have yourself a merry little christmas

So, it’s Christmas Eve, and I’m sipping some Darjeeling and eating way too many cookies.

I can’t bring myself to eat the gingerbread people yet — but when I do, I’ll bite their heads off first —  it’s very humane, so they won’t feel any pain. (Promise me you’ll do the same.)

Whew! All the frenzied activity of shopping, baking, decorating, and writing cards is over. Now, Christmas, with its pure love and joy, can come.

Of course, Len and I will be watching "A Christmas Memory," by Truman Capote. It’s our favorite and most enduring tradition. We have the color VHS version narrated by Mr. Capote, starring the incomparable Geraldine Page. Somehow, in this simple story of two friends baking fruitcakes together in the poverty-stricken South, we are reminded of what Christmas is all about (I blogged about it here).

Meanwhile, the Rattigan teddies have insisted that I show you a few pictures from their favorite holiday picture book of 2008: The Christmas Bears, by Chris Conover (FSG). It’s a simple rhyming story about Santa Bear’s family (seven cubs), getting reading for the big day. Conover’s detailed illos are positively fetching and endearing, and glow with childlike joy and anticipation. The resident bears totally drool over the pictures of cookie baking and the Christmas Eve feast (with 300+ bears in the house, that’s a lot of drooling).


Christmas has always felt like a mixed blessing to me. Though I like to bask in all the holiday traditions of gift giving, seeing friends, enjoying good food, playing carols on the piano, and reading good books and watching old movies by a cozy fire, it is also a time of serious reckoning — another year gone forever, good intentions fallen by the wayside, falling short of some goals, missing family in Hawai’i, New Hampshire, and Oregon, and thinking of those no longer with us.

As far as our country goes, this year we’ve experienced the highest high (first African American President), and the lowest lows (war and economy). Along with all the tinsel and glitter, there will envitably be feelings of sadness, unease, and uncertainty. With so many people losing their jobs and coping with unforeseen challenges and changes, it sometimes feels like the whole world is tumbling down around us. In this season of miracles, we may find ourselves clinging ever tighter to hope and faith. I find this Pueblo verse, posted on AKRosenthal’s blog, especially comforting:

Hold on to what is good, even if it is a handful of earth.
Hold on to what you believe, even if it is a tree which stands alone.
Hold on to what you must do, even if it is a long way from here.

This will be my last post of 2008, since I’ll be on blog break until early January. Thanks to all who read this blog during the past year. I wish you and yours the happiest and merriest of holidays. I hope that wherever you are, the joy of Christmas finds its way into your heart. See you in 2009!

Click here to listen to my favorite Christmas carol, sung by a man I absolutely love.

*All interior spreads copyright © 2008 Chris Conover, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. All rights reserved.

[review] Christmas Farm by Mary Lyn Ray and Barry Root

Every year during the busy holiday season I look for a small space of quiet and reflection in the midst of all the jarring ho-ho-hos, fa la las, and pressures to buy buy buy.  

The best place to find it is in the right book. Christmas Farm, by Mary Lyn Ray, illustrated by Barry Root (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008), is a quiet, lyrical gem that sings of friendship, life cycles, and the immeasurable rewards of teamwork.

Kind hearted Wilma decides she is tired of growing petunias and sunflowers. She wants a different garden, a new beginning. She decides to plant trees after realizing that people without a back hill like hers might have trouble finding a good tree for Christmas.

So she orders 62 dozen balsam seedlings, and gathers up string, scissors, shovels, and her five-year-old friend, Parker. Together they measure out twenty-four rows with string, dig sixty-two dozen holes, and plant seven hundred and forty-four seedlings.

Over the course of five years, they nurture their charges and watch them grow, Parker telling the trees all about Christmas, both of them weeding around each plant. Each year they lose some trees to mice, deer, frost, or moose. But finally, when Parker is ten, they are able to build a stand and sell their trees. Then, it’s time to start all over again, ordering more seedlings, and waiting for new sprouts to emerge from the cut trees in the spring.


In this age of fast everything, I love Ray’s emphasis on patience. Things worth cultivating, whether Christmas trees or friendships, take time. Her telling is spare, and the pace is steady and measured, with luminous passages like this one:

Far away, too, in rooms they never saw, in places they never knew, five hundred and sixty-six trees that Wilma and Parker had grown wore lights and balls and tinsel in their branches — green balsam branches that smelled the sweet smell of Christmas.

Barry Root’s watercolor and gouache paintings alternate between the warm, sunny golds, browns and greens of spring and summer, and the deep blues and icy whites of winter. His landscapes depict the rich beauty of the hillside trees, through several seasonal cycles.

The trees grow as Parker grows. He and Wilma’s longstanding friendship is lovingly portrayed through carefully placed details, such as the plate of homemade doughnuts and milk waiting for Parker on Wilma’s table. Wilma’s rustic farmhouse, homey and inviting, is rendered in warm browns and wood textures.

When they first measure out the seedling rows, Parker is at one end of the field, Wilma at the other. But a long string connects them, and for the rest of the story, they are shown working towards a common purpose — trimming, cutting, and dragging their trees. This focus on human activity, set against a natural backdrop, will encourage young readers to keep turning the pages.

Ray, a conservationist who dreamed of living in New England when she was a child, graces this story with her love of and respect for the land and the riches it can yield. She includes an author’s note explaining how Christmas trees came to be cultivated in this country, emphasizing that they are an ancient symbol of life reborn.

Christmas Farm received a starred review from Kirkus, and can be enjoyed throughout the year; kids will appreciate Wilma and Parker’s unique friendship, as it is based on a fair and equal partnership. Joy and renewal abound in shared work regardless of age.

*For an excellent post featuring books about winter trees and Christmas trees, visit Wild Rose Reader.

*Interior spreads posted by permission, copyright © 2008 Barry Root, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

cookies for santa?


When I was little, we never left out milk and cookies for Santa.

*cue in violins*

I don’t know whether my parents simply didn’t know about this tradition, or if it just wasn’t commonplace in Hawai’i during the Dark Ages. My cousins never talked about it, so I’m guessing they didn’t do it either.

Perhaps this explains my life-long cookie compulsion — eating them at every possible opportunity, baking them (they are the only gift item I make myself), and constantly seeking out new recipes. During the holidays, I like to be prepared: you just never know when Santa’s going to drop in, or what will please him the most.

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the beckoning of lovely

Back in September, crcook posted a truly lovely and cooler than cool 7-minute video called, "The Beckoning of Lovely." It totally caught me by surprise, chased my evil, cynical tendencies out the window, and made my heart flutter with hope.

Making things. Creativity. Coming together. Sharing. Good vibes all around.

The woman in the video arrived on the scene with her yellow umbrella, and in a few hours, changed the lives of everyone there. Strangers worked together to "make an 18th lovely thing." I admired the young woman’s ingenuity and spontaneous, free-spirited social experiment.

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it looks a lot like christmas!

Well, hello there!

Please come in . . .

We’ve been very busy here at alphabet soup — decking the halls, jingling those bells, and decorating trees. Thought you’d like a little peek:

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