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Psalm 78
. . . we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done. .
so the next generation would know them . . . and they in turn would tell their children.
Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Holiday Reading

Our children are spending the blessed break from school between Christmas and New Year's reveling in their new diversions--more Thomas track, Lincoln logs, a new wardrobe for 18" dolls, and new audiobooks like "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." Meanwhile, I'm doing my best to squeeze in some family pleasure reading (books not connected with our school subjects). For Christmas the kids received a copy of Edward Eager's "Half Magic" and Eve Titus' "Anatole" both of which I discovered through a list of children's books in the Wall Street Journal. Although both books are classics, I didn't find them when I was a child.

"Half Magic" is, well, charming. This book about four siblings looking for summertime adventure has not failed to disappoint. It is a fun read-aloud in which these four find a magic coin which brings them half of their wishes, a situation that results in their cat talking only jibberish. Cats talking jibberish in a read-aloud are guaranteed to bring peals of laughter to one's living room!

Meanwhile, Sydney, Hope and Lane have a new favorite in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" another book which didn't figure into my childhood reading. And why shouldn't everyone break down in a fit of giggles to this irresistible poem sung by the Oompa-Loompas, about a fat boy who fell into a river of fudge:

"Augustus Gloop! Augustus Gloop!
The great big greedy nincompoop!
How long could we allow this beast
To gorge and guzzle, feed and feast
On everything he wanted to?
Great Scott! It simply wouldn't do!
However long this pig might live,
We're positive he'd never give
Even the smallest bit of fun
Or happiness to anyone. . . "

This poem seems to have introduced our children to the wonderful word "nincompoop" which seems to be hysterically funny all by itself!

Meanwhile, our little Tobias (nearly two) is enjoying Thomas (the train) stories and his very favorite, "Old Hat, New Hat" by the Berenstains. He also likes "Anatole", which is great fun to read-aloud with a French accent (although I'm not very good at that!).

I am reading "The Princess and the Goblin" by George MacDonald. This beautiful story of a princess, written by C.S. Lewis' favorite author, is also new to me. I've just started it but will read it aloud to the kids after finishing "Half Magic."

Not to say that we are only reading. We've had several viewings of "Hello Dolly!", another Christmas gift, as well as "Meet Me in St. Louis."

The new year will bring school days again and less time for purely-pleasure reading. Still, most of our school reading assignments are pleasant enough and January will bring a study of the U.S. Civil War, the Underground Railroad, and Florence Nightingale and the Crimean War. I can't wait to read "The Charge of the Light Brigade" aloud to the kids. Who says school can't be fun?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


Recently I've been reading Clarence Thomas's memoir, "My Grandfather's Son." I'm not finished yet, but it is a fascinating read. A key attraction of memoirs lies in the opportunity to learn details about someone from their own perspective. Rarely does a Supreme Court Justice grant an interview or speak to the press, but in his memoir I get to read Justice Thomas's own telling of his life story. The bestseller list is awash in memoirs. A quick glance at shows that the memoirs of Steve Martin (the comic), Tony Dungy (the NFL coach) and Eric Clapton (the rocker) are all in the top 25 books.

Memoirs are a popular genre in publishing, particularly when a publisher can snag a celebrity, but it seems that we all have an impulse to write some sort of memoir. The word memoir comes to us from the French word for "memory" and as such a memoir promises the reader some personal memory of the subject. The synonym "autobiography," in contrast, carries a more impersonal feeling. This word from the Greek for "self-life-writing" sounds somewhat less inviting but just as authoritative.

Some memoirs are almost obligatory. Ulysses S. Grant wrote his memoirs at the end of his life, giving his side the story of the Civil War as well as his presidency. John Hay and John George Nicolay gave us a priceless record of Abraham Lincoln and their story is especially valuable for its intimate and personal connection with Lincoln. They authors explain in their introduction,

"We knew Mr. Lincoln intimately before his election to the Presidency. We came from Illinois to Washington with him, and remained at his side and in his service--separately or together--until the day of his death. We were the daily and nightly witnesses of the incidents, the anxieties, the fears, and the hopes which pervaded the Executive Mansion and the National
Capital. The President's correspondence, both official and private, passed through our hands; he gave us his full confidence."

Memoirs have enduring appeal when their subject is fascinating ("The Story of My Life"by Helen Keller) or they capture viscerally a bygone era (Laura Ingalls Wilder) or if the writing itself is compelling (Annie Dillard's "An American Childhood").

Others have a temporary attraction (will my grandchildren--or even my children--care to read Steve Martin tell of his life?) that fades with passing fame.

Of course, writing a memoir might be a universal impulse (consider the instant-memoir phenomenon of blogs) but following through requires patience, skill, and hard work. Few actually attempt it. Fifteen years ago after reading Dillard's "An American Childhood" my own childhood memories seemed irresistible and I attempted to capture them in prose. As it turned out, my enthusiasm waned after less than an hour. Crafting a readable version of somewhat standard experiences is far more difficult than it first appears, as this blog no doubt demonstrates!

I'm trying again, but this time not with my own memories. I recently embarked on the project of writing a memoir with an acquaintance of mine. She has a life story to tell that she hopes will be an inspiring cautionary tale. While her experiences do have their own appeal, it remains to be seen if I can help her tell them in a way that might capture the interest of readers. In the meantime, I'm reading memoirs like "My Grandfather's Son" with a decidedly different perspective.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

What is the Advent season like in your home? Traditions seem to develop almost without notice and in the past few years our family has acquired several traditions.

It is surprising how the little habits mean so much to the kids. Each evening they take turns opening another door on the Advent calendar and even this small thing is something they ask about throughout the day.

It isn't quite "all Christmas music all the time" for us, but it nearly is! Of course we enjoy all the Christmas hymns and carols, but we also love to play Bing Crosby and some of the other old favorites. This year the kids' favorite is "Mele Kalikimaka", sung by Bing and the Andrews Sisters. Hope and Sydney have improvised their own version of ballroom dancing for that song and can often be seen swirling around the room in front of the glowing Christmas tree!

This is our second year to be a part of GRACE, our homeschool co-op group. GRACE has brought an annual craft day into our traditions and this year the kids will be in a little play. We also will go with our GRACE friends to see "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" at the Center for the Arts here in Wichita.

Perhaps the favorite Advent kick-off is our ornament tradition, which we added to our celebrations last Advent. This tradition I owe entirely to my friend Michelle L. and I am so glad she didn't mind me copying her idea. I know that many people give their children ornaments each year, but Michelle does this with a twist that has been a special blessing to my kids.

Taking a cue from the meaning of their names, we give Hope stars, Sydney angels, Lane crosses, and Tobias bells. This has become a fun little way to give them a sense of God's purpose for their life and our prayer for them.

Hope's first name means “belief” and “expectation.” The Bible teaches us that our greatest hope is Jesus Christ. Our prayer for Hope is that she will live to tell others of this hope. To remind her of this, we give her stars, that she might shine with the Hope of Jesus.

“Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”
Matthew 2:2

Sydney's first name means “of St. Denis.” St. Denis was a missionary about 200 years after Jesus lived on earth. He went to France to tell people about Jesus. Because he announced the good news of Jesus to the people of Gaul, many people believed. Our prayer is that Sydney's life will announce the good news of Jesus to the world, just as the angel did, and her angel ornaments remind her of this.

“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.’” Luke 2:10-11

Lane's first name means “a narrow road.” Jesus tells us, “Enter through the narrow gate . . .small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 6:13, 14

The Bible teaches us that the road to eternal life is Jesus Christ and that we are saved because he died on the cross for our sins. Our prayer for Lane is that he will follow the narrow road and show others that Jesus is the Savior. We want his cross ornaments to remind him of this.

Tobias's name means "The LORD is good." Psalm 135:3 says,
Praise the LORD, for the LORD is good;
sing praise to his name, for that is pleasant.
We pray that Tobias will live a life in praise to his Father. The LORD is good and for Howard and me Tobias represents the blessing of a very good God. The ornaments of bells that we give to Toby are to remind him to sing praise and make music to praise the LORD.

I hope that you will post a comment (click on "comments") sharing your Advent traditions. What is Advent like in your home? I'd love to hear from you. (Posting a comment only requires a Google account. You may already have one, or you can easily create one with your email address. It is free.)
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