Deck the Halls: Karen Witemeyer

I’m not a big interior decorator, unless you count “lived-in” a design style. Between the day job, writing, and keeping up with three kids, it’s about all I can manage to get the beds made and the dishes done. Decorating is far down on the priority list. Until Christmas. That’s when boxes get brought down from the attic and taken out of storage closets.

My husband is in charge of the lights and other outdoor decorations, while the indoors is my domain. One of my favorite hobbies is cross-stitching, and Christmas is the time of year where my love of stitchery becomes readily apparent—from ornaments on the tree, to the Christmas tree skirt, to art on the walls, to the stockings on the mantel. You’ll find it everywhere you look. Perhaps I’ve gone a bit overboard, but each piece brings back memories of years gone by—from the stockings that were stitched during the first year of each of my children’s lives to the most recent addition of a Celtic maiden decked out in Christmas finery from last year. These pieces chronicle my family’s Christmases past.

Witemeyer 1

Witemeyer 2 Continue reading

Turkey Diving: Kimberley Woodhouse

After much interest in a post where I mentioned turkey diving and started a trend almost a decade ago (well, at least with my readers!), I’ve decided to share the original post about how it got started. So here you have it…Turkey Diving.

Our Safeway does this great thing before Thanksgiving and Christmas where turkeys go on sale (this really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone). Anyway, the store will stock the really nice, brand-name turkeys for a deal—like up to a fourteen-pounder for a few bucks and then over a fourteen-pounder for a couple bucks more. The key is getting the most turkey poundage for your buck, right? Everyone with me so far?

Okay…so the only way to really do this is to DIG through all of the turkeys in the freezer bins. Most people don’t go to the trouble of really searching. They see the sign and think, Ooh turkeys are on sale and grab one. How do I know this? Many years of observation, that’s how!

Turkey

Let me tell you, those people disappoint me. Where’s the fun in that?

Now, I’m sure there’s a few of you wondering what could be fun about shopping for a turkey. Especially in the madhouse-supermarkets-of-today at holiday time. Just stick with me for a minute.

This is what I do:

Go to the store with several friends (it’s even more fun if they have a child or two with them…you’ll understand in a minute). Head to those turkey freezers and have everyone stake out territory. Then, you dig.

But wait! There are rules:

  1.  You MUST look at every turkey in the freezer – Yes, I said EVERY turkey.
  2. If you are too short to reach all the way in, you must yell, “I’m goin’ in!” Which in turn will signal one of your faithful friends to come help you by holding your legs so that you can “dive” in. Another option is to throw a small child in to help you look (not literally – you don’t really think I would do that, do you?) Actually, you can hold the child’s legs while they reach for that last one in the corner that no-one else can get to, but you just KNOW that’s it’s the biggest one in the freezer!
  3. The other important rule to remember is to sing! Yes, you heard me. Sing. My personal favorite is “I love you a bushel and a peck, a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck…” This is great fun while turkey diving. (And is also useful in scaring off other customers so you have the whole freezer to yourself for a while.)

So, you have the turkey diving story. I’m going to have to trademark it now, since everyone will know what I’m talking about.

This holiday season, I’ll be watching for all you newbie “turkey divers.” Just don’t come to MY Safeway—I already have it staked out.

What does your family eat for Christmas dinner?

Connect with Kimberley on Facebook, Twitter, and her website.

Woodhouse_Kimberley

Upcoming Release: All Things Hidden

All Things Hidden

Working side by side at a rural medical practice in 1935 Alaska, will nurse Gwyn Hillerman and Dr. Jeremiah Vaughan find hope or heartbreak?

The Gift: Anne Mateer

I was a junior or senior in high school. I can’t quite remember. I only know that I had carried from my childhood into my late teens an insatiable curiosity about the gifts wrapped beneath the Christmas tree. I looked and handled and shook everything with my name attached. Usually that satisfied the itch of not knowing until Christmas morning, but that particular year one gift held my attention over the rest: a heavy, rectangular package, very much the shape of an extremely thick book.

I loved books even then, especially long books. But what book could this be? It seemed to be twice as thick as any I owned. What title would render so many pages? What wonders awaited me between its covers?

Day after day, I pondered, until I felt I simply could not wait for Christmas day. The anticipation of just “a book” wasn’t enough. I needed to anticipate the actual story it contained. And so, alone in the house, I picked up my package, crept into the bathroom, and locked the door. Perched on the edge of the tub, I gently pried the tape away from the paper, unfolded it, slipped the book from its casing and . . . frowned.

JANE AUSTEN stared at me in large letters. Never heard of her. The English countryside on the dust jacket looked interesting, but the six titles that paraded beneath the name were just bewildering.

Pride and Prejudice
Sense and Sensibility
Emma
Persuasion
Mansfield Park
Northanger Abbey

What had my mother been thinking? Why would I be interested in such odd-sounding titles by a person no one I knew had ever read? I wrapped the book back up again and slipped it in a dark corner under the tree. On Christmas morning, I quickly ripped the paper from the book, said my thank-you, and set it aside.

Mateer 1 Continue reading

A McKenna Family Christmas: Dani Pettrey

I’m so excited to be part of Bethany House’s new blog, and especially excited to be sharing about Christmas traditions. We all have them—fun traditions started when we were kids or as adults. These traditions create beautiful and often hilarious memories. Today I thought it’d be fun to give you an insider’s peek into a McKenna Family Christmas. If you aren’t familiar with the McKennas, they are the family whose story is told in my ALASKAN COURAGE series. Just typing the word Alaska makes me think of cold winter nights and cuddling up inside by a warm fireplace. Let’s see how the McKennas enjoy spending their Christmas, and I’ll be sharing a little of my own family traditions along the way.

Family: The McKenna siblings (Cole, Gage, Kayden, Reef, and Piper) have always been close, but especially so after the death of their parents while most were in their teens. Since then, Cole and Piper in particular have worked hard to keep Christmas a joyful time full of the traditions their parents began.

Serving: The McKennas have been instilled with a love of serving and giving back since they were young. Their dad volunteered with Search and Rescue, and each of the siblings continue that tradition today. At Christmas time, they serve at the local soup kitchen on Christmas Eve before the church service. Gage does the cooking, and the rest help serve and clean up. Piper also makes up a list of gifts for less-fortunate families in their town, and each of the siblings adopts a different family—delivering the presents to the parents to share with their children on Christmas morning.

Book Advent: The McKennas’ mom was a book lover, giving each of the kids a middle name after one of her favorite literary characters. A tradition she started when they were young was giving them each a new Christmas book each year. After several years they were able to begin a Christmas advent where they’d get the books from past years out and read one each day during the month of December. This is something I did in my own family. I treasure the books given to me, and we still pull them out each December. My favorite is The Christmas Cat by Efner Tudor Holmes. It always makes me thankful for a warm home and a loving family. Continue reading

A Christmas Memento: Kathryn Cushman

I have a confession to make. At this time of year, it’s common to hear stories of the intentional things people did in their childhoods to remind them of the true meaning of Christmas. These usually include devotional readings with their family, attending Christmas Eve services by candlelight, and making birthday cakes for baby Jesus. Let me be perfectly honest here and admit that even while doing most of those things, my mind was generally parked somewhere near the North Pole.

But, even in my overly materialistic young mind, there was one thing that did remind me what Christmas was about. What was this deeply moving, doctrinally correct activity, you ask? Well, it was a toy.

Not a toy exactly, but a rotating musical globe with the nativity scene inside. It was one of the first decorations we pulled out every year, and oh, how I loved it. I would carry it around with me from room to room and wind up the base, then set it down and watch it spin in a slow circle while it played “Silent Night.” Hanging from the top of the globe was a blue star with silver sparkles—it was so beautiful, and it always reminded me of Glinda’s crown from The Wizard of Oz.

Cushman globe

As I watched in fascination, first admiring the sparkly star, and then gradually focusing on the wise men and their gifts, the shepherds and their animals. My attention would eventually land on the baby in the middle, lying on a bed of hay. That’s when I would remember. That’s when I would be truly thankful for the gift of Jesus, on Earth, for me.  In that moment, God would be so very real to me, right there beside that globe. Continue reading

Seeking the Perfect Christmas: Siri Mitchell

I would like one of those Christmases that I see on TV commercials, please.

I’ve tried hard to have one of those Christmases. I’ve baked cookies, and I’ve melted fancy cheese over gourmet breads. I’ve flipped through fashion magazines to determine whether silver is in or whether this is the year for gold. I’ve flirted with advent calendars, I’ve bought sparkly shoes. I even have a garland to drape over the mantel. But somewhere along the way, I seem to have lost the “merry.”

After The Nutcracker Ballet

After The Nutcracker Ballet

No matter how hard I try to get it together, no matter how many times I try to make Christmas the way it ought to be, it seems like I always wind up with a box of broken candy canes.

I was sitting in church last Sunday when the pastor said something interesting. He said that people take a gift God intended to be a good thing and turn it into The Ultimate Thing. Continue reading

Top Five Christmas Movies: Todd M. Johnson

My wife and I have developed a favorite Christmas movie list through the years, with a tradition of watching one or two each December. In order of preference, I’d say the top five come down to these:

  1. It’s a Wonderful Life (Jimmy Stewart).  Cathy and I discovered this movie the first winter we were married, and we circle back to it more often than any of our other Christmas favorites. It probably adds to the appeal that Jimmy Stewart was my father’s Eighth Air Force commander during World War II, and an alumnus of my own alma mater.It's a Wonderful Life
  2. Miracle on 34th Street (a young Natalie Wood).  Maybe it’s the legal piece, but this one never grows old for us.miracle on 34th
  3. A Christmas Carol (George C. Scott version). The appeal of this one is obvious. The problem is which version of the story to trot out each Christmas. For me, George C. Scott’s portrayal of Scrooge is unbeatable. (Although a close second is Mister Magoo.) Continue reading

The Joy of the Season: Elizabeth Ludwig

Christmas is a special time for my family. I love everything about it, from the music to the decorations—even the mad rush of finding the perfect presents. I especially love the holiday movies. There are a handful I watch every year, no matter what: A Christmas Carol (the George C. Scott version) and It’s a Wonderful Life with James Stewart. I also like While You Were Sleeping because it makes me laugh, and A Charlie Brown Christmas. Bet I surprised you with that last one, huh? Still, it’s just not Christmas until Linus gives his famous speech.

Christmas 2008

Christmas 2008

The past few years, however, have been quite different from my experience growing up in the wintery north. Since moving to Texas, we’ve traded snow days for hurricanes and Yule logs for bonfires held outdoors. But the one thing that hasn’t changed is the annual parade and lighting of the Christmas tree downtown. Afterward, my family and I pack up a thermos of hot chocolate—even if the weather is eighty degrees outside—and head out into the neighborhood to find the best lighting display of the season.

Christmas in Texas

Christmas in Texas

Of course Christmas isn’t just about lights. Many years ago, my husband and I started a tradition that has become one of my kids’ favorite things about the holiday. We noticed that after weeks of anticipation, Christmas morning came and went in a mad rush of shredded paper and gifts swiftly examined and tossed aside. To avoid this, we began opening presents the week before Christmas, one gift per day for the seven days leading up to Christmas morning. Instead of ripping open a present and tossing it aside, our kids savored each gift and shared them with their friends. One year my daughter wore a sweater she had received to go Christmas shopping. Later that night, we sat down as a family to enjoy a video my son received. It was our way of extending the joy of gift-giving but also teaching our children to appreciate the giver. It’s in that appreciation that our children learned to hold close to those important people in their lives. Continue reading

Christmas on the Canadian Prairie: Janette Oke

The time following the Depression and into WWII was not known for extravagant gifts under the tree and tables spread with bountiful feasts. But that does not mean that they were dreary and dreaded. I think back to my early Christmases with a great many fond memories.

I grew up on a farm and attended a one-room country school. Christmases meant hefting the ax and tramping through knee-deep snow into our woods to pick the best Christmas tree we could spot, church celebration services, school Christmas concerts, and visits with family or friends. Even though our house was small, there was always room for a few more at the table. My mother was adept at tossing a few more potatoes in the pot and cutting the meat, which was often venison or elk steaks, into smaller portions.

One Christmas that stands out in my memory happened when I was around eight. We lived on a road that led to a First Nations reservation if one traveled east, and to another if one went west. The two reservations were several miles apart, but we often had travelers, either single wagons of families or little groups traveling together, pass by our place. Occasionally they stopped to sell smoked fish or other goodies. Truth was, thanks to an older sister who loved to tell her own versions of “Indian lore,” I was afraid of them and always kept well behind a protective parent.

The Christmas in mind started out as usual. The school concert was an event we looked forward to. Of course we kids all had parts to memorize and perform, but there would also be neighborly visits over a potluck lunch, candy treats, and a visit from someone’s father dressed as Santa. We couldn’t wait. We traveled by horses and sleigh, sleigh-bells jingling “all the way.”  We snuggled down in the heavy bedding of warm straw covered by blankets and sang carols and counted falling stars. Continue reading

A Christmas Wish for Grandpa: Regina Jennings

When I was growing up, Christmas always meant a trip to Grandma’s house in Missouri. We’d pull in late Christmas Eve, piled up like a litter of sleeping puppies. Drowsily, we’d drag our suitcases and presents into the house to be greeted by Grandma with warm hugs, cider, and whatever treats she’d been baking. Of course, Grandpa could take the credit for the roaring fire, but the tree, the decorations, and the presents were all Grandma’s doing.

Me and my younger sisters in our Christmas finery.

Me and my younger sisters in our Christmas finery.

But the first Christmas I can remember really appreciating all my Grandma did was the first Christmas she wasn’t there. Grandma died of cancer when she was fifty-nine. I was fourteen and couldn’t begin to comprehend how young fifty-nine really was, nor could I predict how much I would miss her.

I grew up the next Christmas. Grandpa couldn’t have us at his place—he could barely take care of himself—so he came to Oklahoma for Christmas. He appeared with the clothes on his back and seven identical brown paper sacks for his grandchildren, each holding a snow globe he’d purchased at the last truck stop before our exit.

For the first time, I cared more about the giver than the present. It really didn’t matter what was in the brown paper sack; I would make sure Grandpa knew that I loved him for trying, loved him even if he didn’t have the strength to try. Continue reading