Tag Archives: Christmas

December Column Michiana House & Home: Don’t Miss The Big Picture

In case you haven’t noticed, there is something special in the air this month. It’s being featured in nearly every television commercial and newspaper advertisement. It’s the theme of a diverse line of festive clothing not to mention a wide range of toys, games, home décor and other seasonal merchandise. It has its roots in an ancient religious tradition, is represented by a merry band of beloved characters and is the kind of miraculous event retailers began celebrating in July. Now with only a few shorts weeks to go before the big day, the buzz has built to a fever pitch. If I were being honest, I would have to admit that I too am caught up in the excitement.

After all, it’s not every day that a new Star Wars movie comes out!

Star wars nativity

Why am I NOT surprised someone has actually done this?

Yes, on December 18, The Force Awakens will be released in theaters and while few people would compare it to the Christmas holiday, I can’t help seeing the similarities: It cannot live up to the hype, will never be as good as the original and is just not as much fun without little kids in the house to share it with. Nonetheless, we will buy our overpriced tickets, wait in long lines at the concession stands and sit through an ungodly amount of previews so that two hours later we can convince ourselves it was the best flick of the franchise. (Remember when we thought that about Episode I?)

Why do we do this? We spend months preparing for and placing unrealistic expectations on an event that is over in a day and cannot hope to be as perfect as we would like it to be. We tell ourselves it will all be worth it to see old friends like Han, Luke and Leia again, but no amount of screen time can make us forget the long years we had to endure Jar Jar Binks. In addition, the awesome threesome is not as young as they used to be, probably won’t get involved in a lot of the hijinks, and have yet to tell anyone how long they plan to stay. Personally, I will be bummed if they take off before the first dogfight.

Don’t get me wrong, it was nice of the Disney Company and Lucas Films to think of us this year and bring us this wonderful addition to our collection all wrapped in a giant holiday bow, but I worry many will fail to accept this gift as it was intended and at face value, because they are too busy comparing it to the movies we’ve received before. If there is one thing that the new Star Wars movie and the holidays have to teach us it’s that when we get too bogged down in the details, we miss the big picture. And if we miss the big picture, then we lose out on a significant chapter of what could turn out to be the Greatest Story Ever Told.

May the spirit of Christmas (and The Force) be with you, always.

Follow Julie Young on Twitter: @JulieYoung14

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Fabulous Fridays: A Grand Slam

It’s not often that I am really and truly surprised. I don’t know if I came equipped with some kind of super intuition or what, but I have a way of unintentionally tapping into things or guessing presents in such a way that it ruins the giver’s intended secret. While I willingly admit that I used to use this gift for evil, now that I am older, I really do try not to turn on this psychic power. I no longer guess at gifts under the tree. I do not shake them. When someone says “betcha you don’t know what I got you!” I will say “you’re right.” Because, people try hard…why should I use my Wonder Twin powers and ruin that?

Of course that means that when someone does really shock me, it’s even better! Such was the case yesterday when my youngest (let’s call him “Gleek”) handed me a present that was obviously a book. I mean, come on…I could feel the binding!) For weeks he had told me that he had gotten me something at work and had hinted that it was a small stuffed orangutan so I assumed that he’d had a last minute change of heart and went with a book he picked up somewhere. Fair enough.

to my surprise, it wasn’t just any book. It was the autobiography of Tennis icon Arthur Ashe and when I looked inside, I noticed that it was signed! Now, Arthur Ashe has been dead for quite a while, so Gleek pulling this one off was pretty miraculous by anyone’s standards!

According to him, he was helping out a dear friend and local bookseller who asked him if he had his mother’s Christmas present yet. Gleek said “no” to which this wonderful “Bookmama” said, “I’ve got you covered.” She handed him the book which prompted him to ask, “Who’s Arthur Ashe?” This question illicited  the rather shocked reponse, “You live in your mother’s house, and you DONT know who Arthur Ashe is?” Gleek thought about it for a minute and said, “Well, I’ve heard of Arhtur Ashe stadium…isn’t that at the U.S. Open?” Um….duh, Kid. To his credit, he realized that this must be a big deal and took the time to actually looked him up and put all of the pieces together. He even asked a few of his friends at the Zoo if they knew who Ashe was. (They did and assured him that I would be blown away by the gift!)

And I was. Not only because I have such dear friends who would look out for my kid like that, but also because my son took the time to research the gift so that he would have a better handle on what he had given me. I don’t think that even O.Henry could have come up with a better tale.

Of course this also means that the boy can look me in the eye and lie to me rather convincingly which causes me to rethink all of the cookies, crackers and snack foods that have gone missing overs her years and his constant insistence that he was not the culprit. He’s actually had me thinking that the “not me” ghost might be real! Guess the jig is up on that one son, and it’s time to shake the mothballs out of my spidey senses.

Merry Christmas everyone!

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Confessions of a Cynical Catholic

advent4    As a child who was raised in a home comprised of two religions, there were certain sacramentals and rituals that we didn’t do. For example, my mother never hung a crucifix. I have no idea what she did with her leftover Palm Sunday palms. We didn’t have the words to the Hail Mary or other traditional prayers affixed to the refrigerator like some of my friends did and we didn’t have an advent wreath. This last item was extremely perplexing to me because I knew for a fact that my father’s church had a large advent wreath in the front of their sanctuary during the appropriate season, so I knew he wasn’t against it or anything…but regardless…we didn’t have one at home.

Because of this oversight, I was denied what I consider to be one of the greatest events of the build up to Christmas…the lighting of the fourth candle on the advent wreath. I never saw it growing up…ever. Each year I would watch as the servers lit the various candles at Mass or my teacher led us in a daily reading complete with our own miniature advent wreath, but the third candle was as far as I got. By the  start of the fourth week, we were on Christmas break and I had no idea what happened. Before you tell me that I still should have seen it at Mass…I have to say I had one of those moms who didn’t always adhere to the whole Holy Day of obligation thing when there was still shopping to do, gifts to wrap and food to prepare. Not only that, but she still and to hold down a 40-hour a week job at a time when bosses didn’t understand “flex scheduling.” As a result, if the fourth Sunday of Advent occurred a few days before we would have to double back to Mass for Christmas Eve services…guess which one we attended?

So I never saw the fourth candle lit and it wasn’t until I was in my late teens that I first saw a completely lit Advent wreath. There is something so amazing about the sight go the candles glowing after a month of preparations. The short stubby first week candle looks like it has been through Hell and back while the rest stair step to the nearly pristine fourth candle. (By the way, it always seemed like the fourth candle gets a raw deal in the whole production as it is lit for far fewer days – especially on years when Advent seems shorter than others.)

As silly as it may sound, my kids know that I get absolutely giddy over the fourth Sunday in advent as much if not more so than Christmas itself. Now that I have my own advent wreath, there is no “missing week” and nothing is incomplete. The season of preparation unfolds as it should and I don’t feel like I skipped ahead somehow. The way I see it, God didn’t intend for us to skip over the portions of His story and only show up for the good stuff. He wants us there for it all and He is there to light the way. If you are a parent like my mom who thinks missing one Mass is no big deal, I beg of you…take the time. Let them see the fourth candle. Let your children complete their advent journey. even if they don’t have a handle on the whole thing yet, trust me…they think about it. They won’t tell you, but deep down inside, they have been building to something and when it’s not there…well it’s not the same. Take it from someone whose been there. Don’t snuff out the light inside of them.




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MHH Column December: “Present” Tense

Surprise-surprise     I don’t mind telling you that I am an expert present hider. I mean I’m scary good at it. I’ll disguise the hottest gizmo of the year in a bright pink Victoria’s Secret bag, have my sons sign for their own gifts from the UPS man and then convince them that I ordered the complete series of Sex & The City on Blu-Ray. No one is ever the wiser.

I did not learn these tricks from my parents but because of them. My folks were not the brightest bulbs in the box when it came to hiding gifts. Every year they would take the day off work, do all of their shopping, hide everything in the attic and threaten my brother and I with bodily harm should we decide to do a little snooping.

“If you pull down the attic ladder, something will fall on your head and the surprise will be ruined,” my mother warned.

This statement was akin to waving a red flag in front of a bull as far as I was concerned. Exactly what would hit me? I wondered. Would it be the actual present or something else? (Visions of being pelted by Strawberry Shortcake haunt me to this day.) Would it require stitches?

For weeks, my brother and I watched as my parents journeyed to the attic pausing only to remove a ratty sleeping back from the fold out ladder. THAT was their defense? Amateurs!

It didn’t take long for us to spring the booby trap and do some “investigating.” To play fair, I didn’t want to but my brother made me join in for fear that if I wasn’t in on the caper, I would tattle on him. (He was probably right.) However, we were not prepared for the pre-wrapped booty that awaited us and left us as clueless as we were before.

“I guess we’ll have to unwrap a couple,” my brother said, picking at the tape of one package with his name on it. I demurred, after all I didn’t want to OD on my delinquency.

If the experience taught me anything, it was not to underestimate the curiosity of a child at Christmas time. The most innocent looking cherub can become as deceitful as the devil himself if they think that a sleeping bag may be the only thing stopping them from seeing their long-wished for Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine. When it came time to hide my own children’s presents I not only hid them in plain sight, but when they weren’t looking, I removed them off property completely and took them to my mother’s house. I thought I was so clever, but it turned out I wasn’t the first person in my family to think of it.

“We used to do that with you kids’ presents,” my mom said.

Her words surprised me. “Really? When was this?”

“The year after you and Bruce climbed into the attic when we told you not to,” she replied.

“How did you know about that?” I asked, amazed by her admission.

With a bemused twinkle in her eye my mother said, “Because Julie, Santa knows EVERYTHING!”

Yes he does, Mom. Yes he does.


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Glo Column December: A Kiss Is Just A Kiss

Me and Jack3            Jack has been my best friend for as long as I can remember.

We met over toy telephones and it was a match made in heaven. Like Forrest and Jenny the two of us were the proverbial peas and carrots and were inseparable for the majority of our childhood. We practically lived at each other’s houses and became honorary members of each other’s families. Our lives were so intertwined that very few of my memories don’t feature him in one way or another. No matter if we were riding bikes, playing ball at the local Little League field or engaging in a healthy game of “I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours” it seemed as if we did everything together.

It wasn’t always easy to have a boy “friend,” of course and we certainly endured our fair share of teasing from those who seemed unconvinced that our relationship could be anything other than platonic, but it was. I never thought about Jack being a boy anymore than he thought about me being a girl.   Me and Jack 1

Except at Christmas time. The one time of year when my ordinarily sane best friend was driven to distraction by the thought of chasing me under the mistletoe in hopes of getting the customary reward for his efforts.

I don’t know if it was the sound of Bing Crosby, snow on the ground or some kind of testosterone surge running through his budding hormones, but in the three weeks leading to the holidays, he became uncharacteristically amorous and I avoided him like the plague. I would insist that we hang out at his house (a mistletoe-free zone.) I begged my mother not to hang our fake sprig of the aphrodisiac between the dining room and the kitchen and if all else failed, I trained like an Olympic sprinter in order to outrun him whenever he stopped by to play.

“You know Julie, you could just give him a kiss,” my mother suggested.

“Are you out of your mind?” I panted after a rather long-winded race when I was 10. “I’m not giving my first kiss to Jack! He’s my friend not a…boy!”

Me and Jack 2           “Has it occurred to you that maybe he likes you?” Mom observed, giving me one of those maddening all-knowing smiles and overemphasizing the word like.

I seriously doubted it. Jack was too much like family to me. Now his little brother? That was another story altogether. Over the years, I’d become accustomed to fending off his affections and was quite deft in my avoidance technique, but I knew that Jack’s seasonal romanticism was a temporary condition; and one that put a dent in my holiday cheer.

My mother argued that if I let Jack kiss me, it would get the whole thing out of his system for the year and we could get on with our lives. I had a problem with her theory. Not only did it prove that she wasn’t on my side in this matter, but she clearly hadn’t read If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.  Me and Jack 4

One year I gave in out of shear exhaustion. Jack chased me into a corner of my parents’ bedroom where I begrudgingly agreed to let him kiss me…on the hand. On another occasion, I caved to a memorable peck on the forehead, but more often than not, I simply counted down the days until December 26 when the decorations came down, I got my best friend back and we put all of this kissing nonsense aside for another year.

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Fabulous Fridays: Reasons I no longer shop on “Black Friday”

BF1      About 5 p.m. last night, my neighborhood came alive with sounds of cars coming through the main drive of the subdivision like an advancing army. Now, I was not out there doing a security check, but I suspect that most of them were not holiday guests leaving in order to make it home in time for the football game but eager shoppers looking to get the best bargains on a day known to everyone as “Black Friday.”

As you all know, I used to do it too. I was all about being at whatever location at some ungodly hour of the morning…but I don’t anymore and the evidence suggests to me that I might have given it up just in the nick of time. I vaguely remember actually stopping by Kmart on Thanksgiving about 13 years ago to check out some doorbuster deal, but they were the only retailer crazy enough to be open all day on Turkey Day. Now they all open in the afternoon and because people want to save some cash, they will be there. Good luck to you…but I will be at home. I’m taking a stand on this. No CEO needs my money that badly.

I have grown to have monumental problems with the whole Black Friday shopping thing so I decided to list some of my issues for a fun Fabulous Fridays post:

1. It’s no longer Black FRIDAY: I seriously question the education of the geniuses who have decided that Black Friday actually begins on a Thursday. This is not rocket science people. In fact, if you were raised correctly and learned the days of the week in Kindergarten, then you know that if there is a sale going on the day BEFORE Black Friday. It is a Thanksgiving Day sale. Why is this? Because it is happening on Thanksgiving. I understand the doors will be open long into Friday, but what kind of example are you setting here? You don’t have an “After Christmas sale” BEFORE Christmas, do you? If you are a 24-hour emporium such as Wal-Mart or Meijer, and your sale circular starts on Thursday, you don’t honor those prices on Wednesday, do you? No…I didn’t think so and don’t try to tell me that there is something different about this. Friday is the day that comes after Thursday…don’t make it more complicated than it is, people. You are doing nothing for future generations by screwing up the days of the week like this!

BF2      2. Black Friday is not a holiday: I’m not sure when Black Friday became it’s own “thing” but once upon a time the day after Thanksgiving was simply known as the “biggest retail day of the year.” That’s pretty tasteful in my opinion. But somehow, over time it grew ominous, it became “Black Friday” and loomed like an approaching storm on the horizon. It had such a weird and almost gloomy connotation that now we have to try and make it festive in hopes that no one will notice that it is encroaching on the rest of the week and has become something akin to Mardi Gras, summer vacation and other multi-day events. It’s a sale, people! Let’s not loose perspective, here.

BF4     3. It’s not worth it: Oh sure, you can pick up some good deals, you will make the people on your holiday list happy, but seriously? I can’t help thinking that the real object of Black Friday may be to be the last man standing with as much stuff in their trunks and have the most money left over. I know for a fact that there are people who treat it like a game or a sport and I find that a little disconcerting. We try and tell each other that its the gifts we can’t buy that matter, but on Black Friday people will go crazy trying to purchase happiness. I’m not convinced we are sending the right message to future generations.


BF3     4. Service is no better on Black Friday: In fact, it’s usually worse though I will admit that stores seem to be a dab more organized than they are at any time of the year. I have been in stores where the associates have no idea what is on sale, who barely got any sleep the night before and whose nerves are frazzled trying to keep up with pushy and demanding shoppers in search of God only knows what that they think they can’t live without. Trust me, you can. If you have toilet paper and food in your home, you will get through the day just fine. No where is it written that you must have an LED HDTV (I have checked the Ten Commandments, the Constitution, the Magna Carte and my HOA rules just to make certain of that fact.)

5. It’s just not fair to the employees: Look, I get it. they have to work on this incredibly long weekend. That’s fine. But does it have to start on the Holiday itself? I have always felt sorry for movie theater employees who have to work on holidays but this is just ten times worse. The shear number of people who have to now work on Thanksgiving is insane. I can’t help missing the days when only the occasional grocery store was opened, we actually had a fair amount of time with our family and friends and CEOs knew how to put PEOPLE before the PROFITS and at least had the decency not to open their stores before 6 a.m. on Friday.

I can’t help wondering how long it will be before Thanksgiving is merely those few hours we spend fueling up for the shopping olympics and the meaning of the day is lost entirely. It’s slowly happening folks and while I can be tongue-in-cheek about it, I can’t ignore the facts. Black Friday is fine, but let’s not lose sight of what’s really important. Sales happen every week. Family, friends and memories are fleeting.

Until next time, Keep Rockin,



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MHH Column: Restoring a labor of love

IMG_7971       It is hands down, the most ambitious home renovation I have ever embarked on. The property is a charming fixer upper that has been in my family for more than three decades, but in the past 16 years or so, has fallen into a state of disrepair due to abandonment and neglect.

There is no electricity and no running water. The windows are long gone, the roof deck is missing and the only hint of the structure’s former glory lies in the faded yellow paper still clinging to the walls in a variety of patterns like some kind of tribute to bad taste.

As I survey each room, I can’t help thinking about the family who called this place home once upon a time. They were a lovely, lively group who made many memories in the three-bedroom mansion and I have no doubt that there would have been many more had they not been unceremoniously evicted when the owner of the property did the unthinkable: She grew up.

IMG_7973    No question about it. Restoring the dollhouse my father built for me is a unique undertaking. As I strip the old wallpaper from the gutted structure and clean the furnishings I collected over several Christmases and birthdays, I am flooded with memories of this labor of love that my father spent two years of his life constructing.

This was no ordinary dollhouse. This was a massive structure that featured ¾” plywood, removable roof panels and individual shingles made from old slatted closet door material that my father seemed to have in limitless supply. It was a far cry from the cute, decorative (read: flimsy) models I was used to seeing in Frank’s Nursery and Crafts. My father was determined to make his strong enough to withstand the energy of an accident-prone nine-year-old. He succeeded and when I retrieved the house from the garage loft after my mother passed, I was thrilled to see that my father’s work, for the most part, had stood the test of time.

IMG_7976     There are certainly things that need to be done and challenges to be met over the course of the endeavor to freshen the house. I have no doubt that most of those challenges will shorten my life and cause more of my hair to turn gray, but I’m willing to take those on one room at a time. I’ve discovered that the windows and doors are not a standard size making replacement parts difficult to find. There is the formal dining room that is all-but-impossible to reach and I can’t help wondering how I will finish out that space without calling in the talents of a reputable, flea-sized paper hanging company, but I remain hopefully optimistic.

Because I know that in my quiet moments, when my mind is still, the answers will come. Perhaps out of my own ingenuity, or perhaps it is Dad offering me the solution to the situation in an effort to contribute something to this posthumous father/daughter project that will be enjoyed by generations of our family to come.

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Fabulous Fridays- Favorite Holiday Songs

I love holiday tunes…there is nothing quite like turning on the radio and knowing the words to every song that comes on! Of course, the playlist does get repetitive after a while, but there are some REALLY good ones out there that I can listen to over and over again. Unfortunately…those aren’t always the ones that get played.

Anyway…in honor of the season- here are some of my personal favorite renditions

Celine     1. O Holy Night: This is a classic carol that can be sung with full on forte or or in a breathy hush that honors the solemnity of the occasion. While a lot of people like Mariah’s version of this (and it is certainly impressive,) it’s a little too over-the-top for me. I like Celine Dion or Josh Groban’s version in terms of powerhouse vocalists and love Jewel’s simple take on the song that is easy to sing along with.

Jewel - Joy-A Holiday Collection-front     2. Go Tell It On the Mountain Medley: This song isn’t featured on a lot of holiday albums, so I was really excited when Jewel included it on hers and paired it with a couple of non-Christmas tunes such as “From a Distance” and “Life Uncommon.” Somehow it all fits and it is beautifully appropriate for the season. (honestly…the whole album is REALLY good so if you haven’t added it to your holiday collection…I highly recommend it!)

3. God Bless Us Everyone: Found on Celine Dion’s Christmas CD These are Special Times, this tune is beautifully written and doesn’t beat you over the head with holly, jolly lyrics. Make no mistake, it is a holiday song, but focuses on the gratitude we should have all year long rather than one day a year.

4. Christmas Eve: Last Celine Dion song, I swear…love the rock and roll beat of this one that evokes a 1960’s girl group feel. Sadly, I never hear it on the radio. “Walking with you in a winter snow, kissing underneath the mistletoe, people smiling everywhere we go, it’s Christmas Eve and they can see we’re in love…”

5. Mary Did You Know?: It’s really hard not to be moved by a song that calls into question what the Blessed Mother might have been thinking as she cared for her Son who was unlike any other person on the planet. I like Wynona’s version of this one..mainly because it’s in my key.

OPI-Mariah-Carey-Holiday-2013-nail-polish-collection    6. All I want for Christmas: It’s nearly becoming too overplayed for my taste, but again, I like the pop beat of it and I can’t deny that Mariah kills it. Hate the Beiber version though.

220px-JoshGroban_Noel    7. Little Drummer Boy: This is a strange song. I have learned that people either really like it or really hate it. Not a lot of middle ground there. My youngest son loves the Bob Seger version while other family members prefer the traditional choral renditions…personally…I like the Bing Crosby/David Bowie collaboration as well as Josh Groban’s version. Pa rum pa pum pum…


8. Carol of the Bells: Any song that challenges a vocalist’s breathing ability THAT much is a good idea.

Band+Aid+-+Do+They+Know+It's+Christmas?+-+SHAPED+PICTURE+DISC-16791         9. Do They Know It’s Christmas?: When this song came out, I loved the idea of so many musicians getting together for a good cause, but at the time, I hated the fact that it was a one-time only kind of song…BOY, was I wrong! Now that it is a holiday classic, I get to enjoy it again and again and relive the ’80s idealism that music could save the world.

10. Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer: When it comes to the kids’ songs…few can compare to the story of the outcast reindeer whose talent surpassed all of those who bullied him and gave him the top spot on Santa’s Sleigh Team. Rudolph


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Fabulous Fridays-Searching for the past

benji        Anyone who knows me will tell you that I have been blessed (or cursed, depending on how you look at it) with a VERY complete memory. I may not be good with faces and names, but I can remember nearly every school lunchbox that I had, can tell you (in order) the dolls I received for Christmas and have been known to recall specific incidents of my childhood with uncanny accuracy including quoted dialogue. (I swear sometimes I feel like a walking reference library!)

So it’s only natural that I feel a little out of sorts when a memory trips through my head and it’s just incomplete enough to be annoying. This happened to me the other day when I made mention of a lovely book I owned as a child called “Day by Day.” Well…I think it was called “Day By Day” but now I am not sure and that is the crux of my dilemma. Ordinarily, I’m pretty good at this game. When I remember something like a book title or an album, I usually have enough information stored in my brain to riddle it out and find what I am looking for, but this one truly has be stumped. I have literally spent several unproductive hours trying to figure this out, because I know I can’t be too far off and I know it will drive me crazy until I do.

It’s not like I haven’t found other elusive titles from my past. Here are just a few I could not recall but eventually found. Why is this one so difficult?

Leftover witch     The Leftover Witch. Hilarity ensues when a witch gets left behind on Halloween night. My version of the book had a different cover, but same title.

Pigeon Ladies     The Wicked Pigeon Ladies in the Garden. I can still remember my fourth grade teacher reading us this one. Watch out though…it’s extremely rare and will cost a fortune through an Amazon seller.

Dog next door     The Dog Next Door. I used this reader in the third grade and it’s amazing that I ever found the image of it considering that mine was covered with a gold book cover all year and I only saw the actually cover twice. (Seriously, all I had to go on was a teal color and the publisher’s name!)

So in case you feel like helping me riddle out this mysterious book, here’s what I know for sure about it:

  • It’s title was something like “Day by Day”
  • From the illustrations I remember, it looked like it might have been published in the 50’s or 60’s. (All of the people seemed to have a  “Leave it to Beaver” style.)
  • It had a yellow cover but there might have been some additional pastels in it as well.
  • The font on the cover was long and thin.
  • It “felt” a bit like a school book and if memory serves, it was more “square” than rectangle.
  • The stories were little vignettes about healthy living. The first one had these two kids going shopping for new school clothes and in another scene they are eating lunch with their teacher and getting a drink from the drinking fountain. One of the kids asks how much water they should drink each day and the teacher tells them that they can drink as much water as they like. (You would truly think that if I remembered THAT much I could come up with this darn title, wouldn’t you?)
  • It possible that I might have had a later edition of a previously published book.


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