Advent Calendars Past and Present

In days past

All of these were found on Etsy and Ebay

Growing up in the 1960’s and early 1970’s we always had this type of an Advent Calendar. It was always sent by my Great-Aunt who worked in a stationary and card shop in Chicago. I remember being very excited to open the little doors. My older brother was very good [well bribed] to play along and be nice even when he’d outgrown the excitement. To his great credit, I never suspected he that he might not have been as excited as I was.

Village  Charlie Brown

Santa  Nativity

I still love this sort of calendar and happily they are still with us (see photos above). My kids were given a nice cloth one by a dear friend, so we’ve always used it. I like that neither of these involves an extra present. My children, as I’ve said before, took turns moving the candy cane day marker. One child did that and the other chose from our box a slip of paper with our evening’s activity, book, movie or special Christmas game. Never once can I recall an argument over whose turn it was to do which! They enjoyed it so much.  If you’d like to do this just wrap up an empty Kleenex box and put in slips to draw–you can write your own, or here are some you can print.There are also games you can print, like Christmas Song Pictionary Cards  or there are dozens of printable Christmas matching card games or Christmas or Christmas Movie bingo cards to print (Google it so you can find one appropriate to your children’s ages. Have a small treat as a prize if you like. Don’t over do the prizes! The game is the treat.


Times have changed though. Now the big thing is to have a toy advent calendar like those shown above. I really don’t understand how faux-Frozen or TMNT relate to Christmas though. But then, as much as I love the Chicago Cubs or I.U. I can’t see having a Christmas ornament with their logo–I guess that would be the grown-up equivalent. And, while there are really nice Nativity play sets for little children, not one was an Advent Calendar! Dis-connect here! Still, the little kiddos in my extended family are enjoying this type this year.

Little People   Playmobil



Traditional style wooden set


Here’s  a cute pop-up Advent Calendar of The Night Before Christmas

Finally, there’s an APP now! An Advent Calendar app–and other Christmas apps! Here’s a news story on them with links.


It’s not too late–you can start where ever you are on the calendar and open two doors (or equivalent) per day for a while. Give you children this joy–or just enjoy it yourself or with your spouse.Here’s the one I wish I’d seen and ordered.

Tomorrow an Advent Calendar all of Books–with my book titles listed!

The 12 Books of Christmas: My True Love Gave to Me: 12 Holiday Stories by YA Authors


Instead of the Twelve DAYS of Christmas, this year I’m having the twelve BOOKS of Christmas! And, let’s do it backwards, ok? Today’s book is a collection of TWELVE great holiday short stories by great YA authors. If your idea of YA is Twilight and other things vampire, let this fun collection of stories introduce you to REAL YA literature!

Gayle Forman, whose If I Stay and Where She Went are two of the best YA books out there, is how I won a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review. Her story, What the Hell Have You Done, Sophie Roth? predictably, was wonderful.

I’ve been meaning to read anything by Rainbow Rowell since seeing fans of all ages wait patiently in a line about three city blocks long or her autograph at a book fair last year. Her story, too, was fabulous.I truly get now why she’s so immensely popular.

For me, the happy new discovery was author Matt De La Pena, author of the award winning children’s book, Last Stop on Market Street. I did not know he wrote YA as well as children’s books.  His story, Angels in the Snow, is a poor boy, rich girl meet-up over cat sitting. What’s not to love, right? I devoured the story

While some stories are grittier than others, all are a worthy contribution to YA literature and to the holiday fun reads canon. If you’ve dismissed YA–rethink it and read this compelling collection of stories. It would also make a superb Christmas gift for a teen or anyone who loves YA literature–or any good read.

My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories edited by Stephanie Perkins.

Kindness Calendars for Christmas Time


Money Saving Mom, a blogger who really does a lot to make family life easier and happier, posted Wonder Mom Wannabe’s  post about  Coffee Cups and Crayons SUPER Random Acts of Kindness Calendar recently. I love this idea so much. You can download the actual calendar HERE for use starting tomorrow.

Years ago, before Mommy Blogging was a thing, I stumbled upon an idea like this in a woman’s magazine. I decided to do it just a little differently since my kiddos weren’t really into being told what to do! (And we were broke!) So we all made what I called Kindness Calendars (see below) and we made a mark of some kind to indicate catching each other being kind.

At dinner, when I asked our customary dinner question, “What was one good thing that happened today,” there were suddenly at least two answers. Something good at school or on the bus and something KIND at home. It made a nice holiday season even when the kindness was not really in the spirit, such as “I tried to be kind to [sibling] by telling him/her to pick up their_____” or similar. Normally, though, it was the right sort and that was a good thing for a M om to hear after a long day.



This year I’m doing a version of this on my own. I’m not saying more! Tomorrow, though, I’ll be talking about Advent Calendars of another kind–the ones we used in my childhood and the ones my great-niece’s and great-nephews’ generation are enjoying today. Friday I’ll have my selections, just a tiny bit late (sorry) for an advent calendar of books.

Have you done some version of a Kindness Calendar? Leave me your version in a comment or a link to your own post.

Book Bingo 2016

Remember, when you click on a link, I do NOT make money. The links are just for your convenience.


First, thank you to Cleopatra Loves Books–a super book blog–for her idea of doing this and not doing it as a challenge (since I didn’t even do the challenge I created), but an    after the fact.

A Book With More Than 500 Pages


Amazon link

A Forgotten Classic


Amazon link

A Book That Became a Movie

Well, it’s BECOMING a movie! They are casting it right now. Read more here.


Amazon link

A Book Published This Year


Amazon link

A Book With a Number in the Title

seven men.jpg

Amazon link

A Book Written By Someone Under Thirty AND Fiction by an Indie Author [I added this extra space]


Amazon link

A Book With Non-Human Characters


Amazon link

A Funny Book

Amazon link

I couldn’t decide between the two!

A Book By a Female Author


Amazon link

A Book With a Mystery


Amazon link

A Book With a One Word Title


Amazon link

A Book of Short Stories

I’ll be reviewing a new collection of short stories later this week!


Amazon link



Amazon link

A Book Set on a Different Continent


Amazon link

A Book of Non Fiction


Elliott Bay Books link (where I found this book)

Non-Fiction by an Indie Author [I added this extra space]


Amazon link

The First Book By a Favorite Author

I started Inspector Gamache, accidentally, out of sequence, so I went back and started right. I’m up to book four now!


Amazon link

A Book You Heard About Online

Since I hear about nearly EVERY book I read online, this is a bit difficult. So, I chose two books that I really would not have seen in my usual online sources. I couldn’t decide between them. I reviewed both very recently in my Reading Around the World series.

Amazon link 1 and Amazon link 2

A Best-Selling Book


Amazon link

A Book Based on a True Story


 Amazon link

A Book at the Bottom of Your To Read Pile


Amazon link

A Book Your Friend Loves


Amazon link

A Book That Scares You


Amazon link

I’m still reading this but hope to finish by the end of this year.

A Book that is More Than 10 Years Old


Amazon link

The Second Book in a Series


Amazon link

A Book With a Blue Cover


Elliott Bay Books Link (where I found this book)

Check back in January. One of these books just might be named my

“Must Read Book for 2017”


Source: Roseanne [t.v. series]

Top Ten Tuesday: Holiday Freebie


10 Holiday Essentials at My House


The Bishop’s Wife    Christmas With the Kranks (Or the book Skipping Christmas) A Charlie Brown Christmas and A Garfield Christmas –among many others.



This book was my paternal grandmothers and is signed by her father. The story, Christmas in the Mousehole is my personal reading tradition. My Dad read it to me each year. I still love it. I love the simple Christmas it presents and love the memory of my Dad in the re-reading.




Handle’s Messiah is a must–but, ironically, I’ve never gone to hear it live!  I have Christmas music on in my office all day. My office does special live Christmas music where a very talented staff member sings and plays and students join him or replace him when he is needed elsewhere. It’s wonderful.



One contemporary Christmas collection I’ve been loving already this year is the complete GLEE Christmas treasury. I especially love the haunting Island of Misfit Toys. We loved the show at my house (though we had to binge watch it on dvd from the library).



I must play this relentlessly. It reminds me of my maternal grandparents who loved his show and drank Old Fashions, letting the 3 grandkids have the booze-soaked fruit! This was made cooler by my grandfather’s habit of pocketing the swizzle sticks from his airline drinks. We loved those things.





This desert IS Christmas to my family. Since 1978 we’ve not varied the choice, though my Mom has changed the booze in it. Today it is made with Bailey’s Irish Cream. Here’s the recipe.




Source note: Possibly Williams Sonoma, but Pinterset link here.


Plaid is my signature color. Plaid, or tartan if you  wish, though there is a difference, is my Christmas color scheme–if I had one, that is. My Christmas decorations are pretty sad any more. I’d hoped to replace a lot this year, but life got in the way. Meanwhile, feast on this GORGEOUS Christmas tablescape by blogger Everyday Living. So much to love here! The plaid on the table, the red walls, the cute plates and adorable place card holders–everything! Sadly, my little eat-in kitchen can’t hold all that. But, soon, I’ll post my tablescape. It is a debut this year.


Source: Everyday Living

 I love all the amazing details here. Click the source link above to see all the amazing views of this fabulous holiday table.



 What’s on your holiday freebie list? Do you enjoy lists like this? Join the fun at Top 10 Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and The Bookish.

Top Five Wednesday: Books I’m Thankful For


I couldn’t get into this week’s topic, so I’m doing a Top 5 of the Top 10 Tuesday topic instead!





In 1967, I learned to read from these books. Quick who can spot the clever updating on the second cover. Yes, I’m so old that only white children were pictured in my textbooks. No one used a wheelchair, no one had a service dog and we read only stories about white people unless they were folklore tales. I’m pretty sure with a grandmother who’d been a teacher and a Mom who was an avid reader and a family with several other teacher, a Purdue Ph.d., and other well-educated folks, that I’d have learned to read even without these books and without elementary school. I always wanted my name to be Janet–this is probably why. I’m thankful for these books because I can read and learn.




I’ve chosen this book-which I probably still have in a box somewhere, to represent my learning about music and the arts in general–things that bring great joy to my life.







bhgcookbookThe 1970s-era Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook my Mom gave me when I was a kid has been very useful and I am thankful for it. I learned to cook from it and still make peanut butter cookies (my 4H Blue Ribbon ones!) from it as well as my embellished version of their macaroni and cheese and the completely unchanged (aside from skipping the cheese) recipe for stuffed peppers that my kids still request. You won’t find quinoa or feta cheese, no fajitas or salsa either–those hadn’t hit the scene yet. But you will find all kinds of good, affordable, easy-to-make and even fairly healthy, food.  There is absolutely no excuse for a literate person not to be able to cook. It’s just reading and following directions. Ignore the stupid tv chefs with their outrageously expensive fresh herbs and ridiculous ingredients and master about 10 simple dinners and a few brunch dishes and your life will be simple and way less expensive. Being about to cook, shop economically, and plan meals as much as a few months ahead has let me survived jobs losses and other economic catastrophes. It boggles my mind how much Americans spend on total crap and then call it “food.” It takes less time to make so many good meals then it does to drive to a crappy chain restaurant, wait at a dirty table and eat among tired, screaming kids.




I’ve chosen the iconic AACR2 to represent my graduate school education which allows me to earn a living as a librarian. I’m not a cataloger, but this symbolizes a librarian’s work. My undergraduate education lets me make sense of the international political scene–another thing I am very grateful for. It exposed me to different ways of seeing the world, too.






I remember my German teacher’s excitement when we got these new German books! Our old ones were boring navy blue with boring black and white illustrations. This book and the rest of the series were wonderful! They had cool lessons on stuff like pop music as I recall, as well as on normal stuff like whether the train was coming from Frankfort or going to Munich. There was a boy named Aloise…. bizzare what I remember! By far the coolest textbook in all my school years. So cool, in fact, that today it has it’s own Facebook group–it shows the Musik lesson I remember!

I choose this book to represent opening up the world–other cultures–to me. I would study (but never master AT ALL). German, French, Russian and, in Peace Corps, Chichewa. Like reading this love of other places, other cultures, other ways of living would likely have happened anyway. My Mom spent part of her childhood in Brazil and she learned Portuguese. She and my uncle and my grandmother all imparted their memories to my brother and me in the most vivid ways possible. Also, my maternal grandparents and then, when she was widowed, my grandmother, traveled widely. She took each grandchild on a big trip–we picked the place. I went to the UK and Ireland, my brother toured much of Africa. A gift of a lifetime.


Well, I’ve not put any conventional choices here, but these are things I am thankful for and the books that represent them.

Join the Top 5 Wednesday fun by joining the group on Goodreads and posting your own lists each week!

Reading Around the World: Iceland

Map Source

Before finding this book thru a mention of the author’s work on another blog, all I knew about Iceland was that it was somehow related to Norway, their economy tanked badly about a decade ago and they knit those fabulous sweaters and make those white-ish coats–both fashions that were popular in the 80s if I remember correctly. I had a professor who did his PhD on the Anglo-Icelandic Cod War–God knows why I remember that! I think there were SALT or START talks in Reykjavik–maybe with Jimmy Carter and Brezhnev? I have never knowingly met anyone from Iceland, but a friend worked for many years with a doctor from there, so I knew their naming convention–how they arrive at their “surname” or last name, was quite different from that of Americans.

Here are a few things I learned:

  1. Icelanders, like Americans, drive everywhere and in big cars.
  2. Everyone goes to school until 20–but they start out with several years of preschool in which they play. I like the play part–much, much better than the drill and kill in our preschools and pre-K/K today. Here’s a great blog post (different author) on Icelandic Preschool–it goes well with the discussions in the book. That’s just fyi in case your book club wants to read this!
  3. Their dietary staples are potatoes and dairy–including buttermilk. Protein comes mostly from fish especially haddock  (understandable) and lamb. They traditionally have preserved certain foods in whey. I’ve never encountered that before.
  4. They used to eat cod liver oil on bread, not because they liked it, but because it had to be to survive. They got used to it.
  5. There are live, active volcanoes and there was an eruption while the author was living there in 2007.
  6. There are people there who believe in Elves–not the cute little Ernie from Keebler or those silly garden gnomes, but huge trolls. They figure into the tourist trade nicely.
  7. Everyone learns to knit in school and many continue throughout life. They knit “openly” in meetings–just like Eleanor Roosevelt and Lilian Gilbreth (“Cheaper by the Dozen”) did  back in the day.
  8. In spite of it “seeming” safer than many other countries, Iceland, possibly due to the long winters,  alcohol, and the tanked-economy, has a very high domestic violence rate that isn’t well known.
  9. Children have freedom to do things without hovering, micro-managing parents. Babies in prams are left outside shops and restaurants routinely. No one bothers them.
  10. Sadly, when the main highway was built it created ghost towns of places that depended on the supply boats coming. Many cannot be reached by road and the boats stopped after the switch was made to trucking supplies.




The author, Sarah Moss, is a professor of English from the U.K. who took leave to work in Iceland. She and her husband and two young sons would have enjoyed staying in Iceland, but could not afford it on the salary. Sadly, this colored her views on things. She is very opinionated on the wastefulness of Icelanders in their big houses and big cars. She complains that no one uses public transportation or walks when the weather allows. Cycling isn’t popular either, to her regret. She finds it difficult to locate second hand goods (apparently she didn’t ask the right people or try Facebook or something). She’s a fairly typical expatriate in this regard–not understanding why people “abroad” don’t do as they do “at home.”



Her harping on such things, plus her total disregard for the culinary culture, economy and logistics of bringing in fresh fruit and veggies got old.  I also thought she should have gone on the trip her husband wanted, but that’s another matter. She seems like she really is a very decent–and often fun person to know and work with. Her complaints are the kind of things that rankle when anyone lives abroad (I know some similar things got to me in Malawi).



The two most interesting things to me where the knitting and their approach to charity. Everyone learns to knit in school and even men knit in adulthood. But those sweaters I love? There’s no ancient tradition at all! They’re post war! Who knew?  Several of the author’s Icelandic co-workers made themselves such sweaters just to prove to themselves they could–just like a lot of people approach crafts here. That was fun. FYI: There are organized knitting tours in Iceland! Now THAT I’d love, especially this Hiking and Knitting Between Fire and Ice tour next August! But I digress–these weren’t in the book!

With the economy falling apart, many people lost jobs and it became very difficult to pay foreign-currency bank loans for houses and cars. A friend arranged for her to visit a charity that gave out food boxes. Icelanders don’t line up. They honor the order in which people arrived just fine, but they stand apart at bus stops, in stores or anywhere else that a line would form. Most found it hard to believe that people were starving because they wouldn’t admit there were problems. A further issue was that many “foreigners” were getting charity–even if those “foreigners” had been there for a long time and weren’t really that foreign.  That, sadly, is often the case today.



Overall I enjoyed the book, but had no interest in the Elves–aside from how they are co-opted into Christmas. I was far more interested in daily life and societal norms than in folklore. As a follow-up, I plan to read at least one of the author’s novels.

Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland by Sarah Moss

Want to learn more? Check out this fun Book Riot post on Iceland: A Country of Bibliophiles

Source                     Source

Reading Around the World: Gaza, Palestine and the State of Israel

                                           Map Source

After the birth of the modern nation state of Israel, life changed dramatically for the Palestinians–the Arabs living in what is today Israel. Most Arabs were forced into what could be called “reservations” or “ghettos” of settlement with all  the connotations that such areas bring to mind.This is the life of the Baraka family who are forced to relocate to a refugee camp in the Gaza strip.

Susan Abulhawa’s novel, The Blue Between Sky and Water tells this extended family’s story through interwoven stories, a comatose prophet and both pathos and humor. Here we see the “other side” of the Israel story. The lives of stateless refugees forced to leave homes of sometimes ancient holding and reform their lives in a sealed off area with limited access to electricity, water, food, medical care, jobs and education. We learn of the smuggling tunnels that became a routine part of their lives. We see family members flung far to suffer the fate of international refugees. And, thru the young woman Nur, we see if thru the eyes of an American who must come to terms with her new reality. This was the one part of the story I didn’t buy. She never got mad. I suppose we were to see that as the result of the grinding down of her spirit in admittedly culturally insensitive foster care in the States.

At first I found the story confusing–I did not understand that some was foretold. This review is a huge help. I don’t say that to put anyone off–this is a superb book, I personally just started out confused. A little “mind-mapping” would have helped me. Once oriented, I had to read it in small doses–the emotion was that great.

I loved that the book shows the way women everywhere must get on with daily life. We wives, mothers, sisters, daughters, grandmothers, female neighbors, must do the work of keeping the family going regardless of where we live. I can picture women gathered around the communal bread oven,  or washing clothes or preparing the large meals necessary for such extended families. I can see the squabbles–petty and large–and love the way it is reflected in the women’s often Earthy-humor:

“…they gossiped about the evil bitches [daughters-in-law] and their husbands who were willing to ‘sell their mother for a wife’s p@ss!.'” (Kindle location 3391).

They complain about men and they detest, though accept, plural marriage. It is these comments that remind me how we are all women–all the same, regardless of clothing, style of worship, beliefs or skin color even while living in the “wreckage of nostalgia that paved refugee camps.” (Kindle location 407). But they clung resignedly to the knowledge that “Allah never gives us more despair than we can handle.” (Kindle location 3218)

The prophet in the story recalls:

“I was there with the women of my life. I was in the colors in the mulberries, magentas, and corals of a tired sun. In the blue between sky and water. I was there, watching. Their conversations and laughter anchored the ground in place, tucked the shore under the water, hung the sky and decorated it with stars and moon and sun. (Kindle location 4323)

But the men in this book are not tyrants–they are simply men in a world where men spend their time with men and women spend their time with women. They love their children, honor their families, but are just as weak or strong as any other men. They are not the sort who just collect wives as we in America often imagine. These are men, too, who must face great difficulty in just supporting their families. Going to work involves long waits at security checkpoints which can arbitrarily close.

“Men reclaimed masculinity from the grateful eyes of the women who tended to their tired bodies and sweat-drenched clothes.” (Kindle location 2376)

The frustrations of such a life are immense. And then, too, they and their wives must snatch moments of intimacy behind a pulled curtain, or, great luxury, in the only bedroom. How must father or husband feel knowing he cannot legally take his loved one out of the ghetto to a nearby country like Egypt for a simple X-ray? To watch a mother or wife or sister deal with breast cancer using only folk remedies and a long wait for radical surgery? How does a man keep his masculinity and keep going in such circumstances.

“…children who clung to their limbs, chests, and necks for the comforts a strong father could impart.” (Kindle location 2383)

Finally there is the story of rejection–of a child thrown away by the one who gave her life:

“‘There is something extraordinary about being rejected by one’s mother, she [said]…’It impoverishes the soul. It leaves holes everywhere and you spend your life trying to fill them up. With whatever you can find. With food. With drugs and alcohol. With all the wrong men you know will leave you, so maybe they will replicate the original hurt you felt. You do it to feel abandonment over and over because that’s the only thing you know of your mather. And it’s all you know to do to bring her close.'” (Kindle location 4139)

My exposure to this world came in college from a blue-eyed Jewish man with an Arab first name. Born with the Nation of Israel (the same month), he grew fed up with all of this–the ridiculousness of it, after his own family had lived peacefully with Arabs for centuries (not all did). His forced military service in the 6-day war sharpened this feeling, after the next war he was done. He came to the United States with his American born wife who, having immigrated to an Israeli kibbutz at 16, grew to be just as disillusioned as her husband. Later I worked with and casually went out with a Palestinian man who was here studying engineering. When he described what it took to get to American for school and the life he left behind I was shocked.  It propelled me to learn more about both sides of the life in the area. The political gamesmanship I’d learned in my undergraduate degree was played out far too vividly in their lives. I wanted to hide, to forget, to focus on me–but I could not. I went out into the world to learn as much as I could.

This book brought all of this back to me. I was grief stricken and teary in parts. I was mad in parts and I was irritated by every party involved behind the scenes of this family’s life (this fictional family representing all of those real ones)–those who closed the boarders, those who bombed, those who did “terrorist” attacks in retaliation. (Terrorist is whoever is against your side). Mostly I was angered anew at the International community for just letting it all go on and fester. Letting generations grow up in this way of mutual loathing and mistrust.

I highly recommend this book. It will shock, anger, comfort and cajole you.You will laugh, scream in anger, cry in frustration and rejoice all in one book. The Blue Between Sky and Water by Susan Abulhawa.


Handmade Christmas: Stocking Stuffers Part I: Mostly Grown-Up Stuff


My kids still, at 21 and 22, look forward to their stockings and the cool little stuff I find for them. I bought beautiful, customized stockings, but not much of anything fits in them. So they usually just find their pile of stocking-stuffers on the fireplace hearth! Here are some great, easy-to-make stocking stuffers for all ages.

Drink cozies, bottle holders

Don’t see one you like? Don’t worry! Pinterst has zillions of these!!

Mug Coozie (felt)

Stroller Snap-On Cup Holder

Animal Water Bottle Holder

Crochet cross-body strap bottle holder

Cup band with tea bag holderCup band with tea bag holder

Tea Toters

 French Press Cozy (knit)

Mug Coozie (crochet)

Cup Band (crochet)

Cloth Java Jacket

New Sew Duck Tape Coffee Sleeve

Scrap Yarn Bottle holder

Paracord Bottle Holder

Electronics accessories

Multi-color Phone sweater

Cord Keeper from Scraps

Quilted laptop sleeve

Charger Pocket

Charger Cord Theft/Id

Two-tone phone sweater

Tangle-free headphones

Earbud Case

Travel Cord Organizer

For Readers, Journal-ers and Planner-addicts

 Book Sweater (knit)

Photo/Shape bookmarks

Bookmark discs

Elastic Band Bookmark

Photo Booth Bookmark

 Notebook Paper Book Cover (crochet)

Book Sweater with handle (crochet)

Scrabble Bookmarks/Ornaments

 Journal Band Pen Holder (knit)

Journal Pen Holder (crochet)

Cloth boookmarks

Fancy Ribbon Bookmarks



Paracord Keychains

I will have more gifts to make next week including great toys to make–many requiring no real crafting skills!

Even Wilma and Betty on the Flintstones liked to make gifts!