Maemae’s Holiday Book–2015 Edition

December 17, 1967.

Forty-eight years ago.

My parents stood before a small group of family and friends in front of the Pastor, and with my Mama’s best friend and my Daddy’s Daddy standing beside them, they said “I do.”

And they did.

They laughed, they learned, they worked hard, they listened, they tried, they failed, they succeeded, but most of all they loved.

Through it all. They loved.

Each other.  Us.  People they met along life’s journey.

They loved.

One of the things they enjoyed most was hearing stories about the children in the family–and those who were not in the family.  They loved the stories, and they loved being with them.  Over the years it became one of their greatest joys to pick out books for the little ones they knew and loved.  On birthdays and especially at Christmas.

It has been one of mine too.  For the past two Christmases I have chosen “Maemae’s holiday book” in honor of their anniversary. This being the third Christmas without my Mama right here with us, I spent a lot of time and energy and thought into making my choice for the book this year.

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Mortimer’s Christmas Manger by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jane Chapman 

This year’s story I had to think about before committing to it.  After all, it is about a mouse.  Mama was not a fan of mice.  As a matter of fact, she could be downright inhospitable to the little creatures.  She never could sit down and watch “Ratatouille.”  A mouse that cooks?  Food?  In a restaurant?  “Blech,” she would say and shake her head.

Oh me.

But this little mouse named Mortimer (pretty sure Mama would have loved his name too, I know I do) is adorable, and the whole book is whimsical at the surface and powerful underneath.  It’s about making room and finding a place and feeling the love of the Gift given all so many years ago.  Without giving the storyline away, we can all learn something about hospitality and welcoming with open arms from this little mouse.  Eventually.  Like all the rest of us, Mortimer is a work in progress.

As I sit here next to our twinkle-lighted tree with “Mortimer” at my side, I give thanks for my parents who loved reading and taught me to do so as well.  I give thanks for them and their love of children and books and how they loved matching the perfect book to the perfect child.  It was a beautiful thing to behold and to be a part of.  Tonight I’m honored to carry on this tradition, and I hope, as the ones loved so dearly by Maemae and Cap/Uncle B and Aunt B find their books in their mailboxes over the next couple of days, that they will remember the smiles and the hugs, and even if they don’t remember that–I hope they will know how precious they are, that they were and are still so loved, and that every person deserves a sweet place where they are always welcome.  A place to call home.

Love to all.

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As I read Mortimer’s story, I kept thinking of this picture our Princess drew several years ago.  It is all of us around the supper table.  She said that extra seat was in case a special Guest dropped by.  Keeping room for others–at our table, in our homes, in our hearts, and in our lives–that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?  

 

PSI have one copy about Mortimer’s little adventure to share.  I’d love to send it to someone with a little one or not quite so little one who would enjoy it.  Comment below sharing your favorite holiday book and subscribe to the blog and you’re entered to win.  It’s that easy.  Winner will be selected randomly Friday 12/18 at midnight EST.  

When a Stick is So Much More Than a Stick

A few months back I wrote about Cooter wanting real estate.  “Real estate’s where it’s at, Mama.”

One of my dear friends, Renea Winchester, decided to send him just that.  She boxed up some special dirt and other treasures and sent them down the road to us.

Bless her.

He was so excited to have a package WITH HIS NAME ON IT and then to open it and find “land”–he was beside himself.

I’ve always said, if you want to win me over, love on my children.  If I didn’t already love Renea, that surely would have sealed the deal.  As it was, I teared up and gave thanks for such a special friend that modern technology and social media has allowed me to have.  We have only met face to face once, but I adore that sweet woman.

Cooter, happy to have his land, left me to go through the rest of the box.  And in it, I found a stick.  A stick with a really long root and a wet paper wrapped around it.  When I unwrapped the stick, there was even a little worm that had hitchhiked along.

I. Love. It.

As recommended I prepared to plant him (yeah, anthropomorphism strikes again–it’s a boy).  I found an old pot that had belonged to Mama.  I added some soil, gingerly placed my stick in the “ground” and then finished covering with more soil.  I watered, and I watched.  My friend wrote that she had been praying over that stick.  So I knew he was special.  Just standing there over him, having given him a new home, I had a sense that this stick was precious.

But I had no idea how much.

I started calling it my Hope Plant.  Every morning Cooter and I went out to my roost on the back porch and checked, hoping to see some sign of growth on the little guy.  I thought I saw tiny green buds coming up, but then it could have been my imagination.  Until one morning when this welcomed us.

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IMG_7528Have you ever seen such a lovely shade of green?

My friend assured me that my hope plant loves the sun.  So I made sure that either he was sitting in the sun in my roost or out on the deck bannister, enjoying all the sunshine.  Each day we became more excited about his growth.  I shared these pictures on Facebook and Instagram, and folks were guessing what kind of plant it was.  Renea commented and said it would soon make its identity apparent.

And still he grew.  He is the happiest of fellows to be around really.  That green.  From a stick.  A miracle.

Then last night, my friend Renea surprised me by writing the story of the Stick–“Sprouting Mr. Coleman’s Stick.”

Oh y’all.  It’s the story of my Stick and his people.  So to speak.

I went out and sat with my stick, which isn’t a stick so much anymore and I wept over the beauty of friendship and loving old people and old things and coffee can planters and older gentlemen who carry their writings everywhere they go.  And I gave thanks for all of those things and for a friend who paid attention and knew that a stick would be a most treasured gift.

To know and be known.

My heart is full.

Here is my stick, my precious gift from Renea, a hand-me-down from Mr. Coleman, resting and relaxing and doing all the hard work of growing out in the beautiful, much-loved sun today.

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Both the “stick” in the foreground and all in the background speak to community and friendships and tradition and love. Both were gifts to me, and both bring me immeasurable joy.

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Glowing in the sunlight in my Mama’s old pot sitting on a new bannister. My heart is full.

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Perfectly beautiful green leaves where once there was only a stick…..such a miracle and such handiwork by our Creator.

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The place where the first bud we saw grew. Amazing!

I love this Hope Plant so very much.  Because of who gave him, because of his story, and because I love baby plants and green was my Mama's favorite color.  She loved all the little things too.

I love this Hope Plant so very much. Because of who gave him, because of his story, and because I love baby plants and green was my Mama’s favorite color. She loved all the little things too.

Tonight I’m thankful for my friend Karen Spears Zacharias who “introduced” Renea and me one day on Facebook.  I’m thankful for Renea and her stories and her heart that is bigger than the whole outdoors–a place she loves to spend her time the most.  Please go read her story about the stick and where he came from here.  She is my kindred spirit, loving the old ways and the old things.  You can find more of her wonderful writing and stories of how it used to be here or ask for one of her books at your local independent bookstore.

Because I love Renea and I think everyone should read her books and in honor of Earth Day, I will be giving away a copy of her latest book, Farming, Friends, and Fried Bologna Sandwiches here on the blog.  All you have to do is comment here with your favorite plant, and if you feel like it, share why it makes you smile.   Also be sure to like her Facebook page here.  She shares all kinds of stories and wisdom and pictures of baby goats.  I KNOW, RIGHT?  BABY GOATS, ’nuff said.  I will most likely have Cooter or our Princess randomly choose a winner Wednesday morning, since we’ll have a little time then.  So we’ll close the entries at 11:59 p.m. EST on Tuesday, April 28.

May you all find someone to share the gift of friendship with today and tomorrow and all the days after that.

Love you Renea, and love to all.

Me and my sisterfriend Renea at her book launch last fall. She's the adorable one with the heart of gold and the green thumb.

Me and my sisterfriend Renea at her book launch last fall. She’s the adorable one with the heart of gold and the green thumb.

Fringe Hours

I am laughing as I recall my Joyful friend and I talking so many years ago about the books we had in stacks beside our beds.

“They read like the self-help shelves at the bookstore.”

Yeah.  They did.

You know those books where an author proclaims they can tell you how to become a better person in 5 days or how to lose 25 pounds in a month or how to parent the perfect child……by a week from Saturday, just in time for the family picnic?

Been there, started to read that, rarely finished a single one of them.

Until now.

Fringe Hours

The Fringe Hours: Making Time for You by Jessica N. Turner

I have been fortunate enough to be a part of the launch team for this book.  Which means I got a copy (ooohhhh, a new book–y’all know how much I love books!) of the book in advance back in January.  I was excited to read it and share my thoughts.

So here goes.

First of all, I haven’t been reading it alone.

This has been my reading companion.

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My reading companion–so many thoughts have resonated with me that I’ve been underlining and starring all over the place.

 

I have been underlining and starring all through this book.  (And toss in a few “Yes!” and “Amen”‘s for good measure.)  This is not your ordinary “expert tells all the have nots how to get it”  book.  This is like a conversation with your friend.  She laughs, she confesses, she shares, and she cares.  I don’t know how she does it, but in this book, as I’ve been reading, I had this sense that she really, truly cares about me and how I carve out time for me. To be. Me.

Much like a dear friend would.

She’s also not just sharing her own stories.  Ms. Turner surveyed over 2000 women from all 50 states and over 30 countries around the world.  She asked questions and she took time to hear their stories, many of which are shared in the book.

And that’s why this book won’t leave my shelves.  Because of the message I got as I read page after page about women, like me, who crave some time to express themselves but feel guilty taking away that time from the family.

The message that I am not alone.

As I read story after story, I kept thinking, “Me too.”  “I hear you.”  “Oh my land, I thought I was the only one.”

Have you ever wondered if you were the only one who felt the way you did and then found out you weren’t?  That feeling.  That grace.  This book is full of it.

In one chapter, she remembers reading under the covers with a flashlight as a child–oh the joy of that memory for me!  And when Ms. Turner admits to leaving supper dishes in the sink until the next morning, I laughed with gratitude.  When she talked about her fabric “stash,” I knew we could be sisterfriends for life.  I live that.  (well, okay, with yarn instead of fabric, but still)

Here are just a few of the quotes from the book that resonated with me:

“Just because something is a good thing doesn’t mean it is good for this moment in your life.”  Chapter on Pursuing Balance

relationships currency

“In the end, I just had to let it go and not worry about the state of my home.  She knew I was on a book deadline, and she wasn’t coming to see my house–she was coming to see me.  Relationships are the currency that matters, not the conditions of our homes.”  Chapter on Letting Go of Self-Imposed Pressures     (oh AMEN!)

“Self-care needs to be included in what you should be doing.  It is not a privilege.  It is a necessity…..Choosing yourself is not wrong.”  Chapter on Eliminating Guilt and Comparison

“…..I have learned that while I sometimes regret saying yes, I never regret saying no.”  Chapter on Prioritizing Your Activities

“Yes is so often the expected response that a no can be difficult to both give and receive.  We get emails asking for volunteers, and if the slots don’t fill up fast enough, more emails come pressuring us to respond because not enough people have signed up.   If we still don’t volunteer to help, we’re looked at as ‘uncommitted……’ Women need to be kinder to themselves and one another…..What I am telling you is that if someone says they cannot help, do not judge her.  Instead, ask if you can help her.  Ask if she needs anything.  Or just say, ‘It’s really great that you know your limits and said no. I respect that.’ And mean it.”  Chapter on Prioritizing Your Activities

“Maybe we don’t need so many apps.”  Chapter on Using Your Time Efficiently

“Asking for help can feel very vulnerable. I sometimes feel like if I ask for help, I am not being a good wife.  This is a lie.  Who I am as a wife is not defined by whether I can get all the laundry done.”  Chapter on Embracing Help

“Sometimes we have to let go of self-imposed have-tos and settle for good enough.” Chapter on Overcoming Obstacles

“You can feed your passions by running a hundred miles or sewing a dozen dresses, but if you don’t take time to be still and rest, you will eventually suffer.”  Chapter on Finding Rest

 

Something tells me she might need a nap sometimes too.

We all do really, just as we all need to read this book.  It is empowering and encouraging.  The list of gracious ways to say no presented in Chapter 7 makes it worth the time spent reading it all by itself.  I think one of my favorite “guides” for knowing when to say no to was also in that chapter.  Ms. Turner shared the story of Mandy, who said “she says no to things that will make her yell at her kids.”

That right there.  My new rule of thumb.  We’ll all be better off, really, to be rushing to the car and to the “next” thing on the agenda a little less often I think.

This book is one I will thumb back through a lot.  For the funny stories, for the wisdom, for that list in Chapter 7 when I get asked to do something.  🙂  I want all of the folks I care about to read this book.  And be encouraged.  And to chase their passions.  To find what feeds their souls.

While I can’t send everyone a copy of this book, I am going to share a copy with one of you.  The book is being released today, February 17.  You can enter by sharing a dream that you’d like to pursue or one that you are making happen in the comment thread here or on the post on the I Might Need a Nap Facebook page.  Be sure to like the page and sign up to follow the blog, so you won’t miss anything.  One winner will be randomly selected from all entries.  Entry deadline is 11:59 p.m. EST on February 18.

If you are eager to get your own copy or twelve, you can head over to http://www.fringehours.com or any of the major booksellers to order now.  You can read the first chapter free on the website.  There are other resources also available.

 

Tonight I am thankful for the opportunity to read this book.  I am thankful for the woman who wrote it and for the women who were brave enough to share their stories too.  Most of all, I am thankful for being reminded of the grace we can and should offer each other, encouraging and empowering each of us to be joyful and better at living and sharing the journey with peace-filled hearts.

 

Wishing you all the surprise of finding some Fringe Hours in your week.

Love to all.

An Anniversary, ee cummings, and Christmas

December 17, 1967.

It was forty-seven years ago that my parents said their I do’s and joined their lives forever.   With close friends and family present, and Mama’s best friend from school and my Daddy’s Daddy standing up beside them, they joined hands and hearts and stories.

Forever.

I’m convinced they are up at the House sitting on the back porch, side by side.  Mama will reach out her hand as they watch the beautiful sunset and Daddy will take it.  And though it might be quiet between them, they love each other more than any two people I’ve ever met.

They loved children–their children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, great nieces and nephews.  They loved all children.  They kept copies of “Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm” by the Provensens in the trunk of their car to give to children or parents they met whom they thought might enjoy reading it.  Daddy sometimes carried Matchbox cars in his pockets to share with little boys and girls he came across, especially at the doctor’s offices.  When he left this world, he left quite a few he’d collected yet to be shared.  He loved cars and children just that much.

The last few years before Mama passed, she enjoyed picking out Christmas or winter stories for the children in her life. Last year, our first Christmas without her, I decided to carry on that tradition–the picking out of the holiday story.

I really enjoyed myself, and I was so happy when I found the right book and felt like Mama was there, giving my choice a thumbs up.  (Patricia Polacco’s “Uncle Vova’s Tree”)

This year I started earlier, reading and searching for just the right book.  I found several good ones.  My crew have really enjoyed the daily readings in “The Yule Tomte and the Little Rabbits: A Christmas Story for Advent.”  But what one story would wrap up all the joy and delight and emotions of this Christmas season?

This past weekend I found out that my Aub, home from college, has a newfound love of ee cummings.  Sunday evening I took a few minutes to reacquaint myself with his poetry.  As I was reading some of his work, I found one he wrote called “Little Tree,” which has been published more than once as a children’s story.  I found a copy illustrated by Deborah Kogan Ray, and it called out to me.

Could it be?  Could this be the book for this year?

My copy arrived today.

I had already read the poem, and it touched my heart, but when put together with Ms. Ray’s warm and whimsical illustrations, it became a new favorite.

Just like that.

The littles and I read it together.  When we finished, they both sat still for a moment.  I asked if they liked it.  Both nodded.  Our Princess said, “It’s really almost like a Christmas poem, isn’t it?  It’s so beautiful.”

Yes.  Yes it is, as a matter of fact.  On both accounts.

We hunted for our Christmas trees in the woods on my Granny’s farm most of the years I was growing up.  Such great memories of beautiful afternoons wandering around, finding one we liked, but continuing on just to be sure. And then trying to find our way back to the one we’d chosen at the very beginning.  Daddy was so patient with us.  We never chose the “perfect” trees as there was an unspoken understanding that those belonged to the animals and the woods.  (Well, maybe I did speak it a time or two when someone dared to suggest us getting that perfect one.)  We usually looked for the ones that the deer had rubbed their antlers on.  Daddy taught us how to look for those trees, and he told us there was a chance that those wouldn’t make it.  So we chose one of those each year–we called them corner trees, which was perfect since we always put our tree in the corner of our living room.

Perfectly imperfect.  And every year Mama would say it was the prettiest tree yet.

That made me happy.  And I was quite sure it made the tree happy too.  Daddy taught me the word anthropomorphism many years ago, and it suits me.  I like to think that the trees have feelings and are happy or sad to be chosen or not.

Maybe that’s one of the reasons that ee cummings’ poem spoke to me.  I’m sure it was, but when I read the line–“and there won’t be a single place dark or unhappy”–my heart was home.

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from “Little Tree” by ee cummings and Deborah Kogan Ray

 

Yes.

This beautiful book will find its way onto our shelf after the 12 days of Christmas, but it won’t be forgotten throughout the year.  This timeless poem turned children’s book is one that can bring back memories whenever it is opened and read. It is too lovely to be tucked away for very long, dreaming of when it might be able to share its story once again.

Tonight I’m thankful for this story I found (thanks Aub!) which brought back memories that were such a big part of my Christmas each year.  Those tree hunts with Daddy were a tradition I love and dearly miss.  I am also thankful for the story that began 47 years ago tonight, celebrated after all had gone home over cups of warm Pepsi, because they had heard it was so good.  I give thanks for the two who loved us and taught us and encouraged us.  And I’m thankful for their love of books and generous spirits.  They left some mighty big shoes to fill.  While I cannot fill those shoes myself, I can walk along the path they left, and do my best to live up to whom they raised me to be.

Happy Anniversary to my parents, and Happy Everyday, as my Mama would say, to everyone!

May today be a day that you will always remember joyfully in the years to come.

Love to all.

 

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I will be giving away a copy of the book “Little Tree” by ee cummings to a lucky reader.  The winner will be chosen randomly at 12:01 a.m. EST on December 18th.  To enter, comment below with your favorite Christmas book or like the “I Might Need a Nap” Facebook page and comment on this post on that page.  For handwriting practice for the week I will have the littles write your names down, put them in a hat, and we’ll let Miss Sophie draw out the name.  I will send the book out to the winner on Thursday, and it should arrive before Christmas, barring anything unforeseen happening.  Good luck!  Only one entry per person please.  

More of the story of the two who became one can be read here.

and the two became one–how the journey began

December 17.

The day my parents married in 1967, forty-six years ago.  It all started with a guy named Cheshire, who was good friends with Mama and Daddy individually, introducing the two of them while they were in college at Valdosta State.  He had already let Mama read some of the things Daddy had written.  It seems like the first meeting was somewhere like a Laundromat, but I can’t be sure.

At the end of their meeting, the VERY FIRST TIME EVER they had met I want you to remember, my Mama looked up from her 4’10” stance at Daddy’s over six-foot tall self and said, “I could fall madly in love with you, Mr. Joyner.”

Oh my.  We are all so thankful they did wind up marrying.  How embarrassing would THAT have been?

Just kidding, Mama.  You know we love that story.  And she loved telling it.  And she’d look over at Daddy and wrinkle her nose, which is how she often said “I love you.”  There was never any doubt.

Ten years and four children later, they moved their three girls, three-month old baby boy, and several cats out to Blackberry Flats.  It has been home ever since.  Our move-in date was actually December 17.  What better way to celebrate ten years of marriage?

That was the beginning of another adventure, and over the years Mama and Daddy made it their own.  From Mama’s trademark light green paint to Daddy’s building and the trees they planted all over–it became home.  It got its name when a family friend brought us over some blackberries that were beyond the point of eating.  Bless her.  After she left, Mama had me tote the blackberries out to the “high grass,” which is where we took scraps and brush and stuff like that–toward the back part of the property.  As it turned out, those blackberries loved being in that soil and they took off.  After years of Daddy fighting them by burning the prickly briars off, he and the bushes reaches a compromise–he let them have the fence line.  There are still some there today.  Thus the name Blackberry Flats was born.

There were some things that were important at Blackberry Flats, growing up with Mama and Daddy at the helm.  Trying your best.  That was one of the things they would ask often, “Well, did you try your best?”  Telling the truth.  Storytelling (we didn’t use the word “lying” back then) was frowned upon.  Eating what was put before you.  There was no whining about mushrooms in the spaghetti.  (Well, okay, there was, but well, I really, really couldn’t stomach them and I regretted the whining every time I did it.)  Being responsible.  We all had chores, and we were expected to pitch in.  And then some.  Pick up after yourselves, and if you see something that needs doing, do it.  Get along with one another.  Mama would quote a children’s play we had seen at Wesleyan–“I’m sure you’re all really very wonderful.”  Which was our signal to cut it out, because maybe she was beginning to question how wonderful we were, and we were treading on thin ice.  We were expected to show respect, say yes ma’am/no ma’am, yes sir/no sir.  We were to be good stewards of what we had, what we’d been given–that included everything from the things around us to our physical beings and our spirits and our abilities and the people around us.

Another thing about Blackberry Flats was that learning was of the utmost importance.  And so was reading.

We grew up with frequent trips to the library.  Mama was very involved with the Friends of the Library. She helped with storytimes and eventually became a Rolling Reader at the school all four of us had attended.  She loved it and stopped only when Daddy got sick.  Many of the children knew her as “Maemae,” (me-me) the name that her grandchildren all called her.  Her fun science experiments and wonderful storytelling were her trademarks.

Children’s books were Mama and Daddy’s favorites.  They enjoyed looking up new books and discovering new authors.  Their all-time favorite was “Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm” by Alice and Martin Provensen.  Mama and Daddy loved sharing the book with children they met along the way.  One of their favorite things to do was choosing the perfect books for their grand nieces and nephews and their grandchildren.

The past few years I remember Mama trying to find a good Christmas or winter story to share.  For the fun of it and in memory of the woman with whom I’ve spent every Christmas except for the two I lived in Japan, I set out on the journey to find the 2013 holiday story.  I browsed through picture books and animal stories, snow covered tales and retellings of the nativity story.  And one day, I was wandering through the virtual bookstore–I apologize to my local bookseller, but some days it’s the only way to shop while supervising the zoo crew around here–and I saw several holiday stories by an author who also had a book I recognized in her list of published works.  “G is for Goat” by Patricia Polacco.

Oh my.  The tears began to flow.

Mama had chosen that one for my sweet Cousin’s daughter one year.  She had been thrilled.  She called me to celebrate her triumph.  “Don’t you think it’s the perfect book for her?”  And it really was.

Seeing that Ms. Polacco, whom Mama had so loved, had a large selection of holiday and winter stories to choose from felt like a nod from Mama–a wink and a thumbs up.  “You found it, T. Annie,” I could almost hear her whisper.

After scanning summaries and reading some of the books themselves, I finally chose this year’s Holiday Book.  Drum roll, please.

Uncle Vova’s Tree by Patricia Polacco

Uncle Vova's Tree by Patricia Polacco

“Uncle Vova’s Tree” by Patricia Polacco

Oh y’all.

This is a beautiful story about a family who celebrates Christmas with aunts, uncles, grandparents, siblings, parents, and cousins.  The beautiful colors and traditions will touch your heart.  The throwing of the rice on the ceiling to foretell how many bees will come will make you laugh (as long as you remind yours we don’t do that!), and the bowl filled for those who are no longer with them will bring tears to your eyes.  And the words, “We remember.”

Yes.

from "Uncle Vova's Tree" by Patricia Polacco

from “Uncle Vova’s Tree” by Patricia Polacco

But it’s not a sad book.  Not at all.  It’s full of life and joy.  When the aunt unwraps the ornaments and decorates the tree as though it’s a gift to the family, you can feel her joy and the anticipation of the others.

If you haven’t had a chance to love this book, I want you to.   In honor of the ones who helped me discover the joy of reading and the beauty in children’s literature and who started their lives together forty-six years ago today, I am giving away a copy of “Uncle Vova’s Trees” by Patricia Polacco.  Share in the comments section or e-mail me your favorite holiday or winter story and your e-mail address.  I will randomly select someone on Wednesday, December 18th at noon EST to send Ms. Polacco’s book to.  My hope is for you to have this wonderful story to share with those you care about in time for the weekend.

Just a beautiful story.  Even though the people are of another culture and they live where there are sleigh rides and snow, I find these people to be my kindred spirits.  They believe in faith, family, laughter, and love.  They know what is important, from remembering those living in the winter weather to remembering those who have gone before.  And honoring their memory.

We remember.

Amen.

Merry memory-making, my friends.  Love to all.