Change and A Fresh Start

By Jennifer Hallmark

I hope you had a Merry Christmas, my friends, and are looking forward to a Happy New Year, a fresh start in 2018. We’ve so enjoyed spending time with you in 2017 as we talked about writing, life, family, and everything else. The last five years have been a blessing to me and each member of our Crew.

Next year, our blog will see new and exciting changes. We’ll be more focused with a specific audience in mind. And we’ll have a new name. The Crew is hard at work in order to get everything ready in time for the new year. Want to know more? Then don’t miss our January 1st post for all the details.

I love the last week of the year. For me, it’s a chance to take a breath, put away Christmas decorations, and finish 2017 strong. Here are steps you can take to help move from Christmas into the New Year that I found in Jack Hayford’s book Come and Behold Him...

  • Fast and pray- seek God. Remember. Renew.
  • Read a meaningful (to you) book of the Bible.
  • Redecorate the house for the New Year. It is very important to start the New Year fresh and alive!
  • Send thank you notes and letters.
  • Summarize and organize-write a list of things that you were not able to accomplish in 2017- check off any that are not important and set a few goals for 2018.

These small steps help me focus on what lies ahead. Thank you again for spending time at our blog and we hope to see you often in the future.

Remember: Don’t miss January 1st

Click to tweet:  The last week of the year is a chance to take a breath, put away Christmas decorations, and finish 2017 strong. Here are steps you can take to help move from Christmas into the #NewYear #2018

Joy in 2016

By Jennifer Hallmark

joy quoteI’m moving slowly back and forth in the old timey rocker/glider in Mom’s living room. It’s December 30th and
I’m working on my January blog post while I’m here. My stepdad’s health has been declining so I sit with him while Mom goes to the doctor and shops. Thoughts about how my year is ending, similar to how it began, circles in my mind. Without going into detail, the first two weeks of January were bewildering. My word of focus for 2015 was grace, but to me, unexpected or unforeseen would have been more appropriate. In reality, I needed an abundance of grace to see me through last year. I more than understood why Matthew 6:34 is in the Bible.

‘Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.’ NKJV

In 2015, all my worries were for naught. What I worried about didn’t come to pass, but things I never could have imagined did. So I’ve tried to process 2015 the best I can and look forward to 2016.sylvester-1097596_1920


I mean, Alabama just won the semi-final college football game and will go to the Championship. And even though I ended the year with bronchitis, the holidays are over and I’m entering a writing season. My 2016 focus is set (seek God) and I’m ready.

Or I was until January 2nd.

The ambulance came for my stepdad who had double pneumonia. The back and forth trips from ICU to the waiting room to home and back to ICU began. By the time you read this, I hope he will have made it into a regular hospital room, but he won’t be home yet.

So what do you do when plans continually go awry? Am I the only one?

No. I passed too many people in the elevator, in the hallways, and in the hospital cafeteria to feel too sorry for myself. People whose lives have been disrupted by… well …life.

Should I just chunk 2016 and go to the pity party that waits just around the corner? Or keep writing, helping my family, cleaning house, shopping for groceries–all the things that make life what it is?

‘Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise.’ Hebrews 10:23 NLT

BibleWhat is God’s promise? That Jesus shed his blood for us, took our punishment, and opened a new way. The Bible is full of so many promises. We are loved, accepted in the Beloved, a royal priesthood, set apart, and never alone, to name a few.

I love to remember the promises in the quiet, productive times, but I need to remember them in the chaotic times when the ground is shaking, and I have trouble standing.

I’ll step boldly on into this unsteady month of January, writing snatches of work here and there. Cleaning when I can. Resting when able. And I’ll step with joy, knowing God hasn’t left his throne and I’m always cherished and loved.

Today I choose JOY.

Writing Prompt: Let’s take the letters that make up the word JOY. Write a short story which includes one word that begins with a J, one that begins with an O, and one that begins with a Y.  Enter it in the comments for a double entry in our bi-yearly contest.

A French Christmas



By Karen Jurgensfrance+flag

Joyeux Noël! Having always been a French teacher, I can’t help but mix in a little of France with my Christmas traditions. I enjoyed creating aspects of Christmas in France every year for my students, from the traditional carols we sang to the midnight Christmas feast and even the stocking and candy game we played as a gift exchange.

Although France is historically Catholic, its religious and secular celebrations are a delightful addition to swirl in with our own. Let me share some of them with you.

Their celebration of our Santa Claus is quite different, and one interesting French story brings him to life. It tells about three children who were kidnapped by an evil butcher in the forest and held captive. Just as they were about to be killed, Père Noël came to their rescue, delivering them from their fate and returning them safely home. This heroic action elevated him to the status of protector for all children. There is even a song about it, called La Légende de Saint-Nicholas.


Additionally, Children have a special day to celebrate Santa Claus that is different from ours. December 6th is their Saint Nicholas Day when Père Noël, or Father Christmas, brings candy for the good children, while Père Fouettard, or Father Spanking, brings sticks or lumps of coal for those who were bad. French children place their shoes by the fireplace the night before, and the next day, they awake to their judgment: candy, sticks or sometimes some of each!

Their Christmas celebration is traditionally a religious one. Families attend Midnight Mass at the very beginning of Christmas morning, followed by a huge Christmas meal, Le Réveillon.  As the Yule log burns in the fireplace, they feast on oysters, lobster, roast turkey with chestnuts or roast goose, pâté de fois gras, salads, cheeses, and champagne. For dessert, there’s always a luscious bûche de Noël —a sponge cake rolled with chocolate buttercream frosting, decorated with meringue mushrooms and a dusting of confectioner’s sugar—a representation of the Yule log.

courtesy of Getty Images

courtesy of Getty Images

santon-provenceSantons (figurines displayed around the manger scene) decorate each home where the crèche scene is proudly displayed. They range in all sizes, but families collect elaborate ones, adding more each year. In some regions, small children believe that the Christ Child brings them their presents, which they receive on Christmas Day. Christmas presents are mainly for children, but adults exchange gifts and cards on New Year’s Day, called Le Jour de l’An, and wish each other Bonne Année.


The celebrating continues to Epiphany, which falls on January 6th, when the Three Wise Men are supposed to have arrived at the manger laden with gifts for the Christ Child. The puff-pastry almond cake baked for this occasion is la galette des Rois, and the person who gets the piece with the dried bean or tiny baby figurine becomes a king or queen and wears a paper crown.

I still enjoy singing the French carols we sang at school every December, from Vive le vent, or Jingle Bells, to my most favorite, Il est né, le divin enfant, or The Holy Child is Born. I hope you enjoy the video, sung by a children’s choir in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Complete the prompt below for an extra entry in our quarterly drawings! Submit your completed writing prompt via Comments. 

Are your Christmas traditions influenced by those from another country? Please share them with us.

photos courtesy of, and Video courtesy of