Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas

Dear Family and Friends,

Merry Christmas!  2016 has been a big year for us.  We have visited family and friends in Texas, Tennessee, and Utah.  We have enjoyed visits from family as well.  But biggest of all were the arrival of baby Henry in July and a move to Washington in September.

Jerry is enjoying his new challenges as the HR manager at the Stretch Island Fruit plant.  Michelle manages to find a little time to write and read and loves teaching the teenagers at church.  Joshua is a burst of energy who loves splashing in puddles, racing trucks, and building playgrounds for his toys.  Henry delights everyone with his sweet smile. 

With every cross-country move, we become increasingly aware of the distance between us and those we love the most.  We sincerely hope that you have a joyful holiday and blessed 2017. 

Jerry, Michelle, Joshua, and Henry

Saturday, December 24, 2016

SIlent Night: The Song and Its Story by Margaret Hodges, Illustrated by Tim Ludwig

Perhaps he might write a little song, something as simple as the Bible story, something that every child could understand.

It all started with a broken organ at the church in Oberndorf, Austria on Christmas Eve.  The Christmas mass just wouldn't be the same without music.  Father Joseph Mohr knew his congregation needed a song so he wrote a simple poem then rushed it over to Franz Gruber who created a lullaby on his guitar.  Today this is one of the most loved and most spiritual of all the Christmas carols.

One of the greatest discoveries I made as a librarian was nonfiction picture books.  There are many I like, but this one stands out because of excellent pacing and illustrations that perfectly match the subject.  This book tells the story of the origins of Stille Nacht, it's travels as a folk song across Austria and Germany, the rediscovery of the song's true origin, and it's popularity across the world.

It recounts the famous Christmas Eve truce during the First World War.  Then highlights other lesser known moments.   The peaceful tune reminded a Russian soldier that his enemy prisoners were humans, and coaxed a soldier during the Korean War to cease fire.  This book taught me something remarkable about the my most cherished Christmas song.  The things that draw us closer to the divine, also remind us of the humanity in others. 

Friday, December 23, 2016

Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

Frances ran up and put a nickel in the monkey's cup. "I'm going to be in the Christmas Play tonight," she said.  "I get to wear wings, and I have one line to say.  Do you want to hear it?"

From her bedroom window, Frances can see an organ grinder and his monkey play for coins in the cold December weather.  One night, she stays up late to see where they go and is disappointed to discover that they sleep on the street.  Her mother urges France not to worry about the man and his monkey, but she does.  On her way to her Christmas Eve play, she drops a nickel in the man's cup and invites him to see her performance.  On stage Frances is speechless until she sees her new friend arrive.  Then she is joyful.

Kare DiCamillo is one of the greats.  She has written Because of Winn Dixie, Flora and Ulysses, and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.  I even like The Tale of Despereaux, and I do not like rodent stories.  This book is naturally much simpler than her other stories, but still carries the feeling of wonder and goodness of all of her stories.

It's a good reminder to adults to not make snap judgements about people based on their lowly circumstances.  Frances's naivety actually benefits her.  She can only see the good in this poor gentleman whose music entertains her during the day.  She finds joy in the happiness of others.  Isn't that what Christmas is about? 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Spider's Gift by Eric A. Kimmel, Illustrated by Katya Krenina

"Please, Mamaniu!" Katrusya begged.  "These baby spiders are so small and helpless.  If we take them outside, they'll die in the cold  Let them stay until Christmas is over."

Katrusya is crushed when she discovers that her family is too poor to have a traditional Christmas.  But after a bit of lamenting her family decides to make the best of it.  They drag a tree from the forest to the house and decorate it with wooden buttons and a paper star.  The next morning Katrusya's mother is horrified to find tiny baby spiders spinning webs in her tree, but is convinced to keep the tree rather than throw it out and kill the spiders.  When the family returns home from Christmas Eve mass, they discover that their tree is sparkling.  At first they think it is beautiful webs, but realize that the spider webs are silver and their wooden buttons have turned to gold. 

This folktale is masterfully retold by the master of folktales, Eric A. Kimmel.  (I highly recommend him especially his Anansi stories.)  Kimmel weaves Ukrainian traditions into the story.  The family leaves a seat open to represent their ancestors.  Three rings of bread represent the Trinity.  Even the names of the family are distinctly Ukrainian.  The illustrator, Katya Krenina, is Ukrainian and beautifully depicts the rustic village.

The gestures of gratitude stand out to me.  The spiders give the family riches as a thank you for preserving their life.  Then, this family provides for their neighbors instead of hoarding their treasure.  This folk story truly embodies the spirit of Christmas.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

I'm Not Santa by Jonathan Allen

"I am not Santa!" said Baby Owl.
"And I am not big and fat like Santa!
I'm very fluffy like a Baby Owl!"

On Christmas Eve, Baby Owl is headed home from a long day of play.  When Baby Hare sees his red hat and sled, he becomes convinced that Baby Owl is actually Santa Claus.  A childish back and forth ensues and ends in tears.  But the real Santa arrives in the nick of time, to settle the woes of the animal friends.  Baby Owl then runs home to recount the evening's events to his mom.

As I looked at the list of books that I chose for this project, I was afraid that I might be giving the impression that I take picture books very seriously.  The truth is I love books that are silly and a little rowdy.  I love making kids roar with laughter when I read.  That's what this book is ... silly.

I've shared this book with large groups as well as one on one.  The large groups got a kick out of my over exaggerated crying.  Joshua has requested this book over and over at bedtime.  He would probably ask to read it more if it included reindeer.

This book is fun and great for toddlers.  And don't tell Baby Owl, but he is seriously cute.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden and Barbara Coomey

I decided that my blog is important enough to invite a guest writer .  What isn't sarcastic is that when I embarked on this project, I immediately thought of how much my sister loves this story.  Thanks, Jen!

It is when shopping is over that Christmas begins.

In second grade my sweet teacher read this story aloud to my class. I loved it. It was about a little girl and a doll, and it was magical. Every year I would check an old copy out of the city library and enjoy the story in December. When I was in high school my mom bought me this beautifully illustrated version! (Apparently, the library had this copy too, but it was always checked out by the time I got there. Looking back, I realize my mom must have done lots of searching to track down this book in the days.)

This story is about a little orphan girl (Ivy) who longs for a doll for Christmas and for a family, and about a doll (Holly) who wishes for a girl for Christmas. It is also about a childless couple who are rediscovering the joy that come come at Christmas time. It recounts the crossing paths of several characters. Both Holly and Ivy are determined and unwavering, and with a little luck, many wishes come true for Holly, Ivy and the other characters in the story. 

As I read this story I am always filled with the joy that comes from watching Christmas through a child's eyes. I am reminded that simple things truly matter most, and that Christmas can be a time of miracles.

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Christmas Train by Thomas S. Monson, Illustrated by Dan Burr

I watched the windup engine make its labored way around the track and saw Mark's face beaming.  I felt a supreme joy, difficult to describe and impossible to forget.  

When Thomas S. Monson, the current President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, was a little boy, he desperately wanted an electric train for Christmas.  His family had more than many other families and he was delighted to get what he  his much longed for train set.  His mother had purchased a windup train set for Tommy's neighbor Mark.  When he inspected the set, he saw a train car that he wanted.  He knew his powerful train would easily pull it along with the other cars.  His mother allowed him to keep the car, but when they arrived at Mark's home, Tommy realized that the train car was truly meant to bring someone else joy.  He learned that Christmas was more about giving than getting.

This book stood our to me this year because I have a little guy who would sure love a train set for Christmas.  (He's getting one.)  Even though the book is a bit long for Joshua's age, he loves to read it and look at the pictures.  I keep reminding him that it is important to help all kids have presents on Christmas. 

There are moments in every person's life where getting seems far more important than giving.  We think that adding a metaphorical train to our collection is more important than ensuring that someone else has a bit of joy in their life.  I view Thomas S. Monson as a pinnacle of unselfish behavior, and it is great to see how the seed was planted early in his life. 

My favorite quote of Christmas 2016 comes from President Monson.  "Christmas is the spirit of giving, without a thought of giving."

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Friendly Beasts: an Old English Christmas Carol by Tomie dePaola

Two years ago, I did a countdown to Christmas of some of my favorite carols.  I had a lot of fun doing it and wanted to make it a tradition, but last year life got in the way.  I've decided to resume the countdown this year, but focus on Christmas books.  There are thousands to choose from and I've decided to narrow my focus to books that aren't wildly popular, but are still beautiful.  Enough explaining, here goes ...

"Jesus our brother, strong and good,
Was humbly born in a stable rude:
And the friendly beasts around him stood.
Jesus our brother, strong and good."

When I was growing up, we had a collection of Christmas books that came out every year when we decorated the Christmas tree.  One little paperback was a collection of songs and poems.  I was so taken with "The Friendly Beasts"in the book that I memorized it and performed it on Christmas Eve.  Last year, I discovered that Tomie dePaola, one of my favorite illustrators had done a version of the book.  I bought it.

This book uses a technique that I truly love.  The words to the song are only on every other double page spread.  Thus slowing down the book and making the reader focus on the illustrations. With folksy illustrations, he draws a close up of the animal sharing his gift.  On the following page the animals engage with Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.  The verse of the doves is my favorite.  The birds sing the Baby Jesus to sleep.  Perhaps it is because I love calming my boys with song, that I love this simple gift. 

On the pages without words, a subtle story is being told.  Similar to the Bible version, Jesus and Mary arrive on a donkey.  Then the cow gives place for Jesus in the stable.  The sheep arrive with the shepherds as the story tells.  But then the illustrations diverge from the Bible telling.  When the doves give their gift of song, three women arrive to greet the Savior.  It is not until the following page that you see three men entering the tale.  The final double page show villagers, children, and carolers all arriving to worship the Lord.  

It is obviously not meant to be historically accurate, but it brings to mind "O Come, All Ye Faithful." They have all arrived to adore or worship the Lord.  This is a beautiful story of giving and faith.

Thursday, December 15, 2016


On Monday night we did a superhero Family Home Evening based on an idea I got from the Friend MagazineIt shares all the qualities that kids have that make them super - brave, loved, patient etc.  We dressed up like superheroes for the night.  Joshua was super thrilled to be a part of it.  We ran around the house a couple dozen times yelling "Superhero!!!"

Henry tends to sleep through FHE, but luckily the next day Joshua wanted to spend the whole day being super.  So he got a dishcloth cape.

I'm not sure Joshua has retained any new knowledge of his divine nature, but he sure does kow how to be a great superhero. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Worldwide Day of Service

This December, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is encouraging individuals to participate in a month long initiative to give service called "Light the World."  Today is a Worldwide Day of Service where they have asked as many people as possible to serve in any way they feel appropriate.

I love the concept of an advent calendar of service and wanted to do something special for today.  It is not my season to go stock shelves at a food bank or pick up litter by the ocean on a Thursday.  I decided to do something at home that hits close to home.  I sewed these developmental hearts for premature babies.  Honestly, I started earlier this week because even simple projects can take ages these day.  I was hoping to get them to the post office today, but unceasingly runny noses and damp weather have convinced me that it is wise to wait.

I plan to do little things every day until Christmas.  I'm not planning on blogging about most of them, but I might mention a few on Facebook.  I'm hoping that this deliberate effort in service will help it become a habit throughout the year.  

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Hardscrabble Harvest by Dahlov Ipcar

The farmer plants
early in the spring.
He'll be lucky 
if he harvests a thing.

As a librarian, I have found it difficult to find picture books about Thanksgiving.  All I could ever find were drab, lengthy histories or mass market editions like Dora Eats Turkey.  A couple of years ago, I was lamenting about this to my mother.  Then a couple weeks later, she found Hardscrabble Harvest, a shining needle in  the Thanksgiving book haystack.

The story begins in spring when the farmer plants.  In romping rhymes, it tells the troubles the family has toga England a plentiful harvest.  Crows swoop down,  bunnies burrow, and the sheep get loose. But after a season of toil, they bring in the harvest.  The relatives visit and all feast on the year's success.

Dalhov Ipcar manages to use what could be drab harvest colors to make a lively, folksie picture book with a story in each illustration.  My test case, Joshua, loves seeing the naughty bunnies and restless horses.  When I read it to him the first time, I was sure he would wander away bored, but he was enthralled.

I love having books around for my kids to prepare for holidays or other events and this one has made our year round pile.  I am thankful to have finally found a Thanksgiving book worth sharing.

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Garbage Truck

We've decided that we need to document some of the cute, quirky things our kids do.  Joshua loves watching the trash truck.  Our apartment complex has a large trash compactor thing that all the trash is dumped into.  A couple times a week a truck picks it up, hauls it away, and empties it somewhere.  Joshua loves watching the process.  Here's a typical conversation we have.

Me:  Joshua the trash truck is here.  Do you want to come watch it?

Joshua:  Okaaaaaay!

He drops whatever he is doing then sprints into the dining area.

Joshua:  Up, up, up!

Me:  See the truck is lifting the dumpster onto the bed.

Joshua (waving):  Hi, truck!  Hi, truck!  Hi, truck!  Firetruck?

Me:  No, buddy, this is a garbage truck, not a fire truck.

Joshua:  Garbage truck?

Me:  They take all of our trash and send it away.

We watch the loaded truck start to back up.

Joshua:  Beep!  Beep!  Beep!

Then after the truck has gove on it's merry way, Joshua pleads with me.

Joshua:  More, mommy!  More truck.

Me (lifting him off the chair):  It's gone, but it will be back when it is empty.  I'll let you know when I see the truck again.  Go play.

Joshua:  Okaaaaaaaay!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

How Jason Henry Got His Name

Shortly after Joshua's baby blessing, I wrote about how we picked his name.  Our new little guy's name has elicited a lot of questions, and a bit of confusion.  Thus, the record of how we chose Jason Henry.

We are not the type of people that have baby names picked our pre-ultrasound.  I kind of wish we were, but we're not.  We are more like hurry-up-this-baby-needs-a-name people.  We knew we wanted to carry on the tradition of a J name for a little guy.  But we had difficulty agreeing on a name we both liked.  Short lists were made.  Short lists were deleted.  Then, short lists were made again.  We tossed around names like Justin, Jonathan, James, and Jonas.  But the name we kept returning to was Jason.

Jerry was a little hesitant to pick this name because it is his brother's name.  He felt like family gatherings could get confusing.  I liked the name, and I like using family names as either a first or a middle name.

On our final try concocting a short list, I asked Jerry if we could use the middle name Henry.  When he asked why I responded with something like,  "Because I really, really, really, really, really love that name."  And it was like all of our problems were solved at that moment.  Jerry suggested that we use the name Jason, but call the baby by his middle name.

We waited to commit to the name until we could see the baby and decide.  We floated a few other names after he was born, but returned to this one.  We are so happy to have Jason Henry as a part of our family. 

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Family Photo Blooper Reel

On Friday, Joshua got it into his head that we needed to have a party with surprises.  So, we blew up some balloons, bought cupcakes, made a sign, and wrapped up some little surprises.  I insisted that we needed to get a family picture because we hadn't done that yet.  Well, Henry slept through his entire welcome party and Joshua was floating between exhaustion-induced hyperactivity and complete toddler meltdown.  Here is a taste of how the photo shoot went.   

We did manage to get one where it seems those of us who can smile are.  It may not be a perfect portrait, but it is a fun memory.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016


As our time in Ohio starts to wind down, we are trying to spend the next couple weeks doing the things we have put off for a couple of years.  This time we visited the Longaberger basket. 

Longaberger is an institution in this area and they are known for their excellent (if not overpriced) baskets.  They are also known for their basket shaped buildings.  We have driven by the office building many times on our way to find Thai and Indian food.  No photo available, but imagine and office building that Yogi Bear might try to steal.

On our way home from our Independence Day adventures, we went a few miles out of our way to the Longaberger Homestead and found the giant apple basket.  Due to the rain and Jerry's disappointment that is wasn't more like a Disney Castle. we took a photo from the car. 

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Tom's Ice Cream Bowl

This spring we have been taking some time to enjoy some of the quintessential spots in the area.  For almost two years, we've been told that we MUST visit Tom's Ice Cream Bowl.  The ice cream was good.  The atmosphere was old-timey.  The sandwiches were ... meh.  We wanted to try the nuts, but a certain toddler of ours was recently diagnosed with a hazelnut allergy.  It was a fun departure from our typical routine. 

Monday, April 11, 2016

Literary Tourism - Oregon

Emily's Runaway Imagination by Beverly Cleary

When I learned that Beverly Cleary would be celebrating her 100th birthday this week, I decided it was time to revisit one of my old favorites of hers.   I sat back, relaxed, a breathed in the sweet smell of an aging paperback. 

Emily lives in Pitchfork, Oregon, a small farm town.  She is envious of her cousin, Muriel, who gets to visit the public library in Portland and check out any books she wants, especially Black Beauty.  Emily and her mom decide that it is high time that Pitchfork had a library too.  They start fundraising and collecting books so they can have the joy of a library in their own town.

I love this book.  It's in Cleary's typical episodic style so each chapter could stand alone.  Emily is energetic, brave, and a little bit prone to trouble.  She gets the hogs drunk with rotten apples and bleaches her horse, but saves the day when her grandfather can't stop his Model-T Ford.  Cleary has a special ability to really understand the mind of a child.

This book also created an excellent sense of place.  While it is a far cry from representing today's Oregon, it illustrates very directly, Cleary's Oregon, the Oregon of her childhood.  Many references were made to Emily's pioneer ancestors. the men and women who crossed the Oregon Trail to settle on the frontier.  There was even a Chinese character representing the many who travelled from Asia to the western United States and the time.  For a book of its age,  it handled this little bit of diversity very respectfully. 

If you're looking for a charming, quick childish read. this is a great choice.

Friday, March 18, 2016

To My Unborn Son

Before you were conceived,
I dreamed of you;
Then woke to search 
Through rooms, in beds and under cushions.

Frenzied, I would whisper
Where is he?
Until my consciousness reminded me
You were not there.

Now in quiet moments, I feel the flutter
Of your arms and legs inside me
As I pray that you will grow
Healthy, strong, and good.

Soon, I will swaddle you,
Lay you in your bassinet,
And fall asleep to the rhythm of your breath
Until I wake with a mother’s anxiety.

Frenzied, I will whisper
Where is he?
Until I realize, you are there
Filling the vacancy in our home.