Softer and more beautiful

Our Christmas tree, December 2006

Our Christmas tree, December 2006

“Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful. ”Norman Vincent Peale

When you think of the holiday season, what words come to mind?  I’m afraid that too often, we think of words such as busy, excited, rushed, tired, pressured.  But no matter how many activities and events we jam into our December schedules, there are usually at least a few moments of quiet beauty that refresh our spirits and feed our souls.

I wish you many such moments this year!  Feel free to share your thoughts about the softer, more beautiful gifts you are enjoying this season.




  1. I am enjoying a gift from Christmas 2013. It is soft – and warm. It is a personalized sweatshirt, and will go down in history as one of best Christmas gifts I have ever received. (For you, it may have been that Mary Poppins puzzle, the same year Carla was given that huge plastic snake 🙂 )

    • Hee-hee! Nothing like keeping secrets at Christmas. “Soft and warm” are great attributes anytime, but never more so than in December. Hope your season is full of such treats.

  2. Carolyn

    That is a beautiful tree. I love to just set in the room with only the tree lights on and enjoy the colors. Today we have our 49th wedding anniversary. I hope you have a great time with Grady. Please share some pictures. Take care and love to sll.

    • Happy, happy anniversary, Carolyn!!! I hope you enjoy some lovely quiet time with your tree and your family. I’ll try to post some pics of Grady. I really need to update his page before the year is over. Merry Christmas to you and all your family!!

  3. In a darkened room I stand before the Christmas tree, with my eyes fixed on the angel at the top. In my thoughts echoes the hymn, “Angels We Have Heard On High.” It is then that all else outside the moment stops, and I know that I am, because He is.
    Merry Christmas, Julia,

    • Alan, this is beautiful. The glorious music of that hymn is an appropriate soundtrack for the beauty of a Christmas tree lighting up a dark room. Merry Christmas! Thanks for being here.

  4. Sheila

    We so love the traditional Christmas hymns that are so calming, so comforting. I recall the services that we attended in recent years with Bill’s dad, his pride of walking into the church, the short distance to the very back pew, with his three sons and their wives. 🙏 Thank you, Lord. I also take great delight in baking and those delightful, fragrant smells. I really do love having my Christmas tree lights on, even during the day.🎄I guess MELLOW is a good word to use right about now. ☺️💤

    • Thank you for sharing these precious memories, Sheila. How wonderful that you were all able to go to church together during Dr. Vann’s last years. I do miss baking — I used to bake batches of treats to make goodie bags for the boys’ teachers and Matt’s therapists. Quite a lot of those treats never made it past my kitchen, however — hee-hee. Now that there are no teachers for whom to bake AND now that I have absolutely no business snorting so much sugar (as if I ever did), I have given up the holiday baking for the most part. The smells are lovely, though. I’m using some scented gingerbread melting wax, but it’s not the same thing. Maybe when Grady is a little older…I do love those Christmas tree lights; such a nice indulgence. I’m feeling mellow this evening too. It’s lovely. Hope you have a wonderful weekend-before-Christmas. Grady and his parents arrive Sunday so there is much excitement around here.

      Thanks also for the photo you sent me yesterday. 🙂

  5. I can’t get over your tree! You were not kidding about your ornament collection. Where on earth do you store everything? It’s just gorgeous and a labour of love I’m sure.

    The softer side of Christmas this year has to be my surprise visit from Alys while we were on holidays. We walked to the Del to show her their giant tree which is all decorated in Aqua this year. There were three, smartly dressed, older gals there trying to do a selfie, although I’m sure they never heard of one, ha! Sweet Alys offered to take one and then they each asked about their own camera’s and could she take one more. Of course she did, with gusto. They were laughing and acting like school girls and I couldn’t help but feel like I was looking at our own future. I think we just made a whole bunch of memories this week and when we’re old and grey, we can say, “remember that time you flew here for ONE day?”. Christmas has a way of making you feel young again, no matter your age. xox

    • K, I wish you could see the whole thing – 9 ft. tall and visible all the way around, 360 degrees, totally covered in ornaments and about 4000 lights. I have learned over the years to pack the ornaments very tightly — unbreakable ones around the more fragile ones — so I can get the whole collection into four large boxes. Lights have to be packed separately and are the UN-fun part. It truly has been a labor of love all these years and a sort of calming hobby during the season; I take my time with it and after setting the tree up and getting the lights on, just work a few hours each day. But, in reality I don’t know whether I’ll keep doing it. If I do, it probably won’t be every year. I used to have loads of dinner parties and company over the holidays but that is largely a thing of the past since Jeff’s diagnosis.

      I think that is the most wonderful thing that Alys was able to come down to San Diego to meet you and Mr. B. An Aqua tree? Did they know you were coming? I can just see Alys snapping away. YES Christmas is an ageless time, perfect for making those timeless memories that will last your whole life.

      • HarryS

        A wise(?) teenager once told me, “Life wouldn’t be worth living if you didn’t overdo it every once in a while”. 🙂
        One thing I know for sure; I can’t overdo praising and I can’t out give God. 🙂

        • Harry, so true (your advice, not the teenager’s! Although (s)he has a point too. The other way of looking at is is, discipline makes an occasional indulgence all the more enjoyable. But you’re right; we cannot out give God. It’s the sort of thing nobody believes until they try it. In Malachi 3:8-10, God gives us that promise. I will think of you as I am singing praises this morning! 😀

      • Hey! What if you just ‘forgot’ to take it down? Say, until April? LOL The big take down would go so much faster with 3 of us. hehe! Just think of the photo’s we’d have! I imagine your family would be plenty tired of it by then, but that would be fun! We never looked forward to putting lights on the tree, so a few years back, we got a pre lit tree. I’m still in the wrapping mode tonight, almost done though…Christmas Cheer sent your way xoK

        • Hee-hee, our friend Robert was always telling me I needed to build a big closet I could just roll the tree into every year. The Alexandria tree isn’t nearly the production that the York tree is, so we will just have to plan a Christmas-season trip for you to come down to our Hampton Roads home sometime and see it in season. Our Alexandria tree is pre-lit, but being the over-the-top Christmas tree person that I am, I always add more strings to it. I like to have thousands of lights on the trees. I’m worse than a little kid! I’m picking up your Christmas cheer, though…thanks for sending it!

  6. Thanks for this reminder, Julia. One of my clients hired me to prepare his home for the holidays. Today I wrapped gifts for his young son. It’s nice to help make Christmas special in the home of a single dad.

    Walking most days helps keep me sane. Love to you and yours. Merry Christmas!

    • Alys, I love to think of you helping out that single Dad. I’m sure he was so appreciative of your efforts. As a kid I always took the festive holiday atmosphere in our home for granted, and was quite sad to learn that it’s far from happy in so many homes, for a variety of reasons. I think I would love that aspect of your job, though I’d be terrible at talking people into pitching things!

      I was able to get out and walk some today. Not as much as usual, but enough to enjoy it, though I got very COLD! I do feel so much better when I walk.

      Love and Merry Christmas to your household, too!! ❤ ❤ ❤

      • It’s more challenging walking in the cold weather, isn’t it? The temptation is to hunker down. I too feel better when I walk, though sometimes need a hot bath to recover. I think I get stiffer muscles when it’s damp and cold.

        I have a secret for you: I don’t talk people into pitching things. Instead I help them arrive at the decision on their own. For most, it’s liberating.

        • That’s a great point, Alys. It’s much better to help people arrive on their own. Having said that, I’d still be a terrible influence! I’d be saying things like “Wow, this is fascinating stuff” or “How pretty” or “tell me more about this” or even “hey, are you throwing that away? Can I have it?” 😀 😀 😀

          • You’re so cute!

            • “Cute” is a nice word for it. 😀 You are generous as always!

          • Rene


  7. LB

    The word I’m using the most is “simple”.
    I knew that, because of my schedule, obligations, and family, I’d be way behind, at least according to AMerican expectations.
    BUT I’m happy. Most of my celebrating, baking, gift giving, and musical enjoyments will occur after the 25th and that is just fine by me.
    Julia, wishing you and your lovely family much health and happiness in 2015.

    • Thank you, LB! I totally agree that “simple” is a beautiful word for the holidays. And I have learned to be quite content with taking my time and not worrying if a lot of it (especially the cards) doesn’t get done until AFTER the 25th. I would much rather take my time and reply to each card individually, than rush a whole lot of them out at once in a big batch. That’s one thing I really appreciate about how the season has gotten longer over the years. Some people complain that it goes on too long and starts too early, but for me, that just allows me to relax and enjoy it more. Best wishes to you and yours for 2015, too – and hopefully this will be the year we meet face to face! 🙂

  8. Yesterday as we donned our choir robes before the early service, a friend told me that she’d already dropped her son at the mall (he had to work) and her daughter at (some team sport) practice.
    I was stunned. What ever happened to “Silent Night?”
    we need a pause button!

    • Oh, how true! I would really like to have a big “pause” button! Having said that, I used to love, love, love working at Rich’s department store at Christmas time. Some of my favorite memories are of Christmas Eves when our boss would wear his bright red vest and pass out gifts (usually some sort of nice pen) to all his employees, and the customers who came in droves to buy film and flashbulbs (I worked in the camera department) would be so filled with excitement. We would close early, at 5 pm, and usually the last couple of hours we had to just stand there and say “sorry, we’re sold out of everything but 120” to those who waited until literally the last minute to get film, but at least we could exchange smiles and best wishes for the holidays with everyone. All that to say, the deeper spirit of Christmas manages to work its way into a lot of seemingly unrelated places; perhaps those who have to work and/or practice or whatever, will also encounter some sanctifying graces wherever they find themselves. Merry Christmas!! ❤

      • Rene

        When I worked for Waldenbooks, I actually enjoyed the Christmas Eve shifts also. There was something different to the quality of “frantic” that we saw, coworkers were in a good mood, customers were pleasant, and we got off work a little earlier than usual.

        • I bet Waldenbooks was even more fun than Rich’s. I used to love that bookstore. Long before they had the big mega-chains I liked the atmosphere there. You are right; Christmas Eve is a fun kind of frantic because everyone knows the rush will soon be over and the fun will begin. I loved how happy everyone was on that day, even when we had to tell them we were out of film! 😀

  9. Michael

    Beautiful tree. 4000 lights – how long to set up? We have a tiny tree this year- a one foot Italian Stone pine that came decorated. I am hoping this one I will be able to plant down at the beach house, but probably better in the spring.

    • Michael, I usually spend about a week putting the tree up, but I take my time and work on it off and on each day. I love the idea of a small decorated tree that can be planted outdoors. I want to try it some year when we are retired and back in York County most of the time. Hope you have a wonderful season! Thanks for being here with us on this journey.

  10. Michael

    Same to you. Heading to the beach. I may go clamming tonight!

    • Christmas at the beach! Sounds like Hawaii again. Have lots of fun!

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