Starting in mid-November, our calendars and hearts are chockablock full: Thanksgiving, three family birthdays, gingerbread houses, baking, gift choosing and wrapping and giving, advent calendars, endless treats, homemade gifts, projects, school plays, parties, family visits--and that's on top of our normal, weekly activity.
Among all the holiday activities, the Book Angels Program is my favorite.
When we lived in Illinois, we trekked to Anderson's Bookshop every December. Their Book Angel Program invited patrons to buy books for local children in need, and we loved choosing books that other children might love.
When we moved to Seattle, our local bookshop, Secret Garden Books' holiday giving program was defunct. Christy McDanold, the shop owner, and her staff no longer had sufficient time to run the program.
But I did. Last year, we reinstated the program and provided books for 84 children in our community.
This year, three local schools provided children's names and book preferences. (As you might imagine, I keep a spreadsheet!) My girls chose their angels first, and spent a while poring over bookshelves, finding the perfect titles. My parents and sister were in town when I hung the angels, so this was a family affair.
We wrapped our books to display in store, and hung 117 paper angels throughout the shop.
We invited patrons to choose books, and then the magic happened.
People in our neighborhood opened their hearts and wallets to provide books for children in need. Many customers bought multiple books for their chosen children. All told, people gave more than twelve dozen books to local children.
We had piles and piles of books! My dear friend, Kristina Cerise, accepted pizza and beer as payment for helping wrap all those gifts. (Kristina blogs--often hilariously--about motherhood here.)
Nine days before Christmas, I delivered those precious parcels to an elementary school, a middle school, and a K-8.
I wore a Santa hat and blasted Christmas music as I drove around NW Seattle (but was totally calm and hatless inside schools, I swear.) My heart was full to bursting; delivery day was my favorite day of the year.
My family's emphasis on charitable giving and literacy dovetail perfectly in this program. I love helping people in my community, and I love bringing people to books. I hope children enjoy the books they receive. I hope their holidays are a little brighter.
And I hope to do it all again in eleven months.
*Photo credit: Me. It's all me. You can tell, because they're not very artful! I wish I had a photographer's eye.
Okay, procrastinators, you have four days until Christmas. Usually, my spouse shops for Christmas presents the day before we exchange gifts, so I know all about your time crunch. Advanced procrastinators, I'm here to help you with your shopping. (This will mostly help you with your holiday gift buying for people like ME.)
I've included items for your sweetie's brain (books and games), body, heart, soul, and community. Let's go!
The best gifts aren't "things" at all. Feed your recipient's heart and soul with an experience instead.
If you can go all-out, with an unlimited budget, send yourself (and your sweetie, of course,) to Whistler, B.C. for a week. The scenery is breathtaking, the skiing spectacular, and pizza (at Fat Tony's!) is fabulous. Whistler also boasts a fabulous little bookstore, Armchair Books, that has everything you could possibly need for cozy nights in.
If I'm being honest, I have everything I need, and your sweetie might, too. Consider instead making a donation in his or her name to help people aren't as lucky as we are. People in our country and aroudn the world are in constant need of food, water, and shelter. If you don't enjoy research and just want to give, try Heifer International, which is working to eradicate poverty and hunger through sustainable, values-based holistic community development. Or donate to my local food bank in Seattle.
Ever since Sunday's Screen Shot, I can't stop thinking about Christmas. And now it's July, so Christmas talk is fair game.
Christmas is my go-to happy thought. When I was a child, people treated each other in December the way I thought they should treat each other year round. Now, when I am feeling overwhelmed or don't know what to do with myself, I play Christmas music.
I know it's weird.
Take pregnancy--one of the longest marathons of discomfort and uncertainty--I played Christmas music in July. In May. Whenever I felt like I needed a sliver of calm in my day, I pulled up some "Winter Wonderland" or "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and the calm took over.
There was this period when iPods couldn't hold all my music. I would gladly drop some Paul Simon or U2 or Beatles tunes if that's what it took to get all my Christmas music on the device. Maybe that speaks more to my taste in music than my state of calm, I don't know.
I do know that Christmas is coming. Wrapping presents, filling the advent calendar, baking cookies, making special crafts, telling stories. It's all on the way. And it's all to that very nostalgic soundtrack.
This morning, the whole family enjoyed our town’s Fourth of July parade, and oh how I wish I could share photos.
Shortly before the (actual) fourth of July, massive storms downed trees and closed streets all over our city. Also, July temperatures were in the 100s, so city government cancelled the festivities.
Last night there were fireworks, and today was my first Independence Day parade here. My mother-in-law, who has lived here more then 35 years, warned that the parade would be at least 90 minutes, and it did not disappoint.
I’m no stranger to big Fourth of July shindigs. For years, I lived in Upper Arlington, Ohio, where citizens on bullhorns sped down streets at the crack of dawn: “It’s the fourth of July! Wake up and celebrate! The parade is in X hours.” They drove in loops until the parade began.
And the parade was every citizen’s opportunity to show off their new stuff. New puppy? Bring him. New bike? Ride it in the parade. New baby? Sit with her in the shade (but for god’s sake, don’t nurse her!) UA hosts their high school reunions over the fourth of July, so class after class sits drunkenly on their floats, every five years.
We don’t embrace drunkenness here, but we do embrace community. Many many Republican candidates marched, as did a few democrats. Dozens of odd vehicles’s strange noises made 2010 cover her ears close to tears. Lots of people marched for Jesus or God or Falun Gong (though almost no one clapped for the lovely lotus ladies on that float.)
My girls received enough candy to replenish the treat bowl until Halloween (at least.) ACE hardware gave 1977 a yardstick, which was one of the highlights of my morning.
We hosted more than our fair share of veterans, roller derby enthusiasts, a shopping cart drill team, fat deputies, tiny cheerleaders with itty-bitty football players, and plenty of politicians eager to press the flesh. It was a strange day in Baconville.
And now I’m hiding in my house.
I’m straddling Monday and Wednesday here, because I have no intention of posting tomorrow. . .not that we have big plans. Our city canceled tonight’s fireworks, and the (two-hour) parade won’t happen tomorrow either. (Yes, 2008 is sorely disappointed; her mama is not.)
While our town recovers from Sunday’s massive storm, our little family will celebrate in the backyard with sparklers and a grilled dinner.
It should go without saying, but may not so I’ll say it: we grill over charcoal, because that’s how it’s done.
Lucky 2008 got to choose the day’s dessert, so tomorrow morning we’ll bake apple pie from scratch. Thanks to Fancy Nancy, we’ll enjoy it à la mode (Jane O’Connor, we need to talk.)
Meanwhile, the north side of our town is still without power, and may be for the remainder of the week. The city has advertised several cooling centers via email and their website.
Via email and their website. For people without power. I’m sure their underutilization is mere coincidence.
Happy, happy Independence Day to all of you. May your festivities be happy and your patriotism civil.
I’m a stickler for accuracy. So, while kids’ summer begins the day school ends, and while meteorological summer begins on June first, I celebrate on the solstice. . .because that’s what solstice is.
This year, all of that was moot. Shortly after school ended, we embarked on a long and exhausting road trip to see family and friends. Immediately upon our return (yet still before the solstice,) more family visited us here in Illinois.
I was too busy to recognize solstice.
Today, we bid sad adieus to 1977’s sister and our niece, and tonight I feel that summer is finally about to begin. Lazy days of summer, when we have nothing we have to do and nowhere we have to be, suit us perfectly.
Welcome, summer! (And, half-Christmas. Where’s the cake?)
Little 2008 is challenging my perceptions. I used to loathe Halloween, because I hate asking for things. When 2008 went trick-or-treating for the first time, I ditched my Halloween baggage to revel in her joy. She got to dress up? And people gave her candy? And she rode in the wagon? AWESOME.
Today, she turned Valentine's Day around for me. Opening her valentines--and treats! More than at Halloween--she was radiant. "Dominic made this for me!" "Elise wrote her name!" "Hope sent treats!"
She wore hearts, and our house is covered in pink and purple and red. We ate special pancakes and made up silly songs about love and family and Valentine's. She loves it all. Valentine's Day really can be about fun love.
I know my kids feel loved, and not just because we tell them every day. We are nurturing their childhoods, and I am proud of that. But today, 2008 feels loved by her friends. She knows other kids think of her (maybe) as often as she thinks of them. She treasures those valentines, Disney characters and all.
And, on the way home from school, there were no tears when she let go of her mylar balloon. "Maybe it will land in someone's yard far away. Someone who doesn't have a valentine. And then he will be happy."
Yes, sweetheart, he will. And a very Happy Valentine's Day to you, my sweet 2008.
Like most families, mine has a lot of crazy.
My mother's sister, whom we actually refer to as Crazy Aunt [Martha] is growing less crazy as she ages. Or perhaps I'm understanding her better as I age.
For as long as I can remember, Crazy Aunt Martha has tucked notes to herself among her Christmas decorations. Her notes simmered (decayed?) for about eleven months until it was time to deck the halls anew. As I helped her unwrap ancient ornaments or her awesome Lionel train set (which just fit the edges of her tree skirt, mind,) she always snatched from me the note she'd written to herself nearly eleven months prior.
I do that now. The writing, not the snatching. My kids can't read yet, and 1977 doesn't do decorations.
I have no idea what Crazy Aunt Martha wrote about--broken bulbs or hidden treasures or grocery lists or a great date--and I don't really care. Most of her notes were written in Sharpie on paper towels. I use stationery and envelopes because, unlike Martha's, my house includes lots of prying eyes that enjoy excavating cardboard boxes.
I spend a lot of December thinking about what I'll write about in my letters to Future Michele. I want to be pointed without inducing panic. I don't try to be profound, though that would be nice. I'm not particularly gentle with myself, so I don't want to set lofty goals whose memory will ruin my holidays when I open the envelope and confront them.
By February, I've forgotten the specifics of what I wrote (except in 2008, when it was all about baby names and plans and what kind of parents I hopes we'd be. Oh, naive Michele-from-the-past!) and by October I'm pretty excited to read what I wrote.
This year, for the first time, I included advice.
Is offering unsolicited advice to one's future self crazy?
I feel empty. We've just undecked our halls, and the tree left a gaping hole in our living room. Soon, toys and books and craft projects will fill that hole (it's a tiny house, after all) but I really miss Christmas year round. I don't necessarily miss the squabbles over gingerbread house treats or the constant demands of our (awesome!) advent calendar or the Santa-Santa-Santa of the season. And my book case is happy to be relieved of the stockings (Yes, book cases are plentiful at the Bacon Haus.)
This winter isn't particularly cold or dreary (yet) but I need that extra spark of twinkle lights.
I crave Christmas during pregnancy. Some women crave pickles. Some would do anything for hot cocoa, but I crave Christmas music. Maybe that's how I do my nesting.
My nest feels a little empty without that tree.
I blog rarely, because I'm busy writing books. When I do blog, I focus on writing, friendship, family, and books. Because my family's best nicknames are private, I use their birth years for shorthand: