Thursday, March 20, 2014

You be the judge

Who can tell me what's hilarious about this picture? No, It's not that my Christmas wrapping paper is still at the ready as we all turn to face the sun, wearing our traditional and festive Vernal Equinox garb. That's just sad.

But look a little more closely. As I was shoving a pile of laundry out of the way so the vacuum could have a path, I glanced down at the cover story of this magazine (which I think was slipped into my bags as I was leaving the fabulous mother-in-law's place one night -- because she is never one to drop a hint when she can roll it up in a magazine and swat your behind with it).  People, I almost fell over laughing.  Or maybe it was crying.  I can't remember which.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Happy Christmas!

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to men."

Luke 2: 13-14

Happy Christmas, my friends!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Las Posadas!

Here is a fabulous video of a Las Posadas procession that took place in the Olvera Street marketplace -- the oldest part of the city of Los Angeles (it was established in 1781).  Las Posadas is a Latin American custom that re-enacts the journey of Joseph and Mary as they searched for a place to stay; the procession focuses on the words, "there was no room for them at the inn."

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Our Advent story today is about the response of a rejoicing earth to the birth of the newborn King. Throughout the world, the animals respond to the miracle they sense is coming.  Song of the Stars, by Sally Lloyd-Jones, is a beautiful story, that reminds us that Christmas is the time when we celebrate the birth of the King of all creation.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Dennis was right. As usual.

So my friend Dennis has been harassing me for three years now to include his favorite Christmas book in my list of Advent favorites.

I was leery, frankly -- because he is a Three Detectives man from way back, while I have always been more of a Brains Benton and Robin Kane girl. But I finally gave in and read his stinking book, and loved it.  Of course.


Mrs. Coverlet's Magicians, by Mary Nash, is a great little chapter book, second in a series.  The three Persever children, Malcolm, Molly, and six-year-old Toad are left with their cranky neighbor as Christmas approaches.  Without their father and Mrs. Coverlet, who will make Christmas happen? The Toad takes things into his own hands with the help of a magic kit he orders from the back of a comic book.  And Malcolm and Molly take steps as well, while Miss Eva, the bossy and disapproving neighbor, takes mysteriously to her bed.  Has Toad created Christmas magic, or is something else going on?  The friendly pastor who looks in on the children has his own opinion.
     "There's been magic around us, all right," he said.  "I felt it very strongly when I came to your house last night and saw you and Molly filling the stockings."
     "Then you do believe in magic?"
     "I believe in magic at Christmas," said Mr. Forthright reflectively.  "The amount of goodwill which is set loose every year at this time is quite unaccountable." 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Full house!

The girl in charge came home last night -- very happy-making!  Both the sunny girl and I ran out to hug her before she had really even gotten both feet out of the car, and for a little while there, no one could move because we were all caught in a hug scrum.  It was fabulous -- lovingly claustrophobic or claustrophobically loving, I'm not sure which.  Either way I'm glad she's home!

She drove all the way from Atlanta by herself, which makes some readers yawn ho-hum, and causes other readers to remind me that I drove to Florida  to visit the beloved roommate's family a time or two myself, when I was not much older than the girl in charge. To all of which I say, pipe down!

She did break up the trip by staying overnight with these hipsters, who broke their promise that they would not knock themselves out for her, by making tacos for dinner, and by wooing her with their total awesome-osity.  In the morning before my girl arrived, dudes went out and bought themselves a house.  The day after she left, they got on a plane for the Christmas holiday.  Yet still -- welcoming and loving and awesome to my girl.  The heart just explodes, y'all.

This photo was swiped from Maggie's Facebook.

By the way, Maggie is the MVP of the family, and Mr. Maggie knows it.  The girl in charge reports that he distributed all kinds of tips for the future about married life.  Maggie and Mr. Maggie got hitched in June.

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So,  hey!  Books for Advent!


I read Louisa May Alcott's novels over and over and over when I was younger -- I was drawn to them in the same way I was drawn to the Little House books.  And like Laura Ingall's Wilder's stories, each of Alcott's books has a Christmas or winter adventure.  Several Christmases (some joyously happy, some bittersweet) are lovingly described in Little Women, Little Men, and Jo's Boys.  Polly and Fanny have very different ideas about how to celebrate the season in An Old-Fashioned Girl.  And in Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom, Alcott shows Christmas through the eyes of a little girl, and of that same girl as a young woman.

But the Alcott Christmas story I love the most is the one described in Jack and Jill.  In this novel, the catalyst for the book's story arc is a sledding accident that occurs in the first chapter.  When Jack's mother takes in gravely injured Jill and her mother, she transforms their lives by turning Jill's sickroom into a Christmas-y wonderland.  As Alcott describes the decorations, the treats and gifts, and the friendship of the two young companions, a modern reader is swept right into the scene.  It's lovely!


People, look how beautiful this book is!  The text of We Three Kings, illustrated by Gennady Spirin, is taken from the well-known carol about the three magi.  But the images are so lush and detailed and gorgeous!  This is the kind of book that makes you want to stroke the pages -- the jewel-like colors are printed on yummy thick paper. It's a work of art.  The carol's old-fashioned language is hypnotic, and even young listeners who might not understand everything they hear will be drawn into the exquisite intricacies of the images.


Winter Holiday, by Arthur Ransome,  is the fourth book in the beloved Swallows and Amazons series. Readers who know that series already get how great this snowy adventure story is.  The Walker children (the Swallows) and their friends the Blacketts (the Amazons) team up with Dick and Dorothea (the D's) when the lake freezes: obviously they can now head out for the North Pole!  But when the D's disappear, will the Swallows and Amazons be able to find them? Fabulous capers ensue!


In A Night the Stars Danced for Joy, Tim Jonke's illustrations are so creamy and dream-like -- they are a lovely accompaniment to the story by Bob Hartman about a shepherd family that follows a glowing star.  I do love picture books and storybooks like this one.  Even when the text is simple or familiar, a beautiful image or intricate detail can draw us in and trigger our imaginations.  This book is out of print, but I found it at my local used book seller (shout out to C&W Used Books).  I bet you can get it at your local library, too.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

My advent calendar is like my life: always running a little bit behind.

Here's our pretty tree from a couple of years ago -- after the gifts had been opened.

Well, so let me share a list of all the things I have not done yet during this Advent season:
  • decorate the Christmas tree with all my lovely ornaments, each of which has special meaning to me, but which I may or may not be able to find currently
  • put lights on the Christmas tree
  • acquire the Christmas tree
  • bake any sort of scrumptious Christmas-y treat
  • put twinkly Christmas lights up outside my home to welcome family, friends, and maybe a wassailing stranger or two
  • wrap any Christmas gifts for my family and friends
  • purchase any Christmas gifts for my family and friends
  • hunt down the Christmas stockings and stocking hangers
  • write a hilarious, not-too-braggy, chock-full-of-pictures Christmas newsletter to include with my Christmas cards
  • mail any Christmas cards
  • purchase, craft, or recycle any Christmas cards

My Christmas angst level is high, y'all.

It feels like I say this every year. But -- I am always able to slide into the pew in time to sing carols before Midnight Mass, and somehow the little baby Jesus is always able to celebrate another birthday.

And I have also realized that Santa has my back; it's just that I need to learn how to recognize his elves when they are all around me.  Somehow the treats get made (the sunny girl is my go-to baker); the presents get purchased (come here, Amazon-dot-com, so I can kiss you on the lips) -- and wrapped by Coleen and by the girl in charge (who has a system, of course). The Boy Scouts come through every year, with a tree, and greenery, and luminaria to welcome those wassailers and friends.  My family's Christmas mornings are always wonderful, and our Christmas Day is mellow (we all lazily read our newest books), and we continue our festive season the very next day with a kick-ass Boxing Day party.

So -- get thee behind me, Christmas angst!

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And here -- with no angst! -- is a "catch-up" batch of wintery and Christmas-y books for Advent:


Twelve Kinds of Ice, by Ellen Bryan Obed, is a nostalgic and old-fashioned seeming book about the different kinds of ice one family experiences as winter progresses.  From a delicate skim of ice on a pail to true skating ice, the narrator and her sister find a way to find joy and anticipation and fun.  The delicate and precise illustrations by Barbara McClintock match the tone of the writing -- the book evokes all the different feelings of winter.  I'm so glad to have found this book!


Kevin Crossley-Holland wrote a trilogy of books that re-tell the King Arthur story that the tall boy loved when he was younger, so I was curious to see how he "re-tells" the Nativity story.  His book -- How Many Miles to Bethlehem? -- is wonderful.  The language is sometimes whimsical and sometimes sweeping and majestic, as Crossley-Holland narrates the story through the voices of the various participants and observers.  And the artwork!  Oh my goodness, it's so gorgeous!


In A Perfect Day, Carin Berger creates a snowy world using collages made of ledger paper brushed with paint; the texture and depth in the illustrations seem to be a way of representing the unique quality of the light on snow.  The story of the children who emerge from their homes to play together is told very simply, but the pictures give the story a richness that will have young readers and pre-readers poring over the book themselves for hours.


A storybook called The Nativity seems pretty straightforward, and the reader might assume that it will take a reverent tone when it describes this most important of all births.  And the story is absolutely told with a serious voice -- taken from the King James version of the Bible.  But the illustrations by Julie Vivas are just the slightest bit kooky, so that everyone will delight in looking at the pictures.  Mary's belly is really, really big; the angel Gabriel has bright red hair, shimmery wings, and big work boots.  It's hilarious! I just wish, wish, wish I had been able to share this book with the urchins when they were little -- but I am happy that my sister's small boys will get to enjoy it (guess what they're getting for Christmas?!)