Sunday, December 28, 2008

20 library books I want to read in 2009

I'm hoping to read as many of these as I can this year, in no particular order. The titles came mostly from weekend-paper book reviews--I wrote them down a couple of years ago! I've figured out that if you can wait a bit, you don't get stuck on one of those long lists at the library. BL means Big Downtown Library, SL means Smaller Closer-by Library. Since I don't own any of these books, I need to know where I can find them.

[Update: I'm going to put the books I've finished in bold.]

1. Our Culture, What's Left of it: The Mandarins and the Masses BL
2. Story of French BL, SL
3. Freakonomics BL, SL
4. Half in the Sun: an anthology of Mennonite Writing BL
5. Bumblebee Economics BL
6. Of This Earth (Rudy Wiebe) BL, SL
7. King of Infinite Space: Donald Coxeter, the man who saved geometry BL, SL
8. The Bone Sharps: a novel BL, SL
9. Rough Crossings: Britain, the slaves, and the American Revolution BL, SL
10. De Niro's Game BL, SL
11. The Skystone BL, SL
12. Black Swan Green BL, SL
13. Confessions of an Economic Hit Man BL, SL
14. Three-Day Road BL, SL
15. A Most Damnable Invention: dynamite, nitrates, and the making of the modern world BL, SL
16. On Chesil Beach BL, SL
17. Divisadero BL, SL
18. The Library at Night BL, SL
19. The Man Who Forgot How to Read (Engel) BL, SL
20. The Writing Life (Annie Dillard) BL, SL

A gift for Crayons (Opera for Kids)

World's Very Best Opera for Kids...In English

(Santa Claus knows that Crayons likes Carmen.)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas is only beginning (repost from Advent 2005)

(Thinking especially of Melissa this week!)

There are last-minute secrets. Last-minute cookies. Last-minute one-more-thing-I-forgot stops at the store. The four-year-old thinks the days are going by too slowly. The eight-year-old thinks they're going by too quickly.

And really, what's the hurry? If we don't have a) enough salad, b) enough stocking stuffers, c) enough cookies baked (and not already eaten), d) enough cards sent, e) enough decorations up, f) everything, EVERYTHING cleaned, g) you choose, all done and wrapped and delivered by the 25th (not to mention winding up everything we wanted to do in school during the fall term), what does it matter? Jesus isn't going anywhere.

When we were expecting the Apprentice, either our calculations were a bit off or she just decided to make her appearance a bit early--we've never been sure. Anyway, we found ourselves making a 1 a.m. call to the midwife two weeks before baby was expected. I can only compare my feelings that night to a first driving lesson on the freeway when your entire behind-the-wheel experience has been in a video arcade. The second or third time around, you remember what you did before, but the first time...you wonder if you could possibly be the only person in the world to get an F in giving birth. And I remember saying to the midwife, in the middle of all this, "I'm not ready." What did I mean, she asked--emotionally? "No," I said, "I still haven't finished cleaning out the baby's room."

Like the baby would care?

But I was still worried, because I hadn't completed every last thing. (As if I could have anyway.) And the baby was born, and the room eventually did get cleaned out and made ready for her (when she finally started sleeping in there). She wasn't going anywhere, and the cleaning could wait. It was time to celebrate the new life that had been added to our family, and to admire her tiny toes, and to call all the relatives, and to learn all the messy details of diapers and nursing and fitting a baby into tiny nighties and sleepers, and to bring out a first Father's Day present for Mr. Fixit a week later.

And newborns don't stay newborns, so very quickly we were getting into teeth and outgrown sleepers and solid foods and sitting and crawling and tricycles and reading and algebra...giving birth is not one event, it's a whole lifetime.

The same with Christmas. Ready or not.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Where are you from?--Frederick Buechner on Story

This is what I was looking for when I stumbled over that Grinch post.

"The Child in Us"

"We weren't born yesterday. We are from Missouri. But we are also from somewhere else. We are from Oz, from Looking-Glass Land, from Narnia, and from Middle Earth. If with part of ourselves we are men and women of the world and share the sad unbeliefs of the world, with a deeper part still, the part where our best dreams come from, it is as if we were indeed born yesterday, or almost yesterday, because we are also all of us children still....The child in us lives in a world where nothing is too familiar or unpromising to open up into the world where a path unwinds before our feet into a deep wood, and when that happens, neither the world we live in nor the world that lives in us can ever entirely be home again...."
Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth, included as the "May 6" reading in Listening to Your Life: Daily Meditations with Frederick Buechner.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

What's in your hand: Extreme Edition

"What's in your hand" is a favourite phrase of the Deputy Headmistress. Just to give proper credit.

Do you remember that Little House Christmas chapter where things are in a bad state, gift-wise and otherwise? As Laura falls asleep that Christmas Eve, she hears Ma saying something like "there's still the white sugar." The bag of white sugar is a huge treat, usually hoarded and saved for company. But the next morning, in their stockings they each find a sugar-topped cookie. (Apologies to Birdie.)

I get a similar impulse around this time of year, usually in the last week or so before Christmas when the present list seems a little thin (and it's almost too late to start making things). Use it up! Pour it out! What good is it doing just sitting around if we could use it for something? And I don't mean just the butter and sugar...although I did finish off the part-bag of brown sugar and the whole box of raw sugar, two pounds of butter, and all the eggs. (Groceries today.)

Without trying to give away too many secrets, we used up the last of the tacky craft glue, a package of black pompoms (bought several years ago) plus a few leftover coloured ones, most of the cotton yarn, some dollar-store scrapbooking paper bought last February, several vintage hankies, the last of several spools of thread, and a couple of large pieces of fabric that were sitting...just sitting, not pulling their weight. Not to mention that green cord and the glitzy napkins. And some other things I'm not allowed to name.

We bought a roll of white paper at the toy store in the summer (to make a Pilgrim's Progress scroll and also a life-size paper girl; last week Crayons noticed the Snowman Factory idea (think giant paper dolls) on the Canadian Living website. Perfect!--four large snowmen now in progress. (That's where the pompoms and scrapbooking paper are going.) She also wants to make some smaller paper-chain snowmen like the ones she saw on the wall at Ponytails' school.

Last year's last-minute making was much the same: I used up all the craft stuffing we had plus a big piece of quilt batting and most of our yard-saled bulky yarn to make The Apprentice a sausage-shaped pillow. That doesn't mean I went right out and bought more stuffing, either; actually we didn't buy any until last week.

At certain times in your life you might go through a "nesting" phase--a time to gather it all up, acquire, stock the shelves. At Christmas my instinct is to do the opposite: not with a feeling of using up unwanted rags, not scrounging, but rather using the best that we have, and all of it if necessary. Enjoying it, sharing it, --the most beautiful treasures and the favourite ingredients, used and given freely. Some of it, we'll replace quickly: eggs and brown sugar are easy to come by, and we can get more glue. Other things we may do without for awhile...I don't know if or when I'll ever have a whole package of black pompoms around again.

But next year we'll make something else.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Glitzy Gift Sacks

Back in September I bought a brand-new set of holiday table placemats and napkins at a church sale, for a very small amount of money. The fabric was that shiny, Lurex-ish kind of stuff that you just have a feeling wouldn't launder well and would feel awful if you wiped your face with it. Besides which, a whole table set with that stuff could give one a migraine or at least tacky-induced nightmares.

But that wasn't why I bought the set. I saw it and thought "Fabric. Gift bags." And that's what I did with them, including the long runner (that's the tasselled bag without any drawstring). There was no need to cut the fabric--a good thing, because I think it might ravel easily. But since someone else had gone to the work of serging all those edges, all I had to do was sew them together. A couple of the large mats, I folded in half to make small bags; the others were made of two mats sewn together.

(I love straight-line sewing, especially when the machine gets going fast--I feel like the Grinch.)

The casings for the drawstrings were really easy except for getting the cords through the seam allowances (a common problem). I was using a large yarn needle with the cord threaded through it and still found it a bit tough going; but I poked my way through eventually.

The red bag with "Stop! No Peeking" is just plain broadcloth. The STOP transfer and the iron-on letters also came from old (1970's?) yard-saled craft stuff; the letters didn't come out quite as neatly as they might have if I'd let them cool a bit longer. But not bad anyway.

The print bag is something Crayons asked me to make out of a scrap of Christmas fabric we had; I added a pocket for a candy cane.


When it's nice to be cheap

Last Christmas we had a big spool of red ribbon that got used for all kinds of things including, finally, a hot-glued Barbie dress masterpiece.

This year we've been using a large spool of wired metallic green cord--I think that's what you'd call it. Anyway, it's very strong but it can be used as a package tie or even as the cord in a drawstring bag (photo post coming soon).

I don't remember exactly where this came from, but I'm guessing one of the church sales we went to where I picked up quite a few things like that. So I paid--at most--a couple of dollars for the spool, and there was a lot on it.

When I turned it over, I noticed the original price for this cord was 89 cents a metre. There were a hundred metres (originally) on the spool. SOMEBODY went out and paid Ninety Dollars And Tax for that spool of wired cord.

SOMEBODY might have had some 'splainin' to do that night.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A last reading for Solitude and Silence

In my copy of John Piper's Desiring God, I found the perfect set of readings for tonight--all laid out, like an unexpected gift.

John Piper has made Desiring God available as a free e-text on his website. The readings are in the Epilogue, "Why I Have Written This Book," in the section "Reason Two: God is Breathtaking," on pages 290 through 293. (If you're having trouble navigating, click on "Read this book online," then click on the tiny white box beside "Epilogue"; scroll down to "Reason Two."

The reading includes George Herbert's poem "The Pulley."

When God at first made man,
Having a glass of blessings standing by--
Let us (said he) pour on him all we can;
Let the world's riches which dispersed lie,
Contract into a span.

So strength first made a way;
Then beauty flow'd, then wisdom, honour, pleasure:
When almost all was out, God made a stay,
Perceiving that, alone, of all His treasure,
Rest in the bottom lay.

For if I should (said He)
Bestow this jewel also on My creature,
He would adore My gifts instead of Me,
And rest in nature, not the God of Nature:
So both should losers be.

Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining restlessness;
Let him be rich and weary, that at least,
If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
May toss him to My breast.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Thank you for the lovely Butterfly

I'm a bit late in saying Thank You to MomtoCherubs at Beck's Bounty, who recently awarded us this Butterfly Award. Thanks!--it's an honour to know that you consider us cool!

These are the Butterfly Award rules:

(1) Link to the person / blog that gave this award to you.
(2) Post the graphic on your blog.
(3) Pass the award on to up to 10 other blogs you consider cool.

So I'd like to pass the Butterfly on to these blogs:

Percival Blakeney Academy, in honour of today's Seven Quick Takes post. (Our Squirrelings enjoy playing with our childhood toys too--especially Daddy's Johnny West set.)

The Beehive, in honour of all its Adventicipations. (I can hardly spell that.)

Bona Vita Rusticanda Est, for warming things up with All those Hawaii Posts.

Liberty and Lily, for helping us remember a beautiful fall.

Cardamom Addict, in honour of her pickle post (and the joke about the former Governor-General and the perogy recipe was funny too).

And Grocery Cart Challenge, for keeping me inspired.

You're all cool!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Treehouse Christmas CDs (and others)

The Queen of Carrots wants to know what our favourite holiday CDs are.

As always, the beautiful recommendations of some of my more musical friends have almost completely scared me out of admitting the paltry state of our Christmas music pantry. (Previous posts on this topic: 2005, 2006 ) To tell the truth, if or when I want a Bobby Helms-Chipmunks-type Christmas fix I usually turn on the local easy-listening station That Plays Christmas Music Non-Stop For a Month. If I want something more interesting I listen to the CBC.

But these are probably the best of what we have on CD:

1. George Winston, December (if you've ever listened to the Rabbit Ears version of The Velveteen Rabbit, you've heard a lot of this 1982 recording already)

2. An Oscar Peterson Christmas (jazz piano)

3. Loreena McKennitt, To Drive the Cold Winter Away

4. Mr. Fixit got me some classical-choral-type Christmas cassettes last year, as my present; but you know how it is, you get them for Christmas and then you don't have enough time to listen to them properly? So I'm still just checking them out for this year.

5. Anne Murray's Christmas, on cassette.

6. “German Christmas: Candlelight Hours” (sorry, that link won't work--I'll keep trying)

7. The CD I asked Mr. Fixit for, for this Christmas.

Oh yes--this is actually a meme. So if you want to play too, go ahead.

Newspeak Dictionary Censors Bad Words Like--Nun

Sebastian shares my own worries when I hear about dumb, dumb, dumb things like this.

Don't they want people to understand our language?

Friday, December 05, 2008

Friday Evening Advent Gathering

[Thanks to our blogging friends who continue to provide us with quotes, links, and ideas during this season.]

Light the first candle

Father: “As we prepare the manger for the Christ child, we also make room in our hearts and minds for Christ’s daily coming. We long for the Christ to return to fully express God’s wonderful ways once again. Such patient waiting and loving preparation embody the essence of Advent. Focus your thoughts on God’s wonderful ways and learn the goodness of waiting in God’s presence.” (Lutheran Advent devotional)

Listen to Chris Rice singing “Welcome to Our World.” (linked from this post on the Dominion Family Blog)

Reader 1: Think about the simple things at Jesus’ birth: the stable, the animals, the shepherds, the manger.

Reader 2: Mary and Joseph understood inward simplicity. They received their child with joy, as a gift from God.

Reader 3: They cared for Jesus and taught Him the best they could; but they knew that it was God’s business, not theirs, to protect Him and to take Him wherever He was supposed to go.

Father: And in the end, they didn’t try to keep Him all to themselves. As He gave Himself away, He gave us a gift as well: the gift of God’s salvation.

Listen to Alison Krauss and Yo-Yo Ma performing The Wexford Carol (linked from this post)

Father: Inner simplicity is not a reality until we can show it outwardly as well. On the next page we have ten rules of outward simplicity—how we can live simply. [note: not included here; I don't want to violate copyright laws.] They should not be seen as laws, but only as an attempt to show what simplicity can mean for our own lives. Let’s read through the ten rules, and talk about how our holiday shopping, eating, decorating, and other celebrating can reflect those ideas. If you look in the Advent booklets, you’ll see some ideas for games and other things we can do together. Maybe each person could pick out one thing they’d like to do over the next few weeks.

(Time for discussion)

Blow out the candle and end with this comment from Queen Shenaynay:

"My father once told me about a small-town ministers' breakfast where all the preachers were asked to share a verse in the Bible that they were particularly fond of and tell why. As they went around the room, one preacher after another cited some well-known verse, the type of verse you would expect to hear at such a time, if you know what I mean. But then they got to an elderly and much-beloved black preacher. He said, "Here's the Bible phrase I lean on every day, my friends: "And it came to pass..." Because everything that comes upon us on this hard old earth, no matter how bad it may be, it doesn't come to stay. Eternity with Jesus Christ is the only thing that will ever come to stay! All the rest just comes to pass." Isn't that wonderful?"

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Ongoing Advent ideas

Cindy at Dominion Family Blog has begun posting her family's Advent readings, words to songs etc. Here is her outline for the second day of Advent.

Around the Treehouse

Temperature: -2.6 degrees Celsius. Just below freezing.

Christmasy reading: "Schnitzle, Schnotzle, and Schnootzle", by Ruth Sawyer. Really. The version we have is slightly different from the one linked, but it's close.

In the oven today: Lemon Poppyseed Shortbread.

In the breadmaker: Whole wheat bread, not low-sodium. I tried my favourite whole-wheat recipe last week with a lot less salt, and the whole thing caved in. From now on I'll stick to the cookbook recipes when I'm baking no-salt bread. (Which is not a favourite thing to eat around here, but ya gotta do what ya gotta do...)

Have to make more: hot chocolate mix--Crayons just finished off the last of it.

What I'm procrastinating on: writing Christmas cards.

What I learned this week: Yes, you can put mini marshmallows in muffins. If you're careful.

What else I learned: You can't make fudge in the crockpot--Steph says so, and she should know--but you can make soap.

What I'm not trying to think about: Canadian politicians. Send them all some melty crockpot fudge. [UPDATE: well, maybe except for the premier of Newfoundland. Thanks, Linda! You can send him some of your nice chocolate instead.]

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

How not to get caught: a family Advent time

We divide up these readings for an evening time around our Advent wreath.

Light the first Advent candle and sing one of our Advent songs.

Read "How to Catch a Monkey."

"If what we have
we believe we have gotten,
and if what we have
we believe we must hold onto,
and if what we have
is not available to others,
then we will live in anxiety.

"Such persons will never know simplicity
regardless of the outward contortions they may put themselves through
in order to live “the simple life.” –Celebration of Discipline
Another old Sunday School illustration: have you ever had somebody ask you to fill a jar with unshelled walnuts and rice? If you put the rice into the jar first and then try to put the walnuts on top, they don’t fit. But if you put the walnuts in first, the rice fills in the space around them, and then everything fits.

"The goal of simplicity is to seek the kingdom of God and the righteousness of his kingdom first, and then everything necessary will come in its proper order….

"It can’t be about just wanting to get away from the noise and the “rat race.”

"It can’t be about giving things up just so that we can spread things out more fairly among rich countries and poor countries, rich people and poor people.

"It can’t be just about saving the earth.

"But: when the kingdom of God is genuinely placed first, ecological concerns, the poor, the fair distribution of wealth, and many other things will be given their proper attention.

"And just because you don’t have much doesn’t mean that you’re truly living in
simplicity. Paul taught us that the love of money is the root of all evil, and often those who have it the least love it the most. It is possible for a person to be living simply on the outside and to be filled with anxiety on the inside." (adapted from Celebration of Discipline)

When our Apprentice was little, we read two picture books that showed both of those different attitudes. One was Journey Cake Ho! by Ruth Sawyer. The old man in the story liked to say, “A bother, a pest! All work and no rest! Come winter, come spring, Life’s a nettlesome thing.” When times get hard, he and his wife send their hired boy off on his own because “what will feed two won’t feed three.”

The other book was Good Times on Grandfather Mountain. "When his cow, Blanche Wisconsin, jumps the fence and runs away, Old Washburn whittles the useless milk pail into a milk bucket drum. When the raccoons sneak in at night and eat every ear of sweet corn, he makes corn cob whistles. And when a fierce mountain storm causes the worst misfortune of all by blowing his cabin down, he finds the wood for a new fiddle. And the new fiddle starts one of the "best times" on Grandfather Mountain." (from the author's website)
"Freedom from anxiety is characterized by three inner attitudes.
If what we have
we receive as a gift,
and if what he have
is to be cared for by God,
and if what we have
is available to others,
then we will possess freedom from anxiety.
This is the inward reality of simplicity."--Celebration of Discipline

Blow out the candle and read the Advent Prayer posted on Beck's Bounty.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Keep your nose out of my lunch bag, or, how's that possibly hurting you?

Saturday's Toronto Star published an article by Daniel Dale called "The Thrift Paradox: Want to help? Leave that lunch at home." "You can't blame people for cutting back these days, but what feels [?] right now might end up hurting later."

Never mind the strange grammar for the moment.

What bothers me more is the strange logic.

You know where they're going with this. If I don't buy lunch out, the restaurant suffers. If I wear my boots another winter, the shoe store suffers. If I decide to put off whatever Large Purchase I had in mind, the purveyors of that Large Purchase suffer. And the factories close and the jobs are lost, and it's all my fault because I didn't spend that $10 on lunch.

Um hm.

And here I thought I was just being creative by re-using some construction paper (crayoned on one side) to make a school-time Christmas booklet for my second grader. I guess I should have gone out and bought all-new paper and markers to do that properly, or probably bought her a commercial workbook instead. If Scholar's Choice goes under, it'll be my fault. (Do you know we still have some markers around that The Apprentice had before she started school? Fifteen years ago things were still made to last.)

Googling the words Frugality Hurts The Economy brings up these thoughtful responses:

Want What You Have: Can You Be Too Frugal? I don't for a minute believe that frugality hurts the economy. In fact, it seems pretty clear that the lack of frugality in this country is what's gotten us....

Does living frugally hurt the economy? Wise Bread
When I advocate for frugal living, people sometimes ask, "What if everybody lived like that? Wouldn't it hurt the economy?"

Are Your Frugal Ways Hurting Us All? Wise Bread
Not being frugal is what has reduced our economy into it's current poor state....

Are frugal people ruining the economy? - Smart Spending Blog - MSN ...
Frugal people actually have money to spend! How does that hurt the economy? Frugal people have mortgages they can afford and are not swimming in credit card debt....

I like that last point especially. Those who have lived with restraint won't be the ones squawking the most about having to cut back on life's little luxuries. The frugal will be the ones who have the skills to survive when times get hard, when certain commodities disappear or become too expensive for most people.

So, Mr. Dale: "Where's my civic spirit?" Right here in my kitchen, making my own hot chocolate mix and experimenting with low-sodium bread recipes (that last, I might point out, to try to help keep my husband from having to spend any more time in the hospital where they've just announced more bed closures and nurse layoffs); in my dining room, re-using last year's perfectly good Advent calendar and my husband's grandmother's dishes (sorry, china store); and in my rec room/classroom, keeping at least one of my children from taking up a costly seat in the public school system (and yes, I do pay school taxes, everybody does). [And oh yes--last but not least--trying to stay out of debt and otherwise out of trouble so that we don't end up being a burden on somebody else.]

Climb on up and maybe we can swap sandwiches.