Inspired to Bring It Back

Many (many) years ago, I wrote a blog post about my nativity set . . . and how I loved to put it up for the holidays.  


A few years ago, I decided to . . . just leave it in its box and not set it up.  (Sometimes you just want to shake things up, y'know?)   And it has stayed in its box ever since.

Until this year.



What happened?  
Why did I bring it back, you ask?

Well.  I was inspired!

When I was in at the Chicago Art Institute earlier this week, we stopped in to see the Neapolitan Crèche currently on display there.  (You can see it for a limited time there each holiday season.)  It is just incredible!


Historically, Naples, Italy is famous for creating unique and intricate crèche scenes -- depicting not only the traditional nativity scenes representing the moment when Mary and Joseph receive the Three Wise Men, the shepherds, and the angels but also the more secular world surrounding the nativity (and suggesting the general depravity of the world, apparently).

This particular Neapolitan Crèche was crafted in the mid-18th century, and features over 200 figures.  Each one is amazingly detailed with intricately detailed features and/or clothing.

There is a tavern scene off to one side (totally reminded me of the "Master of the House" scene in Les Mis . . .) which is just wonderful.


We were transfixed by the crèche, and ended up spending over a half hour just trying to take it all in.  Everywhere you looked, there was something new to discover!  The detail is just remarkable.


There are people doing all kinds of everyday things (there is a mother breastfeeding her infant right up front -- and a drunk sleeping it off in a dark corner, for example).  There are animals of all types and heavenly beings and all manner of food items and . . . well . . . it's just amazing.

As for scale . . . the figures are a bit bigger than Barbie-doll size, I'd say.  Probably in the 15-18 inch range?  The entire display is housed in a Baroque style cabinet.  Here's a photo - including onlookers - for scale.


If you happen to be in Chicago this holiday season, do take the time to seek it out!  It's really worth the time and effort.  (And I know there's an even bigger Neapolitan Crèche at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, so there's another option for you.)


Now you can see why I was inspired to come home and set up my own (much smaller!) crèche.


And . . . in case you're wondering if Erin still sets up her own nativity scene each year (you'll have to click in to my post from 2011 - link above - for details) . . . she is!  

Here is Erin's version for this holiday season -- a most inclusive, nerd-friendly crèche.

IMG_7087 2

Have a great weekend everyone!



Winter Interlude

I spent yesterday in Chicago with friends.  It was such a lovely winter interlude.  The sun was even shining!  (Which is a rare treat anywhere near the Great Lakes in winter.)

What did we do?


1 -- We took in the Andy Warhol exhibit at the Chicago Art Institute.  It was just fascinating!  He was so, So, SO far ahead of his time (and so much more than soup cans and Marilyn Monroe).


2 -- We ate lunch at Terzo Piano.  Fabulous food, a most excellent view, and a great atmosphere.


3 -- We visited the Christkindlemarket set up in the Daley Center downtown.  Lots of fun!  We didn't buy much, but we did enjoy drinking hot, mulled wine (in souvenir boot cups!) while strolling around the market.  Very festive!

A great day -- and a wonderful way to celebrate the season with friends.


Be sure to stop in at Carole's today to read other Three on Thursday posts.  (And . . . share you favorite aphorism!)


Flying Off the Needles

Little Miss I'm-Not-Knitting-for-Christmas just wants to say . . . 


those Woodland Loafers just fly off the needles!  (That's a stitches-away-from-being-finished pair in all their unblocked glory there in the photo.)  (And another pair, waiting in the wings.)  (Which is really only a wound ball of yarn at this point, but I know you know what I mean.)

Seriously.  These things are fun to knit, easy (especially once you cut your teeth on the first one), and kind of magical.  If you're looking for a rather quick gift-knit, I recommend these cute little slippers.  It took me about 3.5 hours to knit the first one, but only 2.5 hours for the second.  (There is definitely a learning curve.)  (Plus movie-watching on the first one.)  I'm hoping to make good progress on the 2nd pair today -- I'm heading to Chicago and not driving.  That's hours and hours of knitting time!

If you're doing gift-knitting this year, how's it coming along?


Be sure to head over to Kat's today for more Unraveled posts.

Read With Us: A New Book

Read With Us

Bonny and Carole and I are pleased to share our next Read With Us book selection today.  After much discussion and careful consideration, we've chosen Fever by Mary Beth Keane.


What's it about?  

Here's the synopsis from Goodreads:

On the eve of the twentieth century, Mary Mallon emigrated from Ireland at age fifteen to make her way in New York City. Brave, headstrong, and dreaming of being a cook, she fought to climb up from the lowest rung of the domestic-service ladder. Canny and enterprising, she worked her way to the kitchen, and discovered in herself the true talent of a chef. Sought after by New York aristocracy, and with an independence rare for a woman of the time, she seemed to have achieved the life she'd aimed for when she arrived in Castle Garden. Then one determined medical engineer noticed that she left a trail of disease wherever she cooked, and identified her as an asymptomatic carrier of Typhoid Fever. With this seemingly preposterous theory, he made Mallon a hunted woman.

The Department of Health sent Mallon to North Brother Island, where she was kept in isolation from 1907 to 1910, then released under the condition that she never work as a cook again. Yet for Mary, proud of her former status and passionate about cooking, the alternatives were abhorrent. She defied the edict.

Bringing early-twentieth-century New York alive, the neighborhoods, the bars, the park carved out of upper Manhattan, the boat traffic, the mansions and sweatshops and emerging skyscrapers, Fever is an ambitious retelling of a forgotten life. In the imagination of Mary Beth Keane, Mary Mallon becomes a fiercely compelling, dramatic, vexing, sympathetic, uncompromising, and unforgettable heroine.

Why did we choose it?

We really did put a lot of thought into our second book selection.  We wanted to choose a fiction book for this go-round, and we wanted it to be obscure enough that most of you haven't already read it, interesting - and full of discussable issues and topics, highly regarded, old enough to be available through most libraries, and short enough to be readable during the holiday months.

That's a lot of shoes for a mere book to fill . . . but we think we've done it with Fever!  (Besides . . .it's historical fiction about a woman most of us have heard about by reputation -- but really don't know much about.  And that's always interesting.)

What's the timeline?

Let's just say . . . you have plenty of time to get your hands on a copy of Fever!  We'll be starting our background/promotional posts in January, with discussion posts to follow in February.

Where can I get a copy of the book?

I see that Fever is available for download on Kindle or iBooks ($12.99), as a paperback ($10.99 on Amazon; I also saw it on the shelf at my local Barnes & Noble for the same price), or through your local library.  (The book was written in 2014, so there shouldn't be a big rush to read it.)


So.  There you have it.  All the details on our new book selection.  
I hope you'll . . . Read With Us this winter!



Start Your Engines

Doesn't this first Monday in December - which also happens to be the Monday after a long and leisurely Thanksgiving weekend (here in the U.S., at least) AND "Cyber Monday" (my normally quiet email inbox is having a party with all the uninvited guests this morning) - just feel a lot more Monday . . . than even a regular Monday?

Time to . . . 


Here are a few things I stumbled across or thought about this weekend. . . 


A Quote

"Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now."
   --- Alan Lakein



A Word

Tom recently introduced me to another word that I'd never heard before.  It's another word that is (apparently) more common in science than in regular life . . . but is DEFINITELY one I want to incorporate into my everyday language. Because so much fun to say!


Am I right?  It just rolls off the tongue in such a pleasing way!  
(I'm going to use this word all winter long.)


To Read


Do you borrow ebooks from your library?  Do you ever marvel at how the "hold" wait times can be so dang long?  (Like . . . nearly a year sometimes for new or popular titles?)  Well.  This recent article from the Washington Post breaks it down for us.  Fascinating!  

How about you?  Do you borrow ebooks from your library?  How are your wait times?


To Make


So.  I have said . . .  I am not making any gifts this year.  
Well.  I caved.  I AM making a few quick gifts this year.  And part of that is because I discovered this pattern.  

I made the first (of 4) (let me clarify . . . I'm making 2 pairs) last night in the time it took Tom and I to watch The Irishman on Netflix.  (Granted . . . that is a long slog of a movie, clocking in at just over 3.5 hours.)  The design is clever - and kind of magical the way it comes together (there is no seaming).  A tiny bit futzy, but not TOO futzy.  If you're looking for a quick gift, check it out!


And.  That's it for this Monday!

If you haven't yet, please take a few minutes to complete our Read With Us survey.  This is the last day for the survey -- and we'd love to hear from you, whether you read Just Mercy with us or not.  (And if your have already completed it, thanks so much!  Your responses are very helpful to us.)

And . . . be sure to join us tomorrow when we announce our next Read With us selection!



"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.  It turns what we have into enough, and more.  It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity.  It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.  Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow."
      --- Melody Beattie


I wish all of you peace and gratitude and a sense of thanksgiving today . . . and always.

Going Solo

Last year, I had a little existential crisis about whether or not I should make my annual gingerbread house when it was . . . just me.  Ultimately, I did it.  It was a struggle to get started, but in the end it made me happy.

In fact, it was cathartic.  Gingerbread house as metaphor for life.  Things change.  Kids grow up and move away.  Mothers get sick and leave us.  We need to find ways to carry on.  Bake it.  Build it.  Slap on some frosting and sweeten things up.  Breathe.  

And the next year (which is now this year)?  
Why . . . you do it again!


Because when it comes right down to it, my trusty Pampered Chef gingerbread mold has holiday memories and stories and family love baked right into its every crevice.  It's time for me to release all that . . . stuff . . . again.


I discovered last year that baking, building, and decorating . . . just one . . . gingerbread house was a perfect way to welcome the "ghosts of Christmases past" into my heart for the holiday season.


So last night I baked the pieces.  And sometime over the next few days (when there is a lull in the action), I'm looking forward to putting them together and decorating my house.

Just me.
By myself.

And I'm fine with that!


If you haven't already, please follow this link to take our quick Read With Us survey.  We'd love your input -- whether you read Just Mercy with us or not.  Thanks for helping us make Read With Us even better!


The Big Wrap-Up: Just Mercy

Way back in September (which seems like a million years ago now, doesn't it?), Bonny and Carole and I launched our Read With Us experiment.  Although we thought it would be a fun thing to do . . . we had no idea if anyone else might think it was a fun thing to do.  Y'know?  

Read With Us

Would you think it was a good idea?
Would you like the book we chose?
Would you join in?
Would you . . . Read With Us?

And, now . . . here we are.  At the end of November.  Having our first read-along under our belts -- and all ready for a wrap-up!  (When we were doing our blog post planning for Just Mercy, I drew the "short straw."  Which means . . . I get to write this summary post for our first book.  And since we've never done this before, there is no precedent.  Which means I can make it up . . . right here right now.)  Let's go!


You Had A Lot to Say

Each of us . . . first me, then Bonny, and then Carole . . . hosted a week of discussion about our chosen book - Just Mercy - on our blogs.  And, yes.  We know the format was not ideal (we're working on that).  But.  Even though the discussion format was less than ideal, you had . . . A Lot to Say!  I'm not going to reiterate all of your comments and our discussion here in this post, but I will say that this book touched most of us in a profound way.  We were shocked and appalled by the injustice of our criminal justice system; horrified by how it all "works."  I'll just summarize by saying it was . . .  eye-opening.

(Please click on our names, above, if you'd like to check out the discussions on our blog posts.)


You Wanted to Take Action

Many of us, after reading Just Mercy, wanted to Do Something.  We were ready to take action.  The issues with mass incarceration and the failings of our criminal justice system (especially for people of color, children, and those struggling with mental health issues) were just overwhelming -- and appalling to all of us reading along.

In her discussion, Bonny shared this link from Equal Justice Institute (the author of Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson's, organization).  The site encourages us to "get close"/get involved through action in the following four areas:

  • Change the narrative
  • Get proximate
  • Be uncomfortable
  • Create hope

The EJI website lists several things we might do to be involved.  Do check it out!


Taking It Further

Here are a few more things I've found over our weeks of reading and thinking about Just Mercy that may interest you.

In the News

First, I ran across this article in yesterday's Washington Post about 3 men in Baltimore - arrested as teens - being exonerated after 36 years in prison for a wrongful murder conviction.  Their story could have been lifted right out of the pages of Just Mercy. In this case, though, it was Baltimore's Conviction Integrity Unit that cleaned up this criminal justice . . . mess.  

More and more courts (districts, states) are forming their own Conviction Integrity Units (according to the Washington Post article, there are more than 50 in the country now).  Do a Google search to find out what's happening in your state.  (I discovered that there are a couple of active Conviction Integrity Units here in Michigan, for example.)


We Are All Criminals

Next, I want to share this TED talk by Emily Baxter explaining her We Are All Criminals project.  This TED talk is 18 minutes long -- and worth every single minute.  (In fact, there is an even longer version of her original talk at Google available here.  It's 46 minutes long.  But absolutely worth the time.) 

What's all this about?  Well . . . it's about the very, very, (very) fine line between living in the shadow of a criminal record . . . or having the luxury to forget.  It's all about reframing the way we look at justice.

(Watch it.  It'll change the way you think.)


The Movie

And lastly, I just want to remind you that there is a movie - Just Mercy - based on Bryan Stevenson's book coming out in December (on the 25th, I believe).  It's getting some Oscar-buzz, and looks terrific.  Here's the trailer.  If you want to see the book come to life -- or if you didn't have a chance to read the book, but you're interested in what it's all about -- watch for the movie at your local theater next month.


And . . . that's a wrap on our first Read With Us read-along . . . Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson.  

Next week, we'll be announcing the NEXT book that you can . . . Read With Us!  

In the meantime, we'd love your input!  Please click here to take a VERY-short-and-VERY-sweet online survey.  It's 8 questions - guaranteed to take No Time At All!  We want to hear from you -- whether you read along with us this go-round or not.  At the very beginning of this whole adventure, we told you it was our Read With Us "beta" test.  Now, we'd like your help so we can make it even better.  Thanks.


Monday. Again.

Here we go!  It's time to . . . 


Here are some things I stumbled across or thought about this weekend. . . 


A Quote
(or . . . My New Motto!)

"The critical ingredient is getting off your butt and doing something. It’s as simple as that."
   --- Nolan Bushnell



A Word

I had decided to take this week off . . . and not share a new word with you.  I figured that you might be tired of these goofy words I post on Monday mornings, and I'd just give it a rest for a week.

But then this word showed up in an article I was reading last night.  And I just couldn't help myself.  (So many vowels!  So unusual!)


(And now, of course, I can't even remember which article. . . )

Anyway.  How about that.  Maieutic.  Another word for the Socratic method!

Now.  I don't know about you, but I went through more than half my life never hearing about - let along using - the Socratic method.  We never talked about or used it when I was in high school or college.  But my kids did!  Both of my kids went through the International Baccalaureate (IB) program in high school -- and they regularly used the Socratic method in their classes.

No one called it maieutic, though.

(How about you?  Have you ever used the Socartic method? And if yes, did know it was maieutic?)


A [Thanksgiving] Factoid

Remember that episode of Seinfeld . . . where Jerry and his pals feed Jerry's girlfriend turkey dinners so they can play with her toy collection?  (I'm afraid you'll have to click here for a reminder.  Although I tried to include that 32-second clip from the episode here, Typepad formatting goes haywire with embedding, so you'll have to click through instead.)


Well, it turns out that tryptophan doesn't actually make you sleepy!  According to House Beautiful magazine, here's the real scoop:

"On Thanksgiving Day, you probably prepare yourself mentally knowing you’ll be tired after eating turkey, but the holiday bird isn’t actually to blame. Instead, the reason you can’t imagine doing else but watching football on the couch is because you over-ate. In fact, Dr. Daniel Barone tells Business Insider it's actually called "postprandial fatigue. Simply put, he says this means 'after you've had a big meal your body goes into basically shutdown mode and sleep gets promoted.'"

How about that?  Now you know!

For 14 more fun Thanksgiving facts, click here.



Although I tend to keep my Thanksgiving menu pretty much the same from year to year, I've decided to add something to my line up this year.  It's this recipe -- Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes from Ina Garten's Make It Ahead cookbook.  Not only does it look super tasty, but . . . I can make it ahead.  Always a good thing when it comes to Thanksgiving!

How about you?  Are you trying anything new this year for your holiday meals?


I hope your Monday is off to a great start!