The Story of Here + There | A Christmas Collective

One year ago, as I watched my husband wrestle and play with our boys after dinner one night, I sat down to the ricketiest, most unpromising (and most beautiful because of who gave it!) piano and strung together what would be the first few compilations of Here + There. Today, you can download the album, here, for $7 or you can order an actual CD from my Etsy shop, Cranny, for $8.95. I am so thrilled to share some of the story behind this process, here with you today.

I remember telling my husband how I wanted to do this, this collection of original compositions. I want the boys to have it someday-- want it to remind them of all of these times, you taking the time to play with them, and me stringing together their favorite songs while the giggling and banter ensues. A couple days later, as I fingered through a batch of papers on the counter, I spied a note from my husband. On the paper, I had scrawled a hasty list of 'maybe' songs for the Christmas collection. At the very top, his handwriting spelled out the message, "I believe in you. I love you, Sakes." That note meant the world to me and encouraged me to begin what would become a year-long process.

photo credit / Jody Johnston
That process, my collection of original Christmas compositions, turned into something so much more. I think that sometimes, whether it's note-playing, word-writing, child-loving, God-learning, husband-knowing, or friend-making, I wrestle with the should, would, and could. When, in reality, what I need to do, to borrow words from my sister, is to go out and do the did-- to do something, no matter how small or insignificant.  This year-long project showed me the value of small and insignificant.

As I mentioned, I created Here + There for my boys to have someday. But  also, I compiled many of the arrangements with specific people in mind, hence the use of the word 'collective' in the subtitle. I know this post will be lengthy, but I'd like to share a little background for some of the songs. For instance, the first song, Joy to the World, was written for my Graeme-bear. Joy to the World was the first carol that Graeme learned and it remained his favorite for a long time. As Graeme and I were talking about this the other day, he mentioned to me that his current favorite is actually The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late). And I have to tell you, I've never tried so hard to finagle a little Alvin into something!

Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire (The Christmas Song) was compiled and recorded for my mom. Chestnuts Roasting was recorded first by Nat King Cole in 1946, the year my mom was born. My mom has memories of her dad singing it to her when she was a little girl. I wanted to bring back those good memories for my mom. And so, I arranged Chestnuts Roasting in a swing style, one that I hope brings a smile to her face. 

Early one morning, as I was fidgeting around with notes and getting nowhere fast, Jobie began plinking around on the high notes. I pressed the record button. And as I sat there watching him, my thoughts wandered to Mary, the girl-mother, holding the Son of God-- her baby! in her arms. Sometimes I forget the very motherhood of Mary. I forget that, like me, she might've sobbed at the first glimpse of her newborn baby, overcome with indescribable love and thanksgiving. And then I wonder, did she sing lullabies to him, too? When I think about these things, I'm reminded of one of my favorite songs, Mary, Did You Know. There are many words from it that make my throat catch hard, but especially these-- "when you kiss your little baby, you kiss the face of God." And so, as I sat there that morning, thinking about all of these things, a compilation formed in my mind and I hit the record button and started playing. Jobie's Lullaby begins with a snippet from Jobie himself, followed by songs that I sang to him when he was a tiny baby-- Hush, Little Baby and Away in a Manger. 

Last year, I read Eric Metaxas' Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. It changed my life and thinking in so many ways. Simple words here would never be able to convey the emotions that poured out of me while reading this man's life-story. But it challenged me in a way that I never had known before. So many things became real and known to me through the reading of Metaxas' work. And out of that, came a compilation of O Come, O Come Emmanuel and Theme from Schindler's List by John Williams. (During the time that I was compiling this arrangement, I taught piano lessons to two students who were absolute gifts to me. Every now and again, I would play bits and pieces, whatever I had ready, for my oldest student, Kendall. She was an incredibly encouraging and thoughtful listener.) It's the weightiest track on the album with deep, deep heart emotions behind it.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas was recorded for my sister, Barb, and her husband Jon. These two were Christmas to me for so many years. I love them. They are, literally, Mr. and Mrs. Christmas. I'm not going to lie, I cried when I recorded this song because it's been years since I've been able to join my sister and her family for Christmas. Graeme and Job have never known a 'Blair' Christmas. These lyrics are especially hard to swallow-- through the years we all will be together // if the Fates allow // hang a shining star upon the highest bough // and have yourself a merry little Christmas now. But I know that God will allow us to be together at some point. And how do I know this? For one, I have a little four-year-old who daily prays for tickets to South Carolina. (smile) 

A big thank you to so many who have already purchased CD's or downloaded the album. The pictures above were taken yesterday as I put together several packages, filled with CD's, that will be mailed out this coming Monday. (Jobie helped!) Also, thank you in advance for the many of you who have shared this on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media avenues. Please know that my little family appreciates that so much! Happy weekending! We're off to get our Christmas tree. How about you?


  1. I always know when I visit your blog, I am in for a respite or a treat; a smile or an inspiration. But today, this pierced my heart so (and it may have something to do with the fact that I haven't had a holiday with my family in nearly 10 years) that tears fell through the whole read. Thank you for sharing so much of you. Thank you for plucking away note after note, day after day; when you saw the mountain before you and kept eyes on the step just ahead; for not stopping at the feeling of insignificance and holding the prize in your vision. Love you, my friend.

    1. Erin, I don't even know what to say except a huge thank you and also an even bigger heart hug coming your way. You can bet this Oregon friend will hoop and holler for you when you have the opportunity to be with your family, especially for Christmas. Love to you today and thank you, again, for this encouragement today! Merry, merry Christmas, friend!

  2. Reading through this the first time and just so touched and inspired. Metaxas' work is on my reading list right now, and I can't wait to get to it! But even more so now that I've read your little review of it! Can't wait to listen to this CD myself! Emailing you about that right now ;)

  3. Susanna,
    I have a feeling that you will love reading through Metaxas' work. And it will leave a deep, deep impression for a very long time. Thank you so much for reaching out with your email and I'm hoping that mine made it safely to your inbox! Happy weekending!

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