Restoring Holiday Joy — Welcome Back Guest Barbara Early

If you like holiday reads don’t miss Murder on the Toy Town Express a Vintage Toyshop Mystery by Barbara Early! Barbara is giving away either a paperback of Death of a Toy Soldier or hardcover of Murder on the Toy Town Express to one of our readers! Welcome back to the Wickeds, Barbara!

Something about the holiday season seems to just generate work. Maybe it’s because I’m not at the top of my game right now, recovering from a nasty bout of infections, five courses of antibiotics, and oral surgery. And trying to promote a Christmas book. Or maybe I’m just getting old. But thinking about all that “needs” to be done between now and December 25th makes me want to cuddle up in my warmest pajamas, climb into bed, and hide my head under the covers until January.

Notice the word “needs” in quotes? When I hit that word, I had a personal epiphany—and yes, I know I’m mixing my holidays. How much of my burgeoning to-do list literally “needs” to be done? Do I need to bake cookies? Do I need to put up all my decorations? Do I need to attempt every cute reindeer craft I see on Pinterest? Do I need to kill myself making the holiday just as magical, plus a little more, than any Christmas I remember?

Cue the “Hallelujah Chorus.” I’ve been emancipated from Christmas slavery.

I don’t have to do anything. I suddenly had a glut of free time on my hands. I could spend more with friends and family. Or I could make a cup of instant hot chocolate, prop my feet up, flip on the Hallmark Channel, and watch heartwarming holiday flicks right up until the big day. Or better yet, read a nice Christmas mystery. Sounded good to me.


And when that little voice sounded, I knew I had to put down the remote and the e-reader and listen.

But…decorating the tree can be fun. And it was true. Putting all the decorations on the tree, making it pretty: it can almost become a form of creative play, much like coloring a picture at the kitchen table. I’ve always been a “Spoonful of Sugar” kind of girl, so stepping back and turning work into a game makes sense to me. Before long, the tree was up.

Because of a couple of very naughty cats, we’ve stored all our fragile and heirloom ornaments, and for the past few years I’ve been putting up a fun vintage toy tree, that goes with my Vintage Toyshop Mystery series. Here’s a video if you’d like to see it.

I still haven’t decided if I will do any more decorating, but I’m going to be careful not to put any the trappings (fitting word) of Christmas on my to-do list. I will not mark holiday success by check marks on a piece of paper. Instead, I can declutter my Christmas using the same one-question method people now use to declutter their homes: does it bring me joy?

For example, baking cookies. Does it bring me joy?

Okay, eating cookies brings me joy, so I might need to whip off a batch of my favorites. Seeing my husband’s face when he realizes I’ve made his favorite also brings me joy. And the smell of fresh baked goods in the house is cozy and comforting. But do I need to make all the different kinds I often make? I certainly don’t need to be eating them!

Setting up the Christmas village. Does it bring me joy? Some, but maybe not enough to warrant lugging three huge totes up the stairs, at least not this year. Maybe next year I’ll set them up in the shape of a Christmas tree. Oh, that could be fun!

Readers, what brings you joy during the holidays?

Bio: Barbara Early earned an engineering degree, but after four years of doing nothing but math, developed a sudden allergy to the subject and decided to choose another occupation. Before she settled on murdering fictional people, she was a secretary, a school teacher, a pastor’s wife, and an amateur puppeteer. After several years living elsewhere, she and her husband moved back to her native Western New York State, where she enjoys cooking, crafts, classic movies and campy seventies television, board games, and posting pictures of her four cats on Facebook. She writes the Vintage Toyshop series and the Bridal Bouquet Shop Mysteries (as Beverly Allen).

61 Thoughts

  1. Oh, feel better Barbara! It is a tough time of the year to be recovering. Sounds like you have more than done your part to bring Christmas joy with Murder on the Toy Town Express – anything else should be extra credit!

    Christmas cookies bring me joy, the baking, the house smells, the eating. And reading Christmas books, and watching Christmas stories – especially It’s A Wonderful Life. Always an annual event at my house. That’s my story, I’m sticking to it! All the best with the book.

    1. I think I might start my baking tomorrow. They’re calling for lake effect snow in Buffalo, so it sounds like a good day to stay put and get cozy!

  2. Reading Christmas mysteries, watching the Hallmark channel, listening to Christmas music, and being with my family brings me joy during the Christmas season.

  3. Your epiphany and mine! I’ve moved from the absolutely overwhelmed state to the contemplative “does it bring me joy” stage of holiday living. Modest baking, a couple of Christmas concerts, a nice wreath on the front door, time on the calendar for visiting. It is, of course, much easier since my children are adults.

    Wishing you a strong and thorough recovery and blessings of this season.

  4. Welcome back, Barbara! I am glad you’ve come up with priorities that work for you. I’ve been decorating less and less, but this year invited my young friends (ages 8 and 11) over to help decorate the tree – that will make it truly fun – and bake cookies with me. I can’t wait!

  5. Between joy, Hygge and Swedish death cleaning, I am being a bit more ruthless with those holiday totes this year! I love the stuffed reindeer that had survived since my own childhood, but the stuffed Xmas tree, not so much. Hope you continue to feel better and thanks for the chance to win!

  6. Barbara, you have had a rough time with those health issues, so I hope you are being kind to yourself. I broke my ankle 3 weeks ago and will be hobbling along on with cast and crutches until the New Year. So I decided to give myself a break too from Christmas obligations. I normally love to bake and give out homemade treats (cookies, almond stollen, chocolate truffles) during the holidays. Instead, I am searching the menus of local bakeries online to see what they have to offer. Watching some classic Christmas movies and reading Christmas-themed books (such as yours) will help bring some cheer during this year’s holidays.

  7. We also have downsized Yule, limited decorations (because otherwise the house looks so stark and bare come January) and only make the food we enjoy! (I don’t think I can win the book as I am in the UK and shipping would be grim! I will see if the series is on Kindle though :D)

  8. Decorating, baking cookies, and hanging with my family brings me joy during the season. Sitting in front of a roaring fire with a cup of hot chocolate or spiced cider. Whether teens or tots, kids can really put the joy in the holidays.

    Shopping, however, does not bring me joy. Thank goodness for the Internet!

    1. I’ve never enjoyed shopping, either. Love the click and ship, although the neighbors are beginning to talk about just how much time the man in brown spends at my house…

  9. Christmas is a tough time of year for me.This will be the 4th Christmas that I am not allowed to see my 3 beautiful granddaughters. I don’t get to see them at all but at Christmas it’s the hardest.

    But I still get a bit of pleasure baking cookies with my husband and having a spiked eggnog once in a while. I buy presents for the girls and my son and husband. So I guess you can figure out who the culprit is are we are mystery fans?

    1. Sorry about that. Families can be messy at times. I actually have grandparents who never bothered to meet me at all. Through the years I’ve adopted surrogate family members to fill various gaps in my life. My holiday table is filled with loving family, only a portion of which share the same DNA. May your family abound this Christmas.

    1. Thanks for having me, Sherry! I enjoyed that too, but right now all the most sentimental ornaments are all in storage, thanks to those naughty cats. We’ve also had to stop putting strings of lights on the tree. I have a wire-chewer. I’ve even seen gnawed mini light sockets and broken bulbs!

  10. Bringing a smile to someones face who wants nothing more than you to spend time with them brings me joy during the holiday season. We gave up on the traditional holiday gift giving several years back. Hubby and I both love to bake and spend time together so it only made sense for us to bake our presents. When we’ve finished some baking be it cookies, cupcakes or whatever, we decide who needs some cheering up. We love to visit the elderly (even if we are fast approaching that category) or those that are shut in whether from an injury or disability. Some times we will let them know we are coming so they can have their “list” made. Hubby is great as a handyman. What he can’t do he will figure out and loves to tinker instead of just sitting. While I may sit and visit he will work on their list. But something I run errand or pick up groceries for them while he’s working and then we both visit when we are done. Some times we will adopt someone at the local nursing home during the holidays that has no relatives and just pop in with some cookies (diet allowing) and a little chat. After all, isn’t the best presents really from the heart and our time. Time is the most precious and valuable gift we can give. Once it’s pasted it can never be reused or reclaimed. 🙂
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    1. Sounds like you cleared out the clutter and embraced the truly important! What a lovely tradition you’ve established, and a true blessing to others. <3

  11. I love looking for that personal gift that I hope will make that person smile from the heart ❤️
    I also love making Christmas cookies!
    Merry Christmas 🎄

  12. Taking the time to find just the right present for someone special. At my age, I don’t “need” anything and there is very little that I want. But I love making others happy and what could be better than a well-thought out surprise?

  13. I’m glad to hear your feeling better. I love making cookies with my 2 Grandson’s. Thanks for your great generosity.

  14. Glad your taking time to enjoy the things you like to do. Life’s too short not to take the time and appreciate them. Hope everything clears up soon for you. Love your Vintage Toy Series. I haven’t started the other, yet.

  15. Welcome back to the Wickeds, Barbara!

    I have a book and a novella due Feb 1. We leave for Christmas at our kids home in Viginia on December 20 and then on down to Key West for three months. AND I vowed we’d have the whole house unpacked after our move before we left, so that returning home in April would be a joy, not a bummer.

    How to fit in Christmas? Since we’re going away I’ve done absolutely minimal decorating, and I’m having the lovely people at Amazon ship most of the gifts straight to Virginia. But the family has made it clear they expect cookies and cards. To be clear I was the one who created these expectations, since I do these things every year and they would think something was really wrong if I didn’t. But how to fit it all in?

  16. Barb, you’re a genius. That video is priceless! Although the song sounds like it’s off of an SNL sketch, LOL. LOVE your ornaments. I want the ones for Clue and Operation! Happy holidays. Thank you for everything you’ve done this year for Cozy Cafe. One of my best presents this year has been getting to know you. I hope we get some actual face time in the New Year. Happy holidays! Get some rest.

    1. Thanks, Ellen. Found that song on a veeery inexpensive collection of Christmas songs on Amazon–probably because it is so off-based. But Howdy Doody was very popular locally, so I’ve found collectibles at the vintage toy shows. I’ve caught portions of episodes on You Tube. They do NOT stand the test of time. Seriously creepy now. Malice?

  17. I’m very torn right now. Due to a water leak from my upstairs neighbor, I can’t decorate for Christmas right now. There might be time to do something before Christmas itself, but do I really want to? I love having decorated, but I hate taking the decorations down. So part of me is happy I don’t have to do anything this year and part of me wishes I had my trees up and decorated.

    (If you haven’t read these books, they are wonderful! Just watch out for that Mark Baker guy who has a cameo in Toy Town Express.)

    1. Oh Mark. 🙁 Sorry about the water leak. Like having decorated is a good way of putting it.

      And btw, wait until you see how the fictional Mark Baker reprises his role in book 3. A little more than a cameo…just saying.

    1. When I was little, I wanted to have that house that was all decked out. Now the thought of all that work–often in the cold and wind…I’ve given up that desire. I’ll enjoy looking at other people’s too!

  18. Brava for the realization that one should do what brings joy at any season and not feel obligated by false expectations. A local commentator told of her young son, hearing too many “no this way” comment while decorating cookings, sobbing, “I want worser cookies and funner times.” I will put up a bit of Christmas, and then perhaps visit a favorite bakery . . . <3

  19. I adore Christmas decorations and driving around looking at Christmas lights! I also really enjoy spending time with my extended family for Christmas. I have the first book of your Vintage Toyshop series at the top of my TBR pile. I’ve heard great things about the series and am looking forward to reading it. I hope you are feeling better!

  20. Eating cookies definitely brings me joy, too! And I’m with you on not doing anything that doesn’t “need” to be done. A low-stress holiday is key to enjoying yourself. Hope you feel better soon.

  21. We wait until Christmas Eve day to make all of our treats for Santa (& ourselves). We have our must-have favorites & then if there’s enough time (& energy) we make others on our list. It’s always fun.

  22. Hope you are feeling much better now! Christmas joy comes to me with reflection on our many blessings as a family. Our family does not always spend Dec. 25th together with scheduling conflicts, but no matter when we are together…it is Christmas! I enjoyed your “Howdy Doody Christmas” song and Christmas tree. LibraryLady80 at gmail dot com

  23. I do enjoy eating those Christmas cookies but no longer feel the need to decorate but just enjoying the company of family & friends.

  24. Christmas cookies, carols, and family time make me happy. Thank you for the chance to win.

  25. Unpacking the ornaments and remembering where we got them (or who gave them to us) brings me joy, as does Christmas music. Oh, and Charlie Brown Christmas brings me the most joy. Thanks for the post and the giveaway, and hope you feel better. I’m sure some Christmas cookies will help!

  26. All of my Snoopy Christmas things brings me joy. Spending Christmas Eve with my family brings me joy. Going to church on Christmas Eve brings me joy! I wish joy to everyone this holiday season!

  27. Getting my tree up & spending time with my Son & his family, Thanks for your generosity.

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