Aldi’s last turkey in the bag, plentiful sausages and bacon snagged for pigs in blanket construction, parsnips, potatoes, strangely hard to find cranberry sauce…and English guests with whom to share our happy (rather than the American ‘merry’) Christmas.
While we were sad to be far from family, there was a strange reassurance in having a familiar meal on the day. The ongoing hunt for chestnut puree to create that wonderful mainstay of chestnut stuffing was never satisfied, but we had enough of the staples to feel at ease.
In some ways, it was the most relaxed, ‘at ease’ Christmas we have ever had. With no family within reach, there were no obligations to travel and so we really did just stay here. Every now and then, usually in the aftermath of a FaceTime or seeing a photo, there has been a pang of sadness. But we have been thankful for a Christmas break spent together, enjoying doing very little and just ‘being’.
Wintry, pottering days – while restful in theory – come with little boys who need entertainment. Playmobil police stations and riot vans, and construction and superhero duplo, have served us well. Mild weather has meant more park trips than expected.
And then there are stories.
Stories before bed, stories after breakfast, stories at that time in the afternoon when everyone wants to cry, stories while meals are being eaten, and stories whenever anyone – guest or parent – is sitting prone on the sofa.
The boys’ love for books brings joy, but the heart can also sink slightly as they run towards you with that story that doesn’t flow, the one that doesn’t make sense, the one that’s too long, the one that’s just a bit boring, the one that I just don’t want to read again.
It has made me love and respect the brilliant books that contrast with the heart-sinking few that I try to make ‘disappear’ from our collection. You know it’s a good one when you don’t mind reading it for the twentieth time, and even on that time it brings a smile; when the illustrations add to the story rather than distract or clunk; when the narrative has sensitivity and subtlety, as well as humour; when the characters are likeable or at least believable.
Here are some of our favourites from 2019:
In quick summary:
Macavity (paired with Skimbleshanks in the same series) is age-old poetry with fantastic, enhancing illustrations. Dogger, that famed favourite from many childhoods hasn’t lost its charm, and Alfie by the same author captures a little boy in action, and the ensuing havoc, perfectly. Harry and the Dinosaurs is a collection of sensitive, deftly told stories that are insightful while also being fun and full of adventure, and include excellent accompanying pictures. Pirates Love Underpants is glorious and genius, while Spot The Lamb is busy and buzzy, and Daniel and the very Hungry Lions is engaging and creative in it’s retelling. Why Do We Say Good Night is beautiful and reassuring, and Chocolate Mousse for Greedy Goose is silly but clever.