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Late gifts, great books, holiday stress and a belated Merry Christmas!

Posted Dec 29 2008 5:53pm

It was an unseasonably warm and drizzly Christmas morning in Miami. With no chimney to speak of, this household had hung its stockings on the window cranks with care. And no long-winter’s nap for me night before last. Just a fitful five hours that took me back to childhood Christmas Eves when sleep was not the luxury it is today.

This time, however, it wasn’t the excitement of staying up late and the gift anticipation that got me up early. It was the stress of a busy day ahead. All you adults out there know what I mean, right?

It’s been such a crazy year that many of my great ideas and best intentions have met a sad end: A wreath, half-assembled, partially hidden by a shopping bag, sits nestled in the crook of an armchair. Holiday cards, half-written, lie in a box on my kitchen table, desolate without the missing envelopes whose non-standard size I’d been unable to dig up. The homemade marshmallows I’d planned? I realized, too late, that many of the slated recipients were vegetarians (gelatin verboten).

Sigh…this happens every year, to some degree or another. So why does every season seem less organized than the one preceding it? I think we call this “entropy”—as in, “a measure of the disorder that exists in a system,” and the universal tendency towards its expansion.

Thankfully, there IS an antidote to holiday entropy. In the Khuly household it’s called Amazon. But this year the famously reliable behemoth bungled my son’s gift. Rock Band 2 did not arrive before Christmas, as promised. It had to be Guitar Hero, instead, purchased very last minute thanks to my local Blockbuster’s pre-holiday overstock.

So much for convenience at the click of a mouse, right? My box is probably still hiding in a UPS warehouse up in some snowy state. (Any of you share my pain?)

Nonetheless, by six AM the sticky buns were sitting on the kitchen counter, already on the rise. The crabmeat tart’s crust was prepped and ready. The caper-y, smoked salmon bagel topping happily scented my fridge. And the dogs? They were drooling up a storm in the kitchen, awaiting their Christmas Day lamb shanks.

The gifts were all wrapped in brown drawing paper, sealed with duct tape and bound decoratively with knitting yarn. Did you know it’s possible to wrap presents even when you run out of Scotch tape?

I love this holiday. It brings out the creative genius in all of us in so many immeasurable ways, albeit stressfully. So it is that maybe sometime around New Years’ I’ll get around to decorating my tree…just give me a couple of days to recover.

***

Since I’m big on the pleasure of gifts received after the fact (and since a large percentage of this girl’s gifts will be late this year), I thought I’d offer a quick run-down of some of my favorite animal-related books of the year for those of you taking your time organizing the inevitable.

Don’t worry, Jon Katz is off the menu this year. This season I’m leaning towards the animal classics and the slightly off-kilter, thanks to Christie Keith over at PetConnection. Here’s a run-down of her (mostly child-oriented and classic) picks in a post and SFGate artcle combo she penned a couple of weeks ago.

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt

Lassie Come Home by Eric Knight

Beautiful Joe by Margaret Marshall Saunders

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell:

The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

National Velvet by Enid Bagnold

The Black Stallion by Walt Farley

My Friend Flicka by Mary O'Hara

Gobbolino, the Witch's Cat by Ursula Moray Williams

Big Red by Jim Kjelgaard

Misty of Chincoteague, King of the Wind: The Story of the Godolphin Arabian and Mustang: Wild Spirit of the West by Marguerite Henry

Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

Goodbye, My Lady by James H. Street

Old Yeller by Fred Gipson

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

Rascal by Sterling North

What a great list! Kudos Christie. Here's a link to her whole article on SFGate for  a detailed explanation of why each is worthy. And here are my more adult-oriented reads (though one is technically a kid's book): Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (2006): OK so I’m a little slow. Some of you recommended I read this last year (or was it the year before) and I only recently got to it. Totally worth it. Works for every kind of animal person—pet lovers, vet watchers and welfarists, alike. The main character’s a crotchety retired vet whose early circus days are recalled with incredible lucidity and twisted nostalgia.

The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer (2002): This one’s for teens—supposedly. Here’s where I confess that I have a thing for interesting children’s literature and sci fi. This one’s not about animals, per se, though it’s about an alternative reality where humans are animalized and harvested for agriculture. The main character is a clone who struggles with his identity as a human/animal born of a cow. Creepy and lurid but an incredibly thought-provoking take on human identity and speciest thinking.

Killing Mister Watson by Peter Matthiessen (1990): Though he won the national Book Award for The Snow Leopard and has written numerous other environmentally-themed non-fiction works, Killing Mister Watson is his seminal tome, as far as I’m concerned. A fictionalized account of life in pioneer Southwest Florida, it juxtaposes one man’s human death toll with the obliteration of the area’s natural habitat. At first you sort of wonder whether you can really get into this kind of a book, but usually by then it’s too late…you’re glued to its pages.

OK so they’re not as animal-y as Christie’s but they’re all I got (and they won't make you cry). Luckily, I know you’ve got more. But please, for the love of God, don’t recommend Steinbeck’s The Red Pony. I’m still in therapy as I try to recover.

A belated Merry Christmas to you!

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