Sunday, December 21, 2014

Shoppe Till You Drop

Obviously if you are going to shop for Christmas presents it's ideal to buy local. Better vintage and handmade by locals! Sunday gave us the perfect opportunity to do just so; we crossed the canyon with Pops on a rainy afternoon to Nevada City where my sis and one of our very oldest and dearest friends, Ruebi, had set up shop at the Winter Craft Fair. Both collectors of minutiae, knick knacks, vintage housewares, and sundries, they had the fine idea of setting up a kind of mercantile right there in the heart of the craft fair offering a wide assortment of goodies and gifts. They called their little shop Sweetgrass General Store; Ruebi's husband made them a wooden sign, and they packed their shelves with the coolest trinkets. It was a stocking stuffer's dream, plus Addie framed some of her gorgeous 1920's sheet music pieces, Ruebi had some choice vintage children's clothes, and they had a collection of fun candies and kidstuffs on the front shelf. Something interesting to examine in every nook and cranny. Passersby were generally intrigued and many happy customers found a special little something. 

Bringing two little wild gnomey-kins to this event was a bit challenging, if only because I couldn't really shop to my heart's content nor talk as much as I'd like to Addie and Ruebi and friends and fellow vintage sellers. I was busy chasing my miniature 11-month old up and down the stairs to the stage area, and collecting the handmade business cards my two year old was scattering in her wake. Sigh. It's totally my fault; we were there for hours with no sign of a real meal (string cheese and candy canes, anyone?) and no rest in sight. Those two were actually troopers, and totally zonked on the drive home. 

Thanks of course to Pops for being a (somewhat hapless but very sweet) nanny for the day.

Here are some of my photos from the day, starting at home in our backyard while we waited for our ride and enjoyed the greening effects of all our recent rainfall. Then onward to the Fair!

A few spots down from Sweetgrass was this handmade toy shop. Lucy was in love with the funny bunnies, which each had a name and brief description of likes and dislikes. She must've handled this bright pink glittery one a hundred times. She was totally drawn back to it again and again. Needless to say, Pops sneakily bought it for her and tucked it away till Christmas.

I did get some fleeting visits with this lovely lady throughout the day, in her lush winter blue velvet, always adding a little glitter and light to my day.

If you're buying gifts, I hope you are all having some equally charming shopping experiences!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Children's Christmas Books

I don't know about you, but around here in the month of December it's pretty much all Christmas, all the time. That goes for the books we're reading of course. Here are ten of Lucy and Polly's current faves in no particular order.

1. I'll start with the most obvious.

This year Lucy is absolutely obsessed with the Grinch. She loves the book and the cartoon (not so much the Jim Carrey movie version although Darin and I are kind of sentimental about it because we saw it together in the theater even before we were officially together.)

We are pretty big Seuss fans around here, various titles are always in the bedtime book cycle and Lucy can listen through the longer ones with great comfort and interest these days. The good thing about the Grinch is that the message is actually pretty awesome:
"It came without ribbons, it came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags....What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?"

Another bonus is that her two new faovorite Christmas songs are "You're a mean one, Mister Grinch" (she squeals the words NASTY WASTY SKUNK with relish) and "Fahoo Foray, Dahoo Doray." They're pretty fun ones to learn the lyrics to and sing along.

2. Earlier this month, I got Polly this sweet little board book of Richard Scarry's Christmas Mice. Both girls love Richard Scarry's simple colorful illustrations and characters, and it is fun for them to find the two little cozy mice in these pages. 

 3. This one is a library book and it is really for me: N. Scott Momaday's Circle of Wonder. Momaday is amongst my favorite authors and his storytelling has the ability to stir my heart like a winter wind. He also did the gorgeous illustrations for this story that blends Native American and Christian traditions. I haven't tried to read it to the girls yet, but maybe I'll be able to one rainy December day, at least to introduce them to the striking circle of mystical revelers: boy, eagle, elk, wolf.

It brought me to tears to read the ending. I won't quote it all here and spoil it for you, because reading it is such a beautiful experience, but I will include this telling line: "Tolo knew then that he had been led to the center of the Holy Season."

4. A favorite in our personal collection is Jeanne-Marie at the Fair  so we were delighted to find this old treasure amongst the Christmas books at the library:

She is a little girl who lives in the french countryside and has a beloved little goat named Patapon. 
This book is absolutely charming and has probably my most favorite Santa Claus (father Noel) scene ever rendered:

And maybe my most favorite nativity scene as well:

 5. Jan Brett's detailed illustrations get a lot of attention around here. Lucy loves all the animals and the looks on everyone's faces; she pores over those intricate borders with such curiosity. I include this one here not because it is Christmassy, but just so magically wintry. It is a version of the Goldilocks tale, set among the Inuit people of northern Canada.

As soon as we start, Lucy exclaims happily over this "rock penguin!" that marks the entrance to the bears' grand igloo. 

One of those fancy borders features a mama reindeer carrying her baby reindeer in a soft pouch on her back. Lucy is glued to this image!

More of the lush artwork, Aloo-ki asleep in the fur covers of the sleeping bench. 

6. Here's the one I mentioned in my last post. It is Norma Farber's completely enchanting, non-traditional take on the Christian nativity story, in a set of poems from surprising points of view: animals who come from far and wide, like a turtle and a sloth, and three brave queens who come bearing gifts: a homespun gown, chicken soup and a song. Plus, now I want everything Petra Mathers ever illustrated.

7. The After Christmas Tree by Linda Wagner Tyler has an idea that we might be incorporating this Christmas. At a new years party, after taking down the tree, the family and their friends bring the  christmas tree outside and string up pine cones full of bird seed, nuts, popcorn and berries, and they sit inside sipping hot chocolate and watching out the window while the animals gather around and have their own party!

8. Starting to see a pattern here?  Anything with love and kindness directed at our fellow creatures great and small gets our round of applause! In the Berenstain Bear's Christmas Tree (a book from my own childhood) in his quest for the perfect tree, Papa Bear keeps inadvertently almost chopping down some poor woodland creature's home. In the end, all the animals come visit and help decorate the outside of the bears' own treehouse instead. 

Papa realizes that Christmas is a time to be thinking of others.

9. Have you all seen the Minerva Louise books? They are great for very small children, simple and short and funny, and I absolutely love them. She is this adorable little chicken who is always mixing things up, like the Amelia Bedelia of the farmyard world. She always has the most endearing, curious, satisfied little looks on her beaky face. Turns out she's a hoot on Christmas too.

10. Last but certainly not least, Olivia Helps with Christmas. It is almost a bit worrisome reading books like this to Lucy because she is already such a whirlwind of energy herself that Olivia gives her some naughty ideas, haha! But we can't resist because she's just so dang funny and cute. 

As a postscript, in the same vein as a Olivia, another dubious influence on my energetic toddler, and the newest newest favorite, is this one:

You just gotta love this little bundle of precocious spunk. And she can get really cozy, and her friend Emily the pigeon gives us a great surprise on Christmas morning. It's kind of a long read, and the Toot relishes every moment of it.

Hope you are all having some nice cozy cuddled up reads these days!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

For I Have Sung My Child To Dream

Life is best accompanied by this song lately. Push play while you read the poem.

From this lovely book:

Far, Far From Bethlehem
by Norma Farber

I never went to Bethlehem.
I stayed right here. I plumped a goose,
put up preserves, measured a hem,
retrieved a piglet running loose.

I washed the laundry, hung it neat,
then took it down by dark of day,
and folded it and laid it, sweet
and fresh for further use, away.

I never got to Bethlehem.
Someone, I thought, should (day and night)
be here, someone should stay at home.
I think I probably was right.

For I have sung my child to dream
far, far away from where there lies
a woman doing much the same.
And neither of our children cries.

Christmas seems an especially poignant time to be a mother. Traditions are on our minds: how to build them, what kind of memories we want to help create for our children. Even the babies' eyes light up at the sight of the colorful decorations, the tree, the snowman's jolly face. Polly dances merrily to old Celtic wassailing songs and Rudolph alike. We have the desire to fill this season with a little mystery, a lot of cheer, good food, little surprises, striking songs that bury themselves into the fabric of our memories. 

Additionally, many of us living in our own personal post-christian eras find ourselves contemplating the challenge of searching for meaningful ways to introduce ancient ideas about winter celebration, the solstice, and yuletide, while also maintaining the fun and celebratory nature of society's current conception of Christmas.

Mary's latest post addresses this dilemma and is filled with festive ideas for incorporating nature and folklore into her household's December. After expounding upon the traditions they are forging, she wraps it up, like she always does, so eloquently:
It might seem all a little mish mashy, and perhaps it is. I think some of that firmness I was hoping for may come with the passing of years, a natural result of the repetition. I am perfectly okay with our celebrations being in flux and evolving. How it feels is what’s most important to me, and it feels good. Joyous, playful, anticipatory, intimate, sweet and full of love.

Recently I read this little book: Hundred Dollar Holiday: The Case for a More Joyful Christmas, by Bill McKibben. Even as a slow reader with not much time on my hands, I read it in one evening. I found it interesting and thought-provoking, full of bits of history about the ever-evolving concoction that is Christmas, and also inspiring. It proposes an approach to Christmas that I've always considered: scaling down, focusing on the joy of experiences, quality time, handmade gifts, but puts it in such simple and wonderfully compelling terms that I kind of felt there was no turning back. Once you consider that Christmas as we know it today was basically manufactured in the 1800s as a consumptive scheme, boosted immensely by the newly developed psychology of advertising in the early twentieth century, you're basically kind of disgusted by the whole machine of it, if you weren't already. I've always known Christmas to be about a whole lot more than Santa Claus and presents, preferring to stretch out the period of celebration and strive to fill the days with a pervasive spirit of joy. But this book still really struck me, and I can certainly do a lot better at not giving in to the consumption scheme.

A question McKibben challenges us to ask ourselves is this: What am I made for? He proposes we are made for peace and solitude, connection with each other and our communities, contact with nature, and a relationship with the divine. He presents Christmas as a perfect platform to develop these deeply meaningful aspects of human life. 

Perfect, that's exactly how I'd like to see it.

I especially love the idea of togetherness, connecting with our little tribes and our larger communities. The Placerville Christmas parade is a fun way for us to do just that. We watch the three area high schools' marching bands who come together in one massive booming beating dancing mass of triumphant music, sending goosebumps down my skin. We hold the babies up to see beautiful paint ponies, expertly prancing with pawing hooves at the sky. We see our beloved wagon train, our bearded cowboy stagecoach driver, Davey "Doc" Wiser, who waves and shouts Merry Christmas. We see the cast of our local theater's production of Oliver, and little Oliver himself who runs up to give candy canes to Tootie and Utah just because they're so darn cute. Everyone in town seems to march or ride in the parade, from the local markets to the police force to the Girl Scouts and 4H clubs. The parade stretches on for hours. With such little ones, we don't stay to see Santa at the end, but we sure feel festive and merry anyway.

More togetherness: Nancy hosts our annual Bookery Christmas party at her house. The babies immediately find little glass breakables, the tall staircase, fragile ornaments, rippable Christmas presents. They won't stay at the table or eat the (delicious) eggplant Parmesan, but they sure love the flourless chocolate cake!

A time for our tribe, another new mother's moment of rebirth. CarolAnn brought her sweet sweet baby boy Elan to visit us. She never went to Bethlehem either; she sang her little babe to sleep. Tender and mild, sleep in heavenly peace. All the words to the carols ring differently in my ears these days, deeper and sweeter. The nativity story will always hold a special place in my heart. Lucy loves the little baby Jesus. We love all babies around here.

Another party, Scott's birthday: more friends, cousins, babies, laughter. These two rascals kept us busy! Actually, let's be honest, Scout is not a rascal at all. She is the gentlest creature known to man. Luckily she likes my girls anyway, despite their overbearing hugs and kisses and left hooks and toy thefts. Her patience and curiosity abide.

And meanwhile, the mundane acts of daily life seem sacred to me sometimes. Maybe the drama of winter's arrival bring it all into sharper focus: there is a succinct starkness to the short passing days. We fill them up with love and practicality, Christmas or no. We chop and stack wood in preparation for this big storm that is upon us, bring things inside, cook soup, batten down the hatches. I guess "rain" is all we need to say, since this big storm with all its hype didn't really hit us here, but we are organized and our yard is cleaned up anyway. We have candles and lanterns and a raging fire in the woodstove, food to eat and fresh diapers. Our rainy day today was full of library books and blanket forts, soup and tamales, elderberry syrup, sorting clothes, dolly rides and drawings, music all the while. Darin was home, he learned to play Auld Lang Syne on his guitar; he worked on making my Christmas gift. Tiny bits of love fill up the day. 

I washed the laundry, hung it neat. 
Measured a hem, retrieved a piglet running loose...

....and sung my child to dream.