Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Engaging Father Christmas

I've had Engaging Father Christmas on my bookshelf for a bit, and honestly, I sort of forgot about it! But then Melissa mentioned to me that she would have a review ready to post at 5 Minutes for Books on Christmas Eve, and I remembered that I had a copy of it, and tucked it into my bag for my road-trip to visit family in Virginia.

Robin Jones Gunn and I go waaay back. I purchased the The Christy Miller Series for my sister-in-law when she was a young teen (and although I was in my mid-twenties I read them right along with her). When I saw that she had a series for "grownups" I read a few of the Sisterchicks books as well.

So Engaging Father Christmas appealed to me based on the author's reputation alone, but it was great to read a story with a Christmas theme on Christmas Day and over the few days afterwards. That said, it's not a story that would feel out of place to read in January or June either. Gunn created real characters that I wanted to know more about, and the English aristocratic setting made it even more interesting and quaint.

Melissa's review painted a good picture of the story as a whole, and also features the first book in the series, which I haven't read. This second book is definitely a follow-up to that one, but the author did a good job of giving enough details so that I didn't feel lost at all. However, having enjoyed the characters, I plan to go back and read the first in the series, and also look forward to see if there is another novella coming next Christmas!

*****

Did you read a book that we reviewed on 5 Minutes for Mom or 5 Minutes for Books? Tell us about it in the I Read It! carnival on the fifth Tuesday of the month.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Pajama-ed

Kyle has coined a new phrase.

He usually asks me each morning, "Is it a school morning?"

If I say no, he will then ask, "Where are we going today?"

If I say nowhere, even though he usually wants to go somewhere, he'll say, "Woohoo! Can we stay pajama-ed?"

Today at 11am we are all still pajama-ed. The end of this month has been a whirlwind of holiday parties and events, Christmas shopping, etc. We returned last night at 11pm from our family Christmas celebration in Virginia, so a day (or at least most of the morning) of being pajama-ed is definitely in order today.

Checking email, updating blogs, paying bills, maybe some after-Christmas online shopping -- and oh yeah -- laundry are in order today. Those are all things that can be done quite well in a state of comfort, and are maybe even done better that way, don't you agree?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

What's on my Nightstand -- December

Well, now that Katrina's Fall Challenge is over, I don't have much of a list to stick to (not that I completely stuck to my Fall list, although I did pretty well). I also don't have a lot of review copies just sitting and waiting for me to read, so I'm not exactly sure what I'm going to read.

I am a Mitford fan, but I've had a hard time saying goodbye, so I waited months (maybe even years!) before reading the final installment in Jan Karon's series. When Home to Holly Springs came out as the first book in the Father Tim series, I was glad that it wasn't going to truly end, but I didn't jump right in for some reason. A friend gave it to me for Christmas, and I think I'll be reading it this month.

Speaking of series that I drag out unnecessarily for some absurd reason, I think I need to read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Book 6). It's been on my nightstand a while, but I want to be able to finish it up when book 7 comes out in trade paperback this spring. As an aside, this book has been "on my nightstand/bookshelf" so long, that I realized that I have TWO copies of it!

I've also started another Christmas book that I hope to stick with: The Irrational Season (The Crosswicks Journal, Book 3) by Madeleine L'Engle who is just lovely. Reading these books is like sitting down for a chat with an older mentor wife. I loved the first one, A Circle of Quiet, but I got a bit bogged down in the second one, The Summer of the Great-Grandmother, so I wasn't really compelled to keep reading. So I'm especially glad that my friend bought me this one and that I decided to just start reading, in spite of the fact that I don't think I finished the second one. Isn't it a lovely book? That matters to me -- how a book looks, and I love having these on my nightstand.

In fact, one reason I delayed starting Karon's latest series is because I love the look and feel of the trade paperbacks. The same goes for not switching to Harry Potter hardcovers, although these paperbacks are becoming a little worse for the wear, with Amanda having read the first few twice and me having read them once. A thick softcover book doesn't hold up too well to being read, BUT a thick hardcover is giant and heavy, so I'm still not sure where I stand on all this. I did recently review the 10th anniversary edition of the first book , and I got a review copy, so I might continue collecting those in hardcover as each novel hits its milestone year, because they have a similar look to my beloved trade paperbacks.

There are a couple of review copies that I want to read soon:

This One Is Mine: A Novel by Maria Semple

And of course a memoir Come Back: A Mother and Daughter's Journey Through Hell and Back

Thank you for joining me for this overly sentimental look at What's on My Nightstand. Read some more lists over at 5 Minutes for Books the fourth Tuesday of every month.

Monday, December 22, 2008

This and That

I did pick a winner on Wednesday for the Children's Place gift card, and it was #15, my very own sister! I would feel a little guilty about nepotism, but in all the giveaways that I do here and at 5 Minutes for Books and 5 Minutes for Mom, I think that I've only drawn a friend or family member three times -- even when I personally knew 40% of the entries here, random.org always drew a bloggy acquaintance instead. So I'm happy for my leetle seester, and will send the gift card her way.

+++++++

I wanted to point you over to a couple of recent reviews I've done:

Horton Hears a Who DVD -- the best children's movie I've seen in a long while. Love it!

Begin Smart Books -- a really delightful series of books from birth to age 2.

Audiobooks for Kids -- love audiobooks, perhaps as a "gateway" to books for a reluctant or impatient reader.

And over at 5 Minutes for Mom today I'm talking about buying books for Christmas.

++++

We have gotten so much snow over the last few days -- at least a foot! Amanda and Kyle were out of school Friday, and today was a delayed opening to give them a chance to get the slush off the roads. And it's COLD -- 11 degrees and windy with a windchill of five below.

Yes, Amanda still has school. She goes through tomorrow, and then we'll be heading to Virginia for Christmas with my husband's family.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Fall into Reading Wrap-up

Callapidder Days Fall into Reading challenge is over. When it started back in September, the leaves were changing, and now -- right now -- we're in the midst of a snowstorm, so I guess there's no doubt that it's winter, right?

So here's the update within my original list cut and pasted below:

Books on my personal shelf I'd like to read:
  • Three Weeks with my Brother (a memoir) -- Nicholas Sparks -- Didn't even start, but I still do want to read it.
  • Sacred Marriage -- Gary Thomas -- Nope didn't finish it.
  • Washington's Lady -- Nancy Moser --Started it, but put it aside (I will pick it back up again).
  • Keeping House by Margaret Kim Peterson (at the high recommendation of L.L. Barkat) -- I just started this one, am enjoying it, and will continue reading at a leisurely pace.
Books for the 5 Minutes for Books Classics Bookclub:
  • Jane Eyre -- Charlotte Bronte (I've just barely started this) -- Yep, reviewed HERE
  • A Christmas Carol -- Charles Dickens -- Yes. Reviewed HERE.
  • I did barely start Hamlet, which we are reading together for January.
Review Fiction:
  • The Shack by William P. Young --Nope, and I'm losing the urge to read it, although it was all the buzz at preschool pickup last month, so if I had read it, I could have chatted with the moms about it.
  • The Professors' Wives Club by Joanne Rendell -- I forgot that this was this fall! It seems so long ago, but I did enjoy it a lot. Reviewed HERE.
Offlist additional Review Fiction:
  • Matrimony -- Wonderful literary fiction. Reviewed HERE.
  • Off-Season -- Great book. Reminded me why I love fiction. Reviewed HERE.
  • Flirting with Forty -- Typical chick-lit, but a great easy read. Reviewed HERE.
  • Savvy -- Full review of this children's book to come on 5 Minutes for Books later this month, but my ten-year-old daughter Amanda reviewed it HERE.

Review Nonfiction:

Additional Offlist Review Nonfiction:
Additional Goals:
  • I don't know if this will be a review copy or just a book I pick up, but I'd like to read a light (specifically funny) novel. I was recently looking for something to read, having had my fill of dark or serious or "real," and was sort of looking for light escapist reading, and couldn't really put my hands on one. So I'm going to be on the lookout for something to fit this bill. YES! I rediscovered that children's literature is a perfect fit for me for this request! It's generally light(ish) and humorous, and short, and well-written (if you pick right). I really enjoyed Much Ado about Anne (reviewed HERE), and then I also ended up accepting a review copy of Savvy (see above) after remembering that I enjoy children's lit.
  • Nightmare at the Book Fair -- Dan Gutman -- Yes. Cute book which would appeal to boys or girls.
  • And I'm sure I'll read one or two more novels (or memoirs), either from my personal stash or review titles that have yet to be released. Surprise -- I did! I read
  • Same Kind of Different as Me, partially reviewed HERE. I finally read Beautiful Boy, which has been sitting on my shelf, also quickly reviewed in that same post.
  • Also, Marley and Me, which was both a memoir, AND funny (quick review HERE).
  • I also reviewed two dad project memoirs, The Film Club and Dinner with Dad HERE.

In Conclusion:

I DID read a LOT. I didn't exactly stick to my list, since most of the books I read these days are review copies (although I did do fairly well predicting). But I did read. And I did read more fiction, specifically lighter fiction, so that fulfilled one of my goals as well.

I do enjoy thinking about what I want to read or what I should read, even though I am not dipping into my personal stash too much as indicated by the lack of success with the books off my bookshelf. But I'll definitely be back in the Spring! See you then, booklovers!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Encouragement for Moms of Wild Little Boys (or Girls)

When I picked Kyle up from school yesterday, the teacher turned to me and said, "Oh, he's doing SO well this year."

This is a drastic change from the tone of the letter that I wrote him last year after the preschool open house right before he started school, which ended like this:

You like children. You have been learning to play with others and to share since you were very young. I'm not sure why you are acting as if you have never had a playdate. I know that when we went to the parent-child open house at the preschool today that you were very excited about all the toys and the fun setting, so I hope that you will take heed of this advice, so that you (and I) will be able to enjoy your couple of hours away from home twice each week.


Her comment was totally out of the blue. I didn't ask. He hadn't had a bad day recently. But in light of last year, where I did ask, and he did have bad days, I guess she wanted to make sure that I knew.

There were seriously times when he was two or three that I didn't think that I'd be able to go anywhere. Short forty-minute presentations in Amanda's classrooms were a nightmare.

"Kyle, no! Kyle, sit down. Stay by me. Shhhhhh!"

Why can't he just sit there? Look at all the other younger siblings sitting quietly. Yes, I was prepared with all the normal tools: snacks, activity books, trains, but if it was a wiggly day, it just didn't matter.

This summer I began to notice him gaining more self control. As I shared, when he started staying in church with us for the first part before going to children's church, I didn't think that we'd be able to do it. "That's insane!" I thought. "He can't sit there for thirty minutes!"

But each week he does. Sometimes he's louder or more wiggly than others, but for the most part he does just fine.

So, just as dear friends told me when I thought that I'd never be able to take him anywhere, I will tell you: It will get better. He (or she -- I do not type-cast gender expectations here) will grow up. It might happen at four or eight, but it will happen. You will be able to take him places.

The best advice I got from those friends was not to fret too much about it. I felt guilty that I always chose to get a friend to help me out to watch him for Amanda's events. He should be able to sit there! It's a reasonable expectation! But for him, at that time in his life, it wasn't. That's who he is, and that's okay.

So when September comes, it seems that he will be ready for Kindergarten after all. I had noticed his maturity increasing, and I'm glad to know that his teacher has seen it in the classroom as well.

Monday, December 15, 2008

My Kids' Picks for December

This month, I finally got my act together the day before the Kids' Pick carnival so that I could have Amanda actually do some guest reviews, instead of trying to give my take on the books she liked, or begging her for a quick quote as she rushed out the door to catch the bus. How could I not after her DARE essay which I published here received such kudos and calls of "Encore, Encore!"

So here are Amanda's (age 10) thoughts in Amanda's words (and typed by Amanda's fingers) about what she read and enjoyed this month (and need I say it again, but isn't she wonderful??):

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Book 3):

"Harry Potter was a highly unusual boy in many ways.For one thing, he hated the summer holidays more than any other time of year.For another, he really wanted to do his homework but was forced to do it in secret, in the dead of night." Sounds strange? Does he sound like the kind of boy who has defeated an evil wizard three different times with his own powers? Surprise. Harry has got into even more trouble this year, his third year at the wizarding school of Hogwarts. This was my second time reading this spectacular book. It seems even better this time around. It's not quite as scary or suspenseful (keeping me up at night), because I kind of know what will happen, but not when it will pop around a corner at Harry.


Marley: A Dog Like No Other by John Grogan (the children's chapter book):

Touching book. Funny. It was really good, but it made me cry at the end.

Savvy by Ingrid Law:

Amazing. Fantastical. Interesting. Addicting -- I just want to keep reading and reading! I'm not sure why, because it doesn't have as much adventure as I usually like in the book, but there's just something about it, the way the story is told, that makes me want to keep going back for more. I'm less than halfway through this book.**

**Mom's note: I will feature a full review of this book in the coming weeks at 5 Minutes for Books. I also enjoyed the book, but just because I did, that doesn't mean that Amanda will want to read it. The look of the book and the bookflap description have to grab her, or she might not even attempt to read it. I mentioned this book to her, she took one look at it, and kept asking me if I was finished so that she could read it. She abandoned the last couple of chapters of Marley (to postpone the inevitable!) to begin this one.

********

As for Kyle (age 4), he's back on a single-track, but this time the track doesn't feature Thomas. It features poems from the likes of Edna St. Vincent Millay and Robert Frost (along with many more whimsical poems). It's the Big Book of Poetry, edited by Bill Martin Jr. I gave a bit of a review earlier this week here, but I have to say that this book is holding up quite nicely. We've almost read all the way through, and Kyle has already said that when we finish, we can just start again. Every naptime and bedtime, he asks in his so-sweet four-year-old voice, "Will you read me some poems?" And because they are short, I never say no. It might be one poem or four, but something will be enjoyed from this book before he lays his head on his pillow.

Seriously -- if you're looking for a gift for a three to six (plus?) year old, I love this book, and anticipate it being a go-to gift for years to come.

He's also enjoying a few Marley books that I will also be reviewing on . One way I know he enjoys a book is when he "reads" them on his own, even if I'm not around. Marley & Me: Meet Marley (I Can Read Book 1) and Marley & Me: Marley to the Rescue! (I Can Read Book 1) are fun (and good beginning readers), and A Very Marley Christmas delighted him the first time we read it, and left him asking for more.

********

Be sure to check out my post on 5 Minutes for Books about the publishing industry bail-out and check out the rest of the Kids' Picks from around the blogosphere.

The Christmas Tour of My Home

Okay, tour is probably a bit of a high bar which I will not scale, but I did want to redeem myself after the year(s) without a Christmas tree, and Boomama calls it a tour, so a tour it is. I'm sure that there will be many others that are more beautiful, better photographed, and better described, so if that's what you're looking for, go to the main post.

First, we chopped down the tree. We all tramped all over the hill. Amanda would shout out, "How about this one?" and Kyle would yell, "I found one!" and Terry would say, "This one looks nice." Finally we decided and brought one home. As usual once we got it up, it appeared to be a bit crooked, but that's okay with us.

Then we put on the decorations, and I have to admit that hearing the kids' excitement did make me feel a little badly about not putting one up last year. In fact, for about a week, I'd often find Kyle (4) sitting right at the foot of the tree and staring at the various ornaments. The style is more "early parenting" than "house beautiful" and I like it that way. Amanda (10) and Kyle pretty much decorated it, so Amanda favored the macaroni/paper plate wreaths and thumbprint Christmas tree ornaments that she made throughout her preschool years at church and preschool.

I did take charge of some very special ornaments. We love to travel and back on our honeymoon (almost sixteen years ago), we bought an ornament of New Orleans, and a tradition began. We now buy ornaments on most of our trips, and each year it's fun to remember those trips as I put on on the snow shoes from Colorado, or the streetcar from San Francisco, or the Santa on the Gondola out of blown Venice glass, or the Lighthouse from Chatham (Cape Cod).



The other ornaments that are precious to hang each year are those that my grandmother made. Throughout the year (I think -- but certainly in the fall), Mammaw always had a project going. She bought those Christmas kits and made those hard plastic ornaments (like the bell you can see there at the bottom right), or the ones made of sequins and felt. I inherited some of my favorites: the stained glass felt ones (you can see the angel at the very top right of the picture), and the Wizard of Oz characters (Dorothy is on the edge sort of below the angel). She worked on these for many years, gradually replacing the balls on her white-flocked artificial tree with homemade ornaments. (If you click the picture you can see the vacation ornaments as well as those of Mammaw's in more detail).

While they did that, I put up the nativity scene. The small bookshelf where it used to sit got moved, so I wasn't sure where I would put it this year. I finally decided on top of the microwave (which is right at the edge of the kitchen/living room). Why not? My phone is above it, so I look at it frequently, and I like that.



The mantle is probably my favorite. I bought the lighted garland years ago, and I love the sparkle it brings. One unique thing is that we don't necessarily use the same stockings each year. I think that the snowflake is always mine, but the reindeer, bear, and Santa rotate -- with Amanda and Kyle calling dibs, and Terry taking what's left. Another fun fact is that I bought those stockings about eight or nine years ago, when Kyle wasn't even a twinkle in his Daddy's eye. In fact, there was no twinkle -- we weren't sure that we would have a second child, but knowing that we might change our minds, I bought four, because I wanted us to all match. So four years ago when we got to use all four, I was reminded of my faith and my hope, and they still remind of that time in our lives.



We don't do outside decorations, other than the penguins (which are right at the top of our driveway this year), but fortunately living here in New England, Mother Nature usually takes care of that for us.


Thanks for coming! Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Christmas Book Recommendations

It's no secret that I love books and bookstores, so I often find myself giving books as gifts, because if I have to shop, I might as well browse the bookshelves or amazon (a favorite browsing place -- conveniently good for books and almost everything else).

Over at 5 Minutes for Books, the whole team has recommended some of their favorite bookish gifts. I wanted to elaborate on two of my recommendations that I haven't reviewed elsewhere:

The Bill Martin Jr Big Book of Poetry: This is such a great book! It's bright and colorful and features poems from authors such as Bill Martin, Jr., Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Margaret Wise Brown, Mother Goose, Jack Prelutsky and Judith Viorst. The illustrations are from Lois Ehlert, Steven Kellogg, and others. Kyle loves it and so do I. It's a perfect bedtime and naptime book for a couple of reasons: since the poems are short, you can choose to read two or six, depending on how much time you want to devote to storytime, and even if I'm feeling grumpy and rushed, the rhythm of poetry snaps me right out of it.

The The ESV Study Bible would be a great gift for anyone who teaches or studies the Bible. I've heard for a while about this new translation (it still seems new to me), and how it has the accuracy of the New American Standard and the readability of the New International Version. Each page is 1/2 to 2/3 scripture with the remainder of the page being detailed notes on the verses. Each book has a thorough introduction, and there are wonderful maps and diagrams throughout. This is a BIG book -- not one to tote to church, but a perfect reference Bible.

Click on over to 5 Minutes for Books to read more of my recommendations and the rest of the team's for children, men, and everyone on your list!

If Only They Still Made After School Specials

If only -- Amanda might have a job lined up for her. This is the essay she wrote for the culmination of her DARE rotation at school.

I kid -- with that kidding based firmly in truth -- but this is a perfect example of her descriptive and imaginative writing that made her Language Arts teacher gush with pride and encouragement at our conference (and which earned her an A+ on her report card!):

Imagine a perfect world: People saying no to things that are bad for them, avoiding addiction, not letting people pull them in. But, if adults keep smoking, with the smoke like vipers reaching out and giving horrible cancers, than it may be hard to have a world like that with adults and even children being tempted to do drugs every day.

Think of someone, anyone, standing on the side of the road with a police officer doing three tests to see if they have drunk before driving. They walk on a straight line and stand on one foot to test their balance and coordination, let the officers smell their breath or blow into a tube to see if their breath smells like alcohol. You may think “I’d never drink,” and most people do think that, but sadly, so many people do. Some try the drink at parties; others try because their parents do. Some even do it to be cool. Any way you do it, it’s still peer pressure. Friends are doing it. Cool kids are doing it. EVERYONE is doing it. It doesn’t matter who, it doesn’t even matter what IT is. It just matters if you’re doing it.

Suddenly, you smell something like burnt rubber. It’s coming from behind the school, and standing there is a kid about your age, someone who looks like your friend. The kid calls you over and you take a step forward, seeing that the kid smoking something is indeed your friend. In a hoarse voice she whispers “This is mary jane,” trying to look cool but coughing on the smoke. You wonder if this is the person that you giggled with at lunch just last week. She now has circles under her eyes and funny smelling breath. Then she asks you the deadly question. “Want some?” Your choice will change your life. You can say yes, break the law, smell bad and possibly die. Or you can say no, be a healthy person and walk away a slightly less popular person.

This DARE class taught me more than just not to do drugs, it also told me that I am in charge of myself, and I can choose if I want to be involved in “Doing Really Unflattering Gross Stuff” (DRUGS)**.

In my perfect world, no drugs would exist, “Mary Jane” would be destroyed “Ciggys” would be outlawed, and “shots” would be shot. In my perfect world everyone would be happy and healthy; all because they took DARE and didn’t do drugs.

--------

**She made that acronym up. I thought it might have been something that they taught them, but no -- it's all her. When I read it to my mom on the phone, she said, "Did you write that, or did she?" I didn't even see it until she was typing it up -- it's all hers, colons, acronymns and all.

Isn't she wonderful?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Snow Day

Sunday we had our first real snow. Kyle had been quite excited this year for the white stuff, and the few times we've had flurries, he's been ecstatic. So Sunday morning we skipped the drive to church (being a little uncertain about the roads, but mostly just taking a snow day if I'm being honest), and the kids suited up to play instead.

I decided to join them. I guess I must really have the Christmas spirit.

So I got on my warm and waterproof clothes, exited the house through the garage, and saw Kyle standing in the garage pushing the snow around with his kid-sized snow shovel, and saw Amanda lying in the driveway making her first snow angel of the year.

Just as in years' past, Kyle doesn't like the snow. This year he at least likes the idea of it, so maybe we're making progress?

Between dragging Kyle out of his comfort zone (the cement in the garage), and Amanda being mad at him for not playing with her, I didn't manage to get a cute photo of the two of them.



However, Shadow loved it! She loves running to the top of the driveway as Amanda pulls the sled up, and then running alongside the sledder, which does add an element of danger.



I even forcefully made convinced Kyle to sled with me. He made me sit in front, and made Amanda hold the dog so she wouldn't scare him.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Christmas Pajamas (and Children's Place Giveaway)

Is it okay to give pajamas as a Christmas gift? What about undies and socks? These questions have been much-debated in my home.

You see, when I was growing up, we always opened one gift Christmas Eve, and after a few years, that gift was no surprise. It was always going to be a new pair of pajamas. Since a bulk of the family snapshots were taken that morning (in the pre-digital more sparsely photographed years when I grew up), my mom wanted to be sure that we weren't ratty.

The socks and/or underwear went into our stockings. The stockings were the best part of Christmas morning -- filled with a mixture of practical (socks and undies and maybe chapstick or lipgloss) and exciting (earrings, a CD, or perfume). The first time I put socks in Terry's stocking, our marriage teetered on the edge. Of course, this is from a guy who grew up getting an orange in his stocking (which didn't thrill him either).

I haven't continued the Christmas PJ tradition, mostly because of our changes in seasons here require that I frequently buy new PJs -- very warm, lightweight warm, or cool -- to keep up with the changes in size and season.

The Children's Place just sent us some cute pajamas to try out, and a gift card for me to pass along to one of you! The Children's Place always has such cute and colorful items, that I would definitely stuff my children's stockings with some new socks, tights, or gloves from there.

Kyle is actually rather picky about his pajamas (and all of his clothes, for that matter). If he doesn't like how they feel or the design, he won't wear them. He likes this Rocket PJ set from The Children's Place. I like the stylish short-sleeve over long-sleeve T-shirt look and the flannel-ish (flame-retardant of course) pants. These are not super-warm pajamas, but nice for people in any sort of cold climate.

I have a $30 card to The Children's Place to give to one of you! I'll announce the winner on December 17 and ship it out that day (if I get your address). That will give you plenty of time to get some last-minute stocking stuffers, some cute new pajamas for Christmas-morning pictures, or to stock up in the after-Christmas sales that are inevitable.

To be eligible to win, leave a comment telling me what your favorite -- or least-favorite -- stocking stuffers are, either to give or to receive.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Year(s) without a Christmas Tree

I've admitted to some pretty big flaws here -- laziness, poor parenting, bad fashion sense -- and they usually garner some cyber-nods of identification or some encouraging words. Brace yourself here, because I may be admitting the unforgivable here. People may be tempted to throw some cyber-tomatoes my way.

This year, we aren't putting up a Christmas tree.

Actually, this is the third year that I haven't had a Christmas tree in the last fourteen years of marriage and independent living. The first is probably forgivable by anyone. It was 1997. We didn't have any children. We had movers coming to our first home on December 23rd to pack up all of our belongings so that we could leave on December 26 to drive to our new home in Portland, Oregon. It was the sensible choice, but it did feel a little dreary that December.

The second year was two years ago. I think that the Grinch got me that year. We weren't able to get a tree the first weekend in December, and I just thought, "What's the point?" Kyle was of the age that I thought a tree might create an additional temptation that I didn't want to deal with either. I put greenery on the mantle and I bought a four-foot-tall fiber-optic tree to stand in for the real thing.

Last year we did get a tree and Amanda got the four-foot-tree in her room, and the tree fell over -- twice. That did nothing to root the love of Christmas trees in my heart.

If I had my preference, we would decorate on Thanksgiving weekend, but since we've lived here in Connecticut, we are always away from home that weekend. We also leave town for Christmas, so by December 23rd, we are gone and don't return until the end of the year. This year the first weekend of December was full with Amanda having rehearsal for her Christmas program in the middle of the afternoon on Saturday and then her program itself on Sunday. So I felt a case of the Scrooges coming on again this year. Terry joined in a bit since this last weekend, when we had planned to get the tree, was muddy due to a recent thaw, which would have made cutting down a tree a messy proposition.

So once again, we'll use the little stand-in for a real tree. I also bought a nice big real wreath that will go over the mantle. The stockings will be hung by the chimney with care, but the tree will not be trimmed. We've never done any outside decorating, but the last few times I had gone to Costco, I had been eyeing a particular decoration that I knew would be a big hit with my penguin-obsessed daughter. So on Saturday I made a sacrifice of love and went to buy them as a peace offering to make up for the lack of a tree (those of you who have gone anywhere near a Costco on a Saturday in December will understand what I mean by sacrifice). They were a hit.




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Gotcha! Or maybe not. This post was originally posted December 11, 2007, and I was looking for it to reference as I tell you about decking the halls, and so I decided to just post it again and see if I could make anyone's blood boil or cause some of you to want to stage an intervention. Did it work? Did I fool anyone.

Trust me, we are festive this year, and I will be putting up a post in time to participate in Boomama's Christmas Tour of Homes December 15.

What about you? How are you feeling this year: Festive? Frugal? Frankensteinish? or perhaps Frankincensy?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Surprised and Amazed

Amanda came home from school yesterday bubbling over about the annual school musical. Drama club is one of the many extra-curricular activities offered at the intermediate school that she definitely wanted to participate in. They just released that they are doing Willy Wonka and sent home an information form and a parent approval form for trying out. I read over it and saw that for the first audition they have to do a one-minute acapella song, and callbacks are done from that by having them do some speaking parts. Immediately, my mom-brain started working, "She should do a song from a musical -- maybe Mary Poppins -- something that would really show expression." Of course, I shared my thoughts with her. I mean, she's just ten and I'm thirty-cough years old. "I've arleady decided. I'm going to do 'She's in Love.' "

And she was right. That song from the Little Mermaid musical is perfect. It's kicky and fun, and very expressive, and most importantly she loves it.

It seems like every week, my daughter surprises me. She's growing up. She's becoming her own person, with her own ideas, her own strengths and weaknesses. She's growing in responsibility and even wisdom.

And Kyle continues to amaze me as he invites me into his "fretend" world (another Kyle-ism that will be gone soon, although I hope he continues to pretend for many years). He came downstairs this morning at 6:30, boldly breaking every rule. "Blankie is here. She's so excited."

I reminded him that he's not supposed to leave his room until 7:00am, and his beloved Blankie is supposed to stay in bed, but because I won't have an adorable four-year-old son for much longer and I've been feeling a little soft and nostalgic, I was easily convinced that Blankie needed to stay, because she always smells Kyle's poptart from upstairs and it makes her sad.

So, he pulled up a chair right beside his at the table and he and Blankie had breakfast together.

Then we turned on the TV. It was Blue's Clues, which was never one of Kyle's favorite shows, although I continue to try to push Steve on him (I can do without Joe), because Amanda and I loved him so much. He said, "Oh, it's my favorite episode! All the things have names on them!"

Kyle does love words and is on the brink of reading, so I'm glad he likes this particular show about reading where Steve was reading "A Really Good Book." I can't pigeonhole him either.

Every day it's something new -- a new song, a new observation, a new inside joke that amuses him. What an amazing time this is.

I'm glad I'm along for the ride.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Wii-commendations?


A week or so ago I received a review copy of Pet Pals: Animal Doctor for the Wii. Amanda (age 10) tried it out, and she told me she "didn't like those kinds of games." I don't know exactly what she meant by that. Actually, I do. She doesn't like realistic games, and she doesn't like those adventure games where you have to think and strategize in particular, but she does like animals and vet is always one of her "I wanna be when I grow up" jobs, so I thought she might enjoy this one.

It is rated ten and up, so I thought maybe she was frustrated because it was too hard. I decided to try it out myself. I love the idea of this game. You are the guest vet at a failing clinic. They won't make it without you! You select one of the five animals in the waiting room, and use your various tools to diagnose and treat the pet. Here's my problem with the game. The tools seem very hard to operate. I think that this would get easier with practice.

Lo and behold, while I was checking it out (and reading the instructions, which are quite thorough -- along with on screen help -- to figure out how to use the tools), Amanda was watching. I found the "recovery room" which she had not been able to find, where you care for the animals in recovery by feeding them, playing with them etc. Amanda DID enjoy this part of the game.

So, if you like these kinds of games, or you have an animal-lover vet wannabe in your home, you might want to try it out.

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Katrina just posted some great Wii game recommendations at her blog Callapidder Days, and it was very timely. Since I found one game that I am really enjoying (Active Life Outdoor Challenge), and now I'm determined to figure out Pet Pals as well, I want to be sure that there are other games in the house that I might enjoy when I have time. I used to play a fair bit of the Nintendo 64 before I had other responsibilities a blog, so it would be nice to have some on hand.

When you like to play Wii, what are some games you enjoy most? What about your top recommendations for a 4 year old boy and a 10 year old girl?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

How I Met Your Thirtysomething Mother

I blame American Airlines.

I found How I Met Your Mother on their inflight entertainment "Eye on America." I enjoyed the episodes I watched when I took my Disney blogging boondoggle trip last April, then I really enjoyed the episodes I saw on my more altruistic trip to the Dominican Republic in November ("Slapsgiving," anyone?).

So, when my mom and I were early Christmas shopping so that the kids could enjoy the gifts now while she was here, I saw Seasons 1 - 3 of HIMYM at a low low Costco price, and I told my mother that I would love that as a present. So, now I've been gorging (after only four days, I'm almost through Season 1), and the more I watch, the closer I am to figuring out why I love it so much.

It's not only a clever team comedy, like Seinfeld which I already own every season of, but with a heart. It grabs my heart. I makes me feel an odd sense of nostalgia. Odd because me -- married at 22 -- never experienced that fun and fancy carefree single life hanging out with my buds in a bar like Ted, Robin, Barney, Marshall and Lilly do. But I am married. I did find my guy, and that's what this show is all about: "a love story in reverse."

And we did have some good times in our early twenties as well with Doug and Danielle, Alex and Alicia and college friends John and Shelley and Robin and Bill (who are, like the HIMYM cast, still around twenty years later).

And college--college was fun and worthy of nostalgia -- hanging out in the dorm with the girls, often waiting for guys to show up (see Bill, above), meeting in the TV lounge at 9pm each Tuesday to watch thirtysomething. Yes, thirtysomething -- for some reason my 19-year-old self was drawn into the thirtysomething lives of Hope, Michael, Melissa, Nancy, Elliot and Gary. Ironically now that I am thirtysomething and might appreciate it more, it's not even available on DVD. There's some grassroots campaign, but apparently there are copywright disputes, so I'll have to wait a while to see if real life would make me warm and fuzzy or just depressed.

People think that I'm some sort of intellectual book snob, but see the truth is that I do love TV, and TV on DVD is my very favorite -- I can watch them over and over again, but most importantly I can watch them on my own time.

One of amazon's big Cyber Monday sales is on TV DVD sets -- it's huge, so this weekend I used some amazon gift certificates and bought some for myself to add to my collection: The West Wing - The Complete First Season and House season 3. Gilmore Girls tempted me, but since I'm about to finish the seventh and final season, which I've been Netflixing, I decided not to buy it. But seriously, if you like TV on DVD, or are looking for some Christmas gifts, many TV shows -- current and classic -- you can't beat the prices -- between $15 and $20 for a whole season. That's less than a dollar an episode! How I Met Your Mother - Season 1 is less than $18. So, if you love it, suit up. It's awesome.

Most of these are Cyber Monday sales (good through today, December 2), but they are teasing new deals each day on TV/DVD sets through December 16.

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Edited Wednesday to add that the DVD sets are still on sale, and that I am going to submit watching TV on DVD as what Works for Me this Wednesday. Seriously, if it weren't for my sports-watching husband and Disney-obsessed children, I might just cancel the DirectTV and stick with my DVDs. Go on over to Rocks in My Dryer to see what else people are posting about. I'll bet you can find some more gift-giving ideas and holiday survival techniques, including Shannon's two great soup recipes (I think we'll be having Ham and Potato soon. Amanda will LOVE it).

A Christmas Carol

Classics Bookclub


So, I finally read it. It's a short story/novella, but I kept putting it off, but thanks to the accountability of 5 Minutes for Books' Classics Bookclub, I did it (and I did do it by reading it online, which worked well for this work).

At this time of year, it's so easy to get caught up in the superficial material part of Christmas, but this year especially on the heels of my trip to the Dominican Republic with Compassion International, I am determined for that not to be the case -- to focus more on others than myself -- more on giving than receiving.

What better reminder than Ebenezer Scrooge, or in this case Jacob Marley's ghost:

"At this time of the rolling year," the spectre said, "I suffer most. Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode! Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me!"

I found Dickens' words to be powerful and poetic. Even though this is but a short story, it is typically wordy in Dickens' fashion, but not overly so. I think that the words create the feeling. Reading it, I felt Scrooge's loneliness and saw his hardness melting away as he found his heart. My heart was pierced as Scrooge's was when the ghost of Christmas Present parroted his own words from earlier that day:

"They are Man's," said the Spirit, looking down upon them. "And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!" cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. "Slander those who tell it ye. Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And abide the end."

"Have they no refuge or resource?" cried Scrooge.

"Are there no prisons?" said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. "Are there no workhouses?"


Although it was published more than 150 years ago (1843), it feels very contemporary -- perhaps because it has infiltrated our culture. For example, Scrooge thinks that seeing ghosts is perhaps due to some indigestion, quipping, "There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!" I say it's contemporary, but I'm not sure that our dialogue is nearly as clever now that I think about it.

But the stereotypical characters stand the test of time because they are so well-drawn: mean old Scrooge, hardworking and humble Mr. Cratchit, sweet Tiny Tim.

There are so many lessons to be taken:

What chains have I built for myself, and most importantly as this moral tale cautions, what am I going to do about it?

Am I willing to be taught by my past mistakes (and current ones), as Scrooge indicated when he was visited by the second ghost:

"Spirit," said Scrooge submissively, "conduct me where you will. I went forth last night on compulsion, and I learnt a lesson which is working now. To-night, if you have aught to teach me, let me profit by it."


Am as I patient with curmudgeons (or those suffering in their sins) as those who knew Scrooge were?

I wanted to read it aloud with my daughter, but I didn't. However, there's still time, and whether it happens this year or not, I do think that an annual reading of this classic might be a new tradition.

Read others' thoughts at the Christmas Carol Classics Bookclub post.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Too Many Toys

So a few weeks ago, four-year-old Kyle was resisting naptime, so I was able to pull something fun out of my hat as an incentive,. "Oh -- I have a cool new book we can read as a bedtime story," I said as I brought Too Many Toys by David Shannon to his room. "Look, it's called Too Many Toys."

Are you like me -- trying to cull some toys to make room for the more that are coming in?

Read my full review (and my thankful thoughts about being a book reviewer) over at 5 Minutes for Mom today to read about how this book affected me. You can also enter to win one of three copies.

There are two other Books giveaways still active: J.K. Rowling's Beedle the Bard, and a Klutz prize pack.