How to Get Lost (and a free book)

I’m not sure when it happened, but it was confirmed this past Christmas.  We have moved past the toys on the wish list.  My (not so) littles were hoping for things that supported their dreams–like dance and games and shoes.  My little fella asked for a pair of Crocs (easy to slide on and off and APPARENTLY back in fashion?!?) and books.  When I asked him what books–was there a series or author he preferred, he said “No ma’am, surprise me.  I always love what you pick out.”

As they were excitedly planning what gifts they wanted to give each other, I was scratching my head about what books to suggest to Santa to bring for him.  My little guy Cooter who didn’t read a lick until he turned 7 is an avid reader–magazines, books, cereal boxes…..whatever he can get his hands on.  He loves it when I grab a paper at the grocery store and bring home to him.  He reads it front to back, with extra attention to politics, comics, and ads for trucks.  And gas prices.  He’s a fanatic about watching gas prices.

Christmas morning was a delight and joy as we shared love and gifts and laughter and memories.  Cooter was intrigued by the book choices and said they looked promising.  Last fall he read the young adult version of Just Mercy because his big sister had read the original version, and there was a movie coming out.  He and his sister were fortunate to get to go to the advanced screening for the movie locally two days after Christmas.  He came home saying the book and movie had changed his life.  That moved me to tears because he has found a passion for justice and defeating wrong.  When looking for books for him, I knew to stick with history and books that would fall in this same realm.

One night about a week or so after Christmas, I was locking up and turning off the lights, preparing to go to bed a little after midnight.  Cooter has always been my child who goes to bed before everyone else.  10:30 is about the latest he can handle on the weekends, and he’s usually in bed way before that.  The girls tend to be night owls in comparison.  So I was surprised to see the light on underneath his door.  I suspected he’d fallen asleep reading as he often does.  When I opened the door, his face popped up from behind one of his Christmas books.  Shocked, I asked, “Buddy, what are you doing? It’s after midnight!” His eyes got huge and he said, “What?! For real?”  I recognized that look.  I have been blessed to feel that more times than I can count in my life.  He’d gotten so wrapped up in the story, he’d lost track of time completely.

Bless.

After he recounted the story to me, I encouraged him to put it away and turned off his light.  My heart was light and thankful.  He seemed to struggle–or maybe it was me–when he was little and reading was on the agenda.  He never seemed to be able to get what the letters in front of him were doing. Or I couldn’t help him understand. Until he turned 7.  And then it clicked.  For the past almost six years he’s been a voracious reader.  I’m so very thankful for that.  For his anger over injustice, for his love of funny books, for his need to read the stories from the past, for his desire to share the stories with me.  This year we are using a literature based curriculum for his lessons, and he is loving it.  Who knew when I was close to tears over his lack of drive to learn to read that we’d be where we were that night…..with his little face showing the shock of coming back to reality after being so lost in a really good book.

It all started with reading him good books when he was small.

Actually, that’s not true.

It started with my Mama reading me books when I was small.  I never felt our lives lacking, no matter what we did or didn’t have, because we were always surrounded by good stories.

Mama passed that and so many of those good books down to us.  I have shelves of her books that are blending with ours.  Children’s books that are still brought down and pored over and read and left sitting out to remind us that we are never too far from that child in us who first delighted over the pictures and rhythm of a well-written story.

That’s why I’m happy that me and mine are never too old to enjoy a good children’s book.  Especially since all of the ones by one of my favorite children’s authors have been published after my three have traditionally aged out of those books.

But we say we’re never too old to love one.

Matthew Paul Turner has a new book coming out tomorrow–When God Made the World.  You need this book for your littles, your grands, your friends, your home, yourself! Like all of his books before, he uses words to paint a story that your heart longs to hear–how each part of creation was designed lovingly and with a purpose–including and especially YOU! The author leaves us with a blessing and a charge–words that I find myself praying over my children as they enter this new chapter in their lives.

MPT when God made the world photo

I was talking to my sweet girl yesterday about her future and her dreams for it.  She listened and responded and finally shrugged.  “Mama, I’m just trying to figure out this being fifteen years old thing right now.”

Oh baby girl, I hear you.  And I get it.

Sometimes–actually quite often–it’s good to sit and simply reflect with gentle words and remember the stories from when we were small.  When God Made the World is just right for doing that.  With rhymes and words that remind us to look around us in wonder and appreciate the gifts that God has put before us, paired with the lovely bright and vivid illustrations by Gillian Gamble, Matthew Paul Turner has given us the perfect book for those moments.  He reminds us we are a part of a much bigger picture BUT a very important, precious, and unique part of it all.

MPT 4 books photo

The book releases tomorrow.  If you pre-order TODAY, you can copy and paste your order number at this link and choose another of Matthew Paul Turner’s books to be sent to you ABSOLUTELY FREE.  You don’t want to miss out on this.  All of his books are wonderful and make great gifts.  Or belong on your own shelf.  Go ahead and treat yourself.  I won’t tell.

Wishing you all some time today to get lost in a good book.  Cooter and I highly recommend it.

Love to all.

A Little Golden Kind of Christmas Story

Forty-nine years ago today my parents said “I do” because they did and that was the beginning of a fantastic journey full of brilliant, simple moments and more love than one house could hold.  Forty-nine years ago right now, I believe they were warming up some Pepsi or some such because they’d heard that it was delicious.  I tried to wrap my brain around the idea of them, newlyweds, in the kitchen in their little rented home in Valdosta, Georgia standing over the stove with grins they couldn’t wipe off their faces (at least I would imagine so), and I never thought to ask if it was any good.

I would think probably not, since they never made it in the years that I can recall.

Still.

That love.  Those two people who loved each other, loved others–

I miss them.

They especially loved little ones.  And books.  I’ve shared before how in the later years they’d choose a special book or two to share around the holidays.  As a comfort and way to connect with them after Mama passed on in 2013, I attempted to continue the tradition.  Some years it’s been easy to find a book right off.  Others it took longer.  This year was the latter.  Most definitely the latter.  I tested some, read lots, but none felt completely right.  And again, I found myself drawn to books about trees.  Which makes sense really, since going out to Granny’s farm, traipsing through the woods, and finding our very own Christmas tree all those years are some of my favorite holiday memories.

So this year I tried not to pick out a Christmas tree story.  That was proving difficult, and I had set this past Wednesday as my personal deadline.  Wednesday morning Aub and I sat with a stack of Christmas books and looked through them.  Then…..I found it.

I vaguely remembered Mama’s excitement at finding this book a few years back.  I thought and dug through my memory banks that I expect are getting to be like what my Granddaddy described as Fibber McGee’s closet, and I kept coming up with my sweet cousin for some reason.  So while Aub looked up my Mama’s Amazon account record, I texted my cousin.  Sure enough, she’d given it to my cousin a few years ago.  Appropriate.  Perfect for her actually.  However, I was sad.  I really love this book!

So I continued searching.  Aub left for work, and I started to read on my own.  I found two I liked, but I still couldn’t choose.  Then it hit me–maybe I should bring my littles in on this year’s choice.  They know about the tradition, and as it turns out, they were tickled to help choose.

I think they chose well.

So our Princess, Cooter, and I are thrilled to announce this year’s choice for Maemae’s Christmas book.

It really is perfect.  I have such happy memories of Little Golden Books growing up.  Those gold edges and perfectly same-sized books–hard covers and beautiful, colorful illustrations–we had quite a few sitting on our book shelf…..waiting to be taken down and read again and again.  Some of those same ones grace my shelves now.  But not this one.  I was thrilled to find it, as I’d not read it before.  I love the sweet stories and poems, especially the one about the animals and people’s reactions to “no snow.”  But what tickled me the most was Cooter’s reaction to the story about the little squirrel.  Read it.  See if you can figure out at what moment he said, “UH OH” out loud–concerned that things were about to go awry.  I don’t want to spoil it, but that was Cooter’s favorite part of the book.

I highly recommend both of these books.  I also recommend the other book (which our Princess especially loved).  It is a sweet story of a strong woman who makes a difference in our world with her caring, strength, and ingenuity.  A great story not just for the holidays but everyday, right?


What are your favorite holiday and Christmas stories?  I would love to hear about them.

I hope your holidays are filled with hours and hours of enjoyment and good books to read, but most importantly, I hope these days are filled with the living out of your own great story.

Merry memory-making!

Love to all.

 

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.  

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.

When All We Really Want Is…..

This evening I was telling my knitting diva friend and others about my parents’ favorite children’s book, “Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm” by the Provensens.  The stories about all of the animals that live on the farm are entertaining, heartwarming, sad, and funny as all get out.

I thought that my friend would especially love the cat stories, and I told her so.  She has cats that have taken up at her home, and some that most likely have been dropped off there.  No matter, she takes good care of them and makes sure they are all fixed–which is no small feat.  As we were talking about the mischievousness of the cats in the Maple Hill Farm book, I told them about my Mama’s favorite part.  At least I think it was.  She quoted it often enough.

In the book, one cat or another would bring a little mouse or squirrel tails or other little “gifts” up to the house.  It’s the way they said “I love you.”  But as the authors write, “It’s not a pretty sight.”  Over the many years of our many cats leaving various and sundry small, formerly alive critters and various and sundry body parts on our back steps, I heard Mama say it often.  As though finding these gifts is just a part of life.

And I suppose it is.

My friend laughed over that line, and said that she knew that feeling only too well.

“The other night I woke up to find a gift right here.”  She motioned toward her upper stomach, right below her heart.  “It was a live bird.”

What?!

“What did you do?” We all wanted to know.

“Oh, I got up and took the poor thing outside.  It was a live bird.  I hope it still is.”

Bless her.  She’s a retired schoolteacher who possibly works harder now than she did when she was teaching.  I so want to be her when I grow up.  That live bird didn’t faze her a bit.  She’s just that awesome.

And me being me, I then asked her what she’d do if she woke up and found they’d brought her a baby snake, and she shrugged and replied, “Take it outside.  Snakes don’t bother me.”

Have I mentioned how awesome she is?  And brave.

Her story made me think of a one from a ways back.

Many years ago, I was working for Hospice as a social worker and bereavement therapist.  One of my co-workers was working with a precious man and his wife.  The man was our patient, and he was a delightful country fellow who wore a sock hat nearly all the time.  I expect it was to keep his head warm, but I don’t know for sure.  One day when my friend was visiting the family, the wife, who was in another room, asked her husband what he was doing.  He hollered out, “Just sitting here loving you.  What else you want me to do?”

Bless him.  Bless. Him.

Over the years that became a great line for us to share.  I love it.

And as I listened to my wonderfully gifted and giving friend tonight, I figured that’s exactly what those cats were thinking too.  Bless those kitties’ hearts.  They just wanted to repay her for all she’s done for them.  It was their way of saying, “I’m just sitting here loving you.  Here’s a gift.  What else you want me to do?”

Life is like that, isn’t it?  We give gifts that we put thought into, but sometimes the gifts fall short of what might have been more suitable ones.  Or we are given something that the giver put so much thought and energy and time “hunting” down, and we are all “ummm, thank you so much,” and we release it back into “the wild” as soon as possible.  It’s just funny like that.

When all we really, really want down deep inside is someone sitting over there loving us.   It just doesn’t get much better than that.

For When You Feel Like Quitting

Are you feeling under-appreciated?

Over-worked?

Feeling okay about your life, but tired of folks around you not getting along?

Are you feeling stripped to the core and like your vulnerability is visible to the world?

Have a I got a book for you to read!

It’s all about those feelings and stepping outside the box and saying how you feel–communicating what you need from those around you for you to feel better and more like yourself again.  To feel like you have value and are appreciated.

I just finished reading it yesterday.  Actually I started and finished it yesterday.  In about ten minutes total.  With my two littles.

Confused?

Sorry.  Back in December Amazon had these lightning specials where they put different things on big time sale, and some pretty incredible bargains could be had.  One night I saw that this book I had been interested in was going to be given away (well practically) at 9:00 a.m. the next morning.  They only have a certain number of these special bargains and once they are gone, they’re gone.  I had a talk with Santa, who picked me up a copy of this book I’d been wishing for, and he brought it to me for Christmas.

Santa brought me this great book.  It is really delightful.  http://www.amazon.com/The-Crayons-Quit-Drew-Daywalt/dp/0399255370/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1389153580&sr=8-1&keywords=the+day+the+crayons+quit

Santa brought me this great book.  “The Day the Crayons Quit” by Drew Daywalt.  It is really delightful. http://www.amazon.com/The-Crayons-Quit-Drew-Daywalt/dp/0399255370/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1389153580&sr=8-1&keywords=the+day+the+crayons+quit

And yes, we just got around to reading it yesterday.  “Star Wars and Playmobil Folks Save the World” has been more pressing.  You understand, I’m sure.  So yesterday, when we were easing ourselves back into school (no cancelling school for cold here–for A cold maybe, but not for THE cold), I pulled it out and we read it.  It might have taken us fifteen minutes to finish because Cooter wanted me to re-read the letter from the Peach crayon, who has had all of its paper peeled off.  Peach was feeling quite vulnerable and had reached the point where it didn’t care who knew it.

Yes, that’s right.  A letter from the Peach crayon.  Each crayon in Duncan’s box has QUIT.  Each one has written a letter sharing its gripes, complaints, and general concerns.  Imagine being a Red crayon with a little person–all those “red holidays” not to mention big fire trucks.  Purple is tired of never staying in the lines.  And poor Pink in Duncan’s crayon box–you can see it coming, can’t you?  Yep.  Feeling rather unappreciated.

Yes, this is marketed as a children’s book, but quite honestly, it would be a close call to decide who loved this book the most.  I read it aloud to my two youngest, and we all giggled at different parts.  Later I found our Princess curled up reading it to herself.  When her big sister came in, she read Peach’s letter aloud, and Cooter laughed as hard as he did the first time he heard it.  It was delightful.  To hear the story…..and the laughter.

This will be one of our family favorites for a long time.  I just thought y’all should know that.  In the midst of my worrying about people suffering in the cold, sick wee ones, hurting hearts, and my girl heading back to college, it was really nice to read a story that hit home with me. (I dare you to read it and tell me not one of those crayons was speaking for you or to you.)  And it was even better to laugh with my children and spend time sharing the joy of a good book.  My Mama, Queen of the children’s books, would have loved this story.  And for a few minutes, as we were piled up in the recliner together, heads touching as we giggled at page after page, it was as though she were right there with us.  And that was the best feeling of all.

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.