Over The Hills And Thru The Woods

216285_4304624772516_1857801823_nAs I was growing up, there was an emphasis on Christmas family gatherings, specially on my mother’s side of the family. For as long as I can remember until my late twenty’s we drove long hours through blizzards on icy roads. All making our way to Fisk Street in Muskegon, Michigan. It was a modest home filled with all of the smells and sounds of Christmas.

My Grandmother was a quilt maker and made all thirteen of us grandchildren stockings. She would fill them with all sort of goodies, including toothbrushes and home-made slippers. We’d make up plays and musicals in the basement while the Aunties and Uncles played card games. And of course, we’d share a traditional dinner.  Some years, we would go to the Muskegon City Rescue Mission to serve the Christmas meal to those with no place to call home. There was the occasional ice skating escapade and in later years, we would include a jaunt to the local movie theater to see the latest Christmas block buster.

Then my grandmother died and everything changed.

I suppose it’s probably pretty normal, the natural progression of time. As the grandkids got older and started having their own children, the aunties and uncles began to nurture their own traditions with their immediate families.

It was a pretty good run. I was in my early 30’s when the Christmas of my youth passed away, always to be remembered and cherished but never to be replicated.

SiblingsI’m the oldest child in my immediate family. I have a brother and a sister. My brother and his family live in Wisconsin.  My sister and her son live in Colorado and our parents live in Arizona.

This year, we all made the trek to Colorado for our family Christmas, and for the first time, in a long time, we were all in the same place. We decided to converge in Estes Park, Colorado.

Our five days together were beautiful, incorporating some of the old, as well as, each individual families traditions. We wrapped presents, made cinnamon rolls (the gluten-free didn’t go over as well as I had hoped), papa read a story about the Christmas child and nana carried on her mother’s tradition of all of the little stocking stuffers for the grandkids. We went to see the Hobbit at the local movie theater, enjoyed ice-skating, hiking and playing our favorite card game, Hand and Foot. Technology made a strong appearance this year with Minecraft as a favorite among all of the cousins, I-Phone’s posted photos to Instagram and Facebook, updating all those who cared to have a gander at our family fun. It was a beautiful week together.

There is a longing in all of us to replicated what is good in life. That’s what traditions tap into, right? However, if there is any lesson learned from past experience or from our nomadic journey, it would be that each moment, each experience, is its own. If the future holds another go round, we will embrace it fully. We cherish these moments, savory them while they are happening, all with a healthy understanding that we know not what tomorrow brings.

Rocky Mountain National Forest


The Hollands! Christmas Tour

The Hollands! Christmas Tour. We kick off this weekend in Tucson, AZ.

The Hollands! Christmas Tour


For details on times and cost visit www.thehollands.org 

Looking forward to seeing all you kinfolk out on the open road!


Operation Elf Box

Josh Hart

We are in Bend, OR and our host is Josh Hart, of Operation Elf Box. We met Josh via Facebook three years ago. Josh is a fellow muso, connected in the blues and jam band scene.  He’s a mover and has the energy and drive of a team of people. Inspired by his giving spirit and fortitude to care for his community we reached out and asked if we could be involved, share in life and help however needed. He welcomed us and put us to work! What a joy to be able to roll into a community and dive in.

The story as told by Josh;

Operation Elf BoxAbout Operation Elf Box

A few years have passed since my idea of having a Christmas party began shaping “Operation Elf Box”. Asking each guest to bring a toy, the mission was simple, a brighter Christmas for children less fortunate. A singer songwriter, I began using the stage to get the word out and the promise of toys became significant. Sharing my vision with a friend he offered me a vacant downtown Bend Oregon commercial location, (free of charge) a place he said I could “store toys”.

It didn’t take long to establish, “Elf Store”, a few dozen “Elf Boxes” making their way into local businesses collecting new unwrapped toys. Those toys make their way back to “Elf Store”, stocking the shELVES.

Partnering with area non-profits, schools and Churches, 153 families were referred that first December, meeting with each one mysELF. The second year, 405 families shopped Elf Store, 1045 children receive gifts, the community coming together supplying nearly 6,000 toys, stockings and stuffers. We serve our neighboring cities and counties with nearly 100 volunteers helping out.

“Good Faith” is our policy. Writing with color crayons, we record the first name and age of a child. No applications, we visit with each family by appointment only. Choices empower those who have few to make at this time of year; stockings, stuffers, gifts, wrapping paper, bows and gift labels in their own handwriting! Dignifying, uplifting and lots of FUN, that’s Operation Elf Box!

Operation Elf Box is a grassroots effort, making Christmas brighter for those children disadvantaged in our community. We exist by the kindness of individuals like yoursELF contributing children’s gifts and supplies. Thanks for keeping the party going.

~ Josh Hart, Resident Elf

So here we are parked in his driveway for three weeks, excited to be with our global/local neighbor. This week we’ll attend the Operation Elf Bash, 12/12/12. And, on 12/19 in Bend, and 12/20 in Salem, we’ll be sharing through song and merrymaking at the Elf Box “Celebrate” event just for women, many affected by domestic violence. These are private intimate evenings of just women “celebrating” women. Dinner, dance, Christmas gifts galore, crafts, chocolate, conversation, laughter and tears, we are so honored to be apart of these evenings.