Merry Christmess

We were home for Christmas today. First time in years we have not lugged our cranky selves and suitcases full of presents across multiple state lines.

And I’m not gonna lie: it was great.

Sure, there was the miscommunication about the grocery shopping. I thought the hubs picked up the beef roast yesterday, and he figured I had done it. Turns out nobody did. And then there was the dollhouse. Did either of us feel like assembling it when we got home late last night? Nope. And the crazy early-bird children. Why do they always awaken at the arse-crack of dawn? Whose bright idea was it to put Christmas in the morning anyway? It should totally be a nighttime holiday. When I’m in charge, man, that’s the first change I’m making.

But rather than cataclysmic, most of this stuff was freeing. Because I was bonkers tired, I stayed in jammies most of the day. With no big showy main course, we got resourceful in the kitchen. Our dinner guests were all family. They were fine with the soup, salad, and quiche we tossed together. And unwrapping pieces of a dollhouse in a giant box turns out to be just as fun as unwrapping a whole house. Lizzie even enjoyed assembling the giant multilevel toy with Katie and Dad as helper elves. And even though there are still dishes in the sink and bits of wrapping paper all over the floor, I just put another log on the fire, and I’m heading into the living room to lie on the couch with my kids.

I like to travel. I like visiting folks and hobnobbing at big family functions.

But, especially on days like this, I like home most of all.

Wishing you and yours discombobulation, merriment, and sloth.

Happy Christmas!



I Can’t Believe It’s Almost Christmas! (Part II) What should I buy my Mom/Dad/Husband/Wife/Cousin/Sister/Best Friend?

Sure, they want gift cards. But what could be less personal than 10 or 20 bucks towards a meal at Panera or a mani/pedi?

Give the folks you love permission to turn off the phone, the television, and global politics, and disappear into a good, juicy book.

Here are just a few of our favorites:

For people who need a laugh, try Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, by David Sedaris, or Today Will Be Different, by Maria Semple (though if you have not read Where Have You Gone, Bernadette? maybe read that one first).dadvmom-com_christmasbooks_dressyourfamily

For folks who might want to think about religion and the way it both hurts and heals, Searching for Sunday, by Rachel Held Evans, is haltingly lovely and wise.

For someone who needs a story to disappear into for awhile, Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, took the immigrant tale I thought I knew and made me rethink the promises of our nation. It was a sweeping story with really beautiful writing. In a different vein, Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad really is as good as everybody has said, making us imagine what if there really had been a railroad beneath the ground transporting slaves, and what, if anything, freedom might have looked like on that journey northward state by state.

For the World War II buff, All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr, Mila 18, by Leon Uris, and The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, all take a familiar story and make it both strange and somehow more important. Similarly, Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies take us inside the court of Henry VIII to consider a story we thought we knew through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell.

For folks who keep skipping book club, but want to catch up with both new and old favorites, try The Paris Wife, by Paula McClain (or her newer one Circling the Sun, for the Out of Africa afficionados on your list). Life of Pi, by Yan Martel, is beautifully written and metaphorical, and The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah stayed with me more deeply than I initially anticipated. Or try a Brooklyn trilogy – A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith, Another Brooklyn, by Jacqueline Woodson, and Brooklyn, by Colm Tóibín, would make for a great comparative series.

dadvmom-com_christmasbooks_lifeofpiAnd if you are looking to escape into a world of romance, try the debut novel Just Enough, by Elizabeth Oaklyn, Austenland, by Shannon Hale, Elizabeth Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series, or the Outlander series, by Diana Gabaldon.

Short stories are always a good bet for folks in between lengthier reads. Jhumpa Lahiri is one of my favorite writers of this genre. The first story in Interpreter of Maladies might be my all-time favorite, though Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth collection is also quite stunning. Similarly, books of essays are always a great gift. I love to revisit E.B. White essays, and love any edition that includes “This Is New York.” I disappeared into Joan Didion’s collected nonfiction last year. We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live is some of the best writing I have ever encountered.  And though I love Ann Patchett’s fiction, I especially appreciated her nonfiction collection from a few years ago, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage.

Poetry books are perfect stocking stuffers. The Trouble with Poetry, by Billy Collins is always a good place to start for the poem-o-phobes in your life, and you can’t go wrong with anything by Mary Oliver. Dream Work is one of my favorites.

As a writer, I am a sucker for books about writing. Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird was one of my first loves. And, though I never was a huge Stephen King reader, his slim book On Writing is a great look at the writing life.

And it is never too late to become the parent, the partner, or person you always thought you might be. Try Siblings Without Rivalry, by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish, Love Warrior, by Glennon Melton, or Shrill, by Lindy West, to examine the assumptions many of us have about women, men, children, and marriage.

And finally, of course, there is always this old thing. If you have not yet picked up a copy of our book, we’d love to come hang out under your tree. Here Be Dragons: A Parent’s Guide to Rediscovering Purpose, Adventure, and the Unfathomable Joy of the Journey is a love story for families just trying to make every day a blessing.

All of these books are available NOW at your favorite independent bookstores or online stores and they are also super-easy to wrap. Grab some for people you love today.


Aack! I Can’t Believe It’s Almost Christmas! What Should I Buy My Kids?


When in doubt, our answer is always books, books, books.

Here are some of our kids’ favorites:

Ages 0-4Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Eric Carle. We sang this as a lullaby to each of our kids, sometimes changing the words to “I see Mommy looking at me” or “I see Henry looking at me.”  A quintessential sing- and read-aloud book.

The Runaway Bunny, by Margaret Wise Brown. Of course, all of our children loved Goodnight Moon, the perfect bedtime book to read again and again. But not everyone knows this story about a mommy bunny proving her love for her little bunny boy by describing all the places she would travel (the mountains, the circus, the ocean) and all the things she would become (a mountain climber, a fisherman, the wind) to care for her child. Our kids especially seemed to love this book when they were seeking reassurance and extra snuggles.

ABC, by Alison Jay. We LOVE Alison Jay’s interlocked illustrations in all of her books, especially the way stories are told between the pages.  This is the kind of book we came back to again and again with our kids and always noticed something different.  They loved looking for the “hints” between the pages.

Seals on the Bus, by Lenny Hort. Most younger readers will encounter the “Wheels on the Bus” song in preschool or at the library.  This book is a humorous rewrite with animals hopping on the bus (vipers instead of wipers on the bus, seals instead of wheels).  We laugh and snort every time we read it. www-dadvmom-com_aackitsalmostchristmas_sealsonthebus

Ages 5-7 –The Junie B. Jones books, by Barbara Park. I know folks are fiercely divided about these.  Some think the grammatical mistakes teach kids the wrong way to speak or that because Junie makes a lot of bad choices, the books teach children to behave poorly.  But I think these books are so funny, and they always end the right way, with Junie learning her lessons, and trying to behave better. There are 26 volumes in the series and we have read all 26 out loud twice, once to our now 11-year-old and once again to our now 7-year-old.  I anticipate reading them all again when Henry, age 4, is ready. All of these books are terrific for early and emerging readers, especially for children anxious about starting kindergarten.

The BFG, by Raold Dahl. Dahl’s books are such timeless, wonderful read-alouds. I remember first thinking that his books might be “too scary” for my kids, but they are always just the right kind of scary – a giant who turns out to be friendly, mean adults who get punished. The worlds Dahl’s characters inhabit are always safe and always funny for kids. Our 7-year-old daughter’s teacher read The BFG to them at school and Lizzie loved it so much that she came home and wanted to read it again with us.


Ages 1-99Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst. I know they made a movie about this a few years back, but the book is truly excellent. So funny, so lovely. Especially good to have on hand to remind kiddos that everyone, everyone, everyone has bad days . . . even in Australia:)


The Missing Piece, by Shel Silverstein. This is one of those rare books that works for all ages.  It works for a beginning reader, an intermediate reader, a teenager and an adult.  Children will love the humor of the different shapes trying to fit in the circle.  More mature readers will love the metaphor of being their own complete person without seeking another person to fulfill them and meet their needs.  All three of our kids have reached for this book at many different ages.


And here are a couple of middle reader/tween reads.  Folks are always asking us for books for this age (aside from the awesome Harry Potter and Hunger Games series, of course).

  1. The Dork Diaries series, by Rachel Renee Russell. Our daughter began reading these as a 3rd grader and still enjoyed them through the 5th grade.  While they weren’t always my cup of tea, she treasured them and shared them with friends, and seemed boosted by the difficult days endured by Nikki, the main character.  Even now, in middle school, she still keeps the series on her shelf.
  1. The I Survived series, by Lauren Tarshis. These stories are great for both girls and boys, escorting children through a firsthand look at difficult days in history — earthquakes, hurricanes, the sinking of the titanic.  With a happy ending because the whole time, you know that your narrator survives the ordeal.dadvmom-com_aackitsalmostchristmas_isurvivedbooks
  1.  The Giver series, by Lois Lowry. Many kids encounter The Giver in middle school, but there are 3 additional books to fill out the quartet – Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son. Our daughter counts them among her favorites.
  1. A Night Divided, by Jennifer A. Nielsen.  This is the story of 12-year-old Gerta, and her family, living on opposite sides of the Berlin wall. The book launched our oldest daughter into a reading spree about real historical events as seen and experienced in fictionalized stories narrated by children. Others like this include Fever 1793, by Laurie Halse Anderson, and The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly.
  1. Wonder, by R. J. Palacio. This is another book kids usually encounter in middle school. It tackles familiar topics of friendship and bullying through the eyes of 10-year-old Auggie who has severe facial deformities. It is a great book for middle readers to think about how they handle differences and nonconformity, and instructs them to be more sensitive and accepting.


Young Adult/Books for Teens

  1. Pretty much anything by John Green, but especially Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars. These books were not written when I was a teenager, so I had to read them as an adult, but they resonate well with teen readers looking for wry, wise narrators, and a little (okay, sometimes a lot) bit of heartbreak. Plus, with John Green books, smart kids are celebrated and awesome, not nerdy kiddos to be picked on.
  2. The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker. A great read for the Science Fiction lover or kiddo not afraid of What Ifs. This is a story of what might happen if our days got just a little longer and a little longer. Such an interesting look at how an initially insignificant change can have much larger consequences.
  3. The Lords of Discipline, by Pat Conroy. I loved all of Conroy’s books as an adult, but this one resonated with my most as I was thinking about college. This one is a beautiful story about male friendship and courage, not to mention an ode to the city of Charleston, South Carolina.
  4. The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. Death is the narrator here, helping readers navigate what it might have been like to be a German girl during WWII whose family is hiding a Jewish man. An important and beautiful read.
  5. Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson. This is not a book for younger readers, but it is an important book for high school students. It tells the story of Melinda who is being ostracized after calling the police at a teen party. This book gives voice to victims and those who feel powerless in the face of violence or bullying.


Yes, the children would probably like iTunes cards and movie theater tickets more. Or clothes. Or money. But reading fluency is the single greatest predictor of college-readiness, not to mention one of the best lifelong gifts you can give your child. For a very Merry Christmas, we say, bring on the books.

Have a wonderful book title for kids?  We’d love to hear it.  Leave a comment or email us at



Merry January

In the middle of cooking dinner tonight, the whole family went outside to play soccer and softball in the twilight. When we finished, Lizzie asked if we could say the Pledge of Allegiance to our flag. We all gathered on the side porch and put our hands on our hearts. We pledged.

Back inside, the girls helped get dinner on the table, where Henry promptly requested that we sing, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” for grace. We agreed. Lizzie wanted us to do it with hand motions from last year’s holiday concert. We said, “sure thing.” Katie offered to accompany us on the piano. (She does not know this song.) We sang and danced “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” to the tune of “Jingle Bells” on a Monday afternoon in January.

We are either doing something right or a lot of things wrong.

Probably both.

But I embrace their crazy. Because children are exuberant and wonderful, nonsensical and merry. They fill us with honor and magic, sport and delight. If only we will listen. If only we let them.

On evenings like this, I pledge my allegiance to my kids.

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Solidarity Brothers and Sisters

The Party Is Just Getting Started


When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music from the heart.

Poem by Howard Thurman (1899-1981)

Music by Dan Forrest (b. 1978)

One of my least favorite jobs of the year is taking down our Christmas tree. For weeks, it holds a place of honor in our living room, regal and pine-scented in all its branched and baubled loveliness. Then, we undecorate it and toss it on the curb. I’m told the city recycles it, mulches it into something that will breed life again. But I can’t help but feel a little emptiness as we put the lights and angels back into their boxes, and tuck Christmas on the shelf in our garage, to sit and wait another year.

The Christmas season is like a movie trailer – all breathless anticipation and excitement. My kids and I can hardly wait for the big day to arrive. We are so utterly beside ourselves – baking, wrapping, decorating, frolicking. It is easy to wish such easy joy could last. That our friends and family would always open their homes to us so eagerly. That we would always have this much candy lying around to nosh. That we would always feel this warm and wonderful and good and golden about all of humankind.

But if I am being totally honest, the Christmas season is almost too much for me. There is so much fullness, so much chatter, so many crowds. I consume so many cookies. The gifts are torn open with such rapidity. And as much as I love a good party, I find myself limping a little around the new year, craving salad, yoga, and stillness. After so much Christmas-ing, I need to regroup.

Today, with the end of Christmas heavy in our hearts, our family visited a church on a hill in search of a new vista and maybe a new message to begin a new year.

We found it in an a cappella hymn. “The Work of Christmas Begins” burned right through this dim day, and warmed my heart. Because it turns out that the day when we place our lifeless tree on the curb, well, that’s the moment when the real ministry of Christmas starts. In these quiet days after the hullabaloo, now is when we compose ourselves and live the words that we ate, drank, and celebrated only a few days ago. With the tree gone, we have more room to feed the hungry and welcome strangers. With the travel completed, now is the time for our real Christmas journey to begin. To minister to new parents, and offer gifts to the poor. To set aside judgment of faiths and families different from our own. To offer thanks for shelter, warmth, comfort, and love. Now is the time to follow bright stars and dwell in the goodness of all that is possible.

Yes, the parties are over.
But the celebration is just beginning.
And this healing real work of Christmas lasts all year long.



Oh, Hole-y Night

Ours was a Christmas Eve full of wardrobe malfunctions:

  • Katie wore the same red dress she has worn for the past three Christmases. “It’s okay, Mom. If I cover it with this sweater, no one can see where it’s pinching my arms.”
  • Lizzie selected her blue dress from our costume dress-up box. Since the back zipper was broken, she went to church with a row of five safety pins holding it up.  When those irritated her, she changed into an Ohio State t-shirt she found in the car.
  • Henry took off his Christmas vest midway through the service, threw it at his sister, and cried when I said he could not have a granola bar.
  • I wore my drab, black funeral dress, since my cheerful, red holiday frock no longer buckles or zips.
  • Dad realized the white shirt he found on the closet floor was not as clean as he originally thought.  Though the largest stain turned out to be white wine and not pee.

I was surprised no one turned to us during the homily to inquire whether we, too, had been born in a barn.

Lizzie requested pancakes for dinner. Katie begged for Indian food. Henry lobbied for macaroni and cheese.

We chose a Japanese restaurant where nobody got what they wanted – except for mom, who did not have to cook – and somehow everyone was happy.


Here’s to noodles and soup, shirts without buttons, and clothes that don’t zip.

Whether your holidays thus far have been good, bad, or nutty, don’t forget we all have it pretty darn good.

Happy sushi to all and to all a good night.



There Went Santa Claus

We have not visited Santa this year. We have entered no shopping malls, paid for no photographs, and endured not one single moment of waiting in any faux wonderland.

Instead, as is the tradition in this merry little town we now call home, Santa came to us. In a little red sled, on a big brown trailer, pulled by a grey pickup truck. And flanked by a police escort.

If the setup sounds wacky, that is only because you have not seen the magic firsthand. Sirens and lights roused us to our windows, as a cruiser drove along the street announcing, “Santa is coming. Santa is coming.”

My kids grabbed hats and coats and tumbled out into the darkness. Sure enough, moments later, Santa rounded the corner–going maybe nine miles an hour–and the whole party stopped right in front of our house.

My kids got down to business one, two, three.

Katie requested a Science kit.

Lizzie presented an itemized list with “PURPL UNNECORN” printed at the top.

And Henry, the littlest one, gazed at the cars and trucks all aglow, and quietly asked if Santa would drive him to visit his grandparents in Ohio. Santa chuckled, smiled wearily, and said, “I really wish I could, buddy. Maybe Mom can help with that one.”

Henry pondered this as he hopped away with a candy cane.  I liked that Santa suggested Mom was powerful, too.

The kids presented the whole entourage with a paper plate of homemade cookies. And Katie added, “I also wish for everyone else to get their wishes tonight.”

“No one has ever asked me for that before,” Santa replied.  “I’ll see what I can do.”  Then the bedazzled Christmas train lumbered off into the darkness.

It seemed to me that Katie was confusing Santa with a genie, as though she could keep wishing for more wishes, the ultimate Christmas loophole. But Santa saw the loveliness in her request, and had honored the goodness in all three of my children, something I often fail to do.

The whole visit lasted only a few minutes, and was like a page from a storybook–one of 1001 tales you might tell late at night. About that time when you were a kid, and Santa came to your house, promised you a unicorn, gave you some candy, and drove away in a little red sled, on a big brown trailer, pulled by a grey pickup truck.

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Oh Christmas Tree?

This story originally appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered.  


Our Christmas tree gets uglier every year. It’s not the tree’s fault. This year we sprung for a Fraser fir, cut fresh at a local farm. It has soft needles, that ideal pine-cone shape, and a pointy top perfect for holding a star. But when we got home, I felt like apologizing. This tree did not deserve what we were about to do. We re-cut the bottom, mounted it in its holder, and gave it water. For about five minutes, our tree looked beautiful. Then came the decorations.

My wife and I watched as our two children vandalized the bottom half of the tree. Katie hung multiple baubles on the same limbs, causing them to bend and bow, as though the tree was gesturing “why me?” Ornaments were shoved directly onto branches: An angel dangled by its halo; a smiling Santa impaled through the nose. Our 2-year old, Lizzie, sat chewing our Nativity scene, throwing body parts into the tree.

To be fair, my wife and I are partly to blame. We suffer from that common seasonal malady I call ugly-ornament-itis. We can’t seem to throw any away, especially those made by our kids. Or anyone’s kids, really. More than half the construction-paper-and-popcorn curios are mine. When I left home, I inherited these homemade gems from my parents, who were eager to regain their own tree’s dignity. I see the 30-year-old hunk of dough my wife attempted to shape into a wreath, and a mouse-like creature I vaguely recall molding from melted crayons.


This year, our 6-year-old was in charge of the lights. Katie looped them tightly around the trunk, as though dressing a wound. In a way, I suppose she was. When the strand ran out, she dove into a bag of Mardi Gras beads. Shiny purple necklaces now hang in bunches from the middle limbs. In third grade, my wife wrote an Arbor Day poem titled: “What does it feel like to be a tree?” Today, she thought she heard the answers whispered through those laden branches.

About halfway up, the tackiness halts. Cotton-ball snowmen and pipe-cleaner candy canes give way to glass stars and holly sprigs. The effect is a bit schizophrenic. It’s as though our tree got tipsy one night and started decorating itself but passed out halfway through. If I lined up photos of my childhood Christmas trees, I bet I could arrange them chronologically by how high the ugly goes.

Some day, my wife and I will get our tree back. The kids will move out and inherit their own boxes of Christmas tacky. I picture the two of us in our holiday cardigans, sipping port by the fire, gazing at our tree. It will be elegant, majestic, refined. Then, one of us will venture into the attic to retrieve the box kept behind. We’ll hang Katie’s clothespin Rudolph, Lizzie’s headless baby Jesus, and every last memory we find. And somehow, I know our tree will thank us.


Free the Elf

…with apologies to my troll-loving friends…

The Christmas season is here which means it’s time for the annual release of the holiday kraken. It is time to unbox the Elf.

From now until Dec. 25th, my Facebook and Instagram feeds will be overrun with whimsical images of red- and white-clad pixies wreaking havoc on my friends’ homes. Here is Sprinkles mismatching the family socks. There is Squeaky throwing marshmallows at the dog. If I were to unfriend every friend who posted a photo today of that playful puppet with Chuckie’s smile…well, I would be a lonely gal indeed.

I have girlfriends who swear by the magical and voyeuristic properties of this tiny troll. He is rumored to report directly back to Santa. Thus, children of the house are more compliant with the Elf’s beady eyes upon them. A blessing, my friends call it. Creepy, I reply. The Elf is like a nanny cam we use on ourselves. But it’s not just the surveillance component that rattles me, it’s the relentless choreographed merriment.

Did I miss the meeting when parents decided it was our job to perpetually entertain our children? Why not ship the Elf in an extra-large cardboard box and have kids spend December moving that around the house? I find it flabbergasting that anyone ever looked at the Christmas season – with its shopping, wrapping, baking, singing, and decorating — and thought, It’s just not enough. Our kids need more.

I would be willing to put up with the spying and shenanigans if I felt like the ritual at least improved us. But, in the end, I think Rascal is merely another diversion from the real work of the season. Whatever your denomination, no matter your beliefs, this time of year beckons us all with bounty and light. As a mom, I want to teach my kids to share this bounty and spread their light.

I would like the Elf more if he interspersed the clowning with little assignments – “Go clean your room. Fill a bag with clothing and bring it to a shelter downtown.” But that’s not very festive, you say.

But what, I ask, makes more sense? An Elf who for 24 ½ days rotates around your house unstuffing the sofa pillows? Or an Elf who spends nearly a month reminding children that they can make the world a better place?

Free the Elves, folks.  Let the real Elves be us.dadvmom.com_freetheelf_iceskatelizzie dadvmom.com_freetheelf_katiegirlscanchangetheworld dadvmom.com_freetheelf_henryelf



Tidings of Comfort

“If you are traveling this holiday season, make your destination a Bethlehem.”

I heard this advice in church last weekend. Since I spent much of the service trying to prevent Henry from crawling beneath the seat in front of us and/or helping Lizzie use spit and an old Kleenex to wipe marker off of the hymnal she had used to draw Santa on horseback, I am amazed that I heard and retained anything at all.  A mini-Christmas miracle.

But I love this advice.  If you are at all like me, and you have had the wonderful opportunity/misfortune to travel frequently during the holidays, you know the joy/horror of staying with family and friends.  There are five of us now.  And a dog.  And even though we try to be gracious and helpful houseguests — zipping to the grocery store, chipping in with laundry and dishes — we still require lots of food and pillows and toilet paper.  That we are inconvenient to host is a fact not lost on me.

But it is also not always easy to be hosted.  I ate snails for dinner last night.  Lunch today was something coated in mayonnaise and cheese.  Right now, I feel like curling up with cocoa and a book, but instead, I need to dress for dinner guests.  In short, when it comes to visitors during the holidays, the stress goes both ways.

I don’t always know what I believe about Christmas.  Was He or was he not the son of God?  Smarter folks than I have tried to suss this one out.  But I do know this:  two-thousand years ago, weary travelers found refuge one night, made the best of unfamiliar circumstances, and their child grew up to be a gift to many, many people.

May we who host, and may we who are hosted, be Bethlehems to one another this holiday season.  May we offer comfort and make do, since we never quite know the miracle unfolding in the hearts of our children or in one another.

Merry Christmas.