Uganda and Beatrice’s Goat

The view from our vacation on Lake Bunyonyi

It’s funny. I was sitting on a little grassy hill in March 2009, on an island in a crater lake in Uganda when I realized this peculiar truth, both big and small: I would always be a person who had lived in Africa.

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This year I found myself in an overstuffed car on Epiphany, brimful with Christmas gifts and children and a dog and spilled Apple Jacks. I had worn second-day tights to the early Mass in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, that morning, and we’d stepped delicately over ice to load up into the car, and finally, after three weeks of travel, we were on our way home.

I’m not sure I ever noticed Epiphany before I became a mother, but when he was a baby, Pippin’s godmother thrifted him a copy of The Third Giftwhich at first mostly caught his attention because the protagonist looked to him like Aunt Beca. (At the time she was sporting a pretty great pixie.)


The plot is merely a footnote or preamble to Epiphany: the life of a boy who apprentices his father in the collection of myrrh, and how some of that myrrh is sold to strangers from far away. It’s simple and lovely, and brought to life Epiphany for me in a new way, especially Bagram Ibatoulline’s concluding illustration: a little cave-like barn, on the horizon, the glow of the city; and in the barn, clustered haphazardly, mysteriously, those central figures we’ve seen all Advent, all of it looking like chance.

The story of the three kings has a sort of quiet fairytale beauty after the high drama and tinsel of Christmas, doesn’t it? That frisson of fear with big, bad King Herod looming. The mysterious star, the moonlight. Strangers on a strange landscape. An improbable meeting. Everything pointing to a future no one yet understands.

And maybe it was thinking about the little myrrh-gatherer that made the thought occur to me, but what became of those gifts? If Jesus is truly the child of the poor, a soon-to-be refugee, are the gifts hocked on the run to Egypt? Or do they later fund his ministry? Are they given to adorn the Temple? Or do they endure in secret long past Jesus’s death, tucked away in a basket, pored over by she who pondered these things in her heart?

In this little episode, we get all the otherworldliness and everydayness that is Christ among us. And we get Epiphany on the tail of our own gift avalanche, with its enduring tokens of far away people who love us, crammed inelegantly into our humble, aging car, pointing to the magic and beauty that lingers in the chaotic Christmas aftermath.

Commonplace Book, 22

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

What I’m fixing:

  • Ree Drummond’s Chicken Pot Pie, which, for better or worse, is pretty unrecognizable when I get done with it, having used frozen pie crust; a combination of roasted onions, carrots, mushrooms, potatoes and frozen peas; subbed thighs for a full chicken and milk with a couple spoonfuls of yogurt for the cream, etc., etc. But it always helps me to have a template to work off for ratios, temperatures and times. Are you a more intuitive cook?
  • Slow Cooker Vegetarian Pumpkin Chili for Pippin’s birthday party which pleased even the determined meat-eaters and pumpkin-avoiders among us.

What I’m reading:

  • All the Light We Cannot See still and again, as a combination of audiobook and hardcover. (Now I know how to pronounce “Laure,” so that’s something.) J came in while I was changing the sheets and listening to Werner solve trigonometric equations the other night and I really hoped he’d notice and be impressed but no dice.
  • Little House on the Prairie with Pippin. I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t read this as a kid, or if I did, I have zero memory of it, which is maybe worse. But Pippin’s way into it and keeps asking for more chapters. The descriptions are more beautifully lyrical than I somehow expected, although occasionally I get Giants in the Earth flashbacks, as below:

“It was strange and frightening to be left without the wagon on the High Prairie. The land and the sky seemed too large, and Laura felt small. She wanted to hide and be still in the tall grass, like a little prairie chicken.”

Grab me my trunk, folks. I’m going in.

  • Entirely too much election coverage. But who isn’t?
Pretzels and books to the rescue on a disastrous afternoon