Three quickies with piccies, in advance of the holiday . . .

1. I wrote a post for my work blog today called The Bibles of Salisbury House. We have a truly, amazingly, incredibly significant collection of complete and fragmentary Bibles in our collection (including a Noble Fragment leaf from a 1454 Gutenberg Bible), and I’m looking for a financial partner to help us curate an exhibition to share these historic and beautiful works more widely. If you know someone with $25,000 burning a hole in their pocket, let me know!

Spine of the oldest complete Bible in the Salisbury House collection, though we have other leaves and liturgical fragments going back to England in 1200.

2. When we bought our house in Beaverdale (a neighborhood in northwest Des Moines) last year, we learned that the homes in our neighborhood had been build for coal miners and their families in the 1920s and 1930s. Most of them have showers in the basement that can be accessed from exterior doors so the filthy miners didn’t get the main floor of the house dirty when they came home from work. What I didn’t learn until recently, however, was just how short a commute the miners had from home to office: there are several abandoned coal mines located right in the heart of Beaverdale. Here’s an outline map of one, showing just how close it is to where I live today.

The blue dot at upper left is my house. The purple lines are the outlines of a former coal mine. I smell an adventure!

America’s Prettiest Christmas Block

We live on it . . . which probably surprises you as much as it surprises me.

When we made the offer on our house on Ashby Avenue in Des Moines’ Beaverdale neighborhood earlier this fall, our realtor and pretty much everybody else we talked to here made fond, warm, appreciative comments about Christmastime on our street, when the entire neighborhood bands together to create a festival of holiday lights that actually draws long lines of cars, limousines and even tour buses, every night, all night, during the latter part of December.

We liked the house and neighborhood so much that I didn’t really think much about that particular aspect of living here, one way or the other . . . until I arrived the week before Thanksgiving, and noticed that our house was one of the few that didn’t already have a nice display of lights up.

Uh oh . . .

Those who have read my work online for a long time will no doubt recall that I’m not particularly holiday-minded, and cheesy Christmas music tends to make me want to punch people in the head. I am, however, succeptible to peer pressure, so even before I’d finished unpacking our household goods, I made the trek up to our neighborhood Ace Hardware Store and grabbed just enough lights to put up a credible display that wouldn’t win us any “Best in Show” honors, but would hopefully keep us from being branded as “THAT HOUSE” or “THOSE PEOPLE” on the block.

A couple of weeks later, Marcia and I received an invitation to attend a progressive dinner that’s held annually among the Ashby Avenue families who live West of Beaver Avenue (and who engage in friendly internecine Christmas warfare with our aggressively-decorative counterparts East of Beaver). The dinner was lovely, as were (and are) our neighbors, and I must admit that, like my Grinchly inspiration, my heart did indeed grow a few sizes that day, as we walked about our block, fortified with wine and chocolate and cocktail weenies, and admired the tasteful displays and warm conviviality that our new street offers.

It’s nice to move in to a new house and neighborhood and instantly become a part of something that the entire city recognizes as being worthy, and special. There aren’t a lot of places here (or anywhere) where you can do that, so I am glad that we have fortuitously landed in one. This is good.

My camera has been woefully inadequate at capturing the full glory of an Ashby Avenue Christmas, but here are some shots that may give you some small, vague sense of what we see at night when we walk up to our gym and/or neighborhood restaurant/bar. In short, it’s pretty cool to live on a street that lots of folks are driving from miles away to see.

Even for a Grinch.

Looking west from our front yard.

This is East of Beaver: The Christmas Light Competitors.

Another East of Beaver Avenue shot . . .

This is looking east from the corner of Ashby and Beaver: the east side has a circle, which gives them an optical advantage . . .

Back on the (way cooler) West side of Beaver: the deer are directly across from our house.

Again on the West side . . . we were privileged to be issued our own driveway Candy Canes soon after arriving here . . .

Line of cars rolling down Ashby Avenue, smokin’ indo, and sippin’ on gin and juice, laid back . . .

Fuzzy-Cam shot of our house . . . it ain’t much, but I got it up before I had my own bathroom properly unpacked . . .