19 October 2018


I haven't put up my Hallowe'en decorations in a while because we were either otherwise occupied (like hospitals), on vacation in October, or because I didn't have time. I decided I needed to cull out my stuff since I wasn't putting it up, to just keep what I loved. So that's done, and I have a nice, reasonable amount of decorations up without having to take all the autumn things down.

In the foyer.

The witch has a color-changing LED.

Hallowe'en tree. Mini-bat, Snoopy, owl, raven and big owl from Hallmark.

Kitchen pass-through. "I got a rock" ornament center, Harry at left, Renfield at right.

The glass pumpkin and friends. The lights are encased in plastic leaves.

Old vintage reproductions (cat, pumpkin goblin, cornucopia) with new (children at rear).

10 October 2018

Autumn Lends Itself to Poetry

"Poem Beginning with a Line from It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown"
Maggie Smith

Just look—nothing but sincerity 
as far as the eye can see—
the way the changed leaves,
flapping their yellow underbellies

in the wind, glitter. The tree
looks sequined wherever
the sun touches. Does anyone
not see it? Driving by a field

of spray-painted sheep, I think
the world is not all changed.
The air still ruffles wool
the way a mother’s hand

busies itself lovingly in the hair
of her small boy. The sun
lifts itself up, grows heavy
treading there, then lets itself

off the hook. Just look at it
leaving—the sky a tigereye
banded five kinds of gold
and bronze—and the sequin tree

shaking its spangles like a girl
on the high school drill team,
nothing but sincerity. It glitters
whether we’re looking or not.

"Merry Autumn"
Paul Laurence Dunbar, 1872 - 1906

It’s all a farce,—these tales they tell
      About the breezes sighing,
And moans astir o’er field and dell,
     Because the year is dying.

Such principles are most absurd,—
     I care not who first taught ’em;
There’s nothing known to beast or bird
     To make a solemn autumn.

In solemn times, when grief holds sway
     With countenance distressing,
You’ll note the more of black and gray
     Will then be used in dressing.

Now purple tints are all around;
     The sky is blue and mellow;
And e’en the grasses turn the ground
     From modest green to yellow.

The seed burrs all with laughter crack
     On featherweed and jimson;
And leaves that should be dressed in black
     Are all decked out in crimson.

A butterfly goes winging by;
     A singing bird comes after;
And Nature, all from earth to sky,
     Is bubbling o’er with laughter.

The ripples wimple on the rills,
     Like sparkling little lasses;
The sunlight runs along the hills,
     And laughs among the grasses.

The earth is just so full of fun
     It really can’t contain it;
And streams of mirth so freely run
     The heavens seem to rain it.

Don’t talk to me of solemn days
     In autumn’s time of splendor,
Because the sun shows fewer rays,
     And these grow slant and slender.

Why, it’s the climax of the year,—
     The highest time of living!—
Till naturally its bursting cheer
     Just melts into thanksgiving.

03 October 2018


by Robert Frost

O hushed October morning mild
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
To-morrow's wind, if it be wild
Should waste them all
The crows above the forest call;
To-morrow they may form and go
O hushed October morning mild
Begin the hours of this day slow
Make the day seem to us less brief
Hearts not averse to being beguiled
Beguile us in the way you know;
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away;
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst
Slow, slow!
For the grapes' sake, if they were all
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—
For the grapes' sake along the wall.

01 October 2018

"Autumnal Tints"

Walden Pond in autumn by Toby McGuire
This was Henry David Thoreau's final essay, edited during his last few days of suffering from tuberculosis. Published in "The Atlantic," October 1862.

30 September 2018

Autumn: A Spiritual Biography of the Season

edited by Gary Schmidt and Susan M. Felch

This is a nifty collection of seasonal essays (there are also books on the other season), whether they touch on the beauty of the natural world or whether they ponder deeper about the ending of the year and its connection with dying (the E.B. White essay poignantly demonstrates this) and the descent into winter darkness (although at least one of these essays, noting that the falling of the leaves always leave a bud or a seed behind, state that autumn is actually a rebirth). I have to admit what called me about this book was the big colorful maple tree on its cover!

These are essays and excerpts and even some poetry about the autumn season, ranging from the Book of Ruth in the Bible to The Rural Life by Verl Klinkenborg to that piece by White. One of my very favorites was "Autumnal Tints," an essay about autumn leaves by Thoreau, which was the final essay he worked on, passing away from tuberculosis only a few days later; his contemporary Susan Fenimore Cooper also has a contribution here. Alan M. Young, Alix Kates Shulman, and Wyman Richardson all provide observations of nature's autumnal change. There's a wistful commentary about baseball season coming to an end and a piece from Tracy Kidder about the first week of school and Garret Keizer's fascinating tale of being the winder of a venerable town clock. Verl Klinkenborg provides an essay about October and there is also an excerpt from May Sarton's House by the Sea. And these are just a few of the delights within.

The only thing that surprised me was that there was nothing at all from Gladys Taber, as this appeared to be the perfect volume to highlight some of Taber's essays! Otherwise, pretty perfect; need to hunt up the winter volume!

29 September 2018

Michaelmas Day

from "Legendary Dartmoor"
The feast of St. Michael the Archangel. Goose is the traditional main course of the big meal of the day and should be eaten on Michaelmas to ensure prosperity for the coming year. In the past, the fall term at British universities and public schools began on or around Michaelmas Day, and the period until Christmas recess was called "Michaelmas Term." Oxford University and Cambridge University still call the fall period the Michaelmas term.

There is also a lovely purple flower called a Michaelmas daisy, a member of the aster family.

Michaelmas Day, from Chambers' Book of Days (1869)

Michaelmas, 29th September, at Historic.UK

About Michaelmas, at Carrots For Michaelmas Blog

Why Do We Celebrate Michaelmas? at City of Lakes Waldorf School Site

St. Michael's Day in Old Ireland, from Irish Culture and Customs Site

Michaelmas, at Lavender and Lovage Site (recipes)

27 September 2018

Autumn Poetry

Isabel Neill

Now gypsy fires burn bright in every tree,
Now countless vagrant birds are winging south;
The white roads beckon and, unsought, yet sweet,
Old songs of nomad days are in my mouth.

I burn with every tree, I fly with every bird,
And know some gypsy witch, with mystic skill,
Has traced her crooked pattern across my heart.

Marjorie Marshall

Mellow sunlight, soothing, warm,
Ripened grains which gaily bloom on the hills,
Swaying stalks like graceful arms
There beneath the sun at noon, rough and bright.

Maple leaves turned richly brown—
Save where deep pink blush is seen near the edge—
Wafted gently, softly down
To cool stones, moss-brown and green, nestled there.

Russet apples braving cold,
Sulking 'neath protecting leaves from the sun;
Burnished skins hid hearts of gold,
Such enticing loot for thieves, fit for gods!

Knoll and copse now redly tinged,
Quivering in the amber air, yield their fruit.
Autumn's almoner, the wind,
Scatters them like blessings rare on the earth.

26 September 2018


a sonnet by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Thou comest, Autumn, heralded by the rain,
   With banners, by great gales incessant fanned,
   Brighter than brightest silks of Samarcand,
   And stately oxen harnessed to thy wain!
Thou standest, like imperial Charlemagne,
   Upon thy bridge of gold; thy royal hand
   Outstretched with benedictions o’er the land,
   Blessing the farms through all thy vast domain!
Thy shield is the red harvest moon, suspended
   So long beneath the heaven’s o’er-hanging eaves;
Thy steps are by the farmer’s prayers attended;
   Like flames upon an altar shine the sheaves;
And, following thee, in thy ovation splendid,
   Thine almoner, the wind, scatters the golden leaves!

25 September 2018

Seeking Autumn...

Alas, summer's claws are still painfully entrenched...but there is hope, even after a dreadful few weeks when the weather decided it had not yet given us enough of stifling, appallingly heavy air pulled like thick lint into the lungs and sizzling rays that touched skin with tongues of fire, and laid upon us temperatures in the 90s to torture us further. Now storms are drifting in from the south, flattening temperatures into the tedious 80s and adding humidity to the mix.

Sadly, the only two singular things about this summer have been that I discovered a traditional "Scotch thistle" plant, with its unique purple head, blooming at the side of the main road, and that I have seen more butterflies this year than I have seen in this neighborhood in ages: big yellow butterflies that skirt the tops of cars as they dash by, saffron daredevils with gossamer wings; medium-sized brown butterflies with their upper wings tipped in white as if they have been skimming cream from the tops of unpasteurized milk bottles; and small black butterflies who dart in and out of backyards and around heads, and zoom by the nose of an uncurious terrier. Indeed, Tucker is not into botany or entomology, as evidenced when I noted a virtual exodus of caterpillars from flanking rows of overgrown cedar bushes alongside a neighbor's driveway, determined black creatures with fetching red "racing stripes" setting off down the sidewalk as if on a mission, and he studiously ignored them to pee on a weed.

Still, a few weeks ago, while once again walking the dog, I was astonished to see fallen leaves out under one of the trees at the front of our subdivision. Tall chocolate-trunked trees with small elliptic leaves and peeling bark had left a carpet of crunching brown and green-flicked-with-yellow scattered upon the concrete sidewalk, banking up against the compact bushes at the foot of the trees, caught between their shiny, waxy green leaves. I picked up one leaf that was ruddy-speckled and practically breathed "autumn" to me, despite the constant drone of the cicadas. Checking overhead I could see that the two spindly oak trees out front were already showing signs of browning leaves and on the opposite side of the entrance, insect-speckled maple leaves dotted the ground under their tree trunks.

And suddenly, within a day of the appearance of the leaves, the constant rising-and-falling sough of the cicadas went silent. I trod early in the morning on my long walk to avoid the heat, skirting the sun as a vampire does, but they did not return, leaving the morning sounds to the intermittent songs of the birds and, more constantly, the fiddling of the crickets. There seem to be two kinds of crickets, one group that sings the regulation, rhythmic song of individual chirps that can be counted, the others with a sweeter, higher-pitched hum that make a constant song like a lullaby. One longs to open the window and doze to their siren sound, but it's still too smothery, too sticky, too summer.

Now I can't turn to the right or left without spying some sign of an autumn valiantly trying to arrive, like the trio of trees up at the corner that have already lost their leaves, as if they are declaring, "Look, it's time we got some sleep. I don't care what temperature the sun has made it!" Or an entire empty lot scattered broadside with tossing gilded heads of goldenrod bobbing in the backwash of car exhaust. The view out the dining room windows that shows new yellow leaves popping out every day on the tulip trees. The slim leaves of the dogwood trees turning rusty as if they were left out too long in the rain. The heady scent of mulching leaves slowly accumulating under the trees trying to outdo the odor of broiling asphalt at midday.

It's so close, it's so close I can almost taste it: gingerbread, hot chocolate, apple cider. Almost feel it: soft sweatshirts, cold breezers, wind that makes you feel alive. Almost see it: leaves of gold and tangerine and bronze and scarlet, bare branches of trees, bright blue sky that hurts the eyes.

Go away, summer. You've had your miserable stinking sizzle. Let us have our joy back. Please?

Rudolph Day, September 2018

"Rudolph Day" is a way of keeping the Christmas spirit alive all year long. You can read a Christmas book, work on a Christmas craft project, listen to Christmas music or watch a Christmas movie.

Remember being a kid at Christmas, looking forward to gifts? Even if you weren't taught the Santa story, it was a special time. Even if times were tough, your mom and/or dad probably went without something else to get you a little treat, even if it was only a coloring book and crayons, or a little doll or a Hot Wheels car. When things got bad, maybe a relative or a church group filled in.

But as you got older, if you were lucky, you learned the real truth: You could be Santa, and make other people happy. Remember the words of the mail carrier Kluger in Santa Claus is Comin' to Town? At the end he addresses people who pooh-pooh Christmas and offers this: "But what would happen if we all tried to be like Santa and learned to give as only he can give: of ourselves, our talents, our love and our hearts? Maybe we could all learn Santa's beautiful lesson and maybe there would finally be peace on Earth and good will toward men."

This month's books are all about the joy of giving.

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas Treasury for Kids, edited by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Patty Hansen, and Irene Dunlap
Think of this as an Advent calendar in a book. The 25 stories can be read once a night through Christmas. They all involve children in some way, whether it's a story told by a child (about half the stories were written by tweens or teens) or by an adult reminiscing about an event that happened in childhood. They're all heartwarmers, including the one about the elderly dog, which didn't seem to fit with the theme, but was an "awwww" nevertheless. The book also contains little comic strips like "Dennis the Menace" and "Family Circus" that fit the holiday theme. Most of the stories are about kids learning it's better to give than to receive, and really touch your heart.

A Louisa May Alcott Christmas, edited by Raina Moore
Louisa May Alcott Christmas Treasury, edited by Stephen W. Hines
Back in the 1990s, Stephen Hines made a stir in the historical community by resurrecting Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Missouri Ruralist" farm wife columns in a set of books. In 1999, he rediscovered a Louisa May Alcott Christmas novella, "Patty's Place," about an orphaned girl looking for a family to love her, in an old children's magazine, and published it as The Quiet Little Woman, with two other Christmas tales, "Rosa's Tale," about a horse who tells her story to the female protagonist on Christmas Eve when animals can talk, and "Tilly's Christmas," about a poor girl who takes in an injured bird on Christmas Eve. Alcott was very much in the news at that point as one of her previously unknown adult "blood and thunder" stories had been found and recently published. A few years later, Hines published "Kate's Choice," another story with Christmas providing the pivotal scene (a story a bit akin to Eight Cousins) with two other Alcott Christmas stories, and finally a third book of three stories.

In 2002, the aformentioned six stories as well as some others, for a total of nineteen stories and poems, were published as Louisa May Alcott's Christmas Treasury. Two years later, Harper Festival paperbacks published A Louisa May Alcott Christmas with twenty stories and poems.

The two books have some overlap: the same ten stories appear in both. One story is known as "What Love Can Do" in the Hines book and "How It All Happened" in the Harper paperback, and the wording is slightly different. (Several of the stories are "adapted" by Hines, which I find irritating; I didn't need the original stories to be modified; the most egregious of these is "What Love Can Do," where Hines changes the name of a character—why?) The Harper paperback "cheats" a bit since the first two stories, "An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving" and "The Silver Party," are actually Thanksgiving stories, and there is a piece called "Cousin Tribulation's Story" taking place on New Year's Day, that recounts the real-life Alcott girls giving up their holiday breakfast to a poverty-stricken family, which later made its appearance in Little Women as a tale of the March girls giving away their breakfast, with the father character not appearing.

The collection in the Hines' book is slightly marred by his heavy-handed afterwards to several of the stories where he moralizes endlessly by explaining what Alcott was trying to get across and comparing the situations in her stories to her real-life. Very snooze-making and I don't think Alcott requires afterwards to explain herself! (In fact, I think she'd have been rather indignant.) One of the stories in the Hines' volume is the Christmas chapter from Little Women and "Becky's Christmas Dream" is curious in that it's the same basic story as "Patty's Place/A Quiet Little Woman," but shorter and with fantasy dream elements where Patty's story is played straight. "Gwen's Adventure in the Snow" is also misplaced, as it is not a Christmas story, but simply a winter story.

Together the books make a veritable feast of Louisa May Alcott Christmas goodness, either tales of wealthy girls (and one little boy) helping those poorer than themselves, or of earnest poor children trying to make a Christmas for younger brothers or sisters. The one exception is "Mrs. Podger's Teapot," the delightful story of a middle-aged widow and the bachelor partner of her deceased husband trying to "make Christmas" for a half-starved street boy, and finding something else altogether (it has an almost Dickensian touch). Both worth finding, or look for the stories online, most of them, including "Patty's Place," are on Gutenberg.org in Alcott's short story collections.

09 September 2018

Our Autumn "Social Season" Begins

The first of our autumn events arrived today: the annual Yellow Daisy Festival. We arose early to eat a quick breakfast and so Tucker could have his dog walk before we set out on the 37 mile drive to Stone Mountain Park. Traffic, of course, was minimal for a Sunday morning, and we got there at nine o'clock with our early pass. It was nice and quiet for a while, but it was already warm and very sticky. I was perspiring profusely before we were halfway through. It was harder walking than DragonCon for me, and I almost missed one farmstand that we really wanted to buy from.

As always, the crafts are a mix of everything: cute kids' clothes, toys, lots of different types of jewelry (the person who I got the Doctor Who headband from had a Walking Dead headband this year), homemade clothing (one lady had beautiful hand-woven sweater/shawl type items I would have loved, but they were very expensive, and worth every penny of the work!), pottery, food items of all sorts (jams, maple syrups, soup and casserole mixes, nuts, sauces), tools to work with foods (barbecue forks, hand-carved wooden spoons, bread knives), metalwork items, the occasional furniture items, hammocks, textile crafts—well, name it, it's there. As usual, there are lovely things we'd like, but can't afford: weathervanes, yard decorations, hammocks...but we must pass them by. However, James did get a new leather wallet, and then we stocked up on food goodies for the rest of the year: Smack Yo' Mama barbecue sauce; MeadowCroft Farms sweet onion relish (we love this stuff on steak and pork and even lamb!) and also sweet pepper and onion relish for James and some blackberry jam for me (till we can get to Ellijay for the blackberry spread I love); First Sergeant products (bourbon pineapple and brandy cherry sauces for us, and medium hot salsa for his burritos); and the first of our two fudge dessert indulgences. I also bought another bar of dog soap.

I was exhausted when we got done and we'd only been there two hours. We are usually there longer, but I did not buy anything from Country Pick'ns this year. It made me a little melancholy, but I've kind of mined them out for my interests. I have Christmas, winter, fall, seashore, kitchen, and pet elements all over the house at various times of the year, and I made fall and Hallowe'en items into a Thanksgiving theme. Her other themes are camping (which I used for a wedding gift), beach, gardening, sewing, and cooking, and I don't do any of those. Would have loved to have seen them do art/painting, writing, etc. But it's sad to have to "abandon" them.

We came directly home, getting caught in a short shower which quit the minute we got the power chair in the house. Spent the afternoon enjoying the air conditioning. I even fell asleep.

James made pork chops for dinner with the bourbon pineapple sauce with a cucumber side, we caught up on Mad About You, and now we're watching stuff off the DVR. It's almost as "high" as the to-be-read piles.

Now Is the Time to Take It Slowly

Each year about this time, I pick up the following three books:
  • Celebrate the Wonder: A Family Christmas Treasury by Kristin M. Tucker and Rebecca Lowe Warren
  • Unplug the Christmas Machine by Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli
  • The Christmas Survival Book by Alice Slaikeu Lawhead 
These are three volumes about preparing for the holidays—not the shopping/cooking/crafting experience, but getting the most out of the celebration. While Celebrate the Wonder includes crafts and recipes and "Custom Inspection" check-ins to inspire to you to perhaps adapt a new tradition, all three books address common themes:
  1. People expect too much from Christmas, based on commercials, idealized films, and photo spreads in magazines.
  2. A belief if you don't spend lots of money and buy "appropriate" gifts, you are not celebrating properly.
  3. People expect troubles (family, financial, etc.) to go away at Christmas, and everything will be perfect.
  4. Your Christmas must be perfect or it's not really Christmas.
  5. Too many people are overscheduled at Christmas, whether it be for family visits, church events, or Christmas experiences (like The Nutcracker, cooking certain foods, etc.).
  6. Women do all the work at Christmas and men feel left out; sometimes children also feel left out.
Celebrate the Wonder and Survival Book have a strong, but not overpowering Christian flavor that will be negligible to people who celebrate the more secular side of the holiday, but all three advise similar things: if a tradition does not make you happy, consider dropping it or revising it (visit relatives at a different time of year or don't bake so much or bake early); spread Christmas festivities over the entire Christmastide season (December 25 through Epiphany, January 6) rather than cramming it into one or two days;  ideas for gifts that are ecologically or ethnically thoughtful or nonstandard (gifts of time, family gifts, nontraditional gifts like a museum membership, park pass, etc.); the idea that you cannot change others, you can only change yourself or your perceptions; scheduling events so that you, your spouse, and any children are not overwhelmed; and toning down the influence of television and media on Christmas expectations.

The Survival book also has an occasional tongue-in-cheek look at holiday excesses, like chapter one's vision of an idealized holiday vs. Christmas reality, and some humorous drawings. Both this book and Unplug the Christmas Machine have exercises you can do to improve your celebrations. Celebrate the Wonder has beautiful pencil drawings opening each chapter and an idea for an activity for every day leading up to Christmas to inspire you to think up events of your own.

I believe all these books may be out of print, but you may want to find them at a reasonable price. While not necessary to have all of them, the trio provide a nice overview of getting the most out of Advent, Christmastide, and Epiphany, and will prompt you to do more reading and less rushing.

03 September 2018

The "Ber" Months Arrive

Labor Day is always a milestone at our house. DragonCon is over for another year, and we are looking forward to our "social season," which starts with the Yellow Daisy Festival, followed by Taste of Smyrna, the Georgia Apple Festival, the fall Jonquil Festival, Hallowe'en, Thanksgiving, Apple Annie [craft show], Christmas, and New Year's. The Christmas Movies and Music group I'm a part of calls these "the ber months." It means fall decorations followed by Thanksgiving decorations culminating in Christmas decorations everywhere, and finally winter finery early in the new year. It means gingerbread and "sweatshirt weather" and autumn leaves and craft shows and fresh-picked apples. It means the occasional game night, lighted homes with welcoming vibes, cool breezes that whisk leaves and straw into flight, migrating geese heading south, and warm cuddly wraps.

This autumn will be a little different for us, as James has surgery scheduled for October 4. We are hoping it will solve his problems so he can finally discard the foley catheter and be shut of UTIs and prostatitis. It's a little scary, and has put a bit of a damper on the joy of autumn arriving. It's difficult to talk about, so I won't. I'll just think about...autumn.

In the meantime, some autumn links:

⦿ Where can you find that classic Windows "Autumn" wallpaper scene?

⦿ How Much Do You Know About Autumn? a BBC Quiz

⦿ Autumn: The Cooling-Off Season

⦿ Classical music for autumn (1 hour 43 minutes)

01 September 2018

An "Apple Tree" Autumn

"There is a smell in the air, the smell of autumn, a yeasty, damp, fruity smell, carrying a hint of smoke and a hint, too, of decay. It fills me with nostalgia, but I do not know for what. It is a smell I love, for this is and has always been my favorite season. They said that as I grew older I should recoil from it, the winding down of another year, the descent towards winter, the end of summer pleasures, that I would begin to shift my affections towards spring, when all is looking forward, all is blossoming and greening and sprouting up. But I do not do so. Spring so often promises what in the end it never pays, spring can cheat and lie and disappoint... But I have never been let down by autumn, to me it is always beautiful, always rich, it always gives in heaping measure... And I love the wild days of autumn, the west winds that rock the apple tree and bring down the leaves and fruit and nuts in showers, and the rain after the days of summer dryness. I love the mists and the first frosts that make the ground crisp..."

. . . . . . Susan Hill, from The Magic Apple Tree: A Country Year

25 August 2018

Rudolph Day, August 2018

"Rudolph Day" is a way of keeping the Christmas spirit alive all year long. You can read a Christmas book, work on a Christmas craft project, listen to Christmas music or watch a Christmas movie. This month I've been reading two books of short stories.

A Christmas Memory, One Christmas & The Thanksgiving Visitor, Truman Capote
This slim volume collects all of Capote's famous holiday stories together. "A Christmas Memory," the most well-known, is the simple, joyful and slightly melancholy story of young "Buddy" and his best friend, his elder cousin Sook. Each year before Christmas she declares it "fruitcake weather" and together they bake for people they have met and liked. Later they hunt for a Christmas tree and make gifts for each other. This is a classic for a reason: it's a heartwarming story. In "One Christmas," Buddy visits his absentee father while being half homesick and half looking forward to his father buying him fabulous gifts. Sadly, the visit goes badly. "The Thanksgiving Visitor" returns to the familiar home in Alabama and Buddy's relationship with Sook. He is aghast when the kindly Sook, who knows the boy's mother, invites bully Odd Henderson to the family Thanksgiving dinner, then decides to take an epic revenge on his tormenter. It doesn't quite work out as planned. Sook, of course, is luminous, but if you were charmed by Buddy in the first two stories, he comes off less well in the final tale.

A New Christmas Treasury, edited by Jack Newcombe
The trouble with collecting books of Christmas short stories is that eventually there are stories that always repeat, including part or all of A Christmas Carol. This collection by Jack Newcombe tries to break that mold, but there are some repeats here: "A Christmas Memory," for one, Andersen's "Fir Tree," Washington Irving's "Christmas Eve," the poem "Christmas Trees" by Frost, such sweet repeats as Grahame's "Dulce Domum" and Potter's "Tailor of Gloucester," and of course Virginia assured there is a Santa Claus. However, Newcombe tries hard to avoid most of the cliches, and sometimes it works. Instead of A Christmas Carol, we join the Pickwick Club on a Christmas journey, and, less successfully, join a snowbound man at "The Holly Tree," an inn, a tale I found a bit pointless. John Cheever's "Christmas is a Sad Season for the Poor" has a touch of cynicism to it that is amusing, a collection of chapters from Thomas Hardy's Under the Greenwood Tree revisits the old custom of "the Waits" who sing carols along the country roads, and there are two nostalgic reminisces from Coffin ("Christmas in Maine") and Engle's "An Iowa Christmas." Instead of Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Mr. Edwards Meets Santa Claus," we get a grimmer Christmas during The Long Winter.

Some stories are just sad, like Ring Lardner's "Old Folks Christmas" in which a couple prepare a fabulous holiday for their college-age children, only to find the kids want to spend all their time with their fast-living friends, and "A Christmas Dinner," in which the only friendly face a South African white boy sees while visiting his family is a wandering black man who shows up after the family has left him home alone to do something else. Also noted: Shirley Jackson's "A Visit to the Bank," a classic Christmas ghost story "The White Road," and George Plimpton's funny tale of one-upsmanship, "The Christmas Bird Count." A selection of poetry, O'Henry's "Gifts of the Magi," essays, and short Christmas excerpts found out this volume well worth finding despite the occasional off piece.

25 July 2018

Rudolph Day, July 2018

"Rudolph Day" is a way of keeping the Christmas spirit alive all year long. You can read a Christmas book, work on a Christmas craft project, listen to Christmas music or watch a Christmas movie. Once again, I'm reading a Christmas book (or, rather, books), this time for "Christmas in July." In fact, one of the books takes place during a "Christmas in July" celebration. All are cozy mysteries, and have a lot in common: they both take place in small towns where the industry revolves around Christmas, and involve local women who left home for bright lights in the big city, only to return home after romantic catastrophe to work in their hometowns.

Hark the Herald Angels Slay, Vicki Delany
This is the third, and I hope not the last, in Delany's "Year Round Christmas" Mystery series, set in the upstate New York town of Rudolph. I'll admit I was iffy about the first one, but Merry Wilkinson and her family and friends have grown on me. In this entry, it's Rudolph's annual "Christmas in July" celebration, and Merry, proprietor of the gift shop Mrs. Claus's Treasures, thinks her biggest problem is what to wear in the boat parade in which her father, who plays Santa Claus, will feature.

Then her ex-boyfriend Max walks back into her life. Merry used to live in New York City, working at the popular lifestyle magazine Jennifer's Lifestyle (think Country Living crossed with Bella Grace) and was engaged to Max until he dropped her for the new manager, Jennifer Johnstone's granddaughter Erica. Merry came home to Rudolph and is now happy running her shop and being in a developing relationship with woodworker Alan Anderson. She wants Max out of her life, but Jennifer's Lifestyle is planning to do a story on Rudolph, and spoiled Erica is part of the group.

A day later Merry runs back to her shop to pick up something she forgot, and finds Max strangled in her office, and her assistant Jackie missing. While Erica shrieks that Merry is the killer because Max "spurned" her, Detective Simmons makes Jackie the prime suspect, but Merry can't believe Jackie would do such a thing. So she'll have to prove her innocence.

I was pleasantly surprised by the story, which included a twist I wasn't expecting, even if it was a bit of a cliché. Even Merry's adolescent St. Bernard fits into the tale well, although he's portrayed by a Bernese Mountain Dog on the cover. If it is the last book in the series, it ended up in a good place.

Twas the Knife Before Christmas, Jacqueline Frost (and The Twelve Slays of Christmas)
I actually read the sequel to this "Christmas Tree Farm" mystery (Knife) before the first book. I'm not entirely sure if I would have read the second book if I'd read them in order.

In Twelve Slays, Holly White returned to her hometown of Mistletoe, Maine, from Portland after her fiancĂ© dumped her fifteen days before their Christmas Eve wedding for a yoga instructor. Her parents run Reindeer Games, a four-generation Christmas tree farm, and Holly arrived home just in time for the annual Twelve Days of Reindeer Games events, and for everyone to be angry at Margaret Fenwick from the town Historical Society because she'd been badgering everyone to make the town comply to historical society parameters. The day before the Reindeer Games are to start, Margaret is found stabbed to death with one of the markers Bud White uses for his Christmas trees. New sheriff Evan Gray considers Holly's dad his prime suspect at first, and he's shut down Reindeer Games right before their biggest days of business a year. Holly feels the need to clear her dad and starts asking questions—and starts getting threats.

In the second book (Knife), Holly's wealthy friend Caroline West, who's started a cupcake business with "Cookie" Cutter, owner of the local Christmas craft shop, is accused of killing Derek Waggoner, who started to put the moves on her during a date arranged by her disapproving parents (they hate her working "in trade") after one of the monogrammed knives from her shop is found to be the murder weapon. Holly can't let her best friend take the rap, and once again starts asking questions. And once again starts getting threatening notes. Sheriff Gray—whose romantic status with Holly amped up in the first novel, but now appears to be off—tells her to stop asking questions.

Of course if she does, the mystery stops here.

I love the town of Mistletoe, Holly's parents, Cookie, Caroline, and even Cindy Lou Who, Holly's cat. I want to visit there during the Twelve Days of Reindeer Games, as they all sound like a blast. I like the fact that Holly's talent at making glass jewelry has borne fruit. I like the moody sheriff formerly of Boston. I love the people of Mistletoe; it's the ideal small town. It's Holly I'm not sure I like. Oh, I love her pluck, but, especially in the first book, she seems immature. I also am irritated that the romance between her and the sheriff took off so quickly; I would have liked to have seen it build. But to be honest I am tired of romances in cozies, especially with the male always being impossibly handsome and heroic. Plus she ends up in distressing danger at the end of both novels; her predicament in Knife is particularly creepy. But I'm a Christmas fan to the end and will be keeping Frost's next "appointment" in Mistletoe.