Sunday, December 24, 2006

Last Minute Shopping?

In addition to cashing in on the holiday itself, why not cash in on the preparation as well?

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Out of This World!

Out of this world, or other-worldly, or something. Look far enough on the 'net, there's truly something for everyone...

Friday, December 22, 2006


Here's a lovely bit of wall art for the holidays, making good use of those leftover toilet paper rolls and a bit of colored paper. There could be anything inside those compartments. Anything.

I had a bit of an experience myself recently with some colored paper...

Yesterday afternoon, the doorbell rang. Alex, age 18, answered it, and called out "Mom? Fundraiser at the door..." Fundraiser? 3 days before Christmas?

I went to the door and found 2 neighborhood boys with whom I have occasional short conversations, standing there holding 2 Cascarones. The older boy appeared to be the spokesman...they were selling confetti eggs hoping to raise money to buy "his mom" (nudges his buddy) a Christmas present.

Oh, I see. How much were they thinking of selling them for?

Well, they weren't sure.

Hmmm...what did they think they might like to buy for mom?

Well, maybe a pretty bracelet. Mom likes bracelets.

"I see. How will you get out to do your shopping?"

"His dad" (nudges buddy) would be taking them.

Seems their affairs and plans were very much in order (whether or not "Dad" actually knew it was not my concern).

"Well, those are really pretty confetti eggs...very bright purple. I guess I could use those on Christmas eve, couldn't I?" (Big nods...). "How about $5 for BOTH of the eggs?" (VERY big nods...).

I repeated the offer, just to make sure we were all clear on the details. I pay them $5, I keep both purple eggs, they buy a present for Mom. Yes, we were all in agreement.

I got the money, paid the boys (who wished me a "merry Christmas") and I took my eggs inside (to be greeted by the hysterical giggling of my assembled family, who had been listening in on the transaction).

About 10 minutes later, the doorbell rang...

Older brother of the previous spokesman. "I'm selling confetti eggs, and I just have one left! Would you like to buy it?"

How could I refuse? THAT egg was a beautiful burnt orange U-Texas color, and the boy WAS wearing a U-Texas t-shirt...

Too bad for him, though. My only remaining cash was a $1 bill and I rather doubted that he'd accept my debit card. I asked him if he knew there were other people out before him, ALSO selling eggs. His eyes got large. "REALLY? There ARE?" I offered him the $1, he looked confused, but accepted it and gave me the orange egg.

I would LOVE to know what conversation then transpired between older and younger brothers.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

A Thousand Words to Make a Picture

No picture today...instead, check out these detailed instructions for making your own Advent calendar in the pattern of your choice. Next year, you'll be ready.

Click Here

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

More Creatures Great and Small

Another startling take on the Advent calendar. It's a dog's world, and all.

We've not had a dog in this nuclear family, but one year we did have a Christmas...well, let me start at the beginning.

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care
And Grandma and Grandpa were soon to be there.

We all were relaxing, full of good cheer
When what did our wondering ears seem to hear?

A scritchy-scritch scratching from up in the flue
The kids were excited! Who was it? They knew!

It had to be Santa, scritch-scritching about
Please, Mom and Dad, won't you let him come out?

You might imagine that it was not the jolly elf in the chimney, and you would be correct. No, somehow a squirrel had managed to take a holiday journey and was unable to get out without help. We closed off all of the house except the back door and locked the cats in the garage. Dave armed himself with a broom, I grabbed the camera and we all waited in great anticipation as Dave lowered the flue...

For a split second, a soot-covered squirrel stood on the grate, looking at us with beady black eyes, then in a flash he was out of the fireplace and rocketing around the family room, bouncing off the walls, up over the chairs and even across the piano keys, leaving sooty foot smudges behind.

Dave made a few ineffectual swipes with his broom, and I will admit to not being too much help myself, as I was prostrate on the floor with laughter. Three children watched wide-eyed as the Santa-turned-Rodent worked his mayhem, finally zipping out the back door exactly as planned.

Everyone wanted to be first to tell Grandma and Grandpa.

Meowy Christmas

Sometimes you just luck into a good picture. Sometimes the cat is not so well behaved.

You'd better watch out, you'd better not climb
I've taken you down for the very last time
Santa Paws is coming to town!

He's making a list and he's checking it twice
Deciding which cats deserve some toy mice
Santa Paws is coming to town!

He sees where you've been sleeping,
He sees what you've knocked down,
He knows what you have shredded,
Do you WANT to go back to the pound?

You'd better watch out, you'd better not climb
I've taken you down for the very last time
Santa Paws is coming to town!

Home Made Love

My friend Sophia got tired of her preschool-aged son asking the inevitable December question, "HOW much longer until Christmas?", and she created this Advent calendar overnight to answer his question.

I'm impressed on so many levels.

First, it's just plain cute and fun. Each one of those rectangles is a matchbox, and each matchbox holds a little treat. The boxes are attached to a metal cookie sheet with magnets, and the new boxes appear each day.

The craftmanship is beautiful; this will undoubtedly become a family tradition as the family grows. Her children are small enough that they probably will never remember a December when they DIDN'T count the days with little boxes.

But most of all, I'm impressed that Sophia took her child's question seriously and took the time to answer it with love.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Curses, Foiled Again

Adjectives used to describe Barbie:

I can think of quite a few, but I'm not sure that "Fresh" is one of them.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

A place for everything, and everything in its place

Here's a fun little twist on the "open the window" Advent calendar...a three dimensional house with...that's

Here's what's good about these houses: They can sit out on any horizontal surface (no wall space needed).

Here's what's bad about these houses: They can sit out on any horizontal surface (and the cats are likely to knock them down 6 times between now and December 25).

This all sort of assumes that you actually HAVE some open horizontal surfaces available, and as Christmas draws nearer and nearer, the open space dwindles.

The open space dwindles because all of the "required" Christmas decorations are coming out and being placed in their normal, required, every - year - that's - where - we - put - it places. The tree goes where the tree always goes, the tall gold angel goes on the book case, the snow globes go on the fireplace...even the stockings get hung in the same order. Santa probably would get the presents mixed up if we hung the stockings in the wrong order!

For years, Dave had a pair of large "floor speakers" (remember those?) for his stereo system. Roughly a 12 x 18 inch footprint that by necessity were within about 12 feet (wired) of the stereo cabinet. Those speakers were sort of a pain in the neck 11 months out of the year, but in December they became very useful...two more horizontal surfaces for placement of Christmas decorations.

One was for the little white wooden Christmas train. The other was for a white ceramic angel.

Several years ago, Dave ran all the music through the computer system, miniaturized the speakers, and I still haven't figured out where to put the train or the angel...

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Preparing the Way, your own way

There's a lot to be said for making your own, personal HOME MADE Advent calendars.

Especially when they cater to your own, personal tastes...

Friday, December 15, 2006


This is enough to make the brain hurt.
This item is actually available for purchase, and marketed as...






Are you ready?






Are you SURE?




"An Advent Menorah"

Yes, that piece is really available, from an otherwise reputable online retailer. The concept is fine...8 little doors, 8 little gifts. There even appear to be little "flames" to be added to one candle per day. The name, I think, is not so fine. The season of "Advent" is all about preparation and waiting. Hannukah, more about celebration of an ongoing miracle and a spirit of rededication and praise for long-term survival (please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong).

While I am solidly behind ecumenism when it fosters understanding among people, combining traditions just for the sake of combining traditions hits me as fundamentally wrong. This reminds me uncomfortably of an enthusiastic Girl Scout leader who gave a group of 4th graders a spirited talk on holiday traditions, including "Hanukkah - the Jewish Christmas!".

As traditions go, perhaps we're better off aligning Christmas with Passover, rather than with Hanukkah. As one of my daughter's friends pointed out, the tradition of "hiding the pickle ornament in the Christmas tree" sounded a whole lot like the tradition of "hiding the afikoman" at the Passover meal. I think he's on to something.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Things I don't Want to Know

There are quite a few things that I can go my whole life without knowing.

I don't want to know what my college-aged son eats for lunch every day. Not really.

I don't want to know what the cat is so happily chewing on in the corner. I don't want to know where those muddy shoes by the front door have been, I don't want to look in my younger son's closet and I don't want to see what chewed up food looks like, ever. If the question is "Can I tell this joke at the dinner table?", the answer is probably "No".

I don't want to know what the Scotsman wears under his kilt, and I do not want to look under the rather unfortunate placement of windows 6 and 23 of this Advent calendar.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Chocolate Monster

This one is for Alex.

Well, it might have been for Alex if I had been willing to pay shipping from England for a chocolate Advent calendar purchased off of Ebay, which I was not...but he would have enjoyed it, no question.

That's a Dalek, one of myriad bad guys in the British Sci-Fi series Dr. Who. The longest running science fiction series in the world, Dr. Who morphs through new actors as necessary, a time traveling sort of dashing James Bond melded with the innocent goodwill and ageless wisdom of a Don Quixote. Aliens feature heavily in many episodes, the Dalek being one of the best known.

I don't know, though. I can't quite wrap my mind around waiting for the coming of the Prince of Peace with a character whose main conversation consists of the single line "Exterminate! EXTERMINATE!"

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

All Creatures Great and Small

We don't have either one of these.

I'm not quite sure why not; after all, we have two cats who think they are people, and of the 8 Christmas gifts I bought today, 4 of them were for cats (Sushi, Pandora, Tabi and Zelda will get presents...all of our other cat friends will have to make do with a card).

No question about animal who comes home from the pound with one of our family members is a lucky animal indeed, and I'll add that we are lucky to have them.

A discussion of animals gives me a chance to put in a plug for one of my favorite charities, Heifer International. They do amazing work distributing farm stock to people in need, and at the same time providing the teaching and resources to encourage self sufficiency. Quite a few years ago, now, Mom and Dad offered to donate to Heifer International in our name as part of our usual lavish "American" Christmas. It has become a tradition since then, but as is often the case with such things, the first year was special. I recently found a copy of the reply that was sent to Grandma's and Grandpa's question of exactly WHICH animal should be donated in our names.

Mom and Dad:
As a family, we spent a fair amount of time looking at the Heifer Project site this evening. Here are the conclusions.

1. The "Ark", at $5000, is out of price range, though most desirable.

2. Whatever animal we give must most emphatically NOT be killed and eaten.
2a. This rules out all of the lower priced chickens, geese, ducks, rabbits, some of which might be egg-layers for a while, but ultimately...the cooking pot.

3. Isaac is strongly in favor of BEES. At $30 per unit of bees, he votes all bees. That is three stands of bees, coming in at under $100. He knows. He worked it out.

4. Goats were of major interest, as were trees, but neither drew as much interest as...

5. Llamas. Everyone loved llamas. The idea of those wooly, spitting, long-necked beasts, one of whom Mom (aka Jean) actually met in the backwoods of Sky Ranch...(actually, what everyone REALLY wanted was a camel, but that was not an option...). Llamas would provide wooly blankets for small children, perhaps even for the Baby Jesus. Llamas have lovely, long eyelashes. Llamas are wedding gifts to young brides. Llamas are companions to children, even more so than a burro or a horse, being by nature a more companionable beast (except for the spitting).
5a. Drawback. Llamas are $150, over our price limit.
5b. Saving grace: Llamas may be had in "shares", according to the Heifer Project website.

Conclusion, and a decision worthy of Solomon: We choose two stands of bees and some shares of a llama.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Sleep in Heavenly Fleece

There you have it. Open the windows in the morning, count sheep at night.

Isaac has a long history of being a shepherd in Christmas pageants. Before he was a shepherd, though, he was a sheep.

He must have been three years old and that year, I was directing the Sunday School program. Costumes, lights, rehearsals and scripts for the characters who had speaking lines. Feeling a bit left out, I suppose, Isaac finally suggested to me that HE needed a script.

"No, you don't", I told him.

Yes, he did.

"No, you don't...all you say is 'Baaa', and you say that quietly. You don't need a script".

He drew himself up to full sheepy height and said "I DO need a script! If I don't have a script, I might just say "MOOO!"

I like that. A sheep who knows what he wants, and goes after it.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Resisting Temptation

I've already admitted my addiction to the yearly Playmobil Advent calendar. A couple of years ago, it was brought to my attention that LEGO makes a similar item.

So far, I have resisted the temptation. Having recently purged the second floor of the house of Legos acquired over a span of about 15 years, I intend to maintain a Lego-free zone.

However, if anyone reading this actually HAS one of these wonders...I'd love to hear what appeared on the 10th of December...

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Gifts From the Heart

This astonishing Advent display belongs to a friend of mine (and thanks, Jill, for sharing your picture with me!). Each day of December has its own dedicated stocking and her two young sons are getting treats and fun every single day. She tells me that one super day, they will find a roll of Mentos in a stocking, because they've been dying to try the Mentos-in-Diet-Coke trick ever since last summer...and so they shall.

This year, I'm having a bit of trouble shopping for my parents. I'd love to fill 24 little stockings for them, but they will be moving soon. After 40-some years in the same house, they're downsizing, and the last thing they need is a few more little items from me that will need to be boxed up, moved, unpacked and stored. I come up with ideas, then I think "no...not this year".

What they NEED is about 50 good strong cardboard boxes and a mountain of packing peanuts. Wonder how they'd like it if THAT showed up on their doorstep, courtesy of the Big Brown Truck? Maybe they'll get that yet...look out, Mom and Dad.

But what would I give them, if I could give them anything?

I'd give them the first golden aspen in the fall and the first snowfall on the Front Range of the Rockies. I'd add the iris in May in the garden at the west end of the house, and staining the redwood fence on a hot afternoon.

I'd package up the aroma of dinner cooking as I walk into the house and a banana cream pie with bananas carefully left out of 1/4 of the circle. Christmas cinnamon rolls baked in the shape of a tree and clam chowder on Christmas Eve.

I'd give them dialing the phone to announce the safe delivery of a healthy grandchild, then I'd give them the same thing, twice more. I'd add the first glimpse of each child, and the first photos of tottering steps, kindergarten haircuts and Confirmation robes.

I'd wrap new white Easter shoes every year and a new dress for the first day of school. I'd wrap stepping out of the car after a 12 hour trip across Kansas or Nebraska, in August, with no air conditioning and being greeted by grandparents who had been waiting for those same 12 hours, ready to carry in suitcases and pour glasses of iced tea.

I'd put tissue paper around piano lessons, Scout meetings, new wallpaper and curtains in my bedroom, driving lessons, choir concerts and 6 bicycle trips in a single day to the elementary school to see if "class lists" were posted yet on the large windows of the cafeteria.

I'd put all of those things in small stockings if I could, but the truth of the matter is that you can't gift wrap Love.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Magnetic Attraction

Here's an idea for those of you with limited wall space...a series of magnetic tiles that live on your refrigerator door during December. Flip one over each day and have a merry message by December 25. Advent Scrabble, as it were.

The refrigerator here is never going to win any neatness awards, and I like it that way. We never intended to collect refrigerator magnets (which brings up the side question..."Does anyone EVER 'intend' to collect anything?" Someone gives you one ceramic tiger because they thought once that you mentioned you liked the tiger at the zoo, which means next year you're ripe for an orange-and-black striped sweatshirt, tiger-shaped candy dish the year after that, tiger-printed notecards at your birthday and by then, you hardly know how to say "No, it wasn't was Tapirs that I liked!")

However it got started, we have quite a collection of refrigerator magnets, from the wooden block proclaiming "Look what Alex did in school today!" (a gift from his kindergarten teacher...Alex is now a freshman in college) to the most recent acquisition, a flat panel proclaiming "Luther is my Homeboy", a gift from the people at Old Lutheran in appreciation for my patronage. There's a miniature plate from Greece, several kitten faces, glass "marbles" over tiny pictures from a crafty phase, and homage paid to Minnesota, the Green Bay Packers and the University of Colorado. I am reminded every time I open the door that "No outfit is complete without cat hair" and there's a heavy-duty clip magnet from my insurance company...not pretty, but very, very functional.

If there's a magnet, there's probably going to be something held up WITH the magnet. Not Alex's schoolwork any more, but recipes-to-try, the check for the lawn guy, a stellar report card, a snapshot of someone's wedding or new baby or trip to Disneyland. The front of the refrigerator is a quick glimpse of our lives in 3-D, held together with magnetic force.

Elizabeth visited a friend's family over Thanksgiving and sent some pictures of the dinner preparations. In the background is a refrigerator, liberally covered with magnets and fluttering papers. I could learn to love that family...they think like we do.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Advent in the 'Hood

Would you trust these men? Is there a reason they have obscured facial features? Maybe stockings pulled over their heads, hmmm? Why do I expect them to whip open those pocket trench coats and hiss "Hey! Wanna buy a cheap Rolex?"

Oh, no. Looks like they got to Santa, too.

"Hey, you in the red suit! Hands in the air, hand over the bag of toys and no one gets hurt!"

But just in case, your mug shot number is 1-2-3-4-5-6...

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

And unrelated to Advent...

Maybe more like Epiphany...

How did I miss the fact that Isaac is quite the poet? Where has THAT been hiding all these years?

Due to a printer hiccup last night, he printed two copies of an English assignment due today. One went to school in his backpack. The other was left on the printer, where I found it this morning.

Ten poems, each a first-person narrative from the perspective of a character in "Huckleberry Finn". Wow.

Action Items

This little gem was a gift to our children from friends perhaps 15 years ago and it is one of my all time favorites. For variety, it begins on December 6 (Saint Nicholas' Day) which means we have to exercise a bit of patience, wait a bit longer each year to use it, but it's worth the wait. It's long and skinny and needs a flat surface, and often gets moved around and knocked off of counters, but then, the best things in life aren't necessarily "convenient" or "easy", right?

Rather than doors to open, there are paper figures that slide out from behind a frontispiece, and it's heavy on little gnome and fairy type characters with friendly animals thrown in for good measure. Some of the parts slide horizontally and some drop down from behind clouds...the 18th of December never HAS stayed up where it belongs and needs to be taped from the back, untaped at its appointed time.

These are "action figures", if you will.


"Go and see!"

"Go and tell!"

"Go and teach/share/speak/feed/clothe!"

History is full of actions waiting to be done, often by people who didn't think they were up to the job at hand.

What action is calling you?

* * * * * *

In answer to those who wondered "Just how many Advent calendars do those people USE, anyway?" I'll say that this is the last of "ours". Tomorrow, I'll move on to others that have struck my fancy...or my funny bone.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Gift of Guilt

Here's one for you Boy Scouts. Find the square knots. Find the overhand knot.

This one's simple enough to make with your preschoolers, or, as has happened at our house several times, to make FOR a preschooler. It seems that this was the "gift of choice" from teachers to class when the boys were in preschool and we had several different versions ... hard candies, candy canes and once a series of chocolate kisses hot-glued to a poster board background. I don't recommend this option.

Quite a few years ago in a fit of holiday goodwill, I conspired with my mother to make a similar candy chain for my younger brother. It would be slipped in his Christmas stocking and I would be "helping Santa". I was probably 7 and Andrew, just over 2. I chose my very favorite candy for the project (butterscotch kisses!) and felt the spirit of Christmas in my very being as I knotted the candies together in a golden chain.

On Christmas morning, Andrew's eyes danced as he held the rope of candies, and I urged him to "Taste one! They're good!"

He popped one into his mouth and immediately choked on it. Hard candy discs and 2-year-olds aren't really the wisest combination. Of course he was fine 10 seconds later, but the candy chain was taken away "for later", and of course, HE never saw it again. It was offered to me; after all, butterscotch kisses were my favorite candies, but I couldn't bring myself to eat them.

There was enough guilt to carry me right on into Lent...

Peace on Earth

Monday, December 04, 2006

Toys, toys, toys

We've covered the calendars with verses, pictures, chocolate and bits of old Christmas Cards. Today, we move onto TOYS.

This had to be an incredible coup for some marketing expert at German-based toy manufacturing company Playmobil. They produce a new themed calendar every year, always with the same setup but different backgrounds and a different series of little toys in 24 numbered boxes. The novelty has worn off for the children who live here, but now I've become addicted! (We don't have a dozen of these stashed around the house...we use them for one season, then pass them on to young friends for the next year. A little TLC and careful storage and the paperboard base and gift boxes are good for several rounds).

Of course, what the packaging never mentions is that the whole setup comes very much "unassembled". The first year we had one, I opened it about 11 PM on November 30, expecting to assemble a background, hang up the "banner" with the gift boxes and be done. Not so! Not only did each little box have to be assembled and stuffed, but quite a few of the little people and furniture items and sleighs had to be assembled from smaller Playmobil "stock parts"! At about 12:15 AM, I was finished...

Some things are predictable each year. There will be children. There will be animals. There will be a Santa character and the Santa character will be in box #24.

Except this year. And that's all I'm saying.

(As an aside, Alex informs me that the Playmobil toys circulated in other countries can be a bit "edgier" than those on the American market. Toy collectors with the right connections can find little plastic devils and harlots. Nice!)

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Rushing the Season

Guilty as charged.

Yes, we put most of our Advent calendars out on December 1, along with most of the Commercial Christmas Crowd. (MOST of our Advent calendars? How many do these people HAVE, anyway?) Advent, by popular demand, seems to be generally accepted to be December 1-24.

Liturgically, though, it begins today, December 3. This year it does. Last year it began on November 27. You've heard of the movable feast, right?

Really, the formula is pretty easy. Nothing like the determination of Easter, which is The-First-Sunday-After-The-First-Full-Moon-After-The-Spring-Equinox. Sounds more like Druids or Stonehenge than the Son of God! Advent in the "western churches" begins on the 4th Sunday before Christmas. If Christmas itself is on a Monday, Advent it "short". If Christmas is on a Sunday, Advent is "long".

Still, in the interest of conservation of paper, making a general Advent calendar beginning on December 1 isn't a bad compromise.

When the calendar is home made, there's room for improvisation. The pictured calendar was made about 16 years ago when I had more time than common sense; it was a project in the church junior choir group. 18 kids, 18 trees, 18 stars, 18 numbered panels, 18 cut out words of hope, and a cartload of little pictures cut out and glued on to felt discs. Eighteen kids with glue and glitter, too. Like I said, a bit short on common sense.

It has become an absolute family tradition.

Each year, I add a few new pictures cut from last year's Christmas cards and glued on new felt disks and retire a few of the old ones. The number of "ornaments" to be pinned to the tree varies with the year; when necessary, a couple of November days cluster near the bottom of the tree; "gifts", as it were, of a few more days in the season of preparation.

It's most certainly a huge safety hazard for children and cats, what with all the little straight pins holding up the "ornaments" but we like it. It's always been a visual barometer of the season to me...first row empty, second row empty, third row going fast and there are years that instead of my rushing the season, the season rushes to me and past me, leaving me behind in a virtual whirlwind of candles, cookies and Christ.

Today is the first Sunday. It's a day devoted to Prophecy. I never dreamed 16 years ago that the glitter would still be shining on that star today.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Best laid plans

If the Advent calendar with the pictures is better than the Advent calendar with the verses, what is better than the calendar with the pictures?

The Advent calendar with the chocolate, of course.

We have rather more of those than we need this year, due to a complication in November. Dave "needed" a chocolate calendar for a coworker (something to do with a spinoff from last year) and I said "Sure, I'll get one for you before the end of the month". I decided to go for the upper end quality (a full 8 ounces of chocolate in 24 days!) and ordered online. To make the shipping worthwhile, I ordered 4. Then I waited.

And waited.

When my shipment had not arrived by the end of Thanksgiving weekend, we had to put Plan B into effect. We tried a large holiday store downtown; surely THEY would have chocolate calendars. They didn't.

We tried a specialty candy store in a shopping area nearer to us. Not only did they not have candy calendars but the whole shop had disappeared without my notice. We finally found a chocolate calendar at a discount import store, and while it was "OK", it wasn't as nice as I had hoped we could get. Dave took it to work and the joke was a success and the next day a shipment of 4 Advent calendars appeared on the porch.

Sometimes you can plan all you want to and things still go awry.

Chocolate, anyone?

Friday, December 01, 2006

Can't Tell a Book by Its Cover

Two Advent calendars. Similar in size, price, quality and theme. From the outside, they appear essentially equal. Which one would a child choose?

Answer: The bottom one.

Reason: Pictures.

See, the top one starts each day with a Bible verse, and while there's no arguing that there is some value in reading the Gospel according to Luke in 24 snippets of verse, it just doesn't have the same appeal as opening the little door and finding a little picture. Didn't have the same appeal to Andrew or to me when we were growing up, and things hadn't changed by the time Alex, Isaac and Elizabeth were opening the little doors. Sometimes you get a warning on the product packaging, sometimes you don't, and there you are on December 1 with a brand new Advent calendar and nothing to look forward to for the next 24 days except the Christmas story reduced to 24 rhyming couplets. Probably your brother lucked out, too, and got the calendar with pictures of toys and candy every day. Lucky him...

Remember Jane Eyre, and her first visit with Mr. Brocklehurst, the intimidating master of the Lowood School? Mr. Brocklehurst took some time to instruct young Jane in appreciation for the written word, especially for the words of the Bible by telling her about his young son who would choose a verse of the Psalms over a sweet cookie treat:

"And if you ask him whether he would have a gingerbread nut to eat or a verse of the Psalms to learn, he replies
'Oh, the verse of the Psalms! Angels sing psalms and I wish to be a little angel here below!'
and then he is rewarded with TWO gingerbread nuts in recompense for his infant piety."

Infant piety, my foot. There is clearly a kid who has learned to work the system.

Elizabeth learned to work the system when she was six years old, on Christmas Eve. She wandered through the hallway at 10:30 or so in the evening, ostensibly going in search of a drink of water and discovered Santa in the guise of Dave sitting on the living room floor assembling a set of dolly bunk beds. Being a child of considerable insight, she assessed the situation, deduced the Truth About Santa in a flash, and returned to bed without a drink of water.

Being also a child of considerable wisdom, she kept her discovery to herself for many years with the reasonable assumption that if she SAID she didn't believe in Santa, the toys and presents would stop coming. The whole truth was only divulged when she was about 20. By that time, there was no worry about "spoiling Santa" for her younger brothers and the Rite of the Christmas Stockings was firmly entrenched in the family holiday traditions, so she had nothing to lose anyway.

Pictures or verses? The verses might be good for the character, but pictures are good for the soul. That's one reason Christ came to us as who he is. Part God for our eternal welfare, but part Man for our day to day lives.

We don't have to work the system and make a choice. We get both, bundled together in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.