2010 Sweet Juniper Holiday Card

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Last year we decided to start a tradition where each fall we'd commission an artist we admire to create a family portrait for our annual holiday card. Thanks to the wonderfully talented Yelena Bryksenkova for making our card this year [I wrote about Yelena in more detail here; she also has her own blog and an etsy store filled with lovely prints]. In addition to the portrait, Yelena hand-lettered the message inside:

I know it's not the same as receiving a physical card, but we just wanted to share this with all our readers and wish you happiness over the next few days as your enjoy your holiday traditions, whatever they might be.

Buy. Nothing. More.

Posted by jdg | Friday, December 17, 2010

If I could go two months back in time and show myself a video of what an effort it is to get my kids goretexed and in the car in all this snow and cold here on December 17, 2010, I might ask myself why anyone would live here, why anyone would ever go through this, why we do. But we do. Those of you fully acclimated to warmer climes might ask the same questions should you see what our roads look like, or our car mottled by salt with its undercarriage crusted with frozen stalactites of slate-colored backsplash. The other day I had to scrape an inch of ice off the windshield so my wife could get to work, while cars fishtailed down our road to avoid the old woman driving her motorized wheelchair the wrong way down the middle of the street through one of the two vehicle tracks in the snow where pavement was visible. You might certainly wonder how we put up with this for three or four months of every year. Just somehow we always do.

I am often amazed by the human capacity for overcoming adversity---what we'll put up with before we give up---and yet I am equally amazed by our overwhelming aversion to the challenges that make us great. As much as we can put up with, we often have to put up with very little, and what little we do put with often leads to the sort of complaining that makes me wonder if a medium-sized zombie apocalypse wouldn't actually be a good thing to help put our out-of-wack priorities back on track. I agree the parking situation at the mall is unacceptable, honey; perhaps we should tweet something about it but oh shit look: ZOMBIES!

I am an unapologetic consumer of war stories and disaster porn. I am humbled by old stories of pluck and mettle. I would rather read a lousy novel about the hardships of turn-of-the-century immigrants than a lauded novel about the first-world problems of some dysfunctional modern Manhattan family. It is all about context. I am always seeking reminders that I have it better than I realize. Sure, it may be miserable outside, but at least I'm not a Russian infantryman at the Battle of Stalingrad, warming my hands in the guts of a dead comrade like he's a tauntaun. I have a wife who pays the heating bill and a graying union suit I look for any possible excuse to wear. All I need to do is think about that old union suit and a jug of corn whiskey and any concerns about the weather drift to pleasant thoughts of  belligerently asserting to my wife that it would certainly be worse with zombies, and then ultimately passing out to hibernate for the night. 

* * * * *

The passages of Hemingway novels I savor most are those where he describes those tiny culinary joys in the midst of hardship: the crust of bread, that bit of cheese, a taste of wine. I can't imagine any morsel in my kitchen tasting as good as he described those bites taken while hiding from Franco's armies. In this season of ludicrous excess and temptation, I try to remind myself of that.

When I was a child, I remember my mother driving us to church and telling us some impossible fabrication about a poor family she knew when she was growing up. This family was so poor, at Christmas time the people in her town would donate rags and the mother would embroider the initials of each one of her fifteen children under the age of ten on a single rag and this "new" handkerchief would be their sole gift (unless you considered that lone orange on their mantle, from which each child was given a single membranous segment). This was, of course, a cockamamie admonition towards respect and gratitude in prelude to the orgy of giftwrap and gewgaws that marked the beginning of the last week of December. Still, part of that lesson stayed with me all those years: no matter what you get in life, don't forget you are one of the lucky ones.

We're trying to make the kids almost all their gifts this year. I have still found myself buying a thing or two here and there; it's a parental urge almost impossible to ignore, to imagine them deeply satisfied at noon on Christmas. There are times during the day I find myself thinking, But what about stocking stuffers? And then I repeat to myself: Buy. Nothing. More.

But of course I will.

Today, in the car, on the way home from preschool: Let me tell you a story about this family I knew when I was growing up. . .

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Now I don't normally use this space to draw attention to the site sponsors FM lines up for us, but today I just wanted to announce that we're honored once again to participate in the More Birthdays campaign from the American Cancer Society. Too many of our lives have been touched by cancer (my wife and I previously wrote posts for the ACS here and here) and this year the ACS has gathered together a diverse roster of artists and musicians (and bloggers) to celebrate the "more birthdays" enjoyed by countless men, women, and children thanks in part to the 97-years of research, support, prevention, and education funded by the American Cancer Society. This is a cause and organization we truly believe in, and we look forward to the opportunity over the next few months write a bit more about this campaign and what it means to us.

Thanks for indulging me, and now I've got to get back to figuring out how to attach these cross country skies I found in the garbage to that old jogging stroller.

You had to know this was coming. . .

Posted by jdg | Tuesday, December 14, 2010

. . .but we didn't expect the snow to come this heavy and this soon, so the plastic sled is only a makeshift solution while I ponder constructing a more gallant conveyance. It may be eleven degrees outside, but I'll be damned if several times a day that dog doesn't drag his harness up to me expressing a desire to pull. Snow between the toes does irritate him so I've already ordered some sled dog booties.

There may be no good sledding hills in our neighborhood, but a dog sprinting through the snow provides a thrill as satisfying as any downward slope.

More to come. [previously: The Dog Wagon]

New Subsite: Vintage Kids Books

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, December 01, 2010

I know content has been a little light here in the main column lately, but I'm constantly updating the content behind through those six small square images at the top of the right column. I still have so many Terrifying Nixon-Era Children's Books to share, along with many other treasured, out-of-print books that I've found at thrift stores or in schools that were being demolished. In my opinion, the current state of picture book publishing is pretty dismal, with a market driven more by what grandma will buy than what will actually capture a kid's imagination. Keeping a steady supply of "new" vintage books has made reading time such a pleasure in our household. I have collected hundreds of cool old books since the kids were born and I've always wanted to share some of the best we've found with you. So I decided to create a space on this site to do that, and maybe rescue a few of these treasures from obscurity.

I expect to add a new book at least once a week. I know I could be more savvy and figure out a way to put all those updates in the main RSS feed, but if you are interested and want to know whenever any of the subsites are updated, I created a feed that incorporates all of them (here).

I'm starting today with one of the coolest children's books I've ever stumbled across, Thomas Minehan's The Lonesome Road (The Way of Life of a Hobo), a book so vivid in its accounting of the daily habits and adventures of a depression-era hobo, I can't help but wonder if it inspired more kids to take to the rails than it discouraged. Be sure to keep an eye out for a new book every week.