Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Reading and Watching This Christmas

We brought three Christmas decorations with us:  the stockings, the Advent wreath, and Toby's nativity scene.  It was a good plan--we have no storage here, and I am not missing all the effort of decorating (and undecorating).  That also means that the seasonal books were left behind, so our seasonal reading and viewing and watching has all been via the library and Netflix.  Here's a bit of what we're enjoying this year--mostly for my reference so that I can buy/rent/find some of these again next year.

  • Olive, the Other Reindeer by Vivian Walsh and J.otto Seibold - Cute pictures, fun read.
  • Gingerbread Friends by Jan Brett- I'm just getting to know Jan Brett, and loving everything I've found.  Her text is sometimes a bit much for my 3-year-old, but this one repeats a rhyme throughout, and he likes that a lot.  Like the Gingerbread Baby, Toby is always trying to make friends, too, so he always seems so genuinely happy at the end when the Baby finds his Friends.
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss - we're all big Seuss fans around here lately.
  • The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg - I might be the only one, but I didn't really get into this when I was a kid.  But it has a train, so Toby is hooked.  And he's been sleeping with a little jingle bell he got at preschool ever since we started reading it.
  • The Night Before Christmas illustrated by Rachel Isadora - the classic text, updated with bright collages of Christmas in Africa.  Just plain fun to look through.
Christmas Specials
  • Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas - my husband's childhood favorite.  Totally worth it just for the "River Meets the Sea" song (that also appears on the Muppet Christmas Album with John Denver).
  • Nutcracker: The Motion Picture - We watched this version (because it was on the Netflix instant) after seeing a live puppet show version.  Toby stuck with it nearly all the way through, almost as intrigued by the dancers as by the puppets.  This version features Maurice Sendack's designs, many of the set pieces are his drawings, and his style works perfectly with the trippy-trip-to-candyland-ness of the story.  Oh, and there is a book, too--although it's out of print and evidently very pricey.
  • A Charlie Brown Christmas - every time I see this, I am amazed this was made as a children's show, and that it played (plays) on network television.  Love it.
  • Elf - maybe more for mama and papa than for Toby.  But there's enough slap stick to keep him entertained.  Now if I can just teach him to answer the phone "Buddy Elf, what's your favorite color?"
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas - the old one, of course.  Maybe I'm not being fair, because I've never see the whole thing, but every clip I see from the new one just feels icky.
  • The Muppet Christmas Carol - I had forgotten, until we watched this again, that it's one of the Muppets' better shows.  And that is saying something.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Merry Christmas

Living far from family switches up the rhythm of the holiday season.  And this year, living in a new place has thrown us off our traditions even more.  My family has a very full set of traditions that are followed every year.  And I mostly love it--we've stuck with the things that make our Christmases memorable and meaningful and fun.  This is the first year that we won't all be together on Christmas morning, and yes, well into my 30's, the first time I haven't been able to rely on my mom to play Santa.

So today, a few days before we set off on our travels, we welcomed in our own little Christmas.  Last night we ended the evening together, snuggled up in PJ's, watching The Grinch and then setting out cookies.  This morning we peeked in our stockings together.  I passed on our traditional large breakfast, but made sure we had a favorite treat from a local bakery.  We opened presents, and then played with our new toys both separately and together.  And then we headed off to our church (meeting, untraditionally, in the afternoon because it is temporarily sharing space with another church) to watch and almost, almost participate in the Christmas pageant.

We were a week early, and a few people short, but I think we hit most of the traditions that matter the most to me.  We had some time together as a family, sitting around in our PJ's instead of rushing around.  We had food just festive enough to set the day apart.  We enjoyed the magical abundance of a pile of presents.  And we stepped out into our community to remember the story of Christ coming into the world.

Rhythm is such a catch word in dealing with young children--it certainly is around the blogs I follow.  And I buy it, mostly.  But it's also very much a part of our world to be disconnected from family and traditions.  That's not necessarily good or bad, it just is the reality of the way many of us live.  Traditions aren't so much about repetition, they are touchstones as we cycle through familiar seasons and stories.  They aren't the same every year, no matter how much we cling to them, because every year is different--our situations are different, we are different.  There's a special comfort (and, yes, pride) in finding the heart of a tradition and passing that along in a way that celebrates the new challenges each year brings.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Christmas is for Trains

Having a little boy means that I have spent more hours looking at train displays this season that I had in my previous thirty-some years.  And when I get tired of watching the trains go round, I start people watching.  There are a lot of little boys, and a lot of grown men, who love trains.  And then I start plotting my dissertation regarding the gendered love of locomotives.  Because, really, I'll amuse myself with anything to keep me patient while Toby watches the train for just One-More-Minute.

Except at the United States Botanic Garden, however, where the display held just as much magic for me as for my little train-lover.

The backdrop to this train display were dozens of fanciful houses--all made from plant material.  And shoot, they didn't list the artist on their website, which is disappointing, because these creations deserve to be credited.

Many of the houses were animal themed.  The top one is for a porcupine, above you'll see an opossum dwelling (upside down & hanging from a limb, ha!) and below are huts for zebras and giraffes.  Fun stuff.

I loved the details.  Check out the little kitchen garden on the side of this house.  With pumpkins!

Or the walnut cross section and grape vines that adorn this doorway.

Or the little walnut hanging cradle.  On the table there's an acorn full of seeds, set out like a bowl of fruit.

If it wasn't so darn wet outside, this would inspire me to get outside and make some fairy houses.  Until then I'll settle for taking another visit.  The train-boy wants to go back, and I'll be happy to take him.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Flying Wise Men

Toby has a lovely nativity scene.

And right now it looks something like this:

The wise men, all three of them, were jumping on the top of the stable.  It's a good thing the shepherd was busy eating a pretend bagel in the kitchen, because I'm sure his staff would have broken in the excitement as well.

This little set is the center of Toby's 3-year-old understanding of the Christmas story.  He asks me to act out the story with the people, he hunts me down to ask for clarification on their names, and then, when he is alone with the set, he incorporates the story into his own play.  Sometimes I hear snippets of the familiar story.  He looks at Joseph and Mary and tells them, "There is no room for you."  Or he parades the pieces in one at a time and has them say "Hi Jesus!" to the baby.  But just as often he goes off on his own tangents, and sometimes that means that the wise men start jumping on the stable, and somebody loses a foot.
I remember, as a child, tipping my own nativity scene over sideways, calling it a boat, and loading the holy family and all their friends in it for adventures.  This sort of play is the beginning of claiming the story as our own.  When children play stories, the stories are no longer the property of a written page or of an adult.  Their play is less linear, less logical, than our adult questions--but it gives them the authority to ask the questions that might seem more at home in a Bible study classroom.  How did young Mary experience that night?  Who gets shut out of the Inn today?  What gift do you bring to welcome the Christ child?  These sorts of questions require us to play our way into the story, to see where our lives intersect the old texts.

And the crazy thing in play, whether through a child bouncing their toys or an adult wondering outloud, is that sometimes the answers we play into are different from what we've heard before.  Play is a place of creativity and possibility.  Sometimes in our play someone gets hurt, somebody loses a foot.  Or sometimes a new idea is created that allows an old story to make sense in a new life.  As a parent, it means taking a break from passing along my beliefs and leaving space for Toby to experiment with his own.  Turns out that's a skill that starts when he's young, too.

And now I am off to find some wood glue.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Second Sunday in Advent

"Comfort, O comfort my people."
-Isaiah 40:1

I am squeezing in this post just one day before these readings will be shared in worship--not my goal exactly, but I'm still figuring out how to fit blogging in to my days.  With the encouragement of my Lectionary Story Bible, I've been sitting with the Isaiah texts for Advent quite a bit.  I doubt I'll hear much about Isaiah in worship this month--there's so much narrative to get through this time of year (this week we're meeting John the Baptist, the one Christians believe is the fulfillment of Isaiah's words in this passage).  But right now I'm thinking about the situation that prompted Isaiah to write, and what his hopes and fears looked like long before   Advent, in this passage, isn't about waiting for the familiar stories of shepherds and wise men, or for the excitement of Christmas day.  It's about a hope that hasn't yet been fulfilled but that can still be as powerful and certain as if the end had been written.  This suffering isn't all God has in store, Isaiah promises.  God will comfort you, God will feed us and hold us like the shepherd cares for the lamb.

I'm just going to assume that you and your family find ways to give back during the holidays.  And I'm also going to assume that you are pretty comfortable talking with your children about the merits of sharing and giving.  Shoot, I know we have the "sharing" conversation every hour on the hour around here.  My challenge this week is that you'll find a way to connect your acts this season with the idea of preparation.  We help out where we can because we have a hope, however undefined, that this world isn't always fair and we can live out a better way.

We give small comforts because You bring big comforts.  We share what we have because You give us everything.  We are getting ready.  We show each other how to love, so that we recognize Your love at work in the world.