2011: My Year in Books

When I went over my 2011 book stats, I was a little surprised. Even with a layoff and a cross-country move, I’ve read 57 books. Well, I didn’t finish all 57. Four I stopped reading. I’ve indicated which below.

This number includes audio books and books I read to the kids. I didn’t keep really close track of these, though, so you can be sure there were more than what I’ve listed below. Especially picture books. And if I got extra credit for reading kids’ books over and over and over, this list would be at least two posts long. I know for sure I read Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea and about 2,700 of Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books this year, but those were on my list from so long ago, they didn’t show up when I pulled the list for 2011 from Goodreads.

So, the stats:

In 2011, I read 57 books (finished 53), with a total number of 16,803 pages.

The average (mean) per month was 4.75, and the average (mean) per week was 1.10.

Of these, 28 were fiction, 3 were memoirs, 11 were children’s books, and the remaining 15 were nonfiction.

I am currently reading How to See Yourself As You Really Are by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Walden by Henry David Thoreau (which may well end up on my “stopped-reading” shelf), The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron, and Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn. And Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

I’m hoping to read many fewer self-help books in 2012. How I got so many this year, I’m really not sure.

Below is the book list, by the month I finished (or gave up on) each book. I’ve included links to reviews, if I’ve posted them on this blog. Other reviews you can read on my Goodreads profile. You can also go there to see the other 504 books I’ve read.









  • Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe (Bryson, Bill) (didn’t finish)
  • The Lovely Bones (Sebold, Alice)
  • You Can’t Go Home Again (Wolfe, Thomas) (didn’t finish)
  • The Vaccine Book: Making the Right Decision for Your Child (Sears, Robert)
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns (Hosseini, Khaled)
  • Love the One You’re With (Giffin, Emily)
  • Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents (Carter, Christine) (didn’t finish)
  • The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert (Gottman, John) (didn’t finish)

My Last Book of 2011: The English Major by Jim Harrison

The English Major
The English Major by Jim Harrison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

You know? I enjoyed this book. Like There but for the by Ali Smith, this book was about the past and the present, but this one was more about what to do when the past is pulled out from underneath you. Cliff is trying to redefine or perhaps rediscover his foundation when, after 25 years of farming and nearly 40 years of marriage, he finds himself without both his farm and his wife. Cliff clings to his prior identity as an English Major and spends a lot of time reminiscing about the days before his marriage, alternately glorifying those days and poking fun at himself and at English Majors and academic types in general. He claims to hate farming and to have made a naive decision giving up his teaching career to farm full-time in his 30’s, but he feels a strong draw back to the land. I suppose in the end what he finds is not so much a radical change, but a sense of balance.

It was interesting to me that I persisted in thinking that Cliff was an “old guy,” when in reality, he’s almost two years younger than my dad (and I don’t think of my dad as an “old guy”). In a lot of ways he’s like my dad. Which made the frequent (very frequent) references to sex all the more weird for me.

As a side note, why is it that there seem to be a number of older male writers who write a lot about sex? I’m thinking of Norman Mailer’s Ancient Evenings (which I could not stand) and John Updike’s Toward the End of Time (which I could stand, and which I read through, but which I didn’t really like except in the way that it showed a person very much consumed with his own life and in his own mind and body even through major global turmoil).

At any rate, even though the mentions of sex were rather excessive, I liked The English Major more than either of these other two books.

I wish Harrison had given more detail about the landscape as Cliff took his road trip. He drove all the way across Nebraska and noted none of the rather dramatic changes from the eastern half of the state to the western half, but he did note the weird way that distances become deceptive in Wyoming. And I loved the description of Cliff’s walk through San Francisco and his experience of the Pacific Ocean and the redwoods in northern California. It made me nostalgic for the geography of the West Coast (but not for million-dollar condos). I was a little disappointed that Cliff reduced Utah to mentions of polygamous groups and a complaint about the traffic around Salt Lake City, but what are you going to do? He made up for it with his description of Montana. I finished the book with a desire to learn fly fishing.

I like a good road trip book (I like road trips), and Cliff’s plan to work his way through the USA puzzle really appeals to my sense of order. Cliff attributes his sense of order to his English Major and his years of farming, with his 50 acre of cherry trees planted in neat rows. Perhaps this means I would do well as a farmer.

To summarize, this book made me feel icky with its frequent sexual references, but it also left me wanting to visit California, become a farmer, take a road trip, defend Utah, and go fly fishing. And maybe to send a copy of the book to my dad.

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Beef Stoop (A Recipe for a Sort of Soup, Sort of Stew)

It’s not quite a stew and not exactly a soup…it’s Beef Stoop!

This is my very own throw-it-together recipe, named by my 2-year-old son (he came up with the name more than a month ago, and the recipe followed). I whipped this up this week and didn’t want to forget the recipe. Then I figured others might like it, so why not post it to the blog! Feel free to share and re-post liberally, but please do link back here and give me credit for the recipe. And if you make it, comment and let me know how you like it!

This will be technically “done” after an hour or so of simmering, but I do think it benefits from several hours of cooking.


1.5 pounds lean stew beef, cut into 1-inch cubes

2 large onions, chopped

1-2 T coconut oil

6 small carrots (or 3 large)

4 stalks celery

6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

1 quart organic beef broth

1 quart organic low sodium chicken broth

1 T sea salt

fresh ground pepper to taste

4 sprigs fresh rosemary leaves, washed and chopped (this is just what I happened to have going bad in my fridge; you could certainly sub out any number of other spices, like sage or maybe basil or oregano or thyme or marjoram, or leave this out entirely)

1 pound frozen organic green beans

1. In a 3-quart or larger pot (one with a cover), heat the coconut oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add beef and sere on all sides. Add chopped onions and cook until translucent.

2. Add carrots, celery, garlic, broth, salt, pepper, and rosemary and bring to a boil. Simmer, covered, over low heat for 4 hours or so.

3. Add frozen green beans, return to a boil over medium heat, then simmer, covered, over low heat for an additional 1-2 hours.

I was very pleased with how this stoop turned out. The broth was rich and flavorful, the meat and vegetables tender. The whole family devoured it with gusto. And it’s relatively inexpensive! I might try it in the slow cooker next time.

Search my “recipe” category for many, many other of my favorite recipes (both mine and from other sources)!

Take That, Marketers!

Praying mantis
Image by Shiva Shankar (via Wikipedia).

My husband took our 6.5-year-old daughter to her first in-the-theater movie yesterday. Well, first not counting the 3D bugs film she saw once in an IMAX theater and spent the whole time saying loudly, “What’s that? Oh, no! What’s that? Does it eat people?” while attempting to ward off with her hands the praying mantis that was jumping at her from the screen. (We solved the problem by having her watch without the 3D glasses.)

At any rate, this was the first time she had the opportunity to sit through twenty minutes of commercials before the feature began. As a child who doesn’t watch television except what’s on DVDs and Netflix, she needed some explanation from my husband about what these miniature shows were. My husband explained that people make them to convince people to buy things.

“What are they trying to sell here?” he asked.

“A car,” our daughter answered. (When she’s a little older, we’ll explain that they’re not actually selling the car, they’re selling a lifestyle and a set of emotions, but for now, this is a decent lesson in being an aware consumer.)

“Does this ad make you want to buy a new car?”

“No, because we already have a car.”

When the next ad came up, they had a similar exchange.

“They’re selling a camera,” she said.

“Does it make you want to buy a new camera?” he asked.

“No, because we already have a camera.”

Then came another ad.

“What are they selling in this one?” my husband asked.

Our daughter thought about it for a moment.

“I don’t know, but it’s in that bottle.”

It was an ad for Coca-cola.

SCORE! A victory over consumerism without even moving to the country and living off the grid! (All we had to do was get rid of pay TV, homeschool, and avoid shopping malls and mainstream eating establishments and grocery stores.)

On the First Day of Christmas, My True Love Picked an Awesome Present for Me

There but for the by Ali Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The fact is, this book makes me cry.

The fact is, this book is about being trapped by history. Or herstory. Yourstory and mystory. It’s a mystery, mystory.

The fact is, it’s brilliant (and infectious) the way Ali Smith plays with language. Puns, jokes, double entendres.

(The fact is, although I scold myself for the hours I’ve spent watching the racy and historically irresponsible series The Tudors, I wouldn’t have caught the reference to Thomas Tallis had I not watched the show before I read this novel.)

The fact is, the book itself is a history trap. You start where past and present meet, move through the story, and circle back again.

The fact is, the characters in this story are trapped because they can’t let the past stay behind them, nor can they let the past and the present coexist. The past keeps intruding, unbidden, catching them by surprise because they refuse to see it. They can’t move forward because they keep circling back.

The fact is, one man finds a way out by shutting himself in until he’s traveled far enough in his little room that he’s ready to circle back and look his past in the eye.

The fact is, once a person can look the past in the eye and accept that it’s all the same—past, present, future, all beneath our feet in this moment—once a person can do that, she is free.

Or at least that’s what I took away from this book. That and comfort with a few more vocabulary words.

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(To clarify the title of this post, my husband picks books for me, checks them out from the library, wraps them, and puts them under the tree. Then he takes the kids on field trips so I have plenty of time to read. This year, he found this book for me. I’d never heard of it, but I loved it. Several years ago he introduced me to Haruki Murakami. Last year it was Joshua Ferris and Marisha Pessl. He doesn’t read much fiction himself, but he’s great at picking it for me.)

Simplicity Parenting: The Book Review

Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids
Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Lisa M. Ross
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved this book for both the practical suggestions (backed by both formal research and informal observation) and for its tone.

Since I began reading this book, I’ve made some concrete changes in our home environment, including reducing the number of toys and books my children have easy access to (I put many into a “library” in our basement until I can work up the courage to donate/sell/throw away), reducing the number of scheduled activities I have for my children, and implementing some basic daily routines, most notably the “flute-practice-after-breakfast” routine.

There have been some small but noticeable changes in the way my children go about their days in the weeks since I’ve made these changes. We’ve had fewer arguments about flute practice, and my daughter (age 6.5) has been practicing more regularly and with more joy. She’s even begun initiating flute practice on her own without my even prompting her!

My children, especially my 2yo son, are playing imaginatively with everyday objects more than they were before, making an empty toy bin into a car for the stuffed toys and things like that.

And my daughter has lightened up about the order in which we use the colored plastic cups and flatware. She used to scream at me and my husband if we forgot and gave her a blue cup before the green cup. The order was green, light blue, dark blue, yellow, orange, pink, pink, and woe betide the parent who tried to go out of order. There were no discussions about the cups, and we made no changes directly related to the cups, she just stopped getting angry with us about them. Which has been quite a relief.

Of course, my son has also decided that the toy room is much too neat, so he goes in and up-ends three or four toy bins at a time into the middle of the room. That’s not so cool, but at least it doesn’t take long to pick everything up.

I was already in the habit of simplifying our home, but this book really helped give me the confidence to cut deeper, and to remove toys and books without my children’s input about which we kept and which we got rid of. The books were a real change for me, though. I knew the kids (and I) were somewhat overwhelmed by the number of books on their shelves, but I felt like I just couldn’t get rid of any of them. Books are unequivocally good, right? But once I halved the number of books, they’ve been much more engaged with the ones they have left. And they don’t even seem to notice that any are missing.

One area that I’m going to try to work on a little bit more is verbal clutter. From the book:

“In our era of spin and counterspin, when words are parsed and split, where news stands beside opinion and embraces blogs, meaning is often drowned out. Just as it’s hard to cherish a toy lost in the middle of a mountain of play things, when we say less, our words mean more.”

Although I fear that if I really take that to heart, I might blog a lot less.

The tone of the book was the real refreshing piece, though. Payne clearly delights in childhood and the whimsy of children. His anecdotes and suggestions are peppered with images of children interacting with each other and with adults and the funny and adorable things they do and say. I felt a sense of peace and well-being reading such a sunny view of childhood. Not that Payne isn’t realistic about the struggles of parenting and children’s sometimes not-so-desirable actions, he just doesn’t focus on them. He treats children as human beings to be loved and guided rather than creatures to be trained and manipulated, and “misbehavior” as a sign that something in the child’s environment might do with some changing.

Payne talks about how one of the biggest differences between parenting now and parenting a generation ago is how much data about our children we have available and how many “experts” we have to consult to make sure we’re doing this really big job right. But in this, too, he offers reassurance.

“For all of the measures we now have at our fingertips, by and large children defy them by being both more ‘normal’ and more extraordinary than any scientific measure, or means of quantifying them.”

This rings true to me, and it promotes the freedom we as parents have to love our kids and to let go of worrying that we’re not giving them an “ideal” childhood, whatever that might be.

The only thing that I thought was a little lacking was that Payne is very much focused on two-working-parent homes. As a stay-at-home mom who homeschools, I would have kind of liked a little bit of information directed towards me or that at least reflected my demographic. However, I know I’m in a pretty tiny minority, so I don’t hold it against the author for not including me and my friends. His suggestions are significant and applicable even to those of us who do not see our specific situations in his case studies.

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Simplifying Childhood: What About Sports?

Game of Battledore and Shuttlecock in 1804
Image via Wikipedia

I’ve mentioned before that I’m reading Kim John Payne’s Simplicity Parenting. This morning I read the chapter about Scheduling. Much of what Payne writes about scheduling in general makes sense to me (balancing downtime with scheduled and more stimulating activities, making the schedules of each member of the family work for every other member of the family, etc), but I’m having a little trouble with the section about sports.

Payne makes a few points about organized sports:

  • Children under about ages 8-10 need unstructured play more than they need sports, both for the activity and for the developmental benefits it offers.
  • Playing and interacting with other children in open-ended games rather than in rules-driven sports is a necessary stop along the developmental path. Rushing through this period can cause sports burn-out.
  • Sports participation peaks at age eleven and declines steadily from there. Payne quotes numbers from the Journal of Sports Behavior that report a 90% sports drop-out rate by tenth grade. This concerns Payne because, as he writes, organized sports provide particular benefits for children entering and in adolescence (although he’s not terribly specific about what these benefits are).

If we take at face value Payne’s claim that children under ten should have limited involvement in organized sports in favor of unstructured play, and we accept the idea that organized sports are then very important to adolescents, how does a child make the transition? How does a child who’s not played organized sports break in during early adolescence?

Some background about my experience with organized sports. I played soccer when I was in kindergarten. I was one of two girls on the team. I didn’t understand the game, I was intimidated by the very aggressive playing style of the boys, and I lived in mortal fear of having the ball kicked into my face (I’d seen it happen to my female teammate, so this was a very vivid possibility). And I didn’t like orange wedges. Basically, soccer had nothing to offer me.

I briefly played intramural rugby in college, but they never let me play in a game. Not that I blame them; I never seemed to acquire the ability to take in what was happening on the field, know what should happen next, and know what role I should play to make that thing happen. I sprained my ankle twice, got wicked shin splints, sent a girl to the hospital for a shoulder injury during a scrimmage (I was very good at tackling), and got a bloody nose when a teammate stiff-armed me for the ball. I enjoyed the parties, but never wanted to make a try (a rugby touchdown) because then I’d have to dance naked around the backyard of the house that was hosting the party. I lived in mortal fear of being required to “shoot the boot” and drink beer and spit and all manner of nasty stuff from the athletic shoe of one of the players on the men’s team.

And that was the extent of my experience with organized sports.

I had a desire to try organized sports in middle school and high school, but I never could figure out how to get started. Everyone else seemed to have experience playing volleyball or basketball or running track. How would I ever be able to make it through try-outs and onto a team if I didn’t already know how to play? I’d already had the experience of getting shut out of all three performing bands at our high school because of my poor auditioning skills and lack of private flute lessons. My high school was very competitive and if a kid hadn’t been playing their sport or their instrument outside of school since kindergarten, there wasn’t much chance of breaking in. (To give you a sense of the atmosphere at my school, Mia Hamm played soccer at my high school the year before I started there. My kindergarten soccer season was not nearly enough to prepare me for being on a team with Mia Hamm or anyone near her caliber.)

And let me tell you, playing a sport or an instrument isn’t fun at all if you don’t get to play. It’s just yet another opportunity to feel like an outcast.

In short, I missed out on the very important developmental benefits of organized sports during adolescence because I hadn’t already been playing in elementary school.

I don’t actually mind the idea of my kids never playing organized sports, but my husband loved playing basketball and baseball and football and rugby, and he really wants our kids to have that wonderful and character-building experience. And from what Payne says, it’s developmentally important, too. So, there’s the fear: If I just let my kids engage in unstructured play rather than getting them started in sports, how are they going to start when they’re 11 or 12 when every other kid has already been playing for 5 years or more?

I’m not going to allow this fear to move me into putting them into sports prematurely. I don’t really want to shuttle them to practices and games, and I definitely don’t want to get them in a traveling league. I’ve heard enough horror stories about that to know I’m not at all interested, regardless of the repercussions. But how am I going to help my kids have options when they’re teenagers if I don’t get them involved in sports during their pre-teen years?

Help me out here:

What was your experience with sports during your childhood? What were your kids’ experiences?

Is it possible to break into high school sports if you don’t already know how to play the game?

What benefits have organized sports had in your life and/or in the lives of your children?

Simple Living with Children: The Christmas Conundrum

We’re getting there, I think. The kids’ haul this Christmas was slightly less unreasonable than in years past, but they still got way more than two children really need. Way more.

As I organized the gifts by recipient yesterday, I eyeballed the size of the stacks critically.

“They’re still getting too much stuff,” I lamented to my husband.

“Come on. It’s Christmas! What they don’t play with after a few months, we’ll pass along to someone else.” While I appreciate his unflappable personality, I sometimes wish he’d get just a little uptight about the things I’m uptight about. It’s a real burden being uptight enough for the both of us.

I bought our son two gifts, a book and a wooden train set. I bought our daughter four smaller items (Bananagrams, a chess set, a pair of binoculars and a book about being a young naturalist). In their stockings we put two cookies, three pieces of candy, a set of “Three Little Pigs” finger puppets I real quick made up Christmas Eve, and a few stuffed toys and plastic animals that they already owned. I was skeptical about regifting to them things they played with every day, but my husband was right: they were thrilled.

“A new Elmo!” my son exclaimed when he from his stocking retrieved the small stuffed toy he plays with practically non-stop throughout the day.

Even with this pared down Christmas and the de-cluttering I did in the toy room before the holiday, it took some pretty creative maneuvering to find enough space to house the new stuff.

Before the new stuff arrived, I was really liking the new streamlined toy room. The only trouble I had was that my son reacted to the neater appearance of the space by creating chaos of his own. He would dump out the stuffed animals and the toy cars and the play food and his dinosaur floor puzzle all at the same time. When I suggested we get just one toy out at a time, he seemed to temporarily lose the ability to understand the English language. In addition, the toys seemed to be distributed throughout the house more comprehensively than before the de-clutter.

My kids seemed to be having more fun with their toys, though, and using them in more creative ways. The dress-up bin was getting much more use and the kids were using the recently-dumped bins as cars and rockets and (rather disturbingly) some kind of stuffed animal prison. My son could be seen toddling along, pushing Winnie-the-Pooh, Elmo, the stuffed cat he calls “Tokyo” (which used to be “Gatito” in my daughter’s toddlerhood), and  his plastic panda in the toy stroller saying, “Okay, guys! Let’s go back to the park! Park then museum!”

With these new toys, I don’t know how the dynamic will change. One thing I really appreciate, though, is that as much as my children enjoy getting presents, they aren’t fixated by that aspect of the holiday. Opening gifts comprised a relatively tiny portion of our day yesterday. We opened gifts and played for about an hour and a half, then we headed to church. My children were the only kids there. They made rather more noise than I would have liked in the echo-y meeting house, but they were received graciously by the other ten people in attendance. We all sang carols together, my daughter following along in the hymnal with me, my son improvising an animal-related song to the tune of “We Three Kings.” I closed my eyes for meditation and saw the shadow images of the pews and the minister fade gradually away, reminding me of the transient nature of our time here. Afterwards we enjoyed cookies and coffee and conversations about solar panels and vegetable gardens and the aching absence of adult children grown estranged.

After church, we took a raw coconut cream pie next door and spent Christmas dinner with our neighbor’s extended family. Once again, my children were the only non-adults present and, as at church, they were welcomed and praised and entertained by grandmas and grandpas and aunts and uncles by whom we were adopted for the afternoon.

Back home, we called Nana and Skyped with Grandma and Grandpa and remembered again why so many gifts roll in at holidays and birthdays. It’s not to irritate me or to teach my children that materialism is paramount to interpersonal interactions. It’s how our families show their love for our children from hundreds of miles away. I know that they would much rather be here with us, eating and laughing and praising and petting, listening to my daughter play the flute and my son sing the alphabet song in person rather than over the internet. And we would rather be with them. My lamenting having too many or too few or the wrong kind just serves to put the focus more firmly on the items themselves rather than on the meaning behind them.

The gifts aren’t the point; it’s the love with which they were given. Yes, I want to simplify Christmas and streamline the kids’ toys and clothes in general, but I need to keep sight of the big picture.

Christmas Eve Family Movie Time: A George is a George

The Man with the Yellow Hat.
Image via Wikipedia

My two-year-old son asked to watch a Curious George video.

“Let’s watch George, guys!” (He’s taken to calling us “guys.”)

“It’s Christmas Eve, honey,” I said. “How about let’s watch a Christmas show, like It’s a Wonderful Life or A Christmas Story or a Simpson Christmas episode?”

“NOOO! Watch George first! George and Man Wiff Ye-whoa Hat!” he protested.

“There’s a man named George on It’s a Wonderful Life,” I said. “His name is George Bailey. He’s not a monkey, but he’s tall and he even has a hat.”

“But you can’t tell what color his hat is because it’s in black and white,” my husband explained.

Iconic screen shot from the movie It's a Wonde...
Image via Wikipedia

“But it could be yellow,” I added. “Would you like to watch that show?”

“Yeah! Watch George Bay-wee! He a man wiff a hat!”

I feel a little uncomfortable about this deception, but I have a feeling I’ll get my comeuppance before the opening credits of It’s a Wonderful Life are finished.

Why I Don’t Care About Santa Claus

English: Santa Claus as illustrated in , v. 52...
Cover of Puck Magazine, December 1902, by Frank Nankivell Image via Wikipedia

Here’s the thing:

I could really care less about Santa Claus.

Sure, I’m still a little annoyed that my parents intentionally deceived me for so many years, commissioning personalized letters from Santa, leaving partially eaten cookies and carrots where we kids had left a snack for Santa on Christmas Eve, and even, when I was 10 and had chicken pox over Christmas, leaving a typed message from Santa himself in the typewriter I’d begged for.

“I know Santa has to be real,” I remember telling my mom, “because who else could have typed that message?”

When I finally figured out the truth (when I was twelve), I felt devastated. Not only had my parents practiced this elaborate deception for my whole life, I was clearly an idiot. In retrospect, it was so obvious. I was angry at my parents, but more than that, I was angry at myself for being so incredibly gullible.

I didn’t really trust my parents after that, which may or may not have happened without the big Santa letdown. After all, I was twelve. Every day I found new ways that my parents wronged me and new evidence to support my growing hypothesis that they were tyrannical imbeciles. (Over the past 20+ years, I discovered that they are merely, like the rest of us, human, which would likely have been just as big an affront to my 12-year-old self as what I actually believed.)

So, yes, while believing in Santa was magical and delightful until my faithful dog pulled the curtain aside and revealed that there was no magic at all, I didn’t and still don’t believe that the wedge it drove between me and my parents and the holiday itself was worth the temporary delight.

But I also recognize that most people don’t have such a personal grudge against the jolly bearded man in red. They have nothing but joyful memories of magical holidays and the satisfaction of gradually being let in on a grown-up truth at the proper time (usually before the age of 8 because about every other child in the United States is less gullible than I was). As a result, these people share the one-sided version of the Santa myth with their children. (I say one-sided because in general when someone shares a fiction, both they and the person they’re telling understand that it’s a fiction. With the Santa myth, only the parents know it’s a fiction. So, one-sided.) I don’t think this is bad. I think it just reflects a different perspective than mine.

These parents who “do” Santa place different weights on their values than I do. For me, whimsy is secondary to honesty and transparency. My kids and I play make-believe. We just all know it’s make-believe. Now, I know that I need to watch this because I have a tendency to let my kids in on more of the truth than they ought to know at their respective ages, but at the very least, I don’t feel comfortable introducing an intentional falsehood that they’ll eventually need to discover for what it is.

“Mommy, why do some parents lie to their kids about Santa Claus being real?” my daughter asked me as we were putting gifts under the tree the other day.

I don’t recall using the word “lie,” but it’s not really a surprise to me that my daughter interpreted the situation like this, given the way I’ve presented it.

“Well, honey,” I said, ” it’s not like it’s completely untrue. Around Christmas time, people like to think about how happy we feel to give presents and do nice things for each other. Kids like the story and their parents like seeing their children happy and surprised on Christmas morning.”

“I like the stories about the reindeer,” my daughter offered.

“Oh?” This is my stock answer when I’m not sure exactly where the conversation is going.

“I like Vixen the best because that’s what a female fox is called,” she continued. “What’s the largest number of kits a female fox can have in one litter?”

I don’t think that other people are doing their children a disservice by “doing” Santa. Nor do I think that I’m denying my children magic by being up-front about the fact that the story isn’t factual. My kids like getting presents, but they don’t ask for things for Christmas, and they don’t try to find out what they’re getting (although my daughter is really excited about being in on the secret of what her dad and brother are getting). I had a box of unwrapped presents sitting in the living room for weeks and they never sneaked a look. For them, at least for now, the magic doesn’t seem to be in the receiving but in all of the other exciting trappings of the season, like baking cookies and putting up the tree and driving around looking at Christmas lights and having Daddy home from work for his company’s annual shutdown.

My children know that the magic of giving is created by us for others and for us by those who love us. My children see magic in the movement of the clouds to reveal the sun. They hear the magic in a bird’s call and their own attempts to imitate it. They know the magic of confronting a challenge and, through hard work, surpassing it. They have plenty of magic in their lives. It feels unnecessary and maybe even a little dangerous to try to manufacture magic. What if I manufacture magic and deliver it right to them and they lose the knack of spotting the magic that exists everywhere already?

So, that’s why we don’t do Santa (or the Solstice Fairy or the Easter Bunny or any other mythical gift-giving creatures). And when my daughter reaches her teens and is pissed at me for denying her all of these things, I’ll deal with it then.

What myths and traditions do you have in your family? How do you inspire delight and whimsy in your children?