Sunday, December 21, 2014


This is a picture of the newest addition to our family, a reclusive elderly lady cat named Gigi. She used to live with my sweet mother-in-law, but now she lives with us -- and I'm not sure she's very happy about it. But to tell the truth it's difficult to know. She was a recluse even when she and Grandma Donna lived together, rarely coming out of the closet she had chosen as her cozy spot. Her core of sweetness shone, though, when, as Donna became less able to come and go, Gigi began to creep out at night to sleep on her feet -- a great comfort, as you can imagine.

These days, she has two cozy spots. Her preference is to camp under the tall boy's bed, at the exact center of the space -- where she is completely unreachable. He's fine with this, except for the part about how she would really prefer to have her food bowl shoved under the bed, too -- so that she doesn't have to make eye contact with anyone. I did say "reclusive."

So she makes do with an alternate cozy spot in our storage room. From her strategic location she can fend off the potential threat of . . . well, pretty much anything that seems scary. The family, the other two cats, the dogs, the phone, the light coming on . . . The world is pretty menacing according to Gigi.

Boxed up on the way to the vet, Gigi punched herself in the nose in an effort to fight the evil cat carrier. Then she realized that a crate is a perfectly perfect cozy spot.

But rarely, rarely, she creeps out in the middle of the night, like Grizabella the Glamour Cat, and timidly makes her way to the bottom of the stairs. Twice now, in seven months, she has made it all the way up to the kitchen, to peek around the corner and see if the coast was clear. Then she made a break for the powder room (cozy) and curled up on the throw rug for a nap. Global Anxiety Disorder is exhausting.


Advent books!

December 20:

OK, so here's a book that was pointed out to me by MomVee, over on Facebook.  She loved it to the point of tears, she said. So like an idiot, I went to the library to look for it, and sat there and cried, right there in Mother Goose's Storybook Time Chair. Embarrassing. Patricia Polacco tells a loving and nostalgic story about a Christmas tradition from her childhood, and pays sweet tribute to her youngest brother at the same time.


December 21:

The phenomenally wonderful Ezra Jack Keats (you already love him because of The Snowy Day) illustrates this book, with beautiful pictures to accompany the well-known carol.  The warmth and detail of the drawings are lovely. You can get this as a board book, which makes sense -- the repetitive "pa-rum-pa-pum-pum" of the song is a mesmerizing magnet for babies and toddlers, so a sturdy board book for them to "read" while they sing is a fabulous thing.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Advent Calendar: Day 19

Today's Advent selection offers you a couple of options. There are many lovely illustrated versions of The Nutcracker, which most of us know as a ballet.  Here are two versions of the story in written form -- both are lovely.

The original story, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, was written in German by E.T.A. Hoffman in 1815, and is much longer and more involved than many folks realize. If you are interested in the full [translated!] text, this edition, illustrated by the great Maurice Sendak of "Where the Wild Things Are" fame, is a great choice. The pictures are full of detail and weird whimsy, great to pore over and explore.

If you have younger readers/listeners, an abridged version of the story may be just the thing. This edition, re-told and illustrated by Susan Jeffers is a good one. I have recommended this telling of the story before -- I think it's very pretty.

And I would also encourage you to go see a performance of the ballet and luxuriate in the gorgeous Tchaikovsky music. In multiple dressing rooms across America, someone is strapping on her pointe shoes right now. Go see it!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

"There's a double meaning there . . . ."

So what do you think is the deeper meaning behind this particular arrangement of books on the shelves of my local Target??


And hey!  Advent books!

December 15:

Here is a lovely written version of the Gian Carlo Menotti children's opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors. This story is written like a novella, but those familiar with the score can sing the words of Amahl, his mother, and the three strange and wonderful kings who visit them on their way to Bethlehem.  Really, it's hard not to sing these beautiful tunes: "Don't cry, mother dear -- don't worry for me! If we must go begging, a good beggar I'll be . . . " Come on -- go ahead and sing!


December 16:

On the first night of Chanukah, here is a great story, All the Lights in the Night , by Arthur A. Levine. Two Jewish boys, Benjamin and Moses, are fleeing Russia and making their way to Palestine. They comfort each other by telling stories of Chanukah. With only a battered lamp to light their way, they realize their own miracle of lights as they journey to the Holy Land.


December 17:

Here's a silly little story for the mommies and daddies: "Jeeves and the Yule-Tide Spirit," by P.G. Wodehouse. Lovers of Jeeves and Wooster may already be familiar with this story, which was first published in magazines in December 1927, and later anthologized in Very Good, Jeeves (1930).  As the story begins, Bertie tells his disapproving manservant, Jeeves, that rather than go to Monte Carlo for the Christmas season, they will go to a friend's country house. Because " . . . does one get the Yule-tide spirit at a spot like Monte Carlo?" To which Jeeves asks, "Does one desire the Yule-tide spirit, sir?"

You'll snort with laughter!


December 18:

Snow, by Cynthia Rylant, is a pretty little book that describes all the things one can do on a snowy day. As with most storybooks, the illustrations are what make this a book to read before bedtime, as you dream of a snowy day.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Advent Calendar: Day 13 and Day 14

December 13:

Here is a great wintery book to read this time of year. The Twelve Days of Winter shows an elementary school classroom as their teacher introduces a new winter activity every day. The text allows children to recite/sing/chant along with the accumulating counting rhyme, but the pictures that illustrate the story are made to be pored over. An observant urchin will notice the dancing girl, the shy student who needs to stay close to teacher, the two rough-housing boys, and one kid who has a finger up his nose in every scene! This one really tickled me.


December 14:

In Listen to the Silent Night, by Dandi Daley Mackall, we learn that things were maybe not all that silent in the stable on the night Jesus was born! From the sound of the sheep and cattle rustling and baaing to the fluttering on angel wings, to the excited murmur of shepherds, the story of the Nativity is told in a way that is both reverent and clever.  And as you can probably tell, I am a sucker for a beautifully illustrated book. This one is lovely!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Found one!

So every year when I'm out Christmas shopping (or sometimes Christmas window-shopping), I play a little game with myself, to see where I will see the first religious Christmas decoration or ornament. Part of the reason for my quest is that I collect "Holy Family" tree ornaments.  I have some beautiful ones; some were gifts, but many I have found during my yearly "game."

Well, of course I find an angel or two pretty quickly, and of course angels count. One or two times I have seen a menorah ornament, which seems confusing to me -- but I suspect that in families where one parent is Christian and one parent is Jewish, a menorah tree ornament feels like a fine blending of two customs.  The most unusual religious tree ornament I have ever seen was a lovely glass ornament of the Buddha.  At which I got very tickled and had to go sit down because I was laughing so hard.

This year the winner of my internal contest -- the store where I saw the first Nativity display -- was Pottery Barn Kids.  Here is their fun (and spendy) manger scene.


And here are a few great books to get us us caught up on our Advent calendar:

Day 8:

Here's a pretty little picture book about the life of Mary, Jesus's mother.  In my house, today is a perfect day for a book like this, since December 8 is the day on which Catholics commemorate Mary's immaculate conception.


Day 9:

Today's book is another that is out of print.  Lucky for us that we can access all, all the books through This fabulous website gives book lovers the ability to find books at used book stores all over the English speaking world.  Can I get an amen for buying a beloved and out-of-print book from a nice little New Zealand bookstore with a cat and a generous return policy?!

Din, Dan Don, It's Christmas, by Janina Domanska, is based on a Polish carol. It depicts a procession of birds and people together, as they make their way toward the manger where Jesus has been born. The illustrations evoke stained glass windows, and the simple words evoke an earlier time.


Day 10:

Here's a reminder that every creature is unique and wonderful in ways that cannot be duplicated. No Two Alike, by Keith Baker, is a quietly lovely depiction of a winter landscape. We see that while some things seem similar, really every creature has its unique place in the pattern of life.


Day 11:

The Christmas Magic, by Lauren Thompson, offers a view of Santa Claus as he prepares for Christmas. In her telling of the story, Santa is more removed from the world, and he works quite alone as he readies the reindeer, prepares gifts for every girl and boy in the world, and polishes his sled and its jingle bells.


Day 12:

Moe the Dog in Tropical Paradise was a big hit with all my urchins when they were little. I think the idea of a very sophisticated and world-weary dog, who works in an ice cream factory, just tickled their funny-bones. When you add the fact that he's got a very thoughtful girlfriend and a terrific imagination, you have the makings of a great wintery book.

Moe the Dog and his girlfriend Arlene long for a summery paradise where they can relax and get away from their bitter cold lives at the ice cream factory. While others are enjoying the freebies that come their way,  Moe just wants to go south where it is warm.  How will he and Arlene figure out a way to experience the vacation of their dreams?

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Advent Calendar: Day Seven

On the second Sunday of Advent, here is a lovely book about the night Jesus was born.  In Only a Star, by Margery Facklam, a little girl asks her father, "Were there any decorations for Jesus when he was born in the stable?" "Only a star," her dad answers.

The rest of the book shows, though gorgeously detailed illustrations, just how that little star's light transformed everything it touched -- so that the stable was beautifully decorated: "But it glistened on dewdrops and turned them to diamonds. Spidery threads became ribbons of silk." Wonderful.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Saint Nicholas Day!

Today is the Feast of Saint Nicholas! Did you put your shoes out last night? 

OK, so some of us get a little confused from time to time about the whole St. Nicholas v. Santa Claus split personality thing, and we wonder how we should talk to our kids about it. Well, I read this great blog post yesterday, and I think the blogger did a fabulous job of explaining why we should not feel angsty about these conversations.  She has such a great take on what really can be a tricky issue -- I hope you find it as helpful as I did.


Today's Advent calendar book is, of course, one about the good man himself, in his Santa guise. The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus is written by the great  L. Frank Baum, of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz fame.  This beautifully illustrated book tells the legend of the early life of Santa -- as opposed to being a biography of St. Nicholas.  It's a fun fantasy about Santa's childhood and early mission to make children happy. There are other editions of the story, with beautiful illustrations -- but they have been simplified and the story is somewhat diminished. While I do love a gorgeous picture book, I hate to see this terrific story dumbed down. So I prefer this edition. 

You might also enjoy an edition that contains both of Baum's Santa stories ("The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus" and "A Kidnapped Santa"), published as L. Frank Baum's Book of Santa Claus.  It's fun, too!