August 25, 2022


Calendars (page-a-day for 2023): The Argyle Sweater; Non Sequitur; Pearls Before Swine. Andrews McMeel. $16.99 each.

     There are all sorts of sweet, wholesome comic strips that celebrate life, disseminate good news, are emotionally uplifting, and produce a daily feeling akin to euphoria. None of the ones included in this batch of 2023 page-a-day calendars qualifies. In fact, in the days before social media deteriorated into “all outrage, all the time” (there were apparently two or three such days in the dim past), strips such as Scott Wilburn’s The Argyle Sweater, Wiley Miller’s Non Sequitur, and Stephan Pastis’ Pearls Before Swine were the place to go for a daily helping of cynicism and a generalized (if often soft-pedaled) level of despair about all things human. Nowadays, even though these strips may not be as extreme in their negativity as the heaping helpings of nonsense perpetuated in the social-media sphere (and, for that matter, on many so-called “news” sites), the pithy illustrated observations of Wilburn, Wiley and Pastis all remain just wry enough to be worth a glance or three on every day of the year – making them ideal candidates for page-a-day calendars for people who join these cartoonists in seeing the world through a jaundiced eye. Or two jaundiced eyes.

     Just how jaundiced one’s vision of humanity is can be a determining factor regarding which of these comic-panel calendars fits your particular level of stoicism, sarcasm and dismay. The Argyle Sweater favors the pun-and-bear-it approach to everyday life, looking for the absurd rather than the enraging. One panel has a receptionist answering the phone as follows: “Thank you for calling Acme Midwifery and Plumbing. If your water breaks, we’ve got you covered.” Another has a student awarded an A+ after saying his dog ate his homework – it turns out he attends a School of Culinary Arts. Another shows a maternity ward in which one of the babies is inside a filled aquarium, with the proud father beaming at the water-covered infant – the father is Aquaman. Another has two people looking out a window at an umbrella-carrying bivalve on their home’s front walk, and observing that it is going to rain because they see “the clam before the storm.” Another has those famous giant stone figures familiar from so many photos and studies lying prone on the sand and snoring – because they are on “Ether Island.” And then there is the scene of fast-moving runners closing in on a finish line marked by a table containing ham and bacon – because this is “The Race for the Cured.” True, nothing here involves great wit or profound observation, but neither does anything in The Argyle Sweater come across as mean-spirited or just plain nasty. It may be just the right counterbalance if you want something each day that is funny without being perpetually on the attack against something-or-other. (And every now and then, something turns up that is surely unintentionally funny, such as the fact that the box in which the 2023 calendar is packed refers to the comic as The Argyle Seater.)

     If your sense of humor takes things up a notch (or maybe that should be “down a notch”) on the sarcasm scale, the 2023 Non Sequitur calendar may be more to your liking (or at least acceptance). This long-running comic’s title means “it does not follow,” and it is true that as a general rule, one day’s panel has nothing to do with the ones before and after – but that is the case with numerous other comics, including, for one, The Argyle Sweater. What sets Non Sequitur apart is the trenchant wit with which Wiley views society’s foibles – even when, as has been increasingly the case in recent years, some of the comics do follow each other, with recurring characters and ongoing story lines. Most of the time, Wiley continues to offer standalone panels. One, for instance, contrasts the “pre-civilization rationale” of harming someone (“It’s not personal. I’m just hungry and want your food”) with the “civilized rationale” for harm (“It’s not personal. Your job has been eliminated to hit our quarterly projections so I can get my bonus”). Another shows dogs immediately scampering into Heaven, while St. Peter explains to a human waiting outside, “Because they put up with people their entire life, that’s why they get a free pass.” And speaking of Heaven, another panel is filled with residents of the clouds playing golf as one character, screaming, gets dropped through a cloud, presumably to the nether regions of the afterlife – while a golfer explains, “It’s a yin and yang kind of thing. Down there, they have to watch golf for all eternity.” Back on Earth, there is a desert scene featuring a rundown building with water equipment stacked outside, labeled “Barry Surf Shop,” and there is a character telling Barry, “Your faith in climatology notwithstanding, I still say there’s such a thing as being too far ahead of the market.” And there is an urban scene featuring a cap-and-gown-clad graduate standing forlornly on the street, holding up a sign that says, “Got B.A. Will B.S. for $.” As for some of the continuing-character strips, they generally revolve around cynical pre-adolescent Danae, who has a habit of using modern technology strictly for her own purposes – as when she helpfully tells Wikipedia that the capital of Maine is Portland, only to be sidetracked by her long-suffering father with the information that the state capital is actually Augusta. And there are some entries in this calendar that combine technology with old-fashioned Pearly Gates material, such as one in which St. Peter tells the assembled multitude that the line will move faster “now that I’ve learned how to search your browser histories,” which results in every single soul in line simultaneously thinking, “Uh-oh.” Indeed, there are plenty of uh-oh moments here – another shows “the American Common Ground Regatta,” featuring a rowboat with half the people facing one way and half the other – but there is nothing genuinely mean-spirited about Non Sequitur. Wiley’s work is more of the face-plant type than the punch-someone-in-the-face type.

     If your tastes do run to punch-in-the-face humor, though, you can try the 2023 Pearls Before Swine calendar for a daily helping of punchable moments. The calendar’s title page and box say it all: this is the “Rainbows-and-Unicorns-All-Will-Be-Better-This-Year” calendar, featuring Rat and Pig riding a unicorn in front of a rainbow as Pig happily exclaims, “Because it can’t be worse!” But oh yes, it can, and if-and-when it is, Pearls Before Swine will be there to say “we told you so.” This is just about the darkest comic strip around. It shares elements of other comics, but twists them. For instance, the puns of The Argyle Sweater here become groaners, as in a strip about a new library wing featuring books written by authors in India plus Bollywood films featuring Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, and Salman Khan – Pig tells Goat that the arrangement has “prose and Khans,” leading Rat to tell the cartoon version of creator Pastis, “Now you can be hated on two continents.” Then there is the strip in which Pig is depressed because his life is so lousy compared to the lives of everyone else, and it turns out he has spent 10 hours on Instagram: “I was happy with my life until others showed me I wasn’t.” And there are several strips in which Rat becomes a therapist: in one, he asks the patient if it is ok just to laugh at him for a minute, and in another, his session notes say “he can’t be helped” and “I just made $200.” And the depths of despair are barely plumbed by those strips. Rat takes everyone further into them by saying he wants to make Mondays more upbeat with “an optimistic thought,” which goes as follows: “Even if our country’s debt one day overwhelms us, or the world becomes too warm, or we simply have too many people and not enough drinkable water, we can always just flee to the woods and fight to the death for survival.” Now, if your taste runs to that level of deep-down doomsaying despair, Pearls Before Swine is definitely the comic strip for you – and the 2023 version of its calendar is sure to make you smile every day of the year. Or bang your head against the wall. Or scream. Or all of those – at least it will make you, you know, react. All year. Day in and day out. Week after week after week…


Long Days, Short Years: A Cultural History of Modern Parenting. By Andrew Bomback. MIT Press. $22.95.

     Being a doctor (specifically a nephrologist), Andrew Bomback decided to write a book called Doctor, a title word that can be both a noun and a verb. Being a parent, he decided to follow it up with a book that could have been called Parent, which would also have been a noun-and-verb single-word title; but instead, as he explains at some length if not very convincingly, he chose to call the book Long Days, Short Years, in deference to the oft-stated phrase regarding child-rearing, “The days are long, but the years are short.”

     The bit of flailing around regarding the book’s title is emblematic (perhaps, doctor, we should say symptomatic) of Bomback’s feeling of flailing around as a parent – but interestingly, that is a positive aspect of the book, not a negative. There is something refreshing about a “parenting” author who admits to being imperfect, knows he does not have all the answers, and is not entirely sure what all the questions are. The result is that Long Days, Short Years is plainspoken and straightforward in expression in a thoroughly non-didactic way that readers are sure to appreciate.

     The book does, though, have some rather questionable notions, largely when trying hard (a bit too hard) to fulfill the promise of the second half of its title by delivering A Cultural History of Modern Parenting. For instance, Bomback at one point says that parents in the 1970s and 1980s “seem, from today’s vantage point, irrationally obsessed with a fear of kidnapping” – a valid observation – but then goes on to suggest that the fear “may reflect a more deep-seated worry about whether the entry of women into the workforce was a form of child abandonment.” Where did that come from? Bomback is clearly no psychoanalyst: tossing out notions like this without explaining them or backing them up is not the strongest way to get readers to pay attention to what Bomback is trying to tell them.

     Well, what is he trying to say? “The modern version of parenting portrayed in contemporary popular culture is vastly different for moms than for dads.” Well, ok, but therefore what? Haven’t gender roles always been presented differently in popular culture? Ah, but not differently the way they are currently different – this seems to be part of Bomback’s point. He establishes his solid socially liberal bona fides by writing about “gender dynamics” and saying that “parenting remains arguably the most gender-normative component of modern adulthood,” but then, again, what? Well, maybe parenting is not best accomplished by parents, or at least by parents on their own: “The twentieth century ushered in not only an era of parents looking for professional advice but also an era that crowned a new breed of authorities.” OK – and so?

     A lot of the “so what?” and “and so?” elements of Long Days, Short Years have to do with Bomback’s experiences with his own children. His wife, also a physician, asks one of the book’s key questions: “Why does every kid in America need a diagnosis?” Like many “why” questions here, this one is never satisfactorily answered – but the how of diagnosis and the what regarding handling the diagnosed condition do get explored. Son Mateo’s “sensory integration disorder” – one of the trendy behavioral-conditions-of-the-moment – is discussed in some detail, for example, along with the way it is managed through an outfit called TheraPlay. But the specifics here are of less import than a question Bomback poses regarding other parents and, by extension, himself and Xenia: “Are the moms and dads ‘parenting’ so ineffectively and counterproductively because their children are difficult, or are the children difficult because their parents are failing at their basic duties?” The question would be more useful to readers if Bomback would forthrightly state what those “basic duties” are (or should be) – but the underlying question of this book, one that is never asked, is: for whom is it written and in what way, if any, is it supposed to be useful?

     The answer seems to be that different parts of the book are likely to be of interest, and perhaps of use, to different parents. Bomback enjoys trotting out the names and basic prescriptions of various parenting tomes, likes to talk about different parenting approaches and fads (from helicoptering to free-range parenting), and generally seems to take a scattershot approach to the whole matter of having children and being involved in raising them. He clearly takes pride in his own ability to absorb the jargon-of-the-day and do something with it, commenting at one point that “I was showing off some of the verbiage I’d learned from all the parenting books I’d read over the last few months.” And he certainly makes the point that parenting can be, and often is, utterly exhausting. But that is scarcely news; and in fact, not much in Long Days, Short Years is news – and in time (and not much time at that), the fads through which Bomback wades will be replaced by other fads that will be equally useful or useless, depending on whom you ask and how you personally feel about kids and families in general. Long Days, Short Years is a descriptive rather than prescriptive book, one whose “cultural history” elements are on the shallow side but whose personal-experience material often connects with readers. “The struggles of modern parenting are a reflection more of the adults than of the kids,” Bomback writes near the book’s end. That is a “well, duh” moment – one of quite a few in the book. Little here is revelatory, but at least the book conveys the experiential sense of shared madness that so often defines parenthood or parenting or, to put it simply, raising kids.


Sigismond Thalberg: Fantasies on Operas by Verdi, Rossini and Bellini. Francesco Nicolosi, piano. Naxos. $13.99.

Sigismond Thalberg: Les Soirées de Pausilippe—Hommage à Rossini, 24 Pensées musicales. Francesco Nicolosi, piano. Naxos. $13.99.

Eleanor Alberga: Two-Piano Suite; 3-Day Mix; Donald Grantham: Fantasy Variations on Gershwin’s Piano Prelude II for Two Pianos; Thomas H. Kerr, Jr.: Concert Scherzo—Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel?; Stella Sung: Epicycles; Ástor Piazzolla: Milonga del Ángel; La Muerte del Ángel. Nyaho/Garcia Piano Duo (William Chapman Nyaho and Susanna Garcia). MSR Classics. $14.95.

     Although the notion of a notoriously bitter pianistic rivalry between Franz Liszt and Sigismond Thalberg (1812-1871) was largely the creation of reporters looking for juicy stories to build their publications’ audiences – some things never change – there is no question that Thalberg and Liszt were among the preeminent pianists at a time and place when the salons, recital halls and concert venues seemed to overflow with keyboard pyrotechnics produced by the greatest exponents of their instrument. Naxos has been re-releasing a number of Francesco Nicolosi performances of Thalberg’s music that were originally recorded in the 1990s, and what is remarkable is not only the quality of the readings – which is uniformly very high – but also the unexpected variety of material that listeners can discover, or rediscover, through these CDs. The disc called Fantasies on Operas by Verdi, Rossini and Bellini is pretty much what audiences in Thalberg’s time, and listeners who are familiar with him today, will expect. Like Liszt and other great concertizers of the era, Thalberg was an expert at creating extended sets of variations-cum-tone-poems based on well-known tunes from well-known operas – lest we forget, opera was popular rather than rarefied entertainment in the mid-19th century, and audiences would be quite familiar with the “hit tunes” from multiple works. Thalberg developed specific pianistic techniques that allowed him to make his opera arrangements distinctive – most famously, he created a form of composition and performance that made it sound as if three hands were playing, by producing tunes in the middle of the piano while ornamenting them above and below. The point was to impress audiences with both showmanship and musicianship, and Thalberg – like Liszt, if to a lesser extent – was a master of this combination. Of the six fantasies on this particular CD, five use music that today’s operagoers (if not the public at large) are likely to recognize; this means the pieces have some of the same impact in the 21st century that they had in the 19th. There are two Verdi fantasies here from 1862, on themes from La Traviata and Il Trovatore, and two from 1864, based on music from Un ballo in maschera and Rigoletto. In all four cases, and indeed in his opera fantasies in general, Thalberg selected musical material that would allow him to build an effective display piece: he did not try to trace the stories of the operas, preferring to use music out of its original order and juxtapose unrelated themes because, in so doing, he could produce a more-effective work of his own. In addition to the four Verdi fantasies, Nicolosi here plays Thalberg’s 1853 arrangement of one of Bellini’s most-famous arias, Casta diva from Norma – another opera that remains popular today. It is only the sixth piece on the disc that explores now-less-familiar territory, being a fantasy (from 1828, when Thalberg was just 16) on Le Siège de Corinthe by Rossini – an opera that is only occasionally revived nowadays. Still, this fantasy is every bit as effective as the later ones based on better-known Verdi and Bellini works, and Nicolosi’s highly idiomatic virtuosity showcases all the material to the best possible effect. This may be superficial music, but it is superficial by intent rather than by accident: Thalberg knew how to entertain the audiences of his time, and the pieces remain very entertaining for listeners of today.

     If the six opera fantasies are fine but unsurprising examples of Thalberg’s art, another Naxos re-release, this one entirely based on Rossini’s music, is off the beaten path and is fascinating for Thalberg’s willingness, within it, to eschew virtuosity for its own sake. Les Soirées de Pausilippe (“Evenings at Posilippo,” created in 1862) is designated as Hommage à Rossini and also as 24 Pensées musicales (“24 Musical Thoughts”). Thalberg owned and lived in a villa at Posilippo for the last few years of his life, and just as Rossini himself retired from the stage and thereafter composed only his “Sins of Old Age,” so Thalberg mostly retired from the rigors and stresses of performance and planted vineyards – from which he produced prize-winning wines. Les Soirées de Pausilippe is relaxed and pleasantly laid-back in a way that Thalberg’s operatic fantasies are not. The 24 pieces are subdivided into two books of 12 each, and each book is further broken up into six pairs of pieces. Virtuosity is not entirely absent from the material, but in this case it very much takes a back seat to expressiveness and a near-Mendelssohnian relaxation: it is reasonable to think of Les Soirées de Pausilippe as Thalberg’s set of “songs without words.” Thalberg’s publisher wanted each of the 24 pieces to be given its own evocative title, but Thalberg refused, preferring to have the music speak for itself – which it does, mostly gently. The works bear nothing but tempo indications, and they are songful rather than intense and dramatic (Thalberg had actually written a piano-instruction work on applying the art of singing to piano performance, and it is from that work that his Casta diva arrangement is taken). There are certainly some operatic and dramatic elements in Les Soirées de Pausilippe from time to time, such as the pairing of a rather grand Lento con molta espressione with an ominous minor-key Presto. But by and large, the music evokes the gentler, more-nuanced side of Rossini and, by extension, of Thalberg. It also seems expressive of the relaxed atmosphere of Posilippo itself. Thalberg lived for nine years after producing Les Soirées de Pausilippe and continued, during that time, to create some of the grander-scale fantasies for which he was best known – including several of those on the other recent Nicolosi re-release. But he never again wrote anything quite like Les Soirées de Pausilippe, which shows a more-sensitive side of his compositional and performance capabilities and proves that Thalberg was quite capable of nuance and delicacy when he was so inclined – even though his enthusiastic audiences were generally not looking for those qualities in his music or his pianism.

     The exuberant piano performances of William Chapman Nyaho and Susanna Garcia are the main attraction of an MSR Classics release featuring 20th- and 21st-century works that, like Thalberg’s in an earlier time, seem designed mainly to entertain. There is certainly fine craftsmanship in the music, which includes world première recordings of pieces by Eleanor Alberga (born 1949), Stella Sung (born 1959), and Thomas H. Kerr, Jr. (1915-1988). But it is the pieces that have been recorded before that are the most engaging. One is Fantasy Variations on Gershwin’s Piano Prelude II for Two Pianos (1996) by Donald Grantham (born 1947) – a piece that may be said to lie in the Liszt/Thalberg tradition of expanding some rather slight material into something altogether grander, more extended and more complex, lacking profundity but sounding highly attractive as a display piece. The others are Pablo Ziegler’s two-piano arrangements of two of the 1962-1965 “angel” works by Ástor Piazzolla (1921-1992): the lyrical, wistful Milonga del Ángel and the strong and assertive La Muerte del Ángel (the last of the Serie del Ángel pieces, Resurrección del Ángel, is omitted). The pianistic attractiveness of Grantham’s work and the underlying lyricism of the two by Piazzolla (originally written by him for his bandoneón-led quintet, including violin, piano, electric guitar, and double bass) come across very well through the exceptional sensitivity of Nyaho and Garcia not only to the music but also to each other – they seem to sense the best way to have their two pianos interrelate to bring out the nuances of the music. Indeed, Nyaho and Garcia perform on two pianos with much the same careful intertwining that they display in the works here for piano four hands: Sung’s Epicycles (1992) and Alberga’s 3-Day Mix (1986). These pieces themselves, though, are less interesting than those by Grantham and Piazzolla. Sung’s five-movement work is full of pounding and dissonance to no particular purpose; Alberga’s single movement is more sensitive, even delicate in places, but somewhat meandering. Alberga’s Two-Piano Suite (also from 1986) is more effective and better-constructed: it is a single extended movement that gives Nyaho and Garcia plenty of opportunities to lead and follow where the music takes them – indeed, the whole lead-and-follow idea is almost irrelevant in this well-integrated piece, while the performers’ mutuality of technique results throughout the CD in excellent balance and readings of care and integrity. These performance characteristics show especially well in Kerr’s 1996 Concert Scherzo—Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel? This work could easily function as an encore, although it appears midway through the disc. It has jazz/swing rhythmic drive laid atop the underlying spiritual, as Kerr attractively explores what nuances the basic music possesses while having the pianists carry the melody and its development through warmth and heartfelt concern, if not to the level of intense religious fervor. The piece is pleasant – an adjective applicable to just about all the music on this CD – and these top-notch performers raise everything on the disc to the highest level at which the material is capable of being displayed.

August 18, 2022


Calendars (page-a-day for 2023): Cats; Garbage Pail Kids; The Good Advice Cupcake! Andrews McMeel. $16.99 each.

     Sometimes the only day-brightener you need from a calendar is a picture that makes you smile, chuckle or maybe even laugh out loud. And some page-a-day calendars – the ones whose pages you remove and discard daily (once per weekend) – seem designed to provide just that sort of visual amusement. With any luck, at least some of the pictures on these calendars will be worth more than a passing glance – maybe two or three or more passing glances as you notice the calendar on a given day. Feline fanciers will certainly feel that way about Cats, an offering that really requires nothing more explanatory than its single-word title. Speaking of words, they are mostly irrelevant here: the majority of the pages are simply wordless photos of cats being, you know, cats – staring adorably at a ball of yarn, stretching adorably on a soft surface, yawning adorably, playing adorably with a cat toy, and so forth. This is not to say, though, that all the feline expressions are adorable in the same way. Certain cats shown here look distinctly put-out in that way that only cats can, while others seem to be staring right out of the page, as if deciding whether to emerge from it in “pounce” mode. And some pages do have text on them – quotations that relate, at least marginally, to the cat photo for that date. For instance, one page shows two cats rushing along to somewhere-or-other, with a Lee Franklin quote, “Nature abhors a vacuum, but not as much as cats do.” And one shows a cat with head tilted slightly to the side, staring somewhere unidentifiable, with a Maurice Burton quotation, “Anyone who claims that a cat cannot give a dirty look either has never kept a cat or is singularly unobservant.” In truth, most of the words add little to the photos here, and the pictures are most definitely the point, day in and day out. Cats scratching things (not always scratching posts!), cats in mid-leap, cats dashing through high grass, cats looking angry and cross-eyed and intense and thoroughly relaxed – all these feline moods and expressions are here. And every once in a while, there is a quotation that seems to fit this calendar and the cats it celebrates quite well, such as this from Bonni Elizabeth Hall: “When you come upon your cat, deep in meditation, staring thoughtfully at something that you can’t see, just remember that your cat is, in fact, running the universe.” Maybe not the universe, but your universe, oh yes – as anyone who shares living space with a cat will acknowledge while enjoying this calendar throughout 2023.

     Cats are known for their elegance and beauty, but what if your taste runs to the inelegant and far from beautiful – but funny? Have no fear – there are calendars for less-than-lovely characteristics, too. Try, for example, Garbage Pail Kids, where the drawings are very much the visual point and very much not to be deemed pleasant or elegant. The occasional cat does appear here, but it is not in a happy place: one, for example, is being stepped on by “Frank N. Stein,” who is busily absorbing the energy from a bolt of lightning. The Garbage Pail Kids concept originated as an anti-nice Cabbage Patch Kids franchise, but quickly took on a life (or pseudo-life) of its own, and now is in full flower. The flower may be stinkweed, but hey, you take what you can get. And actually, you get more than funny/silly/icky pictures for every day of 2023 with this calendar: every page commemorates a real, honest-to-goodness, frequently weird and inexplicable holiday of some sort. So there is an educational component to this Garbage Pail Kids offering – a trashy one, but again, you take what you can get. Interestingly, every day of the year gets its own illustration here: weekends are the usual single page for two days, but those pages are split down the middle so a different holiday and Kid can be shown for Saturday and Sunday. Saturday, March 4, 2023, for example, is “International Game Master’s Appreciation Day,” and the picture shows a dice-headed Kid named “Dice Bryce” throwing dice while playing a board game. And each dot on the Kid’s head is an eye: the Garbage Pail Kids are nothing if not bizarre. The brighten-your-day (or at least weirdify-your-day) illustrations here are of all types, or at least all strange types. April 14,”International Moment of Laughter Day,” gets a poster of “U.S. Arnie,” shown in Uncle Sam costume and pointing out of the page while laughing at whoever happens to be looking at him. “Learn about Composting Day” (May 29) features a broken-open sack with a very plump face and the label, “GPK Fertilizer,” above a caption identifying the character as “Fertile Liza.” For July 7, “National Macaroni Day,” there is “Macaroni Art,” who is made entirely of pasta and glue. August 14, “National Financial Awareness Day,” features “Hank Bank,” a smiling piggy bank in the process of being shattered by a hammer. And “No Rhyme or Reason Day” (September 1) features “Bizarre Lamar,” shown behind a fence – with his body in four sections, subdivided by the horizontal portions of the fencing. Some of the Garbage Pail Kids illustrations are on the gross side, and some are on the grosser side, and some – well, if you have a penchant for illustrated humor of a certain type, including over-the-top illustrations and outrageous puns, you may well find this calendar to be a 21st-century update (if not upgrade) of the original slogan of Mad magazine: “humor in a jugular vein.”

     The pictures are cuter but the words more likely to be four-letter ones (with interior asterisks) in the 2023 calendar featuring The Good Advice Cupcake! The title confection and friends offer not only amusing illustrations but also upbeat sayings and affirmations every day – and, oh yes, there is the occasional cat here, too: the calendar’s cover has Cuppy saying “I’m thankful for cats,” and one day shows the frequently appearing cute kitty and has the words, “Be grateful for your ability to open cans. Cats sure are.” Another has Cuppy holding a tightly wrapped cat while saying, “Bless you, fur babies, for your patience when we swaddle the sh*t out of you.” That pretty well encapsulates the messages of this calendar: be grateful, be happy, enjoy what you have, and feel free to utter asterisked verbiage whenever you wish. The cutest pictures and most-amusing daily thoughts, though, tend to show up on the least-asterisked pages. For instance, one has Cuppy facing the reader directly, with a black bar and the word “censored” just at the top of Cuppy’s legs – and the words, “Let’s take a moment to appreciate gratuitous nudity that’s too hot for TV.” Another has a kitten riding a unicorn, with the words, “It’s amazing you got to see something this majestic today.” Another has the kitten tethered to a rocket, with the words, “In space, no one can hear you scream. But everyone can see how grateful you are to be in space.” Actually, gratitude emerges, time and time again, as the foundational theme of this 2023 calendar. Cuppy and friend Bun are munching fruit on one day with the words, “Gratitude alert: watermelon exists.” Another day has paper-bag-laden Cuppy exclaiming, “Grateful that carrying empty shopping bags causes the same dopamine hit as actually shopping.” Another has a Cuppy X-ray (definitely one of the weirder concepts here) with the words, “Feelin’ all that gratitude deep in my bones.” Given the simplicity of the basic Cuppy drawing, it is a lot of fun to see the ways in which this calendar varies its visuals day after day. Cuppy wearing a cap; Cuppy and friends (only their eyeballs visible) in a lava lamp; Cuppy riding a falling leaf; Cuppy selling “scout cookies” and dressed appropriately; Cuppy in a Big Bad Wolf costume – there are so many variations on this inherently simple theme that fans of silliness, cuteness, and frequent almost-profanity will have a great time throughout the coming year with The Good Advice Cupcake!