Monday, December 29, 2014

Midwinter Walk

How gradually can you learn about the natural world around you? Intimate details, like a lover learns. Does it happen over months, or a couple rambles, or can it take years upon years? Is it too late, at 38, to learn the names of common mushrooms, to know the properties of the riverbed's herbs? I hope not. It is my hope throughout the new year to spend some serious time identifying local flora and fauna. I take great inspiration from friends like Dolly and Mary, who can say the names with reverent and gracious ease, who know the life cycles, the natives, the folklore. Intuitively I think that this knowledge gives deeper meaning to time's passing, to the seasons. At this point all I know is beauty, I know how good it feels to walk, and hold my daughter's hand, and take notice.  I think that's a pretty good start. But seriously, I want to know so much more.

Christmas Eve's Eve, Darin finally got a day off and we took a little jaunt down Greenwood Creek with our hearty little explorers. We were all in love with all the mushrooms recent rains have brought, and we basked in their beauty without knowing much about them. Lucy quickly caught onto the game and pointed them out with boundless excitement. It seems everyone and their brother is a mushroom hunter these days; at the bookstore Darin says the mushroom guides fly off the shelves. It's a bandwagon I wouldn't mind jumping on. For now I just behold each little specimen in all its mystery.


Polly began her lessons on the fine art of river rock throwing. Skipping comes later, for now the nice plop and splash is thrill aplenty.

Pure Mycena (I think, according to my John Muir Laws field guilde.)

On the way back we stopped at the sandy creek bank again. Polly and I were examining a big hole in a tree and Darin was taking pictures when suddenly Lucy went splashing into the water! In her boots, socks, leggings, and dress! She didn't even rush back out, she just slogged along about thigh high for a while dragging a long stick (I think she was making it swim) until Darin snatched her out. It was so strange and kind of funny, and needless to say she was absolutely drenched and freezing and seemed a bit surprised by the whole thing herself. Luckily I had a change of clothes in the car and we had a warm cozy drive home. 
Back to the uproar of Christmas festivities, but with that sweet peace that a nice long forest wander renews in your heart. I cannot wait for a day when I open my back door and can wander like this. And from now on, I pack my field guide with me!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Shoppe Till You Drop

Obviously if you are going to shop for Christmas presents it's ideal to buy local. Better vintage and handmade by locals! Sunday gave us the perfect opportunity to do just so; we crossed the canyon with Pops on a rainy afternoon to Nevada City where my sis and one of our very oldest and dearest friends, Ruebi, had set up shop at the Winter Craft Fair. Both collectors of minutiae, knick knacks, vintage housewares, and sundries, they had the fine idea of setting up a kind of mercantile right there in the heart of the craft fair offering a wide assortment of goodies and gifts. They called their little shop Sweetgrass General Store; Ruebi's husband made them a wooden sign, and they packed their shelves with the coolest trinkets. It was a stocking stuffer's dream, plus Addie framed some of her gorgeous 1920's sheet music pieces, Ruebi had some choice vintage children's clothes, and they had a collection of fun candies and kidstuffs on the front shelf. Something interesting to examine in every nook and cranny. Passersby were generally intrigued and many happy customers found a special little something. 

Bringing two little wild gnomey-kins to this event was a bit challenging, if only because I couldn't really shop to my heart's content nor talk as much as I'd like to Addie and Ruebi and friends and fellow vintage sellers. I was busy chasing my miniature 11-month old up and down the stairs to the stage area, and collecting the handmade business cards my two year old was scattering in her wake. Sigh. It's totally my fault; we were there for hours with no sign of a real meal (string cheese and candy canes, anyone?) and no rest in sight. Those two were actually troopers, and totally zonked on the drive home. 

Thanks of course to Pops for being a (somewhat hapless but very sweet) nanny for the day.

Here are some of my photos from the day, starting at home in our backyard while we waited for our ride and enjoyed the greening effects of all our recent rainfall. Then onward to the Fair!

A few spots down from Sweetgrass was this handmade toy shop. Lucy was in love with the funny bunnies, which each had a name and brief description of likes and dislikes. She must've handled this bright pink glittery one a hundred times. She was totally drawn back to it again and again. Needless to say, Pops sneakily bought it for her and tucked it away till Christmas.

I did get some fleeting visits with this lovely lady throughout the day, in her lush winter blue velvet, always adding a little glitter and light to my day.

If you're buying gifts, I hope you are all having some equally charming shopping experiences!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Children's Christmas Books

I don't know about you, but around here in the month of December it's pretty much all Christmas, all the time. That goes for the books we're reading of course. Here are ten of Lucy and Polly's current faves in no particular order.

1. I'll start with the most obvious.

This year Lucy is absolutely obsessed with the Grinch. She loves the book and the cartoon (not so much the Jim Carrey movie version although Darin and I are kind of sentimental about it because we saw it together in the theater even before we were officially together.)

We are pretty big Seuss fans around here, various titles are always in the bedtime book cycle and Lucy can listen through the longer ones with great comfort and interest these days. The good thing about the Grinch is that the message is actually pretty awesome:
"It came without ribbons, it came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags....What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?"

Another bonus is that her two new faovorite Christmas songs are "You're a mean one, Mister Grinch" (she squeals the words NASTY WASTY SKUNK with relish) and "Fahoo Foray, Dahoo Doray." They're pretty fun ones to learn the lyrics to and sing along.

2. Earlier this month, I got Polly this sweet little board book of Richard Scarry's Christmas Mice. Both girls love Richard Scarry's simple colorful illustrations and characters, and it is fun for them to find the two little cozy mice in these pages. 

 3. This one is a library book and it is really for me: N. Scott Momaday's Circle of Wonder. Momaday is amongst my favorite authors and his storytelling has the ability to stir my heart like a winter wind. He also did the gorgeous illustrations for this story that blends Native American and Christian traditions. I haven't tried to read it to the girls yet, but maybe I'll be able to one rainy December day, at least to introduce them to the striking circle of mystical revelers: boy, eagle, elk, wolf.

It brought me to tears to read the ending. I won't quote it all here and spoil it for you, because reading it is such a beautiful experience, but I will include this telling line: "Tolo knew then that he had been led to the center of the Holy Season."

4. A favorite in our personal collection is Jeanne-Marie at the Fair  so we were delighted to find this old treasure amongst the Christmas books at the library:

She is a little girl who lives in the french countryside and has a beloved little goat named Patapon. 
This book is absolutely charming and has probably my most favorite Santa Claus (father Noel) scene ever rendered:

And maybe my most favorite nativity scene as well:

 5. Jan Brett's detailed illustrations get a lot of attention around here. Lucy loves all the animals and the looks on everyone's faces; she pores over those intricate borders with such curiosity. I include this one here not because it is Christmassy, but just so magically wintry. It is a version of the Goldilocks tale, set among the Inuit people of northern Canada.

As soon as we start, Lucy exclaims happily over this "rock penguin!" that marks the entrance to the bears' grand igloo. 

One of those fancy borders features a mama reindeer carrying her baby reindeer in a soft pouch on her back. Lucy is glued to this image!

More of the lush artwork, Aloo-ki asleep in the fur covers of the sleeping bench. 

6. Here's the one I mentioned in my last post. It is Norma Farber's completely enchanting, non-traditional take on the Christian nativity story, in a set of poems from surprising points of view: animals who come from far and wide, like a turtle and a sloth, and three brave queens who come bearing gifts: a homespun gown, chicken soup and a song. Plus, now I want everything Petra Mathers ever illustrated.

7. The After Christmas Tree by Linda Wagner Tyler has an idea that we might be incorporating this Christmas. At a new years party, after taking down the tree, the family and their friends bring the  christmas tree outside and string up pine cones full of bird seed, nuts, popcorn and berries, and they sit inside sipping hot chocolate and watching out the window while the animals gather around and have their own party!

8. Starting to see a pattern here?  Anything with love and kindness directed at our fellow creatures great and small gets our round of applause! In the Berenstain Bear's Christmas Tree (a book from my own childhood) in his quest for the perfect tree, Papa Bear keeps inadvertently almost chopping down some poor woodland creature's home. In the end, all the animals come visit and help decorate the outside of the bears' own treehouse instead. 

Papa realizes that Christmas is a time to be thinking of others.

9. Have you all seen the Minerva Louise books? They are great for very small children, simple and short and funny, and I absolutely love them. She is this adorable little chicken who is always mixing things up, like the Amelia Bedelia of the farmyard world. She always has the most endearing, curious, satisfied little looks on her beaky face. Turns out she's a hoot on Christmas too.

10. Last but certainly not least, Olivia Helps with Christmas. It is almost a bit worrisome reading books like this to Lucy because she is already such a whirlwind of energy herself that Olivia gives her some naughty ideas, haha! But we can't resist because she's just so dang funny and cute. 

As a postscript, in the same vein as a Olivia, another dubious influence on my energetic toddler, and the newest newest favorite, is this one:

You just gotta love this little bundle of precocious spunk. And she can get really cozy, and her friend Emily the pigeon gives us a great surprise on Christmas morning. It's kind of a long read, and the Toot relishes every moment of it.

Hope you are all having some nice cozy cuddled up reads these days!