Some Winter and Christmas Seasons have their own hallmarks for every family. For me, this season, thus far, has been The Season of the Ocular Migraine. Yes, I know it's not as bad as a real bona-fide full blown migraine, and if you think I'm not eternally grateful that I only get 'migraine lite', think again. It's a pain in the ass, the migraines are.(Well, actually a pain in the head, but still...) Up until this winter, they were--very thankfully--quite the rarity. These days I think it's safe to say that they are like a movie supervillian and back with a vengeance, recurring twice a week or so. Plus, they are crimping my social life. I mean, why would anyone want to go out anywhere when they are experiencing blind spots and flickering arcs of light unless they are headed to a rave?( Let's also be clear that I have no desire to go to a rave because I am not 16 and I am way past the expiration date on those sorts of activities.) Even when the lights stop and things seem normal, I'm pretty wiped for the next couple hours. I've had to cancel on a few things lately and so please, I've blown you off because of this, please don't take it personally. You don't want to be around me at those times anyway...trust me.
All of this is less about complaint and more to say: it's been a bit of a tough winter thus far. That said, there have also been some nice 'silver lining' moments
1. Pots and Pots of Tea. I don't think I need to explain this; either you get it or you don't. There's nothing in the world more perfect to me than a quiet, warm space, a cup of good tea and something deliciously interesting to read. Whether or not a migraine is involved is irrelevant. Tea makes my world go round.
2. Smartwool Socks. I spent some of my Christmas money on another pair--my second--and got the cute knee-high ones. Can I just tell you how grand and cozy and well-loved I feel when I put these socks on? It's ridiculous, but for someone like myself who suffers from cold feet all winter and who wears Keen's because they are insulated and not for fashion's sake, these socks are like a wool blanket for the tootsies. Bliss....
3.. Midnight in Paris. You might be sick of hearing how freakin' good this movie is, but guess what? It's really freakin' good. I love a movie which assumes that the audience has interests beyond the contemporary culture and an intellect beyond a fifth-grade reading level. (Most movies these days, sadly, don't.) I don't want to say too much more and spoil the lively, wonderfully fantastic plot, but if you are a fan of good classic literature, The Surrealists and the human condition in general, Woody Allen has created another masterpiece you'll enjoy. One of the more delightful movies I've seen in a while.
4. "The Big Snow" by Berta and Elmer Hader. Kiddo and I are enjoying some quieter, more in-depth books these days and The Big Snow is a perfect example of such a story. The animals in the woods near a stone house prepare for winter, each in it's turn. Will they migrate, hibernate, or stick around to fully inhabit the winter up in the cold north? When the big snow comes and the seeds and grasses are covered, what will the hungry animals eat? Told with warmth and giving real character to the animals, this story bears repeated reading. This is one of those books I find 'virtuous', because of the sense of benevolence portrayed both in the writing and in the actions within the story. The artistic depictions are loving and quaint as well; The Big Snow was published in 1948 (received the Caldecott Award, too) and bears the painterly illustration style of its time. The Haders lived on Willow Hill in the Palisades, in Nyack overlooking the Hudson in a stone house they built themselves; this story is based on real life events and their love of the animals around them.
5. "The Day the Sun Danced" by Edna Thatcher Hurd; illustrated by Clement Hurd. Primal and bright with both nature and woodcut prints, The Day the Sun Danced tells a simple story of the return of the sun after a cold winter. While the deer is asleep deep in the wood, the bear asleep in his cold den and the fox asleep in his cold hole in the ground, a small rabbit invites them to come and see something wonderful : "I know that something is going to happen. The world is going to change." Will the larger animals trust this 'foolish' rabbit? The writing is almost a prose poem with a great sense of rhythm through repetition and the story well-paced. Kiddo asked me to read this story again immediately after the first reading; it's engaging and there's enough going on to keep the relatively simple plot interesting. (Trivia: this book was published in 1965. Find it at your library. Clement Hurd is also the illustrator of "Goodnight Moon" and "The Runaway Bunny", both by Margaret Wise Brown. Edna and Clement's son is children's book author and artist Thatcher Hurd.)
6. "A Pocketful of Cricket" by Rebecca Caudill; illustrated by Evaline Ness. This year, one of Kiddo's presents was a small bamboo cage with a bamboo cricket inside of it. He loves it, and why not? There's something very mysterious and endearing about this strange zen stick cricket. Because of this, I grabbed A Pocketful of Cricket from the library. Little Jay is enjoying the last days of summer on the farm before he starts must begin his first year of school. As he sets out to drive the cattle home, he makes small discoveries which he collects in his pocket: a rock, a gray goose feather, striped bean pods and an old Indian arrowhead. Bringing the cows back, he finds a cricket and decides to adopt it as a friend. Jays attention to nature and willingness to be in the moment are pleasure and kids will relate to this way of losing track of time; the author places us directly in Jay's world. Once Jay must leave for his first day of school, but how can he leave Cricket? I loved the kindness and understanding of Teacher in this book; it is a reassuring book for children because of the way in which the story itself shows an understanding of the Child and the Child's sensibilities, and also because of the way in which a graceful, warm teacher helps to make a little boy feel welcome and successful at a new and slightly intimidating venture.
7. James Herriot's Treasury of Inspriational Stories for Children. (James Herriot, Scottish veteranerian and author of "All Creatures Great and Small".) Sometimes, a book can present great values and virtue within the story, shown primarily through the choices that the characters make and how the characters interact with each other. These stories of the country animal doctor showcase the virtues and values of hard work, compassion, sharing, caring, empathy and honesty. They focus on kinship and community and how we are all so interconnected in each others lives, if only because of a chance decision or circumstance. I love the stories in this book; Kiddo is looking at the pictures again as I write this. I've read this book over the years to the children of many of the families I've nannied for and have noticed a universal quality to many of the stories in this book. Note that one of the stories includes the death of a stray female cat; she has brought her kitten to a woman who had been kind to her and this new relationship is the focus, the death is handled in a sympathetic and matter of fact way. In our modern times, we live lives which tend to be disconnected from nature and allow our children to be shielded from some of the natural cycles of life. Herriot's stories honor the spirits of animals--young and old-- and the people who care for them.
I could go on, sharing more of these silver linings, but many things await me this morning: dishes, of course, but there's the new Roger Ebert biography sitting on the table. I'm thinking it will go nicely with a good curl up on the couch, a cup of hot tea to make the coziness complete. Happy New Year, friends, and may even your hardest seasons come with lots of silver linings to appreciate and enjoy.