Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Winchester and I will be back on New Year's Day. See you next year!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Waiting for Sandy Claws

Winchester, how come you keep looking over your shoulder?

Did you hear that? It sounded like bells!

It's still daytime. Santa won't be here yet.

I hope Sandy Claws fills my stocking with Tuna Treats and Chicken Bits and Lobster Lollipops and--

Your stocking says "It's All About Meow." It certainly is. What about the spirit of giving?

I'm all for it, as long as I'm the one who's getting what's being given. Oh! and Salmon Snacks and Turkey Tidbits . . .

And to all a good night!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Writer's Present

Winchester, what's all this?

I'm wrapping my present for The Writer.

A mouse pad with your picture on it. Very nice.

Yeah. I don't know why it's called a mouse pad. I thought it would be padded with mice but it's pretty flat. What are you giving her?

The continued gift of our lifelong friendship.

In other words, you're too cheap to give her anything.

Some things you can't buy, Winchester. But I'm glad to see you're in the holiday spirit.

I just want to butter up The Writer so she'll give me a can of sardines on Christmas Day. Pass me the scissors.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Holiday Matinee

The Writer is going to Richmond today to see "The Nutcracker," performed by the Richmond Ballet. She is very excited because she hasn't seen the show in three years.

That's the show with the cool mouse fight! I want to go!

Those are rats, not mice, in the fight scene and you can't go. Sometimes The Writer needs to--

Get away from me?

You said it. Anyway, The Writer loves the story of "The Nutcracker." She plays the music even in the summer. And she's seen every production on TV. When she lived closer to DC, she went to see it at the Kennedy Center.

Her favorite production is the Pacific Northwest Ballet's with sets designed by Maurice Sendak. Even if Sendak wasn't a famous children's book illustrator, The Writer thinks his sets are the best--that wonderful stormy boat scene, those rat statues, the great big Nutcracker mouth chomping down as the final curtain. She taped the TV program once, but it's a pretty bad version. She's tried to buy a better copy. Sendak did a book based on his sets and she has that.

Wasn't one of the songs in "The Nutcracker" used in a Friskies cat food commercial?

There is no hope for you.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Ellsworth and Winchester Host a Luncheon

Our first luncheon, Winchester. Look at the table! It's so pretty! This glass bowl is filled with vintage ornaments from The Writer's family.

There isn't any food here.

Not yet. You don't serve food until the guest arrives.

Who's coming, anyway?

The Writer's friend from Hollins University. She lives in Fredericksburg, too, and they are getting together to celebrate the holidays.

But the Classmate Lady really wants to meet us. Me, especially.

I think you're right, though she wants to meet me most of all.

What's that awful smell coming from the kitchen?

The lunch. The Classmate Lady is vegan, which means she doesn't eat any meat or dairy or fish. So The Writer is making things like hummus, a dip made from chick peas.

Who ever heard of a meal with no meat! Chick peas! Blah! I'll say hi to the Classmate Lady and then I'm outta here.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Christmas Carol

Winchester and I hoped you enjoyed our little production of "Winchester's Christmas Carol." We based our story somewhat on the old TV program, "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol." But we also used The Writer's favorite edition of the Charles Dickens' book.

This version has illustrations by Trina Schart Hyman, who is one of The Writer's all-time favorite illustrators (don't ever ask The Writer who her favorite illustrators are--she'll keep you there a week). The cover isn't that easy to see here, but it's magical with snow falling on a busy London street and those wonderful faces turned toward the joys of Christmas. The first word of each chapter has a little black and white drawing worked into the first letter. The chapters end with a black and white drawings, too. Trina Schart Hyman was a master with pen and ink. The important scenes are shown in the color plates. My favorite is the one of Jacob Marley's ghost appearing to a skeptical Scrooge.

Look for the book in your library (it was published in 1983). It makes a great read-aloud. There are five chapters so if you start reading tomorrow night, you'll finish by Christmas Eve.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Cookie Monday

Christmas is a week from tomorrow. Some people are baking cookies already. The Writer never has time to bake any more, but she remembers the goodies her mother used to bake.

The Writer's mother began "lining" up her recipes after Thanksgiving and would start baking in early December. She stored cookies in the "cold room," an extra bedroom with the heat turned off. As a little girl, The Writer would sneak in there and snick from this tin and that one, hastily rearranging the remainder and leaving a trail of crumbs.

The Writer loved her mother's cut-out butter cookies best. She would watch her mother roll out the dough with her old one-handled rolling pin. The Writer pressed the old aluminum and plastic cookie cutters in the dough--the blue elephant was our favorite! Then The Writer would roll scraps of dough with her own little rolling pin and make tiny dog cookies with her own little red cookie cutter.

After The Writer was married, her mother baked at The Writer's house. The Writer always got sick from eating too many rich butter cookies, her mother usually set the tea towel on fire, and she invariably wrecked The Writer's kitchen. Flour swirled in a blizzard, Crisco was ground into the counters, dollops of dough spotted the floor. The Writer and her mother snacked on M&Ms they chopped for M&M bars, talked longingly of the old days, gobbled cookies still hot from the oven, and had the kind of fun only mothers and daughters can share.

It has been nearly 20 years since The Writer and her mother baked together. This time of year The Writer wishes she could spend one more December afternoon making Mexican wedding cookies, pecan cookies, and those famous iced butter cookies. The Writer would let her mother make the biggest mess ever, and she'd be glad.

Here is the recipe for The Writer's mother's pecan cookies. It stores well and isn't so sweet the kids will be tempted to nip in the tin too many times:

Pecan Cookies

3/4 cup shortening
1 1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
2 cups sifted flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. baking soda
1/4 cup chopped pecans

Cream shortening, add sugar, blend in egg. Sift dry ingredients three times. Add to mixture. Stir in nuts. Shape into roll, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate until chilled. Slice wafer thin. Bake at 350 5 to 10 minutes.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Cast Party

Winchester, we did it! We put on the whole Christmas play all by ourselves. Do you think The Writer liked it?

Never mind her. We have all the newspapers--let's check the reviews. Hey, New York actors read their notices with bagels and lox and cream cheese and fancy coffee. What have we got?

A Pop Tart and some apple juice. This is still Fredericksburg.

You can't put lox on a Pop Tart! Okay, my paper says the play was a smash hit with eclectic sets and creative direction. The cat was fabu!

Fabu! I bet you're making up that last part. The Times says the supporting cast was great but the elephant stole the show. What's The Tribune say?

Hunnh? What's a four-letter word for fish?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Keep Christmas in Your Heart All Year

"Winchester's Christmas Carol"
Act Three
Scene Two:

Inside the Cratchit home. The children are gathered around a Christmas tree. Toys are scattered on the floor. A table is set with sparkling china.

Scrooge: Where did your father go? I just told him that he is getting a raise. And a full coal scuttle every single day.

Biggest Cratchit Girl: He fainted from the shock. Mother took him into the bedroom so he could lie down.

Scrooge: Wait till you taste that turkey! And I had all the trimmings sent over, too. We are going to have a real Christmas feast!

Little Boy: The tree is the most beautifulest ever!

Second Girl: We never had real toys before.

Scrooge: Nothing but the best for this family from now on. You see, Christmas isn't just a day. Sharing and giving is a way of life. I will be the sharingest, givingest man in all of London!

Tiny Ellsworth: God bless us, every one!

End of Scene Two

Friday, December 14, 2007

Christmas Morning

"Winchester's Christmas Carol"
Act Three
Scene One:

Scrooge wakes up. He is in his bedroom.

Scrooge: I'm not dead! I'm alive!

He rushes to the window, leans out too far, and falls out. A boy rushes over.

Boy: Hey, Mister, you all right?

Scrooge: Never better! Do you know what day this is?

Boy: Sure I do. It's Christmas!

Scrooge: Then I didn't miss it after all! Is that turkey still in the poultry shop window?

Boy: The one as big as me? I should say so!

Scrooge: (digging in his pocket) Go and buy it.

Boy: What, are you bonkers?

Scrooge: Bring the turkey back here in less than five minutes and I'll give you half a crown.

Boy takes off running.

Scrooge: Ah, Christmas Day! More than anything, I am grateful the night is over so I can get out of this ridiculous nightshirt!

He goes back in his house, singing "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen."

End of Scene One

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Ghost of Christmas Future

"Winchester's Christmas Carol"
Act Two
Scene Three:

Scrooge wakes when the clock strikes one again. Before him stands a figure clad in black. He cannot see its face. The figure does not speak.

Scrooge: Spirit, am I in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas yet to come?

The Ghost nods.

Scrooge: I'm more afraid of you than the other two spirits put together. Maybe it's because you look like an X-ray of a rabbit. Lead on, then.

The Ghost raises one arm. A chill wind blows and Scrooge is the home of Cratchit again. This time the family looks sad. A crutch leans against the fireplace.

Scrooge: What has happened to Tiny Ellsworth? Oh, not the worst!

The Ghost raises his arm again. This time the icy wind blows Scrooge into a graveyard. He falls over a tombstone.

Scrooge: Please, X-ray Rabbit Ghost, don't make me look!

The Ghost points. Scrooge sees his own name carved on the gravestone and falls back in horror.

Scrooge: Oh, no! Not that, anything but that! I promise I'll be good! I promise I'll celebrate Christmas! Pleeeeease!

End of Scene Three

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Books for Holiday Gift-giving

Wait a minute! How come we're not doing the play today?

We have a wardrobe malfunction. Namely, I can't find a costume for my next part. The play will continue tomorrow. We're going to talk about books to give as holiday presents instead.

The Writer collects editions of Clement C. Moore's The Night Before Christmas by different picture book artists. This year she found a beauty with cut-paper illustrations by Niroot Puttapipat. The black and white silhouettes feature touches of red and green. Scenes transform through cut-out doors and windows. Children will love the tiny details, such as the battle between the attic mice and the toy soldiers. In the final breathtaking pop-up, St. Nick soars over delicate rooftops.

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams begins with the toy rabbit in the Boy's stocking on Christmas morning. Although the rabbit is forgotten among all the other new presents, he becomes significant in the Boy's life. This 1922 classic has been called sentimental by some, but The Writer gives it to special children and always in the original edition with William Nicholson's illustrations in yellow, slate blue, and brick red. This is not a flashy book, but perhaps just right for reading with a child on Christmas night when the hectic day is over and a quiet moment is needed.

The Writer was thrilled when Leonard Marcus' Golden Legacy: How Golden Books Won Children's Hearts, Changed Publishing Forever, and Became an American Icon Along the Way finally came out this fall. She only owned Golden Books as a young child and read each one to tatters. Marcus' wonderful tribute is filled with photographs, art, book covers, and remembrances. Give this book to anyone who loved their Golden Books!

A latecomer to the magic of Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden, The Writer was delighted to find The Annotated Secret Garden by Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina. Gerzina also wrote the definitive biography of Burnett. Illustrated with art from various editions of the classic, this is a great book for those looking for their own secret garden.

On The Writer's Wish List is a book she found hopscotching around kidlit blogs: Drawn to Enchant: Original Children's Book Art in the Betsy Beinecke Shirley Collection by Timothy Young. Lushly illustrated, this book chronicles the evolution of children's literature from the birth of our nation to the twenty-first century. The Writer hopes to see this book under the Christmas tree.

I hope it's not a very big book. There's not much room under this puny little tree.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Christmas Present

"Winchester's Christmas Carol"
Act Two
Scene Two:

Scrooge's bedchamber. Scrooge is in bed. The clock strikes one again. He wakes up and looks around. A decorated tree stands in his room. Presents are heaped beneath its branches. A huge spirit sits beside the tree. He is dressed in a green velvet robe with a white fur collar.

Ghost of Christmas Present: Ah hah, hah, hah!

Scrooge: Who are you? And what's so funny?

Ghost: I'm the Ghost of Christmas Present. I'm always in a good mood.

Scrooge: Really? Then those presents under the tree are for me?

Ghost: Those presents are symbols of this great day, which you never seem to enjoy.

Scrooge: I will now, I promise--

Ghost: Touch my robe.

Scrooge touches the jovial ghost's robe. Instantly he is transported into a small room packed with children and people. They are sitting down to eat.

Scrooge: That's Cratchit, my clerk. And they must be his wife and children. What's the name of the youngest one, the one who can't walk?

Ghost: Tiny Ellsworth. Notice they have only salami for dinner. See how Cratchit is slicing it very thinly.

Scrooge: A pretty crummy dinner, that's for sure.

Ghost: They would have roast goose if you paid him better wages! But they are happy just the same because they have each other.

Scrooge: And I have no one. Spirit, will you take me back now?

The Ghost waves the hem of his robe. Scrooge is back in his bed. He falls asleep once more.

End of Scene Two

Monday, December 10, 2007

Scrooge's Christmas Past

"Winchester's Christmas Carol"
Act Two
Scene One:

Scrooge is asleep when the clock strikes one. He opens his eyes and sees a childlike ghost smiling at him.

Scrooge: W-who are you?

Ghost: I am the Ghost of Christmas past. Your past, Winchester Scrooge. Rise and walk with me.

She heads toward the window.

Scrooge: I am a mortal! I will fall!

Ghost: Just touch my hand.

Scrooge: I can't run around in this nightshirt. I'll freeze.

Ghost: With your girth, I doubt you'll ever freeze. Now touch my hand!

Instantly, Scrooge and the Ghost are standing in an old building.

Ghost: Do you know this place?

Scrooge: Yes! It's the schoolhouse I went to as a boy. That's my stool. I was a good student, you know, but--

Ghost: But what?

Scrooge: I was rather lonely. I had to stay in school over the Christmas holidays when my friends got to go home and have fun. Spirit, this place brings back sad memories. Can we leave?

The Ghost waves her holly crown and Scrooge finds himself back in bed again. He falls asleep immediately, exhausted.

End of Scene One

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Ellsworth Marley

"Winchester's Christmas Carol"
Act One
Scene Four

Inside Winchester Scrooge's house. He is sitting by the fire in his nightclothes, eating supper. Suddenly he hears a clanking sound coming up the stairs. In walks a ghost bound with chains and dragging a money box.

Scrooge: Who are you?

Ellsworth Marley: In life I was your partner, Ellsworth Marley.

Scrooge: Marley has been dead seven years. You, sir, are a figment of my imagination. A bit of undigested beef, a fragment of underdone potato--

Marley screams.

Scrooge: (frightened) W-why are you here?

Marley: I have come to warn you. See this chain I wear? I forged it link by link, making money and ignoring my fellow man. I am doomed to wander forever. But you have a chance!

Scrooge: To do what? By the way, did you die of a toothache?

Marley screams again.

Scrooge: All right! Don't get your chain in a twist. What do you want from me?

Marley: You will be haunted by three spirits tonight--

Scrooge: No! No more ghosts!

Marley: Expect the first when the bell tolls one.

Scrooge: Why can't they all come at once so I can get it over with?

Marley moans and flies out the window. Scrooge stares outside. The night sky is filled with moaning phantoms shackled in chains.

End of Scene Four and Act One.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Tiny Ellsworth

"Winchester's Christmas Carol"
Act One
Scene Three:

A street in London. Five children stand on a corner. They have been looking in shop windows at displays of food and toys and games. One child walks with the aid of a crutch.

Oldest Girl: Did you see that beautiful Christmas tree in Featherstone's? All loaded with candles and candy canes!

Next Oldest Girl: I wish we could have a tree like that in our house.

Middle Boy: We've never had a Christmas tree in our whole lives.

Tiny Ellsworth: Maybe we will this year.

Third Girl: Really? Do you really think so, Tiny Ellsworth?

Next Oldest Girl: How? Papa doesn't make hardly any money. Thanks to that stingy old Mr. Scrooge.

Tiny Ellsworth: Mr. Scrooge is just--close with his money, that's all. I bet he gives Papa a raise and a great big turkey, just like the one in Wallingham's window!

Oldest Girl: In your dreams!

Middle Boy: I wonder what turkey tastes like. I found a chicken bone in the garbage once. Do you think it's better than that?

Third Girl: Mama said we're having gruel, even though it's Christmas. I'm so sick of gruel!

Tiny Ellsworth: Gruel is good for us. Anyway, the important thing is that we'll all be together.

Oldest Girl: Tiny Ellsworth, sometimes I think you fell off your stool by the firelace one time too many.

End of Scene Three

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Ellsworth Cratchit

"Winchester's Christmas Carol"
Act One
Scene Two:

Inside the counting-house of Scrooge and Marley. Scrooge's only clerk shivers at her desk as she adds columns of figures. She looks anxious, as if she needs to ask her boss something important.

Scrooge: Two hundred forty-one plus nine pence, two hundred forty-two plus ten pence . . .

Ellsworth Cratchit: Er, Mr. Scrooge, sir. My teeth are chattering so bad, I can barely write.

Scrooge: . . . two hundred forty-three plus a tuppence. You can't possibly be cold, Cratchit. I'm not. It's a toasty forty-one degrees in here. Any warmer and you'd be sweating.

Cratchit: Well, sir, if you please, sir. I'm afraid my numb fingers will slip and I'll spill the ink. That would be a big waste, wouldn't it, sir? Might I have another piece of coal?

Scrooge: For pity's sake. I gave you a lump of coal just last week!

Cratchit: Sir, my fingers are stuck to the quill.

Scrooge: Oh, all right! Here! But don't come crying to me in February because this is all you're getting until spring.

Cratchit: (nervously twisting her cravat) Sir . . . there's one more thing. Tomorrow is Christmas Day. I'd be very grateful if--

Scrooge: You want all day off! With wages!

Cratchit: Begging your humble pardon, sir, but it is a tradition.

Scrooge: A poor excuse for picking a man's pocket every twenty-fifth of December!

Cratchit: (putting on his scarf) Thank you, sir. My children thank you, sir. My wife thanks you. My mother-in-law--

Scrooge: (waving him out the door) Just be here the day after extra early. Now where was I? Two hundred and forty-three plus a tuppence. Or was it a thruppence? Darn that Ellsworth Cratchit for making me lose count!

End of Scene Two

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Bah! Humbug!

Winchester's Christmas Carol
Act One
Scene One:

London, 1843. A snowy street on Christmas Eve. Carolers serenade under a lamppost. An old man bustles past them on his way to his counting-house. He is stopped by two well-dressed people.

Well-dressed Person Number One: Mr. Scrooge? Winchester Scrooge, I presume?

Scrooge: Presume somewhere else. I'm in a hurry.

Well-dressed Person Number Two: We only need a moment of your time. On this festive evening, we wonder if you would like to make a provision for the destitute and poor.

Scrooge: By provision, you mean money?

Person Number One: Well--yes.

Scrooge: Everybody always has their hand out! Are there no prisons? No workhouses?

Person Number Two: Of course, but many can't go there. And some won't.

Scrooge: Tough. Stuff the prisons and workhouses to the rafters with those useless people and leave me alone! I for one have to work for a living!

Winchester Scrooge scurries down the street, muttering to himself, "Bah, humbug!"

End of Scene One

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Winchester's Christmas Carol

"Overture, curtains, lights! This is it, you'll hit the heights. And oh what height's we'll hit--"

Wait a minute! What's going on?

We're putting on a play! "Winchester's Christmas Carol." It's our present to The Writer.

I'm the star!

You're the star. You play Winchester Scrooge.

Oo. I like the sound of that. When do we start?

Right now! Let's go over to costume and make-up--

Hold it right there! I'm not wearing any make-up!

"On with the show, this is it!"

Monday, December 3, 2007

Christmas is Coming!

In the spirit of the season, The Writer is watching her favorite holiday videos (yes, she still watches videos!). Her absolute favorite is "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol." She saw the show when it first aired in December, 1962, when she was ten. She loved it, even though she watched the color program on a black and white TV set, and she especially liked the songs. When the show was over, she went outside to see the lunar eclipse. She always remembers those two things together.

A TV show and a lunar eclipse? The Writer is weird!

The Writer always liked the story, but was glad she saw this version of it first. "Grown-up" versions of Dickens' story are scary with all those ghosts and visits to the graveyard and so forth.

Let's wind it up, Ellsworth.

Tune in tomorrow for a surprise Winchester and I are doing for The Writer!

Uh-oh. Why do I sense costumes are in my future?