Authors on Holiday: Ellen Butler Shares Family Traditions


Family Traditions from Ellen Butler

It’s holiday time and for many people it means, food, family gatherings, decorations, shopping or travel. Your family might have traditions like picking out your tree together, or baking the stuffing recipe that’s been handed down for generations. In my family, we have several traditions, but, hands down, one of my favorite traditions is one that my husband and I began early in our relationship. Every year, we visit the U.S. Botanic Gardens in Washington, D.C.

That may seem like an odd place to go during the holidays, but the one in D.C. does something special, it sets up a fantastic model train display that has a yearly theme. It’s location has changed over the years, originally spread throughout the gardens, the trains are now housed in one of the buildings off the main Conservatory. No matter in one room or many it’s always fun to watch the trains chug along on their miniature tracks through towns artistically sculpted with plant-based materials. This year’s display will feature our nation’s national parks and historic places. The artistry of the sculptures is phenomenal, and its splendor appreciated by the adults. However, I believe it is the trains that are the highlight for kids and grown-ups alike. The busy room is filled with children pointing out the tiny figurines and colorful trains, accompanied by excited shouts like, “look Mommy, it’s Thomas the Train!”

Once you exit the Train Room, you can view the rest of the gardens, which are filled with a variety of plants including, exotic orchids, rainforest trees, and dry climate cacti, to name a few. There are also a few evergreens decked out in Christmas finery to enjoy as well. In the entrance’s Garden Court, you’ll find an amazing set of replicas of D.C.’s landmark buildings, such as the Capitol, White House, and Supreme Court, also made from plant-based materials. Every few years a new one is added to the collection.

Afterwards, we wander over to take pictures of the Capitol Christmas tree and then go eat lunch somewhere on Butler1Capitol Hill. There have been a few years which our family hasn’t been able to visit the Gardens due to illness or travel. However, as soon as Thanksgiving arrives, the kids start asking when we’ll go into the city to see the trains. One day the children will be grown and start their own family traditions. I expect, my husband and I will still visit the gardens and enjoy the trains as much as we did the very first time, before we were married and had the children. It’ll be our way of remembering times past while still making new memories during the holidays.

What is your family’s special holiday tradition?

Ellen Butler is an award winning novelist writing sassy romance and edgy suspense. Find her at:

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The Brass Compass 
Ellen Butler

brassA beautiful American spy flees into the night. On her own, she must live by her wits to evade capture and make it to the safety of the Allied forces.

Lily Saint James grew up traveling the European Continent, learning languages as she went. In 1938, her mother’s abrupt death brings her back home to Washington, D.C., and after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Lily comes to the attention of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Her knowledge of German, French, and Italian makes her the perfect OSS Agent, and her quick thinking places her as a nanny in the household of an important German Army Colonel, where she is able to gather intelligence for the Allies. After her marketplace contact goes missing, she makes a late-night trip to her secondary contact only to find him under interrogation by the SS. When he commits suicide, she flees into the frigid winter night carrying false identification papers that are now dangerous and a mini film cartridge with vital strategic information. In order to survive, Lily must make it out of Germany, into the hands of Allied-controlled France, through a path fraught with peril.

Knowing her capture will mean torture and certain death, is she resourceful enough to make it out in time?