Sunday, December 29, 2013

New vintage Christmas books

We stopped in at one of the antique markets this weekend, and I picked up a couple of Christmas books I had never seen before.  Actually there was one other one I liked too...liked a lot, actually... but it was more than I wanted to spend.  This is the one I didn't buy:

More about Sing for Christmas here.  (maybe I'll get it on a return trip)

These are the ones I did buy:

A Partridge in a Pear Tree is subtitled A Celebration for Christmas, arranged by Neville Braybrooke, with decorations by Barbara Jones and Children of the Henry Fawcett School. It was published in London in 1960. There are eight full-colour plates of children's artwork, and almost two hundred pages of Christmas stories, poems, and other bits and pieces. This book, in spite of the very charming paintings, has a bit of a dark side; it reminds me of the way C.S. Lewis described the books in his childhood home, with that suitable / maybe suitable / definitely not suitable randomness of all the centuries of Christmas. Some of the pieces included, especially the newer ones, are a little strange, slightly curmudgeonly, or at least not always particularly cheerful: Edward Burne-Jones complains about how much he hates and loathes winter and everything about it; George Gissing "jealously guards [his] Christmas solitude"; and Marion Agnew spends Christmas administering painkillers to her dying husband. Those stories aren't the sort you pick for church programs or hot-chocolate-by-the-fire family times; but, like the pickled things people used to make at Christmas to balance out the sweets, they do have their own merits.

 But there are more cheerful choices too, like G.K. Chesterton's Christmas poem to his wife. The editor says, "I have chosen work by those of every and no belief, since every year towards the end of December there descends on earth a peace and good will toward men which no amount of commercialism or cheap vulgarity can destroy."

 The other book is Once in the Year: A Christmas Story, by Elizabeth Yates, illustrated with lithographs by Nora S. Unwin, from 1947.  It's a short book that involves Peter and his family, characters from her books Mountain Born and A Place for Peter; it's also a framework for the retelling of two Christmas legends and the Christmas story from St. Luke's gospel.  The whole thing has a nice, sepia, handcrafted, friendly-beasts feel; it would be a lovely book to share with children in December.

 To quote the story, "When something wonderful happens to people on Christmas Eve, it is to be cherished in the heart and in the mind. We must not be afraid of the wonderful things, nor must we let others laugh them away from us. Only thus do we learn to hold our dreams."

Friday, December 27, 2013

The way the cookie crumbles (What's for supper?)

Tonight's dinner menu:

Saving Dinner's Upside-Down Meatloaf
Budget101's Bread Machine Garlic Bread
Baked squash, peas

The Way the Christmas Cookie Crumbles Fruit Crisp, made from homemade cranberry sauce, chopped pears, and all the crumbly bits of raisin squares and shortbread as topping.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Mama Squirrel's Crafting Photos (moved from the Family Keep Out page)

Sewing, crocheting, making stuff for family people:

Suede notebooks from a tutorial at LilBlueBoo,  Wreath ornament from Planet June.  Amigurumi penguin from a Woman's Day pattern.  Bookmark from a children's crocheting book, wiith Mini Wishing Star motif added.

Amigurumi turtles also from Woman's Day Magazine.
Kit models a pink party dress, made from a pattern in Sew the Essential Wardrobe for 18-Inch Dolls (yes, there's a resemblance to the comforter).
Crissy's new calico dress and purse set.  The dress is vintage Simplicity pattern 6061.  The purse is lined with the dress fabric; it was inspired by a full-size bag and poncho set (and a granny square pattern) in this 1976 craft magazine.  It actually has a nicer design on the other side (more grannies), but it got flipped over when I was wrapping it.
Mama Squirrel's magnum opus for this year:  a doll bedding set, made mostly from yard-saled fabrics and other things on hand.  I did have to buy thread, batting, and new fabric for the sheets...and a dollar-store mini flashlight for reading under the covers.
I used an amigurumi pattern for the koala (a mini version of Dollygirl's beloved Mr. K.), but scaled it down by using tapestry wool (really fine stuff--I had a bagful from the thrift store) and a small crochet hook.  The books are made from catalogue cutouts.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Maggie Rose, Her Birthday Christmas (Book Review)


Ruth Sawyer in 1958.  Photo found here.

Maggie Rose, Her Birthday Christmas, by Ruth Sawyer, 1952.  Pictures by Maurice Sendak.  Our copy is ex-library, found at the big annual booksale four years ago (I know because the blog says so). Spoilers Included.

Most reviews will say this is a story about people, and it is. But it's also a story about place: life in a somewhat isolated part of Maine, as it was sixty years ago.  There are coves and boats, clams and wild berries, summer cottagers...and tramps.  More on the tramps in a minute.

The lifestyle of Maggie Rose's large family is summed up like this:  "Every autumn, when cottages were being closed, the occupants had a way of saying: 'Better give this stuff to those Bunkers.'"  The parents and older children whistle-while-they-don't-work, almost to the point of stretching credulity.  (Maggie Rose bought diapers herself for the baby?)  But this is not a Cinderella, make-Maggie-Rose-slave scenario; the rest of the family are irritated by her initiative, and suggest that her constant begging to improve things is a slap in their family face.

Maggie Rose is not discouraged by the lack of parental support; she has other adults around her, including a storekeeper and a teacher friend, who try to help her out without overstepping.  With their encouragement, she finds ways to make some money over the summer, with the grand idea of hosting a neighbourhood party on Christmas Eve. (Christmas Eve is her birthday too.)  But because she has to hide her hard-earned loot in a tree (her family are well-meaning but can't be entirely trusted), it gets stolen by a tramp.

No, life isn't fair.  Yes, there is a lot of evil in the world.  However, the robbery is the needed kick in the pants for Maggie Rose's family to get busy and make up for her loss.  And they had better hurry, because Christmas is coming.
"Tim said: 'Never seen anything like it before.  I'd call it plain handsome.'   
'It was Maggie Rose who spoke last:  'It's a place fitten to celebrate a birthday Christmas.  And I'm thinking of His.'"  

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Perogy Casserole

Ponytails requested this for Christmas dinner.  It's a pretty common recipe: lasagna noodles, potatoes, cheese and diced onions; but I had worked out our own lower-sodium, streamlined version of it a few years ago, and posted it to our former food blog, Low Sodium Frugal.  And when I went looking for our recipe tonight (after the power came back on), I suddenly remembered that LSF is gone.  Oops.  But I did have a printed out copy, so here it is.

If you're not going for rock-bottom low sodium, you can add more cheese, some salt, etc.  This was just the way I cut it back when Mr. Fixit was on a very low-salt diet.

Perogy Casserole, Treehouse Version

Cook 15 lasagna noodles in a big potful of boiling water.
Prepare 2 cupfuls of mashed potatoes (you can use the same pot).
Grate or chop 2 ounces (or more) Cheddar cheese and mix this with the mashed potatoes; add some pepper and 1/4 tsp. onion powder.
Mix 1 cup cottage cheese with 1 egg or equivalent replacer, and another 1/4 tsp. onion powder.
Melt 1/2 cup butter or margarine (no-salt if necessary) in a small skillet or pot; add 1 small onion, chopped small; cook until onion is soft.

Grease or spray a 9 x 13 inch pan; if you have one with a lid, use that; otherwise you'll have to cover the pan with foil.
Line the bottom of the pan with 1/3 of the noodles.
Cover with cottage cheese mixture.
Cover with second layer of noodles.
Cover with mashed potato mixture.
Cover with third layer of noodles.
Cover with hot cooked onions-margarine/butter mixture.
Cover the pan and bake for 30 minutes.  Let sit 10 minutes before slicing.

"Two days till Christmas Eve": An icy Sunday morning

"Two days till Christmas Eve  And school was already out for the holidays, and there was plenty of snow for sliding....Margret had so much work she was almost out of her mind, for the new calf turned out to be terribly backward about learning to drink from the pail.  But it was always like this before Christmas--with everybody having too much to do and nobody knowing how he was ever going to manage to get everything done.  If it were not like that, it would not have been a real Christmas."

"Joey and Hans Ulrich [were] singing, humming, or whistling incessantly, 'Christmas is coming, Christmas is coming, tomorrow will be the day!'  'It isn't tomorrow at all,' the sisters would complain all day long.  'Stop that awful noise, it's driving us mad.'  'All right, if you feel that way about it,' the boys retorted.  'Then we'll go to the barn; at least the calf appreciates music.'  'You leave my calf alone, you pests,' Margret called after them, and they called back, 'All right, then we'll go sliding again.  Our pants are soaking wet anyway.'"

"They slid down the slope, they ran to the stone bench a hundred times and looked for the letter carrier, because Margret had said there would just have to be another card from Father as a Christmas present for Mother, and the boys were eager to be the bearers of this Christmas present.  It was the twenty-second already, so if a card were to come at all, it was about time.  But there was no sign of the letter carrier.  Or was there?"  ~~all from Margot Benary-Isbert, The Ark

Vintage "Snow Babies' design from Tattered and Lost Ephemera Gift Shop.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

In which we decide on Christmas dessert

We do not have a fixed Christmas dessert tradition, other than having "something" plus maybe ice cream, a cookie plate, dried fruits and nuts.  Some years it's been layer cake or chocolate trifle.  A couple of times we have had Tofu Chocolate Pie or that other chocolate-torte thing that takes all those chocolate squares. Sometimes Grandpa Squirrel brings a pie along.  This year most of the people in attendance (other than the Squirrelings) are trying to keep things nutritious and/or low-cal and/or...well, you get the idea.  So while we don't want to overload people who are trying to keep things moderate, we don't exactly want to have No Dessert either.

"Christmas cake?" suggested Mr. Fixit.  "You hate fruitcake," I said.  "That's not Christmas cake," he said.  "Yes it is," I said.  "Christmas cake is, like, chocolate cake with icing,"  he said.

Oh.  Well, I could do that.  And then a little "where's that recipe" buzzer went off in my head, something we'd made once or twice but not for a long time, something I knew we had most of the ingredients for, including a jar of marmalade that The Apprentice had brought with her this week...aha.  I had somehow lost or purged the magazine page in my binder, but found it online.  Baker's Chocolate Mandarin Orange Cake.  It's not exactly a diet recipe, but the cake itself isn't huge (good for our smallish family), and you can cut small pieces.

Sorry there are no photos there, but if I remember, I will get one of our cake when we make it.

Friday, December 20, 2013

It's Advent Not Christmas, Day 20

(Quotes continued from O Come Emmanuel, by Gordon Giles.)

"God sent his Son Jesus Christ as the harmonic resolution of the discord and cacophony of human sin.  Yet the glories of incarnation produced only a partial resolution, interrupted and tainted by crucifixion and redeemed through resurrection.  This closure...has yet to be fully realized.  There are notes still to be played, chords yet to sound...This is what Advent is about, and it is what impels us to sing, at any time of year, "O come, O come, Emmanuel!"

This is the last post in this series.  Advent isn't quite over yet, but Christmas is almost here!

Answers to the Book Quizzes

Here are the answers for the 2013 Christmas Books Quiz.

1.  Mrs McGillicuddy panted along the platform...4:50 From Paddington (alternate title: What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw), by Agatha Christie.


2."Do they sing 'Happy Birthday'?" Star wanted to know....Betsy's Winterhouse, by Carolyn Haywood.

3.What was inside looked very shiny--shiny as gold, and very complicated...Maggie Rose: Her Birthday Christmas, by Ruth Sawyer

4.   "How would you like to go to a Christmas Eve party tonight?"  he asked...The Family Under the Bridge, by Natalie Savage Carlson.

5.  For the first Christmas in our lives, we children did not get to see the big city stores and the wonderful window displays...Mama's Bank Account, by Kathryn Forbes.


Here are the answers for the Houseguests Quiz.


1.  "Tiddly, widdly, widdly, Mrs. []; you seem to have plenty of visitors!"...The Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse, by Beatrix Potter.


2.  There was a chirpy noise, and a small striped Chipmunk appeared with a night light, and hoped he felt better?...The Tale of Timmy Tiptoes, by Beatrix Potter

3.  That night more strangers came.  The next night there were more...By the Shores of Silver Lake, by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
4.  Her aunt was muttering as she swept, as if she were talking to herself....Magic Elizabeth, by Norma Kassirer.

5.  Then, in 1939, came the World War, and just before it came Cathy..."San Fairy Ann," in The Little Bookroom, by Eleanor Farjeon.

6.  "She's in the guest room," he said....A Light in the Window, by Jan Karon.
7. Occasionally she would say pathetically, “Whenever you are tired of me just let me know . . . ":  Anne of Ingleside, by L.M. Montgomery.

8.  "And the Wild Wooders have been living in Toad Hall ever since....":  The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame.
9.  Now the Plantagenets were only allowed to use the attic and kitchen...The Doll's House, by Rumer Godden.  (Photo found here.)

10.  And she brought forth her firstborn son...The Gospel of Luke.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

It's Advent Not Christmas, Day 19

Gordon Giles, vicar of St. Mary Magdalene's Church, Enfield, North London, wrote an Advent devotional book a few years ago titled O Come Emmanuel.  In the reading for December 17th, he remembers the first time he preached in St. Paul's Cathedral, on a text from St. Luke's gospel about the Incarnation. The posts for today and tomorrow come from that reading.

"As is the usual custom in large cathedrals, the Gospel book is carried down the nave, so that it is read from within the body of the congregation after the Alleluias have been sung.  This done, the small procession makes its way back to the altar, and the preacher climbs the steps to the pulpit...While these very practical liturgical movements are taking place, it is traditional for the organist to improvise...

"On this August day in question, John Scott, organist at the time, was playing, and as the procession returned to the altar...he played gently, but recognizably, the first few notes of the tune of 'O come, O come, Emmanuel.' The congregation would have been taken by surprise, undoubtedly, it being summertime, but then the music moved away from the theme and built up, until after about two minutes the theme returned, with other notes flying all around, a trumpet blazing 'O come, O come, Emmanuel' through sparkling notes of summer...By this time, I was in the pulpit...looking down the length of St. Paul's, [and] I wondered if there really was any point in saying anything, for in a way it had already all been said with the voice of the organ."

Another books quiz: Houseguests, Welcome and Unwelcome

No guesses yet on the Christmas books quiz?

Here's another one.  The theme is Houseguests: Welcome and Unwelcome.  Can you identify the book, the series, or the author?  Answers will be posted soon.

1.  "Tiddly, widdly, widdly, Mrs. []; you seem to have plenty of visitors!"
"And without any invitation!" said Mrs. [].

2.  There was a chirpy noise, and a small striped Chipmunk appeared with a night light, and hoped he felt better?
It was most kind to []; it lent him its nightcap; and the house was full of provisions.

3.  That night more strangers came.  The next night there were more.  Ma said, "Mercy on us, aren't we to have one night in peace by ourselves?"
"I can't help it, []," said Pa.  "We can't refuse folks shelter, when there's nowhere else they can stay."
"We can charge them for it, []," Ma said firmly.
Pa did not like to charge folks for shelter and a meal,, but he knew that Ma was right.  So he charged twenty-five cents a meal, and twenty-five cents for shelter overnight, for man or horse.

4.  Her aunt was muttering as she swept, as if she were talking to herself...."How I'm going to manage everything myself, I don't know! Can't get anyone who wants to work nowadays!"  Swish, swish whispered the broom more slowly now.  It seemed to be growing tired.
"She doesn't want me here," thought Sally in despair.  "Now she has me and the house to take care of, and she doesn't like it."

5.  Then, in 1939, came the World War, and just before it came Cathy with a crowd of other children was evacuated.  She fell to the lot of old Mrs. Vining in Little Eggham, and that was bad luck, because Mrs. Vining was selfish and crotchety, and had no notion of making a child happy.  Still, Cathy would have found friends in the village, and things would have been very different, but for a bit of worse luck that happened on her very first day.

6.  "She's in the guest room," he said.  "Jet lag, more than likely.  She'll come down before long, I'm sure."
"You want me to fix 'er somethin' to eat if she does?"
"She ate two meatloaf sandwiches last night and drank a half-pitcher of tea, but I'm sure she'll want something before dinner.  Oh, yes-she doesn't eat flesh foods except on Sunday."
All he got from the other end was a stunned silence.

7. Occasionally she would say pathetically, “Whenever you are tired of me just let me know . . . I’m used to looking after myself.” There was only one thing to say to that and of course [] always said it. Though he did not say it quite as heartily as at first. Even []’s “clannishness” was beginning to wear a little thin; he was realizing rather helplessly  . . . that Aunt Mary Maria was by way of becoming a bit of a problem in his household. He had ventured one day to give a slight hint as to how houses suffered if left too long without inhabitants; and Aunt Mary Maria agreed with him, calmly remarking that she was thinking of selling her Charlottetown house.
“Not a bad idea,” encouraged []. “And I know a very nice little cottage in town for sale . . . a friend of mine is going to California . . . it’s very like that one you admired so much where Mrs. Sarah Newman lives . . .”
“But lives alone,” sighed Aunt Mary Maria.
“She likes it,” said [] hopefully.
“There’s something wrong with anyone who likes living alone, [],” said Aunt Mary Maria.
[] repressed a groan with difficulty.
8.  "And the Wild Wooders have been living in [] Hall ever since....and going on simply anyhow!  Lying in bed half the day, and breakfast at all hours, and the place in such a mess (I'm told) it's not fit to be seen!  Eating your grub, and drinking your drink, and making bad jokes about you....and they're telling the tradespeople and everybody that they've come to stay for good."
9.  Now the [P family] were only allowed to use the attic and kitchen.  M. lay in their big bed, bathed in their bath, sat on their chairs, ate and drank out of their flowered china, looked out of their windows.  She sat by the lamp and saw the shadow of the roses. She had []'s birdcage, and her feather broom.  If []'s hat had fitted on her head, you can be sure Emily would have given it to her.

10.  And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

It's Advent Not Christmas, Day 18: Annoying Radio Things, and an MCC Christmas Card

Three years ago I posted an annoying "Helpful Holiday Hint" that I heard on the radio: that the "hot decor theme" that year was silver and gold.  It just bugged me.  Not that I wanted to be a wet blanket on the shiny happy decorations, but it did make me think of Charlie Brown hollering "Neigbourhood lights and display contest?  Arrrgh!"

I have a new one for this year.  I've heard it twice already.  How do you cope with holiday stress?  The answer is...co-ordinate your wardrobe.

Besides that, you should Prioritize Your Parties and Projects, and also take Powernaps before the Parties.

If it weren't so Ludicrous, I'd just Laugh Loudly.

But I have a better response.



(A note on viewing the video:  because of the narrow frames, you may not be able to see the full pictures unless you click through and watch it on You-tube.  Sorry about that.)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

It's Advent Not Christmas, Day 17: All I Want For Christmas

Some people can make a story, or a sermon, out of just about anything.  So here's an anything for today.

Actually it happened yesterday.  Mr. Fixit was having a checkup at the dentist's, and across the hall the other dentist was examining an emergency case: a young hockey player who had broken off four or five teeth in a game.  Not with a stick in the mouth, but by hitting a guard rail.

Hurray for our national pastime.

They brought his teeth along in a bag, but they were in too many pieces to put back together.  The dentist said the choices were between pulling all that remained of the broken teeth, and giving the boy a bridge, or doing implants.  They decided to go with the implants, but it will take about eight months to complete them.  (Mr. Fixit got the full benefit of this from across the hall.)

The cost?  Thousands of dollars.  Not covered by health care or work benefits.

Ouch, and again ouch.

So we have a ready-made example of our fragmented lives and hearts.  Like the shattered plaster angel in Jan Karon's Shepherds Abiding, sometimes there seem to be too many parts to put back together.  Sometimes the consequences of our mistakes and sins will be felt for the rest of our lives.  Like the mother bemoaning the cost of the repairs, sometimes we have no idea how we are even going to start making things right.

The long dark night of the teeth.

And yet the people walking in darkness have seen a great light (Isaiah 9:2).  There is something...Someone...that transcends, that heals the shattered, feeds the hungry, fills the empty.

Anticipating that...is Advent.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Dollygirl's Grade Seven: Term Two, Week Two, or, yes, we are doing school this week

Today's school work:

Some of How to Read a Book, about the usefulness of marking up books, underlining, numbering, making margin notes.  Dollygirl, having been raised to treat books with respect, finds this idea somewhat scandalous.  I showed her my well-annotated paperback copies of Charlotte Mason's books and she was doubly horrified.  Voices from the reading audience?  What do you think?

Grammar page

Plutarch's Life of Demosthenes, Lesson One

The Grammar of Poetry:  about the synecdoche.  A synecdoche, if you never knew or you've forgotten, is when you use part of something to refer to the whole, or vice versa.  Like asking for someone's hand in marriage, or saying you have fifty head of cattle.  We found it much easier to come up with examples like that than to find any that took the whole to refer to the part.  The Wikipedia article uses the example of calling a congregation "the church," which is technically right because "the church" should refer to the whole Body of Christ; but I'm not sure that's the clearest example...or even, on second thought, if that still isn't the part used for the whole.

The Lay of the Land:  half of the chapter about Christmas in the Woods.

Algebra:  how to multiply and divide signed numbers.  Two positives make a positive, two negatives make a positive, a positive and a negative make a negative.  Clear?

The rest of the week:

Will include starting Watership Down, another look at the folk art of Maud Lewis, another lesson in baroque music (using Christmas Goes Baroque II), some Uncle Eric, some Heidi's Alp, and so on.  A little math, a little science.  That's it.  We're counting Friday as a day off, because the school kids are off for Christmas then too.  Our Apprentice has a last exam tomorrow, then she'll arrive home for Christmas holidays on Wednesday evening.

No more school posts till January!

It's Advent Not Christmas, Day 16

Why, yes, it is.

But my Advent pen is dry tonight.  I'll post something tomorrow.

A Recipe for Captain Haddock

Treehouse Dinner: Haddock That Squirrelings Will Eat Because It's Sort of Like Chicken

1 package frozen haddock pieces, still frozen
butter or margarine
Club House La Grille No Salt Added Lemon & Herbs Seasoning
bit of cornstarch

Put haddock pieces in nonstick frying pan (or a regular one should work too).  Sprinkle with lemon-herb seasoning.  Dab with butter or margarine.  Cook on medium heat, but lower the temperature if it starts to bubble too much.  Thicken slightly with cornstarch towards the end of cooking.  Serve when cooked through but not falling apart.

That's it!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

It's Advent Not Christmas, Day 15: Advent as a Fast?

C.S. Lewis said that just because another philosophy or religion does not know Christ, it does not follow that every single thing it teaches is wrong.  That is in the same sense that all truth is God's truth, and it can be found in unlikely places.  I used to find that much more difficult to accept; if something was not a hundred per cent right as I understood it, I found it hard to believe that it could still be worth steering past the mistakes in search of a possible truth about life or about God.

Actually I find that easier to understand when I think about fiction, or art, or even something I've seen in a movie or T.V. show.  I've seen parallels to Christian thought in T.V. sitcoms and dramas, even foolish ones. As Charlotte Mason pointed out repeatedly, our hearts are affected much more readily, and often much more lastingly, by a story.

So all that is to say that I've been thinking about the early history of Advent, when it began as a time of preparation and fasting, and took place over an even longer period of time than today; it used to be a forty-day fast from meat and poultry as well as from other fancy foods and frivolities.  In Rumer Godden's novel In This House of Brede, set in the 1950's and '60's in a Benedictine convent, the nuns go to Midnight Mass on Christmas and then have a special meal of chicken soup, the first chicken they have had in weeks.

One's first reaction might be to remark on the seeming needlessness of it all.  In terms of economy it might be advantageous to have a period of extremely frugal eating and abstention from other pleasures, but how does it benefit anyone spiritually?  Even most of us now who like to think that it's "Advent not Christmas" don't necessarily pull back on physical comforts during this time.  It's a cold, dark season, and it seems like the last thing we want is to feel hungry as well. Does that mean no Christmas cookies before the 24th?  Not in our house.  Not at this point.  In most of the Christian church, the fasting aspect of Advent was dropped long ago, although we still think of it as a time of preparation and contemplation.

But maybe that is what we need.  In one way or another.  We do need to hunger, to want to be filled, to understand joy that is more than just a bowl of chicken soup.

And that's why I mentioned finding truth in strange places.  Because all that made me think of the Muslims around us here who observe Ramadan.  The truth I'm seeing is not in the teaching, but in the practice.  In the acknowledgement of our emptiness.

In recent years, some churches have begun observing the "Longest Night" on December 21st, offering a quiet, sober service especially for those who are lonely, grieving or suffering.  It's a reminder that not everything is jolly-holiday for everyone.  It seems innovative, but it's actually, I think, one of the oldest things we can do to make sense of Advent.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

It's Advent Not Christmas, Day 14: One Year Ago


"Confronted with a cancer or a slum the Pantheist can say, 'If you could only see it from the divine point of view, you would realize that this also is God.' The Christian replies, 'Don't talk d--d nonsense....'  For Christianity is a fighting religion....it also thinks that a great many things have gone wrong with the world that God made and that God insists, and insists very loudly, on our putting them right again." ~~ C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Friday, December 13, 2013

It's Advent Not Christmas, Day 13: On God's Trail

"How could I explain that God, like Jesus, had been like them?

"Suddenly I remembered one of their legends about a man who had become an ant.  He had been sitting on the trail after a hunt and had noticed some ants trying to build a home.  He'd wanted to help them make a good home... But because he was so big and so unknown, the ants had been afraid and had run away.

"Then, quite miraculously, he had become an ant.  He thought like an ant, looked like an ant and spoke the language of an ant.  He lived with the ants, and they came to trust him....It was a perfect parallel for what God had done in Jesus....So I took the word for 'becoming like an ant' and used it for incarnation.  'God is incarnated into man,' I said.

"They gasped.  There was a tense, hushed silence....

"'Where did he walk?' the witch doctor asked in a whisper.

"Every Motilone has his own trail.  It is his personal point of identity.  You walk on someone's trail if you want to find him.  God would have a trail, too.  If you want to find God, you walk on his trail.

"My blood was racing, my heart pounding.  'Jesus Christ is God become man,' I said. 'He can show you God's trail."

~~ Bruce Olson, Bruchko.

Old photo of little Dollygirl by Mr. Fixit.  Copyright Dewey's Treehouse.

Christmas Books Quiz 2013

Are you ready for this year's Christmas Books Quiz?  It's short, but I hope you enjoy it anyway.  Answers will be posted sometime before Christmas.

1.  Mrs McGillicuddy panted along the platform in the wake of the porter carrying her suitcase.  Mrs McGillicuddy was short and stout,the porter was tall and free-striding.  In addition, Mrs McGillicuddy was burdened with a large quantity of parcels; the result of a day's Christmas shopping.  The race was, therefore, an uneven one, and the porter turned the corner on the end of the platform whilst Mrs McGillicuddy was still coming up the straight....[A bit later], she sat up and looked out the window at what she could see of the flying countryside.  It was quite dark now, a dreary misty December day--Christmas was only five days ahead.  London had been dark and dreary; the country was no less so, though occasionally rendered cheerful with its constant clusters of lights as the train flashed through towns and stations.

2."Do they sing 'Happy Birthday'?" Star wanted to know.
"Oh, no!" replied Betsy. "That isn't a Christmas carol."
"I don't see why they don't sing 'Happy Birthday,'" said Star.  "It's the little Lord Jesus's birthday, and it's my birthday."
"Well, they don't sing it," said Betsy.  "I know, because we're learning Christmas carols at school."
"I know some too," said Star....Betsy put her Christmas cards away in a box and said,  "Father likes to sing, and he makes a great big noise when he sings.  Let's go talk to Mother."

3.What was inside looked very shiny--shiny as gold, and very complicated.  There were several small packages and a picture with printing, and the words at the top read: "Christmas Chimes."  Here again were the figures of three angels, and a wheel, and what looked like different sized gongs, three of them.  There was a shaftlike thing with a point.  And a star to fit on the top.  Last of all there were three candles.  "It's something to put together," said Fuss--the one who was cleverest with his hands.  He gathered up everything, with the picture, and took them to the table.  There he set to work.  On a small round tray he fitted the angels.  From that point on he read directions and put things together until everything including the candles were in their right places.  "It says here to light the candles and the heat they send up will turn the wheel and ring the chimes...."  ....everyone waited for something to happen.  Nothing did  Had it been put together wrong?  Had they been cheated?  "The old thing won't work," said Feathers.  It was at that moment that the wheel began to turn.  Very slowly at first, then faster and faster.  From the wheel hung little metal clappers.  These struck against the gongs.  They made a slow, low tinkle at first, that grew more distinct, until suddenly the sound of sweet chimes filled the room.

4.   "How would you like to go to a Christmas Eve party tonight?"  he asked.  "A big party with food and singing and hundreds of people?"
As he had expected, the Calcets immediately forgot their house on wheels.
"Where?" asked Paul.  "In a big palace?"
"Not exactly," replied Armand.  "It's to be held under the Tournelle Bridge."  Paul's face fell.  "But it will be a grand party, I can promise you," went on Armand.  "The Notre Dame church people give it every Christmas Eve for all the hoboes of Paris and their ladies.  They'll sing carols and eat sauerkraut and wieners."

5.  For the first Christmas in our lives, we children did not get to see the big city stores and the wonderful window displays.  And Papa's toolbox was packed away in the closet with our skates.  On New Year's Eve we were allowed to stay up.  Mama made "sweet soup" for us, and she and Papa said Skoal! and wished us each a Godt Nytaar as they drank their coffee.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

It's Advent Not Christmas, Day Twelve

Good day and welcome to Day 12.  (Bob and Doug McKenzie, "Twelve Days of Christmas.")

I have been crocheting and sewing my little fingers to the bone, and it's been fun, but I'm almost finished with all the makings.  However, my tired fingers and my tired brain are not coming up with much to say about Advent tonight.

Can you wait until Friday the 13th?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

It's Advent Not Christmas (Day 11): If you're not simply having a wonderful Christmas time, at least you're not hauling frozen ropes...right?

If the moving finger writes, and having writ moves on, to quote Omar Khayyam and Rudolph's Shiny New Year...sometimes it's a GOOD thing that we can't bring back the past.  Because some of it, we wouldn't want to.

Like sitting in your great-aunt's living room, opening Christmas presents, wearing a big horizontal-striped top (with a boatneck, natch), accessorized with big hair and braces.  Some of that 1982ishness, we don't need to bring back.

Or a holiday season that, for whatever reason, was really bad.  Really lonely, really scary, or really hopeless. Maybe by the next year things were better, but that particular December--no, that's not the kind people write songs about.

Or maybe they do.  Starting with Elvis and Blue Christmas...moving through whatever teary song is playing on the country station or even the Christian station (can you say Christmas Shoes?), through the depressing lyrics of John Lennon ("So this is Christmas, and what have you done?, another year over...") and Band-Aid ("Do they know it's Christmas?").  I have to tell you, a whole lot of years ago I was in a very small music group, and we wrote our own Christmas song, about lonely people needing love.  For a long time afterwards I was kind of embarrassed even to remember that song, thinking it was pretty maudlin and wasn't very good...but considering some of the stuff I've heard on all-Christmas radio, it probably could have held its own.

But anyway, if you want to cheer up and think about all the ways that your December holidays--past or present--could be worse...you really need to listen to Sting's version of Robert Louis Stevenson's "Christmas at Sea."  A sample of the lyrics:

And well I knew the talk they had, the talk that was of me,
Of the shadow on the household and the son that went to sea;
And O the wicked fool I seemed, in every kind of way,
To be here and hauling frozen ropes on blessed Christmas Day.

Frugal Finds and Fixes: Crocheting, Bread Machine, and More

There has been a lot of crafting going on at the Treehouse.  Dollygirl made a pipecleaner-and-bead version of the heroine of Frozen (she's now working on the sister), did some beading with beads that have been sitting around for probably a decade,  and crocheted a few more dolly things that I've lost track of.  Dollygirl also won a t-shirt in a photo contest.

I keep coming across neat little patterns, some of which take only bits and pieces.  I crocheted some bookmarks with red, white and green worsted-weight yarn, and decorated them with Mini Wishing Star motifs.  I am trying out this double-sole slipper pattern on the Red Heart site (I did have to buy a ball of SuperSaver for that).  I like the little flower decorations that are supposed to trim the slippers; if you don't want slippers you could just make the flowers and sew them on something else.  I also like Planet June's Mini Wreath Ornament, which would be a terrific small project for young or new crocheters, and which could use up scraps of green yarn.

Dollygirl sent me the link to this crocheted doll hat pattern, so I made one with leftover multicoloured SuperSaver.

On the food end, I tried Budget101's Garlic Bread Mix for our (yard-saled) bread machine.  It flattened out at the top, which may mean there was a bit too much liquid, but the rest of the loaf was fine.  I cut it in square chunks, rather than trying for thin slices, and we had it with a spaghetti dinner.  It's a good make-ahead, less-messy alternative to toasting things with garlic butter.  Budget101 also gives directions for converting bread machine recipes to no-bread-machine recipes.

I wanted to make some Christmas cookies, but most of our usual recipes call for a lot of butter, and we're very short on that right now.  So I made a bowlful of brownie batter (using oil) and baked it as round cookies, with crushed candy canes sprinkled on top, and powdered-sugar glaze swirled on afterwards.  The candy could have been added after baking, sprinkled on top of the glaze, but it's good baked on as well.

Laugh for the day: "That was productive."

Local newspaper headline today: "Councillors meet for four hours to discuss lengthy meetings."

The article begins, "[City] Councillors spent four hours Monday talking about how they could shorten their meetings.

"To top it off, Monday's meeting ran an hour longer than they anticipated."

I am not making that up.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

It's Advent Not Christmas (but it's getting there!), Day 10

Charles Coffin was a French educator who wrote Latin poetry and hymns; most of his hymns were published in a collection in 1736. This hymn wasn't translated into English for another hundred years, and it's not one we often sing now, even in a church where four-part hymn singing is common. I think Douglas Bond's "Mr. Pipes" would approve of it, though; it goes beyond the "baby in a manger" imagery and manages to work in redemption, Christ's return, and even a doxology in the last verse.

Unfortunately, Charles Coffin ran into trouble with church authority. Hymntime.com says that "Due to his per­sist­ence in ap­peal­ing against the pa­pal Con­sti­tu­tion Un­i­gen­i­tus of 1713, the par­ish rec­tor of Saint-Etienne-du-Mont re­fused to ad­min­is­ter last rites to him, or give him a Chris­tian bur­i­al." I am imagining him finally meeting Jesus "on His road with hymns of holy joy," one of the "scattered saints" united in Heaven.

The advent of our God
Our prayers must now employ,
And we must meet Him on His road
With hymns of holy joy.

The everlasting Son
Incarnate deigns to be;
Himself a servant’s form puts on
To set His people free.

Daughter of Zion, rise
To meet thy lowly king,
Nor let thy faithless heart despise
 The peace He comes to bring.

As judge, on clouds of light,
He soon will come again,
And all His scattered saints unite
With Him in Heaven to reign.

Before the dawning day
Let sin’s dark deeds be gone;
The old man all be put away,
The new man all put on.

All glory to the Son
Who comes to set us free,
With Father, Spirit, ever One,
Through all eternity.

From Hymntime.com.

Carnival of Homeschooling #415: Living with Books Edition

Welcome to the 415th Carnival of Homeschooling!  Our theme this week is books:  homeschool books, holiday books, and more.  One of the families who originally inspired us to homeschool (and they don't even know that) said that they spent every afternoon together on the couch, eating popcorn and reading library books.  "Works for me," I thought, and off we went.

So when you're done reading the carnival and the posts...go grab a kid (and a bowl of popcorn) and a book. Or two or three.

On Homeschool Reading:

MomSCHOOL presents a Homeschool Guide to Teaching Reading. "As a homeschool mom, I think the scariest thing to teach my kindergarten children was always reading. Yet,  I love to see the light come on when they finally are able to read!"
Trivium Pursuit presents Ten Things to Do Before Age Ten. "I am sitting on the couch (a chair would never do) reading a good book, such as Men of Iron by Howard Pyle. One child sits on my right, and one child sits on my left, and one child sits on the back of the couch behind my neck, and one child sits on my lap. The fifth child has to make do. Everyone must be situated, just so, in order to see all of the pictures — which must be examined minutely before the page is turned. This is one of the ways God taught me patience."

At Here in the Bonny Glen, Melissa Wiley presents Homeschooling Books: A Wish List for Libraries.

On Holiday Reading:

Celeste presents Picture Books We Love :: My Top Ten Christmas Books for Littles, posted at Joyous Lessons.

Sage Parnassus presents Christmas Books!

At A Peaceful Day, Jeanne also presents 20 Christmas Books to Read Aloud, with an Australian twist.
Dewey's Treehouse presents a blast-from-the-past post: a review of The Church Mice at Christmas.

Harvest Moon by Hand presents Get a Christmas Tree, with a Hanukkah book that snuck in there too.

Home stuff, School stuff, Thoughtful stuff, Silly Stuff:

Petticoat Government presents Snowy Day Sewing. "Our first official lesson on using the sewing machine and how my children surprised me with their sewn creations that same day. It was a good use of a snowbound afternoon." 

Homeschoolvspublicschool presents The Perfect Christmas.  "Many years ago I was blessed by knowing a very awesome family. Thirteen children in one family and a wonderful mother and father celebrated Christmas time in a very unusual way."

Why Homeschool presents What is the purpose of a report card?  Janine shares her recent experience of a kindergarten report card.  "Does the teacher really not notice that this kid can read and that he can sound out almost every thing he reads?  I'm guessing that they gave all the students - Basic on the report card except maybe the obviously struggling students."

Homeschool and Etc presents Homeschooling an Autistic Child:  Why?  "My child is six years old and he is a public school push-out."

Time4Learning Community Blog presents the Top 25 Reasons for Homeschoolers to use Pinterest.

Afterthoughts presents Charlotte Mason and Notebooking, a review of Laurie Bestvater's book The Living Page.

A Brave Writer's Life in Brief presents Your kids want to learn and grow.  "Stay alert to your child’s struggles so that you may discover a 'block' that you hadn’t noticed in your frustration. Keep going. Don’t give up. Trust the process and your child’s natural goodwill toward you."

And finally...The Common Room, recent winner of "Best Variety" in the Homeschool Blog Awards, presents an original version of The Twelve Days of Christmas.  The six napping grandbabies are sweet, but I'm not so sure about the blood...well, go see anyway.

That's it for this week's Carnival!  Thanks to all who submitted posts and/or gave permission to use them.  Next week the host blog will be HomeGrownMommy.com.

Monday, December 09, 2013

It's Advent Not Christmas (Day Nine): Eliminating P-Waste

Mr. Fixit was at the Large Chain Store today and noticed a familiar face behind the counter: a young man who used to work at the Large Office Store down the road.  He got this job during a reorganization.  He lost his old job in a similar reorganization, and it took him months to find a new one.  This is someone with a degree in software engineering.  Yeah, I know, you've heard it all before.

But this is the kicker: at the store where he worked previously, no one gets to stay more than two years.  Even managers.  They get shuffled out, made part time, made redundant.

Two years.  Your job will probably expire before the toasters or printers you sell.

Then Mr. Fixit ran into someone else he hadn't seen in awhile.  This friend is a machinist.  For the last while, he's worked a series of jobs either cleaning parts or painting parts.  It's not what he was trained to do, but he says he's working with other similarly overqualified tradespeople, and it's all they can get.  He says the teenager behind the coffee counter is probably getting paid close to what he makes, plus the coffee cashier doesn't have to inhale paint fumes.  Oh, and his wife lost all her work benefits in a series of company mergers.

Nothing comes with a lifetime guarantee.  Not a degree, not a job.  Companies disappear.  Whole industries disappear.  One day you think you're set, the next you're redundant.

We live in a society that, more and more, treats people as disposable.  Instead of E-Waste, maybe we could call it P-Waste.

This is why Jesus came into the world.

No, not to get us jobs at Stuff-mart or to organize unions or to guarantee employment until 65.  But to end the belief that any single person...born or preborn, over-or-under qualified, mentally healthy or not so much, born into an overcrowded country or not...you fill in the blanks...doesn't matter.  Is expendable.

So the message of Advent speaks:  no more P-Waste.  That is the Good News.

Looking for Carnival of Homeschooling Submissions (Reposted, now with theme!)

We will be hosting this week's Carnival of Homeschooling!

So send in your submissions by next Monday night! (That is, tonight.)

Please?

UPDATE:  I have seen lots of posts recently on books: Christmas books, homeschool books, book reviews; so I thought that would make a good carnival theme.  If you have a book post, feel free to submit it!  But anything homeschool-related is fine too.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Dollygirl's Grade Seven: Term Two begins

Dollygirl''s Term Two begins this week, but in a low-key kind of way.  I understand perfectly why some homeschoolers just give school a miss before Christmas--it seems the last thing you want to be doing right now is thinking of ways to teach geology.  Crafting and so on are much more fun.  But if Dollygirl were in public or private school, she'd be having classes just the same, so that's what we do.

This week's school plans:

Monday:
Book of Acts, half a chapter.
The last chapter of The Sword and the Circle: "The Coming of Percival."  Half today, half Wednesday.
Algebra
The Lay of the Land: half a chapter
French readaloud (continuing until Christmas)
Geology unit
Music history (using the cassette "Christmas Goes Baroque II")
Special handicraft: Planet June's crocheted Christmas Wreath ornament
The Return of the King

Tuesday:
Ourselves, by Charlotte Mason
Picture Talk:  Maud Lewis, a Canadian folk painter
History of English Literature, half a chapter
Grammar of Poetry, review and half a lesson
French readaloud
English history:: the kings after Alfred
Easy Grammar Plus
The Return of the King

Wednesday:
Book of Acts, half a chapter
Finish "The Coming of Percival"
Algebra
French
Begin Plutarch's Life of Demosthenes
Music history
Science
Whatever Happened to Penny Candy?

Thursday:
Ourselves, by Charlotte Mason
History of English Literature, half a chapter
Easy Grammar Plus
Geography:  begin Heidi's Alp
Sigurd the Volsung
French
English history
Grammar of Poetry, review and half a lesson

Friday:
Book of Acts, half a chapter
Algebra
Sigurd the Volsung
French
The Lay of the Land: half a chapter
Science
Geography:  Heidi's Alp
The Return of the King

It's Advent Not Christmas, Day Eight: "Some?"

"Christmas isn't just about giving. It's about getting and about God's Son Emmanuel." ~~ Young Squirreling in Dewey's Treehouse, December 2005

Every family has its own "home words" and shortcuts.  One of ours is "some?"  It sprouted when the Squirrelings were little and would ask for "some?"  Meaning a polite "I don't know exactly what that is you have there, Daddy, but it sure looks good, so can I have some?"  Or, on occasion, "Gimme, gimme some or I'll have a meltdown!"  It also reminds Mama Squirrel of the story her own mother used to repeat on every family occasion involving pumpkin pie, of the time that Very Little Mama Squirrel's daddy was slicing her a small piece of pie, and when he turned away for a moment to find her a plate, she took the rest of it and left him the small slice.

Over the years, the use of that single word has morphed from an asking word into an offering.  Mr. Fixit, particularly, still proffers the plate of toast or whatever with the word "Some?"

It occurs to me that the late philosopher and teacher Dallas Willard might have found use for our word "Some," in his thinking on the Divine Conspiracy.  Think of the scenes you've seen on T.V., where someone says, "I'll have some of whatever they're having."  It's been used in every sense from the most vulgar to the most literal, and I hesitate even to describe it that way, but it's an image that's worked itself into our culture.  Is it possible to think of the Divine Conspiracy as an offering of "Some?"  God offers us "Some?"  Then we offer Some of What We're Having to those outside the circle?  I don't mean so much physical aid, although that's in there; I mean God's gift of Himself.  One word only.  An asking, or an offering.

It also occurs to me that when we're unsure of "our" gift of the Gospel being accepted or rejected by others, it may be because we think of it as "ours." C.S Lewis describes a small child who asks his father for sixpence to buy him a gift; the father of course is pleased with the gift, and, Lewis says, that's as it should be; but in terms of finances, it all came from the father to start with, right?  We make the gift and the giving too complicated.

Maybe all we ever need to offer, or to ask for, is "Some?"

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Friday, December 06, 2013

It's Advent Not Christmas (Day Six): Of Time, like an ever-flowing stream

Uncle Benjamin said,“How time does fly!” “I think it crawls,” said Valancy passionately.  ~~ L.M. Montgomery, The Blue Castle

I once wrote something for a writing class called "In the long afternoon."  It was from the perspective of a very young child...okay, me...trying to get through a long, boring, hot Sunday afternoon when all the adults wanted to do was nap.

When you're four, even one afternoon can feel like forever.  Christmas takes forever coming, the month or so of "Christmas stuff" lasts forever, and by the end of it, you almost can't remember a time without Christmas music, lights and trees. 

When you're forty...um...whatever, there's much more of a sense that this Advent time is very short.  It's hard to stop and not do for awhile, when you know that the mere fact of its being December 6th means that in three short weeks, it's going to be Boxing Day already.  The flyers with candy canes will already be yesterday's news.  In my childhood perspective, almost time for Happy the Baby New Year, and the December 31st sleepover at grandma's.  In 2013, I'm getting decorations out of boxes and realizing that they're going to be repacked within, well, days.

Like planning a a wedding.  Or waiting for a child.  The baby's here, but time runs away while you're watching her hold her head up, and start smiling at you, and roll over, and crawl, and you're into size 12-months before you know it.

Valancy may have thought time crawled, but for me it's disappeared too fast, and it's stolen much that I thought would never change.  In my mind, that long afternoon is not that long ago, and there's another one alongside it: I'm in my cold and tiny apartment, the winter before I met Mr. Fixit.  I was temporarily out of work, trying to fill in the days by listening to the CBC and crocheting Every Single Christmas Present.  That December was like one very long afternoon, and it's still clear in my mind after almost twenty-five years.  The time that stretches back is the long arm, and the time just ahead is what's rushing by like a storm that grabs things up, makes hay of those few short days when we can let it be Advent.

There's a reason they call new-baby time "babymoon."  Yes, you know they will grow up, but there is a time that belongs to now.  Just because it will be gone so soon doesn't lessen its meaning.

And there's a reason for Advent.  Yes, it's quickly gone, and seems more so every year.  Like the Baby New Year that grows old, the empty January calendar is turned to the last page before you know it.  I'm with Uncle Benjamin on that one.

But it has its time too.

Carpe diem.

Christmas cookies, candy canes, and penny jars

In the oven:  a double batch of Doreen Perry's Cookies, made with Rice Krispies, one cup of dark chocolate chips, and one cup of red, white and green holiday chips.

On the ground:  no snow.

On the kitchen table:  a jar of pennies, nickels and dimes, and another jar that's filling up gradually.  Secret Saints (or Secret Santas) are trying to not get caught doing good...but you're allowed to mark your good deeds with a donation to the jar.  (One-cent coins were supposed to be finished in Canada, but...like six-foot men and quarter-inch drill bits, we still seem to have an awful lot of them.)

On the radio:  something about everybody hanging candy canes by windows  I don't do that--do you?  (Dollygirl would say she just wants to eat them.  Candy canes are one of those  things that we hold off on until closer to Christmas.)

Butterscotch Dumplings, dressed for the holidays

This was one of the first recipes we ever posted on the Treehouse.  This week we added a special holiday ingredient that we think is an improvement on the original recipe.

Butterscotch Dumplings (from Food that Really Schmecks, by Edna Staebler)

(Edna calls this recipe 20-Minute Dessert.)

Sauce: 1 cup brown sugar, 2 cups boiling water, 2 tbsp. butter or margarine. Stir this all together in a large pot till the sugar has dissolved; simmer while you mix the dumplings.  You can also use leftover homemade pancake syrup, thinned with water if necessary.  Holiday addition:  add a cupful of frozen cranberries while you're bringing it to a boil.

Dumplings: 1/3 cup sugar, ½ tsp. salt, 1 tbsp. butter, 1 ½ cups flour, 1 tbsp. baking powder, about ½ cup milk. Cream the sugar, salt and butter; add flour mixed with baking powder alternately with enough milk to make a stiff batter. Drop by tablespoonfuls into the boiling sauce; cover and let boil gently (do NOT take the lid off) for about 15 minutes. Serve with vanilla yogurt, milk, or anything else you like.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

It's Advent Not Christmas...with Ffff's. (Day Five)

Today's Advent story begins with red and green playdough (homemade), four candles, and a foil pie pan.

That's what we used to make our first family Advent wreath in 1993.  Twenty years ago, think of that.

And it was my first Advent wreath too, really.  I grew up with Nativity scenes, but not with wreaths and candles.  I think something in a book by Ingrid Trobisch started it for me...a description of Ingrid and Walter's first married Christmas, in Cameroon, and how they improvised an Advent wreath.  Around that time, I also bought a copy of Family Celebrations: Meeting Christ in Your Holidays and Special Occasions.  And an Advent alphabet calendar.  That's what we used, that Christmas that the Apprentice was a year and a half.  See the little tree in the photo?  That was all the tree we had, or wanted.  A was for Angel.  B was for Baby.  Every night we put an ornament or picture on the tree, lit the candles, sang Away in a Manger, and blew them out again.  Apprentice's baby word for candles, from that time on, was Fffff.  Every night she looked forward to the Fffff.

She really did.  Never tell me that little ones can't understand Advent.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

It's Advent Not Christmas: C.S. Lewis on Gift-love (Day Four)

"But Divine Gift-love — Love Himself working in a man — is wholly disinterested and desires what is simply best for the beloved. 

Again, natural Gift-love is always directed 

to objects which the lover finds in some way intrinsically lovable — objects to which Affection or Eros or a shared point of view attracts him, 

or, failing that, 

to the grateful and the deserving, 

or perhaps 

to those whose helplessness is of a winning and appealing kind. 

But Divine Gift-love in the man enables him to love what is not naturally lovable; 

lepers, 
criminals,
enemies, 
morons,
the sulky, 
the superior, 
and the sneering. 

Finally, by a high paradox, God enables men to have a Gift-love towards Himself. There is of course a sense in which no one can give to God anything which is not already His; and if it is already His, what have you given? 

But since it is only too obvious that we can withhold ourselves, our wills and hearts, from God, 

we can in that sense, also give them. 

What is His by right and would not exist for a moment if it ceased to be His (as the song is the singer's), He has nevertheless made ours in such a way that we can freely offer it back to Him."

~~C.S. Lewis, "Charity," The Four Loves.  Line-breaks mine.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Natural History: Our School of Rocks

Photos by Mr Fixit; copyright 2013, Dewey's Treehouse.

Dollygirl's Grade Seven: Geography Project

A 3-D narration of the book In Search of England, by H.V. Morton.

Photographs by Mr. Fixit.  Copyright 2013, Dewey's Treehouse.

It's Advent Not Christmas (Day Three)

Today's Advent story starts with two coffee cans of cookies, made by my boyfriend's mother and left at his apartment.  Which isn't his apartment at all.  The condo, its fake Picasso, and most of its IKEA furnishings belong to a junior executive type named Danny.  My boyfriend just rents the extra bedroom from him.

It's the last year of university, and...to add a bit of irony I don't notice at the time, we seem to have housing problems again.  My own current place has no place to cook, and it's so far from the university that I've started spending more time at the boyfriend's apartment.  I can walk there after classes, hang out, and then maybe make something for us for dinner, in Danny's pots and served on Danny's plates, before the long subway ride home. Danny is hardly ever there, but I know he's not crazy about my hanging around.  I don't think he's too crazy about the boyfriend either; I suspect he's behind on the rent.
So one afternoon after class, I walk to the apartment.  It's a nice building, but it's right near Jane and Finch in Toronto, and Jane-Finch is always in the news, usually in stories involving police and fights.  It does make you walk a little faster.  Anyway, when I get there, there are two coffee cans sitting on the kitchen counter.  Just plain cans, not decorated or anything, but full of seven-layer bars and those sliced cookies with little coloured marshmallows in them.  The boyfriend's parents live several hours away, but they made a visit, probably not a strictly friendly one (I think he owes them money too), and his mother left these cookies.  He doesn't want them.  I'm homesick, and hungry, so I eat them.
Then instead of heating up something in Danny's kitchen, we decide to walk over to the restaurant at the Jane-Finch mall and partake of  the daily special.  Over our festive fish and chips, I look around at the dozen or so other tables.  There are harried parents with fussing children.  Lonely old people.  Scruffy-looking couples.
I look at us.  We fit right in.  Just another scruffy-looking couple, sitting on duct-taped seats, eating fries, whacking the ketchup bottle, scrounging in the bottoms of our pockets for enough change to pay the bill, that's us.  I'm not. Happy. With. That.  In fact, I break off with Mr. Christmas Cookies a few weeks later.
But this is the point:  what bothers me is that I don't see grace that night.  I see need, lack, tiredness, vapidity, jammed ketchup bottles.  I thought we were so unique, but really we are just part of the crowd.
And outside the restaurant is a whole mall full of people just the same. And the whole Jane-Finch neighbourhood. The whole city, if you want.  And I think...is this what He came for?  Are we who He came for?
Is that Advent?