Sunday, November 27, 2011

Book Review: To Dance With God

So it begins!  The most anticipated time of the year, the Advent season.  I love this time of year!  But I just hate that last stressful crunch between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It leaves me distracted, tired and completely unprepared for the Promise of Christ.  It leaves me no room for the contemplation that should happen during that time, during Advent.

Four years ago my good friend, Kim, introduced me to a book that revolutionized my families Advent season.  It’s called “To Dance with God” by Gertrud Mueller Nelson and published by the Paulist Press.   If you want to truly have more meaning in your Advent and Christmas season this book is a must read. 

Admittedly, you should start on Advent preparation way before the first day of Advent, which happens to be November 27th this year.  However, don’t be daunted.  Use reading this book as your own personal Advent this year.  Don’t be tempted to add anything to your Advent or Christmas season this year.  Okay, maybe one or two things but that’s it!  You will be overwhelmed and throw the whole thing out if you try anything more.  Also, realize that Ms. Nelson has had years and years of practice.  She’s like the Martha Steward of family ritual and community celebration.  She’s incredible!

Also, don’t be daunted by your family’s protestations to new traditions.  No matter how old they are you can make your Advent and Christmas seasons richer and deeper.  I promise they will warm up to it! 


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Classic Thanksgiving Story

Torture your guests with a story when their mouths are full of pie on Thanksgiving Day. My extended family always roll their eyes when I bust out my holiday stories.  I'm teased mercilessly by my sisters.  It's funny how if I don't bring one to share they complain.  So don't be daunted by a few skeptical comments.  They'll get over it.

O. Henry is one of the best loved classic writers.  Here he writes a story for the adults and your Biggers.  The Littles may have trouble following it but there's nothing in it to harm them.  

Two Old Thanksgiving Gentlemen
by O. Henry

There is one day that is ours. There is one day when all we Americans who are not self-made go back to the old home to eat saleratus biscuits and marvel how much nearer to the porch the old pump looks than it used to. Bless the day. President Roosevelt gives it to us. We hear some talk of the Puritans, but don't just remember who they were. Bet we can lick 'em, anyhow, if they try to land again. Plymouth Rocks? Well, that sounds more familiar. Lots of us have had to come down to hens since the Turkey Trust got its work in. But somebody in Washington is leaking out advance information to 'em about these Thanksgiving proclamations.

The big city east of the cranberry bogs has made Thanksgiving Day an institution. The last Thursday in November is the only day in the year on which it recognizes the part of America lying across the ferries. It is the one day that is purely American. Yes, a day of celebration, exclusively American.

And now for the story which is to prove to you that we have traditions on this side of the ocean that are becoming older at a much rapider rate than those of England are--thanks to our git-up and enterprise.

Stuffy Pete took his seat on the third bench to the right as you enter Union Square from the east, at the walk opposite the fountain. Every Thanksgiving Day for nine years he had taken his seat there promptly at 1 o'clock. For every time he had done so things had happened to him--Charles Dickensy things that swelled his waistcoat above his heart, and equally on the other side.

But to-day Stuffy Pete's appearance at the annual trysting place seemed to have been rather the result of habit than of the yearly hunger which, as the philanthropists seem to think, afflicts the poor at such extended intervals.

Certainly Pete was not hungry. He had just come from a feast that had left him of his powers barely those of respiration and locomotion. His eyes were like two pale gooseberries firmly imbedded in a swollen and gravy-smeared mask of putty. His breath came in short wheezes; a senatorial roll of adipose tissue denied a fashionable set to his upturned coat collar. Buttons that had been sewed upon his clothes by kind Salvation fingers a week before flew like popcorn, strewing the earth around him. Ragged he was, with a split shirt front open to the wishbone; but the November breeze, carrying fine snowflakes, brought him only a grateful coolness. For Stuffy Pete was overcharged with the caloric produced by a super-bountiful dinner, beginning with oysters and ending with plum pudding, and including (it seemed to him) all the roast turkey and baked potatoes and chicken salad and squash pie and ice cream in the world. Wherefore he sat, gorged, and gazed upon the world with after-dinner contempt.

The meal had been an unexpected one. He was passing a red brick mansion near the beginning of Fifth avenue, in which lived two old ladies of ancient family and a reverence for traditions. They even denied the existence of New York, and believed that Thanksgiving Day was declared solely for Washington Square. One of their traditional habits was to station a servant at the postern gate with orders to admit the first hungry wayfarer that came along after the hour of noon had struck, and banquet him to a finish. Stuffy Pete happened to pass by on his way to the park, and the seneschals gathered him in and upheld the custom of the castle.

After Stuffy Pete had gazed straight before him for ten minutes he was conscious of a desire for a more varied field of vision. With a tremendous effort he moved his head slowly to the left. And then his eyes bulged out fearfully, and his breath ceased, and the rough-shod ends of his short legs wriggled and rustled on the gravel.

For the Old Gentleman was coming across Fourth avenue toward his bench.

Every Thanksgiving Day for nine years the Old Gentleman had come there and found Stuffy Pete on his bench. That was a thing that the Old Gentleman was trying to make a tradition of. Every Thanksgiving Day for nine years he had found Stuffy there, and had led him to a restaurant and watched him eat a big dinner. They do those things in England unconsciously. But this is a young country, and nine years is not so bad. The Old Gentleman was a staunch American patriot, and considered himself a pioneer in American tradition. In order to become picturesque we must keep on doing one thing for a long time without ever letting it get away from us. Something like collecting the weekly dimes in industrial insurance. Or cleaning the streets.

The Old Gentleman moved, straight and stately, toward the Institution that he was rearing. Truly, the annual feeding of Stuffy Pete was nothing national in its character, such as the Magna Charta or jam for breakfast was in England. But it was a step. It was almost feudal. It showed, at least, that a Custom was not impossible to New Y--ahem!--America.

The Old Gentleman was thin and tall and sixty. He was dressed all in black, and wore the old-fashioned kind of glasses that won't stay on your nose. His hair was whiter and thinner than it had been last year, and he seemed to make more use of his big, knobby cane with the crooked handle.

As his established benefactor came up Stuffy wheezed and shuddered like some woman's over-fat pug when a street dog bristles up at him. He would have flown, but all the skill of Santos-Dumont could not have separated him from his bench. Well had the myrmidons of the two old ladies done their work.

"Good morning," said the Old Gentleman. "I am glad to perceive that the vicissitudes of another year have spared you to move in health about the beautiful world. For that blessing alone this day of thanksgiving is well proclaimed to each of us. If you will come with me, my man, I will provide you with a dinner that should make your physical being accord with the mental."

That is what the Old Gentleman said every time. Every Thanksgiving Day for nine years. The words themselves almost formed an Institution. Nothing could be compared with them except the Declaration of Independence. Always before they had been music in Stuffy's ears. But now he looked up at the Old Gentleman's face with tearful agony in his own. The fine snow almost sizzled when it fell upon his perspiring brow. But the Old Gentleman shivered a little and turned his back to the wind.

Stuffy had always wondered why the Old Gentleman spoke his speech rather sadly. He did not know that it was because he was wishing every time that he had a son to succeed him. A son who would come there after he was gone--a son who would stand proud and strong before some subsequent Stuffy, and say: "In memory of my father." Then it would be an Institution.

But the Old Gentleman had no relatives. He lived in rented rooms in one of the decayed old family brownstone mansions in one of the quiet streets east of the park. In the winter he raised fuchsias in a little conservatory the size of a steamer trunk. In the spring he walked in the Easter parade. In the summer he lived at a farmhouse in the New Jersey hills, and sat in a wicker armchair, speaking of a butterfly, the ornithoptera amphrisius, that he hoped to find some day. In the autumn he fed Stuffy a dinner. These were the Old Gentleman's occupations.

Stuffy Pete looked up at him for a half minute, stewing and helpless in his own self-pity. The Old Gentleman's eyes were bright with the giving-pleasure. His face was getting more lined each year, but his little black necktie was in as jaunty a bow as ever, and the linen was beautiful and white, and his gray mustache was curled carefully at the ends. And then Stuffy made a noise that sounded like peas bubbling in a pot. Speech was intended; and as the Old Gentleman had heard the sounds nine times before, he rightly construed them into Stuffy's old formula of acceptance.

"Thankee, sir. I'll go with ye, and much obliged. I'm very hungry, sir."

The coma of repletion had not prevented from entering Stuffy's mind the conviction that he was the basis of an Institution. His Thanksgiving appetite was not his own; it belonged by all the sacred rights of established custom, if not, by the actual Statute of Limitations, to this kind old gentleman who had preempted it. True, America is free; but in order to establish tradition some one must be a repetend--a repeating decimal. The heroes are not all heroes of steel and gold. See one here that wielded only weapons of iron, badly silvered, and tin.

The Old Gentleman led his annual protege southward to the restaurant, and to the table where the feast had always occurred. They were recognized.

"Here comes de old guy," said a waiter, "dat blows dat same bum to a meal every Thanksgiving."

The Old Gentleman sat across the table glowing like a smoked pearl at his corner-stone of future ancient Tradition. The waiters heaped the table with holiday food--and Stuffy, with a sigh that was mistaken for hunger's expression, raised knife and fork and carved for himself a crown of imperishable bay.

No more valiant hero ever fought his way through the ranks of an enemy. Turkey, chops, soups, vegetables, pies, disappeared before him as fast as they could be served. Gorged nearly to the uttermost when he entered the restaurant, the smell of food had almost caused him to lose his honor as a gentleman, but he rallied like a true knight. He saw the look of beneficent happiness on the Old Gentleman's face--a happier look than even the fuchsias and the ornithoptera amphrisius had ever brought to it--and he had not the heart to see it wane.

In an hour Stuffy leaned back with a battle won.

"Thankee kindly, sir," he puffed like a leaky steam pipe; "thankee kindly for a hearty meal."

Then he arose heavily with glazed eyes and started toward the kitchen. A waiter turned him about like a top, and pointed him toward the door. The Old Gentleman carefully counted out $1.30 in silver change, leaving three nickels for the waiter.

They parted as they did each year at the door, the Old Gentleman going south, Stuffy north.

Around the first corner Stuffy turned, and stood for one minute. Then he seemed to puff out his rags as an owl puffs out his feathers, and fell to the sidewalk like a sunstricken horse.

When the ambulance came the young surgeon and the driver cursed softly at his weight. There was no smell of whiskey to justify a transfer to the patrol wagon, so Stuffy and his two dinners went to the hospital. There they stretched him on a bed and began to test him for strange diseases, with the hope of getting a chance at some problem with the bare steel.

And lo! an hour later another ambulance brought the Old Gentleman. And they laid him on another bed and spoke of appendicitis, for he looked good for the bill.

But pretty soon one of the young doctors met one of the young nurses whose eyes he liked, and stopped to chat with her about the cases.

"That nice old gentleman over there, now," he said, "you wouldn't think that was a case of almost starvation. Proud old family, I guess. He told me he hadn't eaten a thing for three days."

1...My story is done
2...I love you!
3...Please kiss me.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Native American Thanksgiving Story

 Thanksgiving is upon us.  You need a story or maybe even two.  Start with this Native American story. Ooo...some popcorn would be perfect with this story!


The Spirit of the Corn

An Iroquois Legend
by Harriet Maxwell Converse (Adapted)

There was a time, says the Iroquois grandmother, when it was not needful to plant the corn- seed nor to hoe the fields, for the corn sprang up of itself, and filled the broad meadows. Its stalks grew strong and tall, and were covered with leaves like waving banners, and filled with ears of pearly grain wrapped in silken green husks.
In those days Onatah, the Spirit of the Corn, walked upon the earth. The sun lovingly touched her dusky face with the blush of the morning, and her eyes grew soft as the gleam of the stars on dark streams. Her night-black hair was spread before the breeze like a wind-driven cloud.
As she walked through the fields, the corn, the Indian maize, sprang up of itself from the earth and filled the air with its fringed tassels and whispering leaves. With Onatah walked her two sisters, the Spirits of the Squash and the Bean. As they passed by, squash-vines and bean-plants grew from the corn-hills.
One day Onatah wandered away alone in search of early dew. Then the Evil One of the earth, Hahgwehdaetgah, followed swiftly after. He grasped her by the hair and dragged her beneath the ground down to his gloomy cave. Then, sending out his fire-breathing monsters, he blighted Onatah's grain. And when her sisters, the Spirits of the Squash and the Bean, saw the flame- monsters raging through the fields, they flew far away in terror.
As for poor Onatah, she lay a trembling captive in the dark prison-cave of the Evil One. She mourned the blight of her cornfields, and sorrowed over her runaway sisters.
``O warm, bright sun!'' she cried, ``if I may walk once more upon the earth, never again will I leave my corn!''
And the little birds of the air heard her cry, and winging their way upward they carried her vow and gave it to the sun as he wandered through the blue heavens.
The sun, who loved Onatah, sent out many searching beams of light. They pierced through the damp earth, and entering the prison-cave, guided her back again to her fields.
And ever after that she watched her fields alone, for no more did her sisters, the Spirits of the Squash and Bean, watch with her. If her fields thirsted, no longer could she seek the early dew. If the flame-monsters burned her corn, she could not search the skies for cooling winds. And when the great rains fell and injured her harvest, her voice grew so faint that the friendly sun could not hear it.
But ever Onatah tenderly watched her fields and the little birds of the air flocked to her service. They followed her through the rows of corn, and made war on the tiny enemies that gnawed at the roots of the grain.
And at harvest-time the grateful Onatah scattered the first gathered corn over her broad lands, and the little birds, fluttering and singing, joyfully partook of the feast spread for them on the meadow-ground.

1...My story is done.
2...I love you!
3...Please kiss me.

Happy Reading!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Easy Advent Stories

The Advent season is my very favorite.  After all it is preparing us for Christ's birth on Christmas day.  Instead of the typical countdown advent calendar why don't you try something different this year?  How about a count down using stories?

Two years ago my sister-in-law gave us Jotham's Journey: an advent story book.  It has become one of our families most favorite Advent activity.  It has all that a child could want.  Adventure, love, mystery, suspense, and a happy ending.  Here is the Amazon description of the book.

"In this widely popular, exciting story for the advent season, readers follow ten-year-old Jotham across Israel as he searches for his family. Though he faces thieves, robbers, and kidnappers, Jotham also encounters the wise men, shepherds, and innkeepers until at last he finds his way to the Savior born in Bethlehem."

 The best part is there are at least two other Advent story books to follow this one.  By the time the first story book comes around three years later your littles will be in a much different place mentally and spiritually so the story will have new life and revelation.  And don't worry the stories are challenging enough to move even an adult to tears.

I recommend you order this book soon, because the Advent season actually start before December 1st.


For the Love of Stories

Anyone who knows me well, knows I love stories.  Especially stories for kids.  Even more particularly I love making up stories for my own kids.  It gives me a way to connect to them a way to reach their heart a way to tell them I love them.  No matter what happens during the day if I end the day with a story and a back rub then at least the last thing I've done with my children was positive.

I have stories that want telling.  So I've decided to tell them and share them with you.  I am not a professional storyteller.  I can't spell nor do I claim to be a writer.  Thankfully my kids don't care. They just want to be told a story.  My hope is that you will pass these stories from my heart on to your children.  And that eventually they will become your stories.  I will here and there post a story for you to read or practice telling to your kids.  Sometimes it will be a story game, a story challenge, or a book review. 

Perhaps you have stories to tell, too, but feel you lack ability.  I hope to inspire you.  Trust me.  Children are a very forgiving audience.