Wishing You A Little Peace

I tend to go crazy with cheer and spirit this time of year.  

That's just me.

Sometimes you are in the mood for the joyous holiday season.  

Sometimes you're not.

And sometimes you are, until something happens.  Then, you are not.

Thinking of everyone whose life is marked by sadness, tragedy, or disappointment, 
especially this time of year.

May you find a little light today.

And I wish us all a little peace.

St. Lucia Day

Coffee, a Lucia bun, and the book Lucia, Child of Light

Well, we're still not Swedish.  We're Heinz 57 American, with strong German on my side, English on my husband's.  Big Sis doesn't get up early, wearing a lit crown, bringing us buns and coffee.  But in honor of St. Lucia's Day, I made Lussekatter, or Lucia buns!  

I even shelled out for saffron.  Thank you, Fresh Market, for carrying it in such tiny amounts.

As for recipes, there are quite a few floating around the internet, not to mention what you might find in various cookbooks.  The basics are the same.  Aside from adding a pinch of cardamom, this is the one I used, mainly because I had everything else. Except butter.  I had one stick of butter, so I halved the recipe.  I didn't need 20 buns anyway.

This is what saffron sitting in melted butter looks like.

This is saffron and butter in milk.

The dough really is a golden color.  The girls kept drifting in to tell me how good it smelled.

Rise, my pretty dough, rise!

My not-so-pretty S shapes.  Don't laugh at me, this was my first time!  

So I was out of regular raisins.  You may have gathered that I didn't feel like going to the store, so I made do with golden raisins.  They browned in the oven anyway.
 Yes, they were delicious.  We ate some for breakfast, and I even let Little Sis have a tiny bit of coffee.  Really, it was more like half a miniature mug full of milk, with a splash of coffee and a little sugar.  She didn't even finish it.

And this little guy was in their Advent calendar bag today.  We'll see more Dala horses in Lindsborg tomorrow, but this one came via World Market.

Also in their Advent calendar bag today?  Tickets to see Junie B. in  Jingle Bells, Batman Smells at the children's theatre tonight!

Tomorrow, we head to Lindsborg, KS, "Little Sweden U.S.A.," for their Lucia Fest.  We will walk around, shop, follow the Lucia procession to the church.  Then we'll be rushing home to make it to The Nutcracker in the evening!  

I'll leave you with this lovely, funny "Lucia in Sweden for Dummies" video.  (Don't look at me, I didn't name it!)

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Three New Books for the Season

The daughters and I have read so many holiday and winter-themed titles, and it's only December 11th!  So here is a round-up of three recent releases we have enjoyed.  All three would make beautiful Christmas gifts for some lucky child or two or three.

Gifts of the Heart by Patricia Polacco.
Putnam Juvenile, 2013.

First up is Gifts of the Heart, the latest beautiful book by author/illustrator extraordinaire Patricia Polacco.  Richie and Trisha are excited for Christmas and know what gift each wants most.  However, their family is going to sell their farm and move away in the spring, and there isn't much money.  Grandma died, and Grampa has decided there are too many memories at the old place.  Coming home from town, they find an old woman named Kay Lamity has arrived to help them as a housekeeper, until the farm can be sold.  With Kay Lamity's assistance, the children learn about gifts of the heart, things that mean more to people than store-bought presents.  This book is gorgeous, both the art and the story.  Mr. B loves Polacco, so he joined us for a family read of this one.  Highly recommended.

Tallulah's Nutcracker by Marilyn Singer,
illustrated by Alexandra Boiger.
Clarion, 2013.

Next is Tallulah's Nutcracker, the fourth in Marilyn Singer and Alexandra Boiger's Tallulah series.  Have you read any of the Tallulah books before?  They are about a young girl who wants to be a ballerina, only each book teaches the progression that a real dancer makes, from understanding that dance classes do not call for tutus, to solos, to pointe shoes, and on to Tallulah's first Nutcracker performance with a real company.  Both of my daughters take dance, and next year, Big Sis plans to audition for The Nutcracker herself.  Like Tallulah, if she is cast, she would play a mouse.  This book would have made a wonderful gift for that occasion, but instead, it was part of their Advent calendar goodies this week.  It's a wonderful gift for the little dancer in your life.  Happy bonus:  an activity kit pertaining to the first two books in the series may be found at the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt website.

The Snow Queen, a retelling of the tale
by Hans Christian Andersen,
illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline.
HarperCollins, 2013.

Last we have a new picture book version of Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen.  While not Christmas-themed, the book is certainly appropriate for the winter season.  There is also renewed interest in the fairy tale thanks to Disney's Frozen, which is only very loosely inspired by "The Snow Queen", but oh my goodness, if you haven't seen it, go see it!  (I loved, loved, loved that movie, can you tell?)  I love Hans Christian Andersen, and "The Snow Queen" is one of my two favorite tales of his.  The original story is quite long - it's even divided into short chapters - and quite involved.  It is a quest tale, as young Gerda sets off to rescue her dear friend Kai from the Snow Queen's palace.  This version is a retelling, but very faithful to the original story.  It's easier to read to children, and the illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulinne are stunning.  I was very impressed, as were the girls.  See more of the book here.  Perfect for any fairy tale fan.

And for fun, here is the famous 1957 Soviet animated version, with English subtitles:  

If you're in the United States, you can see Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre version of "The Snow Queen" here.
And just because:  here is Queen Elsa, voiced by Idina Menzel, singing "Let It Go" from Frozen.  We will be seeing this again at some point, I guarantee it.

Holly Hobbie's The Night Before Christmas (1976)

Holly Hobbie's The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clark Moore, illustrated by Holly Hobbie.
Platt & Munk, 1976.

I was going to save this book until closer to Christmas, but I just couldn't help myself.  The other night, this entry over at The Marlowe Bookshelf caught my eye.  This is when I truly hate not working in a bookstore.  I miss finding out super-wonderful stuff, such as the fact that Holly Hobbie has a new version of The Night Before Christmas this year!  Now I find out, now, after I have bought the girls their gifts, and after I have blown my book budget.

I mean, look at this cover.  Isn't it gorgeous?  You can see excerpts of it here.
The Night Before Christmas by Holly Hobbie, poem by Clement Clark Moore.
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2013.

As you can see from my lead photo, I do have a Holly Hobbie-illustrated version of The Night Before Christmas.  Mine, however, comes from the 1970s heyday of the blue girl, also known as Holly Hobbie, and her friends.  

Ooooo, endpapers...

I do love me some Holly Hobbie.  See more on the blog here, or check out my Pinterest board "Holly Hobbie Love."

And Santa, if you're reading this, I would love Holly Hobbie's new version of The Night Before Christmas, please.

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Vintage Christmas Books by Margaret Wise Brown (Part 2)

Yesterday, I posted about two of the vintage Margaret Wise Brown Christmas books I found in the depths of my local library.  Today, I'm going to show you two more.

A Pussycat's Christmas by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Helen Stone.
Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1949.
A Pussycat's Christmas is the oldest of the books we checked out.  The illustrator here is Helen Stone, who also illustrated Tell Me, Mr. Owl, blogged about here.  This one is simple:  Christmastime from a cat's point-of-view.  The cat sees Santa, is blocked from being in the room with the tree, and hears carolers while everyone sleeps.  

There is a reissue by HarperCollins from 2009, illustrated by Anne Mortimer.

And last we have On Christmas Eve.  This one appears to have come out in 1961, eight years after Brown's unexpected death.  There is an original copyright date of 1938, but I can find no earlier listings for the book.  Perhaps it was a magazine story?  

On Christmas Eve by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Beni Montresor.
Harper & Row, 1961.
On Christmas Eve is a fitting companion for A Pussycat's Christmas.  It is the tale of children who cannot sleep on Christmas Eve, so they sneak downstairs.  They look at the decorations, the filled stockings, the packages, and hear carolers outside.  The wonder and magic of the night is captured through the text.  The illustrations are stark and simple, on orange paper, by Beni Montresor, best-known in the children's book world for May I Bring A Friend?

On Christmas Eve was reissued in 1996 by HarperCollins, with illustrations by Nancy Edwards Calder.  The reissue appears to be out-of-print.

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Vintage Christmas Books by Margaret Wise Brown (Part One)

I love Margaret Wise Brown.  She led a fascinating life, and wrote such wonderful books for children.  I think it's safe to say that when we think of picture book authors, our favorites tend to be author/illustrators. The pictures usually come first in our mind.  Margaret Wise Brown is an exception.  True, her books were illustrated by some of the greatest in the business, but the words stand on their own.  The girls and I can sit and recite Goodnight Moon at bedtime, and the gentle rhythm of the words is so peaceful that Clement Hurd's illustrations are merely a bonus.

So...  to the library!  In my hunt to find vintage goodies from years past, I hunted down four vintage Margaret Wise Brown books.  All have been reissued with new illustrations (one reissue is out-of-print), but you know me...  If an oldie exists, I at least want to see it!

The first two were illustrated by the amazing Barbara Cooney.

Christmas in the Barn by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Barbara Cooney.  Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1952.

Christmas in the Barn is a simple retelling of the Christmas story, with beautiful illustrations by Cooney. The book draws young readers in by depicting the stable, Mary, Joseph, and the other humans as modern and American, allowing them to identify with the subjects.  [A new edition was published by HarperCollins in 2007, with illustrations by Diane Goode.]

I prefer this one for the pictures over the text.  I prefer the other Cooney collaboration for the story.

The Little Fir Tree by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Barbara Cooney.  Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1954.
Harper Trophy edition, 1985.
The Little Fir Tree is about a little tree set apart from the larger trees in the forest, in a field of its own.  It's lonely.  One winter day, a man comes to dig up the little tree, tying its roots in a gunny sack.  The tree is to be a Christmas tree for the man's little boy, who has a lame leg and cannot come to the tree.  The man explains that the tree will be replanted in the field each spring, and brought to the house again each Christmas.  We see seasons pass from the tree's perspective.  One winter, the man does not come.  The tree feels lonelier than ever.  Suddenly, the tree hears voices.  It is carolers coming to the tree, led by the boy who can walk!  The children decorate the tree with ornaments safe for the birds.  [A new edition, illustrated by Jim LaMarche, was released by HarperCollins in 2005.]

In part 2, I show off books illustrated by Helen Stone and Beni Montresor.

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