Friday, December 31, 2010

December Books, Day 31: Happy New Year

Art Attack Christmas Cracker / Art Attack Cracking New Year, 1999 Mammoth Books

The Crane Maiden, by Miyoko Matsutani, illustrated by Chihiro Iwasaki. Parent's Magazine Press, 1968. (Previously published in Japanese.)

Angelina Ice Skates, by Katharine Holabird, illustrations by Helen Craig. 1993/2001.

There are hundreds of Christmas books--but how many New Year's books can you name? Here are three of ours.
This isn't the cover of the book--I couldn't find an image online and don't have a camera available to take my own photo.  But it's similar.  Art Attack: Cracking New Year is one half of a flip-it-upside-down book (the other half is Christmas Cracker).  Want to make a shiny shaker? Funky frames?  Rainbow thank-yous?  All the crafts are drawn step by step, and patterns are included at the end.

For those of you who don't get TVOntario or who have never watched Art Attack, here's a You-tube clip with Neil Buchanan demonstrating a Christmas tree craft.
The Crane Maiden might not come to mind as a New Year's story; it's a Japanese folk tale about the bad results of too much curiosity.  But it does take place at Japanese New Year, which is the same as ours, January 1st. 
Pausing only long enough to buy rice for rice cakes, a kimono for Tsuru-san and a few delicacies for New Year's Day, the man hurried home with his pockets jingling.  "Tomorrow, tomorrow is the New Year's Day," he sang.  "The New Year is the happy time, eating rice cakes whiter than snow, drinking sake that is smoother than oil."

Then such a hustle and bustle there was, as the old man and his wife prepared for the feast....
Everyone in the village was getting ready for New Year's Eve, and Angelina was preparing a special ice skating show.  Her little cousin Henry wanted to be in the show, too, even though he often tumbled off the ice and fell into the snowbanks.
Maybe not literature that will last forever, but a fun story for Angelina fans...
At the end of the performance, as the magic hour of midnight approached and fireworks sparkled in the sky, Angelina and her friends wished everyone joy and peace, and they all sang and danced together to welcome in the New Year.
Happy New Year from Dewey's Treehouse!!!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

December Books, Day 30: The Light at Tern Rock

Today's post is dedicated to a friend at church who not only survived the December fiasco at Heathrow Airport, but who made it home at 11 p.m. on Christmas Eve, gallantly bearing a bouquet of roses for his wife.
"We've lighted the biggest candle we'll ever have a chance to light for Him...."--The Light at Tern Rock, by Julia L. Sauer

Collecting Children's Books posted about this book here and here. (Off-topic footnote related to the 2008 post: I did have a copy of Elizabeth Enright's A Christmas Tree for Lydia, and I gave it away...feeling like a heretic as I did so since I do like most of Enright's books. I just plain didn't like the story.)

Have you ever spent Christmas somewhere other than where you wanted to be? As the Book Collector points out, young readers may be "outraged" to discover that Ronnie's holiday at an island lighthouse is caused not by a storm or by illness but by the regular lighthouse keeper's deceit. But the hero of the story, to me, is Aunt Martha.
"We mortals seem just too pindling to be trusted with this God-made pile of rock and this man-made pile of masonry. But remember this. If you and I weren't here, and this Light was left alone, this Rock and these ledges would be nothing but a danger and a menace. We're needed. And we can do what's expected of us."
It's Aunt Martha who holds things together when it's finally clear that the AWOL Mr. Flagg isn't coming back before Christmas. It's Aunt Martha who knows how to use all that Turkish paste, tamarind preserves and ginger that Flagg has left them--not everyone's typical Christmas grocery list!

And it's Aunt Martha who gives Ronnie a needed kick in the pants:
"Nobody's going to spoil my Christmas. Not Byron Flagg, and not a sniveling small boy either....You'll have fifty more Christmases in your life probably. But I won't....But Christmas, Ronnie, is something in your heart. It's a feeling that doesn't go with anger and hatred. And my heart's got to be clean and ready for Christmas."
A good story for kids ready for something slightly longer than picture books...and for anyone else who needs to find Christmas wherever they happen to be.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

December Books, Day 29: Two books by Marguerite de Angeli

Elin's Amerika (1941)
Up the Hill (1942)

Here's an interesting blog post about Marguerite de Angeli's books, at Under the Gables.

These aren't Christmas books, but they both have Christmas parts in them.

She could see glittering paper stars and colored hearts that hung from the ceiling.  She could see the candy canes and the clear candy toys, the piles of cakes filled with prune jam, the poppy seed cakes, and best of all, the gingerbread St. Nicholas, with pink sugar buttons and frosted beard.

"Oh!" sighed Aniela.  "What lovely pierniki!  And see, Tadzio, see the chrósty!  Do you think Mamusia will have chrósty?  Ummmm!  It smells so good, and I am so hungry.  Today, it seems as if night would never come...."

Snow had fallen all night and lay inches deep in the little Pennsylvania mining town.....Everyone carried an armful of bundles and wreaths of green.  Ropes of laurel were strung across the the street from the lamp-posts.  Bells jingled on the harness when a horse and sleigh passed....

"Look!" said Aniela, pointing up over the church steeple.  "There it is! There is the first star!"--Up the Hill
Then it was the day before Christmas, Jul Eve. Elin woke with a shiver of excitement...on Jul Eve all sorts of strange things could happen! The animals were said to have the power of speech, and one must be careful not to say the real name of the wolf, or the rat, or the bear. One must say, "Mr. Graybones," or "Mr. Longtail," or "Mr. Heavypaw." Then they would never suspect they were being noticed and would stay in their places. The Tomte would talk to the animals, and at midnight they would fall on their knees in worship....

There was no "lutfisk" for supper as there used to be in Sweden, but Mor cooked the salt codfish. There was corn bread and Jul ale and potatoes and clotted cream. The candles were lighted, and a huge fire made the stuga bright....

After she was in bed Elin lay watching the flickering Christmas candle, thinking how she would like to see the Tomte when he found the suit Moder had made for him and the little red cord and tassels she had made. She wished she might see him eating his bowl of porridge and hear how he would talk to the animals....The next thing Elin knew Fader was poking at the fire. It was still as dark as night, but it was Christmas morning.--Elin's Amerika

What happened to the green burlap? (mini gift sacks)

That October rummage sale turned out to be one of the most useful we went to all fall.

The yarn mostly went into potholders; the blue fabric became a cover for my baking binder; the red candles went into our Advent wreath; we used the glass candle jar during the holiday season; Mr. Fixit has been reading How the Irish Saved Civilization. And then there was "one unopened package of "decorator burlap" in an interesting avocado-greenish colour (I'd guess it's been around for awhile)."

I cut the large sheet of burlap into twelve rectangles, and sewed each one up the side and across the bottom to make a small "potato sack."  (I zigzagged across the tops first so they wouldn't fray too much.)  Really easy--I mean, potato sacks aren't supposed to be perfect or fancy anyway.
After lessons were done one day, the Squirrelings and I had been playing around a bit with fusible webbing (Therm O Web HeatnBond Lite Iron-On Adhesive, if you need to know) and brown paper bags.  I made my own "iron on patches" by ironing webbing onto a piece of fabric, tracing small cookie cutter shapes onto the paper backing, and cutting them apart.  Instant iron-on appliques. 
I had the sacks.  I had the patches.  Moment of serendipity.
What went in the bags?  Sandwich bags of hot chocolate mix and crunchy salad toppers. And one of Peppered Pecans for a hot-tongued relative. A couple of them went to friends as small gifts, tied up with ribbon and candy canes. I tied the rest with brown yarn that had jingle bells and name tags strung on first; they were place markers/table gifts for Christmas dinner.
Not bad for a what's-in-your-hand.

This post is linked from Works-for-me-Wednesday: 2010 Reflections.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Use-what-you-have doll wardrobe (or, Crystal's Christmas Surprise)

What did Crayons and Crystal get for Christmas?

Actually these clothes aren't just for Crystal; she has to share them with her "sister" Crissy, who's about the same height but slimmer.  A few of them will fit one doll better than the other.

Crystal in the nightclothes we made her last year

Crissy in a dress "upcycled" from a wine bag

Where did the fabrics come from?
Last year we bought a "grab bag" of co-ordinating red and blue fabrics at the mill-end store, for about $7.  Crayons used some of it to sew a pencil case, but the rest of it was still uncut.  We also had a nice thick red scrap of material from a church sale (perfect for a bathrobe), a piece of print material from a long-ago rummage sale (I had always thought it would make a pretty doll dress), and a burgundy t-shirt (one with a lot of stretch) that we found at the thrift shop just before Christmas.  Total costs for a doll quilt and pillows, tote bag, and several items of clothing?  Counting a spool of red thread and the stuff we had on hand like elastic and Velcro, I'd say it was under fifteen dollars.
Oh, and the batting for the quilt and the tote bag was a dollar-store "snow blanket."  It was thinner than regular quilt batting, just right for doll things.

Where did the patterns come from?

Several of the things were made from patterns in Sew the Essential Wardrobe for 18-inch Dolls, by Joan Hinds and Jean Becker, found on the discard shelf at the library. (The print dress, the blue print blouse, the red bathrobe, the pale blue nightie, the burgundy turtleneck, the checked pants.) There are full-size double-sided patterns folded into the back of the book; I traced them onto tracing paper although they could be photocopied instead.  This book leaves out facings, giving all the blouses and dresses a full bodice lining instead.  In other words, you make four fronts and two backs, or four backs and two fronts.  It takes a bit more fabric, but does a neater job, and once you've made one piece like that, you understand how it works for the others.
Others came from Bunkhouse Books' Stitches&Pins doll clothes patterns that we bought for Crayons last year. Very easy to use, and some (like the skirt) don't even require paper patterns, just fabric cut to a certain size. From that package I made the reversible vest and an elastic-waist skirt.
The sweater pattern was found online.   (Not in the photo:  ice skates and mittens on a string.)
The tote bag came from Kids Can Press Quilting, by Biz Storms. Putting that together gave me the idea to use the last bits and pieces to make a patchwork quilt. I didn't have a pattern--just used some ideas I had seen in patterns for other doll quilts.
The hairband, small burgundy purse, burgundy shawl to go with the dress, burgundy miniskirt, crocheted scarf, and the mini version of the tote bag, I made up as I went along. The hairband was made from some of the binding on the t-shirt, with a fabric star fused on.

How did it all work out?

Mama Squirrel started with the bathrobe on a November afternoon when Crayons was out. If that hadn't worked out so well, she probably would have stopped there. But a bathrobe needs a nightie, and over the next while she worked on one.  That pattern did create some struggles...but she finally got everything gathered and the white yoke sewed on perfectly...and inside out. Not wanting to go back to the stitch ripper for the umpth time, she compromised and sewed ribbon around the raw edge. And that still could have been the end...except that, even with the nightie fight, she was having fun sewing. And Crystal did need some new clothes.  And we did have that bag of red and blue print fabric pieces.

So we set things up in a bit of an assembly line.  Since there was a limited amount of fabric to work with, Mama Squirrel traced out some of the pattern pieces she thought she'd use, and pinned and cut them all at once, trying to match the largest pieces of fabric to the clothes requiring the most material.  Then it was just a matter of finding time and privacy to sew them, bit by bit.  Most of that happened in the last week of school (when the Squirrelings had a light workload and extra free time) and the week of holidays before Christmas (when it was quite acceptable for Mama Squirrel to say "OUT, I'm working on something.")

What kind of fastenings are on the clothes?

Mama Squirrel is not much into hardware.  The blouse, dress and nightie have Velcro closings.  The sweater has a button.  The shawl has a snap.  Everything else is pull-on.

We thought the pants and turtleneck outfit would be groovy enough for Crissy.
On Christmas Eve before bed, Crayons unwrapped the nightwear and the quilt and pillows.  The pillows are made from scraps of the t-shirt, with gingerbread shapes fused on for decoration.  The quilt top was made from rectangles and squares pieced together in strips, then placed on a square of snow-blanket for batting, and a piece of blue brushed fabric (long-ago remnant) cut 2 inches larger all the way around.  The backing was folded over twice towards the front of the quilt, and then top-stitched to hold the whole thing together.  It would have been fun to "tie" the quilt, but it didn't seem necessary.

On Christmas morning, Crayons unwrapped the large tote bag which was holding the rest of the clothes.  It was made from one of the few pieces of grab-bag fabric which had a print too large for dolls, and there was another large dark red piece left for lining.  Because we were so close to the end of the fabric, the tote bag has one red handle and one handle made of two kinds of blue fabric.  But Crayons says she doesn't mind.

Clothing photographs:  The Apprentice

Monday, December 27, 2010

December Books, Day 27: The Light of Christmas, or, "What am I to say to the Froplinsons?"

Reading Lizzie's "Christmas treat" story on A Dusty Frame made me think of a Christmas anthology I inherited from my grandmother. The Light of Christmas was edited by Frances Brentano and published by Dutton in 1964. My copy is nothing much to look at--doesn't even have its dustjacket--and I can't find a photo online of what it originally looked like. But it's the inside that counts. It doesn't have Lizzie's story, but it has many more...some funny, some thoughtful.

The book starts with retellings of the birth of Christ--"The Inn That Missed Its Chance" by Amos Russel Wells, "Herod's Way" by Dorothy L. Sayers, and "Seeking the Light" by Henry van Dyke. The other sections include book excerpts, stories and poems by authors such as Dorothy Canfield Fisher, Ruth Sawyer, Margaret E. Sangster, John Masefield, Elizabeth Goudge, Bess Streeter Aldrich, G.K. Chesterton, Elizabeth Yates, and Hugh Walpole. And Saki.
"I don't dispute the necessity [of writing a thank-you note to the Froplinsons], but I don't think the someone should be me," said Janetta. "I wouldn't mind writing a letter of angry recrimination or heartless satire to some suitable recipient; in fact, I should rather enjoy it, but I've come to the end of my capacity of expressing servile amability. Eleven letters today and nine yesterday, all couched in the same strain of ecstatic thankfulness: really, you can't expect me to sit down to another. There is such a thing as writing oneself out."

"I've written nearly as many," said Egbert, "....Besides, I don't know what it was that the Froplinsons sent us."

"A William the Conqueror calendar," said Janetta, "With a quotation of one of his great thoughts for every day in the year."

"Impossible," said Egbert; "he didn't have three hundred and sixty-five thoughts in the whole of his life...."

"Well, it was William Wordsworth, then," said Janetta; "I knew William came into it somewhere."--Saki, "Down Pens"
There's also "The Chanukah Bush" by Gertrude Berg.

And Pearl S. Buck's "Christmas Day in the Morning."

And Myra Scovel's story "Christmas Cookies," about a Christmas that their family spent in China under Japanese occupation.

And Walter Hard's poem "Holy Night," which brings us back to Lizzie's story.
"But he told her she'd got to stop this sharing.
She'd promised.
But she couldn't bear to think of those Stebbinses.
She could get along. She still had wood in the shed.
The Doctor's scolding stuck in his throat.
He went to the shed and brought in the last armful of wood.

He shut the stable door.
he stopped to look down on the sleeping village.
So Ellen had to share.
He recalled the look on her face.
Sharing. That was what Christmas meant.

The dlock in the village struck twelve.
Down in the valley a rooster crowed.
Overhead the moon moved slowly across the winter sky.
Holy night. Peaceful night."

Crystal wanted skates (crochet pattern)

Crystal, if you don't know, is Crayons' 18-inch doll.

And Crystal thought it would be nice if she got some skates for Christmas.

Yes, you can buy doll ice skates, but they're a bit pricey. Mama Squirrel saw this crocheted skate pattern on Cobbler's Cabin, and figured they would work. She didn't get them done for Christmas, but the Boxing Day lull gave her enough time to whip them together, and luckily we happened to have two two-inch paper clips (big ones) for the blades.

If you're trying these, I would warn you to count very carefully and use a stitch marker to mark the beginning of rounds--otherwise your shape will get way off. (Ask me how I know?) The groups of three single crochet in a row are meant to go right on the long sides of the oval sole; the two sc in one stitch are the "corners" of the oval. If you find yourself making the three sc at the short end or somewhere else, you'd better start again. Also, there are a couple of places where I took an extra slip stitch just to tighten up and end things off nicely--not in the pattern, but it doesn't hurt.

And a word of encouragement: once you've finished the first skate, the second one goes much faster.

P.S. Crystal got some other things for Christmas, too; we will put up some photos later on.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

December Books, Day 26: All for the Newborn Baby

This post is dedicated to a very special Newborn Baby...Mama Squirrel's FarAway Sis had a boy on Christmas Day!  Yes, I mean yesterday! A brother for the Cutest Nephew in the World.   Mama Squirrel and Mr. Fixit are delighted to be an aunt and uncle again.

Today's book is All for the Newborn Baby, by Phyllis Root, illustrated by Nicola Bayley.
The inn was full.
It was cold in the stable,
dark and bare.
But Mary held her baby close,
and when he fussed,
as babies do,
she sang a little cradle song
all for the newborn baby.
And the rest of the book is Mary's lullaby.
Hush now, baby,
In the manger,
Donkey shares
His sweetest Hay,
Oxen breathing
Warm beside you,
Keep the winter
Cold away.
The book's not very long, but it's gorgeously illustrated. Some of the lines come from old "Christmas miracle tales" and carols: there are roses blooming on snow, cherries to be picked, and spiders spinning silken blankets. Nicola Bayley's borders are filled with butterflies, moths, and flowers, which are all given their Latin names on the endpapers.  One Amazon reviewer pointed out that the lack of action in this book wouldn't really keep her six-year-old entertained, and she's probably right; but as she also said, it's worth carving out a space to share it at least once during the Christmas season.
All the world
So bright and new
Waits for you, my newborn baby.
Hush and sleep
The whole night through.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

December Books, Day 25

A happy Christmas to all of you!

Image found here

Friday, December 24, 2010

"Lit by a star"

This Christmas hymn is posted with our wishes and prayers for the Common Room's Striderling, the children on Donna-Jean's heart, and the Hanley family.  We also remember other young children who have no place to call home.

How far is it to Bethlehem?
Not very far.
Shall we find the stable room
Lit by a star?
Can we see the little child,
Is he within?
If we lift the wooden latch
May we go in?

May we stroke the creatures there,
Ox, ass, or sheep?
May we peep like them and see
Jesus asleep?
If we touch his tiny hand
Will he awake?
Will he know we've come so far
Just for his sake?

Great kings have precious gifts,
And we have naught,
Little smiles and little tears
Are all we brought.
For all weary children
Mary must weep.
Here, on his bed of straw
Sleep, children, sleep.

God in his mother's arms,
Babes in the byre,
Sleep, as they sleep who find
Their heart's desire.

Frances Alice Chesterton

December Books, Day 24: Look Through My Window

Another Jean Little book?

Oh, it could have been The Twenty-Four Days Before Christmas.  Or The Family Under the Bridge.  Or Phyllis Root's All For the Newborn Baby.

But this one seems right for now...

Look Through My Window (1970) is, in my opinion, one of Jean Little's best.  At least it's one of my favourites.  It's the story of Emily--a little lonely, a little bored--who enters a whole new adventure when she, her parents, and four small cousins who suddenly need looking after, move to a big old house in a new town.  Near the end of the book, all the kids, plus Kate (a new friend of Emily's) come down with chicken pox at Christmas time, and since Kate's parents have to go away, she comes to stay as well.  Itching for something to do (sorry), they decide to put on a Christmas play.
Christmas words went back and forth in her mind. room in the inn...

None of them would come together and make sense.  None of them held the beauty which had been there on the first night.

At last, in desperation, she got out the Bible.  She was curled up, reading over the old, old words, when Kate came tiptoeing in to check on her progress.

"I don't have to write it," Emily told her, her voice hushed.  "We can just use the words in here and act them out...."

They spent the next day casting and collecting costumes from here, there, and everywhere.  Sophie agreed to play King Herod when they promised not to give her any lines....

"I'm glad I'm here, Emily," Kate said then, all at once, her voice husky.

"I'm glad too," Emily told her.  "I have a feeling in my bones that this is going to be the best Christmas of my entire life."
One note about this book: if you're looking for a copy, try as hard as you can to find one with Joan Sandin's illustrations. The cheaper paperbacks are missing the pictures, and they're really good.

A Gift from the Un-Lonely Squirrel

Once, there was a fairy named Mama Squirrel. She lived in a treehouse with her loving husband and 3 beautiful squirrels girls. One day she said, "My, my, I had better get started on some Christmas presents!" So, Mama Squirrel took her magic fairy wand (errrrrrr, I mean crochet hook) and waved it about...
She crocheted...
...and crocheted!
Now, Mama Squirrel kept crocheting until she had...
8 hot pads and one wash cloth:
One even had a special button on it!
5 tree ornaments/decorations:
One small mat:
A doily: 
4 bells: 
3 scarves: 
A panda for one lucky little one:
Two pairs of mittens:
And two afghans (two friends tried one out) :o) : 
And Mama Squirrel, her husband, and 3 lovely daughters lived happily ever after!
~The End~
Merry Christmas!

Mama Squirrel's Technical Notes and Sources
Panda: pattern by Lori-Jean Karluk, published in Crochet Patterns by Herrschners, July/August 1991. Yarn: leftover black and white worsted.
Mittens: Adapted from this Canadian Living pattern. Patons yarn bought on sale at the mill-ends store.
Scarves: all the same pattern, just made up as I went along. The multi-coloured scarf is made all from one ball of thrifted yarn.
Hotpads and potholders: all adapted from this pattern on Bizzy Crochet and from a variation in the comments posted about the same pattern; all made from rummage-saled and thrifted yarn. This is truly a beginner-friendly pattern--no rounds to join or rows to turn.  And you can make them any size you want.
White mat: adapted from "Hanukkah Doily" by Agnes Russell, in Crochet World December 2007.
Red, white and blue afghan: adapted from "Berries and Evergreens Afghan" by Katherine Eng, in Crochet World December 2005. The designer used shades of rose, claret and greens for a holiday-toned afghan; I wanted to use up several weights and shades of thrifted red yarn (I bought a whole bagful of mixed reds), plus work in some chunky-weight red, white and denim-blue yarn I had bought a long time ago. It was fun to make because you work from the center stripe out in both directions, as if the pattern were reflected in a mirror. My afghan is a bit smaller than the original, but I had to stop when the yarn ran out.
Red, white and green throw: adapted from a basic mile-a-minute afghan pattern.  One package of unidentified-label yarn from the mill-ends store.
Thread tree trims: "Seven Wonders Tree Trims" by Marcia Pope, in Crochet World December 2005. You can tell these (and the other thread things) aren't really done--I still have to stiffen them, fix the loose ends and so on.
Bells: "Crochet Bells" by Maggie Weldon, in Country Crafts Winter 1996.

The Homeschoolers' Christmas

I wrote this quite a few years ago for our local homeschool group's newsletter; later it appeared in an American group's newsletter.  But I guess I can still post it here, right?  (No particular offense is intended to Saxon Math--you try finding a rhyme for...okay, just read it.)

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the nation
the holiday spirit was in full operation
The stockings were loaded, the presents were wrapped
And while moms checked  their emails and tired dads napped
Their angelic offspring made straight for the tree
And checked out the presents as quiet as could be.

They were hoping for skateboards and monster truck sets
Barbie cars, Barbie clothes, Barbie beds, Barbie pets
For video games that were violent and weird
And lots more to be sent from the man with the beard.

But in the last house at the top of the hill
A family of homeschoolers sat wondering still.
Said dear little Anna with a face full of woe,
“I wrote Santa a letter, so you’d think he would know
That I’m asking for CDs that make lots of noise
Like Hannah Montana and the Backstreet Boys.”
“It’s no use,” said Thomas.  “You know for a fact
We’ll get songs that will help us to add and subtract.”
“Don’t you remember” said big sister Kate
“The year we got Daily Grams books one to eight?”
“It’s not fair” said her brother, “I want Play Station Kombat,
But I’ll probably end up with a book about wombats.”

“Well, this year” said Anna, “let’s sit up and wait,
And when Santa Claus comes, we can all set him straight.”
So into the night they sat munching a snack
With the hope that St. Nick would show up with his pack.

But at the North Pole things were somewhat amiss
Santa’s computer had scrambled his list
As he packed up his laptop and toys for his travels
He wasn’t quite sure if the mess was unraveled
But he dropped all the toys with a loud “ho ho hoing”
Down the chimneys where they seemed they ought to be going.

At ten minutes past twelve (by their plastic teaching clock)
The homeschooled kids were aroused with a shock
And what should their wondering eyes soon be facing
But a sackful of presents marked “Ashley and Jason.”
There were DVD movies and belly button jeans
Purple haired trolls and a dance moves machine
A Queasy Bake Oven, two robots that fight
A Whatserface doll...and not one book in sight.

Their eyes how they twinkled!  With laughter so hearty
They tore open the goodies and started to party.
But Mamma in her jammies came in and said “No! 
There’s been a mistake!  All this junk has to go!”
She called up St. Nick who was flying overhead
And asked him to bring the right presents instead
He promised he’d track down the gifts for her tots
And get rid of the trolls and the fighting robots.

And not far away, spending Christmas vacation
With the sackful of toys were Ashley and Jason
At first they were puzzled and pouted a bit
And Jason said “what’s a gemology kit?”
He checked out the books and a model heart
And some software about  Impressionist Art
Then Ashley sat down with a book about flowers
And they sat there like that for about three hours.

Till Santa popped in and explained his mistake
And said he’d get back the Queasybake
And the Hannah CD and the movies to play
But Jason and Ashley said, “No way!
The stuff is ours, it’s staying here
And could you please bring us more like that next year?”

So Santa was in a bit of a stew
He had to decide what the dickens to do
He called on his cell to the house of homeschooling
Where there was a great deal of laughing and fooling
Their mom said, “All right, you can keep the stuff
But no more next year, enough is enough!
I’ve learned something too, I promise not to fax in
A Christmas order for anything by Saxon.”

So Santa went home with his empty sleigh
And worked on his laptop the rest of the day
He made some notes for next year’s ride.
“More gifts that get the kids outside.
And for the mother of Ashley and Jason,
A complete set of Charlotte Mason.”
He took off his glasses, he’d done his best,
And then lay down for a well-deserved rest.
But I heard him exclaim as he pulled the bed curtain
"Merry Christmas to all, and homeschoolers for certain."

Thursday, December 23, 2010

From the archives: Decorations in the Treehouse

First posted December 23, 2005

Here are some of our favourite ornaments and the reasons they're special to us.

These ornaments showing the wise men were made in Bethlehem and sent out as a Christmas gift to viewers of the 100 Huntley Street Christian television program, quite a few years ago now. We don't have many wooden ornaments, and you don't see too many "wise men" decorations, so I really like this one.

These carolling mice are a little too big to go on the tree, so we have them on the mantelpiece. The Apprentice and I made two pairs of them a couple of years ago.

We had a big family ornament-making session around the kitchen table, also a couple of years ago--Squirrelings cutting, Mr. Fixit hot-gluing, Mama Squirrel sewing tiny fabric yo-yos. We made several of these angels to give away and kept a couple for the girls' own collection of tree decorations.

We have all our angel ornaments in the front hall this year. The blue angel on the far left was part of Mr. Fixit's childhood. The red sequined one was a gift from The Apprentice the Christmas she was five, and it's one of my favourite Christmas things ever.

On the far right is an angel (the large one) that I'm also very fond of, made mostly of paper. When The Apprentice was three (and our only Squirreling), she and I spent quite a bit of the fall working on projects for a church craft sale; mostly small stuffed elves. (She was a lot of help keeping all the small parts organized!) Just before the sale, my grandmother became seriously ill and was taken to the hospital. My mother had intended to help at the sale as well, but wanted to stay with my grandmother, so I went alone. I sold several of the elves, and then wandered around to look at the other crafts. One table had these paper angels, and I took my "elf profits" and bought one.

My grandmother recovered, almost miraculously, and was home for Christmas. That was ten fifteen years ago, and the angel still brings back all the memories of that holiday season.

From the Archives: The Gift That Keeps on Giving

First posted December 2005

Overheard in the Treehouse

"Christmas isn't just about giving. It's about getting and about God's Son Emmanuel."

Well, she knew what she meant!

December Books, Day 23, Part Two: Making Stuff

These are a few of the holiday craft books we've collected over the years.

I couldn't find an image for one of our older ones: "Christmas Activity Book" or "Christmas Holiday Book", by Susan Vesey and Meryl Doney, the 1980 full-size edition. (There was a mini one published later.) I like the Advent-style countdown format of this book, and the slightly unusual (for here) British craft suggestions: Father Christmas puppets, "face-flannel" lambs, Christmas roses, and of course crackers. This is a strongly Christian-oriented book.
This belongs to one of the girls, and has more contemporary suggestions for gifts and decorations: Bubbling Bath Bags, t-shirt pillows, and chocolate-covered spoons.

Judy Ann Sadler's craft books are very popular with homeschoolers and school kids, and this one has some good multicultural decorations: a star parol from the Philippines, crinkle-paper chains from South Africa, and a "First star" decoration from Poland. (Waving to Krakovianka.)

A Pioneer Christmas is part of Barbara Greenwood's popular Pioneer Family series, about the Robertsons who live in Canada West (later Ontario) in the 1840's. Like the other books in the series, this one mixes story with facts and things to do. Interestingly, the Robertsons, by the time of the story, have become "Canadianized" enough to be putting more emphasis on Christmas than on Hogmanay (a slight change from the first Pioneer Family book).  Activities include making garlands of evergreens, making cookie decorations, and playing games.

December Books, Day 23, Part One: Oliver and Amanda's Christmas

Oliver and Amanda's Christmas, By Jean Van Leeuwen, 1989

We've been reading Oliver and Amanda Pig books here for a long time. About fifteen years, to be exact; that would be the year I made preschooler Apprentice a red Christmas dress with white star buttons, to look like Amanda's. (Yes! I admit it! I had help from Grandma Squirrel with that one!) And they really came into their own when each of our learn-to-readers was at about the Frog-and-Toad stage.

Most of the O&A books are packed away now with the other early-reader books. But we still bring this one out at Christmas. How can any mom not appreciate the extreme tact required when a child's Christmas cookies don't come out of the oven looking exactly the way she expected? (Even pig children have artistic frustrations.) How can any dad not enjoy the problem of trying to figure out just what that homemade gift is supposed to be?
"Just what I wanted," said Mother
to Amanda. "A picture of you."
"Just what I needed," said Father
to Oliver. "A board with nails."
And then there's Oliver's little problem with hoping for a few too many toys: his stocking is gradually replaced by a stocking cap, and then a pillowcase...and suddenly the Christmas tablecloth is missing. We appreciate Oliver's blunt honesty about it:
"My, oh, my," said Father.
"Do you really need twenty-two toys?"
"I don't need them," said Oliver.
"I just want them."
But generally these pigs, in spite of being pigs, are very well mannered; and we like the way they celebrate their Christmas morning with singing, and the way they use their imaginations to make cookies, trees, and gifts special.
Everyone looked at the tree.
It was not very tall.
It was not very fat.
And it was a tiny bit crooked.
"I like it," said Oliver.
"A tree with a nest makes me smile inside."
"Me too," said Mother.
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