Karen Ball is the acquisitions editor in charge of the fiction publishing program for the B&H Publishing Group. She has been both a full-time freelance editor and author, and has worked in the Christian publishing industry for more than twenty years. After nearly 12 years with Tyndale House Publishers as senior editor of books, she served as senior editor of fiction for Multnomah Publishers, and for three years was the executive editor of fiction for Zondervan. She has worked with a number of popular authors including Francine Rivers, Karen Kingsbury, Terri Blackstock, Robin Lee Hatcher and James Scott Bell.
Karen lives in southern Oregon with her husband, Don, and their “kids”, a mischief making Siberian husky named Bo, and an irrepressible blue-eyed Aussie-Terrier mix named Dakota.
Visit her web site at www.karenballbooks.com.
Tell us about your first Christmas memory?
I’m not sure how old I was, but I remember going with our church family up in the the Mountains to get Christmas trees. We all piled onto a trailer filled with hay, pulled by a tractor, and rode it up into the mountains. We tromped around in the snow, laughing and throwing snowballs, and picked out the perfect tree. My two brother and I each got to pick a small tree to go in our rooms. Then, the trees all cut and tied and piled on the trailer, we hiked back down the mountain to where hot chocolate and homemade donuts awaited us. To this day, the fragrance of the Oregon mountains in winter makes me think of Christmas, Christmas trees, and the beauty of family and friends.
Growing up, did your family have Christmas traditions? Tell us how you incorporated them into your family life. Or, how you created new ones.
Oh, my, yes! My mom was the queen of celebrations, and Christmas was a solid month of celebrating. So my memories of Christmas are filled with images of us all decorating, going after Christmas trees with the church family, going shopping with Mom to buy gifts (each of us kids had a night out on the town with Mom, and got to choose where we ate dinner), setting up the nativity scene, playing Christmas music, having a family sharing night with the church where everyone shared a talent, and our Christmas eve candlelight carol sing…and on and on. I LOVE Christmas because of the memories my family built together. We still have tree decorating night, where we play Christmas music and decorate the tree–and the ornaments are a mix of old and new. We even have the Christmas lemon, a decoration my mom had from when she was a little girl. The poor ol’ lemon is kind of dried up now, but it doesn’t matter. It still makes me smile when we pull it out of the decoration box.
When do you put up your tree? At my house, it goes up when my kids’ begging is louder than my procrastination (around December 1). My husband works assembles my prelighted tree. I do the rest. Describe the decorating at your house.
Living in Oregon, it’s almost against the law to have anything but a real tree! So it’s real trees for us every year. Because of that, we generally put the tree up around the middle of December to ensure the tree stays fresh. We used to drive up into the mountains to get our tree, but lately we’ve found a lovely U-Cut It tree farm where it’s a bit easier for my dad. So we all go pick out the tree, then it’s back to the house for Christmas music and decorating. I live in a household of men (my hubby, my dad, and my older brother), and the guys wouldn’t mind at all if I took over decorating the tree. But I am my mother’s daughter, and I’ve informed them this is a family event and, as they used to tell my brother when he was in the Marines, “You WILL enjoy it!”
What is your favorite Christmas song or album? I recently bough Unexpected Gifts and I love it! They are old favorites sung in a new way. Includes “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” (Bethany Dillon); “Do You Hear What I Hear” (Nichole Nordeman); “O Little Town of Bethlehem” (Steven Curtis Chapman); and “Silent Night” (Sanctus Real).
I absolutely love the Nylons’ Christmas album and the Il Divo Christmas album! Wonderful harmonies, and many of my favorite Christmas songs, including “Joy to the World,” “I Wonder as I Wander” (which my dad sang for many years at Christmas time), “Lo, How a Rose Ere Blooming”, “Mary, Did You Know?”, and my all time favorite: “O Holy Night.”
Christmas morning, my parents brother and I would head over to my grandparents’ house and open all our presents there. Or they’d come to our house … so we didn’t open them until we were up, dressed, showered and fed. Relive your childhood Christmas mornings for us.
My brothers and I would wake up in the wee hours, each one traipsing down the stairs, ostensibly to go to the bathroom or get a drink, just so we could see what lay under the tree! We’d poke through gifts, restraining the urge to peel back just a corner of wrapping paper… Then, when we couldn’t stand it any longer, we’d pad to Mom and Dad’s bedroom and beg them to get up. They always did, and our house was full of laughter as we gathered in the living room. First came stockings. We’d pass out the stockings and go through them, opening little gifts and sampling the goodies. All of our treasures went into shoeboxes with our names on them, and when we were done with stockings, the shoeboxes were set aside. My brothers and I would then to to the tree and take each person’s gifts to them, until every gift had been doled out and lay in a pile next to where we sat. Then, starting with the youngest, we’d open one gift, then on to the next oldest, then the next, and so on until all the gifts were open. It was a wonderful way to share Christmas morning!
Seems to me snow and Christmas go together, and in Montana that’s almost a given! Tell us about your Christmas setting?
In Southern Oregon, the snow is so well behaved it stays up in the mountains! Seriously, we live in a valley, surrounded by mountains. By Christmas, the mountains are all wearing blankets of snow. What we get on the valley floor is fog. Lots of it. And cold, crisp air replete with the fragrance of evergreen and wood smoke. Almost every year, though, the temp drops on Christmas Eve and we get at least a dusting of wonderful, white flakes. They don’t stick around long; just long enough to make it REALLY feel like Christmas.
It’s Christmas Eve… Describe your day and evening.
The day is pretty much full of whatever last-minute tasks need to be done. Usually wrapping gifts! I can remember my poor mom being up until the wee hours of Christmas finishing up the wrapping. Also, I fix a creamy potato soup in the crock pot and leave it on all day. When evening comes, it’s off to church for the services. Then back home for soup and a wonderful, heavy bread. We often play games–my family LOVES to play all kinds of games–and then we gather in the living room. Each one of us gets to choose one gift to open. Then it’s off to bed, to try and get to sleep so Christmas will hurry up and come. I swear, I’m almost as excited as an adult as I was as a kid!
Confession time. Shop on line or at the mall?
I shop in stores, but I do it all year long so I can avoid the mall in December. I have everything done by Thanksgiving. Not because I’m organized, but because I can’t stand how crazy it’s become!
Christmas grows more and more commercial every year. Setting the hustle and bustle aside, what does Christmas really mean to you?
That God sent us the most perfect, incomparable gift of all: His Son, to restore our relationship with Him. It means love and forgiveness, family and friends, peace and joy.
It’s Christmas day… what’s for dinner? Do you make cookies or other traditional foods?
Ham. We’ve always had turkey for Thanksgiving, ham for Christmas. And yes, we make cookies, as well as our family favs: orange Jell-O (with the little oranges in it); my mom’s Pear Jell-O (Lime Jell-O mixed with pears, cream cheese, and Cool Whip). And my sister-in-law makes these incredible sweet potatoes…Yum!
Tell us about your favorite Christmas memory.
I don’t have just one. Christmas has always been so special in my life, such a time of rejoicing in God’s love and the love of my family. There’s no way to single out one memory, because they’re all such treasures to me. Especially the memories of my mom, who left us for eternity five years ago. So I guess what I’d say is my favorite Christmas memory is simply my family, sharing love and laughter.
What are you plans for this season?
Gathering at our place with family to celebrate our love and the love God has for us.
Any final thoughts on Christmas?
Just that it never ceases to amaze me how this season brings a sense of love and kindness back into the world. That anyone could think it’s just another holiday, or that it’s offensive, stuns me. There really is a touch of magic in Christmas–the magic of God’s eternal love and peace. My prayer is that, whoever you are, where ever you are, you’ll feel that in new and powerful ways this Christmas.
Blessings to you.
And to you and your family! Thanks Karen.