ANTOINETTE'S CHRISTMAS SITE

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I began arranging Christmas villages on our mantel a few years ago, mostly because villages are harder to set up under a tree, and also to keep our Godzilla cats from stomping them. The fragile cardboard houses are from around 1930 pre-war Japan, and the tiny figures (lead Zinnfiguren) are mostly pre-war Germany. As satisfying as this ephemeral holiday art is to create, I found that it needed a story. I began my Christmas tale with the 2007 mantel and have added characters and their stories to it since then. If you want to know about Will and Harmony and all of the other townspeople in my mantel villages, just click on the 2007 button below, read the "chapter" for that year, and then follow the links toward the present mantel.

Antique Christmas Card (58K)

2020 Season's Greetings to all ...

xmas(10K) This year — so unlike any other year in my long life — I'd like to dedicate my mantel village, with its message of love and hope and kindness, to all of the front line workers who are such an inspiration to the rest of us.

Where will we find more perfect examples of better angels than in our overwhelmed hospitals and clinics?  Calling the medical teams "front line workers" doesn't begin to do them justice.  "Front line heroes" is more apt:  battle weary, in constant danger, wounded and dying themselves, they continue to fight on because, very simply, they want to do good and relieve the suffering of others.  The least we can do for these truly noble warriors is to listen to their pleas — for as long as they ask — to wear that mask, keep that distance, and save those lives.  Not just any lives, not just strangers' lives, but the lives of our parents, our grandparents, our partners and loved ones.  Our neighbors and co-workers.  And, yes, the lives of those front line workers too.

Stay Safe,
Antoinette

Click here to see 2020 mantel village.

2019 Season's Greetings to all ...

Those who are all caught up with their Christmas lists, raise your hands.

Okay, those who are nowhere near being caught up, raise your hands. 

Exactly.  It's unanimous.  No one is caught up.  I have learned a lesson from last year to this one:  it doesn't matter if we run, walk, or crawl  to December 25, we cannot and will not ever tick everything off our list.  The sooner we accept that, the better it will be for our mental health.  Will the world end if the cookies for the kids' teachers aren't homemade?  Will running out to Target to buy another string of lights for the tree really make that big a difference?  And how many sides do you actually need for a lovely meal to qualify as a feast?

This year, since I'm unavoidably in crawl-mode, I'm going simple — except for the mantel village, of course.  Maybe I'm rationalizing, but I am finding that the holidays have meaning even without elaborate decorations and complex desserts (take that, Martha Stewart).  This year, I plan to spend more time at home with those who live close and more time on the phone with those who do not.  I will write long emails.  I will keep my distance from TJ  Maxx.  I will, under no circumstance, be caught stringing popcorn to make a garland.  I will eat the popcorn instead, preferably while re-watching The Bishop's Wife.

For those who are sticking to their lists ... I am in awe.  Happy Holidays!

2018 Season's Greetings to all ...

Last Christmas, I posed this question:  "Is the country exhausted yet?"  One year later, I have my answer.  Yes.  Yes, yes, yes!  We are all so tired of The Politics Wars.  So I'm declaring these pages a politics-free zone, a place where you can stop, take a deep breath, enjoy a cup of tea or a glass of wine,  and let your mind wander to a happier place.  Maybe that place is a childhood memory of wild impatience for the coming holidays ... or a grown-up one of watching  your own child peel away the wrapping of her first-ever Christmas present.  Maybe you remember caroling in your first holiday recital ...  or trudging through an especially magical snowfall ... or hurrying home on an icy night with a last-minute (and really quite brilliant) gift for someone dear.  (For me, it was a set of wooden spoons for my grandmother, because hers were all chipped and burned on their edges.)

Memories.  Sometimes—in hard times—they're all that we have.  Sometimes—in good times—we take them for granted. But those memories are always there, waiting to be relived.  The songwriter Ira Gershwin said it best:  They can't take that away from me.  So let's all hold on to those memories.  They're what make us—well, us.

May we find comfort and joy this holiday season.



2017 Season's Greetings to all ...

Is the country exhausted yet?  I believe we are.  A year ago I wrote that after a dragged-out ordeal of a presidential campaign, Thanksgiving would be the perfect time to put politics behind us and just celebrate the closeness of family and friends.  Well, here we are, one year later, and it seems we're more divided than ever.  Uncle Henry is no longer speaking to his nephew Billy, and cousins Kim and Elly, best friends since childhood, have unfriended one another.  Jane and Eric, married for decades, are thinking about a divorce.  How is this even possible?

I'll leave the theories and deep thinking to pundits and philosophers.  As I see it, there are three ways to approach the holidays:  (1) leave politics out -- completely out -- of any gatherings; (2) hang only with people who feel as you do, or (3) somehow, politely agree to disagree about what's best and what's worst for these United States.

Maybe for this season, the first option is best.  Because here's the thing about this country:  there are a multitude of things for which we all can agree to be grateful:  our families, friends, freedom, even the vast abundance of food on our tables.  We're blessed to be able to enjoy them without fear that they'll be taken away.  I saw a recent survey that claims there are thirteen countries on earth that are happier than ours.  We're only number 14.  So I read down the list.  Nope.  This is still the country where I want to live.  I'm betting that you would feel that way too.

So have a wonderful holiday season, where the only thing you argue about is how much flour to add to the gravy.



2016 Season's Greetings to all ...

Every year at around this time I find myself surprised all over again by how quickly time flies. Don't we all feel that way? We like to mention the fact to our hairdresser; to the mail carrier delivering that distressingly early Christmas card; to the FedEx guy, the yoga instructor, the man who tunes up our furnace.

Not this year. This year, the holidays cannot come fast enough. Anything to take away the taste of this long, protracted nightmare of an election. (It should have been held on Halloween.) Whether you were for him or for her or for one of the others, you have experienced your fair share of emotions, and they ran the gamut, from shock to outrage to wonder to inspiration, with every nuance between. Now that the election is over, it's truly time to put it behind us and to try to connect -- or reconnect -- with those who didn't share our views. Whether it's a spouse or the neighbors with the big [Opponent's Name Here] sign on their front lawn, it's time to be civil again. We can do this!

And a good time to do it is during this holiday season. Okay, granted, emotions will be still be raw during this year's Thanksgiving dinner. But by Christmas time, can't we let a little joy back into our hearts? Let's take a cue from the children. They get it. Christmas can't come fast enough for them, either -- but for an entirely different reason. They can still see the magic -- in the beauty of a carol, the sparkle of a lighted tree, the wonder of the first new snow. They've been exposed to a crude and upsetting election cycle, and yet they can still see the magic.

Let's be more like them. They still love their friends, their parents, the towns they live in. Some of us may be holding our breath as we do this and some of us may be holding our noses, but: let's move on.


2015 Season's Greetings to all ...

I know I whine every year about how fast the time has gone by -- but really. This is getting kind of ridiculous. There has to be a way to dial it back a little. I can remember when I was about six and my brother was giving me a ride on the handlebars of his bike (we did stuff like that back then). He was going, I thought, much too fast and I wanted to slow him down. So I stuck my foot in the spokes of the bike's front wheel. We slowed down, all right, tumbling over together in a heap under the bike. No broken bones (that would come much later in my cycling life), but my foot was caught in the spokes. I couldn't get it free. My brother couldn't get it free. It was up to some kindly passers-by to straighten out the mess we'd made, after which we continued on our merry way, none the worse for wear except for a couple of bent spokes and a torn sock.

If only life were equally simple. The fact is, between meetings and playdates and birthdays and showers; between school plays and work days and Facebook and soccer; between every possible manner of doctor's appointment, endless rounds of cooking and cleaning, and maybe even the occasional trip to the ER -- time will always go by much too fast.

It's up to us to find a way to jam a foot in the spokes and slow things down without causing harm, to us or to those we love. You know how the flight attendants always say to put the oxygen mask on yourself first, and then attend to your little ones? That goes for life outside the plane as well. You have to carve out some time for yourself. You will be the better for it, and your children, friends and fellow employees will pick up on that immediately and appreciate you the more for it. So whether it's a hot bath, dinner with your pals, a good long run or a favorite hobby to indulge -- do it. Without guilt. Even during the warp-speed holiday season.

Me, I've gone the hobby route. I completely lose myself in arranging my mantel village of vintage houses and tin figures, and then I settle down to the harder but ultimately even more rewarding task of writing a story to fit. Come see. You may find a hobby-in-waiting that you yourself will want to take up.

Have a wonderful year, filled with quiet pleasures and peaceful moments ....

2014 Season's Greetings to all ...

Well, another year has passed, and I don't know where this one went, either. I know that it had some good moments (visits with family and friends, lots of time in and on the water) and some bad ones (every night, watching the news). And speaking of that nightly news: it's so bad so often that the network show we watch has begun trying to offset it with good-news, feel-good stories. Which I understand completely. The human psyche needs a reprieve from darkness. We are wired to have hope, some possibility of a happy ending. I think that maybe that's where the holidays come in. When the nights are coldest and longest, that's when we need light. It matters not where it comes from: the bulbs on a Christmas tree, the candles on an altar or in a menorah, a star in the sky that to our eye shines more brightly than all others. As long as we have light, we have hope.

My own bits of light can be found on my fireplace mantel, where every year at Christmastime I arrange a sweet little village whose inhabitants are much like people everywhere -- good, bad, and in between. Do I tilt toward the good? Absolutely. As a novelist, I've chosen to write stories with happy endings; it's my way of shining a light in the darkness. I do the same when I set up cardboard houses with bottle-brush trees and little tin people and then write stories about them. I can escape the worst of the nightly news there, if only for a little while. If you have the time, and if you're inclined, so can you. Bring a cup of tea or a glass of wine and stay a while; it's a soothing place to visit.

May the coming year be filled with comfort and joy for you ....

2013 Season's Greetings to all ...

Every year I write the obvious: Where has the time gone? How can it be almost Christmas? This year I'm blaming Thanksgiving. (It's come too late.) And the weather. (It's stayed too warm.) And my e-books. (Too much rewriting.) And, oh why not, let's throw in eBay and online surfing. Some great visits with family and friends, and there you have it: 2013, nearly over. The good news is that we did finally get the leaky baseboard fixed, we rebuilt a lot of the peeling picket fence, and we knocked off a few other years-old chores. The bad news is that there's still a lot more fence and a lot more chores.

As a rule, I'm one of those people who really, really like checking things off lists. I'm also one of those people who really, really like making lists in the first place. That's why the Christmas season is such wonderful therapy for me: it's a time when I lose the lists and just ... remember. Remember how I felt when I was five or six, and the time leading up to Christmas stretched into a child's eternity. Remember how my Dad taught us to hang the lead tinsel strand by strand, separating one from the next, because icicles never hung from branches in wads and clumps. Remember how my uncle once produced a violin and played carols on it, amazing all of us children who had no idea that he was a brilliant musician. Remember how my mother's go-to recipe was called "Procrastinator's Fruitcake" and not without reason. (My busy mother never kept a list in her life, hence the fondness for a fruitcake that not only didn't have to soak for a year, but one that tasted surprisingly good because it didn't have those awful green things in it.)

They are gone, those beloved stewards of Christmas, but I remember them all. Year after year, they kept the Christmas fires burning in the hearts of the next generation. And now that generation has done the same for the one after them, because that's how tradition works. I'm one of the lucky ones, raised with more love than wealth, and every year exposed to -- is it corny to write this? -- the true meaning of Christmas.

Those childhood feelings are what you see in my mantel villages. The joy, the anticipation, the pleasure in anything Christmas -- it's all there in the village. In the little tin figures. In the story that I'm now grown up enough to post on my website, instead of having it idle in my head when I was ten and arranging a far more simple village under the family tree.

Have a lovely holiday season, everyone. And if you have fond memories, cherish them; they have more value than gold.

2012 Season's Greetings to all ...

Another year has gone by -- even more quickly than the one before it. That used to be merely surprising, but now it's alarming. Stop! Slow down the train! We have hats to knit, cats to coddle, kids to love, and yet we scarcely have time to change the sheets. For me, this where-has-the-day-gone feeling is getting old, and I know I'm not alone. (How about this for a confession: I can remember a time when Sundays were so slow that we used to go out for a drive. Not even to get somewhere or to check out spectacular foliage; just ... to drive.)

As the year winds down, it's natural to look back and reflect and wonder where, exactly, the time did go. My own time-waster has been the computer. In general I have a thing against computers (just check out my stark Facebook page if you don't believe me), and yet I find myself spending irretrievable hours a day in front of the monitor -- even without counting eBay. Some of those hours are truly well spent in e-mails with family and friends and readers, but other hours? Not so much. I can only marvel at those who manage to text and tweet constantly as well. Clearly they're living in some parallel universe whose days are thirty-six hours long.

So my resolution for the year 2013 is a simple one: step away from the computer and start living again. There's a garden to tend, a walk to take, a visit to pay, a pie to bake. There's that wonderful book close at hand but still unread. That beloved hobby, waiting only for me. And isn't it finally time to call the plumber and arrange to have that drippy baseboard fixed? The days will be so much brighter, so much longer, so much more gratifying, if only I use them well. Nike said it best: Just. Do. It. Nike did not say to waste time stalling at a computer.

And so before I flee my computer to indulge in the still satisfying, still emotional task of arranging a Christmas village of vintage houses and tiny tin figures on my mantel, let me extend to you my heartfelt wishes for a year filled with accomplishments both big and small: the kind that make you bust your buttons with pride, and the kind that just let you walk around with a little smile on your face. Have a very merry Christmas, and a happy new year.

2011 Season's Greetings to all ...

Yes, the year passed quickly, and, yep, it was sometimes scary. Is this new? Not anymore. I used to blame advancing age, but I've given up on that idea. Every generation now seems to feel the burden of the "hopes and fears of all the years." Twenty, forty, sixty, eighty, does it matter? We're all living together in an era when we have less than ever to say about our destinies; when our jobs may or may not be there tomorrow; when our children and grandchildren -- eager and educated and ready to go -- have no place to go and no money to get there. Get sick? Better not. A government that cares? Doesn't look like it.

It's incredibly tempting to throw up our hands and say, "The world doesn't work anymore. It's broken. There's no hope." We can think it, write it, blog it, text it or tweet it -- but we'd still be wrong. We would have ignored the couple who give up their day off to volunteer in a soup kitchen, and the ladies who sew quilts for the charity raffle and roll out pastry dough for the bake sale to benefit the animal shelter. The Big Sisters, the Big Brothers, the mentors of every stripe -- we would have forgotten them, too. And what about the congressman who's willing to risk flak and cross the aisle towards a compromise? The teacher who stays after hours to help a struggling student? The attorney who works pro bono? The soldier who takes the time to comfort a frightened child? The teens who show up -- in the actual morning! -- to clean up litter from the riverbanks? A list called "People Who Are Making A Difference" would spill over many pages, burn through megabytes, and cramp the thumbs of the most seasoned texter.

For all of those everyday heroes, we can be grateful. In this season of counting our blessings, let's count those people first; they belong at the top of any list. They make the world a better place, and they make the season a little more merry for those who are having a hard time feeling much joy. May God bless them and those they care for -- every one.

Christmas 2010 Greetings to all,

Well -- another year, z-z-zip, and gone. Is it ever more obvious than at Christmas? I feel like planting a road sign right in front of that hurtling passage of time: Slow down, for Pete's sake! Children trying to play here!

Because this is the time of year when we try to connect with the child in us that we keep leaving farther and farther behind. True, if we have children, grandchildren -- even great-grandchildren -- of our own, it's easier to remember and relate to that sweet and golden age just by seeing their faces. But if we don't, or if the kids live over there and we're over here, then making that connection gets a lot dicier. Memories fade. Melancholy surges over us without warning, an emotional tsunami. The could-have-beens and should-have-beens tiptoe into our heads at three in the morning. Not to mention, we're disappointed that no one ever comes to see our tree. If we even bother to decorate a tree.

Christmas threatens in other ways. Every TV commercial has the effect of making us feel unloved, unwanted and strangely deprived. Furs ... diamonds ... luxury cars wrapped in big red bows -- who gets this stuff? We begin to be convinced that everyone on the planet is having a better holiday than we are. Hallmark doesn't help. The teary-eyed recipient of that just-right card signed by an adoring teenager (excuse me?) makes us, well, sigh and wonder just where it all went wrong. (Three cheers for the Chia Pet; it is what it is.)

One of the best ways to deal with the dark side of Christmas -- as Dear Abby reminds us every year -- is to get over ourselves. We can volunteer. Give to someone in need. Pick up litter. Shovel an elderly neighbor's snow. Mentor a child. Be kind to animals. Say thank you and mean it. Smile more. Do something, anything, that someone else will appreciate.

And, yes, we can revisit the bright side of Christmas as well. It's still there, that childhood ember of joy. All it needs is a bit of fanning into a nice warm glow. Some people are transported to their youth, like Proust with his madeleine, by the simple act of eating a holiday treat. For others, it's a special photo, the smell of balsam, the sight of a long-forgotten toy (it's no surprise to visitors of this site that seeing a cardboard Christmas house is what sent me on my way). Still others, maybe most others, respond to the most magical carpet of all -- music. I could lie and say that it's Beethoven's Ode to Joy that's a catalyst for me, but the truth is, it's Mitch Miller and his bouncing ball that I still remember so well.

Whichever road we choose back to the child inside us, we should walk it without hesitation. My dad knew how to do that. When my mother died after a long and heartbreaking illness, he was able vividly to relive their early, happy years together with the help of just a few vintage tunes. Back he'd drift to Chicago's Avalon Ballroom; to a day spent at the Illinois dunes; to his very first Christmas with my mother. And then, often, he'd drift farther back still, to his years growing up in the Great Depression. He had had so little, almost nothing, really. (You know you're poor when a neighbor's Model T runs over a fowl, and you bring the bird home to eat.) And yet those memories, when my dad was 90, lifted his soul. He understood instinctively what a poet once expressed beautifully: Time remembered is grief forgotten.