Category Archives: Holiday Blogging

Blogmas 2019 Day 2: Deep Analysis of the song “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas”

photo of girl sitting near christmas tree

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Pexels.com

The other day I was sweeping the floor and humming “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” to myself, as one does this time of year. And I realized that I have a lot of thoughts about this song. Not criticisms really, just thoughts.

Like first of all, I always imagine this song taking place down the street at my neighbor’s house. Especially when I come to the line,

A pair of hop-a-long boots and a pistol that shoots
Is the wish of Barney and Ben
Dolls that’ll talk and will go for a walk
Is the hope of Janice and Jen

Because as anyone who lives around here knows, Leroy and Anita’s two youngest sons are Barney and Ben. And they were always talked about like that too, as a pair. Barney and Ben. Never Ben and Barney, or Barney and Andrew, or Andrew and Ben, even though there was a third brother named Andrew. Always Barney and Ben.

Also, there was a sister in the family named Janna, which is similar to Janice. Maybe if Andrew had been a girl they’d have named him “Jen?”

Then I started thinking about the gifts that these children in the song wanted.

First, what the bunnyslipper are hop-a-long boots?

Jenny and Amy told me that they always imagined that hop-a-long boots were 7 league boots. Personally, I always imagined boots with thick heels embedded with a spring, like a pogo stick, so you could go bouncing along on the heels of your boots.

We called on Aunt Google.

Apparently in the ’40s and ’50s there were popular books and movies about a cowboy named “Hopalong Cassidy.” So these boys wanted cowboy boots like his. “Hopalong boots.”

Meanwhile, in the world of this song, Janice and Jen want “dolls that’ll talk and will go for a walk.”

This had me nostalgic for a moment. I remember, as a kid, dreaming about the idea of a walking doll. Or a talking doll. Oh my, how wonderful would that be! If only such a thing existed!

Similarly my mom, growing up in the ’60s, used to begin her Christmas list every year with

  1. Big doll
  2. Little doll
  3. Walking doll
  4. Talking doll

Like me, she never received a walking or talking doll…at least not as a child. But unlike me, it wasn’t something she dreamed up. She’d see advertisements in the Sears catalog for walking dolls and talking dolls.

Which makes me wonder. If walking dolls and talking dolls have been around so long, and if this is something that little girls dream of owning, why isn’t this a bigger thing? Why aren’t store shelves lined with walking, talking dolls? How come my friends never had them? How come I never saw them in movies, or read about them in books?

My personal theory is that while walking dolls and talking dolls may seem cool in theory to little girls, in reality they’re just creepy. Uncanny valley stuff. After all, remember how in 2015 Mattel was trying to be all hip with the times, and created a wifi-enabled Barbie doll with a Siri/Alexa-like voice system that could hear what you said and respond? I mean, it was a BIG DEAL. I read this fancy New York Times article about it.

And then…nothing.

It never caught on. It never became a thing. Its Amazon page now says it’s “discontinued from manufacturer,” and shows it rated 2 out of 5 stars.

It’s just so fascinating to me, that technology can only go so far before we’re all collectively like, “no, that’s creepy. I’m not buying that.”

Anyway, back to the song. So after Barney and Ben want a toy gun and some boots, and Janice and Jen want a walking, talking doll, we get to the line And Mom and Dad can hardly wait for school to start again.

This line always sticks out to me, because I remember being a kid. I remember at the end of summer vacation, my mom saying, “I’m dreading school starting up again. I’ll miss my kids!” And that always made me feel so warm and loved. I’d overhear other parents, in Goodwill or wherever we used to go in those days, talking about how they couldn’t wait to send their kids back to school. What must that be like? To be a kid and know that your parents didn’t want you around?

I mean, I’ve never been a parent. Maybe it is so difficult that you secretly look forward to school starting again. But it’s always bothered me when this sentiment is thrown out casually, almost like a joke. Like, your kids are listening to you, and that’s a really mean thing to say.

Moving along to other parts of the song, I find that some of them are rather strange. I mentioned this in last year’s Christmas Songs that Don’t make Sense, but the oddest part of this song is the stanza:

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Soon the bells will start
And the thing that will make ’em ring is the carol that you sing
Right within your heart

That literally makes no sense. Where are these bells that will “start?” And if I sing a carol in my heart, they’ll ring? How is that different than “starting?” And why are we singing carols in our heart to make some bells ring?

Also, I can’t figure out what “silver lanes” means in this first stanza.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Everywhere you go
Take a look at the five and ten, it’s glistening once again
With candy canes and silver lanes that glow

Unlike with the hop-a-long boots, Google was no help to me here. Some people thought “silver lanes that glow” meant icy streets, but how would there be icy streets in a five and ten store? Others thought it meant the aisles of the store, which makes more sense, but how are they silver and glowing? There wouldn’t be ice inside the store, would there?

Still, you have to admit that for all it’s oddities the song, and in particular its primary line, is super catchy. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. My sister Amy claims that it’s the most-used song in Instagram stories this time of year.

Don’t forget to come back tomorrow for Day 3 of Blogmas!

12 Days of Blogmas, Day 1: Christmas Giveaway

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Update: Giveaway is now closed! Thank you for participating!

This year I’m doing the 12 Days of Blogmas challenge, where I’ll post something Christmas-related on each of the 12 days leading up to Christmas.

And in the spirit of Christmas, let’s start off with a good old-fashioned giveaway!

I wanted my giveaway to be cozy/winter themed rather than Christmas themed, because by the time you get this, Christmas will be almost over. So I have a few things here that will keep you cozy this winter.

First, books! I carefully selected three books that I think will be universally appealing to readers, regardless of age or gender. They are:

  1. Paris Underground, by Etta Shiber
    This book is a true story about two older widows who ended up smuggling people out of France during WWII. Fascinating, informative, and oddly charming despite its serious subject matter.
  2. Leave it to Psmith, by P.G. Wodehouse
    P.G. Wodehouse is the king of humor writing, and this book is one of his masterpieces. I’ve never met someone who read this book and didn’t love it. As an added bonus, Wodehouse went on to write not one, but two series based on this book…one that focuses on the character Psmith, and one that centers around Blandings Castle, where Leave it to Psmith takes place. So if you enjoy it, you have many more books to explore.
  3. The Little Book of Hygge, by Meik Wiking
    This book is a little bit nerdy, digging, as it does, into the etymology of one little Danish word. It’s also quite charming, with its pretty illustrations and its instructions on how to use candles, baked treats, and cozy nooks to their best advantage.
    But most of all, it is practical and informative for anyone who struggles with the cold, dark days of winter. If the Danish people can figure out a way to be the happiest people on earth in one of the coldest, darkest locations, than you can get through the winter too. This book will help.

Besides the books, this giveaway includes a cozy pottery mug, and a large unscented candle. (The unscented part is important. You’ll understand once you read The Little Book of Hygge.) (Also, it’s a good one. Not one of those cheap candles that burns up before you can blink.)

To enter this giveaway, you must…

  1. Comment on this post, saying you’d like to be entered into the giveaway. Or saying whatever you want to say. If you leave a comment, I’ll assume that means you want to be entered.
  2. That’s the only requirement, but if you share this post on Facebook I’ll give you TWO extra entries. (Just tell me, in your comment on this post, that you shared it.)

This giveaway will close Monday, December 16, at 11:59 pm Pacific Time. 

And meanwhile, come back every day for my 12 Days of Blogmas posts! Lord willing and my computer cord don’t explode, I’ll post every day from now until Christmas Eve. (But with my propensity to post late in the evenings, and my Pacific time zone, it might be more like every morning from tomorrow morning until Christmas morning for you East Coasters.)

Anyway, we’ll have some fun times! I wrote a Christmas-themed fiction story. And lined up a guest poster. And scoured my blog for a couple funny Christmas memories from years past. And hopefully I’ll manage to shoot and edit a fun video.

Finally, I want to mention that this giveaway is the very first thing I’m spending my Patreon money on!

Last April I set up a Patreon page, where I post at least one, but usually two, bonus blog posts a month. I post about opinions, semi-controversial thoughts, and personal reflections that I’m not comfortable showing the whole entire world on my regular blog. Things get much deeper over on my Patreon.

I charge $1 a month for access, although you can give more than that, if you want to further support my blog.

So far I haven’t spent any of that money. Since it came from blog supporters, I wanted to pour it back into my blog in some way. Beginning with this givaway, and then renewing my domain name, and eventually replacing the little pink $190 laptop I’ve been using for five years. After that my goal will be to buy a camera and start doing more video projects for the blog!

Anyway. All this to say a deep “thank you” to everyone who supports my blog. If you’re interested in supporting me on Patreon and getting access to my bonus posts, go to patreon.com/emilysmucker and click the pink “Join $1 Tier” button (on computers), or the red “select” button (on mobile).

End of commercial.

Merry Christmas, and don’t forget to comment below and enter the giveaway!!!

Christmas in the City with Angie

I’m doing the holidays a bit haphazardly and fly-by-the-seat-of-my-skirt-ey this year. It’s been fun, but it makes small talk very strange and complicated.

Person making small talk: So, where are you girls from?

Me: I’m from Oregon.

Angie: And I’m from Delaware.

Person making small talk: So…what are you doing in Washington DC on Christmas eve?

Me: Well, my brother lives here. But he went to Oregon for Christmas. I couldn’t afford to go until January 4, but it’s okay, we’re having our family Christmas later anyway. He said I could stay in his apartment.

Angie: And my sisters are having Christmas with their in-laws, so I decided to come spend Christmas here too.

Person making small talk that’s now turning into big talk: And…how do you two know each other? College?

Angie: No, actually, she lived with me for a month. See, she’s doing this thing where she lives in a different place each month…

Once people start asking questions, the explanations are never ending, and far more numerous than anyone asked for. Awkwardness ensues. I guess I’m living a pretty atypical life at the moment.

We each had something in the city we particularly wanted to do. Angie wanted to go to the Passion City Church for their Christmas Eve service, because she’d watched Youtube videos of the pastor, Ben Stuart, and knew he was a good preacher. I wanted to go to the Christmas Day service at the National Cathedral, because my mom went to the cathedral once and was in absolute awe.

Angie got in Christmas eve, and after a brief rest we went down to the subway and attempted to find our way to Passion City Church. It was remarkably easy. The green line went basically from the back door of Matt’s apartment to the back door of the church.

Based on Angie’s description of Ben Stuart’s preaching abilities, as well as the church’s affiliation with the Passion conference, I assumed we’d be in a mega church. We weren’t. Oh, it was bigger than Brownsville I guess, but it had a small church feel. Chat-with-the-preacher-on-your-way-out-the-door small.

It was like the perfect modern church service. Great worship band. Fantastic and engaging sermon. Theologically sound. Great chats with the friendly people around us who call Passion City home. Candles for everyone.

We were hungry after the service, so we rode the subway to Chinatown in search of food.

Long story short, we ended up at a busy McDonalds with no seating. We decided to streamline things by using the self-order stands. Which was a bad idea.

First, my screen went back to the start screen after I’d inserted my credit card. No recipt. Did the order go through or not? I had to get in the looooong line after all, just to ask.

Apparently it did go through, and I was given my cheeseburgers. Angie, however, had to wait ages for her food. The restaurant closed. The orders disappeared from the screen one by one. Still Angie had no food.

Finally, the lady called out Angie’s number. As she reached for it, a cute guy reached out too. “I think that’s mine,” he said teasingly.

“No,” said Angie, taking her food and heading for the soda dispenser.

“You’re beautiful!” He called after her, just to make sure she knew he was flirting.

“Thank you,” she said without turning around.

I was highly amused by this incident, especially when Angie told me that she didn’t even notice that he was cute. “I just wanted my food!” She said.

Usually I’m the one who doesn’t notice when guys are cute. But maybe I noticed because I thought his joke was funny, and Angie didn’t notice because she was not amused.

Note to men: joking about taking food from a hungry woman is not an effective flirtation technique.

We went home to eat our food while watching White Christmas.

The next morning we put a youtube video of a fire on the TV, played Christmas carols, and opened the gifts we’d purchased for each other.

Spoiler alert: we bought each other mugs. She also gave me a small box of tea.

After that we dressed and went to the National Cathedral.

The cathedral was a bit of a walk from the subway station, but we were walking through the most enchanting neighborhood.

“Do you hear the music?”

“Yes, what is that?”

“It’s the church bells!”

We rounded the corner, and there it was. Huge. Magnificent.

Well, the pictures I took don’t remotely do it justice, so this is the only one I’ll post.

The cathedral service was the perfect old-fashioned Christmas service. Huge and awe inspiring. Church bells. Organ and choir music. Scripture readings and liturgy.

It was breathtaking.

I generally avoid driving in the city but I realized that I could have easily driven to that service. The roads were empty and there was plenty of street parking, free because it was Christmas.

So here’s a tip for all you Pennsylvania, Virginia, Delaware, etc people who are just a few hours from the city. If you want to see the cathedral but don’t like traffic and paying for parking, consider coming Christmas day.

However, if you do so, coming early would be a good idea. Angie and I arrived right on the dot, and all the best seats were taken.

Back home after the service we embarked on the task of making Christmas dinner.

First, the oven didn’t work. We decided to fry the ham.

Then, my attempt at mashed potatoes turned into such a gluey mess that the beaters wouldn’t even spin. It was lumpy and sticky and awful.

I googled. Apparently red potatoes make gluey mashed potatoes. Here I thought I was saving time by buying potatoes I didn’t have to peel, LOL.

“We could make baked potatoes instead,” said Angie.

“The oven doesn’t work.”

“Well, we could fry potatoes.”

So Angie sliced potatoes very thin and fried them up. The broccoli turned out fine, and overall we had a fantastic, if a bit breakfast-like, meal.

We ate, lounged around, took naps, and then decided to hit the town again.

We ended up walking down the National Mall, checking out all the outdoor monuments. Then, tired of walking around, we sat on the steps of the Lincoln memorial and chatted.

The cold wormed itself into our bones.

“Where’s the nearest metro station?”

Angie checked on her phone. We had to use hers, because I’d forgotten mine at home. “We could walk to this one up here.”

“Or look! We could walk across the bridge and catch the Arlington cemetery metro! It would be so magical, walking across the bridge at night!”

So we took a loooooong walk across the bridge, and it wasn’t quite as magical as I’d hoped, due to aching feet and bones.

“What’s that?” Angie asked when we were across the bridge. A white wall loomed up in front of us.

“I don’t know.”

We found an elevator that led to the metro. But we were so close to the big white wall, we just had to check it out.

So we kept walking.

A strange phenomenon occurred. We might as well have been on a treadmill, because though we walked and walked and walked, the white wall remained just ahead.

When we finally managed to catch up with it, it was disappointing. It really was just a white wall. It was a memorial to women in the military, but there were no fountains or anything…just a white wall and locked gates.

“Look,” said Angie softly.

I turned around. Right behind us was a white temple, lit golden in the night.

“What’s that?” I asked, confused.

“That’s the Lincoln Memorial,” said Angie.

I tried to wrap my head around this information. We’d been walking away from the Lincoln Memorial for what felt like a lifetime and a half, and yet here it was, looking so close.

My only conclusion is that if you construct something huge out of white marble, and light it brilliantly in the night, it will seriously screw up people’s depth perception.

We trudged back to the metro. The up escalator was running, but the down one was still. I began to descend it like a staircase, before I noticed that the entrance at the bottom was gated off.

We went to the elevator. Pushed buttons.

Nothing.

Angie pulled out her phone.

It died.

Thankfully she had an external battery pack. We sat on a statue and waited for her phone to charge. Weary to the core, we had no interest in taking one more step.

Now, we decided, would be a great time to figure out how to use Uber.

It really was quite fairly simple. We could’t remember Matt’s address, so we just typed in the Metro station that’s basically in his back yard. And pretty soon we were in a warm car, zooming home, while “Silent Night” played softly on the radio.

That was our Christmas in the city. The next day we did more sight seeing, since things were open again, and then Angie left.

I should note that until I get another computer cord, I can’t promise a blog post every other day. The last two posts were partially written when the cord met its demise, but this post was 100% done on my phone and it’s been brutal. The wordpress app gets really glitchy when things get this long.

Here is a parting shot, of me at the Cathedral, taken by Angie.

Blogmas 2018: Cozy Books to Read During the Holidays

Nonfiction

The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living, by Meik Wiking

“Hygge” is a Danish word that doesn’t really have an English translation, though it could be described as “cozy togetherness.” Think of a group of friends sitting in front of a fire, sipping hot cider. The Danes carefully construct their lives so that they experience as much Hygge as possible. For instance, having candles burning at the office and in school classrooms.

Wiking decided that the rest of the world was missing out, so he wrote an entire little book on the subject. I don’t usually read much nonfiction, and I only picked it up because I was looking for cozy/winter-themed books for this blog post. But I thought it was irresistibly charming.

It has some etymology, some recipes, some exploration of culture, and various tips on how to incorporate Hygge into your life. After reading, I promptly went out and bought an oversized wool sweater from a thrift store.

Christmas Stories

P.S. These are all children’s books. I don’t know why there aren’t more good Christmas stories aimed at adults, but alas. I tried to find some and had little luck. If you know of any good ones, let me know!

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson

This is probably my favorite Christmas-themed story ever.

First, because Robinson has a John Crist-level grasp on the idiosyncrasies of American Christian culture. They’re a wee bit outdated, as this book was written in the early ’70s, but still hilarious.

And you know how I wrote, once, that you can tell when an author knows her/his subject because they know what goes wrong? Well let me tell you, Robinson certainly knows what goes wrong while directing a Christmas Pageant.

The Tailor of Gloucester, by Beatri

This little book is so charming and delightful. The Christmas theme isn’t super heavy-handed, but the book hinges on the fact that a wonderful coat needs to be finished for the mayor to wear on his wedding day, which is on Christmas morning.

Somehow this books makes getting married on Christmas morning seem like the most charming thing ever.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis

This classic introduction to the Narnia series (and trust me, it’s a much better introduction than The Magician’s Nephew) is the perfect cozy book to read over the Christmas holidays. So wintry! So charming!

While it’s not a “Christmas story” per se, Christmas is an important part of the plot. I’m not quite sure how Christmas existed in Narnia at that point, as Christ had a different name there, and hadn’t even died yet. But it’s still a cool bit of symbolism to play with. You know, Christmas coinciding with the savior coming, the end of winter’s grip, etc.

Ramona and her Father, by Beverly Cleary

This book begins with the start of a new school year, and ends with a Christmas Pageant. It’s a very rainy Christmas, being set in Oregon, and that felt like a nice touch.

P.S. Did you know that Beverly Cleary is 102 years, 8 months, and 12 days old?

Lovely Classics that Feel Wintry

There’s something about a classic novel that feels cozy and wintry, like it should be read in front of a fireplace. Here are some that feel dramatic and wintry, but still feature a good cozy happy ending.

Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte

I actually looked up a timeline of this book to see if it was set in winter. It takes place in all seasons. But I still feel like, between the orphanage and the giant mansion, Jane is cold a lot. So it feels like a winter book to me.

Persuasion, by Jane Austin

I read on a random blog that Persuasion is the most wintry of all Jane Austin’s books. I agree. I have no evidence to back this up. It just feels wintry for some reason, Haha.

True-ish Books Set in Harsh Climates

Mrs Mike, by Benedict and Nancy Freedman

A young girl moves to Alberta for health reasons, and falls in love with a Mountie. What follows is a fascinating account of the harsh realities of life up north.

There are several scenes in this book which really fascinated me and stuck with me. But I’m afraid telling them would spoil key parts of the story.

Tisha, by Robert Specht

Tisha is similar to Mrs. Mike, only with more idealism and less tragedy. The book follows a girl named Anne who moves to Alaske to become a teacher, or “Tisha,” as her students call her.

I haven’t read this book in ages, but I recall it being lovely.

Kyra, by Kyra Petrovskaya

While all three of these books are based on true stories, Kyra is an actual memoir of a woman who lived in the Soviet Union during WWII.

Her story was enthralling. I could hardly believe so many things, and so many husbands, had happened to one person. Particularly fascinating was her account of living through the Siege of Leningrad.

It’s interesting to me that although we have countless books, movies, etc based on WWII, most of them are from an American, British, or German perspective. But the Soviet Union had far and away the most deaths. Kyra was the first WWII book I’d ever read from a Soviet Union perspective.

That’s all for now. I was going to add a section. I was going to add a section about cozy topic memoirs, like food memoirs and home renovation memoirs, but it’s Christmas eve y’all and I’m too tired.

Blogmas 2018: Christmas In the City, Part 2

I opened my computer.

BANG!

There was a mild explosion, as my charging cable gave up the ghost.

Since my computer won’t work unless it’s plugged in, this means I’m finishing this blog post via thumbs tapping on a smart phone.

Fun times. Where were we? I have extra catching up to do, since I didn’t post yesterday.

I’ll try to post tomorrow as well to make up for it, so long as my thumbs don’t give out.

Thursday

Matt’s apartment was much too warm. I slept without a blanket.

Friday

Matt made steak and eggs for breakfast. He gave me his keys, and showed me how to deposit the trash.

“Anything else you need?” he asked, packing up his stuff.

“Is there any way to turn down the heat?”

He laughed. “Sorry, the building has central heating, and it doesn’t always keep up with changes in the weather. But here, let’s open two windows and get a cross breeze.”

Matt left for the airport. The cross breeze didn’t help much. I was absolutely sweltering.

I checked my weather app. It was 67 degrees outside.

67 degrees!!!

Outdoors I bounded, wearing a t-shirt. I stuck a couple sweaters in my backpack just in case, but it was decidedly short sleeved weather.

With the weather that nice, I didn’t exactly want to be in some indoor museum. So I went to the downtown holiday market and looked at a lot of stuff I couldn’t afford. And bought an empanada and some tea. And listened to live Christmas music.

For a bit, the weather slipped into my favorite weather pattern–sunny with a slight sprinkle of rain. But then the sunshine disappeard and the rain dumped, and I dashed over to the National Gallery of Art to wait out the storm.

Saturday

Saturday was colder and less rainy, so I spent most of the day in museums. Particularly the American History Museum. The display of First Lady dresses may be my favorite part of the entire Smithsonian.

Then I went to a Starbucks to do some writing. DC doesn’t seem to have a lot of cute independent coffee shops, so Starbucks it is, I guess. I peeked into the windows of a different shop but they had very little seating.

Starbucks seating was rather limited too. One artist had a huge canvas that took up two tables. Yep, he was just sitting there, painting in Starbucks.

I’d just sat down on a bar stool when a little round table near the back door opened up. Woo hoo! I snagged it.

It was terribly wobbly. It’s hard to get writing done on a wobbly table. I grabbed some wooden coffee stirrers and tried to wedge them underneath to stabilize it, but it didn’t work.

The table was round, with one post in the middle, and a base. Maybe it was coming unscrewed? So I spun the tabletop in a complete circle, and it was still wobbly so I spun it in another complete circle, and just about the time I was looking like an idiot who just spins tabletops around and around like they’re lazy susans, everything tightened up suddenly and what do you know! The table was no longer wobbly.

I felt very proud of myself. I get such a kick out of fixing things in public. When I relayed the story on Instagram, Mom thought I should do a blog post about fixing things in public places. Bit really, it’s mostly just been toilets.

Sunday

This morning I put on my fuzzy red sweater and walked across the street to Christ United Methodist Church. I knew nothing about it, but it was a church, so I went.

There were very few people there, but they were extremely friendly and excited to see me.

At least, the adults were. One confused teenager looked at me and asked, “so where you from?”

“Oregon,” I said.

“Is that why you do your hair like that?”

Anyway, everyone greeted me and shook my hand or hugged me, and I was given a welcome gift and two Christmas cards. So it was a nice morning.

This evening hasn’t been so great. After my charging cable exploded, the sink overflowed. Sigh.

Oh well. It’ll be a Christmas to remember, I guess.

Blogmas 2018: Christmas in the City, Part 1

selective focus red baubles

Photo by Deena on Pexels.com

Well, it was bound to happen. I looked at the clock and it was 11:30 pm and I hadn’t yet written a blog post. So here is a slap-dash bit about my day.

Tomorrow morning my brother Matt is leaving for Oregon for Christmas. I’m not going home until January 4, because cheaper tickets. And also, my sister Amy is in Thailand over Christmas, so our family Christmas won’t be until Three King’s Day anyway.

So Matt said I could stay in his apartment over the holiday.

Well it turns out that Angie, my Delaware roommate, didn’t really have Christmas plans. Her siblings were hanging out with their in-laws, and her parents weren’t coming until After Christmas. So we’re going to have Christmas together in the city.

So yeah, today I went out for tea with a friend in the morning, and then lazily packed everything up in the afternoon, and then said goodbye-but-not-goodbye to Angie and drove over to the city and spent the evening with Matt. (Angie’s not coming until Christmas Eve.)

I should start Googling fun stuff to do in the city, so that I’ll have a more interesting blog post on Saturday.

Blogmas 2018: The Lowly Manger Scene (Guest Post)

shallow focus photography of religious figurines

Photo by Jessica Lewis on Pexels.com

Today, I’m sharing a guest post by author Rebecca Greenfield. I met Rebecca when we sat next to each other at a book signing in Ohio. She arrived prepared, and I arrived without even business cards to hand out. When I went looking for post-it-notes to write my contact information on, she said, “I have extra!” magically producing them from her bag and handing them over.

She also provided me with hand sanitizer when I needed it. And now, she’s providing me with a lovely Christmas-themed devotional musing for me to guest post on my blog. Enjoy!

The Lowly Manger Scene

Mary, Joseph and a sweet little baby sleeping on a patch of straw. There is something so humble, yet inviting, about this scene. So often our best laid plans are thwarted. Sometimes the failed expectations can be heartbreaking, but that is where we must trust that God is behind it. He is working, and He can bring purpose out of senselessness. When we find ourselves in our own lowly manger scene, we must recount His goodness and muster up a sacrifice of thanksgiving.

-We thank God for the manger– how utter pure, simple, organic it was, but yet the Son of God was protected, safe and sheltered. The prophesies of the long awaited Messiah were finally fulfilled.

-We thank God for the journey to the manger– how rough, long and exhausting it was, but it stripped away the pride of the heart and created an interdependence on the Father.

-We thank God for the closed doors at the inn– the “no” seemed so harsh, ungenerous, and selfish but yet in the “no,” Mary and Joseph found themselves together with ox and lamb privately and so intimately welcoming the Creator of the Universe into His creation.

This is the Christmas Story– so simple, so unassuming, so raw, so unannounced- but in it we see that God uses all things for His glory and purpose. In it we find that thwarted plans and ordinary moments are exactly where God likes to place His fingerprint of divinity. And in it, we see that God does not need the lime light, power, prestige, or popularity to make Himself known. He is not limited by Inn Keeper “no’s” or “Caesar Decrees” or flawed individuals. His good and perfect will transcends the false, earthly presuppositions because He is faithful, trustworthy and capable of finishing the good work He has begun.

May you find comfort this Christmas in the meek and mild.
May you find peace in ordinary simplicity.
And may you find hope in the One who came over 2000 years ago to save you and love you forever.
“God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”
2 Corinthians 9:8

www.Rebecca-Greenfield.com
@greenfieldmills
Follow at https://millsmanna.wordpress.com/

Blogmas 2018: Christmas Parties in Delaware

Friendsgivingmas

I’m part of a friend group in Delaware, which is quite nice. It’s a way to get social interaction without the stress of feeling like you have fifteen people you should call up and schedule a time to hang out with.

My first week here they hosted a Thanksgiving dinner/$5 gift exchange, which they dubbed “Friendsgivingmas.”

For some reason I always struggle with these white elephant type gift exchanges, feeling like I should get something cool and impressive. And in the end I always buy something tea related, which I guess means tea is my love language, but that’s a little silly because lots of people don’t even like tea.

So this time I showed up with a funny mug I’d bought at a thrift store and some Oregon Chai chai latte mix. I thought it was fitting, you know, since i’m from Oregon.

I don’t know why I stress about things like this. There is always, always, something worse. Like this time, Matt opened the gift that Mike had brought. It was a hat.

“Hey!” said Matt. “This came from the dollar store!”

Matt knew this because his own present had also come from the dollar store, though he had actually spent the required $5 on it. Within the heavy box, tied up in duct tape and decorated with sharpie snowmen, were five jars of pickles and a pair of robot socks.

Noah ended up with a red Christmas mug in a clear plastic gift box. “You can give it to Dad and tell him you got it at The Branch ten years ago!” joked his brother Nate.

“What’s The Branch?” I asked.

“A Christian bookstore that closed down ten years ago,” said Nate.

“So…where did this mug come from?”

The other Nate, who had brought the gift, piped up. “I bought it back then, and have saved it ever since. You know, for something like this.”

A Christmas Carol

One evening we all went to see A Christmas Carol at a nearby church. I was excited, hoping for some nostalgia, as I haven’t seen the play since I was in it in 2011.

The nostalgia didn’t exactly come, because it was a different version. A musical version. I kept waiting for the Cratchit children to march around the table chanting “The goose! The goose! Yeah, the goose!” but it didn’t happen.

Still, I mean, I love musicals. So I wasn’t exactly disappointed.

The Christmas Mystery Supper

This was technically a youth group event, but most of the friend group members were there. We had a “mystery supper,” where you choose menu items based on funny, misleading names. You might think, for instance, that “Christmas cheer” would make a good appetizer, but when it arrives you find that it is nothing but some sprinkles.

My enjoyment of mystery suppers, I’ve noticed, has decreased drastically with age.

There was a gift exchange this time too, only it was for a $5-$10 gift.

Now, when you have to pack up everything you own once a month and shove it into your car, you become a big less enthusiastic about receiving gifts. At Friendsgivingmas I’d had the good fortune to snag a large bag of peanut m&m’s, which of course didn’t last very long. But at the mystery supper I deliberately chose a very small bag, hoping for something useful and portable, like a gift card.

Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be…nine chapsticks. With a festive note attached.

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I was delighted.

See, there are certain things that I tell myself I will have when I am rich. Like pretty pajamas that match each other. Or a really nice, precise pair of tweezers. And one of the things I dream about is having enough chapstick that I never run out of chapstick. So that I can literally have a stick in every purse, every coat pocket, my sewing basket, and beside my bed.

(Yes, I grew up poor. And put myself through college without any debt. Hence the poor-person-you-can’t-treat-yourself-like-ever mentality, LOL.)

I was terrified that someone was going to steal those nine precious chapsticks away from me. But round after round passed, and I kept them each time. I wasn’t in much danger. No one really seemed to want chapstick. But I suppose if it had come down to chapstick or the Tupperware container of coal, the chapstick would have been stolen.

So now I feel quite wealthy. I even had an extra chapstick to give away to Angie one evening when she needed chapstick.

The funniest moment of the whole exchange, though, was when someone opened a square-ish packing and, what do you know! There was the red mug from The Branch again! Noah had re-gifted it from Friendsgivingmas.

We played several games, some sillier than others, and ended with musical chairs. The first and second place winners were promised a cash prize. Oh my!

Goodness, it had been years since I played musical chairs. Like, probably eighteen years. But eighteen years ago I was really good at musical chairs. Would my talent hold up?

We marched around the circle of chairs, stepping in time to the music, scrambling to our seats whenever the music stopped. Slowly the circle grew smaller and smaller. And I discovered that musical chairs is the opposite of mystery suppers. The delight of it does not diminish with age.

Then there were six of us, five of us, four of us, three of us. “You’re all crowding so close to the chairs!” One boy complained, watching us.

It was two of us, now. “This time, you have to stay an arm’s length away from the chairs,” said Johnny, who was organizing the game. “Actually, you have to hold out your arms like this. And you have to skip.”

So the two of us remaining, me and a girl in white I didn’t know, skipped around the chair holding out our arms like airplanes. All strategy was out the window at that point. If I was on the far side of the chair when the music stopped, I would lose. So I just had fun skipping.

And lost.

Or rather, got second place, and a $10 prize. The girl in white got $20.

The Ugly Sweater Christmas Party.

Nate declared that it was an “ugly sweater Christmas party,” not an “ugly Christmas sweater party.” This mattered because the 5 lb wool monstrosity he wore was not Christmas-related at all. It was purple, with giant mismatched buttons and a tag that read “made with love by granny.”

I took my ugliest sweater and added a $0.25 bow from the thrift store.

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This party was full of adults, so there was no mystery to the meal, and no one played musical chairs. There were, however, plenty of silly games. Like, one where we drew pictures on paper plates that we held on top of our heads. And one where we shoved balloons into pantyhose to make reindeer horns.

For the last game, we split into three teams and played a quiz game called “Family Feud.” We could discuss ideas as a team before guessing, but some people’s ideas were getting lost in the frantic shuffle. So I, utilizing my Prestigious Bachelor’s Degree in Communication, started writing down people’s ideas as they tossed them out, using the other side of a paper plate we’d used for the first game.

For the last round, we had to list the five worst gifts from “The 12 Days of Christmas.” I started frantically listing them. “Maids a milking!” “Lords a leaping!”

We won the game. No prize, but someone shouted “no fair, they have a writer on their team!” and that was a prize in and of itself.

The Progressive Christmas Supper

Finally, tonight there’s a progressive Christmas supper, where church members go over to each other’s houses to eat Christmas food together. One place serves dinner. One desert. One soup. Etc.

My landlord Rachel, who lives upstairs, hosted the soup course. So the whole friend group came here last, and ended up down in my and Angie’s quarters in the basement.

Fun times.

I’m going to be leaving Delaware in less than a week, so I won’t spend Christmas here. But the Delaware Christmas parties so far have been second to none.

Blogmas 2018: Christmas Songs that Don’t Make Sense

people standing inside church

Photo by Blue Ox Studio on Pexels.com

A reader suggested that I do a blog post about my favorite Christmas songs. Instead, I decided to post about Christmas songs that don’t make sense. Does that make me a cynic? Perhaps.

But seriously, as a writer, lyrics matter to me. And Christmas songs are in a category of their own as far as weirdness goes. This isn’t even a comprehensive list, just the ones that occurred to me.

Category A: Songs with Extremely Confusing Grammar

1. How Should a King Come

He shall dine upon summer straw, berries and, milk.

What the bunnyslipper is summer straw, and why is a king eating it?? I wondered this for years. Even though I eventually learned that it’s supposed to be “summer strawberries,” it still annoys me. If you put a pause between two halves of a compound word, it becomes two words. That’s the rule.

2. Hark the Herald Angels Sing

This lyric is so grammatically bad that it could have so many different meanings:

“Hark!” sang all the herald angels.
You should hark, because the herald angels are singing!
“Hark the herald!” sing the angels.
You should hark, because the angels are singing a herald.

You could probably think of more. For my part, I always imagine herald angels yelling “hark!” What is a herald angel, you might ask? I have no idea. There are all sorts of angels, why not herald angels? Maybe they’re the angels that give heralds. Maybe they’re all named “Herald.” Maybe they’re all guardian angels of guys named “Herald.”

Again. Countless interpretations.

3. We Three Kings

We, three kings, of Orientar

Where is Orientar, you might ask? Why, it’s where the wise men came from! Duh!

“Orientar” has the opposite problem of “summer straw, berries and, milk.” If you smash two words together, it sounds like one word.

And it’s much, much worse if you use a grammar structure that literally no one uses in real life.

“Hey Emily, where are you from?”

“I from Oregon am.”

“Huh?”

“Well I from Canada was, but I to Oregon moved when I was four, and then I around did moved for awhile, and now I in Delaware am.”

“Okay…”

Category B: Songs With Extremely Dubious Messages

4. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

I always though Rudolph’s story was kind of cute. I mean, this poor reindeer was an outcast, but then he found his place in the world!

But a few years ago I read a blog post that dug into it a bit more. I wish I remembered were it was so I could give them credit, but anyway, look closely at these lyrics:

All of the other reindeer, used to laugh and call him names
They never let poor Rudolph, play in any reindeer games
Then one foggy Christmas eve, Santa came to say
Rudolph with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?
Then all the reindeer loved him, as they shouted out with glee
“Rudolph the red nosed reindeer, you’ll go down in history!”

So let me get this right. The other reindeer bullied him for being different. Then, as soon as they saw that he was useful/would go down in history, they suddenly loved him.

What sort of message is that? Become useful or noteworthy, and people will stop bullying you?

If it’s supposed to be an anti-bullying message, like, we should appreciate the unique talents of those who are different than us, then why didn’t the other reindeer receive any consequences, or experience any remorse?

5. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus

I still remember my mom explaining this song to me when I was a child. “The Daddy was dressed up like Santa Claus, so the Mommy was kissing him. But the boy didn’t know it was really his Daddy, not Santa.”

As a child, I accepted this explanation. As an adult, I am very dubious. In what world it is cute and funny that a child legitimately thinks his mom is kissing and tickling someone who’s not his Daddy? Ew.

Honorable Mentions: “Santa Baby.” “Baby it’s Cold Outside.” (Can we just not use the word “baby” in Christmas songs unless we’re talking about the actual Baby Jesus?) “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” (He sees you when you’re sleeping???)

Category C: Wait…What??

6. Silent Night

Round, yon virgin, mother and child

What does this line even mean?

My best guess is that “round yon” means “around yonder…” but isn’t that an odd thing to put in a song? And it makes me think of a round, pregnant belly. (I’ll give this one a gracious pass, though, because I’m sure translating a song is all sorts of difficult.)

(ETA: I have more clarity on this thanks to a reader who says:
In “Silent Night” it is simply an issue of how we hear the separation of the phrases. It means that all is calm and bright around the virgin mother and her Child.

Makes so much more sense now. Thanks!)

7. It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Soon the bells will start
And the thing that will make them ring, is the carol that you sing
Right within your heart

Huh? Where are these bells that will “start?” And if I sing a carol in my heart, they’ll ring? How is that different than “starting?” And why are we singing carols in our heart to make some bells ring? I’m so confused!

8. Frosty the Snowman

So, there’s obviously a lot of weirdness in this song. Why is there a magic hat that makes a snowman come alive? Should we be worried that the children are following him? Why will he be back again someday?

However, this stanza takes the cake:

He led them down the streets of town
Right to the traffic cop
And he only paused a moment when
He heard him holler stop

Am I hearing this right? Did Frosty the Snowman cross a street when the traffic cop told him to stop? Just…why???

9. Here Comes Santa Claus

Most Christmas songs can be neatly divided into Christian Christmas songs, about baby Jesus and Mary and Bethlehem, and secular Christmas songs, about Santa and Frosty and snow.

However, “Here Comes Santa Claus” weirdly mixes the two genres. So it has lines like

Santa Claus knows we’re all Gods children
That makes everything right

And

Peace on earth will come to all
If we just follow the light
So lets give thanks to the lord above
That Santa Claus comes tonight!

Maybe if you have Christian parents who also told you Santa was real, this makes sense to you. But as someone who was always told that Santa was just a story, this genre mixing seems very bizarre to me.

Honorable mention: “The 12 Days of Christmas.” Too much oddness to even unpack.

That is the end of my list. And listen. I can happily sing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” while Christmas caroling, or feel warm Christmas fuzzies as “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” plays on the radio as I Christmas shop.

But let’s be real. When I think “Christmas music,” I don’t think of lovely songs I listen to over and over. I think of the bizarre lyrics that permeate the genre.

I’m not usually a Grinch when it comes to Christmas related things, but I guess in this one area I am, haha.

Blogmas 2018: Seven Affordable Gift Ideas for Single Brothers

man in red crew neck sweatshirt photography

Photo by bruce mars on Pexels.com

Buying gifts for your single brothers is tough. Trust me I know…I have three of them (although before you single ladies rush to befriend me,  you should know that two of them have girlfriends this year). As a general rule, single brothers don’t sit around dreaming of pottery tea pots and vintage books. If they need something, they go out and buy it. Their “wish list” consists of expensive gadgets which you might not be able to afford.

Your job, as a sister, is to get them the things they don’t realize they need. Visit them at their bachelor pad, or sneak into their room if they still live at home, and poke around a bit. What’s missing?

1. Plants

Plants are a great way to decorate a manspace without it looking too feminine. Also, some plants act as air fresheners. Yes please!

2. Guest Towels

If your brother has his own place, he’ll most certainly have everything he needs, but does he have everything his guests might need?

3. Cosmetics

Guys are often of a practical bent, buying only the most basic cosmetics for themselves. They often won’t splurge on the good-quality nice-smelling stuff, but if you pick some out for them they’ll appreciate it!

4. Clothing

Sometimes, as a girl, you have a better sense of what colors and styles look great on him, and what’s missing from his wardrobe.

5. Books

In my mind, books always work as a gift. Whatever your brother is interested in, get him a book on the subject. It might be a book about business, or a hiking guide. It might be a biography about one of his heroes, or a juicy mystery  novel. Or, if he’s the kind of guy that doesn’t have time to read much, get him an audio book! He can read on his way to work.

6. Food

Food is another thing that everyone appreciates, always. If your brother has a bachelor pad, cook him some meals or baked goods that can be popped in the freezer. He’ll appreciate it, and you’ll have saved some dough (no pun intended).

And finally, while we’re still on the food theme…

7. Kitchen gadgets

Take a peek at what your brother does and doesn’t have in his kitchen. Does he have a crock pot? A rice cooker? A George Foreman? Buy him one at Goodwill and show him how to use it. If he can use it to get food in his system faster, he’ll like it.

Note: I realize, reading back over this, that I may have stereotyped guys as smelly unfashionable folks who don’t enjoy cooking. Sorry! Not my intention! Etc. Brothers are great. And if they want to stereotype me right back and fix my car as a Christmas gift, I won’t complain!

Second note: This marks the first post of my Blogmas series. Get ready for a month of posts every other day!

Third note: In my last post, I talked about adding ads back into my posts. After some helpful feedback from you, I deleted about half of them. Thanks for your input!

Sorry for all the exclamation points!!! I always tend to overuse exclamation points when I’m hungry and tired of writing. I have a Christmas banquet to get to tonight, so I’m trying to hurry and finish this post, haha.

Merry Christmas!