Monday, December 24, 2007

A Merry Literary Christmas

A Merry Literary Christmas

When Christmas shopping time
draws nigh.
And I am faced with gifts to buy,
I think about one relative
Who always had one gift to give.
And every year her present came.
And every year it was the same.
While other gifts were round and fat,
(Their secrets hidden) hers was flat.
Rectangular, the corners square,
I knew exactly what was there.
I'd pass it by without a look---
My aunt had sent another book!
I'd only open it to write
A "thank you" that was too polite,
But every year when Christmas went
I'd read the book my aunt had sent,
And looking back, I realize
Each gift was treasure in disguise.
So now it's time to write her here
A thank-you note that is sincere.

So---thanks for Alice and Sara Crewe,
For Christopher Robin and Piglet and Pooh,
For Little Nell and William Tell
And Peter and Wendy and Tinker Bell.

Thanks for Tom and Jim and Huck,
For Robinson Crusoe and Dab-Dab the duck,
For Meg and Jo and Johnny Crow
And Papa Geppeto's Pinocchio

For Mary Poppins and Rat and Toad
King Arthur and Dorothy's Yellow Brick Road,
For Kipling's Kim and tales from Grimm,
And Ferdinand, Babar and Tiny Tim.

I loved them all, I'm glad I met them.
They're with me still, I won't forget them.
So I'll give books on Christmas Day
Though I know what all my nieces say--
I know it from the way they write
A "thank-you" that is too polite.

Alice Low

This is from


Do you give books for Christmas? I've always thought it ideal for each child in our family to receive: *a book *something new to wear *something to play with.

It is true that books don't always seem exciting at the moment, but it is something they can savor much longer than cheap toys that are quickly broken or discarded.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Barrel of Blessing or Barely Blessed?

Do you read short stories at Christmas time? One of our family's favorites is A Miserable, Merry Christmas by Lincoln Steffens. If you have horse lovers in the family, do read it!

Yesterday I had a chance to read The First Church's Christmas Barrel ~~a little online jewel that Carol recommended. It is reminiscent of the Pollyanna era when missionaries were sent charity barrels from their home churches. Sadly, some of the barrels did not contain gifts worthy of the workmen. I had a college friend who was an MK (missionary's kid) and she told me they had received a large box full of USED tea bags. Yes, the well-to-do lady who sent them included a note that said, "These tea bags have only been used once." UGH!

I believe there was once a very wise man who said, "I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God which cost me nothing."

The most heart warming story I've read this year is a TRUE story you won't forget. Go on over to Liberty and Lily and read Donna Jean's testimony of a congregation who knows what real giving is. Bring your kleenex with you!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Ideas Have Consequences

I like to challenge myself with at least one dense read at a time. Since I just finished The Intellectual Life, which took me a year to get through, I decided to move on to Ideas Have Consequences by Richard M. Weaver (1948). It's been on my want-to-read list for several years. Dana and her friend at Dominion Family have just finished excellent, in-depth chapter reviews of this book and my only regret is that I wasn't timely enough to join them. I'll be looking back at their chapter comments, though, as I go along.

The introduction of this book took me a l-o-n-g time to get through. This is not a book to read when you're tired at the end of the day. The thoughts expressed are philosophical and deep and the author wields a VERY rich vocabulary. **

Weaver's purpose in writing is to analyze the cultural disintegration of the West and to offer a remedy. His philosophy is that man intelligently chooses the ideas he embraces, and that the culture will reflect the consequences of those choices. The author traces a journey back past the consequences to the ideas that are behind them. It is thus a book of philosophy, but not without concrete application.

I'm already seeing that my summertime immersion in Neil Postman's books have been a good preparation for this read. Postman majors on the institutions of publicity and how they have profoundly changed our culture.

Weaver similarly notes that the media "makes a virtue of desecration." The uninhibited baring of the nation's soul leaves us unrefined and barbaric. No mystery remains in life. When stark realities, once forbidden to our gaze by propriety, are laid blatantly before our view~~we cease to behave in a refined, intelligent way.

This triggered my remembrance of an episode from the C.S. Lewis book Till We Have Faces. In it, the people of a mythological kingdom worship an abstract image--an image whose facial features could not be clearly seen. When the well-intentioned ruler replaced it with a statue that had beautiful, clear-cut features, the peasants rejected it. The abstract suited them best; they needed the sense of mystery that it projected.

A healthy culture maintains its identity and cohesiveness by embracing a universal STORY. That story unites them by giving a transcendent sense of purpose to each individual, an eternal purpose. Like the faceless statue, there is an aura of mystery which enshrouds this whole IDEA of eternal purpose. But although the idea may be abstract, the results produced by embracing it are concrete.

One measurable result of assimilating the idea of eternal purpose is self-control. A person becomes willing to delay self-gratification now because of the belief that there will be a commensurate eternal reward or blessing.

Being smack in the midst of child-rearing years, I am naturally applying these thoughts to my role as parent. It seems to me that Weaver has articulated the very basics that a parent needs to pass on to the next generation. Namely: you were put on this earth for a purpose. Find it! Self-government is the measure of maturity. Wait for the best rather than gratifying your desires impulsively. The ideas you choose to guide your life will produce a harvest in later life. Choose wisely!

Couldn't resist making a list of the words I've already picked up from Weaver so early-on in the reading:

1-ontological- the branch of metaphysics studying the nature of existence

2-somnambulistic- I should have been able to figure this out! "somn"= sleep and "ambula"=walk. A sleep walker.

3-heuristic- encouraging a person to learn, investigate, and solve problems on his own.

4-noumenal- an object that is independent of the mind, as opposed to a phenomenon.

5- perspicacity- (fun to say!!) keenness of mental perception and understanding; discernment, penetration

6-prurient- restless desire or longing leaning towards lust

Friday, December 21, 2007

In a Minor Key

I bought this for Selah's rendition of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel", which is my favorite Christmas song. It is preceded by a simple strings counter- melody that is just hauntingly beautiful. This past week I've taken my four children Christmas shopping (individually) and have been forced to listen to the jangly, cotton candy junk that passes as holiday atmosphere in most stores. This music is tonic for that; most of the numbers are in a minor key and are soothing and reverent.

My memory bank is filled with Christmas music that I remember from my childhood: Julie Andrews, Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis. I hope the Selah music will be treasured in my children's hearts and that it will call up for them similar sweet associations.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Now I did not know I was a genius until I read this blog and found out. What I want to know is this~~if I'm so smart how come I had such a hard time understanding Peregrina's comic?

I kept looking for Frosty's nose and couldn't find it......

This readability test should probably ADD points for people who can figure out jokes :)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Book Review: The Christmas Mystery

If you have ever read Jostein Gaarder's book, Sophie's World, you know this author can twist the plot in such a way as to boggle the mind. The Christmas Mystery is a little more innocuous than Sophie's World, and a little more meaty than most Christmas "fluff" stories. I first read it several years ago on the advise of my friend Krakovianka, who recently updated her original review here.

Our family is enjoying it a second time through this year. It is set up similar to an advent calendar, where one entry per day can be read aloud.

The story of Joachim, a ten-year old Norwegian, begins with his purchase of an old, faded advent calendar which he chooses in lieu of a glitzy one with plastic characters or chocolate behind each flap. His choice is rewarded when he opens the flaps each day to discover an on-going drama centering around a little girl named Elisabet. The drama is written in installments on small slips of paper which are hidden behind each flap on the calendar.

Elisabet, the childish subject of the drama, is on a journey. She is chasing a little lamb who is on pilgrimage to Bethlehem to be present at the nativity. Thus, the journey becomes both a geographic journey and a journey back in time. History buffs will love the incidental vignettes woven into the story. As the journey progresses, more and more members of the nativity scene join as traveling companions.

In the end, Joachim meets the real Elisabet and the twining of several stories come to a culmination.

This book is a nice change of pace from the many syrupy selections that are featured at the big bookstores this time of year.

Fairy Tale Week-End

As the parent of musical children, I have spent literally hundreds of hours driving kids to lessons, assisting in practice, and attending recitals. At least once a year we get to reap the fruit of our efforts. My daughter has a yearly engagement with a very elegant lodge in a neighboring city, where she provides an hour of piano music for the dinner guests. In return, our family receives a free night at the lodge. It is always a wonderful retreat in the midst of the busiest of seasons, sure to include a roaring fire, a horse and buggy ride through the woods, a sumptuous meal, and of course my daughter's music. Each year she is able to include more of her own compositions in the repertoire, which is a great delight to hear. You can't see the piano in this picture, but it is just to the left of the fireplace, which is in the center. There are soaring acoustics and it is just an all around delicious treat that we count a gift from a loving Heavenly Father.

"Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow." James 1:17

Monday, December 17, 2007

Mathematical Probability and Messiah

Yesterday, in my teen Sunday School class, we discussed eight of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the coming of the Messiah. There are actually over 300 predictions, but we scaled our study down to just eight. Some of the predictions included the place of His birth (Bethlehem), the piercing of His hands and feet (Psalm 22), the appearance of a forerunner, his burial among the rich, etc.

Then we discussed mathematical probability. What are the chances that ONE MAN could fulfill even eight out of the hundreds of predictions?

With a little help from Peter Stoner, who devotes a great deal of time to this issue in his book Science Speaks, we discovered that the probability was:

1 chance out of 100,000,000,000,000,000 !!!

I think I would have enjoyed math more as a teen if I could have seen these kinds of c
onnections. My hope for my students is that they will see that God has provided for us abundant evidence so that any thinking person may have complete confidence in His Word and His Son, Jesus.

Even Peter, who walked with, listened to, and touched the Messiah gave credence to the more sure word of prophecy:

"And so we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts."
~ 2 Peter 1:19

That is my prayer: that those teens in my class will
pay attention to the prophetic word and that understanding would light their lives. So let it be done, Lord.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

In the Sight of the Angels

"Mrs. Peterson was such a nice good mother! All mothers are nice and good more or less, but Mrs. Peterson was nice and good all more and no less. She made and kept a little heaven in that poor cottage on the high hillside--for her husband and son to go home to out of the low and rather dreary earth in which they worked. (snip) True, her hands were hard and chapped and large, but it was with work for them; and therefore in the sight of the angels, her hands were so much the more beautiful."
~ from the
Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald

My youngest daughter crawled onto my lap last evening after we had laid my Mother-in-law to her eternal rest. She had a book in hand and asked me to read to her. It was the perfect balm after five days of traveling, remembering, planning the funeral service, and grieving.

The second paragraph in our reading was the one I quoted at the beginning of this post. Isn't it amazing how God orders our lives, down to the tiniest detail? The words were written over a hundred years ago and yet they were meant for me at
this moment in time. If I were to pen an epitaph especially for my Mother-in-law, I could not have written anything more fitting or descriptive of her life.

It made my mind go other places; I thought of the terrible mall massacre in our city that occurred the very same day as my Mother-in-law's death.

In a strange way, it made me very thankful for the way in which I was grieving. Mine is a healthy type of sadness that comes from being temporarily parted from a loved one. Others in my city are at this moment grieving very differently. Their loved ones have been senselessly ripped away from them by the hands of a cold-blooded murderer. Instead of a loving and gentle parting, their grief is no doubt compounded with anger and a host of other emotions.

How might this tragic scenario have been altered if the young man who did the shooting had been blessed with a mother like Mrs. Peterson? Or like my Mother-in-law?

So this little post is a tribute to an unsung heroine: just a Mama who did her job well.

"Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master". Matthew 25:21

Saturday, December 08, 2007

A Favorite

OK, so this will date me. But this album is so good, I don't even care. Circa 2000, it is worth scouting out.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Death Be Not Proud

My Mother-in-law's last words on Wednesday were, "I'm tired of fighting". She passed away only a couple of hours later. I think this poem expresses wonderfully the eternal rest that she is now experiencing, and that all believers have to look forward to.

Death Be Not Proud

by John Donne

DEATH be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell'st thou then;
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

A Little Christmas Humor

With apologies to George Bailey, the boy in this poem was also "unborn".
Our family enjoys this one, in part because we have a devilish cat named Jabez!

The Boy Who Laughed at Santa Clause

by Ogden Nash

In Baltimore there lived a boy.
He wasn't anybody's joy.
Although his name was Jabez Dawes,
His character was full of flaws.
In school he never led his classes,
He hid old ladies' reading glasses,
His mouth was open when he chewed,
And elbows to the table glued.
He stole the milk of hungry kittens,
And walked through doors marked NO ADMITTANCE.
He said he acted thus because
There wasn't any Santa Claus.
Another trick that tickled Jabez
Was crying 'Boo' at little babies.
He brushed his teeth, they said in town,
Sideways instead of up and down.
Yet people pardoned every sin,
And viewed his antics with a grin,
Till they were told by Jabez Dawes,
'There isn't any Santa Claus!'
Deploring how he did behave,
His parents swiftly sought their grave.
They hurried through the portals pearly,
And Jabez left the funeral early.
Like whooping cough, from child to child,
He sped to spread the rumor wild:
'Sure as my name is Jabez Dawes
There isn't any Santa Claus!'
Slunk like a weasel of a marten
Through nursery and kindergarten,
Whispering low to every tot,
'There isn't any, no there's not!'
The children wept all Christmas eve
And Jabez chortled up his sleeve.
No infant dared hang up his stocking
For fear of Jabez' ribald mocking.
He sprawled on his untidy bed,
Fresh malice dancing in his head,
When presently with scalp-a-tingling,
Jabez heard a distant jingling;
He heard the crunch of sleigh and hoof
Crisply alighting on the roof.
What good to rise and bar the door?
A shower of soot was on the floor.
What was beheld by Jabez Dawes?
The fireplace full of Santa Claus!
Then Jabez fell upon his knees
With cries of 'Don't,' and 'Pretty Please.'
He howled, 'I don't know where you read it,
But anyhow, I never said it!'
'Jabez' replied the angry saint,
'It isn't I, it's you that ain't.
Although there is a Santa Claus,
There isn't any Jabez Dawes!'
Said Jabez then with impudent vim,
'Oh, yes there is, and I am him!
Your magic don't scare me, it doesn't'
And suddenly he found he wasn't!
From grimy feet to grimy locks,
Jabez became a Jack-in-the-box,
And ugly toy with springs unsprung,
Forever sticking out his tongue.
The neighbors heard his mournful squeal;
They searched for him, but not with zeal.
No trace was found of Jabez Dawes,
Which led to thunderous applause,
And people drank a loving cup
And went and hung their stockings up.
All you who sneer at Santa Claus,
Beware the fate of Jabez Dawes,
The saucy boy who told the saint off;
The child who got him, licked his paint off.

P.S. We hope that would be LEAD FREE paint!

Thursday, December 06, 2007


We sometimes engage in family singing while in the car, and at this time of year Adeste Fidelis is in our repertoire. A Christmas moose like the this one is displayed on the roof of a local business, and one of the kids once pointed to it and said, "Look Mom! It's the adoremus!"

How did a moose get to be a Christmas symbol anyway????

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Book Review: The Greatest Gift

This little story by Philip Van Doren Stern is the one that inspired the movie It's a Wonderful Life. I picked it up on a whim off the holiday shelf at the public library. Like many families, we watch the movie perennially, and I was curious to learn its roots.

The story itself is very simple as compared to the movie. There is little character development, and some of the best known characters from the movie are missing, i.e. Potter, Uncle Billy, Violet, and the policeman/cab driver duo. Yet the book is charming in a simple way, and the 50th anniversary edition pictured here has appealing black and white drawings. It's a quick read~~our family finished it in half an hour.

I found the most interesting part of the book was the afterword, written by Van Doren Stern's daughter. In it she traces the history of this little story, beginning with how the idea for it simply dropped into her father's mind while he was shaving on a February morning in 1938. In his own words:

"The idea came to me complete from start to finish--a most unusual occurrence, as any writer will tell you, for ordinarily a story has to be struggled with, changed around and mixed up."

Mr. Van Doren Stern never considered changing the initial idea, but knew that he had to learn to write it. His usual genre was Civil War history, so this was quite different from his normal realm of work. He wrote his first draft a couple of months later and declared it "terrible." He put it away for a season.

Two years later, he pulled it out and tried writing it again. The results the second time were little better than the first.

In the spring of 1943, five years after the idea came to him, Stern rewrote the story for the third time. This time he passed it on to his agent, who tried unsuccessfully to sell the story to magazines such as Saturday Evening Post. No one would touch it.

Van Doren Stern tells what happened next:

"By this time I had become fond of the story that nobody wanted. I revised it again and had 200 twenty-four-page pamphlets printed at my own expense. I sent these out as Christmas cards for Christmas, 1943."

Wouldn't you love to own one of those Christmas cards today?

That mailing produced a contact that led to the purchase of the story for movie rights. But because no one could work out a decent screen treatment, there was another time lapse of several years.

Enter Frank Capra. He wanted it for Jimmy Stewart, who had just finished his time with the Air Force. He found the screenwriters he needed and It's a Wonderful Life was released in December 1946.

The film has a quality that transcends time-- it's message celebrates the worth of the individual.

"I thought it was the greatest film I ever made. Better yet, I thought it was the greatest film anybody had ever made."~~Frank Capra

I think I am most fascinated by the fact that this little story lay dormant for a long, long while before it was ever recognized as being significant. The writer was the humble servant of an important truth: that the individual has great value. But in order to transmit that truth in a worthy way, he had to take the time to hone his writing skills. This small book is a gem in its own way. It is not fine literature, but it is the author's personal best. And that inspired other great artists to run with the idea and transport it across continents and even generations.
Oh, the power of a living idea combined with the pen of a scribe!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Worshipful Resignation

"Though we cannot control the universe, we can determine our attitude toward it. We can accept God's will wherever it is expressed and take toward it an attitude of worshipful resignation. If my will is to do God's will, then there will be no controversy with anything that comes in the course of my daily walk. Inclement weather, unpleasant neighbors, physical handicaps, adverse political conditions,--- all these will be accepted as God's will for the time and surrendered to provisionally, subject to such alterations as God may see fit to make, either by His own sovereign providence or in answer to believing prayer."
~~quote taken from
Born After Midnight by A.W. Tozer

We had an ice storm this week-end, followed by a thin dusting of "powdered sugar" snow. It was inconvenient. It meant postponing our women's event at church, and from there my mind extrapolated other unpleasant ramifications: maybe my parents wouldn't make it to my daughter's first recital, maybe there wouldn't BE a recital, probably the attendance at church would be small, then the necessary offerings might not be collected, so then the bills wouldn't be paid on time, and we couldn't travel to see our sick mama, and we don't have decent winter tires on the car and on and on and on.

I was anything but worshipfully resigned.

Then I went into the sanctuary and beheld His glory. Here is what happened:

During communion, an older gentleman from our congregation stood to bless the cup. He made reference to the scripture from Isaiah, which tells us that "though our sins are as scarlet, they will be white as snow." He proceeded to describe in poetic detail a nature scene that he had held in his memory bank from his youth. It was a country snow scene, where each blade of grass, each fencepost and tree branch were encrusted with snow. He spoke of the quietness, and then the utter indescribable beauty of a pink sunrise reflected as a million points of brilliance off the virgin snow.

His description moved me deeply. My tears fell as I noted the wetness in his own eyes. Half a century had obviously made that holy moment even more vivid and precious to him.

It changed my whole perspective. How could I have missed the beauty? It was a gift from my Heavenly Father, and my eyes were blind to the moment.

The cares of this life can so encumber us. I want to be worshipfully resigned to God's will, as Tozer so eloquently words it. Even in inclement weather.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Slackened Strings

"Evening! how little , usually, people know about making it holy and quiet, about using it to prepare for really restorative sleep! How it is wasted, polluted, misdirected."
~~ quote from The Intellectual Life by A.G. Sertillanges, O.P.

It has taken me a year to work my way through the book entitled, The Intellectual Life. That probably shows you right away that I am not an intellectual! The word "intellectual" in this case is used by the author to simply designate the person who feels that study is a calling, not just a vocation.

It is a dense book full of living ideas and insights valuable to the disciplining of the mind. This quote about the evening hours, though, was one I kept returning to and turning over in my mind.

I am tired by 7:00 p.m. And some evenings I am very, very tired. Evening is a time when I give myself permission to be slack. At times I may "relax" by surfing the net. I may turn on a TV show that is essentially without value. Maybe I'll mindlessly flip through a magazine or look at the ads in the newspaper.

Sertillanges has challenged me to consider the fact that maybe I've been a little too slack. In his words:

"Yes, indeed relaxed, but like a violin with all its strings completely slackened. What a labor next day to tune them all up again!"

The author goes on to list a number of dissipating evening occupations (remember this was written in 1946): dining, smoking, playing cards, talking noisily, frequenting the theatres, and gaping at the cinema. (That last phrase makes me chuckle).

His challenge is to create habits of holy, simple living for the evening hours, which he calls "peaceful semi-activity". Doesn't that phrase create instant appeal? For me it conjures up images of working a sudoku puzzle by the fire, or playing pick-up-sticks with Artiste. It might include listening to my girls play the piano or reading a chapter of The Hobbit to the family.

Good conversation over a cup of Sumatran coffee is a wonderful way to wrap up the day. A "good conversation" at our house usually includes discussing the books we've been reading and often we end up sharing quotes or tidbits. And yes, it can even include watching a well-selected TV program or movie. But no gaping allowed!

It seems the key is to have some sort plan, maybe a list of pleasant options so that the evening doesn't follow a rigid routine but still has structure.

I'm working on this; resolved to NOT be the violin with slackened strings. I'm not successful every evening, but I know habits take a while to congeal. So I'm keeping a catalog in my mind of pleasant activities I have already enjoyed, and new activities I'd like to explore. For example, I want to start doing cross stitch or knitting again, something I enjoyed B.C. (before children) and have long neglected. The long winter evenings are perfect for that sort of thing.

What does a winter evening look like at your house?