Ho Ho Ho and Fa la la: Three Spunky Cups of Christmas Tea (+ a holiday blog break)

Merry Merry!

You know what they say: Christmas is for kids. Well, here at Alphabet Soup, we hope to bring out the kid in you.

Look who dropped by for tea: Madeline, Anne Shirley and Eloise! Three spunky girls we all love for their inimitable personalities. They each agreed to share a little something from their stories if we bribed honored them with special treats. We were more than happy to oblige, yet with these three, you just never know.

So here’s to a little magic, some quality kindred spirit time, and lotsa ho ho ho zippity jingle Christmas cheer. Put on a cheery bib and ring when you’re ready to join the fun! 🙂

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🇫🇷 MADELINE’S MADELEINES 🐕

Bonjour, Madeline!

Who can forget your iconic opening rhyme:

In an old house in Paris
That was covered with vines
Lived twelve little girls
In two straight lines.
They left the house at half-past nine
in two straight lines, in rain or shine.
The smallest one was MADELINE.

She was happy to tell us about one of her favorite adventures. It took place one Christmas Eve, when everyone (including Miss Clavel) was in bed with miserable colds. It was up to brave Madeline, the only one up and about, to take care of them.

Art by Ludwig Bemelmans.

When a rug merchant knocked at the door, Madeline purchased all twelve of his rugs, a good solution for their “ice-cold in the morning feet.” But the rug merchant soon regretted the sale, for without his rugs he felt very chilly outdoors. Madeline welcomed him back into the house, where she gave him medicine to help him thaw out. 

Wishing to show his gratitude, the rug merchant agreed to help with the dishes.

His magic ring he gave a glance
And went into a special trance –
The dirty dishes washed themselves
And jumped right back upon the shelves.

Then, with a profound abracadabra, the rugs turned into magic carpets, flying all twelve girls home to surprise their parents on Christmas day. 

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Sarah van Dongen’s Cozy World

Yum! It looks like somebody’s been very busy in the kitchen. Cakes piled up everywhere! And they’ve been at it for awhile –see the curly red-haired girl on the table who’s resting on the pink cake?

Maybe I should volunteer to help them eat some of their creations. Surely they could spare a cupcake or two. 🙂

Amsterdam-based illustrator Sarah van Dongen.
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a fresh look at Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost

Let’s take a peek at the first two titles in the new Illustrated Poets Collection just released in August by Bushel & Peck Books.

Both The Illustrated Emily Dickinson and The Illustrated Robert Frost were edited by poet and educator Ryan G. Van Cleave, Creative Writing Coordinator at the Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida.

They each contain “25 Essential Poems” paired with David Miles’s gorgeous full color collages (he had me at those beautiful eye-catching covers). 🙂

~ from The Illustrated Robert Frost

In his welcoming series introduction, Van Cleave offers friendly suggestions for making the most of the books. He encourages readers to simply “enjoy the poems” rather than puzzle over the poet’s intentions or dwell on other people’s interpretations.

Next, it’s good to engage with the poems by asking questions such as:

  • What do you notice about this poem?
  • How does this poem make you feel?
  • What else have you read/seen/experienced that connects with this poem?

Finally, it’s important to “be your own boss” – read the poems in order or jump around as one sees fit. Share them with others or savor them by yourself. Read them aloud or “whisper their words in your heart.”

~ from The Illustrated Robert Frost

Ultimately, “there is NO wrong way to experience a poem.” This reminds me of Lee Bennett Hopkins saying that a poem is meant to be experienced rather than analyzed, and I think this goes a long way in making poetry less intimidating for the average reader.

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nine cool things on a tuesday

1. Get in the car – we’re off for a December ride! ‘Tis the season for bundling up, picking out that perfect tree, shopping for gifts and making sure our animal friends are happy.

British artist Stephanie Lambourne’s colorful and quirky pictures are just the thing we need to get us into the holiday spirit. 

Based in Suffolk, England, she earned a BA in Fine Art and a post graduate degree in Art and Education from the Hornsey School of Art (now Middlesex University). After teaching at schools and colleges for a few years, she transitioned to painting full time in 2003.

Inspired by walks along the beach, she featured coastal landscapes, cottages, beach huts, boats, and seagulls in her earlier paintings. In recent years, her main focus has been people and humor (“unreal characters in sometimes strange pursuits”).  

She works in acrylic, rarely doing preliminary sketches, preferring to draw ideas straight onto the canvas to create a sense of freshness to her work. 

Though I’m sharing mostly holiday/winter themed pieces today, her pictures are set in all seasons. Her objective is to make people smile, to immerse the viewer in a lighthearted and slightly offbeat narrative from a bygone era. It’s fun to imagine just what the people in her pictures are really up to. 🙂

For more, visit Stephanie’s Instagram and FB Page. Her fine art greeting cards may be purchased via Green Pebble and The Blank Card Company. Original acrylics are available at Southwold Gallery and Bircham Gallery. DM her directly for any inquiries or commissions.

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“In Praise of Dreams” x 2

“After Midnight” by Rene Lynch
IN PRAISE OF DREAMS 
by Wislawa Szymborska

In my dreams
I paint like Vermeer van Delft.

I speak fluent Greek
and not just with the living.

I drive a car
that does what I want it to.

I am gifted
and write mighty epics.

I hear voices
as clearly as any venerable saint.

My brilliance as a pianist
would stun you.

I fly the way we ought to,
i.e.,  on my own.

Falling from the roof,
I tumble gently to the grass.

I've got no problem
breathing under water.

I can't complain:
I've been able to locate Atlantis.

It's gratifying that I can always
wake up before dying.

As soon as war breaks out,
I roll over on my other side.

I'm a child of my age,
but I don't have to be.

A few years ago
I saw two suns.

And the night before last a penguin,
clear as day.

~ from Poems: New and Collected, 1957-1997, translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh (Ecco, 2000).
“Dreaming Girl” by Gilly Marklew.

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Dreams, whether fleeting daydreams, wish fulfillment night dreams, or long held desires — are important indicators of who we are, what we value, and sometimes they serve to motivate us to achieve certain life goals.

They’re also a fun way to consider the subconscious, unleash the imagination and verbalize the unbelievable.

Szymborska’s poem inspired California poet Gary Soto to write about his own dreams.

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“The Guitar Player” by Fabian Perez.
IN PRAISE OF DREAMS
by Gary Soto

after Wislawa Szymborska

In my dreams,
I lasso a wild steer on the first try.

I chauffeur Picasso
To meet up with Dali --
None of us is happy about this summit.

After licking my fingertips,
I play guitar masterfully.

I use index cards to make sense
Of the universe.

I discover my childhood cat in the neighbor's tree--
So that's where you've been, you little rascal.

I beg the alligator, por favor,
To make a snap judgement,
Will it be my leg or my arm?

Picture me swimming with dolphins.
Picture me with these dolphins
Sitting in lawn chairs.

I'm full of gratitude--
The lightbulb comes on
When the refrigerator door is opened.

Yes, I'm the scientist who solved laryngitis--
Now all of us howl at our own pleasure.

I get to throw a trophy from a moving car.
When I park my car,
I'm awarded another trophy --
Someone above is giving me a second chance.

~ © 2020 by Gary Soto. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 29, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
“Restraint 2 Cowboys Roping a Steer” by Don Langeneckert

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Szymborska seems to value artistic mastery as well as superhuman powers like flying and breathing under water, enabling her to face adversity, survive catastrophes and achieve a kind of immortality. She’s more philosophical and symbolic than Soto.

I like how Soto injects humor and a fond memory in his poem. His voice is conversational and accessible. Who can resist, “licking my fingertips,” the “snap judgement” of the alligator, or those “dolphins/Sitting in lawn chairs”? 🙂

Both express gratitude for their lives in lovely, distinctive ways.

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Of course I couldn’t help but think about my own dreams. Not only fun, but empowering. Fantasy makes life more bearable. Part of me says “impossible,” while the other part says, “why not?” Doesn’t writing make it so? 🙂

~ Maira Kalman (What Pete Ate from A-Z, 2003)

IN MY DREAMS

Sam Heughan begs invites me to live with him in Scotland.

I teleport myself to England at whim and the weather is always good.

I own Harrods.

The real Paddington Brown lives with us.

I am fluent in at least 10 different languages.

I live at the Plaza Hotel and join Eloise for tea in the Palm Court every week.

I bake the biggest, most delicious pie the world has ever seen and the people who eat it are deliriously happy for the rest of their lives.

My house cleans itself.

I inherit Maira Kalman’s inimitable talent.

Colin Firth and Paul McCartney have me on speed dial.

My singing is simply divine and I look good in hats.

I can leap tall buildings in a single bound – with my eyes closed.

I win a tango championship in Argentina with Robert Duvall.

Jackson Browne is a neighbor and whenever I pop over he sings for me.

Whenever I read a good book, I can step right into it and become any character I choose.

When Shakespeare, the Brontës, Louisa May Alcott, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Michael Bond visit the Cornelius Rattigan Tea Room, we assure them they will be read and loved forever and ever.

I see my parents again.

There is no such thing as hate.

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Speaking of Vermeer:

Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth in “Girl With a Pearl Earring” (2003).

What do you dream of?

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The lovely and talented Catherine Flynn is hosting the Roundup at Reading to the Core. Bounce over to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up around the blogosphere this week. Happy December!


*Copyright © 2022 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.