Our Christmas Tree

Dear Kids,

Every time I look at our Christmas tree from a certain angle, I can see that not only is the tree leaning noticeably to one side, but the star on top is crooked. From every angle it is clear that the ornaments are not evenly distributed on the tree. Some branches have multiple ornaments, while others have none.

I could change all of these things. My mother would have. She would have made my father straighten up the tree and fix the star on top. Then she would have rearranged the ornaments, as she always used to do after my brother and I finished putting them on.

I usually do those things, too. This year I decided to let the tree be. The only ornaments I relocated were the breakable ones that looked like they might be at risk of falling. I did this as much for you as for me. You were worried about breaking ornaments. If there’s one thing you shouldn’t do while decorating a Christmas tree, it’s worry. So I asked, “What happens every year?” And you answered, “We break an ornament!” Why worry about the inevitable, right? (Actually, we haven’t broken one yet this year. Our glass Rudolph jumped off the tree and hit the floor hard enough to shatter, but somehow it stayed in one piece!)

I left everything else alone because I like it the way it is. I like that the tree and star are crooked. It looks natural. I like that the ornaments are placed the way you wanted them. I’m happy to have children in my house and happy to have them decorate our tree. You made this Christmas. I love it, and I love you.


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Old Cars and Old Cats

Our car and our cat have more in common than you’d think. They are both old. They both require more maintenance with every year. The repairs get more expensive with every year, too. The repairs are also remarkably similar in price. For example, it cost about the same for the mechanic to fix the car’s exhaust system as it did for the vet to fix the cat’s “exhaust system.”

But we keep paying for the repairs, because we want to keep them both running.

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Three Great Words

zugzwang: n. a situation, such as in a chess match, where you are obligated to take a turn even though it’s going to hurt your position. I take it to mean roughly “between a rock and a hard place.” You have to do something, but everything that you could do is going to make matters worse. What a horrible place to find oneself!

squidgy: adj. (British) soft, wet, and easy to squish. It means roughly the same as “squishy,” but it sounds even grosser.

missive: n. a letter, especially a long and formal one. I get e-mails, and sometimes cards and notes, but I never get missives. I would like a missive, please!

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Merry Christmas

I was just absent-mindedly fiddling with the glow stick that my daughter gave me when she asked, “You gonna stick that in your nose?” I thought about it for a minute, then replied, “Yeah.” And I stuck it up my nose.

We’re serious about holiday spirit here, you see. We don’t merely have lights. We have lights up our noses.

Merry Christmas, and may all your noses be bright!

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Three Magical Books

This post has been sitting in my drafts folder since October. Crazy, huh? It looks OK to me, so I’m going to fix the typos that I found and publish it. Here goes!

My friend recently mentioned Sarah Mlynowski’s Magic in Manhattan series, which reminded me that I needed to go back and finish it. So I did. Click here to see what I wrote about the first book (Bras & Broomsticks) or continue reading this page for reviews of the second, third, and fourth books of the series.

Frogs & French Kisses by Sarah Mlynowski

Grade: A

Bras & Broomsticks may have won me over in the end, but Frogs & French Kisses had me at the very beginning. The story begins with young witch Miri practicing her broom-flying skills while her older sister Rachel, who is not a witch, hangs on to the back for dear life. They crash land in a field with cows, which was not a particularly enjoyable experience for them, but later they find out that those cows are going to be made into steaks, which is even worse. They go back to the field later and Miri uses her witchy powers to zap the cows to safety. But Miri’s magic misfires and somehow interprets “safety” to mean “the gymnasium of Rachel’s high school.” The cows ruin the gym floor and the repairs will be costly, but worst of all, now the prom can’t be held there! The girls will have to do something to make amends and, of course, silliness ensues.

Rachel is in great form in this book. She comes across as both fun and funny. I enjoyed this reading immensely, and I cannot fathom why I would have quit the book previously without finishing it. Recommended.

Spells & Sleeping Bags by Sarah Mlynowski

Grade: B

In this book Miri and Rachel go to summer camp. Rachel is dealing was some life changes, Miri feels neglected, and there’s a mean girl at camp who seems to be deliberately widening the rift between the sisters. It’s a teen summer camp book, so expect lots of new friends, pranks, swimming, canoeing, and romance. I can’t say much more than that without spoilers.

Though I often like summer camp stories, this one didn’t quite work for me. Rachel was not quite so amusing this time (what happened???), and the plot was predictable. However, if you enjoyed the first two books of the series and want to know what happens between Rachel and the boy she’s been crushing on, then go ahead and read it. Just be warned—I think Mlynowski may have been trying to age-up the book with teen talk, including some minor swears. My own very young kids have already encountered worse language, so I doubt even the youngest teens are going to find it shocking. I just thought that some of the language and semi-mature content was a little off-putting.

Parties & Potions by Sarah Mlynowski

Grade: B+

Warning: potential spoilers ahead.

The girls have discovered that there are many other witches in the world. Indeed, witches have their own culture and customs and language. The girls decide to enter witch society by taking part in the Samsorta, which is basically the bat mitzvah of witchdom. They even take special classes at a witch school to learn the details of the ceremony. Miri finally starts to make friends (including boys!), but Rachel is having a hard time compartmentalizing her life into magical parts and non-magical parts.

I liked this book better than the third one, but it reminded me too much of other series, including Harry Potter (which was referenced at least twice, probably to let us know that the author realized the comparison was inevitable). As with the previous book, you may find it worth reading just to find out what happens between Rachel and her love interest.

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Trolls & Elves

Heard around the house:

One man’s troll is another man’s elf.

Somehow I doubt Santa would agree.

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Merlin, Wars, Yawn

Here is the review I wrote about a book that I read earlier this year.

The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart

Grade: B+

This is a first-person account of Merlin’s early years. In this telling, he is the illegitimate son of Ambrosius, who is Uther Pendragon’s brother. This makes Merlin the cousin of Arthur, who had not yet been born. Basically, Merlin figures out who he is and who his father is and then goes to live in a cave by himself. It’s slow-paced and deliberately skips all the action of multiple battles. To be honest, I found much of it boring.

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I had an A-HA! moment while working on my novel this morning, just before my word processor ate the document that I was working on. Yes, the A-HA! moment was so powerful that it temporarily broke my computer. No worries, though. I hadn’t written much in that particular file yet, and revelations are hard to forget.

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All I Can Do Is Laugh

I have my own particular set of sayings that I use frequently. One of them is “make it snappy.” I use this saying on the kids when they’re slow to do whatever it is they’ve been told to do. But Marshall has decided to take the saying literally. If I tell him to “make it snappy,” he starts snapping his fingers and doing a little dance. Usually we’re in a rush, so I ought to get angry when he starts dancing instead of following my instructions. His snappy dance is just so hysterical that all I can do is laugh.

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I Should Know Better

I am old enough to know by now that if I hide something in an unusual spot and say to myself “Don’t forget that you put this here” it means I absolutely will forget and shouldn’t put it there. But I never seem to learn, and that is how I ended up spending a lot of precious time this week fruitlessly searching for my list of Advent gifts and printouts. I have now searched in all the likely spots several times, and most of the unlikely spots, too. No luck. Thank goodness I did some of the work on my computer and can at least reprint that part!

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