this year.  He was peeking in bags and not completely sealed gifts.  His spoiling surprises is why I didn’t have him wrap anything for anyone until as late on Christmas Eve as I could wait.  Otherwise, it would have been, “Hey, I didn’t get you {insert what he DID get them here}.” Trust me, he’s done it.  Sigh.  There’s always next year, right?

–Some of our dear family friends wanted to share something that the sweet teenager didn’t play with or use anymore with our Princess.  I brought it out after things had settled down.  It was something that she couldn’t have gotten before or it would have given away what Santa was bringing.  When she opened the bag, knowing who had shared it with her, she teared up.  She put her hand over her mouth, and just stared in awe.  “Mama, I don’t have any words.  I love it.  I am speechless!”  I soaked in her appreciation and the twinkling in her eyes that wasn’t completely due to her tears, and I said, “Baby, when there are no words, a hug will usually do the job.”  That’s a Mama-ism right there.  I hope she remembers it.

–This was the year we used totes we had gotten from the GW Boutique for wrapping for the most part.  Not for all gifts, but when we could, we did, which cut down on our trash quite a bit.  And it also cut down on my stress level.  As I was wrapping a gift (with paper and tape) that was more than just a standard box shape, I thought about the fact that the tag would include my littles’ names on it.  Perhaps the recipient would assume that it had been wrapped by one of them.  I could be okay with that.  (Of course the littles might be insulted.  Sometimes they wrap better than I do.)

Perhaps my most favorite thing of this Christmas is that all three of my children said at one time or another that this was the best Christmas ever.  I am thankful for that.  And they said that, not knowing that Santa had tucked back a couple of things (things they had asked for) that they didn’t get until later. That Great North Polar Bear had been playing with them you see, so they were delayed  in arriving.  (If you don’t know about him, check out JRR Tolkien’s Letters From Father Christmas…’s a great book.)  Yeah, that’s the good stuff right there.

Merry third day of Christmas!

“The Little Lights, They’re Not Twinkling”

Y’all have all seen the movie, right?  National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation?  In the scene where Clark W. Griswold has been working so long and hard to hang lights all over the outside of their house, and finally, after one mishap, then another and another, the lights are on.  Power is diminished in the town, and the Griswold home can likely be seen from space.  And the sheer delight and joy on Clark’s face as he wishes each family member, wife, children, parents, in-laws, and Cousin Eddie a Merry Christmas!  It is magical.

And in the midst of his joy and peace, Clark’s father-in-law Art, after Clark has wished him a Merry Christmas and thanked him for being there to celebrate with his family, says, “The little lights.  They’re not twinkling.”

Sigh.  I always find myself sighing for poor Clark.

“Thanks for noticing, Art.”

Poor Clark.

He worked so hard to make this Christmas magical for those he loves, and what he gets is a bit short of the appreciation he deserves.

I understand his letdown.

Speaking of Christmas shows, has anyone seen Alvin and the Chipmunks’ Christmas?  In it Alvin gives away his special harmonica to a very sick little boy in the hopes it will lift his spirits and help him get well.  He doesn’t tell Dave, who is expecting Alvin to perform with his harmonica at the Christmas concert.  When Alvin goes to the store in the hopes of buying another one, he finds he cannot afford it.  A sweet “little old lady” comes up and, for reasons I missed because I was doing the dishes, tells Alvin that it would help her and bring her joy to buy the harmonica for a young fellow and would he let her buy it for him?  Problem solved.  At the very end of the show, Santa Claus makes his trip and goes home, walking into the living room where Mrs. Claus sits knitting in front of the fire.  She asks how his trip was, and he tells her it was good, she really should come with him sometime, she needs to get out of the house.  She tells him oh no, she’ll leave all that to him.  And then as he starts snoozing, she turns around and looks at the camera and winks.  And it’s HER.

Magic.  Right there.

My oldest talks about her “spirit animal” and makes me laugh when she tells me who it is.  Well.

So yeah. Walt Disney is my spirit animal.

Actually a combination of him and Mrs. Claus.  With maybe a little Clark thrown in for good measure.

I love being a part of the making of the magic.

Of creating and orchestrating it.  Of lighting things up.

It’s my favorite part of the whole Christmas experience.  Probably why I’m up until 3 a.m. most years.  The staging and creating and setting up the magic.  Wanting it to be just so.  After weeks of preparation, it all comes down to this night.

And then, Christmas morning comes all too soon.  (Well not according to my children, but you know.)  And while their little eyes dance and the house is filled with laughter and the smell of apple cider and the sound of creative play and working together to build and tell stories, the magic is like fire it is so bright.  It is like the moment when the Griswold house is finally all lit up.  (I can almost hear the Hallelujah chorus, or at least “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” playing in my head.)

And then the day after comes.  December 26.  I put the Christmas music on to play, and I clean up the aftermath of the meals from the day before.  (Yes, I filled the sink and left it.  Don’t judge.  It happens–just keeping it real.)  And for whatever reason, I feel like Clark, when Art points out one small thing missing in the midst of all the beauty.  And my heart is heavy.  The tears want to come, and I’m not quite sure why.

So if you are like me, and the day of December 26 is hard for you, know you are not alone.  I understand.  I envy those who have extended family to celebrate with and continue their “Christmas-ing” on through the weekend.  We went to eat with Mess Cat and her family tonight, and it was fun, but I did not hear a single “Merry Christmas” anywhere.  I’m the weirdo who wants to keep saying it straight through to January 6, Epiphany.  But I didn’t.  I just didn’t.

Maybe that’s exactly why the person who wrote the Twelve Days of Christmas wrote it.  I looked and could not find who it was attributed to, but maybe it was someone who needed to carry on with the joy and the magic and the lights for more than just one day.

Tonight I wish for you, if you are struggling with a Christmas that didn’t quite go as planned–the lights didn’t twinkle as advertised, a gift didn’t go over as you’d hoped, someone you care about didn’t make time to visit, you feel lost and sad as you’re missing someone this Christmas, or you just don’t even know what it is, just know that something’s out of place today–know that it is okay.  It’s not a good feeling, but you are not alone.  You’re not crazy or sick or maladjusted.  (Or if you are, there’s at least two of us.)  Even if it’s because you didn’t get the one thing you would have really loved to receive as a gift, it’s okay, you are not selfish.  You are human. We really set ourselves up, don’t we?  The Walt Disneys and Mrs. Clauses and Clark Griswolds and the Merry Magic Makers of the world.  We work hard to make beautiful and fun things happen, to create the “holiday experience” that we hope will bring joy to others, sometimes even for folks we have never met.  And then in the end, we are left with an empty theater, a sleeping Santa and elves, dirty cookie sheets in the sink, and someone to point out the one thing or several that didn’t go as planned.  (And sometimes that someone is our very own selves.)  And today our hearts hurt for what we didn’t get to do, for what there wasn’t time or resources to make happen, for the Christmas books not read, the homemade gifts or ornaments or cookies not made, the movies not watched, the visits not planned–all of the things we told ourselves back late December last year or this November would happen.  This Christmas would be different.

Grace, my friends, grace.  For you and for me.  It’s okay.

I’m trying to tell myself it’s okay that the lights aren’t twinkling, despite my best, frantic efforts.  (Yes, some days I did feel like Clark when he was swinging from the ladder with no one to spot him.)  I’m trying not to set up grand expectations for next year.  It’s all about making the magic the best I can in that moment.  And if the lights don’t twinkle, then well, maybe I need to step outside the box and open and close my eyes really fast.  You know, come up with another way to make it happen.  And other things I just have to let go.

Because I think that people don’t remember Walt Disney’s flops as much as they do the great ones–like Mary Poppins (yes the new movie is on my want to do list).  I’m betting Clark’s family didn’t remember years later that the lights didn’t twinkle that year.  After all, it was amazing!  And I’m hoping that I will be able to hold on to the magic that did happen this year, and not think about all the things I couldn’t or didn’t make happen.  After all, Mrs. Claus is only one person, same as you and me.  Don’t be down because not everyone recognized your efforts. Or be disappointed in yourself.  The most important thing is to love on folks as best we can.  And as often as we can.

That’s the magic I remember most about my Mama.  She could make any moment magical with her love and generosity and a laugh that could shake her whole body when she got really tickled.  Tonight, as I close my eyes and hope for sleep to come, that’s what I will remember and think about.  And give thanks for.  Because while I am sure that missing her is part of where the blues from today are coming from, I know that she would have none of that.  “Let’s make it a happenin’!” she’d say when we needed something to boost our spirits.  My friends who are struggling today, know you are loved, no matter what holiday magic you were or were not able to create. No matter what you are carrying on your hearts and minds.  Go and love on somebody that needs you.  Let someone love on you.  And share some laughter.  And most of all, let someone close to you know they matter.  That is a gift we all really want, isn’t it?  Best of all, it’s free for the giving.

And hey, don’t worry about those little lights not twinkling…..if they’re on at all you done good, Clark, real good.  😉    (…..and if they’re not, I won’t tell.  ‘Course in my book, you still have ten days left to turn them on…..only if you want to)

Merry Christmas to all!

(there, I said it, and it felt great!)


Making the Season Last…..

Yesterday evening one of my friends mentioned to me that she had seen some Cherry Cordial ice cream somewhere.  She mentioned this because she knows how much I love those things–they make me think of my Daddy.  We always wrapped up a box for him and put them under the tree.

As we were talking about how good we knew it would be and wondering where she saw them, I said, almost forlornly, “They’re probably for the holiday season only.”

We both sighed.  She said, “Yeah.  Probably so.”

Isn’t that the saddest thing?  All the good things that will be over on December 26th?

I spend a lot of time and energy on Christmas, working up to the day, as I’m sure many people do.  I really wish more people celebrated the Christmas “season”–from Christmas Day until Epiphany on January 6th.  Christmas movies–when I would actually have time to watch them, Christmas music to listen to and lift the spirits, and best of all–the spirit of folks around us–the giving spirit would carry on beyond December 25th.

I had an amazing retail experience yesterday.  I was shopping for a young man I’ve never met.  I have never shopped for a male that age before and I was clueless.  I only knew the brand of clothes he would like–nothing about styles.  I headed out, a little nervous and a whole lot lost.  When I got to the store, I guess I looked as lost as I felt, because the young sales associate asked me if I needed any help.


I mean, Yes please, if you don’t mind.

I explained what I was doing, how I didn’t have a clue what to get, and that I needed the best prices because I wanted to get him more than one outfit.  She nodded and led me around the store sharing with me the newly marked down prices on shirts, pants, hoodies, and so on.

For the love.  Bless her.

I probably seemed ancient to her, and yet she was patient and kind and made me feel like I could do this.

And so I did.

As I was checking out, another sales associate and I chatted about the holidays.  I told her how much I appreciated the help I’d gotten because I really wanted to do this right.  She asked me a couple of questions and started clicking on her computer.  She then gave me not one but two different discounts.  She wanted to be a part of helping this young man as well.  Bless her too.  I started crying.  I couldn’t help it.  I’m tired, it’s been a hard week, (and a hard decade for that matter), and I had no clue what I was doing.  And here she was, reaching out to help, and making a difference.  She stopped, and said, “Don’t cry.  It’s okay.”  And I think I blubbered something about how I could get him some shoes now.  I don’t know, I was so blown away by her kindness.  I gave her a heartfelt Happy Holidays/Merry Christmas and left the store, wishing I could have found better words to tell her how much her actions meant to me.

Because you know.  She so could have listened to me rambling and just nodded and done her job, and she would have been well within her rights to do just that.  I expected no different.  But no.  She stepped outside her “have to’s” and did what she could.  I love that.  I want to be just like her.

I was thinking about her and the limited seasonal ice cream and other things that are usually just a part of the holiday season–many of them my favorite things–white twinkly lights (no LED’s please, don’t get me started), Christmas music, excitement and anticipation in my children’s eyes and hearts, friendly greetings, and folks reaching out with a hand to help.

Occasionally we see these things after January 1, but it is something of an anomaly when we do–it’s almost like we don’t trust it, isn’t it?  I mean, what would you do if you found a container of “Santa’s Christmas” ice cream (I think that’s the name of it–it’s a delicious coffee flavor?) in the grocery store in May?  Would you trust the flavor, that it’s okay?  If someone tried to do something kind for you, and they couldn’t shrug it off with “hey, it’s Christmas” because it’s April?  I know it can happen, it just seems like on December 26th a lot of folks are ready to move on, pack up the tree and decorations and shut down the music and movies and get on to the next thing.

I’m happy for them, I really am.  But that’s not me.  I am thankful that I found a radio station that will play Christmas music straight through to New Year’s Eve.  And I just checked and it looks like Hallmark Channel will be showing Christmas movies through until then too.  It’s a start.  I just love the magic of the season, and I guess my heart wonders, just as Miss N of our Sister Circle asked, “Why’s it gotta be just one day?”  

Years ago I told myself I would give me the gift of the week after Christmas.  I would savor the season the whole week long.  Relax and remember.  Celebrate.  I recall a lady I once knew who gave a “Breaking Down Christmas” party every year, just a few days after Christmas.  It was not a New Year’s Eve party, it was a Christmas party.  Only it was AFTER the rush and bustle of Christmas Day, and it was awesome.  Everyone was relaxed and had a wonderful time.

I know some folks might argue that these things would lose their “specialness” if available year-round, but I don’t know.  So if you hear me humming a Christmas tune or see me digging in the freezer at the grocery store in search of Santa’s Christmas or Cherry Cordial ice cream or hear that I’m watching “White Christmas” in February, just chalk it up to whimsy and my quirky ways.   It’s just me, trying to hang on to the magic, and trying to make it last for more than just one day…..

because magic and love and kindness really never go out of season, do they?


Today I’ve had Keeping Christmas by Henry Van Dyke on my mind and heart….. it’s really special.  Very short, but so full of wisdom and beauty.  You can read it here.   Merry Memory-Making!

and the two became one–how the journey began

December 17.

The day my parents married in 1967, forty-six years ago.  It all started with a guy named Cheshire, who was good friends with Mama and Daddy individually, introducing the two of them while they were in college at Valdosta State.  He had already let Mama read some of the things Daddy had written.  It seems like the first meeting was somewhere like a Laundromat, but I can’t be sure.

At the end of their meeting, the VERY FIRST TIME EVER they had met I want you to remember, my Mama looked up from her 4’10” stance at Daddy’s over six-foot tall self and said, “I could fall madly in love with you, Mr. Joyner.”

Oh my.  We are all so thankful they did wind up marrying.  How embarrassing would THAT have been?

Just kidding, Mama.  You know we love that story.  And she loved telling it.  And she’d look over at Daddy and wrinkle her nose, which is how she often said “I love you.”  There was never any doubt.

Ten years and four children later, they moved their three girls, three-month old baby boy, and several cats out to Blackberry Flats.  It has been home ever since.  Our move-in date was actually December 17.  What better way to celebrate ten years of marriage?

That was the beginning of another adventure, and over the years Mama and Daddy made it their own.  From Mama’s trademark light green paint to Daddy’s building and the trees they planted all over–it became home.  It got its name when a family friend brought us over some blackberries that were beyond the point of eating.  Bless her.  After she left, Mama had me tote the blackberries out to the “high grass,” which is where we took scraps and brush and stuff like that–toward the back part of the property.  As it turned out, those blackberries loved being in that soil and they took off.  After years of Daddy fighting them by burning the prickly briars off, he and the bushes reaches a compromise–he let them have the fence line.  There are still some there today.  Thus the name Blackberry Flats was born.

There were some things that were important at Blackberry Flats, growing up with Mama and Daddy at the helm.  Trying your best.  That was one of the things they would ask often, “Well, did you try your best?”  Telling the truth.  Storytelling (we didn’t use the word “lying” back then) was frowned upon.  Eating what was put before you.  There was no whining about mushrooms in the spaghetti.  (Well, okay, there was, but well, I really, really couldn’t stomach them and I regretted the whining every time I did it.)  Being responsible.  We all had chores, and we were expected to pitch in.  And then some.  Pick up after yourselves, and if you see something that needs doing, do it.  Get along with one another.  Mama would quote a children’s play we had seen at Wesleyan–“I’m sure you’re all really very wonderful.”  Which was our signal to cut it out, because maybe she was beginning to question how wonderful we were, and we were treading on thin ice.  We were expected to show respect, say yes ma’am/no ma’am, yes sir/no sir.  We were to be good stewards of what we had, what we’d been given–that included everything from the things around us to our physical beings and our spirits and our abilities and the people around us.

Another thing about Blackberry Flats was that learning was of the utmost importance.  And so was reading.

We grew up with frequent trips to the library.  Mama was very involved with the Friends of the Library. She helped with storytimes and eventually became a Rolling Reader at the school all four of us had attended.  She loved it and stopped only when Daddy got sick.  Many of the children knew her as “Maemae,” (me-me) the name that her grandchildren all called her.  Her fun science experiments and wonderful storytelling were her trademarks.

Children’s books were Mama and Daddy’s favorites.  They enjoyed looking up new books and discovering new authors.  Their all-time favorite was “Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm” by Alice and Martin Provensen.  Mama and Daddy loved sharing the book with children they met along the way.  One of their favorite things to do was choosing the perfect books for their grand nieces and nephews and their grandchildren.

The past few years I remember Mama trying to find a good Christmas or winter story to share.  For the fun of it and in memory of the woman with whom I’ve spent every Christmas except for the two I lived in Japan, I set out on the journey to find the 2013 holiday story.  I browsed through picture books and animal stories, snow covered tales and retellings of the nativity story.  And one day, I was wandering through the virtual bookstore–I apologize to my local bookseller, but some days it’s the only way to shop while supervising the zoo crew around here–and I saw several holiday stories by an author who also had a book I recognized in her list of published works.  “G is for Goat” by Patricia Polacco.

Oh my.  The tears began to flow.

Mama had chosen that one for my sweet Cousin’s daughter one year.  She had been thrilled.  She called me to celebrate her triumph.  “Don’t you think it’s the perfect book for her?”  And it really was.

Seeing that Ms. Polacco, whom Mama had so loved, had a large selection of holiday and winter stories to choose from felt like a nod from Mama–a wink and a thumbs up.  “You found it, T. Annie,” I could almost hear her whisper.

After scanning summaries and reading some of the books themselves, I finally chose this year’s Holiday Book.  Drum roll, please.

Uncle Vova’s Tree by Patricia Polacco

Uncle Vova's Tree by Patricia Polacco

“Uncle Vova’s Tree” by Patricia Polacco

Oh y’all.

This is a beautiful story about a family who celebrates Christmas with aunts, uncles, grandparents, siblings, parents, and cousins.  The beautiful colors and traditions will touch your heart.  The throwing of the rice on the ceiling to foretell how many bees will come will make you laugh (as long as you remind yours we don’t do that!), and the bowl filled for those who are no longer with them will bring tears to your eyes.  And the words, “We remember.”


from "Uncle Vova's Tree" by Patricia Polacco

from “Uncle Vova’s Tree” by Patricia Polacco

But it’s not a sad book.  Not at all.  It’s full of life and joy.  When the aunt unwraps the ornaments and decorates the tree as though it’s a gift to the family, you can feel her joy and the anticipation of the others.

If you haven’t had a chance to love this book, I want you to.   In honor of the ones who helped me discover the joy of reading and the beauty in children’s literature and who started their lives together forty-six years ago today, I am giving away a copy of “Uncle Vova’s Trees” by Patricia Polacco.  Share in the comments section or e-mail me your favorite holiday or winter story and your e-mail address.  I will randomly select someone on Wednesday, December 18th at noon EST to send Ms. Polacco’s book to.  My hope is for you to have this wonderful story to share with those you care about in time for the weekend.

Just a beautiful story.  Even though the people are of another culture and they live where there are sleigh rides and snow, I find these people to be my kindred spirits.  They believe in faith, family, laughter, and love.  They know what is important, from remembering those living in the winter weather to remembering those who have gone before.  And honoring their memory.

We remember.


Merry memory-making, my friends.  Love to all.

I Love a Parade

Today was the day for parades.  The town closest to us and those all around us had their parades today.  It made me smile to see several of my non-local friends talking on Facebook about their local parades today too.  I wonder if there is a National Christmas Parade Day in the works.  If so, I think the first Saturday in December is it.

This wasn’t something we planned ahead.  Actually we waited until the last minute to decide to go.  We left our house several minutes after it started, arrived towards the end of the route thirty minutes after it began, and still had a few minutes before the beginning of the parade was in sight.  I like it.

My crew headed to our spot towards the end of the parade.  Love watching it from this spot.

My crew headed to our spot towards the end of the parade route. Love watching it from this spot.

How fun it was to see the faces of the children in the parade–some of them experiencing it for the very first time!  The little elementary school Snowball Queen waving her hand like a Princess is taught to was just too precious.  The two boy dance team inspired me with their bravery and confidence.  Aub’s friend who continued keeping time marching with his ROTC group though we were waving and taking pictures the whole time his group went by.  The people on both sides of the road waving and clapping with respect as the members of the USAF marched by.  The young man who teaches at Cherished Children singing as he walked alongside their float.  I think theirs was my favorite float of all.

I worried over the little ones who were a part of their school’s group and had to walk when other schools had floats for their groups.  I worried about fairness and financing and wanted those children to be okay walking that whole long route.  Aub worried about all of those folks having a ride back to their cars parked way back at the beginning point.  My littles loved waving at the people walking and on floats and cars.  It was a virtual waving fest. Anyone not knowing what was happening would have thought we were all quite friendly.  And for a brief time we all were.  Aub and Cooter, my little guy, hid when the Shriner clown and Ronald McDonald went by.  Coulrophobics.  But everyone’s day was made, especially my littles’, when the guy in the red suit came walking up and high-fived the two of them.  They were both starstruck and speechless.


Darth Vader.

In his red mask and cape for the holiday.

Yes y’all, the legend from the Dark Side took top billing with my little people.

At a Christmas parade.

And I’m okay with that.  I am thankful that someone (who knows if he was even an official part of the parade) decided to show up, dressed in red and delighted the children who waited to catch a glimpse of the other guy in a red suit riding on the back of a truck.  That was very cool.  The littles are still talking about him.  And wondering who will show up next year.  Cooter hopes it’s Han.  I think Aub might hope so too–just for different reasons.

I am glad I decided to go.  I didn’t have it in my heart to go two years ago, still reeling from Daddy’s absence.  Last year I was involved in a Fair Trade day so I didn’t get to go then either.  It was time for me to go, and I was happy myself to stand out in the cold on this dreary, not quite raining day and watch and wait to see the guy in the red suit.  And that fabulous woman sitting beside him.

No, not Darth and daughter Leia.

Santa and Mrs. Claus.

Santa and Mrs. Claus with all the reindeer.  Cooter asked where the real reindeer were, including Rudolph.  Resting up for their long trip in two and a half weeks of course!

Santa and Mrs. Claus with all the reindeer. Cooter asked where the real reindeer were, including Rudolph. Resting up for their long trip in two and a half weeks of course!

Taking the lead from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, the arrival of Santa signified the end of the parade and the beginning of the holiday season.

The littles were almost as excited to see Santa as they had been to see the red-caped Darth Vader.  It's where we live folks.  Star Wars-ville.

The littles were almost as excited to see Santa as they had been to see the red-caped Darth Vader. It’s where we live folks. Star Wars-ville.

While I don’t know what this Christmas will look like for all of us–we are still figuring it out–I am thankful for the parade and the simple joy of being there.  I found myself humming along to the Christmas tunes on the radio and looking forward to getting the tree up and decorated.  (It’s a slow process around here–this whole decorating thing.)  And then the whole afternoon, the song kept going through my head–well, to be honest, it was just the one line–I don’t know the rest of the words.  “I… a parade!”

Why I Believe

English: Santa Claus with a little girl Espera...

English: Santa Claus with a little girl Esperanto: Patro Kristnasko kaj malgranda knabino Suomi: Joulupukki ja pieni tyttö (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s that time of year again.  The one where I stress that someone is going to tell one of my children some kind of foolishness.

Ridiculous stuff.  Preposterous.

Like they don’t believe.


This is something I really do stress over.  I mean, here’s the deal.  My Mama told me if you ever stop believing, *whispering* He. Stops. Coming.

*gasp*  No.  Just no.

So I believe.  And he has always come.  Ask my oldest, in her first year at college, she knows.  She believes because she doesn’t want to miss out on all of the fun.

I love the magic of Santa, Saint Nicholas, Sinterklaas, Father Christmas.  I love dreaming and wishing and hoping.  I love finding joy in what he does bring and being okay with what he doesn’t.  Really okay.  That’s life.  But what I love most of all is that the kindness of Kris Kringle is that of someone who does for others never expecting anything in return.

That right there.

That’s why I teach my children about Santa.  And why I teach them to share as he does, to do for others who may never know their names and without looking for a gift in return.  I think that is the beauty of the season.

The laughter and joy of planning the perfect gift.  So much fun.  Over the years I have had living examples of Santa’s giving.  My Great Aunt Hattie was one who gave freely and with love.  She wrapped up a purse filled with lipstick and perfume samples.  She made doll dresses and stuffed Raggedy Anns and Andy’s and Bugs Bunnies and a beautiful cat named Sylvia I still have.  And so many others.  She gave us a Whitman’s Sampler every year and sheets for our beds and dishtowels for Mama and bandanas for Daddy.  I don’t remember much of what we gave her as gifts.  I know it couldn’t have been much.  We always wrote thank you’s but I know she gave from her heart because she loved us and expected nothing in return.  That’s real love and giving in the spirit of Saint Nicholas.

Over my adult years there has been even more Christmas magic.  My parents celebrated the Christmas of 1889 (or was it 1888) one hundred years later, with real socks as stockings, filled with nuts and candy and oranges and pennies.  They wanted us to get it.  And eventually we did.

The Christmas Eve before The Fella, Aub, and I moved to Japan ten days later, we arrived home after midnight service and there were three of Daddy’s socks (poor guy, probably always wondered why there was a spare) waiting with goodies for us from Santa’s elves, Biph and Muffy.  I don’t exactly remember what was in them, but I remember wondering at how those elves got in my house.  I still have the socks.  (The elves had written on them.)  The magic and love in that gift tickles me to this day.  Turns out I may or may not be related to those crafty elves.  I won’t say, but I still believe.

During the years I lived in Japan, I had the help of an angel named Joy who would go out and pick up something for my Mama and Daddy to be from me and drop it off on their back steps on Christmas Eve.  I love her for that, and she proves there is a Santa, who loves and does without asking for anything in return.  Because she never did.  I will always love her for that, even if there weren’t hundreds of other reasons to love her. (Which there are.)

Santa’s magic brought my sisterfriend from New Jersey early to surprise me for our rehearsal dinner in the middle of December.  There is no way I could ever thank her enough or pay her back for that.  That’s how she loves too–freely and dearly.

I hope to continue the traditions started by my precious Aunt Hattie, “you know?,” and by the Christmas Spirit of 1888 (or ’89) and by Biph and Muffy.  I want my children to know what it’s like to be loved by someone who gives and doesn’t ask for a thing in return, and Santa is a pretty good person to start with.  But I hope their lives will be filled with sisterfriends and brotherfriends and family and elves who will continue to love in that magical way.  I want them to feel the Light in the midst of the darkness of winter, especially this winter, their first without that elf named Maemae for whom Christmas morning always put a twinkle in her eye.  I want them to know what it’s like to be loved by someone they may never meet in person.  And to know the value of saying a simple “thank you” and accepting what is given.

I believe in the magic inside each of us that has us loving on other folks, even when it doesn’t make sense–whether they’re naughty or nice.  I believe in the magic that has little children watching and listening for the sounds of an elf scampering through the house or for the sound of jingle bells on Christmas Eve–holding their eyes open wide until they just can’t anymore and they fall asleep filled with magical thoughts of the morning.

So much of the real stuff of life is hard.  That’s why I want the magic, the good, the love, the light, the laughter and joy to be REAL for them too.  And I am thankful for Santa, who makes all of those things a little more real for all of us.

Thank you Santa.  Merry Christmas.  Tonight I am thankful for you and for the two folks who brought your magic to life for me and never let me stop believing in the good of people, the magic of laughter, and the joy of giving.  Safe journeys, Sir, and much love.  I’ll leave the light on for you.  And oh, I won’t forget your Swedish gingersnaps and bottle of Coca-Cola either.  Maybe you’ll have time to sit and watch a Hallmark movie or two with me that night?  Love you Santa.  Always.


**Two of my favorite Santa/Father Christmas books I’ve found in the past few years:

Santa and Pete by Christopher Moore and Pamela Johnson–a wonderful story and there’s a movie too though I haven’t watched it yet.

Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien  (yes, same one!)  Absolutely delightful letters Mr. Tolkien saved that Father Christmas sent from the North Pole.  We love reading these as a family.  We are especially fond of the mischievous North Polar Bear.  Such wonderful stories from a magical writer–Father Christmas himself.

What are your favorites?