Tell Me A Story: Of Snow, Dolls, Tinsel and Chowder

I’ve invited a few friends to share some Christmas memories over the past several weeks. This one from my writing buddy and poetic mentor Shanda inclludes a bonus — a wonderful family recipe. Enjoy!

Christmas Memories buttonWhat I remember of Christmases of my childhood in Grand Rapids is snow, snow, snow. I remember my brothers shoveling a tunnel from the back door to the street in front of our house, then shoveling a tunnel from the front door to the other tunnel, then tackling the driveway. That sometimes took most of Christmas break for them. All that shoveling was needed and served to keep many boys constructively occupied and out of trouble.

I also remember a Christmas when my father in California sent two dolls for my sister and me. I wanted the baby “drink and wet” doll but my mother decreed that my younger sister should have that, and I should have the Vogue doll. I was heart-broken until I discovered that many of the other girls my age in our neighborhood had Vogue dolls, and we could all play together and share doll clothes.

I remember putting tinsel on a lighted tree and accidentally getting shiny metal tinsel on the plug that was not entirely inserted in the outlet behind the tree. That set off a shower of sparks! It also made my mother yell. We tried to avoid that always afterward. Later, when I bought tinsel for the Christmas trees for my children I was very disappointed to discover it was plastic! It just isn’t as shiny and doesn’t drape the same weighty way that aluminum tinsel did.

I remember the many Christmas eves when my children were small and we walked the three blocks to Grace Lutheran Church in Syracuse, Indiana. For many of those years everyone on the five or six blocks of our street, Lake Street, put out luminaria in front of each house on the lawns lining the street. It was a lovely walk and a beautiful experience every time we attended the midnight candle service. Singing Christmas hymns and carols has never been as sweet as it was during those years of their childhood.

Now I remember to celebrate Christmas by loving our children and grandchildren and trying to make the holidays fun and memorable for the good times we have together — playing board games, opening presents, and cooking and eating clam chowder. We try to gather as many of our family together as their busy-ness allows each year.

My children and grandchildren were surprised to learn that people eat other types of food than clam chowder on Christmas day. They all thought clam chowder was a traditional meal for Christmas day, but I started cooking chowder when the children were small because most of the prep work can be done the day before and making soup gives mom, and now grand-mom, an easier holiday. We have made our own traditions and are making new memories every year.

new chowder

Shanda Hansma Blue Easterday is a published poet and a college professor. Her book “The Beekeeper’s Wife” (available on Amazon) is a metaphoric story of womanhood. When she is not writing poetry or grading papers, Shanda is busy with her dogs, her grown children and her grandchildren. She lives on a lake in rural Michigan with her husband, Bob, who is indeed a beekeeper.

Tell Me A Story: Making New Traditions in a Season of Change

Christmas Memories buttonWhat I really wanted was a perfect Christmas. What I got was a test of my faith and determination.

Looking back some 25 years, I realize that first Christmas I celebrated alone with my two sons was an important step into a future that wasn’t part of my plan for us.

My boys were very young and the changes in our family situation were still fresh and a little painful for all of us. A decision I had made for my own well-being meant some major adjustments in Christmas — and in life — for my two little guys. But I was determined to make it special and memorable, and my ex-husband was on board with the effort.

I’d already made it through Thanksgiving without my boys because we’d agreed they would be with their Dad for turkey day and with me for Christmas. I don’t think I ate much that first Thanksgiving day without them, as I sat teary-eyed at my parents’ table hoping they were happy and safe.

Our home during this time of transition was an apartment a couple of blocks from my parents’ house. From the day we moved in, I began creating some new family “traditions”.

  • I sat on the floor by their bunk beds each night while we read a book together, discussed their day and said prayers.
  • Classical music played quietly in their bedroom as they fell asleep.
  • We took walks to the nearby school playground nearly every day after I picked them up at the baby-sitter’s.
  • Because we now lived much closer to Grandma and Grandpa, weekly visits became part of our routine.

Our new living situation was far from perfect and there are some things I’d do differently if given the chance today.

But moving myself and my sons back to my hometown in time for Christmas was one of the best decisions I made in that crazy, confusing season of our lives. Every night, the boys could see the Christmas lights on the county courthouse from our living room window. They could hear the same church bells chime the hour that I had listened to while growing up. The Santa parade was exciting for them, just as it had been for me and my siblings. I told them stories about what it was like to be a little girl growing up in this village, and we drew closer as a family.

We set up an artificial tree in our new living room and I pulled out the box full of all their favorite ornaments. We played Christmas music and drank hot chocolate and laughed at ourselves and the tiny tree while we “made Christmas” in our new home. Then we played in the snow after dark and walked next door to share brownies with our new neighbors.

It was the onlyIt's when I knew that, with love and (1) Christmas my boys and I would spend in the little apartment in my hometown. My job and other changes moved us to another community. Within a couple of years, we became part of a new family as I remarried, and soon two more brothers came along to share Christmas with us.

I’m not sure how much my two boys, now young men, remember of that Christmas season that we spent healing in my hometown. It remains for me a bittersweet snippet from a lifetime of Christmases. I remember it as a time when my faith in God and in my own resilience grew. It’s when I knew that, with love and patience and tons of God’s grace, we would be okay.


Tell Me A Story: Memories Born on a Frozen Pond

Sometimes the simplest joys are the most memorable. My friend Cindy Miller recalls with fondness a family tradition as part of our Christmas Memories series. Perhaps reading her story will conjure up your own favorite Christmas memory.

Christmas Memories buttonVisiting my grandparent’s pond was what I looked forward to most at Christmas. My sisters and I always hoped it would be snowy and cold enough for the pond to freeze, yet the roads would be safe for travel.

Getting to my grandparents’ house was an adventure in itself! The snow on their country road would be plowed so that it would be one lane, with snow piled higher than our car on both sides. Just what every child loves to go through — a tunnel of snow! The drifts in the fields looked like Lake Michigan waves of water, all frozen and sparkly.

When we arrived at Grandma’s, all the cousins were also excited to go out into the snow. But first, the parents reminded us, we had to eat Christmas dinner before we could be released to the out-of-doors.

After dinner, the women started washing dishes and telling stories as the men helped clear the tables so that they could play cards.

Then the bundling up ritual began. First grandpa had to get out some of his big overalls to put over our clothes so we would stay warmer than just our jeans we had changed into. The overalls were always well worn and no matter how many of us there were, there would be enough. Second, someone had to go down and shovel off the pond because there was usually snow on it. Usually it was my dad, looking like Frosty the Snowman! He had on his black hat, made of a heavy wool material with a brim and a dent in the middle. In his mouth was his pipe and he had his long overcoat on. Dad would slide around in his black dress shoes and shovel at the same time. It was quite the act and we thoroughly enjoyed it!

Dad used a wide silver shovel and would shovel a pattern in the snow and then work a path here and a little path there. Sometimes dad would do a twirl and we never knew if it was on purpose or he was keeping his skates

The ice would be very smooth unless it had recently rained and then refrozen on the pond. When that happened, it would be bumpy – like goose bumps all over the ice. We still skated! We raced down to the pond, through the woods and down a hill. Once there, we put on our skates and step gingerly out onto the ice. It was fun to stomp our skates as if to listen for cracks — even though dad had been all over the pond by now. I remember a few times when we’d hear or see a slight crack and we would all scream. But that didn’t stop us from skating! Usually the boy cousins came down to the pond but not to skate. They had other adventures in mind. The boys would go over to the marshy areas of the pond to see if animals like beavers or muskrats had made their home in the tall marsh grass and twigs.

After we had tired ourselves out, we’d head back up the hill and tromp into my grandparent’s house to warm up before the fireplace. The best of Christmas memories.

Cynthia Lanz Miller
Cynthia Lanz Miller

Thanks to Ingrid for inviting me to write a Christmas memory on her site. I am a beginner on the writing adventure and I’m enjoying the journey. I live with my husband in the wooded rolling hills of Middlebury, Indiana. We are “empty-nesters” with grown children, young grandchildren that live two hours away and two very character-filled dogs. My hobbies are photography, reading and writing down stories of my life. ~ Cindy


Ruby for Women

I’m a featured contributor today at the Ruby For Women blog. You can visit this beautiful, inspiring website here.

On Tiny Changes and Small Beginnings


Words of wisdom for today:

  • Change is a good thing.
  • And yes — you can teach an old dog new tricks!

I want to be more intentional about how and what I share here with you, so I’m in the middle of a course led by writer and blogger Jeff Goins titled Intentional Blog. The biggest change I’ve made because of this course has been a new look and “host” for my blog. You can now find me here, at

The latest assignment has been to share on my blog more about myself and why I write. I reveal all my dreams and secrets (well, maybe not ALL) under a tab marked “About”. Would you be willing to click on that now and check it out? I’d love some feedback!

Christmas Memories buttonAnd be sure to check us out on Friday when a new friend and fellow writer has agreed to share a Christmas memory as part of my Christmas series. I hope you’ll stop back to read Cindy Miller’s favorite childhood memory.

And then, hop over to Ruby for Women to read my post there for this month, as well as the other many beautiful essays by women from all over the country.

Just a bit of housekeeping — this change in blog address left my faithful followers behind until today, when I finally figured out how to bring you along! If you haven’t received e-mail notices in the past week or two, be assured that you’re back on the list. Thank you for your loyalty, and feel free to share this blog with your friends.

Blessings to you and yours during this beautiful Christmas Season.

Tell Me A Story: A Favorite Recipe and Memories of a Dear Friend

Christmas Memories buttonMy Christmas Memory in this second week of Advent involves delicious food, a dear friend and wonderful memories of a Christmas spent in England.

Some 30 years ago, pregnant with my first child, my husband and I decided to spend Christmas with my friend and her husband in Southampton, England. Valerie and I had been pen pals for nearly 20 years by then and we had enjoyed their visits to the U.S., as well as a trip to England we had made a few years earlier.

Christopher and Valerie Surrey, with Stonehenge in the background
Christopher and Valerie Surrey, with Stonehenge in the background

We’d done quite a bit of sight-seeing on our first trip to England, so this one was mostly focused on our friends, their family and the Christmas season. It was a beautiful time of long walks in their neighborhood, drives into the Black Forest, visits to the seashore, evenings before the fire and great meals around their dining table.

The meal I remember most was on Christmas Day. Vallie (as everyone called her) and her husband, Christopher, were determined to give us a traditional British feast. Both their parents were joining us for the day.

We began preparations the day before and by noon on Christmas Day, the table was laden with a roast turkey, prawns (Vallie’s favorite shrimp), Yorkshire pudding, many beautiful vegetable dishes and English Trifle. The table was set for a feast, with wine goblets, flowers, candles and, at each place setting, “crackers” — festively wrapped tubes of paper holding little treasures, such as a bookmark or tiny toy, and paper hats and whistles. We had learned that the stodgy Brits like nothing more than a good laugh, so we joined in popping our “crackers” before donning our hats to eat.

photo 2 (5)
Our Christmas dinner table, Southampton, England, circa 1983

We didn’t realize this would be our last visit to England, though they returned to America several times. In a few short years, Vallie would begin a battle with melanoma. She fought hard, but the cancer took her life when she was barely 40 — a beautiful, well-loved, gracious woman whose life ended too soon.

I still prepare Vallie’s version of Trifle for special family events, and every time I do, memories of our Christmas in England come flooding back. I’d like to share her recipe with you. Enjoy.



Tell Me A Story: Finding the True Spirit of Christmas

The Christmas season conjures up many memories of holidays past, some warm and pleasurable, many bittersweet. In the weeks ahead, I’ll be sharing a few of my own Christmas memories, as well as those offered by a few friends.

Melissa Haag
Melissa Haag

Today, a fellow blogger I met online through The Nester’s 31 Days of Writing has agreed to share a memory. Melissa Haag is a wife, mom, and entrepreneur. She lives in a small city in Iowa that is equal parts cornfield and city skyline. She is a self-employed hairstylist, blogger, photographer, and owns her own direct sales business. She spends plenty of time in her home office, but is easily lured out by her daughter, step-sons, and two fuzzy dogs. You can read some of her ramblings on life at her blog The World According to Plaidfuzz (

Here is Melissa’s offering:

I don’t have a lot of fond memories of the holidays when I was growing up. In fact, there are large portions of my childhood I don’t remember at all. But there was that one Christmas. I remember the details so vividly. It was the night that I got to experience magic and wonder, and make memories that sustained me through a lot of Christmases since.

Christmas Memories buttonIt was a cold, snowy Christmas Eve in Iowa in the mid 1980’s. My twin sister and I were maybe 5 years old, and didn’t realize the significance of the day because holidays weren’t often celebrated in our home. I remember my mom telling us to get ready, we were going to town. And not just to the small town that was closest to our isolated farm, but to the “big town” where we did our grocery shopping. I slid on my white stocking cap with the orange pom pom and away we went.

We drove around from Christmas tree lot to Christmas tree lot. We were getting a tree! But as the afternoon wore on, we didn’t get a tree because they were all too expensive. Finally we pulled into a small lot by a gas station. We watched my mom hand the man $1 and the next thing we knew he was loading a tree into our back seat!Charlie Brown tree

Once we got the tree home it looked more like Charlie Brown’s than anything out of a typical family Christmas scene, but we declared it beautiful anyway.

That night we wriggled into our white tights, put on our hand-me-down Christmas dresses, and attended the Christmas Eve service at my grandma’s Lutheran church. The church seemed so big to me then, with the maple woodwork covering the sanctuary, in stark contrast to the red carpet. As soon as you walk through the doors you can smell the old hymnals that are neatly tucked into the backs of the wooden pews. We go through the side door because my grandma is singing in the choir. I am excited because I love the way the soles of my saddle shoes click on the tile.

I spent most of the service trying to crane my neck around and see my grandma perched in the balcony above us. All I could see were the shiny pipes of the organ towering above me. At one point in the service the pastor, who was dressed in a funny robe, called the children to the front for their own message. My sister and I were shy so we were given a little shove down the red carpet of the aisle, and carefully chose to sit at the edge of the steps leading to the platform so we could make a quick escape when it was done. After the message the pastor gave us each a piece of candy.

Once the service was over I was anxious to go find my grandma, but you don’t just get up and go in Lutheran churches. We had to wait for two men to walk down the middle aisle, silently nodding their head at each row, giving them permission to dismiss in an orderly fashion.

As we walked out of the sanctuary my sister and I were handed brown paper bags filled with peanuts in the shell, one apple, one orange, and fun-sized candy bars. Those bags could have been filled with gold bars and I wouldn’t have been more excited. It was a battle between wanting to eat up all the candy in the car, and trying to force ourselves to save some for later.

We went to my grandma’s house and were joined by cousins, aunts, and uncles. We unwrapped presents. I got a blue sled. My cousin counted to make sure no one got more presents than she did. Then we made the somber drive home.

When we walked into the house there was a surprise. My mom pulled two black garbage bags out from behind the tree and handed them to us. Presents! I tore back into the garbage bag to reveal a handmade Raggedy Andy doll (my sister got Raggedy Ann). My mother had sewn them from scraps of material, glued on some google eyes, and given them yarn hair. They each had a hand-sewn outfit on.

Many Christmases came and went after that one, without a mention or observation in our house. There would be no more black garbage bags stowed behind the spindly tree, or family traditions, or even bags of fruit, nuts and candy. Over the years a hole formed in Andy’s thin, linen face, and I patched it up with a band aid. But the memories of that particular Christmas are some of the best ones of my childhood, and they remind me that even in the darkest night there are stars and points of light.

Now I have my own traditions with my children, and plenty of brightly-wrapped gifts under a fat tree. It warms my heart to know I can give them what I did not have. But sometimes I wonder if the true spirit of the season was more present in the $1 Christmas tree and garbage bag wrapping paper. Maybe I could relate to the teenagers forced to stay in the barn because there was no room in the inn, and lay their newborn baby in the hay meant for the animals. Out of the darkness sparked the hope that would sustain Christmases to come, and save the world.





Tell Me A Story: The Beauty of Midnight Celebrations

We have entered the most holy of seasons, a time of anticipation, celebration and recognition of Christ, the promised Messiah. Events and images of past Nativity seasons are stamped in my memory, like pictures on a Christmas card. Perhaps it is the same for you.

Christmas Memories buttonA few friends will join me to share favorite Christmas memories over the next several weeks. They will be featured here on Mondays and Fridays, kind of like bookends to the busyness of the Christmas season. Their stories and mine are my Christmas gift to you. I know you will enjoy them, and I hope you will share some of your own stories with family and friends.

The first sweet memory that comes to mind for me is wrapped in sensory cues that carry me back to Christmas eve in a little Catholic church in my hometown.

Celebrating mass at midnight was as much a part of my childhood Christmases as candy canes, presents and trips to my grandparents’ house in Chicago. I loved the excitement of being awake so close to the moment when Santa Claus would visit our stone house at the edge of town. My four siblings and I might struggle to stay awake, but arriving home after midnight mass meant we were that much closer to Christmas morning with presents under the tree and good food on the table.

When we were very young, my parents would send us to our rooms for a nap early in the evening then wake us in time to go to church. I remember bundling up to go out in the middle of the night, and in my memory, there was always snow and it was midnight-cold. Our frosty breath hung in the air as we walked down the sidewalk from our car and climbed the stone steps to the wooden doors of the church. Once the doors swung open, warmth and the fragrance of candles and incense pushed away the winter chill.

All was quiet inside the church, except for soft organ music. Another set of steep stairs took us to the holy water font and into the candlelit sanctuary. We knew without being told that we had to whisper, or not talk at all, as we made our way to the pews, genuflecting before slipping onto the wooden seats and making the sign of the cross without even thinking of the symbolism behind the gesture. A prayer offered up at the padded kneeling bench and perhaps the lighting of votive candles in the corner near the statue of Jesus were preludes to the main reason for venturing out on a cold Indiana winter night.Christmas candle bokeh


The clanging of incense jars hanging from chains signaled the entrance of the priest and his servers. Robed in white and gold with a purple sash draped around his neck, the priest walked slowly down the short aisle and greeted us “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.”

Latin was still the language of the Catholic church when I was growing up, and I had much of the service in my memory almost before I knew what the words meant. I was a little saddened when Catholics began celebrating mass in English. I left the church soon after the change and I remember Latin now as a beautiful language shared by me and the mysterious Trinity as I knelt to worship. (When given a choice in high school, I chose to study Latin rather than Spanish. It’s a language I still love.)

We celebrated “high mass”, so for an hour we would stand, sing, kneel and sit as directed. When I was old enough, I walked with the others to the altar for Holy Communion. The movement helped to keep me awake — or at least that’s how I remember it. I’m sure some dozing took place as well.

Mass ended shortly after we received Holy Communion, once the priest had finished cleaning the golden vessels with his white cloths. A Christmas blessing was bestowed and we were dismissed with this admonition:

“Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”

Sometimes there were donuts or cookies and juice in the basement after mass, but most often we were anxious to hurry home in case Santa had arrived early. Driving through the middle of our little town, we passed the courthouse square, which was lit from top to bottom with strings of multi-colored lights. It was beautiful, especially in snowfall.

I am no longer a “practicing Catholic”, but I have returned for Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve many times. The beauty of the service and the mystery of the night never fails to impress on me the wonder of The Nativity.

"The Adoration of the Shepherds" - Gerard van Honthorst, 1625
“The Adoration of the Shepherds” – Gerard van Honthorst, 1625

When We Build Fences of Regret

Who doesn’t regret something in their lives? You can’t be in this world, have any sort of history, and not have regret.

Over choices you made. Or didn’t make.

Over people you hurt. Or didn’t love enough.

Over misunderstandings, missteps, mistakes.

It’s tempting to hang onto the regret, to coddle the remorse we feel and believe that living with regret makes us a better person.

Our life’s address could be The Land of Regret.

photo 2 (2)

I’ll just build a fence here and live safely with my regrets.

But doing that might also fence out the possibilities.

Lead women in studying Scripture? Oh, can’t do that. There was that season when I turned my back on God.

Help a young mother overwhelmed by life? Not qualified. I didn’t always do it so well myself.

Pray with a friend whose marriage is in trouble? Been there, failed and had to start again.

Make a new friend and invite her into my world? I’ve lost friends because I couldn’t give enough.

Take the hand of a child in danger of stepping off the path? But what do I know? I once took a path less traveled and paid the price.

Heed the call to leadership? I’ve stumbled before and it hurt. Safer not to put myself out there.

We’ve failed. We’ve messed up. We’re not enough. We have regrets.

So we build fences.

no trespassing

photo 4 (2)

photo 1 (2)

I’ll only go this far, and you can only come this far, because this is where I am safe. It’s where I know what to expect and where I won’t mess up.

But then I’ve got to ask — who do I think is in charge here? Who cleaned up my messes in the past? Who covers it all, forgives it all? Who has a plan and will work that plan with or without me?

And who am I to say I won’t go and do and be all that the God of the Universe says He wants from me?

God works His perfect plan most perfectly when he uses His broken, stained, imperfect creation to touch the broken, stained, imperfect people in this world.

Now, why would I not want to be part of that. Why would I not trust the One who is most trustworthy to pick me up when I stumble and clean up my messes.

I can build my secure little fence and stay here nursing my regrets, or I can fling open the gate and let the world in. Or better yet, step out into the world and join God where He is already working. I’m betting that in the process of taking down that fence, flinging open the gate, I’ll see the regrets flee as well.

And in their place? Possibilities.



Thought-provoking-thursday-banner_NEWSharing these thoughts today at 3DLessons4Life with Lyli Dunbar for Thought-Provoking Thursday. Go here to read more.



At Ruby for Women: ‘God Made a Farm Wife’

Ruby for WomenI’m sharing my recent post “God Made a Farm Wife” today in the Ruby Blog at Ruby for Women. This great little website attempts to be “a voice for every Christian woman”, and I’d say they come pretty close. Ruby for Women is an online Christian women’s magazine, published quarterly, which features inspirational articles, devotionals, stories, poems, parenting and family life articles, book reviews, crafts, recipes, and so much more. Please hop on over to see the latest posts at or click on the button above.


Who Wins? Dignity, Joy or Grace?

Lauren Hill
Lauren Hill

Two events broke my heart over the weekend. On Saturday, as promised, 29-year-old Brittany Maynard ended her life before the cancer that was taking over her body could end it for her. And on Sunday, in front of a sold-out crowd of 10,000, college freshman Lauren Hill thumbed her nose at cancer to make two baskets in her first and last college basketball game.

Brittany Maynard
Brittany Maynard

Both women faced a future they did not choose. Both have terminal brain cancer, a disease that wracks their bodies with pain and makes it difficult to even get up in the morning.

It’s easy for me to see the heroism of Lauren’s choice. Sunday was her one and only game of college basketball. With just weeks to live, she fought to make it to that opening game (which was moved up two weeks so that she could play). In her remaining weeks, she plans to use the time she has left to raise awareness and fund research for childhood cancer with her campaign Layup 4 Lauren.

To many, Brittany’s choice was also heroic. She completed her “bucket list” of travel with a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon and on Saturday, with family at her bedside, she ended her life. Before her death, she formed a foundation to lobby to make the choice to “die with dignity” legal across the country. Widespread news coverage has included comments from both Brittany and Lauren that their choice was made because they didn’t want people close to them to be hurt by the disease that was their own personal journey.

Brittany wanted to die with dignity. Lauren wants to live with joy.

But can they not be one and the same?

I can’t help but recall words spoken to us from the pulpit on Sunday, when we were reminded that in our trials, we are “sustained by grace.”

“My purpose in writing is to encourage you and assure you that the grace of God is with you no matter what happens.” I Peter 5:11 (NLT)

“God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished.” Philippians 1:6 (NLT)

God’s sustaining grace, we were told, helps me keep standing when I am tempted, tired, troubled.

I receive God’s sustaining grace when I call out for His help, fill my mind with His Word, accept support from His people and hold onto His promises.

God’s sustaining grace offers dignity — and brings joy.

I know how such cancer kills. I watched a friend die with a brain tumor just five years ago. She fought courageously for her life, for the sake of her husband and children. For myself and for many, she is a hero. As my friend lay in bed, waiting and wondering why God was allowing her to live when all she wanted was to go home to be with Jesus, I wondered if she might not consider rushing the process. I am so grateful that she did not. The lives she saved because of her choice to die wrapped in joy, grace and dignity are part of her legacy.

I believe Brittany and Lauren had the same desire in facing their choices — to die with grace and dignity.

One chose her dignity, the other chose to soar.

“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired….but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:29-31