Byers Choice Carolers – Collectibles for me!

BaboushkaByersChoiceRussianSantaCarolers2012We did a series on Christmas collectibles last June, but somehow I missed one of the most interesting collectibles. Jo Boroff, my sister’s mother-in-law, has a house full of the Byers Choice Carolers, and she continues to collect them each year.  What makes these figurines, with their mouths permanently open in song, so special?

This video, which features the history of Carol Byers’ journey from hobbyist to entrepreneur to a family-owned corporation, is inspirational.  Throughout the video, the viewer is treated to a close-up of the crafting process. Unlike other collectibles turned out on an assembly line, these dolls are designed and assembled by artisans, each with his/her own stamp of creativity.

The video also highlights the family’s contributions to charity and the community around them.  It was enough for me to think I need to start collecting these figurines, but at $60 – $100 each, I’d have to think long and hard about the series I would collect–many of the figures are limited to 100 figurines.  The figurine pictured here is “Baboushka.”  I thought Jeremy would appreciate the Russian influence.  This link will take you to the website and the 2013 collection.

The most exciting discovery?  The factory (with a museum and free tour) is only 2 hrs and 38 minutes from  my doorstep, in Bucks County, PA.  I see a field trip in my near future.

The narration of the video concludes with, “The spirit of Christmas is something the Byers’ family specializes in, and they practice it 365 days a year.”   With that attitude, The Yule Log ought to consider investing.

Marching Band is for Christmas, Right?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis week I started planning my fall calendar and that means making time for one of my favorite activities, marching band.  I have been involved in the activity in one way or another every season since 1985!  Most see the activity as something for the heat of the summer and the football games of the fall.  This is mostly true other than the occasional Christmas parade.  I’m guessing many people view marching band as what happens when you go for your hotdog at a football game, what plays behind the commentators for a college game, or the music you hear in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. There are some decent marching band versions of most upbeat Christmas songs for bands to use for parades.  These are usually tags to the end of a season and worked in amongst the prep for the Winter concert.  During the regular season the bands work continually on their show, centered on some type of theme.  I’d never really considered if a band might choose Christmas music for that show theme.  Why the heck not?  There is so much potential!  A typical show usually has a powerful opening song, a ballad, a feature of some type, and a strong closing anthem with tons of variations possible.  Just thinking of all the possible musical combinations got my head spinning.  Add to that all the varied visual looks that could come from the color guard!  You can just imagine my excitement.

cadets2012When marching bands want to see the top-level of the marching art they regularly turn to Drum Corps International, DCI.  DCI is a summer activity that pulls together young musicians to join a corps and spend many months working 10-12 hours a day on a single 10-12 minute performance.  These are performers that are the pinnacle of the activity.  They compete all across the country throughout the summer months.  Last summer one of the corps, the Cadets, had a show titled “12.25”.  You guessed it- a Christmas themed show!  The arrangements they share with us are strong versions of many of the Christmas classics we all know and love.  There are many videos of the Cadets show on YouTube.  Check out a full performance or a full run rehearsal.  Either way you can see for yourself just how awesome a Christmas marching show can be.  Like what you see?  You can check out some links about the overall activity at  If you have a marching band fan in your circle of family and friends you might get some good gift ideas there too.   Without a doubt marching band is connected in many ways to Christmas, so maybe the question might be better asked “Christmas is for marching band, right?”

Lincoln, Christmas and Apolonia Stuntz’s Toy Store

Last weekend, we had the pleasure of watching Lincoln, Spielberg’s Academy Award nominated movie staring Daniel Day-Lewis.  In addition to learning a a great deal more about Lincoln’s struggles to pass the Thirteenth Amendment and his final days in office, the fine detail of the Lincoln White House, in all of its lack of dignity (compared to today’s White House), was fascinating. Christmas was not yet a national celebration as it was to become a short time later, and, after the death of Lincoln’s son Willie (in February 1862), the Lincolns were even less inclined to celebrate the holiday.

01994a.previewTad Lincoln, the President’s youngest son, by all accounts, appeared regularly in his father’s office and was present during many of his father’s meetings and travels.  Watching the movie, I was fascinated by Tad’s toys, which seemed to be mostly soldiers and maps of battlefields.

Toy soldiers (precursors of the plastic Army men so ubiquitous today that they appear in films like Toy Story) were popular during the 1800’s.  Abraham Lincoln was said to have frequented Apolonia Stuntz’s Toy and Candy store, a small store just a few blocks from the White House.  Apolonia’s husband, Joseph, a veteran of Napoleon’s army, carved some of the soldiers himself.

There’s an excellent video on YouTube created by the Indiana State Museum describing these soldiers and other playthings from the White House.

Robert Sivard, who was a popular painter in the mid-1900’s, painted this version of the Stuntz Toy Shop, which includes the image of Abraham Lincoln shopping inside the store.  The small store is no FAO Schwartz (except for the New York Avenue address), but it’s sad to learn that the building became a dry cleaner in the early 1900’s and was then destroyed to make way for more modern buildings.  Here’s a link to a Washington Times article about the store and its connection to Lincoln.

Toy soldiers like the ones Tad played with then, have given way to


Podcast #50- 336 Days to Go!

Christmas Books 2Podcast #50- Click here to listen to this week’s podcast.  Books, Books, and More Books!

This week we join you from our first Yule Log field trip of 2013.  Our journey took us to the Hagerstown Wonder Book and Video.  We had a little contest to see who could get the most Christmas gifts in 30 minutes with just $25 to spend.  Listen to find out who wins with 12 gifts found.  We also continue to share something to KNOW, something to PLAN, and something to DO.  All of these can be traced back to books in some way or another.  Give a listen and let us know what you think!


Christmas Melting Pot

Jew XMasOne of the things that has always interested me about Christmas is the origins and history of our holiday.  The fact that so much of the traditions and customs trace back to non-Christian religious, spiritual, and ethnic practices is well documented.  The Yule Log has shared many posts about the early conversion of “pagan” or other practices to the Christmas feasts and festivals.  Trees, elves, Santa Claus, food, customs, and song all are part of the rich mosaic that Christmas has formed over the centuries.  Christmas has close ties to many world religions including Islam and Judaism.  One of these connections has been one of the more intriguing to me- music.  So many of our most popular Christmas songs were created by Jewish composers and lyricists.

Natalie and I have talked about this occurrence many times.  It seems that this fact has been one of interest to many writers over the years.  Never noticed this connection before?  Here are some basics.  More than half of the annual top 25 holiday songs compiled by ASCAP were penned by Jews.  Composers like Irving Berlin and Mel Torme give us great works.  Compositions include White Christmas, the Christmas Song, Christmas Waltz, Silver Bells, Rudolph, and I’ll Be Home for Christmas.  There are also numerous Jewish performers that have given so many of the classic versions of holiday songs.  Main Jewish artists of Christmas hits include Barbra Streisand, Neil Sedaka, Barry Manilow, and Neil Diamond.  Even Bob Dylan cut a Christmas album last year.  For a more interesting look at the connections read this short 2011 article from the New York Daily News.  It definitely is one of the miracles of the Christmas season that so many people of such varied backgrounds can come together to celebrate peace, hope, and love.

A Very Merry Christmas Museum

NCCIt’s been only three weeks since Christmas 2012, but already it seems a lifetime ago.  The rush of life moves forward and the joy and glow of the holidays can quickly fade.  As I was seeking some facts for my post today (all about a monthly collection for gifts- come back the 20th for that) I came upon some lists of events in history for January 15th.  I read about the opening of the British Museum (one of my absolute favorites) on this day in 1759.  That got me on a quest to find out about any Christmas Museums.  Yes, there are many: small, large, seasonal, parts of other museums.  You name the type and you’ll likely find a display somewhere, but very few that are full-time, year-round exhibitions of Christmas.  There’s the Christmas Story House in Ohio, the Santa Claus Museum in Indiana, the Aluminum Tree and Ornament Museum in North Carolina, and the Hallmark Ornament Museum in Indiana.  Incidentally that last one houses the only complete collection of every Hallmark Ornament produced since 1973!  The one that stuck out as THE one for me was the National Christmas Center, located in Paradise, PA.

NCC1The National Christmas Center is one of the sights found on the Travel Channel’s list of the “Most Christmasy Places in America”.  Joining this small town attraction on the list were Branson, MO, Las Vegas, the Mall of America, and FAO Schwartz- pretty big deal company!  The Center is a family attraction and museum located just off Route 30 in Amish Country in south-central Pennsylvania.  Their title includes the phrase “Experience the wonder of the world’s most beloved holiday”.  It definitely seems like it lets you do just that.  The Center is open to the public weekends in March and April and daily from May through December.  Groups can tour the center in January and February.  Adult admission is $12 with discount tickets available easily online.  The center offers both a local and an online gift shop.  There are 15 main galleries covering thousands of square feet and many smaller exhibits of a more personal size.  The galleries focus on a particular aspect or historical aspect of Christmas.  Yes, Virginia shares a recreation of the story around the famous letter.  Santa’s workshop is recreated and you can see scenes from Christmas Around the World.  There is a look into Santa History, Christmas Antiques, Tudor Towne, and Train Mountain.  A popular draw is the gallery of 1950s Woolworth, showcasing the look and products of that time.  My pick would be the life-size recreation of the First Christmas and the collection of hundreds of Nativity Scenes.  One gallery has a 3/4 life-size nativity set carved from wood, nearly 100 years old.  Take the virtual tour on the center’s website to see a glimpse of each gallery.  It certainly seems like a great trip for any time of the year.  Check out the review by Skye, a real-life mom of 5, on Real Mom Reviews for some thoughts on taking the kids, seems like a solid plan.  Maybe this will make the list for our field trips in 2013!

Stocking Stuffers? Amazon Add-ons has what you need

hutzler-banana-slicerMelissa Guynes Kirkner posted a link to a “Hutzler 571 Banana Slicer” on her Facebook page with the cryptic comment:  “I know what everyone is getting for Christmas this year!”  I took the bait and clicked through to the Amazon link.  Melissa suggested we read the customer reviews–and she was right.  There’s enough satire there to browse for a while–and for an English teacher to use as a future lesson:  “Root cause for our obesity” and “Threat to Our Democracy.”  All humor aside, the Amazon Add-On program is a gem of an idea for you to find easy stocking stuffers at little cost.

The Add-On program is simple.  Amazon offers free super-saver shipping for orders over $25, but many of us manage to select items that bring us to within five dollars of that amount.  For just a few dollars more, you can meet the free shipping minimum and stock up on unusual stocking stuffers–like bacon flavored toothpicks.

Today, there are 263,165 Add-On items for you to browse and buy.  Look for the little blue “Add-on” flag.  Waste of a Sunday afternoon?  To each his own.  I spent a while browsing the Add-Ons and came up with some gems that are silly, practical and/or odd.  Somehow I shopping wandered all of the way to mustache chip clips.

Then, I began clicking through the seasonal decor, all on deep discount.  Heaven help me!

You still have a full 11 months of shopping before 2013. The next time you’re making an Amazon purchase, consider adding something on from Santa.

Walking in a Winter Wonderland (literally)

WTD 13This Saturday, January 12th, is Winter Trails Day 2013.  This special day is a national event hosted at hundreds of resorts and nordic centers across the US.  The purpose of the event is to introduce people to the winter sports of snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.  Last year over 10,000 people participated in Winter Trails Day 2012.  The great part about the event is that it’s free!  Each site will have the experts and equipment on hand to help you get started on your new winter activity. Follow the links at to find out all the information you need to get started.

CC skisThe closest location to Frederick is Liberty Mountain Resort in nearby Carroll Valley, PA.  The events at Liberty run from 10:00 am- 2:00 pm.  No registration is required, although pre-registration will save time when you arrive.  Liberty only offers snowshoeing, no cross-country skiing.  They will have 6 educational stations for you to visit as you take a walk on the snow.  Check out for all the details.  They also have a great listing of all the fitness benefits of snowshoeing.  If you want to try the cross-country skiing, you can drive a little further to the west to McHenry, MD.  Wisp Resort will offer both activities on Saturday from 9:00 am- 5:00 pm.  You are limited to a 2-hour time to try things out.  They have some fun activities like a kids snowshoe race, a cross-country skiing scavenger hunt, and a bonfire.  For all the specifics on the day head to

SnowshoesSome quick facts before you head out for your first experience:  Anyone can snowshoe.  There is no fancy equipment or techniques to learn, you can start immediately.  You burn 45% more calories snowshoeing than walking or running at the same speed, 46% of snowshoers are women, 12% are ages 7-17, 55% are under 45 years old, and over 1.4 million participate in the activity annually in the US.   It is a peaceful and serene activity- perfect for the mind, body and soul!

If you always wanted to find a fun winter activity that the whole family could do, this is it (and generally no ski lifts).  All ages can participate and it’s a great workout.  It could also be the start to a great Christmas idea for 2013.  New, or slightly used, equipment and gear can be picked up fairly cheap at an end of season sale or swap this spring.  You can plan now for some travel or outings in winter 2013.  Think of the smiles when the gifts are unwrapped and everyone has a ticket to or a coupon for a family winter fun weekend with snowshoeing and cross-country skiing!


Downton Abbey – A Christmas Treat

ScotlandAccording to the Style section of the Washington Post, the first episode of Season 3 of Downton Abbey drew 8 million viewers to PBS on Sunday night.  Roger and I were two of them for sure.  I can give you about a million reasons for my Downton Delirium, which, I think, must be as bad as a teenage girl’s Bieber Fever.

On the other side of the pond (and at the White House where Michelle Obama saw Season 3 this past fall–that’s one of the perks of being First Lady), they’ve already seen all of Season 3, culminating in a Christmas Day airing of Episode 7, where the Crawley’s go to Scotland. I am including this Telegraph Review, but don’t click the link if you don’t want your American viewing experience spoiled.

Meanwhile, we wait until February 17th for the final episode of Season 3, with five delicious Sundays in between.

Thinking about the Downton fans in your life?  Highclere Castle, where the series is filmed, boasts an online gift shop.  PBS has quite a few Downton gifts, too.

Want to try your hand at creating Downton Abbey at your house?  Check out this gingerbread video.  The windows are melted butterscotch candies–even if I won’t ever get to see the real Downton, I can try my own version in cookie form?



Podcast #49- 350 Days to Go!

Pod 49

Podcast #49–  Click here to listen to this week’s podcast- Here Comes Year #2!

Natalie and I kick off our podcasts counting down to Christmas 2013!  With Epiphany over, today truly can begin the focus on just Christmas 2013.  Today we share our plans for the Yule Log in this new year.  We also introduce our new structure for our podcasts.  Each time we hope to share something in three categories: KNOW, DO, and PLAN. This week we get to KNOW about Twelfth night and the Julian calendar Christmas.  We take time to DO proper storage and packing for Christmas 2012 and buy those needed items for 2013.  We close with a PLAN to add some events for the next year, to make careful notes for our plans, and to save for the holiday budget.  Thanks for joining us for Year #2!!