Make a Joyful Noise

By: Jeanne Reynolds

christmas carols

My husband has a great singing voice. As a teenager, he even turned down an opportunity to go pro with a barbershop group in favor of going to college. (Did I say he has good judgment, too?) My voice isn’t as strong, but I have a good ear for pitch and sing capably in the alto section in my church choir.

So this time of year, as carols and old favorites fill the airwaves, it’s not unusual for us to sing along with the radio — or even a capella — as we drive over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house or wherever. And we make a pretty good duet, if I do say so myself … with one exception.

No, it’s not “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.” We can nail that, and don’t even get us started on the kids’ version of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” with the funny asides between lines.

It’s “The First Noel.” Yep, plain ole kindergarten-easy “The First Noel.” Not the whole song, though, just the chorus:


The louder, the more off-key, the more obnoxious, the better. It’s a family joke with a story behind it that I’ve long forgotten, which doesn’t make it any less funny … at least to us. In fact, we can barely get out the first two “Noel”s before we’re laughing so hard we can’t sing. Others along for the ride and hearing this, ahem, performance for the first time are somewhere between bewildered and stunned, and I’m sure would leap from the car if it weren’t moving.

This is the stuff of holiday memories! Our unholy chorus holds a place of honor in my heart, right alongside my famous gingerbread men, the hush of candlelight at Christmas Eve service and the hunt for bows the cats have stolen off beautifully (until then) wrapped packages under the tree. No, it’s not the pitch-perfect Norman Rockwell moments I’ll always remember. Rather, it’s the quirky, unique, only-family-and-your-best-friends-could-appreciate-it times that make holidays memorable. I’ll bet — I hope — you have some, too.

We haven’t had a sing-along yet this season, but I’m sure it’s coming. Don’t know when — Christmas is full of surprises, right? So now you have fair warning. If you’re around us and hear the opening notes of “The First Noel,” leave quickly — or better, yet, join in!

Give the Gift of Receiving

By: Jeanne Reynolds

christmas season

The closest I got to shopping on Black Friday was a quick trip to the grocery store. (Downside of Thanksgiving dinner at someone else’s home: You don’t have a fridge full of leftovers to enjoy the rest of the weekend.)

Actually I must be missing a girl gene because I hate, detest, loathe shopping. Especially this time of year. My ideal Christmas shopping is more like a military maneuver: a lightning-fast surgical strike that identifies the target, removes it as quickly as possible and gets out.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t love giving. There’s no better feeling than seeing the delight on someone’s face when they receive something they truly wanted, or maybe didn’t even know they wanted and are surprised and thrilled.

Being able to share that feeling is also a gift — one that requires us to allow others to give.

And that seems to be difficult for many of us. Yes, gals, I’m talking to you, and to moms in particular. Genetic or cultural, most women I know are wonderful givers and caretakers, but sometimes struggle being on the receiving end.

christmas season

Case in point: My mom is 84 and lives nearby for the first time since I was in high school (we’re talking decades here). She’s a widow with a limited income and I’m half of a DINK household, so it’s fun to be able to treat her to lunch or tickets to the theater once in a while. When she comes to my home, I enjoy cooking for her and doing all the things she spent so many years doing for us.

The problem is she often has trouble accepting these “gifts.” She says it’s too much trouble for me, or I’m surely too tired, or she must pay half. I’ve tried to explain how happy it makes me to be able to give back to her, but I guess she’ll never stop feeling like she should be taking care of us. While I appreciate the love behind that, it does take a little of the joy out of giving for me.

I’m probably no different. How many times have I insisted I could handle a task myself instead of accepting sincere offers of help, or only accepting an invitation if I pay my share or contribute in some way? So, in the spirit of removing the plank from my own eye first, here are some mantras with which I’ll coach myself this holiday season (and beyond):

  • Thank you, I’d love to!
  • That would be wonderful. Thank you so much!
  • I really appreciate your help.

It’s a blessing to be able to give to others. And that includes giving others the chance to be givers, too.

Six Ways to De-Stress During the Holiday Mess

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

The decorations have been in the stores for weeks – in some cases, even months- but now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, the holiday season is here!

This season already seems different for me, probably because we are closing in on the first year without Dad. It’s not that I don’t want to celebrate and enjoy the season, but my priorities have shifted. Spending time with family and friends seems so much more important than decorating the house or searching for the elusive “perfect gift.”

That being said, the holidays bring their own set of stresses, no matter how you celebrate. When I saw a teaser for Six Steps to a More Stressless Holiday Season in my 5 a.m. Twitter feed, I clicked the link, and I’m glad I did. These tips will help anyone manage the holidays better, but two of them resonated with the way I’m feeling this year: “Keep Your Side of the Street Clean” and “NO is Not a Four-Letter Word.”

Number 3: “Keep Your Side of the Street Clean,” is all about owning your behavior and reaction, not letting someone else hijack your happiness. That’s a good rule all year long, but especially during the holiday season.

Number 4: “No is Not a Four-Letter Word,” reminds us that we have the right to say no to anything that will take the joy out of the season for us. As women, we have a tendency to worry more about others than ourselves, but I’m learning that it’s not necessarily bad to be selfish. The cookies for your work party don’t have to be homemade. Everyone appreciates gift cards. And no one will notice if you wear the same festive sweater to more than one party.

If all else fails, try one of these great “on the spot” time-tested meditation techniques from David Magone, founder of PranaVayu Yoga. Whether you’re stuck in maddening traffic, behind a full cart in the express check out lane or have just run out of holiday cheer, these will help you de-stress and reconnect.

Happy Holidays, Y’all!

10 Things I’m Thankful For This Thanksgiving

By: Katie Austin

Thanksgiving is just around the corner and sadly, I think most of us are focused on Black Friday deals and the materialistic side of the holiday season.  Thanksgiving is a time to gather with family and friends, taking time out from our busy lives to show our gratitude and reflect on all that we have been blessed with.

Recently, I took a few minutes and jotted down ten things that I am thankful for.  It only took a few minutes and when I read what I wrote down, I had a different perspective.  My list is below and I think you will find a few that might be on your list, too.

  1. Be thankful you woke up to see a new day. Not everyone gets this opportunity.
  2. Be thankful for family and friends who love you.  My family and friends have been there with me through thick and thin. Without a doubt, I wouldn’t be where I am today without their support.
  3. When your husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend is in a bad mood or giving you a hard time, be thankful for having love in your life.  There are many people who will spend this holiday season alone.
  4. Be thankful for the ability to pay your bills and have a roof over your head.  People will spend this holiday season sleeping in homeless shelters, not knowing where they will stay next.
  5. Parents who raised us, changed our diapers, and put up with us as we found our way through our teenage years.  If they are no longer with you, take a moment to be thankful for the time you had with them.
  6. When you’re stuck in traffic, be thankful you have a car to get where you need to go and money to buy gas.  When I think about this one, it reminds me of how I used to have take the bus. There is nothing like standing out in the rain, watching others drive by in the comfort of their car.
  7. Be thankful that you have children to love and who love you, and remember that at least some of the time, they do get along.  If you do not have children, be thankful for the children in your life and the positive role model you can be for them.
  8. The ability to see the beautiful world around us.  If you get a free day, drive up to the Asheville/Greenville area and you will see the most wonderful colors of the season!
  9. Be thankful that you can read these words.  So many are unable to read and we take literacy for granted.
  10. Be thankful we live in a country where we have opportunities and the freedom to make choices. It could be far worse and I feel that better days lie ahead.

When you sit down with your loved ones for your Thanksgiving dinner, be thankful for everyone and everything that has made it possible. Cherish the time spent together and soak up all the day has to offer.

What are you thankful for?  Please post it here in the comment section so that we can grow our list of things to be thankful for together.

Wishing everyone a blessed Thanksgiving holiday filled with many wonderful memories!

A Family Tradition

By: Crissie Miller Kirby

Wow!  Thanksgiving is almost here and with that comes the knowledge that November is almost over and Christmas will be here in about a month.  Part of what makes this season so special for so many are the traditions that we have developed with family and friends.  In honor of those traditions, I thought I would use this posting as an opportunity to share with you one of my family’s most treasured of traditions.

For some of you, you may have a tradition of pulling your Christmas tree from the attic or the garage.  Others of you may make a run to your local grocery store or roadside lot to choose an already cut tree.  Still others prefer the trip to a rural community to one of South Carolina’s choose-and-cut Christmas tree farms.  For my little family, the latter is the true beginning of our Christmas season, for every Thanksgiving afternoon, we venture down a dirt road in Monetta, South Carolina to Tom Sawyer’s Christmas Trees where we choose our tree from the many different varieties they offer.  And, before you ask ~ yes, Tom Sawyer is both a real, live person and that is his real name!

When you arrive at the tree farm, you are generally greeted by Tom’s brother, George, who can direct you to the different fields that hold the different varieties.  In the fields, you will most certainly come across Tom and, often, his son, Ben.  Some weekends you may find my brother, Ritchie, or another “family member,” Alan, assisting customers as they choose and cut that perfect tree.  A trip to the Wreath House to survey the wreaths, garlands, and bows will find you warmly greeted by Tom’s wife, Debbie.  Often, Debbie is assisted by her sister-in-law, Evelyn, or her daughter-in-law, Becky.  Another member of the “family” is Brenda, who also lends a friendly face to the Wreath House.  And some weekends, you may even find me.

You see, our family tradition of getting our tree from the Sawyer’s does not end when the tree is netted and safely stowed in or on top of my mini-van; on the contrary, it begins on Thanksgiving afternoon each year.  I am so fortunate to have known the Sawyer family for as long as I can remember and they have graciously allowed me to become a part of the “tree farm family” each holiday season.  Being a part of this wonderful group of people really helps to shape, mold, and personify the adage about giving being better than receiving.  I am unable to truly put in to words how wonderful it is to see the smiles on the customers’ faces as they choose the perfect tree or the perfect wreath or even the smiles generated from something as simple as choosing the perfect ribbon for their wreath.

These customers truly give me the greatest gift each season.  Their happiness and excitement is infectious and now I can barely imagine a Christmas season without being with the Sawyers and the rest of our tree farm family.  It is more than a seasonal job; it is a family tradition.  So much so that my almost 6-year-old son states, emphatically, that he is ready to put on his “tree farm” jacket and go to work on the farm this holiday season!  And for the Sawyers, this is far more than a seasonal venture, the planting, pruning, care, and maintenance of the tree farm is a multi-year, year-round process.  It is truly a labor of love and a tradition for them.  They welcome each family with open arms and look forward to seeing those same, often growing, families return to their fields each and every season.

If you and your family are in search of a new tradition, I suggest that you make the trek to Monetta and see what Tom Sawyer’s Christmas Trees has to offer: choose and cut trees, wreaths, bows, wagon rides, and some of the most peaceful countryside you have ever seen.  For more information about the environmental benefits of purchasing a live tree and general information on all of South Carolina’s tree farms, please take a few minutes to visit the SC Christmas Tree Association website at

Best wishes to all of my fellow bloggers, their families, and our readers as we venture into the 2011 holiday season: May you all have a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving and Christmas season.  I look forward to seeing you at the farm!