Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Day

It's Christmas morning. Not too cold outside, no snow, no rain. Typical December day in Virginia. Winchester, are you awake?

[yawn]. Yeah. The Writer is still in bed. And she went to bed early last light, like always.

She was tired of chasing you away from the old village houses and bottle-brush trees and celluloid reindeer on the sideboard. That's The Writer's favorite display--she's particular about it because the decorations are so old.

I have a fondness for one particular reindeer. He's tiny and cute. Can I help it I knock other stuff down while I'm batting the little reindeer off the sideboard? Anyway, she missed our talk.

She misses it every year. It's funny because she knows that animals can talk for an hour on Christmas Eve--I mean, so humans can hear them. She doesn't know stuffed animals can talk, too.

Her loss. We sorted out the world's problems. She could have taken notes and given our ideas to the new president. Is there something for me in this suitcase? Hark! I smell a bag of Party Mix, my favorite favorite treat! There is a Santa Claws. Merry Christmas, Ellie.

Merry Christmas, Winchester. And Merry Christmas, everyone!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Ellsworth's Christmas Eve

At last, all the hustle and bustle in this house is finished. Not a cat is stirring . . . Winchester is conked out on The Writer's afghan on the bed, someplace he is not supposed to sleep. But a lot is forgiven during the holiday season.

The Writer has had Christmas music playing since Thanksgiving Day. Not like her--she usually rails against "too much Christmas." But maybe she's mellowing in her old age.

As for me, I'm enjoying my spot under the Christmas tree in the pink glow of the lights. It makes everything seem rosy . . . soon The Writer's husband will be home and they'll have dinner here in the dining room. Winchester, who can hear a knife scrape against a plate in Iceland, will trip down the stairs, hoping for the "ham-and-turkey-that-falls-from-the-ceiling" miracle (The Writer's Husband throwing him bits).

Instead of wrapping the presents, The Writer put them in these vintage suitcases, one for her, one for her husband. I hope there's something in one of them for me.

Do I hear jingle bells? No, it's just Winchester, coming down the stairs and hitting the stocking tied to the newel post. But I do hear the garage door . . . Christmas Eve is about to begin. 'Night!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Vintage Thursday: Christmas in the Barn

The Writer absolutely loves all things Margaret Wise Brown. She is pleased to be a "Hollins Girl" like Margaret (and Margaret's mother)--

She's pretty old to be any kind of girl. And that's a terrible picture!

Once you graduate from Hollins University, you are a Hollins girl, no matter what your age. Anyway, before The Writer went to Hollins, she earned her M.F.A. in writing for children at Vermont College. For graduation, she asked for--and received--ten vintage Margaret Wise Brown books. Christmas in the Barn is one of them.

The Nativity story is told in rhyme: "In a big warm barn in an ancient field/The oxen lowed,/The donkey squealed,/the horses stomped,/The cattle sighed,/And quietly the daylight died/In the sunset of the west./And a star rose/Brighter than all stars in the sky." Barbara Cooney's scratchboard illustrations, alternating color and black and white, show a New England barn and blanket-covered horses hitched to sleighs parked in the snow. The "two people who had lost their way" are wearing coats, boots, and cloaks. The scene with the wise men show kings kneeling before the baby's basket, their crowns removed.

By removing the Christmas story from Bethlehem, Brown shows that miracles can happen anywhere. Cooney's illustrations in mustard, red and blue give an earthiness to the event. The book was published in 1952, the year The Writer was born and the year Margaret Wise Brown died, at the age of 42.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Vintage Wednesday: The Little Match Girl

In our house, Gustaf Tenggren's The Little Match Girl is displayed on the coffee table in the den, a place of honor. I'm surprised because The Writer doesn't really like Tenggren that much. Like most kids from the 50s, she grew up on Golden Books, including the famous The Poky Little Puppy andThe Shy Little Kitten. She liked the stories, but not the illustrations.

The mole, particularly its feet, in The Shy Little Kitten bothered her. And she didn't like the wrinkled back of the puppy in The Poky Little Puppy. She also had one of the fairy tale books by Tenggren and she was quite disturbed by the big sausage feet of the giants.

Oh, The Writer is quite disturbed all right.

Well . . . you know. Anyway, she loves The Little Match Girl. It was published by Grosset in 1944 and has a softer look than Tenggren's early work. After Tenggren went to work for Disney, his style changed. He worked on "Snow White," "Bambi," and "Pinocchio" and the Golden Books.

There are two ways to end The Little Match Girl--the original Andersen ending with the girl dying, or a weasely ending in which she lives. In Tenggren's version she is rescued and taken to a nice home . . . possibly. The ending is a bit ambiguous. The dusky blues, maroons, and golden browns in Tenggren's palette keeps the story from being too sweet. But The Writer is still a little freaked by the feet of the headless goose "with a fork stuck in it," as it appears to walk off the plate.

She skips that page, right?


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Vintage Tuesday

We are way behind on vintage books, so I'm going to catch up this week with Vintage Tuesday, Vintage Wednesday, and Vintage Thursday.

Other people set out candles and hang holly wreaths--The Writer decorates with books. I've been looking over her vintage Christmas books. Today we'll talk about The Littlest Angel by Charles Tazewell, illustated by Katherine Evans.

The Writer remembers having the watered-down Golden Book version of this story, which she read to make herself feel sad--

Why would a kid want to feel sad on purpose?

You have to remember The Writer was writing stories . . . and she was a little weird. Anyway, she was bothered by the little boy angel because to be an angel meant you were dead. The Writer wondered what happened to him, did he get hit by a car? And then he had all that trouble up in Heaven.

In the story, the Littlest Angel, who has a hard time adjusting to Heaven's rules, is sent to the Understanding Angel. The boy says he'd be happier if he could have the box of treasures under his bed on earth. He gets his box with its robin's eggshell, the collar of his deceased dog, white stones from the creek. Then the Son of God is born and all the angels give Him gifts. The Littlest Angel only has his rough box, which looks very out of place among the glittering gifts. Yet God is most pleased by his gift because it represents Earth and man.

Charles Tazewell wrote the story originally for radio in 1937. Famous theater actress Helen Hayes would read it on the radio at Christmas time. Another actress, Loretta Young, recorded it for Decca records. In 1946, Children's Press published the story with art by Katherine Evans. Tazewell wrote a few other children's holiday books, including The Littlest Snowman.

The Writer started her own box of earthly treasures, with a robin's eggshell, feathers, and pretty stones, that she kept under her bed in case she got hit by a car and had to go to Heaven. She'd ask to take her box, too.

You know, The Littlest Angel Cat would make a much better story. I think I'll write it . . .

Just don't use yourself as a model.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Winchester's Kibbles and Bits: The Christmas Portrait

Saturday I was taking a long afternoon nap. I was having visions of Mousies in my head when somebody rudely snatched me up from my nice warm spot and hauled me into the dining room.

"Picture time!" The Writer said. She proceeded to tie a wide pink ribbon around my neck, then stood me on the dining room table--a place I am NEVER allowed to be--and said, "Look lively!"

The Writer had posed me by an arrangement of old ornaments in an old cut-glass bowl. I was sleepy and my mouth felt like the bottom of a birdcage. I kept sinking down with my chin on the bowl.

"Sit up!" The Writer barked. "Look lively! Don't smell the ornaments! Stand up! Look at me! Turn your head a little so your bow shows! Stop sagging! Sit up!"

I wasn't sleepy any more but I was mad. Who did she think she was talking to?

"Why don't you take good pictures any more?" The Writer wailed. "You used to be so cute. Now you don't even look up. I'm going to trade you in for two kittens. They look cute without even trying."

Kittens? Was this a real threat? I'd heard The Writer say she would love to get a kitten instead of having all these grown cats come live with them. But, she always added, the problem with a kitten is that it grows up into a cat.

Then the real blow hit. I'm not cute any more? When did that happen? I've always been cute--it's my trademark, like my white spats and fantastically long whiskers. But maybe my cuteness is fading . . .
So here's my Christmas portrait. Yes, those are worry lines between my eyes. I'm fretting over losing my cuteness. Do you suppose they give Botox to cats?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Ellsworth's Dare

Look, it snowed last night. Our first snow of the year.

A half inch. Still, it's pretty. The Writer opened the window. She does that sometimes to air out the bedroom.

Yeah . . . I smell me some squirrels!

Hmmm. The screen latches are loose. Help me push the screen up. There! How brave are you?

I swiped The Writer's Husband's chicken leg off the table last night. The Writer said I was cruising. That was pretty brave. What are you thinking?

Go outside, Winchester. You've always wanted to. Step out the window. You'll be in the snow!

And on the roof! Are you crazy?

Dare you.

Never let it be said I turned down a dare. Okay . . . one paw is out. Wow!! This stuff is COLD! The other paw . . . my left hind foot . . . Whoa! Ellie! I'm sliding down the roof!

Grab my hand! Don't pull me outside--you're back safe and sound.

I nearly slid off the roof! And this is a two-story house! Satisfied I can take a dare?

Yeah. But you looked so funny scrambling around out there.

Next time I'll think up a dare for you. My feet are freezing. I'm going to sit by the heater.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Winchester's New Column: Kibbles and Bits

Hello, devoted followers. You finally have your wish--I have my very own column. The Writer started a second blog, so boring old Writing Mondays are gone. Be prepared for witty, thought-provoking posts, sprinkled with wisdom, topped by sparkling photos of Yours Truly.

Gag! Is this what your column is going to be like? One long, toot-your-own-horn?

What are you doing here, Ellsworth?

Giving you a taste of your own medicine. You're forever butting in my posts.

Only because your stories are so dull. They need the Winchester Touch.

Is this what we can expect in the way of "sparkling photos?" Where are you anyway?

I'm in the second bunk of my cat tree in The Writer's office. The Writer's Husband bought me this wonderful fluffy, puffy warm bed. It's a little big, though . . .

Because it's a dog bed. You're sleeping in a dog bed. Hee-hee!

A dog bed! Now I have the topic for this first post. Why are there no fluffy, puffy cat beds? Have you been to the pet store lately? The best products are for dogs. We cats should demand equal beds! And . . .


I'll think of some more stuff after my nap. All this column business has made me tired.