28 February 2014

Rudolph Day, February 2014

"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.

Two different winter storms gave me a good opportunity for finishing up my Christmas magazines, but my reading was touched with sadness since we had to put our little dog Willow to sleep on February 22. She was just not recovering from her illness and eating less and less (and sometimes vomiting that). Occasionally she seemed to rally, but when her bad days began to overwhelm her good days, there was only one decision to help her. Everything is a little lonelier without her.

I was drawn to "Vintage Holiday Christmas" because of its lovely cover of a bowl filled with multicolor Christmas "baubles," as the British call them. I do have vintage ornaments of my Mom's, fifties vintage, in a glass jar with other little memories: some candle bulbs, a plastic stained glass angel ornament, and some glitter, but I love this idea of ornaments in a bowl, which just feeds the multicolor fascination I've had all my life. A super multicolor bauble wreath was also featured, and a series of articles about how to decorate a tree to represent different decades. Pink trees and white rooms, however? Not me. "Style at Home" is a nifty British magazine that gives you inexpensive looks. I do like the British magazines for their (usually) nice wood-trimmed interiors! It had surprisingly cute little projects, like taking an empty picture frame, painting it red, making a star with green ribbon inside, and hanging baubles from the ribbon. What a darling look. Of course some recipes; ho hum.

Then some little upscale reads, like "House Beautiful Christmas Ideas." The "Scandi style" was really big in British magazines this year, all year 'round, not just at Christmas, with its red-and-white patterns. More recipes, and an increasing fascination with creating elaborate wrappings, which has always struck me as silly, since folks are just going to rip it off and toss it out! "Ideal Home's Complete Guide to Christmas" usually covers the whole shebang: gives you a schedule so Christmas prep won't be overwhelming, advises you how to buy a tree and also how to decorate with natural products (it seems common in Britain, at least as portrayed in these issues, that you can just go outside and get all sorts of greens from your "garden"). Setting a good table is also a must! And finally "Victoria Classics Holiday Bliss," with flowers and greens, beautiful crockery and glassware, vintage ornaments and lavish garlands, all enough to decorate Downton Abbey top to toe. Bonus in this one was a pictorial journey through Europe's Christmas markets.

Then on to my favorites, starting with "Bliss Victoria." Like the last magazine, it's a picture of elegance and color. Even the ads are elegant, for gift shops and china. The desserts stand up and pose! You want to walk into the homes shown, sit before the fire and read a book. Perhaps classical music plays in the background. My favorite article was "Christmas at Mount Vernon."

I've been buying "Victorian Homes" since the year they did an article on the Mark Twain house which we had just visited. The historic homes that appear in this magazine are the big draw, and then the Christmas decorations make it a wonderful package. This issue had an article on feather trees (which are made of feathers, but are not those cones you see covered with feathers at craft stores; these feather trees were originally made of green-dyed goose feathers and go back to the early 19th century). A new house had some of the most beautiful Victorian furniture I'd ever seen. Gorgeous Victorians mansions drip with Christmas cheer, stained glass windows, and polished wood. Bliss.

A unique treat this year was a holiday issue of the "Saturday Evening Post." Last year they did an all-Norman Rockwell edition, but this one had other illustrators, and, along for the fun, vintage ads! Starting with Thanksgiving and ending with New Year's, the illustrations range from 1917 to the 1960s, with a chronology of New Year's babies and how they were affected by world events.

And finally, a favorite since last year, a British outdoor magazine called "Landscape." There are actually two similar magazines, "Landscape" and "Landlove," which both publish bimonthly (I favor the former but both are nice), but "Landscape" has a Christmas issue. The magazines cover the countryside of England and the animals which inhabit it, and foodstuff from the land, whether raised or foraged, plus gardens in each season. Sheep and shepherds, skaters, broom and Christmas cake makers, foresting with horses, and white arctic animals and swans were all covered in this issue. Yes, it had a sizeable cookery section, but at least, being an English magazine, these were different dishes from the usual American potatoes and corn. Both "Landscape" and "Landlove" are tranquil magazines. I read them in the fall and in the winter.

25 January 2014

Rudolph Day, January 2014

"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.

I'm still having Christmas when I can because I still have Christmas magazines left; due to Willow being sick. I didn't have a chance to read all of them. I'm still paging through them since things really haven't slowed down since Christmas (it's complicated). My favorite of the magazines so far, of course, is the Christmas issue of "Early American Life." This year's issue was partially devoted to Santa Claus: two people with Santa Claus statuette collections, and then a history of Santa Claus himself. In addition, it talked about Boxing Day and prohibitions on Christmas celebrations by Puritans, plus pyramidal desserts. "Country Sampler" had a nice collection of prim-decorated homes and then the usual catalog. This magazine used to be a "maybe I will/maybe I won't" purchase until they started concentrating on primitive country (many years ago they also featured that ruffly cutesy-poo type of country decorating), but now I always get the fall, Christmas, and winter issues. Not into whites and pastels, so I tend to ignore the issues for the remainder of the year.

I'm not sure why I buy "Holiday Cottage" (or the other "cottage" magazines; I'm in the midst of "Christmas Cottage" at the moment), as the items they show are always expensive! They are also elegant when I go in more for old-fashioned, casual items. I tried a British magazine called "The Simple Things" this year as well. I liked the articles on history and nature; again, although there is "simple" in the title, the products they push are rather costly. (I notice this about the British "Country Living," too; they talk about buying local and living simply, and then they advertise expensive clothing and appliances and furniture!)

It was fun looking at the vintage items in the Christmas "Flea Market Decor." I've never seen any finds like these folks turn up in our local antique stores! The same with "Southern Lady"—lots of pretty homes and decorations! As with most of these magazines, I find the recipes for food and drink, and the occasional clothing articles, kinda dull. I don't like cooking and dressing up isn't my forte unless I can wear a long skirt.

07 January 2014

One for the Road!

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW
The Christmas Almanack, Gerard and Patricia Del Re
I didn't know this book existed until I found it among the Christmas books at the last Cobb County Library Book Sale. It's a cheaply-done trade paperback from 1979 with eleven sections concentrating on some aspect of Christmas, starting with the Gospels. Other sections have to do with Christmas films, historical events which happened on Christmas, Christmas literature, and of course the inevitable Christmas recipes, plus a wildcard section of facts, trivia, and other short passages. My favorite part about this book is the authors' tongue-in-cheek attitude to what they're discussing; a particularly favorite comment comes when they are discussing a European Christmas personality, whose entry reads "Berchta...is a frightening old woman who watches out for laziness at Christmas time. She appears in the Tyrolean Alps during the twelve days of Christmas, chastising young women who leave unspun thread at their spinning wheels. She has nothing really to do with Christmas. Her concern is for household duties and seeing to it that they don't get neglected at the approach of the holidays by casting bad-luck spells on lazy females. She was probably invented by someone who never had to undergo the drudgery of keeping a house, presumably a man." LOL. However, much information is imparted as well; there's a nice section on the history of Christmas carols, for example. This was well worth the dollar I paid for it.

06 January 2014

Farewell to Christmas


My Christmas Journey Ends

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW

My Christmas trip with World Book has ended, and even extended into Asia during this last reading bout. Christmas in Russia is divided into three parts, the first about Christmas celebrations in czarist Russia, including a chapter from War and Peace, followed by a chapter about how they holiday emphasis changed to New Year under Communism, and finally how Christmas has been resurrected after glastnost. Christmas in Scotland chronicles the long rise of Christmas in a country which suppressed it for years for religious reasons; today Hogmanay celebrations on New Year's Eve still rivals the popularity of Christmas. The volume also includes the celebrations held on the Orkney and Shetland Islands, including "Up Helly A," which closes the holiday season in the Shetlands.

Christmas in Switzerland is a mixed bag, literally, since German, French, and Italian speakers, plus those of Romansch, combine various customs. In one area the gifts come on St. Nicholas Day, in others, Christmas Day. One area eats seafood, others have turkey or goose. Who delivers the gifts? It could be Samichlaus or Le Petit Noel. There isn't even a guarantee of snow, because there is one Swiss canton is so far south that it has palm trees and a balmy climate. So there is no typical Swiss Christmas, but all celebrations are joyful.

My final volume was the beautifully-illustrated Christmas in Ukraine. The volume emphasizes the down-to-earth Ukrainians, their oft-overrun country, and their love of beauty. The native dress of the Ukrainians is simply beautiful, and the book also shows examples of their art, including pysanky, brightly-colored geometrically-decorated Easter eggs. It also explains the difference between the Western calendar and Eastern Orthodox calendar, which is why the Ukrainians are celebrating Christmas tomorrow.

Someday I would like to get World Book's Christmas in Belgium and take yet one more Yuletide journey in Europe.

05 January 2014

Around Europe (and a Bit Further East) At Christmastide

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW
Since my last book review here, I've been jaunting around Europe during Christmastide courtesy the World Book folks, and what a great trip it's been! Christmas in Denmark was very appealing, with their simple approach to the holiday season and the red-and-white color scheme. I love the tradition of joining hands and dancing around the Christmas tree, which is still lit with candles as it was in the past. All those candles during the darkness of the winter solstice sound homey (or "homely," as the British would say) and warm.

Christmas in France is delectable! Many of the customs have to do with eating special food, plus there is the City of Light threaded in even more lights. I am fascinated with the idea of santons, the little figures with which the French populate their nativity scenes. As in some other cultures, like Spain and Italy, the French construct more than a simple stable scene with Holy Family, shepherds, animals, and Wise Men, but build whole villages, with bakers, merchants, carpenters, etc. We had an arrangement like this in our church; it was fascinating to see life going on in Bethlehem. Next we traveled "next door" to "today's" Germany (published after the reunification), where they note that Germany was the origin of many of our enduring Christmas customs, like the Christmas tree, the Advent wreath and calendar, glass Christmas ornaments, and gingerbread houses. Some pages are taken up with how Christmas was celebrated in East Germany when the nation was still divided, and, delightfully, several more about the christkindlmarkts, Christmas markets, where special gifts, ornaments, and foods are sold. It's my dream to see one someday! From St. Martin's Day in November, to Epiphany on January 6, it's a great big long wonderful season.

Christmas in the Holy Land is structured a little differently; the first part repeats the pertinent parts of the Bible narrating the story of the Nativity, and tries to explain a little more about the history and culture. For instance, to us shepherds sound very innocuous, but in those days they had bad reputations and were often former criminals. There are a few pages about Christmas in modern Bethlehem before the crafts/food portion standard to each volume begins.

Once again, Christmas in Ireland emphasizes how the cultures of Europe build up to a twelve-day celebration of Christmas with simple preparations and Advent activities rather than the orgy of shopping in the United States that ends Christmas abruptly on December 25, to have everything swapped out for Valentines Day shopping. It was the Irish who began the custom of having candles in the window at Christmas. They told their British administrators that it was so that the Holy Family could find the home on Christmas Eve, and the British dismissed it as superstition, but it was actually, in those days of Catholic persecution, a sign that a Catholic family lived there and priests could visit and say Mass.

I actually have both the older Christmas in Italy and the newer Christmas in Italy and Vatican City. The texts are the same, just arranged some differently in the newer book,  but over half the photographs/illustrations are different, so I'm keeping both. I'm Italian by ancestry, so all the customs were so familiar: fish on Christmas Eve, the emphasis on having a presepio (manger scene), and the delectable traditional foods. One of the books even has a woman making what we called wandi, but they call crostoli. My Aunty Petrina was a great hand at wandis, even if they were a devil to make, especially at Easter time, when cooking them would be hot, exhausting work. And of course no book about Christmas in Italy would be complete without La Befana, the "witch" who delivers the gifts!

I was amused by Christmas in the Netherlands, where they spend several pages chronicling the adventures and travels of St. Nicholas (Sinterklaas) and his Moorish companion Peter, who arrive in Holland by ship from Spain. Much is made of the mischief but goodness of "Black Peter," who is supposed to collect naughty children in his sack and take them back to Spain, but who ends up being as capricious as the kids. Although photos are provided, there is no commentary in this 1980s volume that Peter is played by white men in blackface, which has become an issue as Holland becomes more racially diverse. He is a very popular character with the Dutch. (This is a volume I need to replace some time if possible; the spine is split.) From Holland we go north and east for Christmas in Poland. The volume is peppered with Polish mottoes, which made me think of the television detective Banacek, who was always spouting "Polish proverbs," and there's an amazing chapter about the elaborate nativity scenes built by the Poles; these look like little castles or palaces.

The last volume I finished today was Christmas in Spain, which is interesting because of the different cultures that exist within the country, from the Moorish influence on southern Spain, which celebrates a warm Christmas, all the way up to Catalonia near France, whose speech is close to the Provencal language. While there are similar foods and celebrations, each are colored by the area of the country they live in. Music and dancing play a great part in the celebration, and children's gift wishes are not fulfilled until the very end of Christmastide, on Epiphany when the Three Kings bring their gifts.

I still have four volumes to go, but am determined to finish reading them all. I probably won't make it before Christmastide is over—or maybe I will. After all, Christmas isn't over in Norway till St. Knut's Day on the 13th, and in Armenia until the 18th. Heck, in Poland some areas celebrate until Candlemas (February 2)!

02 January 2014

An Annual Treat

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW
Ideals Christmas
I was very disappointed to hear two years ago that the Ideals folks were no longer going to publish their annual Christmas issues. They had already given up the other five special annuals they did, especially my beloved Thanksgiving issue, with its beautiful photographs of autumn trees. To my surprise, I found an Ideals Christmas last year and this year as well. I guess they had enough protests about this annual to continue.

This is a particularly pretty issue, with a lovely poinsettia cover. I wish there were more landscapes inside and fewer still lifes, but it's a minor complaint, and there's a great shot of a snowy barn to compensate. The poems are simple, but nice, and several charming essays, including one about a day-by-day arrival of manger figures and a classic from Marjorie Holmes. Definitely one to add to your Ideals collection.

Ideals, please bring back the Thanksgiving issue!!!!

01 January 2014

Continuing Around the World With World Book

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW
Christmas in Australia, Christmas in Austria, Christmas in Brazil, Christmas in Britain by World Book Encyclopedia
I've just cracked the surface of the volumes I have bought. Of the four, the Australia and Brazil books are the most lightweight in text. The Australian book pretty much concentrates on how traditional British celebration changed due to the climate, while the Brazilian book notes the combination between the Portuguese Roman Catholic and the native slave-religion (from Africans captured and imported for sugar plantations) which has shaped the Christmas/New Year's celebration. Both books note how hot it is! Lovely color photos bring out the beauty of Australian and Brazilian flowers and summer costumes.

Due to a longer history, the Austrian and British books have much denser texts. The Austrian book not only talks about Christmas customs (Christmas trees with candles not decorated until Christmas Eve, Advent wreaths, etc.), but features Vienna during the holiday season and the musical season that surrounds the New Year. The first half of the British book follows the Christmas preparations of the Bushnells, a typical middle-class English family: mother, father, the daughter Elizabeth, and her two mischievous brothers. Information on "Christmas past" is supplied almost totally by a dream Elizabeth has when she falls asleep as her father reads A Christmas Carol and finds Ebenezer Scrooge guiding her through vintage Christmas customs. Since I'm not a warm-weather person, you can guess these two volumes were my favorites!

Chills, Charm, and Creeps

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW
An Oxford Book of Christmas Stories, edited by Dennis Pepper
Well, I wanted a different book of Christmas stories, and this one certainly qualifies! No Scrooge, no Taylor Caldwell, no Norman Vincent Peale, no Pearl Buck.

Ostensibly this is a children's book, but these days, with the stories' vocabulary, I would say older children, and mind that they are not for a child who is used to cloying Christmas stories with sweet, happy endings. This volume contains, among others, some very traditional British ghost and thriller stories ("A Lot of Mince-pies" is especially creepy), stories about children with unhappy lives (Frank O'Connor's "Christmas Morning" and "Get Lost," about a rejected child in the hospital top this list), and even fairy tales about killer snowmen. But there are tender or memorable moments: a flooded-out Australian family's unique holiday, Laurie Lee talks about carol singing as a youth, a story of a stillborn child and a mysterious stranger, memories of a refugee camp after the Second World War, the nativity story as recollected by Mary. Shirley Jackson provides a bitter twist as always, and there's even a humorous tale about a remarkable boyfriend. For a touch of the familiar, there's Mr. Pickwick sliding on the ice.

I really, really enjoyed the twists in some of these stories, even though I'm also a Chicken Soup for the Soul kinda gal. There must be some tart to balance the sweet and this offbeat book certainly provides a generous amount. Highly recommended!

30 December 2013

A Whole Greater Than the Parts

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW
Happy Christmas, compiled by William Kean Seymour and John Smith
I gave this book a rather half-hearted review a few years ago when I borrowed it from the library, but that didn't keep me from buying a copy since it was only a dollar at the library book sale. This volume was published in England and contains an assortment of British fiction, diary and journal entries, historical excerpts, sheet music, and poetry. There are selections from Thomas Hardy, Dylan Thomas, Kenneth Grahame, Charles Dickens, Samuel Pepys, and more, verse from Christina Rosetti and T.S. Elliot, etc. The line drawings are by Beryl Sanders.

My chief complaint with the book is that the excerpts are abridged; poor Beatrix Potter's "Tailor of Gloucester," for example, is reduced to one page about the cat, which renders the story incomprehensible. Only "The Mountains of Papa Morelli" appears to be intact. And some of the pieces seem to have been included if they just mention Christmas, even if it actually has nothing to do with the holiday. However, it's a nice variety of pieces, perfect for reading before bedtime, and a nice spread of historical excerpts. If  you can find it at an inexpensive price, it's worthwhile for those reasons.

29 December 2013

Christmas Around the World With World Book

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW
Christmas in Colonial and Early America/Christmas in America in the 1700s and 1800s; Christmas in New England; Christmas in Washington, DC
I was a World Book Encyclopedia kid from the time I was seven years old, and for years my encyclopedic sun has risen and set on the World Book. A new set was one of the first things I bought when I had a job, and my mother bought me a newer set as a housewarming gift when we bought our first house in 1995.

The World Book has had numerous other publications, including the younger children's Childcraft set, and this is one of them, an annual release of "Christmas Around the World" books that run about eighty pages, with full color illustrations and with some crafts and recipes at the end. The original books also came with Advent calendars, recipe cards, and other goodies. I managed to pick up a good many of these over the last couple of years at library book sales, but hadn't had a chance to crack into them until now.

These are the four American books that I found; the first two are really the same book with some minor alterations of the text, and some different illustrations in the second book. It's a good overview of the shunning of Christmas in the northern colonies as compared with the enthusiastic celebrations of the Middle Colonies and the South. The New England book is, by my thought, even as a New Englander, highly romanticized, but the introduction is lovely, and the text highly nostalgic (the 1980s photographs, however, are just funny); and the Washington, DC, book is pretty to look at and has an interesting bit of text about how the White House is decorated, which is quite different from the lavish decor you see today on the yearly HGTV specials. It also makes it very, very, very clear that Christmas in Washington, DC, is for everyone. :-)

If you are a Christmas fan and can pick up nice copies at a good price, these are definitely worth your time! Next I need to dig into the volumes about the other countries. First up will be Australia, the land of Snowy the budgie's ancestors.

27 December 2013

An Annual Event

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW
"Christmas"—An American Annual of Christmas Literature and Art by Augsberg Publishing House
I became aware of these publications some years ago when three of them, for successive years in the 1980s, were available on a bargain shelf at Barnes & Noble. These oversized (as past nomenclature would have it, "the size of a Life magazine") annuals were published by a Minneapolis publishing house from 1931-1997.

Each annual had a standard format. The first part would always be a retelling of the Christmas story from the Bible in about a half dozen pages, accompanied by different art each year. One year it might be Baroque painters, another year it might be done in stained glass window style, another as a medieval manuscript. One year it was even done, amazingly, in batik! Other standard features would be several pages of Christmas carol sheet music, done in calligraphy, several pages about how Christmas is celebrated in other countries, and a "picture story," done until the 1970s by Lee Mero, which was a nostalgic feature: old-fashioned Christmases vs. new ones, country vs. city, etc. Mero must have retired or passed away, and it looks like his place was taken by "Memories of a Former Kid" artist Bob Astey, who also cartoons for Reminisce.

I happened to pick up half-dozen of these at the library book sale for a song ($1 each), and they were nice reading over Christmas. I found a 1958 and 1959 issue each, a 1970, 1973, 1973, and finally 1986. I found fabulous articles about the history of Christmas seals: Salzburg, Austria; how Christmas has been portrayed over the years in music, painting, films; George Frederick Handel; Christmas carols written in the United States; Biblical musical instruments; the various types of evergreen trees used at Christmas; Nurnburg, Germany; Michaelangelo; church organs; and the history of "The Nutcracker," and I've just scratched the surface. These are well-worth picking up if you find affordable copies!

26 December 2013

Shivers and Shivs for Christmas

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW
Murder for Christmas, edited by Thomas Godfrey
This one has been turning up on remainder tables for years, but when it was finally offered at $2 I finally broke down and bought it. It collects some classic mystery stories like Christie's "Adventure of the Christmas Pudding" (with Hercule Poirot), the standard Sherlock Holmes "Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle," the Lord Peter Wimsey country house story "The Necklace of Pearls," even an O. Henry crime story "A Chaparral Christmas Gift." As a collection of classic mysteries set at Christmas, it pretty much achieves the goal, although some of the mysteries have nothing to do with Christmas—some of them are just set during snow storms or have Christmas as a periphery reference. The Woody Allen story, "Mr. Big," I thought, was dumb, but then I've never been a Woody Allen fan. Damon Runyon has never much been a big favorite of mine, either, but your mileage may vary and you may enjoy "Dancing Dan's Christmas," which takes place in his universe of petty crooks. I had never read either Ngaio Marsh or Georges Simeon, and quite enjoyed both the Roderick Allyn tale and the Maigret story, the latter which involved a little girl with less-than-savory family, a topic still in the news today.

As a bargain book, I think it is worth it.

Just to note, mystery readers, this edition was originally published in the 1980s and re-released in 2007. This year a new book, The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries was released. You may wonder if it's worth bothering with this one. Well, actually, yes, only a dozen, more or less, of the stories in this book appear in The Big Book, and this book has stories not in that newer book, too. Who knows, you just may be a Woody Allen fan!

25 December 2013

21 December 2013

The Shortest Day

"And so the Shortest Day came and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
to keep the year alive.
And when the new year's sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us - listen!
All the long echoes, sing the same delight,
This Shortest Day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And now so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.”

                                            -- Susan Cooper

8 Enlightening Facts About the Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice 2013

Shortest Day

Yule: Winter Solstice

Stonehenge Winter Solstice Tour

December Solstice Traditions and Customs

20 December 2013

Looking for Christmas

It's been a rather sobering Advent this year with the death of Juanita's mom and then Willow getting sick. Every day has become an emotional struggle, and I woke up this morning feeling very down. But there were things to do.

After breakfast I dressed so I could finally take Nicki's gift to the post office to mail. I've had to delay mailing it because I had not finished a little something I wanted to include in the package. I had finished that last night and wrapped and addressed the parcel. I also got an airmail stamp to send what will be a very belated Christmas card. I wanted to bake cookies when I got back, and I didn't think we had enough flour or sugar, so I stopped at Food Depot to pick them up, then "fed" the car.

On my way home I thought I'd stop by Lowes to see if they had any more solar lights. The direct route was through the "Covered Bridge" neighborhood which includes a 19th century mill site and, of course, the titular covered bridge. The bridge has to have an I-beam barrier on each approach because, despite numerous signs saying that the clearance for the bridge is only seven feet high, big delivery trucks continue to drive up to and smash into the I-beam. Sure enough, as I was exiting the bridge, here came another idiot truck driver without the sense God gave a goat, heading for the bridge.

Anyway, the solar lights were all gone; oh, well. I was in a pretty morose mood at the time and looked wistfully at the abandoned Borders store across the parking lot, wishing I could just walk through those doors and back in time. The weather wasn't helping; it was overcast and getting warmer by the minute. Tomorrow, the day of the winter solstice, it's supposed to be a horrible 70°F. Ugh.

When I got home I remembered James saying he didn't feel like putting up any more Christmas lights, but I suggested we might want to just put up the Moravian star. I wanted to do something to cheer him up, and we all need a star to see by, so I dragged out the ladder—this was the hardest part because I am acrophobic and can't go over the second step—and hung up the star, plugged it into the extension cords, and set up the timer. I also stripped the old blue LED light set (tell me again how LED lights are long-lasting; every string of LED lights we've bought either have at least a dozen lights out, or half the string is out) off the little tree on the porch and put on another set, so when we came home tonight the Moravian star was softly glowing blue and the tree was doing the electric blue slide. (The poor solar lights, though, were looking very puny due to the cloud cover all day.) I also put out the greens basket (which partially covers up the big timer and the extension cords), and hung the Christmas decorations on the porch railings. They should have gone up after we put up the lights, but then we didn't do lights.

Once in the house, I did a last-ditch effort to get the lights on the airplane tree to work. I replaced what looked like two burned-out bulbs (but there are at least two more) and tried to replace the fuse, but I couldn't get either out. Needless to say, it didn't work, and this is why I didn't start baking the wine biscuits until 2:30. Besides the fact that I had to dispose of what flour was already in the canister, the baking went flawlessly. I made two batches of wine biscuits which were almost done when James arrived home—by the time I changed clothes and printed out coupons, they were finished.

We had supper at Giovanni's, which tasted really good since I never did have lunch. I splurged and had lobster ravioli. We then braved the stores around Barrett Parkway to go to REI and finish a gift. I'm thinking this is the last one. I won't know until I start wrapping. Oy.

We also stopped at Barnes & Noble with 25 percent off coupons. James found a new Harry Turtledove novel and I bought a collection of Christmas mysteries. Also found a new "Best of British" and picked up a cross-stitch magazine.