Monday, November 25, 2013

Advent Calendar - The Letter

Ready for another advent calendar in story form? The idea behind an advent calendar is to sweeten the wait until Christmas. There are twenty-four pockets, and starting December 1, you can open one each day.

Standard advent calendars are filled with chocolate or toys. I fill ours with a story—plus some candy, because we all know children can't live on words alone.

Feel free to read my story yourself, with your kids, dogs, cats or anyone else. There's one bite of story for each day until Christmas Eve.

Photo by Les Anderson on Unsplash

If you'd like to see what our calendar looks like (hint: socks!) or read last year's story, click here.

I also wrote a young adult advent story on Twitter. Starting December 1, follow #YAadvent to read it in tweetform.

The Letter

Timmy and Traci were cuddly, brown mice with shiny black eyes. They lived in a corner of the pantry at Jasper McClellen's house, and they snatched pieces of bread and cookies and cheese whenever they got the chance.

Jasper knew the mice lived in his house. Before he went to bed every night, he dropped a half-handful of breadcrumbs near the pantry. But he didn't tell his mom. His mom said mice were dirty vermin that spread disease. If she ever saw Timmy and Traci, she'd get out the mouse traps. Jasper didn't want that.

What Jasper did want was for his dad to visit for Christmas. Jasper lived in America and Jasper's dad lived in China, where he worked very hard. His parents said that was necessary so that they could pay for their nice house and Jasper's good school.

There was so much work in China that Jasper's dad didn't even have time to come home this year, that's what he said the last time they skyped. Jasper had tried not to cry, but his chin had gotten all wobbly and it had been really hard to fall asleep that night. When Timmy and Traci scampered up into bed with him and cuddled against his neck, he finally drifted off.

The next morning, Jasper found a sheet of paper and a pencil on his desk. He knew he hadn't put them there the day before. So where had they come from? The only clue was a cookie crumb.

Jasper left the paper and pencil where they were and went to school. When he came home, two words were scribbled on the paper: 

Dear Santa,

And then nothing else. His mom had been at work. Who could have written those words?

After Jasper gave the cute little mice some cheese and brushed his teeth that evening, he read a super funny joke book with his mom. When he went to his bedroom to go to sleep, he looked at the paper again. This time, it said: 

Dear Santa, I mi--

This strange letter that wrote itself was starting to make Jasper feel nervous. So he put a book on top of it and went to bed. The next morning, the book was pushed to the side and the note said:

Dear Santa, I miss my dad. I--

That was really too weird. Jasper slid the book back on top of the letter and put the pencil in a drawer, and then he went to school, where he had lots of fun with his friends Hunter and Damon.

When Jasper entered his room that evening, he heard a scratching noise. He stood very still to listen for where it was coming from. Not the bed. Not his closet. Not the window either.

Finally, Jasper knew. It came from the desk. He sat down in the chair, and the noise stopped. He waited very quietly. Three minutes later, the scratching starting again. It came from the drawer. Jasper stood up and backed away, then he grabbed the drawer and wrenched it open.

Jasper dove onto his bed and hid behind a pillow. When he looked at the desk again, the pencil he had put in the drawer was on the desktop. Everything else was exactly as he had left it that morning.

The next morning, Jasper tumbled out of bed and headed straight for his desk. The book had been pushed aside and the letter now read:

Dear Santa, I miss my dad. I really want to see him.

That was exactly how Jasper felt, but he knew he hadn't written the letter. But now, he wanted to see how it would end. So he picked up the pencil to sharpen it. That's when he noticed teeny-tiny dents in the wood. He left the paper and the sharpened pencil on his desk. After breakfast, he dropped a few cornflakes near the pantry and went to school.

The first thing Jasper did when he came home was to check the letter in his room. Now it said:

Dear Santa, I miss my dad. I really want to see him. So this year, all I want for Christmas--

Jasper thought about what he wanted. All he wanted for Christmas was a remote controlled car. And Mario Kart for the Wii. And a new Nintendo DS since his was broken. And an iPad because his friend Hunter had one and it was really fun. And Damon's older brother Stefan had a cool smart phone, and Jasper wanted one too. Plus some Hot Wheels cars would be good.

When Jasper thought about it, there was a lot he wanted for Christmas. But that was okay, because he always got presents from his mom and his grandparents and his favorite aunt. And his Dad was in China making lots of money.

Jasper wished, like every day, that his dad wasn't so far away. He got so sad missing him that he curled up in bed, and his eyes even got all wet and drippy. Luckily, Timmy and Traci crawled up into bed with him and snuggled against his cheek. Jasper didn't feel so lonely anymore. That night before he went to bed, he left the mice an extra big portion of cheese.

In the morning, Jasper checked the letter. Nothing new had been written. He was surprised because it had been writing itself every day and every night. After school, he hurried home and looked at the letter again. It still didn't say anything except:

Dear Santa, I miss my dad. I really want to see him. So this year, all I want for Christmas--

The letter made Jasper think of the presents he would get again. Matt had worn some great soccer shoes at practice. Soccer shoes would be a cool gift. In fact, he could get an entire soccer uniform, with shinguards and everything. And maybe a ball, like the one Matt had. And after playing soccer, he'd probably be hungry and thirsty. He hoped his stocking would be stuffed with lots of candy canes. And maybe a chocolate Santa filled with M&Ms.

Jasper's dad called on skype the next afternoon. Jasper showed his dad the B+ he'd gotten on his math test, even though it had been REALLY hard. Jasper's dad said he was proud of him for working so hard on it. Then he said he had to stop talking because someone was calling him about work.

After Jasper left some cookie crumbs for the mice, he went upstairs to his bedroom and checked the letter on his desk. There was still nothing new written on it. It just didn't make any sense. Jasper lay down, cuddled with his two soft, brown mice, and fell asleep.

In the morning, Jasper woke up to see Timmy and Traci on his desk, holding the pencil in their teeth. He lay very still so they would think he was sleeping. They dragged the pencil to his bed and climbed up the covers. Then, they put the pencil right in Jasper's hand. 

Jasper opened his eyes all the way and stared at the mice. They stared back. Timmy and Traci seemed to want him to write. They wanted him to finish the sentence.

Jasper got up and stared at the words on the paper:

Dear Santa, I miss my dad. I really want to see him. So this year, all I want for Christmas--

He thought about all the things he wanted: the phone, the games, the soccer stuff, the Nintendo, the candy. But there was one thing he wanted more than anything. So he printed, as carefully as he could:

All I want for Christmas…is for my dad to come home.

Jasper left the note on his desk, and when he came home from school, it was gone. He figured the mice must have mailed it. So he broke off a big chunk from his favorite chocolate cookie and put it on the floor of the pantry. 

That evening, Jasper's dad called on the phone. The people in China said he had worked so hard, he deserved some extra days off. So the next morning, he was flying home for Christmas.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Town of Bent Necks

I live in Germany, in a Bavarian town called Herzogenaurach. 

Herzogenaurach, during a festival
I know, I know. Gesundheit.

Although you've probably never heard of the town, you have heard of the two famous companies which were founded here: adidas and Puma. That's right. Those two international companies both started in little Herzogenaurach, and their headquarters are still located here today.

It all began with two brothers and one business: The Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory. Adolf Dassler and his brother Rudolf began making athletic shoes in the 1920s. Quiet Adolf—known as Adi by his friends—was the inventor. Outgoing Rudolf was the salesman.

With time, and through a series of misunderstandings, the two brothers had more and more trouble seeing eye to eye. If you'd like to know the entire story, which includes family tensions, business pacts and suspicion of collaboration with the SS, the book Pitch Invasion by Barbara Smit is a fascinating read.

Eventually, the two brothers had a bitter split, each forming their own companies. That was the birth of adidas, named by taking the first three letters of Adi's first and last names. Rudolf considered the same thing, but with two letters, but since Ruda sounded odd to him, he changed it to Puma after the fast cat.

Adi kept his factory on one side of the river. Rudolf set up his company on the other. Most everyone knew someone who worked for one of the brothers. And since socializing with the enemy wasn't allowed, everyone in town had to choose a side. Neighbors fought. Couples divorced over split loyalties.

To be safe, you always checked which side a person was on before speaking to them. A glance at the shoes they were wearing told all you needed to know. And that's how Herzogenaurach became The Town of Bent Necks.

Now, years later, neither company is owned by the Dassler family. Herzogenaurach is proud to be home to both firms, and soccer teams from both companies play friendly matches together. And when the mayor of Herzogenaurach gets into the game, he wears a mismatched pair of shoes.