Saturday, December 31, 2011


Monday starts the long, long post-holiday period that can be such a letdown after all the fun and excitement we get between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. For that reason, I decided to review a movie made for kids and for us grownups who are, as C. S. Lewis says, “old enough to start reading fairy tales again”: Disney’s 2010 animated feature film, Tangled.

Based on the traditional story of Rapunzel, Tangled is the tale of a young girl who has spent her whole life in a high, doorless tower, seeing only the woman she knows as Mother Gothel. But while Mother Gothel claims she keeps Rapunzel confined for her own protection, the truth is that she does it because it’s Rapunzel’s magic hair that keeps Mother Gothel forever young and beautiful.

Still, Rapunzel dreams of seeing more than just her tower room, and when a handsome thief called Flynn Rider scales the tower to hide from the law and the other thieves he’s double-crossed, Rapunzel decides to make the most of her unexpected opportunity. She convinces a him to escort her from the tower and into the village so she can witness for herself the annual ceremony held in remembrance of the baby princess who had been stolen from the king and queen eighteen years before. Adventure, betrayal, romance, sacrifice and, yes, tears ensue.

I love this movie. Okay, the Alan Menken/Glenn Slater songs are terribly forgettable, and the character of Mother Gothel (voiced by Donna Murphy) seems rather grating and overdone at times. Sometimes the visual effects, particularly Rapunzel’s vast amount of hair (especially when wet), are not as convincing to me as I would like. But all those things are unimportant when compared with everything that’s right about this film.

The animators manage to say a great deal with just a facial expressions. In fact, two of the most endearing characters in the movie (the horse, Maximus, and the chameleon, Pascal) do not speak at all, but we have no problem telling exactly what they’re thinking. There’s also plenty of sly humor and lots of really exciting action sequences. And the scenes of the village celebration truly radiate joy.

Best of all, the two lead characters, Rapunzel and Flynn, are a genuine delight both individually and as a couple. Rapunzel (voiced by Mandy Moore) manages to be sweet without being saccharine and spunky without being annoyingly militant. Her abrupt swings between joy and guilt once she actually leaves her tower room, knowing Mother Gothel will not approve, are a hoot. And Flynn (voiced by Zachary Levi) is a real charmer, remarkably like his probable inspiration, the irresistible Errol Flynn. Together they find there’s much more to life than what they have previously known or expected.

I found myself smiling all the way through this sweet, sassy fairy tale, so full of life and joy and innocent romance.

Oh, and frying pans.

Who knew, right?

Have you seen Tangled? What recent movies have you enjoyed?

DeAnna Julie Dodson has always been an avid reader and a lover of storytelling, whether on the page, the screen or the stage. This, along with her keen interest in history and her Christian faith, shows in her tales of love, forgiveness and triumph over adversity. She is the author of In Honor Bound, By Love Redeemed and To Grace Surrendered, a trilogy of medieval romances, and Letters in the Attic, a contemporary mystery. A fifth-generation Texan, she makes her home north of Dallas with four spoiled cats.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Correct change required!

by Niki Turner

There seems to be a new trend toward an anti-resolution new year: not making any new year's resolutions for fear we will fail, or forget, or otherwise end up with a list of things we intended to do and didn't accomplish and feel guilty.

I, for one, love new year's resolutions. The in-depth examination of the "state-of-the-Niki" (which is the equivalent of the Presidential State of the Union address), followed by new awareness of where improvements need to be made, coupled with a specific day and time to begin the process of change, encourages me like no other holiday.

new years resolutions Pictures, Images and Photos"But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For each shall bear his own load."
Gal 6:4-5

"Test all things; hold fast what is good." 1 Thes 5:21
This resistance to resolutions stems, I think, from a combination of fear and ignorance. We don't know how to change what needs to be changed in our lives, and so we are afraid we will fail and have to admit our weakness and inability. For example, the hindering belief that shopping for shoes will make you feel better might be detrimental to your financial progress, but you don't know how to STOP shopping for shoes when you feel depressed or blue.

Years ago I read a book entitled "Correct Change Required: Becoming Who You Really Want To Be." The book's author suggested separating the different parts of our lives into categories to be analyzed. Each category is different ... your physical health, for example, might be just fine, even though your spiritual life is suffering. Each category has an impact on the other categories, whether we like it or not. By examining each category, we can find the true source of resistance to transformation (those pesky hindering beliefs) and make lasting changes that affect our lives in every area.

Over the years I've tweaked the categories a bit from those in the book, but they generally encompass the following:
1. Financial – Bills to be paid, debt to be dealt with, perhaps a home mortgage refinance, or a big purchase you know you'll need to make this year... like buying a new computer or attending a writing conference!

2. Career – Different than finances because these are the things you need to do to further your God-given calling, which may be completely separate from your 9-5 job. For writers, this could be a word count per day goal or a list of contests you plan to enter.

3. Relationships – Marriage, children, family, friends, coworkers ... if you are an introvert, maintaining these vital relationships may be at the top of your priority list. Extroverts tend to need to "pare down" in this area because too much time is being spent on socializing.

4. Household – This could include everything from getting a grip on keeping your house clean to menu planning to home repairs to planning for your high school senior's graduation and what you will do with his/her room when he/she heads to college. (Rubs hands together with evil glee. Muhahahaha.)

5. Spiritual – What is the quality of your relationship with the Lord at this time? What things has He been whispering in your ear to do ... journaling, setting aside time to pray,  a fast, or adding or reducing commitments at your local church could all fall in this category.
 6. Personal – I usually separate this one into two subcategories: body and soul. Where am I physically? Do I need to lose 10 pounds? Stop eating so much sugar? Cut back on the coffee consumption? Is my mind being stimulated by anything, from crossword puzzles to reading a book on writing, or is my gray matter at risk of stagnation? What's my emotional state most of the time, and what needs to be done to move me toward the kind of peace and joy and contentment that best represents Christ Jesus and His lordship in my life?

7. R and R, aka Rest and Relaxation – This is my annual failure category. Fun, rest, frolic, relaxation ... I know they are necessary for a healthy balance of life, but in my opinion, fun and relaxation are accidental incidents, not something you plan. Apparently, that is not the best way to think! What will you do this year to refuel and recharge?

new years resolutions Pictures, Images and Photos I write down the things that come to me as I examine these areas, and they become my "resolutions" for the new year. As someone has said, goals that are written down are 80 percent more likely to be accomplished than goals we keep in our heads. As the year goes by, I'll go back to the list I made and see where I'm "at," usually at Easter/Passover, again at my birthday in July, and sometime in the fall.

This year I plan to turn my generalized list of resolutions into printable "subway art" that will hang somewhere in my house as a reminder.

Do you plan for change? Or do you just let it happen and roll with the punches? If so, how do you maintain your personal commitments to things like writing?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Then He Smiled at Me…

by Suzie Johnson
A dark, hushed landscape lit only by the stars; majestic visitors from afar bringing gifts; a small boy invited to come along and pay honor to the baby king. He longs to go, longs to join in and be a part of the hushed reverence. But he is merely a poor boy with nothing to give. How can he possibly go?

And yet he is drawn.
When he arrives at the stable, where glorious gifts are presented to the baby king, he humbly offers the only thing he has – his gift of music. He plays his drum. He puts his whole heart and soul into it. He gives it his all.

And the baby smiles at him.
Can you imagine how that little boy felt, aching to offer something of worth? He felt himself unworthy, and yet he gave his best. And he was smiled upon.

When I was a child, The Little Drummer Boy was my favorite Christmas song. I could never get enough of it. I played it on my record player over and over until I’m sure my parents were sick of it. But I never grew tired of hearing it. I still don’t. There are Christmas songs I get tired of now, but never this one.

The final lines of the song…

I played my best for Him...

Followed by a beat of silence, and...

Then He smiled at me...

When I was little, listening repeatedly, those last final lines with that moment of silence in between always brought a tear to my eye.

The thought of doing something so heartfelt that the sweet baby Jesus would smile at me, filled me with wonder and awe.

As an adult, it still brings a tear to my eye – but for an entirely different reason.

Then He smiled at me...

Oh, I’m still filled with wonder and awe at the thought of Jesus smiling at me. But at the same time, I’m reminded that I don't spend nearly as much time thinking of Jesus smiling at me as I did when I was a child.

I played my best for Him...

Do I do my best for Him? Do I spend too much time thinking of what I want to do instead of what He wants me to do? Am I writing for me, or for Him? Do I think of Him with every choice I make? Do I do my very best ever time?

Too often, I let myself get caught up in the trap of everyday chaos and focus more on the things I have to do, rather than contemplating how I'm going to do them. By that, I don't mean, "Oh how am I ever going to get all of this done today?" Instead, I mean the attitude with which I do them. I want to have the same from-the-heart attitude as the little drummer boy. I want to be filled with child-like awe and a desire to do my best for Him. Whatever I’m doing, every time.

Can you picture Jesus smiling down at you because whatever you did, you did it for Him?

For this coming year, my goal will be to work on this attitude. To help motivate me, I'm going to put little notes on my computer at work and home, on my mirror and refrigerator door. I think I should also put one on the television remote control. (That involves another goal for the coming year...)

What will it say?

Then He smiled at me...

Suzie Johnson has won several awards for her inspirational novels (writing as Susan Diane Johnson), including the Maggie, Lone Star, Heart of the West, and Beacon awards, as well as finaling in the Touched by Love, Finally A Bride, Linda Howard Award for Excellence, and Virginia's Fool For Love contests. She is a member of ACFW, RWA, and is a cancer registrar at her local hospital. The mother of a wonderful young man who makes her proud every day, she lives with her husband and naughty little cat on an island in the Pacific Northwest. And although the beaches are rocky instead of sandy, lined with Madronas and Evergreens instead of Palm trees, and the surf is much too cold for wading, it is still the perfect spot for writing romantic fiction.

Star picture courtesy of

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Give the Gift of Good Scenes

by Dina Sleiman

Monday I was reading a book submitted to WhiteFire Publishing. Awesome voice, compelling subject, talented author. But I had to give it a "not yet" because the scenes still need work. I've turned down a number of books for this reason, although I asked this specific author to resubmit due to her skill in other areas. This made me think that perhaps for the New Year/Christmas combo, I should give us all the gift of good scenes. Here is an excerpt from my online writing class, "The Inspiration and the Perspiration."

Next, let’s discuss scenes. In our video based society we are used to stories coming to us in scenes. In classic books you will often find characters meandering from one time and place to another with no clear break and the narrator jumping around from one mind to another.

In contemporary fiction, a simple “***” takes us effortlessly from one time and place to another, and requires little or no explanation of how we got there. The reader understands that we are cutting to the vital information that moves the story forward. This allows the author to keep the tension high and the pages turning by eliminating a lot of fluff. In your own mind, you will want to figure out what happened in between and how the transitions occurred, but your reader needs only the briefest explanation and does not care about irrelevant details.

As you edit, make sure that each scene is doing its job in advancing the plot and/or deepening characterization. Something vital should happen in each scene. If not, cut it. If you have a scene where nothing happens but reflection, weave the relevant reflection into a different scene. If you have a scene where nothing is happening but description of an important setting, weave it into a different scene. If you have a dialogue scene that’s interesting but nothing really happens, weave the conversation into a different scene. Every scene should have tension and conflict and end with something to thrust the reader forward into the next scene.

Are you getting the point? Of course, not every single scene requires every element. Certainly stories and examples in your nonfiction will not always need every element. However, check every scene and story for places you could strengthen it by weaving in characterization, action, dialogue, inner dialogue, and description.

First when editing your scenes, decide if they’re pulling their weight, and if they earn staying in the book. Second, look for a nice balance of elements above. Also, look at the progression of your scenes. In a story, it is good to be continually moving in a cause and effect progression. You don’t want to say. “She entered the room and turned on the lights because it was dark.” Say, “She entered the dark room shrouded in nighttime terrors. Her hand scraped across rough stucco, searching the wall for the switch. Light flooded the room, chasing away the shadows…”

In the first version, “because it was dark” stops the flow of action. In the second version, it’s actually hard to find a stopping place. One sentence flows into the next, and there’s a feeling that we must keep going. Notice how I also wove characterization and description into these simple action sentences. I even created a tone.

The fourth thing you want to look for in a scene, is a clear and consistent point of view. In a first person story or limited third person point of view, this will stay consistent throughout the book. However, still check to make sure that what they see and think is true to that character and is not your author’s voice intruding with things that they wouldn’t know or contemplate.

For example, if you’re character is standing behind someone, remember that they can’t see their facial expressions. You can move them to a different vantage point, or they can comment on general body language. Likewise, a character will not comment on their own facial expressions, unless they are aware of the face they are making. You wouldn’t say, “Confusion flashed through my eyes.” You would instead describe how confusion felt in their body, or give of a glimpse into their confusing thoughts. A male POV character will not describe another guy as "cute" or "sweet."

The most popular point of view being used these days is multiple third person point of view. In this POV, each scene should take place from the perspective of a specific character. Since we’re using scenes anyway, think of this as the cameraman for the scene. We can only see what they see and hear what they hear. If we are in “close” third person point of view, we can even hear their thoughts.

So perhaps this is a cameraman whispering commentary to the audience. If you are writing in multiple third person, give thought to who will be most changed or effected by a given scene, and put the scene in their POV. If during a specific time and place you want to switch point of view, that’s fine, but it still constitutes a scene change and requires a  “***” break. If you aren’t sure if you are firmly in one head, try rewriting the scene in first person, then change it back when you’re finished.

As each scene opens, drop us firmly into the head, even the body, of the point of view character. Set up the scene by letting us know where and when they are. Twang at least one of our five senses so that we can see, hear, feel, smell, taste, or touch what they are experiencing. Then we will be ready to join the character in the fictional world of the scene.

And one last thought to connect this back to my tension post from a few weeks ago. Be sure to end your scene with a hook to drive the reader forward into the next scene to keep them going. Don't want them putting that book down, you know.

So there are a few tips on writing good scenes. Writers, what tips would you add? Readers, what do you look for in a good scene? What authors use scenes to great effect?


Dina Sleiman writes lyrical stories that dance with light. Most of the time you will find this Virginia Beach resident reading, biking, dancing, or hanging out with her husband and three children, preferably at the oceanfront. Since finishing her Professional Writing MA in 1994, she has enjoyed many opportunities to teach literature, writing, and the arts. She was the Overall Winner in the 2009 Touched by Love contest for unpublished authors. Her first novel, Dance of the Dandelion with Whitefire Publishing has just released. She has recently become an acquisitions editor for WhiteFire as well. Join her as she discovers the unforced rhythms of grace. For more info visit her at

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Christmas Violin

by C.J. Chase

I hated the new town.

I was 12 years old, and we had recently relocated, from Indiana to Pennsylvania. Middle school is a difficult time of life for most anyone. Starting middle school as the new kid in town is even more difficult.

The topography was different -- high mountains cut by a narrow valley instead of the wide open corn-and-soybean fields I was used to. The accents were different, reminding me everyday I was in a new place. And the culture? Oh, boy...

The calendar may have said the 1970's, but in DeMotte, Indiana, it was still the 1950's. Or maybe the 1850's. Stores, and even the town's lone restaurant, all closed for Sunday. Schools held no activities on Thursday nights because that was when churches had midweek services. And speaking of the schools, a nativity scene decorated the school office area every December, and the principal took it to each classroom to explain its significance to the Christmas holiday. That was in the public school.

Central Pennsylvania was a world away--a tougher, more secular place where few of my classmates attended church. Awkward and lonely, I spent a good deal of my time playing my piano and listening to my dad's classical music collection.

During that autumn, I developed a love for symphonic music and from there, the violin. My most fervent Christmas wish was for a violin and lessons. To this day, I can still remember stroking the instrument's smooth maple on Christmas morning.

I began lessons in January, and by summer, I had already practiced my way to simple Bach pieces. Minuet 2, for any of you Suzuki students (or parents). Then tragedy struck our family.

In September, at the age of 40, my father died.

Life changed, of course. We couldn't continue all our prior activities. Faced with a choice between violin and piano, I made the practical decision. The piano teacher lived closer to us, and since my school didn't have an orchestra, I had limited opportunities to play violin in a group.

I continued studying piano through high school and college, and met my husband in the college choir. While I never possessed the talent to make a career in music, I put the piano lessons to good use playing for church services over the years. And so, the violin became just one dream exchanged for another.

Then on a cold weekend in 1999, my life took another unexpected turn.

My husband and I had buckled our two boys in the car and driven to the Philly suburbs for a Scottish and Irish music festival. Our oldest, not quite four, fell in love. In the months afterward, he pestered us continuously for fiddle lessons. Finally deciding he just might be serious, we found a nearby Suzuki violin teacher.

Here he is, in 1999, at his first Christmas concert.

As it turned out, Calvin was indeed serious. Now 16, he studies both classical violin and Celtic fiddle and has performed before tens of thousands of people. He has perfect pitch, an ability to improvise harmonies on the fly, and far more natural talent than I ever possessed. He plays by ear. He writes his own compositions. And he makes me proud.

From a merry Christmas morning, to disappointment, and now to delight--my life has come full circle. These days, I get to listen to beautiful violin music, and I don't even have to go through the work of practicing!

Did you ever exchange a dream for another one, only to have it turn out better than you ever anticipate?

After leaving the corporate world to stay home with her children, C.J. Chase quickly learned she did not possess the housekeeping gene. She decided writing might provide the perfect excuse for letting the dust bunnies accumulate under the furniture. Her procrastination, er, hard work paid off in 2010 when she won the Golden Heart for Best Inspirational Manuscript and sold the novel to Love Inspired Historicals. Redeeming the Rogue was an August, 2011 release. You can visit C.J.'s cyber-home (where the floors are always clean) at

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Country Church Christmas Videos

by Anita Mae Draper

It's Christmas Day. Hallelujah! We're celebrating Jesus birthday today and praising God for sending us His Son. And what better way than to lift your voice in song.

We attend a small country church where a couple families take turns leading worship.

This first video is Richard and Lorette Keller and their son, Clayton leading worship with Silent Night at our recent Christmas Service.

My husband, Nelson and our 16 yr old son, Nick took their turn a couple weeks ago and led worship with O Little Town of Bethlehem.

And I wanted to share Nick's first a cappella performance with his rendition of Mary, Did You Know? which he sang at the Christmas Service.

Again, I say, Hallelujah!

From all the Inkies, may you have a blessed Christmas and safe holiday season.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Suzie’s Short and Sweet Top Twelve List

Suzie’s Short and Sweet Top Ten Twelve List

Many of the books on my list have been reviewed here, either by me or one of the other Inkies. So instead of recapping reviews, I’m simply giving the skinny on my top favorites reads of the year.

There are only a few rules for inclusion on my list, but they’re important rules if a book is to live long and prosper on my keeper shelf.
  • If a book is contemporary, I have to fall so deeply in love with the characters that I’m totally pulled into their lives. I tend to get bored easily, so this is vital to hold my attention. I have to be invested in the characters in order to keep reading.
  • If a book is historical, it must be so vivid that it sweeps me into the timeframe. And it must also include that part about loving the characters.
  • If it’s not women’s fiction, it needs to either bring me to tears or split my sides with laughter.
  • If I’ve read it this year and it met the above criteria, it can be included even if it was published last year or the year before.

Now that we have that out of the way, here is my list in order of category (please note that all but two of these books are Christian fiction):

Contemporary Settings:
Mr. Monk on the Road by Lee Goldberg: I’ve read every Monk book, and this was in my top three favorites in the comedic mystery series. Monk tricks his agoraphobic brother into going on an RV trip.

The Heart of Memory by Alison Strobel: This Christian fiction novel was a most unusual, gripping and wrenching book about one woman’s experiences after a heart transplant.

Emily’s Hero by Sharon Gillenwater: True to real-life, Christian characters that fulfilled my criteria of pulling me into their lives and making me care about them.

Historical Settings:
Dance of the Dandelion by our own Inkie, Dina Sleiman: a Medieval romantic adventure that lives up to Dina’s promise of a lyrical story that dances with light.

The Girl in the Gatehouse by Julie Klassen: Like each of her other books, this one earned its spot as the book I anticipated most this year, and proved to be worth the wait.

Anything by T.L. Higley! This includes Petra, Pompeii, and The Colossus of Rhodes. What can I say? This is my new favorite author, I can’t choose just one, and Biblical fiction is quickly resurfacing on my must read list.

Wings of a Dream by Anne Mateer: This debut novel packed a punch and is only the beginning of a long career for Anne. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Young Adult:
Before I list these, I just have to say, YA is not just for young adults. Anyone who appreciates a captivating story will love these books.

The Healer’s Apprentice and The Merchant’s Daughter by Melanie Dickerson: This is a two-for-one, because once you read one of these historical fairy-tale romances, you’ll absolutely have to read the other.

The River of Time Series by Lisa Bergren: This is a three-for-one, for similar reasons. This time-travel series takes readers to Ancient Italy and one heart-stopping adventure after another.

Both Historical and Contemporary:
The Bone Garden by Tess Gerritsen: (Note: This is not Christian fiction) Set in present-day Boston, this book quickly takes readers into Boston’s past to solve a mystery. Less gritty and grizzly than most of this author’s books, there were times when this book had me almost fooled into thinking I was reading a Julie Klassen historical. The story and characters lingered in my mind long after I finished reading.

There you have it, my top ten favorite reads (be it individual books, series, or author) of the year. But wait! Is it okay if I sneak in two more?

One more contemporary…
Love Finds you in Carmel-by-the-Sea by Sandra Bricker: This was one memorable book, and fulfilled my laughing/crying criteria.

And one more historical…
Love Amid the Ashes by Mesu Andrews: This unusual story brought the Biblical character of Job to life for me, and only cemented my new desire to read more Biblical fiction.

There you have it, my top twelve favorite reads of the year.

But wait! Please, may I make it a baker’s dozen with one more historical?

Maid to Match by Deeanne Gist: This book was way too fun to leave off the list, and it gave an insightful glimpse into the life of the Vanderbilts and their staff.

That was far more than I promised you, and I know there are at least three more I could list. In fact, I could probably go one for days. What can I say? This was a great year for reading, with new authors, new genres, and beloved favorites.

Merry Christmas, and I wish you all a blessed New Year with lots of good books to read!

Suzie Johnson has won several awards for her inspirational novels (writing as Susan Diane Johnson), including the Maggie, Lone Star, Heart of the West, and Beacon awards, as well as finaling in the Touched by Love, Finally A Bride, Linda Howard Award for Excellence, and Virginia's Fool For Love contests. She is a member of ACFW, RWA, and is a cancer registrar at her local hospital. The mother of a wonderful young man who makes her proud every day, she lives with her husband and little kitten on an island in the Pacific Northwest. And although the beaches are rocky instead of sandy, lined with Madronas and Evergreens instead of Palm trees, and the surf is much too cold for wading, it is still the perfect spot for writing romantic fiction. You can visit her blog, Suzie's Writing Place at

Friday, December 23, 2011

Big Christmas Trees from Logging Country

Add caption
by Anita Mae Draper

Christmas is a celebration of Jesus' birth, and birthday parties should be shared with family and friends, right? Here at the Inkwell, we've been sharing Christmas memories and now it's my turn. As I gathered the photos for this post, however, I came to a realization I should have figured out long ago... my love of photography comes from my mother. You may laugh at my surprise, but truly I've always thought my mother and I came from different planets.

Although I was born in a hospital in a Northern Ontario gold mining town, we lived at a logging camp out in the bush near Stevens, Ontario. I still have an old flour sack laundry bag with Camp #5 stencilled in black in across the top. I don't remember much about living there except that we lived near a cliff with a lake full of floating logs below the camp. And I remember the Christmases when Mom set out bowls of nuts and candy, and we put glass pine cones and metal icicles on the tree.

Christmas morning, 1960. Anita 3, sister Bonnie, 4. Camp #5.

Christmas morning, 1960. I was three years old, my sister, Bonnie was 4, and our brother was only a couple months old. That was the year Bonnie and I both received Lulu dolls for Christmas. As you'll see, we received other things, too, but the Lulu dolls will go down in history as my favourite doll of all time. The only problem was that my Lulu doll looked exactly like Bonnie's Lulu doll. So a few months later when Bonnie couldn't find hers, she took mine. Of course, I hung on to mine like a bear cub's mother and there we were, each pulling an arm of the soft vinyl rubber-like doll. After a few minutes, the arm Bonnie was holding ripped off! I was in shock! Bonnie wasn't because she dropped the arm and flounced off saying she just remembered where she'd left hers. My poor little Lulu doll. Mom sewed her arm back on, and I loved her, but she was never the same again.

1960 Boxing Day (the day after Christmas). Camp #5

Mom spent a lot of time dolling us up as you can see by my pretty ringlets in this photo taken on Boxing Day. That Christmas was special as Dad was making good money. Along with my Lulu doll, I received a nurse's kit and tea set.

Christmas 1961. Anita 4, Johnny 1, Bonnie, 5. Camp #5.

Johnny joined us for the Christmas of 1964 photo and although Mom snapped this after Christmas, I have no recollection of our presents. I do know that we were still in Camp #5, because Bonnie and I sang Silent Night in Finn in front of the whole community at the Camp Christmas Concert. And yes, I do remember the experience. It's probably what gave me the stage fright that lasted well into adulthood.

Christmas 1963 Geraldton, Ontario

We moved to the gold mining town of my birth when I was five, but we lived on a hill on the edge of town. Trying times of turmoil fell upon Bonnie and I as we were involved in a custody battle and shuffled between our biological parents and forced to live with step-parents who felt threatened by our existence. I don't have photos of those years. Truthfully, they feel like pages from someone else's book and I'd rather not look at them.

Christmas 1967, Johnny 7, Anita 10, Bonnie 11, Thunder Bay, ON

The Christmas of 1967 found us living with our mother in the city of Thunder Bay, at the head of Lake Superior. Here we are on the stairs with the stockings Mom made for each of us when we were small. The little plastic mesh stocking was for our brother, Peter, who was 2 that year but I guess Mom hadn't had time to make him one yet. She crafted ours out of felt and lined it with plastic. That way, the candies wouldn't stick to the felt and it would be an easy clean up if our Christmas oranges got squished and leaked. Our stockings were used for food only and if you look close, you can see a box of Pink Elephant popcorn poking out.

Christmas 1967, Johnny 7, Anita 10, Bonnie 11, Thunder Bay, ON

Those were hard times as our step-father was gone for months at a time while working road construction. I don't remember any of the gifts I received that year although I know those snow shovels were for Bonnie and I so that we could help Mom while Dad was gone. I don't know if it was the lack of money, or the move to the city, but our tree sure looked sparser than it had when we lived in the logging camp.

Christmas 1968, Thunder Bay, ON
Another year passed and 1968 we're all a year older (12, 11, 8 now) and we're still holding the same stockings and yes - it looks like we have more Pink Elephant popcorn. We were allowed to empty our stockings as soon as we awoke, but Mom's always been an early riser and took this photo that Christmas morning. Considering the smile on my face and the position of my box of Pink Elephant popcorn, I may have emptied part of my stocking before she got us to pose.

Christmas 1968,  Bonnie 12, Johnny 8, Anita 11,Thunder Bay, ON

Here we are several hours later, holding our gifts and looking presentable. I received several musical instruments over the years as if Mom had hopes of getting me interested, but they weren't the real ones and I spent more time reading and writing than singing and playing. Once again, three-year-old Peter is missing from this photo, but he had a good excuse that year...he was sick in the hospital and didn't come home until several days later.

Christmas 1968, Peter 3,Thunder Bay, ON

Mom and Dad tried to make it up to him with a shiny red pedal car. Do you think it worked?

Christmas 1969, Anita 12, Johnny 9, Bonnie 13, Peter 4,
Thunder Bay, ON

We moved again in 1969 - this time to a farm 7 miles outside of Thunder Bay. And with the tree being so lush, it looks like we may have cut it on our own property. Now 12 yrs old, the gift I'm holding is a plush pajama doll. I don't think they even make pajama dolls anymore, but all day long she sat on my bed, all puffed out with my jammies inside. Then at night, I'd open the zipper, take my jammies out, and spend the night cuddling her. And she safely held my secrets along with my jammies.

Now do you see what I mean about Mom taking pictures? I never knew how many rolls of film she went through until I visited her last summer and took photos of her pictures so I could preserve them digitally. All I can say is thank you, Mom, for allowing me to see my past.

I also have my mom to thank for my stocking. Do you remember the stocking with my name on it from the above photos? Well, I still have it. Not only do I still have mine, but I made a green one for Nelson when we got married, and followed the tradition with the kids.

Homemade Felt Stockings, Anita's c1958-59

We gave Crystal her stocking when she moved out after graduation, and I believe she lost it along the way. Jessie moved out 2 yrs ago, but is leaving hers at home until she has her own home and family. I'd like to note that the plastic in Jessie's stocking is nice and thick - it's from the bag her Huggies diapers came in. Instead of candy, nuts and Japanese oranges though, we use our stockings for gifts and chocolate. Being flat however, limited these stockings to small gifts only.

A couple years ago, when my stocking turned 50, we decided to retire all the homemade ones. Now, they hang on one side of our hall as reminders of Christmases past.

Draper Stockings c2009

While on the other side hang our bigger, modern stockings with all kinds of room for goodies.

Thank you for taking this old Christmas journey with me whether you read the text or only looked at the photos.

Now look at your own photo of a past Christmas. What do you remember about it? The gifts? The location? The people? Do you remember how you felt as you waited for the 'click' of the camera?


Anita Mae Draper is retired from the Canadian Armed Forces and lives on the prairie of southeast Saskatchewan, Canada with her hubby of 30 plus years and 2 of their 4 kids. She writes stories set on the prairies of Saskatchewan, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. Anita Mae has semi-finaled in the Historical Romance category of the ACFW's 2011 Genesis contest and finaled in the Inspirational category of the 2011 Daphne du Maurier, the 2011 Fool for Love, the 2011 Duel on the Delta and 2009 Linda Howard Award of Excellence contests. You can find her at

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Thoughts of Christmases Past

Jennifer AlLee

When I was a kid, I lived in the heart of Hollywood, California. Above a mortuary, no less. So there were no white Christmases in our neighborhood. But there was a lot of Christmas spirit.

Here I am by our Christmas tree. There's no date on the photo, so I'm guessing I was around five, which would make this 1969. Check out the tinsel on the tree. We did that every year. Does anybody still put tinsel on their trees?

Of course, no walk down Christmas memory lane would be complete without a photo from the annual Christmas pageant. Here I prove that I really am a little angel. I think I was in kindergarten in this one, attending Bethany Lutheran church & school, right in the heart of Hollywood. Sadly, the church no longer exists. Come to think of it, the mortuary no longer exists, either. Hmm... is my childhood being systematically erased? Sorry.. I digress.. back to Christmas!

I know exactly what year this picture is from: 1975. We had moved to a house in North Hollywood, but my mom still drove me to school at Bethany. My cousin Jackie (on the right) and I thought it would be fun to pose under the tree. Silly girls. A close look at the tree makes me wonder if we were using the same ornaments from the top picture. I know we were still hanging tinsel. And apparently, we were drawn to wiiiiiide trees.

Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. Today, my family spends less time decorating our own home, and more time enjoying what others have done. Like the yearly display at the Bellagio. Here my son, Billy, is dwarfed by last year's decorations.

No matter what you do, whether you cover your tree in bling, blow out circuit breakers with your personal light display, or go for a more low-key celebration, it will be unique to your family. Savor the memories. Enjoy and be blessed!

 JENNIFER ALLEE believes the most important thing a woman can do is find her identity in God – a theme that carries throughout her novels. A professional writer for over twenty years, she's done extensive freelance work for Concordia Publishing House, including skits, Bible activity pages, and over 100 contributions to their popular My Devotions series. Her first novel, The Love of His Brother, was released by Five Star Publishers in November 2007. Her latest novel, The Pastor’s Wife, was released by Abingdon Press in February 2010. Her next two novels are The Mother Road (April 2012) and A Wild Goose Chase Christmas (November 2012), both from Abingdon Press. She's a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Romance Writers of America, Christian Authors Network, and the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance.
Visit Jennifer's website at

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Untraditional Traditions

By Lisa Karon Richardson

I grew up in a preacher’s home. One might think this made for Norman Rockwell type scenes of family dinners and evenings before the fireplace. That one would be wrong. Christmas and Easter are the two busiest seasons for a minister and it seems the holidays were always chock full of activities, from Christmas pagents to candlelight cantatas, to the annual ladies’ breakfast to coordinating caroling for shut-ins. There’s plenty of work to go around. And of course all the planning and practice that goes into making those events a success.

As a kid I was less than enamored by the long hours spent waiting for people to learn their parts.

That isn’t to say that we didn’t have lots of fun and still take time to celebrate Christmas with our family. In order to get time to actually enjoy it our Christmas tree was always up on Thanksgiving day. Sometimes before then. The earliest I remember erecting the good ol’ fake fir is the day after Halloween. And Christmas music was an option year round.
When I was little my parents used to borrow a projector from the local library (apparently they could be checked out.) Then they and my grandparents would watch Oliver! on a white sheet hung up in our living room. Fagan totally creeped me out at 4,5,6. I remember that they had to change out the reels half way through the movie. And I have a really clear memory of the last scene where Bill Sykes has Oliver on the roof. That faded over time, but starting in our teens it became a tradition to watch Christmas Vacation on Christmas day every year. And I do mean every year.

Another holiday tradition is playing a wicked game of Monopoly. For some reason we only ever play this game on Christmas, probably because it takes us that long to recover each year. It is vicious. Beware anyone trying to help you out by trading you a property. Harold Hill has nothing on my dad when it comes to selling stuff. And the high stakes wheeling and dealing can go on for hours.

We always got new pajamas for Christmas and that was the one present we could open on Christmas Eve. When the big morning arrived we were ready for photo opportunities. My parents were smart too, we had to wait to open presents until everyone was awake, but they let us dig into our stockings as soon as we got up. This ensured them a few more minutes of precious sleep.

There were a few years that were pretty tough financially. One year my mom and dad made us stick ponies. (As you can see if you can read her tag, mine was named Suzie Q. And had a green calico face with a yellow mane. And white reins made of yarn.)

Another year, my dad used scrap wood to make my sister and I closets for our Barbies. While mom sewed them up new outfits. Another year we received homemade dolls. Those toys were all just as loved and played with as any of our store bought things.

Looking back I find our Christmases were a blend of traditions and innovation. But they were all ours. I still love celebrating Christmas with my family. And this year I’m determined to win the Monopoly game.

Does your family have any untraditional traditions? Did you ever get any homemade gifts as a kid.

Influenced by books like The Secret Garden and The Little Princess, Lisa Karon Richardson’s early books were heavy on boarding schools and creepy houses. Now that she’s (mostly) all grown-up she still loves a healthy dash of adventure and excitement in any story she creates, even her real-life story. She’s been a missionary to the Seychelles and Gabon and now that she and her husband are back in America, they are tackling a brand new adventure, starting a daughter-work church in a new city. Her first novella, Impressed by Love, part of the Colonial Courtships collection, is coming in October, 2012.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Nativity Set Collection

by Anita Mae Draper

We interrupt the regularly scheduled 19th Century Sleigh post series to bring you this photo-journal of information on Nativity sets I've collected through the years. This decision wasn't taken lightly but with the assurance that there will still be snow - probably lots more of the white stuff, in January and and the topic will still be current at that time.

This post is actually a spin-off from Inky Susanne Dietze's contribution to the 12 Days of Inkies, Two Babies in the Manger. In the post, Susanne asked about our Nativity sets and after listing all mine, interest was shown in actually seeing them.

I didn't start out collecting Nativity sets although I crafted my first manger scene as a child. While growing up, our house contained the usual commercial images of Christmas and Santa Claus, but not a single Baby Jesus. Neither did my own home in the first few years of our marriage which hits a milestone 35th anniversary today. (Yowza!)

That changed in the mid-80's (collecting the Nativity scenes, not the marriage) when I saw a large Nativity scene go on the local auction block. I wanted it on sight and for whatever reason - probably because it needed a paint job - I won it with my $2.00 bid. Of course hubby thought I was crazy, but that was nothing new. *grin*

20+ yr old Wooden Nativity Scene - 4 Feet High

The above photo was taken about 6 yrs ago after 4 moves and 20 seasons of use - all without repainting it. We'd always meant to paint it, but never got around to it. Now, it's falling apart from all the flooding we've suffered these past few years. I miss it every time I look out my kitchen window and see the place it used to stand.

I liked that outdoor set so much, I bought a small wood and moss manger scene for inside. It contained rubbery vinyl pieces of Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, 3 kings, a donkey and a resting cow. The kids always played with this set and I didn't mind because I wanted them to have a 'hands-on' approach to Jesus.

Up here in Canada instead of Black Friday, we have a Boxing Dale Sale on December 26th. It's our favourite day to shop. One year I was browsing a Boxing Day sale and saw this metallic on porcelain set. Yes, it looked tacky, but it appealed to me on some strange level and was only a couple dollars.

4.5" Metallic Paint on Porcelain Nativity Set

Then followed a succession of sets bought at 'after Christmas' sales:

4.5" Matte paint on Porcelain Nativity Set

4" Clear Glass Nativity Set on a Mirror
Left: 4.5" White Porcelain with Gold Trim
 Right: One Piece Resin Nativity

Every December I set out the above Nativity sets in my east-facing kitchen window:

The east-facing Kitchen Window at Draper's Acres.

About this time the stable in the kids' Nativity set fell apart and I noticed the only pieces left were Mary, Baby Jesus, 2 kings, and the donkey. At the same time, it seemed the pieces of the little set I'd placed in the bathroom moved every time I saw them, so this became the family play set. Yes, I said the family play set because I was just as wont to set it to my satisfaction as anyone else. It just seemed natural to look it over while washing and drying your hands, then shift a piece or two before your go. However, I must state emphatically that I wasn't the one to break the cow's horn off. Nope. Wasn't me.

Entire family plays with this 2" mini Nativity set in bathroom.

A funny thing happened as we set out the Nativity sets each year...we decided we'd rather display them in our limited space than Santa decorations. And we always bought them on sale.

Balsa wood stable and 3" resin figurines Nativity set.

Large 6" heavy breakable resin? Nativity set.

4" Solid Metal Nativity Set

One piece 8" Musical Nativity Set

Along the way we found some to add to the Christmas tree...

4" Musical Tree Ornament

3" Metal 'cut-out' Nativity scene tree hanger ornament.

And then there was the one Jessie was going to buy for a friend except she accidently dropped it in the store and Baby Jesus' head broke off. *sigh*

4" Porcelain 4 piece Nativity set w/broken Baby Jesus.

Finally is this large irridescent set we bought at a second-hand store. It's our only Nativity scene with camels. Big camels. This year, Nick asked for and received the honour of setting it up. You can't go downstairs without coming eye-to-eye with this wonderful display of Jesus' birth.

6" high Porcelain Nativity set w/irridescent finish and gold trim on kings.  

Overkill? Perhaps, although every Nativity set is different. And the way I see it, everywhere we look, we're reminded of the true meaning of Christmas.

As you can see, many of these Nativity scenes show the presence of the 3 kings/wisemen. Matthew 2:1 says, "Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem."

Further along, verses 9b-11 say, "...and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh." This is the main scripture concerning the arrival of the eastern kings and it doesn't say how old Jesus was at that time.

Since there is no other season to celebrate this bowing down of kings to our Lord while He walked on this earth, my family doesn't mind having them at Jesus' birth. The same goes for the 'Star of Bethlehem' because if the wisemen weren't present, the star wasn't either since it's only mentioned in scripture when the 3 kings/wisemen appear.

We don't mind compressing time and showcasing these events as if they happened together on one special night long ago. Look at all the extra bystanders in this Nativity set. Not only are there the 3 wisemen, but there's even a drummer. And Joseph has a staff like a shepherd's crook. Carpenters don't carry staffs. I'm not even sure if Joseph is beside Mary in the green or in the blue on the right.

3" breakable resin? Nativity scene.

Does it really matter, or is the symbolism sufficient?

What pieces do you think a Nativity set should contain?


Anita Mae Draper is retired from the Canadian Armed Forces and lives on the prairie of southeast Saskatchewan, Canada with her hubby of 30 plus years and 2 of their 4 kids. She writes stories set on the prairies of Saskatchewan, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. Anita Mae has semi-finaled in the Historical Romance category of the ACFW's 2011 Genesis contest and finaled in the Inspirational category of the 2011 Daphne du Maurier, the 2011 Fool for Love, the 2011 Duel on the Delta and 2009 Linda Howard Award of Excellence contests. You can find her at

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