Wednesday, December 30, 2020

A Festive #Yuletide - It is a Wonderful Life #Christmas

I was watching that quintessential classic, It's A Wonderful Life tonight while I was decorating more cookies. (As many know, I like to keep my Yuletide celebrations going until Twelfth Night.) I usually watch this movie every year, but this year something was different. The message meant more to me. At the end, I was in tears. I've always been touched by this film, but this year, it really made me reflect. 

We've all had a rough year...the entire world. Many have lost loved ones, friends. We've been separated from our families and our social groups. Our way of life is not the same. Will it ever be? These are the questions and these are the struggles we are all having. 

As I look ahead to the new year with hope, I keep in my mind the message of It's a Wonderful Life. It IS a wonderful life. Every single one of us matter. Every one of us would be missed if we were gone. Every life we have ever touched would be changed forever if we never existed. 

So, think on it. I know it's hard right now, but just being alive is wonderful. Our family and friends knowing we are out there somewhere, and finding comfort in it, is wonderful. Hope is wonderful, and so is love. 

It really, truly is a wonderful life. 

Always in spirit...

Sunday, December 27, 2020

A Festive #Yuletide - Weekend #Baking Sugar Cookies #Christmas

During Christmas in July this year, I shared a recipe for Amish Sugar Cookies, a favorite I've whipped up during the pandemic many times. I really love to bake, but for some reason, during the holidays this year, I lacked motivation or any desire to bake cookies...something I love to do every year. I simply could not muster the gumption or inclination to make roll out dough and royal icing. So, I looked for shortcuts. I wanted to be able to outline, and fill in by flooding, the cookies without having to mix up multiple batches of icing. I've tried frosting with canned cake frosting before, but I wanted a more streamlined look. Well, I found an idea by Googling it.

This lady suggested halving the can of frosting. Half a can as is in a piping bag with piping tip (I use cake decorator squeeze bottles with piping tips) and the other half, melt in the microwave (15-20 seconds), stir and place in a squeeze bottle (I bought a few extras from Walmart- very affordable). I used white, blue, red, and green frosting from the can. Yes, they do sell those vibrant colors (again, Walmart came through). Thanks to my sis for the heads up. Now, I outlined with the plain white, and the colors, and only flooded with melted frosting in white. I didn't want to mess with flooding all the different colors since I was going to be using sprinkles anyway. 

My second dilemma was an alternative to rolling out and cutting the cookies. I have a ton of lovely Christmas cookie cutters, but I just wasn't in to the hassle this year. Then I had an idea. Why not make Amish Sugar Cookies, but just a little different than the normal way. I mixed up the batch and once I was ready to bake, I scooped each cookie (approximately 1.5 tablespoon) and then rolled it into a ball. I placed the balls on the baking sheet (lined with parchment paper), as directed. Then I flattened each cookie with the bottom of a glass dipped in flour. After baking, the cookies came out almost perfectly round. Voilà! Ornaments! I decorated with the frosting (as above) and sprinkles. Here's some of my finished product (I still have more to decorate). They're not perfect, but pretty nonetheless, in my opinion. 

Visit this post for the Amish Sugar Cookies recipe.
The frosting technique can be found at Lady Behind the Curtain.

Always in spirit...

Friday, December 25, 2020

Merry Christmas - May your days be merry and bright...

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know
Where the tree tops glisten
And children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow, oh, the snow

I said, I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
With every Christmas card I write
May your days be merry and bright
And may all your Christmas' be white

I said, I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know
Where the tree tops glisten
And children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
With every Christmas card I write
May your days, may your days, may your days
Be merry and bright
And may all your Christmas' be white

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
With every Christmas card I write
May your days be merry and bright
And may all your Christmas' be white

Always in spirit...

Thursday, December 17, 2020

A Festive #Yuletide - C.J.Livingstone shares the story of Santa Inc. #Christmas

Hello! My name is C.J.Livingstone. Well that’s my pen name but most people just call me Chris. I am very excited to be doing this guest post because 1. It’s nearly Christmas and I am just generally excited about life; and 2. I’m looking forward to connecting to lots of lovely Christmas readers! 

Of course this post is timely because we are drawing ever closer to the big day and my book, Santa Inc. has a distinctly Christmassy theme. I wanted to take this opportunity to tell you a little bit about myself and the book.

So about me: I have been writing for a long time but I actually started out as a musician in England. I played in lots of bands with varying degrees of success (or should I say lack of success). Then one day as I walked through Regents Park in London I got chatting to an American girl who would become my future wife and my life took a completely different turn as a few months later I moved to California. I have been here ever since. What started me writing was honestly the fact that I was tired of arguing with musicians about creative direction! So I gave writing a go instead.

Originally I was mostly writing screenplays and I was lucky enough to go to the Cannes Film Festival during that time which was an absolute blast. I managed to get a ten piece brass band from Norway to serenade Stacy Dash on a super yacht. Why? I can’t remember. 

When I moved to the US I started working for a small production company and was immediately sent out to the Utah desert to drive Christian Slater and Gary Oldman around. It was tremendous fun and I learned a lot about Hollywood and most importantly about crafting stories. I also read a huge amount of screenplays—some good but mostly bad—which I really think helped me inform my writing style.

But something in screenplay writing was not quite satisfying either, it always felt like a screenplay was not quite the finished article—kind of like a caterpillar waiting to become a butterfly. So after that I attempted my first book. That was the story that would end up becoming Hogtown, my first two books in fact. I really wanted to write about the process of becoming a musician, almost as a letter to my younger self about the things that I would have done differently if I had known better. The first draft came in at a whopping six hundred pages and about one hundred pages per chapter. After realizing that there wasn’t really a market for that I chopped it in half and cut the chapters to bite sized chunks and so it became two slightly more readable books.

All writing is a great learning experience and after I finished that process (which took 5 years start to finish) I started looking around for my next challenge. I had written Santa Inc. as a screenplay years before and I always liked the story so I dusted it off and started writing the novel version. At this point I had two kids and I was reading to them all the time so really my inspiration was to just write a book that we could all enjoy reading together. I really wanted a story that would have something in it for everyone. I loved Roald Dahl growing up and I always enjoy a bit of Dickens so that’s the style I went for with some contemporary references thrown in for good measure. I must admit that I do enjoy those darker elements of storytelling—bad people and bad situations always make for the most compelling tales. But I remain perennially enchanted by Christmas and so I decided to build my story around that theme.

Flash forward two plus years and here I am with the finished copy in my hands. So about the book: Santa Inc. is the story of Eric, an orphan living in a decrepit orphanage in New York City under the guardianship of two horrible wards who finds his way through a tunnel in the basement into Santa Inc.—the global headquarters of Santa’s business empire. Eric’s simple and straightforward way of looking at the world helps Santa—now a hardened businessman—to rekindle the true spirit of the season.

I had so much fun writing this book because I really let my imagination run wild. It’s full of interesting characters, all with their own wants and needs who twist and turn the story in different ways. And I had a great time putting this young orphan into these very ordinary experiences of working in an office and completely turning them on their head. And for the adults who have the pleasure of working in those office cubes I’m sure you will find some of those office scenes entertaining.

I based the character of Eric somewhat on my own kids and my observation of their endless ability to imagine and their enthusiasm and excitement for the world. I also based him on my father who has a remarkable ability to wander into just about any situation and embroil himself in mischief and adventure within it. I really wanted to tap into the idea that the world is full of endless possibility and that anyone can change for the better if they allow it. As Eric makes his way through the story he encounters many adults who’ve twisted themselves around their own axle so to speak—those who have given up or who’ve been turned over by life one too many times and simply have no more to give. But through the power of his honest and simple questions he affects changes within them—sometimes big, sometimes small. 

So far, I am very pleased to say that the reception to the book has been overwhelming and I am getting a lot of positive feedback. I was very excited when I was approached by a producer to option the book to turn it into a movie. I kind of feel like the project has come full circle in that respect. 

But not to rest on my laurels for a moment—my first children’s illustrated book is coming out next year. It’s based on my life-long love of trains. I teamed up with a very talented illustrator called Tim Banks who did the cover design for Santa Inc. I am also working on my next novel which will be another darkish fantasy with a twist based on teddy bears—more inspiration from my kids.

Christmas this year will be low key and spent with just my immediate family. I am missing my 97 year old grandmother in England and hope to see her in early 2021. But all in all I remain grateful and excited about what adventures the holiday season will yield—even if they will mostly be among the pages of a book.

I love hearing from readers, book lovers and Christmas enthusiasts alike so please find me on Instagram @c.j.livingstone, Facebook @cjlivingstoneauthor and online at

If you sign up for my email list on the website you will get exclusive access to early copies and other bonus materials. Plus I’ll send you a free ebook!

For now I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. 

Peace, good health and love –


About Santa Inc.

Back of the book blurb:
Eric is a ‘different’ eight year old with a vivid and untamed imagination. But in Our Lady of Mercy Orphanage, the decrepit old building where he lives, wicked Sister Prudence fills the orphaned boy’s days with work and chores. When Eric is locked in the basement for misbehavior, he discovers a tunnel to the building next door. There he finds Santa Inc., the global headquarters of Santa’s business empire. This begins an adventure that changes the boy’s lives forever and reawakens in Santa the true spirit of Christmas.

In Santa Inc. it is sometimes not clear what is imagination and what is real. The story weaves between the grim despair of a dilapidated orphanage to the whimsical world of the skyscraper next door that just happens to belong to Santa. There are plenty of colorful characters and adventures along the way as Eric precariously balances his dual life between the two. One thing is always consistent——Eric’s ability to aggravate adults by asking them simple questions. Santa Inc. is about hope and deliverance. Friendship and sacrifice. And the ability of the human spirit to flourish when given a little love.

The book is suitable for all ages and can be enjoyed by children and adults alike.

About the author
C.J.Livingstone is a writer and musician. Originally from England, he now resides in California. After starting out in the music industry he moved to Los Angeles to pursue writing. Santa Inc. is his third novel.

Always in spirit...

Monday, December 14, 2020

A #Festive Yuletide: Evan Mazunik shares his new #Christmas album, Amid the Cold

Evan Mazunik’s full-length holiday album, Amid the Cold (2020), features original arrangements of Christmas carols. Mazunik as solo artist fuses jazz piano, vintage synthesizers, electronic interludes, spoken word, and samples from outer space.

Track listing (featured songs in bold):

1. Citizens of Heaven – 0:43
2. Exultation (O Come, All Ye Faithful) – 3:30
3. Haste, Haste (What Child Is This) – 3:10
4. Fear And Trembling (Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence) – 3:39
5. The Great Conjunction – 0:47
6. Guiding Star (As With Gladness Men Of Old) – 4:12
7. Mother Mild (Once In Royal David’s City) – 3:55
8. On Toward Night (Creator of the Stars/Silent Night) – 2:50
9. The Black Widow – 0:44
10. Amid The Cold (Lo, How A Rose E’er Blooming) – 5:45
11. Cradle Song (Away In A Manger) – 2:36
12. Hush The Noise (It Came Upon The Midnight Clear) – 4:13
13. The Mirrie Dancers – 0:35
14. Ours The Mirth (Personnel Hodie) – 1:50
15. Comfort And Joy (God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen) – 2:32
16. Everlasting Light (O Little Town Of Bethlehem) – 2:40


All songs arranged or composed by Evan Mazunik
(c) 2020 Bliss Street Studios (ASCAP)

Recorded by Colin Bricker at Mighty Fine Productions (Denver, CO)
Cover art by Colette Mazunik 

Click the link below to listen on various platforms:

Purchase Amid the Cold here

About Evan
Ever since starting piano lessons as a near-sighted 4-year-old, Evan Mazunik has blurred the lines between crisp melodies and impressionistic embellishments at the keyboard. With his adventurous arrangements, Evan reworks his roots in jazz and sacred music to craft darkly introspective instrumentals.

For his recent full-length album, Amid the Cold, Evan transforms classic Christmas carols, combining jazz piano with vintage synthesizers. “Growing up, I was immersed in music around the holidays, from Vince Guaraldi’s soundtrack for a Charlie Brown Christmas to Mannheim Steamroller songs on the radio,” the Denver-based artist reminisced. “As I compiled original arrangements of some of my favorite Christmas carols, I wove all of those influences into this solo album.”

“In the face of…well, 2020, I wrestled with even releasing a holiday record this year,” he said. “When shutdowns began in March, I wasn’t even sure if the recording studio I had picked would stay afloat.” Evan continued, “But it did, and when I eventually sat down to record these songs, it was tempting to shut myself off to all the upheavals around me and escape into a numbing nostalgia. Instead, I decided to be clear-eyed and transparent about my emotions, so this album reflects the full range of my feelings about this moment. And, while there are some darker songs on this record, I still stubbornly find a way to express hope and joy in this season.”

With online listening parties, livestream shows, and a series of videos on the making of Amid the Cold, he has adapted his album release plans for current circumstances. “Although traditional options like live performance venues and touring aren’t currently available, I’m still committed to bringing bit of warmth with my music, especially on a year when many holiday parties have been canceled,” Evan said. “I continually find in the story of Christmas a hope that, even in the darkest hour, justice and peace break in. Even on the longest night, goodness can come to us, often unnoticed—as the carol says, ‘amid the cold of winter, when half spent was the night.’” Amid the Cold (released Oct 30) is available in both digital and physical formats.

Visit Evan:

Always in spirit...

Saturday, December 12, 2020

A Festive #Yuletide - #Christmas #Horror "Rare Exports"

Some of you may not know that I'm a huge horror buff. So, while I'm watching all the heartwarming new movies (Hallmark Channel, anyone?) and cherished favorites, I'm also watching some Christmas themed horror movies. 

Christmas actually has a long history of connection with horror. For instance, the central European popular legend, Krampus, a half-goat, half-demon monster that punishes misbehaving children at Christmastime. He is the devilish companion of St. Nicholas. Krampus is believed to have originated in Germany, and his name derives from the German word Krampen, which means “claw. Many of these countries still have festivals at Christmastime which feature various Krampus incarnations. Pretty scary. I'm sure many children have been quite frightened by this legend. I wonder if they behaved better than Western children who were only warned they would be left off Santa's "Nice" list...but I digress.

The Christmas horror film, Rare Exports (2010) plays on the old, old traditions of Christmas, focusing on Santa Claus as an ancient being (the real Santa Claus is said to have been a monk, St. Nicholas, who lived around 280 AD) who was buried in a burial mound. Said burial mound is about to be excavated and much horror ensues....slaughtered reindeer, kidnapped children in potato sacks, a huge block of ice (ancient Santa) with enormous horns sticking out (did Santa have horns? Sounds like Krampus to me). The film is set in Lapland and is in Finnish so you have to watch it with subtitles. Believe me. It's totally worth it. There is some nudity in the film (the elves are old, Santa-looking beings who are nude for some weird reason...not a pretty sight) so don't watch it with the kiddos. lol

In the depths of the Korvatunturi mountains, 486 meters deep, lies the closest ever guarded secret of Christmas. The time has come to dig it up. This Christmas everyone will believe in Santa Claus. IMDB

Do you watch Christmas horror films? If so, share some favorites. 

Always in spirit...

Thursday, December 10, 2020

A Festive #Yuletide - Celebrating Jonathan Antoine's new #Christmas album, ChristmasLand #GIVEAWAY

And the winner is...Lisa Renshaw (watch for an email from David McNally)! Congrats!

On December 4th, celebrated UK tenor Jonathan Antoine released his first Christmas album, ChristmasLand. Produced by Grammy award winning Gregg Field remotely from LA and featuring the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, New Zealand’s Choristers of Wellington Cathedral of St Paul and the Tudor Consort, ChristmasLand was recorded at London’s Abbey Road Studios across three time zones. It includes a magnificent selection of universally beloved Christmas classics, promising to be a family favourite during the festive season for years to come. The album’s advance singles include a new version of “Amazing Grace (Grazia)” featuring the world renowned Seattle-based Tudor Consort, as well as the brand new single ‘These Are The Special Times (Momenti Splendidi).’ Originally recorded by Celine Dion in 1998, the track was rewritten by legendary American songwriter Diane Warren, and features a remarkable new Italian lyric by Grammy nominated composer Marco Marinangeli.

Jonathan Antoine was first introduced to the world at the age of 17 on Britain’s Got Talent with what became the world’s most viewed television audition of any performer in history. As the show’s finalist, Jonathan’s career was launched with two #1 selling classical albums in the UK and a global viral following that helped him become the youngest tenor to achieve a #1 selling classical album.

At the age of 24, Jonathan has returned yet another #1 selling album Going the Distance, has received tremendous accolades for his premiere concert television special, and has now released his first ever Christmas Album, ChristmasLand on December 4th, 2020. With a magnificent track list of universally beloved classics, Jonathan’s first foray into the world of Christmas music promises to be a family favorite during the holidays for years to come.

An outspoken supporter and ambassador for the rights and well-being of young people, Jonathan has co-authored a published children’s book helping children to overcome the effects of bullying and to bring awareness and understanding to the issue.

Visit Jonathan's website
Win a copy of ChristmasLand! To enter, leave a comment telling me your favorite Christmas song. Please include your email address in your comment. This contest is open to U.S. entrants only. Last day to enter, Thursday, December 17th at 11:59 pm EST. Good luck!

Always in spirit...

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

A Festive #Yuletide - Upcycled #Christmas Decor with Wellpaper

Wellpaper is...


The primary goal of WELL is to empower local village women with skills to build, manage and maintain self-sustaining units. The women receive training, guidance and support in product development, market and team management, and personal development.

All Wellpaper products are hand-made, upcycled and eco-friendly, transforming recycled newspaper into art and accessories.

Over time, the women’s groups have developed into autonomous units, making their own business decisions towards their goal of financial independence. Today, some of the WELL women are conducting the training workshops themselves to reach other local women and small business units.

Here are some DIY videos, sharing the ladies work. Wonderful!


Take a look at their beautiful Christmas decorations available in their shop. Affordable too! 

Here are a couple of my favorites...

Visit their site, for their full selection. 

Always in spirit... 

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Kicking off A Festive #Yuletide 2020 #Christmas

Starting a little late this year. I've had a lot on my plate. When I last posted during Christmas in July, I was packing for my big move in August from Tennessee to Michigan. What a move it was! Very stressful and fraught with mishaps. I'm still unpacking and shelving books. Almost done and getting ready to put the tree up. I've had the outside lights up for two weeks. Have to start earlier here because of the cold and the snow. Believe me...I'm not complaining. So excited for a white Christmas this year!

Anyway, you may have noticed a name change for the event. I wanted it to reflect the new subtitle of the blog. Plus, change is good, right? It will still be an event filled with all things Christmas, so don't worry. 

Join me in celebrating the season. As usual, I will be sharing Weekend Baking, Weekend Lit, Weekend Crafting...maybe even Friday Baking and Movies. Also, book reviews and other bookish posts...and Christmas Around the World posts. Gift ideas. Just all around festive cheer for my favorite time of year!

If anyone would like to contribute a guest review, or guest post about anything Christmas-y, drop me a line via the contact link in the menu.

If you're looking for some ideas for new Christmas music this year, Ken with The Sounds of Christmas was once again my guest in October and he shared all the new music coming out this year. You can read the post here. Don't forget to stop over and give The Sounds of Christmas a listen. Just click on their logo in the right sidebar.

A reminder: The Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge and Readathon are now co-events. That kicked off on Monday, November 23rd. It's not too late to sign up. The challenge/readathon runs through January 6th. Check out the details here and/or at Seasons of Reading

Let's get this festive Yuletide underway!

Always in spirit...