I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” probably isn’t in your Top Ten Christmas carols. As a piano teacher, I can attest to the fact that hardly a single child today has ever heard of it. If you’re among the few who has, you may know it with either this melody (here, sung by Burl Ives. Interesting side note — I noticed this week that this melody plays during the opening to the Christmas “Rudolph” special, which also features Ives) — or this one (which was the one I learned to play on piano as a child).

Editing to add that my mom and cousin let me know of another version of the melody, this time by the group Casting Crowns. Very pretty as well!

But no matter the melody, the words were written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and, as is often the case with hymns, there’s an interesting tale behind how these lyrics came to be. First, enjoy them:

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Till, ringing singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

Most of us know Longfellow as a famous poet. But he experienced some tragic life events. In 1861, his beloved wife Fanny was cutting their 7-year-old daughter, Edith’s, hair. She wanted to save the locks, but while melting sealing wax to close the envelope, she ignited her own clothing. Henry tried extinguishing the flames, and in the act severely burned his own arms, face, and hands. It was all to no avail, as Fanny died from her burns the next day. The familiar photos of an older Longfellow all feature beards — grown to hide the scarring from this incident.

A ‘merry Christmas’ say the children, but that is no more for me, he wrote in his 1862 journal.

Longfellow’s troubles were not over. The Civil War was waging, and his oldest son Charles (“Charlie”) enlisted in the Union army, against his father’s wishes. “I have tried hard to resist the temptation of going without your leave, but I cannot any longer. I feel it to be my first duty to do what I can for my country and I would willingly lay down my life for it if it would be of any good,” the 17-year-old wrote.

Within months, Charlie contracted typhoid and was sent home to recover. Joining again, he was hit in the shoulder and back while fighting in the Battle of New Hope Church in Virginia. Barely missing being paralyzed, the war was over for Charlie. His father wrote the words to the now-famous carol as he helped his son recover.

He also wrote two additional verses which are not sung anymore, but their allusion to the Civil War is clear:

Then from each black accursed mouth

The cannon thundered in the South,

And with the sound,

The carols drowned

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!


It was as if an earthquake rent

The hearth-stones of a continent,

And made forlorn,

The households born

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Clapping in Church

Do you clap in church?

Perhaps I should clarify a little. Do you clap along to the music played in church? If you attend a charismatic church, you’d probably say, “Sure!” If you’re Episcopalian, more likely you’d answer, “Of course not.”

But there’s a vast in-between out there. Growing up, I went to a mostly non-clapping church. Occasionally (usually at revivals), clapping would break out. I never felt comfortable with it, though — blame it on my German heritage or natural reticence.

At my current church, there’s about a 50/50 split. Interestingly, the clappers tend to sit in the front half of the sanctuary, while their quieter brethren usually congregate closer to the back.

I’ll never forget a church service I attended during my 20’s, with a friend, at her decidedly “wilder” church. It was in a strip mall (no, I am not making this up), and to my horror, my friend guided me up to the second row, front and center. The music was quite spirited, and the congregants were not only clapping, but swaying and — dare I say it — “dancing” a bit as well. I stood there, hugely uncomfortable. The pastor stepped up to the pulpit and spoke over the music, urging us, “Don’t stifle the Spirit!” I was now not only feeling awkward, but I had the added burden of suspecting that I was a suspected Spirit-stifler as well.

There’s another time when the issue of clapping in church surfaces. After a musical group performs “special music” (or whatever your particular flavor of church calls it), is there applause? It’s always seemed wrong to me — clapping seems more fitting for a concert. And no one ever claps after the sermon. Yet, often when the solo ends, there’s an uncomfortable pause. Should I clap?

I was on the other side of this recently. I played O Holy Night during the offertory at church. I played it on the piano in front of the church, not on the organ up in the balcony, where I usually sit. I would venture that this resulted in the applause that broke out after I finished. I was pretty surprised; this a community of very non-showy, quiet Lutheran farmers.

I kind of did a (hopefully) subtle nod from the bench and hurried back to the organ. After church, I was walking across the parking lot, when a lady looked up at me. “That was so beautiful!” she said. “Thank goodness someone clapped!”

Hmmmm. Thank goodness someone clapped?

“Oh, I don’t know,” I said, “I’m never comfortable clapping in church.”

She nodded. “Oh, me neither!” she said, and we went our separate ways.

church from the organ balcony

The view from the church balcony — where there’s no clapping going on!

I don’t honestly have any idea whether God would be a clapper or not, but I figure He must have a good laugh about the arguments His people get into over the issue. After all, He made us with all different temperaments and personalities — clappers and non.

So: do you clap in church?


You may also enjoy:

Walking Where Jesus Walked: Visiting Israel

Christmas Music

50 Questions


Menu Plan Monday


It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas this Menu Plan Monday, and that means that menu planning is rather rushed. The way I planned the meals this week was to sit on the couch with a piece of paper, while watching National Lampoon Christmas Vacation on Saturday night (highly recommended). I just thought of foods that sounded good, jotted them down, and now I present them to you — enjoy!

Monday: Chicken Pot Pie — a favorite

Tuesday: Foil Packet Taco Chickenanother family favorite; easy to individualize so it’s great for picky eaters

Wednesday: Cheesy Lentil Loaf – a good meatless option

Thursday: Lasagna Soup — great for cold days; just add bread sticks :)

Friday: Make your own pizza, in which I make pizza dough and each person makes their own pizza with toppings of choice

As promised, here are photos from Saturday’s Christmas piano recital/party. It went very well!

Christmas candy bark

kids playing gamesRudolph peanut butter reindeer cookies

The kids played wonderfully, and had fun playing games. Here were some recipes that went over well, in case you are looking for ideas:

Peanut Butter Reindeer Cookies

Easy Christmas Candy

Christmas Bark

Have a great week, everyone — more Menu Plan Monday ideas at OrgJunkie‘s.

Musical Christmas Ornaments

Musical Christmas OrnamentsLast year, I needed a Christmas gift idea for my piano students.  I wanted to make each of them a Christmas tree ornament, and since there are several of them, I didn’t want to spend a lot.

Here’s how I ended up making inexpensive musical ornaments:

music cut into strips

First, I cut old pieces of Christmas music into strips.


music curled

Then, I curled the strips. I used a scissors, just as I’d do if I were curling ribbon (if your music is on the older side, you’ll want to be careful not to tear it while curling it).

clear glass ball ornaments

Buy a box of clear glass ornaments. I bought mine at Hobby Lobby. Various sizes are available, but the ones I used were about 2.5″ in diameter. The tops come off, making it easy to place several curls of music into each one. I also added a strand or two of silver “icicle” into each ball.


IMG_0126With a gold paint pen, I wrote each student’s name and the year on the ornament. If you look closely, you can see that in the photo above.

Related ideas would be to cut strips from pages of a favorite book for a book lover. Or, fill the glass ball with any tiny item that’s meaningful to you. My oldest daughter, who loves marching band, filled a ball with tiny bits of turf from the practice field.

Merry Christmas, all!

You may also enjoy:

Piano Recital Favors

Easy Christmas Candy



Peppa Pig Bubbles


I know, I know – I’ve talked about Peppa Pig before. And I know, my own girls have passed the stage where they’re captivated by adorable animated animals speaking with British accents. But I haven’t!

So, today I’d like to introduce you to another Peppa Pig DVD called Bubbles. It features 14 “peppasodes” for a total of 70 minutes of family-friendly entertainment.

This lovable, cheeky little piggy will be up to her usual activities – playing games, dressing up, visiting exciting places, making new friends and of course, jumping up and down in muddy puddles!

This is the type of DVD I loved for my girls when they were little — full of cute animation, gentle humor and storylines, and just sweet.

Kaboom! Entertainment, which generously sent me the DVD to review, would like to treat one of you to a holiday bundle featuring both DVDs: Peppa’s Christmas to get your family into the holiday spirit, and Bubbles as a fun stocking stuffer for the kids!

Enter below using the rafflecopter form by December 18, and I’ll select a random winner by December 19.

You can also visit Peppa’s website for activities, games, and stories for the kids. Merry Christmas!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Devotional books — if you’re like me, you’ve read a few. More than a few, most likely. Each has its own flavor. These days, many devotional books seem to be very “real”/transparent. They’re full of the grief and sorrows of life, and they assure us that God is with us through it all.

While that’s no doubt true, and something we need to hear, there’s also something to be said for a slightly different approach, and I found that approach in Evening Prayers for Every Day of the Year.

This book includes a brief scripture passage and meditation for each day (none is more than a single page, and most could be read in just a minute or two). The meditations have a very “God is in control” focus — there’s no pleading, no whining, no crying — just a very firm conviction that God has everything just as He planned it, and that we can take comfort in that. It is comforting, I must say.

The back cover reads, Blumhardt’s words bespeak a certainty in God’s nearness. The peace that flows from them comes from a firm conviction that God’s kingdom is indeed on the way. In challenging times like our own, this reassurance can bring us serenity each evening of the year.

I would agree with that. The author, Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt, won’t be on any book tours. He lived 1842 – 1919, and was a pastor who influenced greats of the faith like Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Taking just a minute each evening to read these prayers has been a beneficial way for me to end my days. You may enjoy it, too.

Post may contain affiliate links. Thanks to Handlebar Central for a review copy of this book.

Hallmark Rudolph ornament

Rudolph and Hermey ornament, Hallmark

Somehow, it just doesn’t feel like Christmas until you’ve watched “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” on TV. At least, that’s true for me. There’s just something about the cute little characters and the message that underdogs can prevail.

I’m sure you know all the lyrics to “Holly Jolly Christmas,” and you can say Hermey’s lines along with him (Not happy in my work, I guess …)

But did you know these fun facts about the Rudolph Christmas special, which celebrates 50 years in 2014?

  • When Rudolph first aired in 1964, on a Sunday afternoon, it earned a 50 share of the audience — unheard-of, even in those days of just three channel  options.
  • Rudolph on the show was voiced by a 43-year-old woman. In their twilight years, she and the actor who voiced dentist elf Hermey lived in the same retirement community.
  • The Rudolph puppet characters were brought to life in Japan by Japanese stop-motion animators, in a building previously used for testing fighter plane engines. The technology used in the puppets was considered so amazing that TV Guide devoted four pages to an article on the making of the show. How big is the Rudolph puppet?  You may be surprised — it’s just palm-sized; about the size of a small kitten. The Santa puppet is 8″ tall.
  • Voice recordings for the show were done mostly in Toronto by Canadian actors.
  • The original Santa and Rudolph puppets were discovered in the attic of a woman who had worked for Rankin-Bass in 2005, in sad shape. They were appraised on “Antiques Roadshow” at $8,000-$10,000, and have since been purchased and restored by a Los Angeles animation studio.
  • In the original airing, Santa did not return for the Misfit Toys. After complaints about this, the ending was altered to the happier version shown today.
  • Speaking of Misfits: sure, the train has square wheels and the gun shoots jelly. But have you ever wondered what problem the cute doll, Dolly, had? Others have speculated about this as well, leading producer Arthur Rankin to say that she suffered from depression and self-esteem issues. Hmmmm — how very 21st century of her! (and this makes more sense given that this rationale for her different-ness was given in 2007)

Rudolph airs on CBS tonight, here at least. I’ll be watching. What’s your favorite part of Rudolph?

Menu Plan Monday


Christmas busy-ness seems like it’s in full swing, this Menu Plan Monday — how about at your house? There are two really busy evenings this week, which always makes menu planning a challenge.

Last week, I was watching one of my favorite TV shows, “The Middle.” As often happens on this show, the family (which is always struggling with money) was digging into a typical evening meal of fast food burgers. I know this is just a sit com, but I just thought how much they could help their financial situation by using menu planning and cooking at home rather than getting fast food every night. Think about it — how much would it cost a family of 5 to bring home McDonald’s for dinner? Probably at least $25. It doesn’t cost nearly as much to prepare food at home, plus it’s healthier as well. I know, it’s true that it takes time. But, with some planning, it can be done. I have 17 piano students who come to my home each week during prime dinner-prep hours, and with planning I do make it work. You can, too — and I know that I’m preaching to the choir here, because many of you already do.

Here’s the plan:

Monday: Lasagna, perhaps of this crockpot variety

Tuesday: Beef and Bean Taco Casserole — found this on a MPM post from last December and it sounds tasty.

Wednesday: probably frozen pizzas — in addition to 5 piano students, there is a band concert for daughter #3 and Christmas open house at the animal shelter for daughter #2.

Thursday: Cheesy Tater Tot Casserole – a favorite

Friday: Daughter #2 and I are going to a dinner at a local animal rescue place. Leftover buffet for the others?

Saturday is my much-anticipated annual Christmas piano recital/party. I’ll let you know next week how that goes — and also hopefully include some photos of the food :)

Have a great week, every one — more Menu Plan Monday ideas at OrgJunkie‘s.


I have been a fan of children’s author/illustrator Jan Brett for years. She draws adorable, enchanting animals, and it was her depictions of hedgehogs that led to our getting hedgehogs of our own as pets. Years ago, she visited Fort Wayne, and I brought the girls to hear her.

Jan Brett bus -- Animals' Santa

When I learned that she was visiting Fort Wayne, I canceled a few piano lessons and headed out to see her. Sure enough, look what was parked by the library! She always goes on tour on a bus “wrapped” with her distinctive artwork.

Once inside, I didn’t have to walk far, because the line to see her presentation reached a long, long, long way. There were teachers. Lots of teachers. Some had come from almost 2 hours away. I was glad I had come early, because only 200-some fit into the auditorium, and I’m pretty sure not everyone who wanted to attend was able to.

Jan Brett hedgehog

While we waited, Jan’s signature “hedgehog” character (along with a friend) was there to greet guests.

Jan Brett Animals' Santa presentation

Soon we were in the auditorium, listening to Jan talk about her latest book, “The Animals’ Santa.” Just as a side note, I hope I look as good as her in my mid-60s.

She talked about how she got the idea for this book. She was thinking about “our” Santa, and wondered: do animals have a Santa? This book is her answer to that question. Think about it — which animal do you think would be Santa for animals? (you’ll have to read the book to find out).

She said that the animals in this book are native to northern Canada, and she talked about drawing them. She said to pay close attention to eyes when you are drawing, because they hold so much emotion, and because our eyes are drawn to eyes of others when we look at illustrations.

Jan Brett husband Joe Hearne

Oh, and Jan’s husband popped in a few times. His name is Joe Hearne, and she said that he has played bass for the Boston Symphony for the past 52 years. Wow! He seemed quiet and was always working behind the scenes, moving things that needed moving, bringing the rabbit off the stage … oh, wait …

Jan Brett rabbit

Yes, it was a great moment for this bunny-lover when Jan brought out the inspiration for the rabbits in this book — her own pet rabbit, Little Snowshoe. She explained that the rabbits in the book were snowshoe hare, while hers is a domestic rabbit. Still, her rabbit was very calm and sweet, and she said that he loved traveling on the bus.

Jan Brett drawing rabbit

She did a demonstration of how she would draw a rabbit — yes, starting with a blank sheet of paper — and then autographed it and left it as a gift for the library. She said that in her books, she works on illustrations at the rate of about an “inch an hour.” For instance, she said the cover illustration would take about a week to work on. She spoke highly of Prisma markers, explaining that she loved the way they have double ends with thick and thinner tips.

Would you like to draw a rabbit? Here’s a video where Jan explains it to you.

Jan Brett art display Fort Wayne Allen County library

After her talk, I headed up to the library’s gallery, which had been transformed into a special display of Jan Brett’s artwork. It was a treat to walk through …

Christmas cookies

… and the beautiful cookies were a treat too, based on various themes in Brett’s books (gingerbread boys, mittens …)


And, I had to end the fun by sneaking a peek at my own book (two copies, actually!) in the Ludwig II section of the biographies. I may not have hundreds waiting to hear my presentations, but it’s the little things, isn’t it?  :)

Be sure to check out Jan Brett’s website. It is full of wonderful activities to do with children, and beautiful things that I think anyone would enjoy.

Thanks to information from her publicist, I’ve enjoyed learning even more about Jan in recent days:

  • She and Joe live on 2 acres in Norwell, Massachusetts. They have 60 ornamental chickens, which she breeds, sells, and shows. She sounds like quite a chicken expert!
  • Jan has a turtle pond which they installed at their home. This was to help as she worked on a turtle-themed book, “Mossy.”
  • Jan is a runner, and has run several Boston Marathons.
  • While on tour, staffers stay in hotels, but Jan and her husband sleep on the bus. I like that down-to-earth quality!
  • There are over 39 million copies of Jan’s 35 books currently in print. The New Yorker wrote, “No one can render snow and winter more gorgeously than Jan Brett.” I would have to agree.

Susie’s Hope DVD Review

Those of you who know me in real life know that I’m a true animal lover. I’m the one “liking” all the adoptable animal posts on Facebook. I donate food and toys to the shelter. And, we have several pets ourselves — currently, a rabbit, a hedgehog, and a chinchilla.

So, I was the perfect target for a new movie about an abused animal and the good that came from her owner’s actions. Here, watch the trailer and you’ll get an idea what I mean:

I began watching “Susie’s Hope” in the living room by myself. But within 15 minutes or so, all three girls had wandered in to see what it was all about. It was a compelling film — hard to watch in spots, but with an ultimately happy ending.

It’s based on the true story that resulted in passage of Susie’s Law in North Carolina, which seeks stricter punishment for animal abusers. It’s the story of pit bull attack survivor Donna Lawrence and Susie, a pit bull-mix puppy found nearly dead. Donna rescues Susie and they work to pass Susie’s Law.



Yes, one of you can win a copy of this moving film. Enter using the rafflecopter form below by December 10, and I’ll choose a random winner December 11.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and I did not receive any monetary compensation. I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post.

 Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway. If you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.