Advent Day 4

Once upon a time there were two babies. Their mothers lived on the same dirty street in the same stinking town in the same evil country in the same cold and unconcerned world. The babies were born squalling and filthy, and their mothers, exhausted by the painful birth and half-starved by their miserable lives, could do nothing to clean them up or give them comfort. Each mother nursed her baby with what little weak milk she had and then sank into depressed thought, wondering what to do with this child she could never support. 

The first mother thought of a man she had heard of, a rich man who was known for being kind to the poor. She knew that unlike other rich people, he lived in the same stinking city and that his house was not far away. As her hungry baby began to cry again, she made up her mind. She dragged herself off of her bed, wrapped the baby in the only rag she had, and stumbled through the dirty streets until she found herself on the doorstep of the rich man. With only the faintest sort of hope, she rang the doorbell, and the moment the servant opened the door, she fainted into his arms. The servant, who had been with his master a long time and knew what his master would want, carried the woman and her child into the house. 

The second mother knew nothing of this rich man, other than the vaguest rumors which she dismissed as lies as all rumors were. She knew of no way to care for her child and no one who would help in any way. She was completely alone in the world and, though she wanted her child to live and be happy, she knew that was an impossible wish. Happiness was out of the question. She would have to settle for life. So she dragged herself off of her bed and wrapped her baby in the only rag she had and stumbled out onto the street to beg for scraps from passers by. She received more kicks than coins that day, but for the sake of her child she didn’t stop until she had enough to feed them both, half-rotten though the food would have to be.


Once upon a time there were two children. Both were five years old and tall for their age. Both lived in a stinking town in an evil country in a cold and unconcerned world. But their lives could not have been more different.

The first child lived with his mother in the house of a very rich man. His mother served this man, working in his kitchens, well-fed and well-dressed and happy. The child, too, was well-provided for and that was not where it stopped. The rich man had actually adopted the boy as his own, given him his name and a good education and access to his fortune. The child knew that not only were all his needs met, but that they always would be. Because of the books and music and intelligent conversation that were always around him, his mind had already begun to expand. He was beginning to read words and write his name and to draw pictures of the world around him. He didn’t see his adopted father very much, for he spent most of his time with his mother, but when he did see the man, they laughed and had long talks, and sometimes there were presents, and the child thought his father was the best thing in the whole universe.

The second child lived with his mother in a shack built up under an old bridge. He shivered at night, but in the day he kept warm through constant motion. He ran errands for his mother and he climbed all over the bridge and he fidgeted while his mother made him sit next to her as she begged on the street corner. Most days it felt like he could never move enough.  His mother smacked him to keep him still, and the men who passed by would kick him when he got in their way, but he couldn’t help himself. Something in him needed to be in motion.  When it was time to go to bed at night, he would toss and turn, trying to pretend he wasn’t hungry, trying to pretend he wasn’t cold. It didn’t work. Only when his body was exhausted did he finally fall asleep to dream restless dreams.


Once upon a time there were two teens. They both had grown gangly and awkward. They both lived in the same evil country in the same cold and unconcerned world. They both lost their mothers in the same year to the same disease that swept through their city. But that was where the similarities ended.

The first teen lived safe and secure in the home of the rich man who had adopted him as his son. He mourned his mother and felt an ache in his heart that he would never see her again, but the whole household came around him to give him comfort. They shared stories of his mother’s life and helped him remember her beautiful smile. They reminded him to eat and to sleep and made sure that he had clean clothes just as his mother would have done for him. His adopted father himself came and sat for long hours with the teen, telling him stories of his own losses, helping him feel that he was not alone, that there was hope for his future. His father encouraged him to continue in his studies, and the teen did.  Concentrating on his work helped him deal with his pain, and he learned and grew and the pain did not disappear but it stopped being his whole world and became mixed with the joy of his happy memories.

The second teen lived on the dirty streets, and when his mother died he was completely alone. Long ago, concerned citizens had evicted them from the shack under the bridge in the name of cleaning up the city, and the boy had never realized how hard his mother worked to find them a place to sleep every night. Without her, his whole world became a struggle to find some small amount of food to eat and some small amount of safety to rest at night. Most night’s he didn’t succeed in this. He was frequently beaten by other, stronger men who wanted to sleep in the spot he had chosen. He was occasionally arrested by other, more respectable men who wanted no one to sleep in the public areas of the town. He grew to fear everyone he saw and to resent the need to be afraid. His endless drive to be in motion became his salvation. He learned that he could run, and he could run faster and farther than those who wanted to hurt him. But he couldn’t help thinking that life shouldn’t have to be this way. Every time he ran, his anger built.


Once upon a time there were two young men. They both had reached the age where they were expected to be men and they both secretly felt like boys in their hearts. They both lived in the same cold and unconcerned world, but that had a radically different effect on them.

The first young man saw the gray apathy of his world and determined to light a fire and burn the cold away. He had all the money and power of his adopted father, and he waited only to finish his college education before going out into the cold world to make it a different place.

The second young man saw the unfeeling hardness of his world and hated everyone who was a part of it. He despised the rich for being selfish and the poor for being ignorant. He despised those in authority for being bullies and those who broke the law for being thugs. He despised himself for being weak and worthless street trash. He saw nothing that gave him hope that anything would ever change. He stole what he needed to eat and spent the rest of his time considering ways to end his miserable existence.


Once upon a time there was a thief.  He lived on the streets and he knew an easy mark when he saw one. And one day, he saw the perfect man, and old man walking the streets with his son. They were both dressed in expensive clothes and walked with a quiet confidence that told him they had never known pain. He hated them. When the two men passed him, the older man turned and looked right in his eyes, but the younger man never glanced his way. He was too busy looking ahead. The second young man slipped his hand into the pocket of the first young man and lifted out his wallet, as much for spite as for hunger. The older man saw. He stopped, and his son stopped with him. The son was ready to call for the police, to have the thief dragged away, but the father said no. 

Instead, he took the thief home. He gave him food to eat. He gave him clean clothes to wear. He introduced him to the household and told him to make himself at home. The thief was so bewildered by this behavior that his did what the old man said. He ate the food and put on the clothes. He thanked the women who brought it to him and offered to help the men who took away his old things. He didn’t even mean to. He meant to keep hating the rich man and all who lived in his house, but he found it impossible. No one had ever cared about him other than his mother, and even she had only done it out of duty. He found that the responded to kindness in spite of himself. 

After only a week, the rich man came to the thief and made him an offer. He would adopt the thief as his son and pay for his education. He would give him an inheritance and a life of security. The thief only had to say yes. Still unable to believe that any of this was happening, the thief agreed.  The adoption was carried out at once, and the thief was introduced to his new brother who would show him around the university where he was to get the education that had formerly seemed impossible.


Once upon a time there were two brothers. Both shared the same penniless birth and the same shameful heritage. Both had been taken in by the same wealthy man, and both now had everything they could ever need.  There was only one difference between them. One had been adopted as a baby and one as a young man. 

The first brother found it hard to get used to his new brother. The second brother was rough and uneducated. He hadn’t read any of the books that the first brother loved and it was often hard to know what to talk about. Plus, the new brother was moody. The smaller things would throw him into a rage or sink him into a depression. The first brother tried not to feel resentful toward his father for burdening him with this brother he had to take care of.

The second brother found it hard to like his new brother, too. The first brother was pampered and naive. He had read way way too many books and didn’t know what the real world was like. He seemed to have no idea how perfect his life had been, and his condescending tone was enough to drive the second brother crazy. The second brother tried not to feel resentful toward the father for raising such a smug jerk and giving him no choice but to spend time with him.

Fortunately, both brothers loved their adopted father, and fortunately, their adopted father was a very wise man. He found quiet moments to talk to each brother and point out that despite appearances they had come from the same place. He told them how much they had to learn from each other. At first, the brothers didn’t really believe him, but they respected him enough to think about what he had said. So time passed, and as they grew more used to each other,they began to see what their father had meant.

The first brother watched the second, listened to his story, and realized for the first time just what his life would have been if his father hadn’t taken him in. He saw the overwhelming gratitude that his brother felt and learned to be more grateful himself, to take less for granted. He saw the depths of his brothers pain and began to ask questions. He saw for the first time how little he knew about the world and he determined to change that.

The second brother watched the first brother calm confidence and began for the first time to believe that all this was real. He saw that their father truly was a man who could be trusted, that he had been good to the first brother all of his life, and for the first time the second brother let go of some of his fear and mistrust. He began to read the first brother’s favorite books and to feel his mind expanding under their influence. He saw for the first time how little he knew about the world and he determined to change that.

The two brothers became inseparable. They learned from each other and joked with each other and  grew to depend upon one another. They irritated one another and gave each other practice in forgiveness. They watched each other’s backs. Together they walked the dirty streets of their stinking town and remembered where they come from, before they had a home, before they had a fortune, before they had a father. Together they returned home with new orphans in tow. And together they knocked on their father’s door.

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:14-17‬ ‭NIV‬‬


Advent Day 3

I give you due warning: this is different from the usual content of this blog, but if you want to truly know what stories I’m telling my kids these days, here they are. In addition to our fun Advent calendars and silly stories, I try to do a little reading with my kids each night that focuses on what Christmas is really about. I used to read from a children’s Bible, but they are just getting too old for that. Instead, this year, I’m trying to write something short for us, something that takes some of the important verses of the Bible but also is straight from me to them. I won’t have one for every day because that’s more than I can take on, but three or four times a week we’ll sit down and I’ll read, hoping a little truth gets through the impatience that this time of year generates. This is for my kids, but if you want to come along with us, you’re always welcome.

He was a decent guy. He worked hard. He had a place in the community, provided an essential service. He went to the synagogue, listened to the law, tried to live it out, even though most of his day was just about the tools in his workshop, the job at hand, the hot meal waiting when he finished his work. But he was honest with his customers and he honored his father and mother and he rested when he was supposed to rest.

His life seemed to be on track. He had work. He had his family. He was promised to be married soon. They would have their own house eventually. He would build it himself. They would have children and raise them in the same town where they had grown up. He would teach his sons to build and to build well.

Then the girl got pregnant. She completely betrayed him. It hurt his heart to think that she would reject him but it hurt his pride even worse. There was no hiding this. Eventually everyone was going to know what she’d done to him.

Still, he was a decent guy. He was hurt and he was angry, but he didn’t want to make things worse for her than they already were. Her life was going to be bad enough. Obviously, he couldn’t marry her now, but at least he could end their engagement quietly. If he didn’t make it public, it would be a while before the rest of the town found out why he had done it. She would have time to make other plans, a chance to leave town before the gossip started. She probably had relatives somewhere who would take her in. He was pretty sure there was an uncle or a cousin in Jerusalem, a priest, he had heard.

He would be righteous and follow the law and have nothing to do with her sin. But he would also be merciful to her. He wouldn’t say cruel things or demand repayment. It was the decent thing to do. He knew God would be pleased.

Then the angel came.

He was just lying on his bed, trying to sleep, when the most unbelievable request anyone had ever received came his way.

Don’t be afraid. Marry her anyway. Believe that she didn’t sin. Believe that her child is from God. It’s a boy. Name him Jesus. He’s the Messiah.

So much for his life being on track.

His days of being a decent, hard-working, ordinary carpenter like his father were over. This was going to take so much more than decency.

This was going to take faith the likes of which few people had ever known. To believe that the Messiah they had all been waiting for while hundreds of years passed was going to come now, to come here. To believe that his backwater, teenage fiance was the chosen mother of the Son of God.

This was going to take humility so enormous that it could swallow all of his pride. If he married her, everyone was going to think her sin was his sin. His parents would be crushingly disappointed in him. His standing in the community would plummet.

This was going to take courage so ridiculous it felt a lot like foolishness. To willingly accept the end of his life as he’d known it.  To face certain rejection and unavoidable danger. To take on the responsibility of protecting and raising the most important person in human history.

He lay in his bed and let it all wash over him.  Five minutes ago he had been so proud of being a decent man, and now he was expected to be…this.

But it turned out that being a decent, hard-working man like his father before him was exactly the preparation he had needed to become the humbly courageous man of faith this moment required.

The moment he considered that it might be true, that this girl might be innocent and faithful and scared and alone, his sense of justice left him no option but to stand by her.  No decent man would refuse to shelter and care for someone who was taking on such an enormous  and important burden.

And once begun, he would work at this task as hard as he had worked at everything else. If he could pour his sweat into building a sturdy wall, he could exert at least as much energy in defending a defenseless girl. If he could sacrifice sleep to work on his neighbor’s roof, he could sacrifice a little reputation for the woman who would be his wife. If he could dig a foundation while the finished home was only an idea, he could follow this unknown path step by step, taking on only what was right in front of him.

So he lay there in the dark, the angel gone, the words still echoing in his head, and he didn’t figure it all out. He went back and forth between acceptance and anger, between philosophy and fear, until finally he fell asleep.

And then in the morning, he did what he always did. He got up and did his duty.

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. (Matthew 1:24)

Advent Day 2

I give you due warning: this is different from the usual content of this blog, but if you want to truly know what stories I’m telling my kids these days, here they are. In addition to our fun Advent calendars and silly stories, I try to do a little reading with my kids each night that focuses on what Christmas is really about. I used to read from a children’s Bible, but they are just getting too old for that. Instead, this year, I’m trying to write something short for us, something that takes some of the important verses of the Bible but also is straight from me to them. I won’t have one for every day because that’s more than I can take on, but three or four times a week we’ll sit down and I’ll read, hoping a little truth gets through the impatience that this time of year generates. This is for my kids, but if you want to come along with us, you’re always welcome.
She was young. Old enough now to be considered a woman, to be promised in marriage to the local carpenter, but still young enough that all the changes in her body were new and uncomfortable. She knew she was a woman now, that she would soon be starting her own family, but most days she still felt like a child.

She lived in a small town. Everyone knew everyone else, and when the women met at the well in the mornings they talked freely about what their neighbors were up to.  She kind of liked listening to this gossip, trying to understand the hints the older women dropped and tucking away bits of information to talk over with her sister at home later.

She believed in God with all her heart. She listened to the law read out every week in the synagogue, and at home her family tried to follow that law. It was often a lot of work to keep all the regulations, but her father insisted. From the time she was a child, he told her about the sacrifices the priests made at the temple in Jerusalem, sacrifices they had to make because God knew this people couldn’t follow the law perfectly. She tried to do her best, thinking of those animals that died because she failed, but sometimes it was hard not to covet her neighbor’s new dress or think disrespectful thoughts about her mother.

When the angel came, it was completely overwhelming.

The very idea that she could be the mother of the Messiah, the one her father always talked about, the one who would save them all from the evil Romans who ruled them. It was thrilling.

She felt honored. She felt important.

The very idea that she would be pregnant. That her body would be changing yet again, that a child would be growing inside her, that it would be God’s child, that it would just appear there. It was impossible to grasp.

She felt bewildered. She felt like she was in over her head.

The very idea that she would be pregnant! That she wasn’t married! That everyone would see that she was having a child without a husband. That her parents would believe the worst of her. That her future husband would despise her. That the whole town would gossip. It was humiliating.

She felt sick. She felt terrified.

All these emotions swirled around, a messy tangle, impossible to sort out.

But this was God. The Creator of the universe had decided to do this to her.

What could she possibly say?

“I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.”

Advent Day 1

I give you due warning: this is different from the usual content of this blog, but if you want to truly know what stories I’m telling my kids these days, here they are.  In addition to our fun Advent calendars and silly stories, I try to do a little reading with my kids each night that focuses on what Christmas is really about. I used to read from a children’s Bible, but they are just getting too old for that. Instead, this year, I’m trying to write something short for us, something that takes some of the important verses of the Bible but also is straight from me to them. I won’t have one for every day because that’s more than I can take on, but three or four times a week we’ll sit down and I’ll read, hoping a little truth gets through the impatience that this time of year generates. This is for my kids, but if you want to come along with us, you’re always welcome.


Hold a small Christmas ball ornament in your hand. Close your eyes for just a minute.

Feel where you are sitting.  Picture it in your head.  Now imagine that you are slowly shrinking.  You shrink down, smaller and smaller.  You are now so small that the room around you seems like a giant’s room and that round ornmant is a huge globe that could crush you. Shrink down even smaller, smaller and smaller until you can see that the shiny globe is actually made up of little atoms all bonded together. You are microscopic now and that Christmas ornament is as big as the world to you.  You see the atoms that form it, and you can easily tell that what seemed like a solid surface is actually full of wide open spaces.  Each atom has its protons and neutrons clustered in the middle with several electrons circling around them like planets around a sun, and in between…nothing.  Wide open spaces.  What is keeping it all together? What is holding that wide open space tightly enough together that when you zoom out it seems solid? What keeps it from simply flying apart? From becoming nothing? 

‭‭Colossians‬ ‭1:15-17‬ ‭NIV‬‬

“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Are your eyes still closed? Keep them that way. 

Now feel yourself growing again.  You get larger and larger until you are your normal size.  Picture your hands. Look down at them if you want.  Now you know that they, too, are really just a collection of tiny, microscopic parts, full of moving pieces with infinite spaces in between, and all held together by the power of God alone.  Without him, you would fly apart, those useful hands would cease to exist.

Close your eyes again.

Instead of shrinking, now we are going to fly.  Imagine yourself lifting up off of your seat and floating right out the window.  You are going up and and up.  You can see your house, your whole neighborhood below you.  You go higher and higher.  Now you can see the whole city stretched out.  You go higher.  The countryside is like a tiny model of itself.  You go still higher.  You are leaving the atmosphere.  This is all imagination, luckily, so you can still breathe as you go up and up and find yourself floating in space.  Space, empty and dark is all around you.  The Earth shrinks as you fly and further and further away.  You look back at it and it is just a little ball, no bigger than that Christmas ornament.  It is spinning in the empty openness of space.  You look down on it and it seems so small and unimportant, so fragile. The people who walk its surface are so infintesimally tiny that you can’t even see them.  Whole bustling cities have disappeared into nothingness.  You look up and see other planets, see the sun, hot and burning, but here you can see beyond it, and space stretches out so far, as far as you can see, so that even the sun doesn’t seem so very significant as you fly away from it.  Now you’ve gone so far that the sun is the size of that Christmas ornament and the Earth can’t even be seen.  Where is all that stuff that seemed so important?  Where is the you that was sure your every feeling and thought was the most interesting thing that existed?  Just a speck, as miscroscopic as those atoms you examined earlier. 

‭‭Psalm‬ ‭8:3-4‬ ‭NIV‬‬

“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?”

God is both infinitely large and also infinitely small. He is everything in between.  It was by his power that the universe was made and by his power that it continues to function.  It is by his power that you were made and by his power that your body holds together every second that you are alive.  It is his choice that make gravity work and keeps us all from spinning off into space.  Every minute of our existence only happens because he wants it to.  He is all there is, all that matters in this whole giant, intricate universe.  

Everything is about him.

That is where we start at Christmas.

That’s what we need to remember if we are really going to understand what happened when that same God brought himself down and confined himself inside one of these human bodies.  This is the God we are talking about.  The vast, limitless, all-powerful, all-sustaining God of everything.  We have to start here if we are truly going to grasp the miracle of what He did.

Isaiah‬ ‭40:21-28‬ ‭NIV‬‬

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded? He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff. “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing. Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.”


DIY Lego Advent-ure

I’m really excited to share this with you all because I’ve been having so much fun with it!

The whole project came about because I already had a super girly Christmas countdown thing for my girls, and I wanted something equally special for Scott (who’s 9, if you aren’t keeping track). Like most people (I really hope we aren’t the only ones.) we have huge amounts of Legos filling a giant bin in a disarray of disassembled Star Wars ships, Superhero bases, and Hagrid’s hut complete with giant spiders. We’ve had the expensive Lego calendars in the past, and I’ve seen some DIY ones on Pinterest, but I wanted something a little more exciting, a little more personal, and a lot funnier.  Because that’s Scott.

SO!!  First I wrote the story in 24 parts. It’s intentionally ridiculous.  Because super-smart nine-year-olds love ridiculous.  Then I spent a couple of nights fishing through the bin to build the pieces that should go with it.  I was determined not to buy any new Legos for this project, so there are few goofy looking pieces (ahem, Santa’s “hat”), but it was fun to get creative with that huge pile.

Is this basically an excuse for a grown woman to play with Legos? YES! YOU SHOULD TRY IT!

Seriously, you have to try this.  Write your own story if you’re up for it (and if you do, and you send me a picture of the result, I will personally mail you a copy of my book for free). If not, feel free to borrow mine. You can get the printable version right here.  Don’t stress over it. If you don’t have a Batman, change it out for a different superhero (or Yoda or a girl or anything you want). If you can’t build a random vacuum that looks like mine, invent your own.  And though my girls would probably enjoy this, I made it for my son, so if you want to girl it up for the girl in your life, go for it. Do it your way! The point is to have fun. 

Okay. Enough talk. Here it is:

 1. This is Hal. Don’t lose him. He’s going to be very important to the story later. He may be cold. Build him a little shelter to keep warm while he waits for what comes next.


 2. Hal is an astronomer. This is his telescope. Make sure he is watching the stars tonight. There’s something he won’t want to miss!


 3. Hal is looking up at the universe when he sees this! It’s a meteor, and it’s headed straight for earth. By Hal’s calculations, it will hit on Dec. 24, just in time to destroy Christmas (and incidentally the whole Earth). It’s up to Hal to stop it!


 4. This is the President of the United States. He talking on the phone to Hal about a meteor. Why is he laughing? He doesn’t believe Hal! If the president won’t help, what is Hal going to do?


 5. This is the Christmas tree in the park in New York City. It’s big, isn’t it? Hal is pretty sure the meteor is going to land right here, but no one believes him. Instead, they just keep hanging more ornaments on the tree. Maybe you can add a few while you think about what Hal should do.


 6. This is Batman. Of course he’s real! Hal has called him to see if he will help. He is on board, but he doesn’t have any superpowers, so this isn’t going to be easy. Luckily, he’s really smart and has a lot of money. I’ll be he and Hal are going to come up with something great.


 7. Is this what you think it is? Yes! You are right! This is the beginning of a space ship! Batman and Hal are building it to fly up into space. Help them attach the wings. They only have a couple of weeks to get this thing built and figure out how to use it.


 8. What is this? It looks like a bunker! It IS a bunker! The president said he didn’t believe Hal, so why is he building a bunker to hide in? He made it in Christmas colors, but we’re not fooled. He doesn’t love Christmas. If he did, he wouldn’t be letting a meteor destroy it.


 9. Hal and Batman have been hard at work. They’ve built these giant guns to go on their space ship. It looks like they plan to blast that meteor right out of the air! Or wait, not air. Right out of the vacuum of space! Help them add the guns to the ship while there’s still time.


 10. What’s all this white stuff? It’s snow! Snow is falling fast and thick. This is going to make it hard to launch the space ship. Batman and Hal will need to figure out how to deal with this new complication. On the bright side, we can use the snow to cover the president’s bunker. Serves him right if he gets trapped inside!


 11. What a weird contraption this is! It was Hal’s idea to clear away the snow with this thing. It’s a giant vacuum cleaner! If they can suck up all the snow on the launch pad, they should be able to get their space ship off the ground.


 12. They did it! Hal and Batman have launched the space ship and are soaring through space toward the meteor. It wasn’t until they were in the air that they discovered this present hidden on board. Who could have put it there? Did Santa come early? Don’t peek inside! It’s not Christmas yet!


 13. Of course Hal opened the present. You know he couldn’t help himself. Batman would have waited, but then, he has the training and discipline of a ninja. Hal doesn’t recognize this weird thing inside, but the note sure is interesting. “In case of emergency.” Well, that’s handy. On this dangerous mission, emergencies are pretty likely.


 14. The space ship has arrived at the meteor, and Batman is preparing to shoot it to pieces. But what is this weird thing? It’s an alien! This isn’t a meteor! It’s an alien ship in disguise. 


 15. Watch out, Batman and Hal! The alien is shooting at you! Well, great. The alien has destroyed the guns on Hal’s ship. Luckily for Hal, he has Batman with him. With some fast flying, Batman manages to swipe the alien with one wing. The alien got knocked out! Good thing they made those wings so strong! Unfortunately, the meteor/alien ship is still hurtling toward Earth and that Christmas tree! What are they going to do? This is a serious emergency!


16. Like you, Hal remembered something about the word emergency. The present! He pulled out the weird object and yelled, “This is an emergency!” Then the whole thing unfolded into this. What is it? Could it be a giant hammer? It’s way too big for Hal to use. It’s even too big for Batman. Maybe if we attach it to the ship it will work?


17. Good job getting that hammer attached! With some careful flying and and a big swing, the hammer has smashed the meteor! Here are some of the pieces. You can break the rest up yourself. Of course, the danger isn’t over. There are meteor pieces flying in every direction. Look out, Hal! Look out, Batman!


 18. Oh no! One of the meteor pieces has knocked a huge hole in the side of the spaceship and Hal is floating out into space. Good thing he put on this space helmet before it happened. He has oxygen for a few minutes, but he won’t last long out there in the vacuum!


 19. Back on Earth, something interesting is happening. The secret service has delivered this wreath to the president’s bunker. It looks very pretty there on the snow, but it seems to me like it they could have used their time better digging out their leader instead of decorating.  


 20. Oh wait! The wreath was just a fake, so that any spies who were watching wouldn’t know the president had been trapped. Really, it’s an explosive device and it blows all the snow off the bunker! The president is free to come out now, and the first thing he does is make a call on his special red and green phone. Who could he be calling?


 21. Look! It’s Santa! The president has called Santa Claus! It seems he had a lot of time to think inside that bunker, and he feels bad for making Hal handle this crisis on his own. The president isn’t such a bad guy after all. Santa agrees to see if he can help Hal with the meteor.


 22. As you probably remember, when we left Hal, he was floating through space with only minutes left to live. Good thing Santa came to check on him in this magical flying sleigh! Santa pulls Hal into the sleigh and goes to look for Batman and the damaged ship.


 23. Why is Santa getting out rope? They’ve found the ship, that’s why. Batman picked up the unconscious alien floating through space. They’re going to tie him up and use the rest of the rope to tow the ship back to earth. Santa speaks alien, which is how they discover that the alien doesn’t understand Christmas. He saw that giant tree and thought it was a missile. That’s why he attacked. Sounds like someone has a lot to learn.


 24. Hal and Batman have saved Christmas! With a little help from Santa Claus. And now we have an alien who needs to know what Christmas is! Gather up the tree, the wreath, the present, and the snow. Give that alien some hot chocolate and this plate of cookies. Merry Christmas, alien! Merry Christmas, Batman! Merry Christmas, Mr. President! Merry Christmas, Santa Claus! And most importantly, Merry Christmas, Hal! You’re our hero.


So there you go! I just packaged these simply in brown lunch bags, wrote a number on each bag and slapped a bow on for extra festivity.  


I’m sure you could make them much prettier, but I know my son, and I know his disregard for packaging.  I decided to spend my energy on the story instead!

The following instructions will come with bag #1:

A Lego advent-ure awaits you! Open one bag each day, but be careful not to crush the masterpiece inside! Read the story paper inside to follow the action, and then feel free to play with the Legos as much as you like. Just be sure not to lose them! You’ll need those pieces later in the story, so find a central location to keep your heroes safe. Good luck!

What do you think? Are you up for it? There are still four days before December 1, plenty of time to get your build on.  

The After-Christmas Crazy House

One day past Christmas
What a sight
The house is trashed
My hair’s a fright

Wrapping paper piled on high
Empty boxes by the door
New toys scattered everywhere
Those pesky tags litter the floor

Dirty dishes fill the sink
Leftovers fill the fridge
Cookie crumbs on the plates (and floor)
Wine cups empty of all but a smidge

It’s the after-Christmas crazy house
The Christmas present maze-y house
And what’s a mom to do?

Four days past Christmas
Goodness me
Still tons of messes
Plus one dead tree

Wrappers gone but toys remain
On all sides signs of play you meet
Lego creations are proudly displayed
(Watch out for the stray pieces under your feet!)

Open books on the arms of chairs
A baby doll snugged in a blankety nest
Pieces of games and of crafts and who knows
New things jumbled, dust covers the rest

It’s the “we’ve been tired and lazy” house
The “sugar’s made us hazy” house
And what’s a mom to do?

I know I should pull it together
Bring this craziness under control
After all it will soon be the New Year
Time for order and discipline full

But one kid says, “Come play the Playstation.”
The other says, “Please paint my nails.”
And this cup of new tea is delicious.
Could it be I am happy to fail?

I can take down the dead tree tomorrow
I can clean out the fridge next week
I’ll get mopping the floor in a few days
For today, I’ll admit that I’m weak.

It’s the “my eyes got quite glazey” house
The “I needed these days-y” house
And what’s a mom to do?

All was silent.

The few moments before the music started were Sam’s favorite. Everyone stopped talking. All movement was stilled. One perfect, shining moment. He held his breath.

His mother started to play. Her fingers gently caressed the keys, setting the notes free. They tumbled over each other in their haste to escape, flying through the air with indescribable grace.

Hidden out of sight under the belly of the enormous grand piano, Sam swam in an ocean of music. He lifted up his face and let the song swirl around him. It pulsed in his fingers and throbbed in his chest. It rumbled in the ground beneath his back.

Sam floated.

The ocean swelled, great waves lifting him high. He felt the thrill of of being powerless, of soaring without wings and without control. The wave built and built, and Sam flew higher than he had ever flown. Nothing but sky surrounded him, and only the gentle warmth of water on his back reminded him that he was still attached to Planet Earth. With a farewell caress, the wave launched him.

Sam flew.

The air was all playful breezes, ducking in and out, playing jumprope with Sam’s hair. Light as a feather, the winds set him down on a mountaintop. Sam surveyed the earth. It was beautiful.

Majestic plains spread out in every direction, beckoning Sam to come and run. Those vast open stretches were freedom and life. They were very far away.

The ground beneath his feet rumbled. The rocks shook. Trees on every side shivered and swayed. Sam trembled, and the tremble was joy. A storm struck. Thunder crashed and lightening broke the sky. Sweet terror filled Sam’s body as he huddled, one with small forest creatures tucked away in their dens. Sam ducked his head. He curled up small. The storm raged around him, then blew itself out in fury.

Sam opened his eyes.

The last gentle drops of music rained down on his face, each one as warm and comforting as his mothers hands.

The music ended. The grownups applauded. Their voices filled the room again, along with the clinking of glasses and the shuffling of feet, the happy sounds of Christmas partying.

Sam lay in the shadows and pitied them.

All the Best Books are Old Books

We have two huge boxes of Christmas books for kids, collected over the years.  As it should be, at least a half dozen of them are different retellings of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas and another dozen are solemn versions of the first Christmas.  We have the obligatory Bad Kitty’s  Christmas and Snowmen at Christmas thanks to the kids’ more recent requests.

Still, my favorite books are the really old ones I’ve found. I’ve picked them up at garage sales and thrift stores.  A few are from my own childhood.  Their pages are worn and some are stained.  Most have inscriptions with unknown names on the inside covers.  They are nostalgic and well-loved and quirky.

Especially quirky.  There is nothing like them when you need a good laugh.

A few of my favorites:


An Irish Night Before Christmas by Sarah Kirwan Blazek (Illustrated by James Rice) – This book is the youngest in my old book collection. Published in 1996, it’s still nearly 20 years old (which isn’t possible, and yet it appears to be true). It features Irish Santa and his seven wee lads delivering gifts while downing a fair portion of whiskey. It’s really great stuff (the story, I mean, not the whiskey, though I’m sure that was excellent, too). The poem is written in dialect, so I get to flaunt my awesome Irish accent to the kids when I read it. And I do read it to them. Every single year. They love it, too.

The best page? The one where the donkey is eating the roof. No contest.

So much for the cultural diversity of the ’90s. If you want to really revel in the unintentionally bizarre, you have to travel back to the ”70s.


Clem, the Clumsy Camel by Virginia Mueller (illustrated by Betty Wind) – This is one of those Arch Books. You know, the ones labeled “quality religious books for children” and full of Bible stories set to rhymes which warped our understanding of the real events for decades? Perhaps you had a few when you were a child. This was always my favorite Christmas one. I mean, for starters, the title. Right? The whole story is just the right kind of ridiculous. Clem is too clumsy to properly kneel to let his riders get on his back. Still, somehow he is chosen to accompany the wise men on their journey to see the new baby Jesus. He does his job a little awkwardly, but of course he has a cheerful attitude (unlike the other grumpier camels).

The best page? Easily the last one. Because, listen up, kids, the magical healing powers of baby Jesus can make even a clumsy schmuck graceful.  (Also, “regal camel grace’? Really? That is SO not a thing.)



Santa’s Beard is Soft and Warm by Bob Ottum and Jo Anne Wood (Illustrated by Rod Ruth)First of all, pause a moment to acknowledge the brilliance of highlighting for children the strokability of facial hair. Now savor the fact that it took TWO people to write this book…AND IT DOESN’T EVEN RHYME. Clearly people were very excited about the possibilities of touch and feel books in the ’70s, so I grant you that a Christmas version was inevitable, but it is amusing to note that more than one page has you just touching a piece of felt.  Like kids in the ’70s weren’t already familiar with the feel of felt.

The best page? It’s a real toss up on this one. After all, there is a page with a scratch and sniff pine tree, but since mine has lost its smell in the ensuing 40 years, I’m going with awesome page where the authors encourage kids to snap Santa’s suspenders. Genius.


So there’s my top three, and believe you me, the collection is only going to keep growing. And! Thanks to the power of the internet, you too can own any of these fine gems just by clicking the images above and ordering one brought to your door. If they had known about this in the ’70s, they would have thought they were tripping.

Happy Christmas, everyone. May the laughter outweigh the chaos, even if only a little.

The Perfect Moment

The one I keep remembering is odd
I’m not sure why it stands out quite this way
The details aren’t clear now in my mind
But the feeling is still there, as bright as day

It was a velvet poster, you know the ones?
All black and fuzzy but for the design?
A little pack of pens to color with?
A premade masterpiece to make all mine.

I know those things are common nowadays
You buy them for two dollars, three for five
But this was maybe 1987?
When velvet made it good to be alive.

I got it Christmas Eve, which wasn’t normal
At a party that our good friends always threw
A family friend had given it to me
A small gift for a child, the way you do

So here’s the moment printed in my mind
We’re driving home, the car is dark, it’s late
I’m in the back and holding that new gift
My fingers stroke the velvet like it’s fate

I’m perfectly happy
Both contented and thrilled
Though tomorrow is Christmas
My heart’s already filled

Why a velvet poster of all things?
The chance to create beauty with no skill?
Or maybe just that it was unexpected?
Or that I could use it up and have it still?

In any case it was a Christmas moment
Whatever the psychology behind it
That childhood joy we talk so much about?
That’s one of the weird things that helped me find it

It’s such a random thing, though, don’t you think?
There’s no way that my parents could have known.
They probably had bought me something better
No doubt I loved it, but the memory’s flown

That’s just the way of Christmas (and of life)
Contentment that complete cannot be forced
If I give a velvet poster to my daughter
It won’t replicate the magic joy, of course

Instead, I do what my own parents did
I make a life of joy and friends and fun
I let go of expectation (or I try)
And when those moments come, well then, they come



Make Your Own Magic

Lately I’ve been thinking of each month as a color.

October was orange.  The exact burnt shade of the brilliant trees that line so many streets in my city.  Breath-taking.  November was deep green.  The glorious fall leaves had all faded away and the evergreens were all you could see.  Strong, steady, a little moody but in a way that makes you feel like cold, brittle days are no match for them.


December, though.  It’s color can’t be easily defined.  It’s less of a specific hue and more of a glow.  I would call it white, but any artist can tell you there’s no such thing.  December’s glow is soft and warm.  It belongs with everything, but it could never be called neutral. It twinkles just a little, just enough to make magic seem possible, but not enough to blind you with its blinging dazzle.  It’s a glow, not a shine.  It suggest the comfort of home and the mystery of unknown possibilities at the same time.

December is a time for magic.  Not the cheesy Hallmark Christmas movie kind of magic.  Everyone knows that kind of magic isn’t real.  Not the magic of a baby’s birth, either.  That isn’t magic, but truth and love, and it echoes across the years with its own power.

No, this is the magical time where we look into the face of winter, our bitter cold enemy, and with a wave of our holiday wand, we welcome him as a friend.  We embrace him.  We build up a fire and bake cookies and cakes and then beg, actually beg, for snow.  We bundle up against temperatures that would otherwise kill us and go outside to sing. To sing!  We don’t even do that in the summer, people.

That’s real magic.

That’s magic we invent ourselves, digging into our collective imagination and arming ourselves with a narrative that carries us out victoriously into an inhospitable world.

Man, I love this time of year.

I mean, say what you want about how over the top this season has become in our culture, but we have created the ultimate fairy tale.  We’ve transformed this bleak, frigid month of endless night into a bright bewilderment of joy.  That’s my kind of magic.

We’re going to make up stories around here this week.  It’s one of the things we do every year, a part of our wonderful, ridiculous custom of make-believe wonder.  We’ll look around at the happy decorations we’ve draped in every corner, and we’ll let our imaginations roam.  I’ll give the kids some ideas just to get them started.

The day the Christmas shrank down teeny tiny…

How the snowman ornament lost his hat…

When the Christmas books all fell open and their characters threw a party…

There’s a mysterious lump in my Christmas stocking, and it’s only December 14th…

Joy to the moon…

We’ll laugh.  We’ll laugh a lot, I’m guessing.  And we’ll roll our eyes a bit and we’ll try to out-do each other.  We’ll set our minds free and see where they go.

But I have to admit that the whole time, I’ll be thinking of the biggest story of them all.  The one I’ve been telling them since they were just little babies.  It’s cold outside, but there’s nothing to fear.  All is warm and bright in here.  This isn’t a time for the dark and the sad.  It’s a time for presents! Be excited! Be glad!

(What? Of course my narrative rhymes.  It’s Christmas, people.)