10 December 2017

Second Sunday of Advent: A Christmas Miscellaney

This snow storm unexpectedly delivered to us on Friday has been novel in many ways. It pretty much almost set a record for Atlanta snows, depending on where you were. The record is 8.3 inches from 1940, and if it hadn't rained I think we would have made it or gone over. We had 7 inches on our deck on Sunday morning. Furthermore, today we still have snow on the ground—not some small bits of white stuff in perpetually shady places, but snow still on lawns and bushes. It commonly snows one day and then goes up to 60℉ the next.

So it's been a nice Christmas-y coda to the weekend (except for the poor folks who are still without electrical power). It sure was beautiful on Friday. I'll not soon forget crunching on the new fallen snow, watching the streetlights and the Christmas lights come on, the unearthly silence that a mantle of snow throws over the landscape, the beauty of the clearing sky the next morning with the stark white against brilliant blue.

James started the day in lovely fashion by making biscuits. This cleaned out our Bisquik. Since apparently we can't go to the grocery store without forgetting something—this time it was onions—there was another item for our grocery list.

Our most pressing need was getting James a new hard drive. So our first stop today was MicroCenter. He got a hard drive and a hard drive enclosure so he could get his files and his Eudora mailboxes off the old hard drive (then perhaps he can reformat it and use it as a second drive). They had Fitbits on sale, so for Christmas I bought him a Fitbit Alta with a heart monitor. When he does cardio rehab he has a certain heart rate he is not supposed to go over; I want him to find out what that is so he can do exercises at home during bad weather or other times he can't attend. The doctor gave him stretching exercises to do at home, and he has weights he lifts. He can use the Fitbit to monitor his heartbeat.

So we stopped by Publix to get onions and Bisquik and a little more yogurt, and picked up a few more things like always. We had a fun time in dairy: they always put my yogurt on the top shelf and being a shrimp I can only reach so far. This time they were so far back I couldn't even get them with James' cane. So a lady with a schoolage son helped us, and he was quite chuffed about the whole thing. And then we went by Mink's, where I had to once again go on a search through the dark corners of the store to find a bottle of hearty burgundy (all I ever find is Gallo Brothers, so it's not like I even have a choice) so I can make cookies.

And now for the fun portion of the afternoon, it was our annual attendance at "An Atlanta Christmas." Last year they did all our favorites; this year they did mostly new scripts. My favorite this year was "The Role of a Lifetime," a previously-performed story written by Brad Strickland about a down-on-his-luck actor playing Santa Claus at a 1950 department store who is stunned by a little girl's Christmas request and what he does about it. It's very sweet and very reminiscent of stories written by Thomas Fuller, who wrote the original "Atlanta Christmas" sequence of tales. Kelley Ceccato did a new story this year, "The Sleigh of Unbroken Dreams" (or it may have been a typo in the program book and it's "Unspoken"), about a trio of elves at the North Pole who dream about giving a different type of toy to children rather than the commercial standards, just like another elf did long ago. With the help of a retired reindeer, they work on making their own dreams come true. I really, really enjoyed this one, and think it would make a fantastic children's book! I was listening to it envisioning the characters as illustrations and wishing I could draw the way I saw the pictures in my head! "Rory Rammer" was "A Visit from St. Rex," a perennial favorite.

We picked up Chinese food on the way home and ate by the light of the Christmas tree. Watched Alaska: the Last Frontier, which ended on a tragic note with Shane having fallen off the roof of their new house (it was finished a week earlier) and broken his back.

09 December 2017

The Christmas Tree Distraction

Well, it certainly was an interesting day. Not in the Chinese sense, just...different.

The original plan for today was that James would go off to his club meeting Christmas party, and I would have my annual orgy decorating the tree. Well, Atlanta had about eight inches (at least) of snow yesterday. This is nothing in New England and Michigan and Minnesota and up in the "great white north" over the border in Canada. But the folks up there have snow tires, snow plows, snow shovels, snow blowers, plentiful sand trucks, and enough snow yearly that they know how to drive in it. (Well, judging by the accidents on the news, at least they should!) Your average Atlantan has no experience with snow. He may have all-weather tires but no snow experience. Plus the ground always starts as warm, so there is always ice under the snow. I don't know about you, but my car is not Sonia Heine or Michelle Kwan, and neither is any other vehicle in the metro area.

So we had been snowed in yesterday and it snowed more during the night, and we woke up to a beautiful white world. It had snowed so much the bird feeders were blocked with snow and there were 7 1/2 inches of snow on the deck. James' party was canceled. Instead he continued working on his computer, which died in the middle of a Windows update. It's just...stuck. So I set up an account for him on my computer, in case he needed it.

My project began when James and I cleared the rocking chair and other things out of the corner, I vacuumed, and then I commenced bringing the four parts of the Christmas tree upstairs. After a brief gaffe when I put the wrong part into the stand assembly, I got the tree together and plugged it in.

Arggh! Half the string in the center section was out! Now what would I do? This is our practically brand new tree, the one we got at Kmart in 2014. It didn't look terribly awful, but there was a dark spot around the "waist" of the tree, and this has never been an overly bright tree. I supposed I could have tried putting light colored ornaments (the white and pink satin balls, for example, the snowman ornament, the unicorn in a stocking, etc.) on that dark section, but I was pretty upset.

In the meantime James noticed he was down to six of his homemade burritos. He had meat and beans, but needed wraps and cheese.

By this time it was noon, the sky had cleared and turned a brilliant blue, and the snow was melting rapidly in the streets and was falling in blobs from tree branches and other tall structures. People were out walking. We called Hobby Lobby to see if they had a gadget called a Lightkeeper Pro; they did, and we had them hold it for us. Then we got in the truck and drove there via the main roads, which were pretty clear. There wasn't a ton of traffic, but what there was was brisk.

We picked it up and then went to Publix, where we did the shopping, including ingredients for the burritos and the twofers. We were starving by the time we got home because it was wayyyy after two, but I only cut off a little of the loaf of French bread before I girded my courage and tried the Lightkeeper Pro.

I've been hearing about this gadget for years in various Christmas groups, and most of the time it's positive. It looks like a plastic gun with several parts, runs on included batteries, and has a couple of different ways of correcting Christmas light string (only miniature lights) problems, the most common being the "quick fix trigger method." There is a socket connector at the front of the LP. You pick out any light socket in the part of a light string that does not work, pull out the light bulb, and plug the LP into that empty socket, then you press the trigger. It works by overriding a burned-out filament and fixing the shunt that make electricity flow through the string. If it doesn't work after thirty presses, there is an alternative method called an audible voltage detector, which reads like voodoo to me.

And it worked! It needed only about three pulls of the trigger to fix the string. There were also two burned-out bulbs which I moved to the back of the tree.

I spent the rest of late afternoon decorating the tree, interrupted by some supper between the ornaments and the tinsel. I watched Christmas Is, The City That Forgot About Christmas, For Better or For Worse: the Bestest Present, For Better or For Worse:The Christmas Angel, It's a Wonderful Tiny Toons Christmas Special, and finally, Raggedy Ann and Andy in the Great Santa Claus Caper. And then about four or five episodes of Rehab Addict during the tinseling.

The tinsel took forever. I hope I never have to put icicles on a tree at night again. Even with the lamps on it was hard to see to layer the branches and the static electricity was appalling. It's bad enough that these modern icicles are so thin. They kept whipping around and attaching themselves to everything but the tree.

But finally it was time for the final touch: the manger scene under the tree.

It became immediately apparent that we were going to have no more luck keeping Tucker's tail away from the tinsel than in previous years, so the baby gate is back up in front of the tree.

As a reward for creating colorful sparkle, there was gingerbread with whipped cream for dessert and a viewing of Mercy Mission: the Rescue of Flight 771, followed by a John Denver and the Muppets chaser.

08 December 2017

A Simpler Time, A Wonderful Place

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW
Sleigh Bells for Windy Foot, Frances Frost
Frost wrote four of these novels about the Clark family of Vermont and the titular pony in the late 1940s and the 1950s. Windy Foot is a Shetland pony owned by 12-year-old Toby Clark, but he is just one part of the action and doesn't do miraculous equine tricks. As the book opens, the Clarks are awaiting not only Christmas, but a visit from their new friends, Jerry Burnham, a horse trainer, and his daughter Tish, who has become Toby's especial friend after Windy Foot beat her pony Jigs in the Webster County fair some months earlier.

This is a warm and nostalgic book, with simple preparations for a holiday composed of simple gifts given to those who are loved, homemade and homegrown farm food, a small village with occupants of many nationalities who gather for happy events like a village carol sing and Christmas shopping at the general store, and children and adults working hard and reaping rewards from it (and learning some small lessons about life and consideration of others).

One of the things I notice each time I read this book is how much the children, especially Toby, eat. Christmas Day is particularly astonishing: they have a big breakfast, the kids snack on cookies, then there's a big Christmas dinner, Tish and Toby go into the village and have two hot fudge sundaes at the drugstore, and then there's a buffet party at night! Yet no one is overweight because they are always doing some kind of work: in Toby's case during the week chronicled by the book he has done daily chores like taking care of the horses and helping milk the cows, patrolled the farm for a bear, rebuilt and painted a sleigh and restored some sleigh bells, run errands for his parents, shoveled snow, filled and refilled the woodbox (presumably having chopped some of the wood), gone skiing twice, gone snowshoeing with his sister to gather greens to decorate the house, made a base for the Christmas tree, and other stuff I've forgotten. It's amazing reading how many chores everyone in the family had to do just to keep warm and fed.

This is an annual read and a nostalgic one, going back to when the book was in my elementary school library. It never fails to make me feel loved and cozy and happy and home, whether it's imagining the cold air in a buggy ride home from school, gathering Christmas greens and spying a beautiful fox in the woods, dreaming yourself participating in the Christmas sing or the Clarks' Christmas party, or just wanting to own a lovable pony like Windy Foot.

03 December 2017

First Sunday of Advent: Never Enough Time

I've loved Christmas seemingly forever, from the days when I made my own ornaments out of cardboard and the foil saved from chocolate Easter eggs and gum wrappers, and painstakingly broke apart walnuts and glued the empty shells back together, gilding them with Testor's gold and silver enamel paint and sprinkling them with different colors of glitter. (All of these ornaments are still on my feather tree.) I still look forward to decorating with anticipation, although it seems each year the boxes get heavier!

What makes me sad is that each year it's a race to get everything done. There are cards to be sent and gifts to be mailed and decorations to go up, and no matter how early I begin, I never catch up. I want to do everything. It's not a chore, but that clock keeps chasing me. This year I am behind because of a ridiculous cold.

I think what bothers me most is that I also like to do "Christmas-y" things at Christmastime: visit the stores in downtown Marietta, go to see "An Atlanta Christmas" as done by the Atlanta Radio Theatre Company, drive up to Chattanooga to see what's going on at McKay's Books (and to have some yummy chicken soup from City Cafe), attend the Apple Annie Craft Show at the Catholic Church of Saint Anne. I keep wanting to do other things, too: perhaps go to the Botanical Garden, or back to the History Center, or drive through Madison, GA, which is a picture-perfect antebellum town that puts on the dog for the holidays. But, like the decorating and the mailing and the cards, all these things have to be done before Christmas. Well, okay, a craft show pretty much has to be held before Christmas...but it frets me that I can no longer do some of the things, like the Christmas walk around the city, or the McKay's trip, or going to Madison or the monastery, in the week between Christmas and New Year's. I know that no one's done the Twelve Days of Christmas properly for years, but I remember things being slower to turn around "way back when."  Sure, there were sales galore on December 26, but all the Christmas decorations stayed up until New Year's, with black-and-silver and black-and-gold New Year's Eve decorations dotting the still festive streets and store aisles. There was still one week left to enjoy the Christmas season, another week to savor the leftovers and enjoy the presents and admire the outdoor decorations and the colorful lights.

Now by the time afternoon comes on December 26, everything's ripped up, put in a corner and marked "clearance," and everything has turned pink, heart-shaped, and chocolate. (Next thing we know there are "if you love her you will buy her expensive jewelry" commercials.) We're chivvied, rushed, and left bereft as Christmas just clicks off like a light switch at midnight. Good grief, can't we at least get past New Year's Day without hearing from Valentine's Day? I miss the Aste Spumonte ads and the displays of party hats and noisemakers and paper horns and blowouts, and the reports on the news about resolutions.

It's one place where the "slow movement" and "mindfulness" should come back. Till then I'll have to retreat into my leftover Christmas magazines and reread my Christmas books and enjoy my own lights—everything here stays up until Epiphany!

01 December 2017

The Lights of Christmas

Maybe that's what I fell in love with first.

I was a color junkie as a kid. Rainbows. 64-count boxes of Crayola crayons, where my mom just couldn't understand why a 48-count just wasn't enough. But the best thing of all was Christmas lights. Back when I was small the bulbs were fat and bright, red, yellow-orange, blue, green, white, and the miniature ones came later. I might have gotten it from my parents; I remember their delight in a miniature set which had bulbs of two different colors, covered with a clear plastic crystal icicle-type cover.

Who invented Christmas lights?

The Father of Electric Christmas Tree Lights

Untangling the History of Christmas Tree Lights

A Brief History of Christmas Lights

From Edison to LED

The Curious Evolution of Holiday Lights

Might Christmas Tree Candles Make a Comeback?

And we can't talk about Christmas tree lights without this lovingly reconstructed site, Old Christmas Tree Lights.

29 November 2017

A Story for Every Night Before Christmas

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW
Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Book of Christmas Virtues, edited by Jack Canfield & Mark Victor Hansen with Carol McAdoo Rehme
This is an older "Chicken Soup" book, which means the stories are a little bit more rugged than the modern versions that are offered. Arranged around the seven virtues of kindness, joy, love, gratitude, faith, simplicity, and wonder, each section opens with an introduction and ends with ideas for Christmas projects. In between you will meet people down on their lucky, selfless givers, cute kids, and those who learn what Christmas is really all about.

28 November 2017

How To Make a Williamsburg Christmas

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW
Christmas Decorations from Williamsburg, Susan Height Rountree
It was nearly brand new and only a dollar. This is the only way I can explain that I bought a book about how to make the same sort of Christmas decorations as they use at Williamsburg. This is definitely decorating for people who like to work with flowers and live fruit, and use metal frames, roofing nails, wet floral foam, and other support systems to put it together.

There are many nice photos, including close-ups of windows and different styles of wreaths (one interesting one is made of tobacco leaves with a long pipe across it), of the Williamsburg streets, but most of the text is instruction how to make the fruity arches over the doors and wreaths on the door, topiary shapes, and even towers of decorative food for the table.

The photos are even a bit nostalgic as they mentioned the last time we went to Williamsburg that they are decorating less with fruits than they used to, especially with oranges and pineapples, which were rare and costly during colonial times and would have not been wasted nailed up outside a home or shop, but saved for Christmas punch. But really, for purchase full price you must seriously want to make these decorations.

27 November 2017

Elfs in Bondage, Keeping the Yule in Yuletide, and Other Thoughts Over the Holiday Season

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW
Christmas Philosophy for Everyone: Better Than a Lump of Coal, edited by Scott C. Lowe
I confess, it has taken me literally years to finish this book, which I bought at Borders before it closed. It's a series of pretty much serious essays about Christmas: whether it's good or bad to tell your kids the Santa Claus myth, if there really could have been a virgin birth or is it something too unbelievable even to take on faith, is there really a "War on Christmas," where'd this Santa Claus dude come from anyway, and why is he wearing a Hawaiian shirt, etc.

Last time I only made it halfway through; this time I had changed enough to enjoy all the entries, even the one about Festivus (and I'm not a Seinfeld fan), although the wrestling business sounds intimidating. (I can see fights breaking out during the airing of the grievances, though.) I was heartened by the essays saying that telling your kids about Santa Claus is okay, because I've never figured out why some people have resented it so when they found out what their parents told them was a story. I mean, my parents also told me about Cinderella, unicorns, Robin Hood, and the Easter Bunny. When I was old enough, I realized they were all neat fairy stories, and that included Santa Claus (but it didn't include Jesus). You grow out of Santa Claus the way you grow out of your blankie or your favorite teddy; it's a natural progression into adulthood. Why resent it or your parents? Did you resent the fact they read to you about a spider talking to a pig, or about tesseracts? Odd.

One of the most interesting essays talks about how Santa's predecessor St. Nicholas, a real-life bishop, was no wimp. When he attended the Council of Nicaea, he decked someone for implying that Jesus was not divine! (The conflict about this goes on to this day.)

Other essays address Christmas consumerism—and it's been there a longer time than you think—and the working conditions at the North Pole (does Santa Claus run a sweatshop, and could Hermione Granger and SPEW find a good place to protest at Santa's workshop?), plus there are even essays on A Christmas Story (what does Ralphie learn from his BB gun gift?) and A Christmas Carol (what's Scrooge's problem, anyway?).

Definitely something different for Christmas reading, if you can keep an open mind and not get huffy if a belief is contradicted.

26 November 2017

Almost Advent

Stir-up Sunday is an informal term in Anglican churches for the last Sunday before the season of Advent. It gets its name from the beginning of the collect for the day in the Book of Common Prayer, which begins with the words, "Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people." But it has become associated with the custom of making the Christmas puddings on that day.

Last year, when Christmas was on a Sunday, the season of Advent was the longest it could be. This year, with Christmas on a Monday and Christmas Eve being the last Sunday of Advent, it is the shortest. So this final Sunday of November is the ending of the church liturgical year instead of the beginning of it.

The Christmas pudding never caught on as an American custom, but here it's presented in all its glory in Great Britain: The Ultimate Guide to Stir-Up Sunday.

When is Stir-Up Sunday 2017?

When is Stir-Up Sunday?

A History of The Christmas Pudding

11 November 2017

"St. Martin on His White Horse..."

You might hear this charming saying in the Czech Republic or Poland or some other Balkan countries, commemorating St. Martin of Tours, the soldier who became famous for tearing his beautiful cloak in half to give the half to a beggar he found shivering on the road. Since then he's been a patron of the poor. If you see "St. Martin on his white horse" it means that it is snowing.

His saint's day falls on November and is also known as "Martinmas." Back in earlier centuries, Advent was celebrated in a similar fashion to Lent and was a fasting period except on Sunday, and it also lasted forty days and began on Martinmas. In honor of St. Martin's Day and the original start of Advent, here are a couple of Christmas books that span media styles (some horses involved, but no white ones):

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW
The Triple Dog Dare, Joanna Wilson
Wilson, the nostalgic writer behind the blog "Christmas TV History," and with two books about the subject under her belt, was curious if anyone has ever sat through the entire TBS/TNT 24-hour marathon of 1980's marvelous masterpiece A Christmas Story, and what it would be like to do so. She found one blogger who had, but that person had just used the time to catcall the film. Wilson wondered if in watching she could figure out the answer to some questions: why is the movie so popular? Are there any movies that would make a better marathon? Why is Christmas Story so popular as a marathon movie anyway? (2017 makes the 20th year it will be shown in a marathon format.) Would she hate the movie after she saw it so many times? And she was going to watch it with commercials! Would they drive her crazy before Ralphie did?

With her boyfriend's help, Wilson set up her experiment for Valentine's Day weekend so her real Christmas plans would not be interrupted by her experiment. She put up a tree, played Christmas music, had Christmas cookies. She even managed to find a copy of a broadcast with commercials from the 1980s (her boyfriend pinpoints the date from sports scores mentioned during the broadcast), so her commentary on 1980s commercials and "must have" gadgets become part of the text. She notices bits she's missed over the years even after viewing the film so many times, discovers many parallel scenes, and even familiar faces from recent television shows. Along the way, she references several times a book I didn't realize anyone else remembered: the 1968 Seven Glorious Days, Seven Fun-Filled Nights by Charles Sopkin, who uses six televisions to watch a week's worth of network programming to comment about Newton Minow's "vast wasteland." (I can tell you without looking at the book what week he watched: April 23-29, 1967, because the Lassie episode he describes is "Goliath.") I love that on each run she notices something different: behind the scenes actors in one, the music in another, the scheming of the kids in a third, etc.

If you're a Christmas Story fan or just wonder who would do such a crazy thing, you'll probably enjoy this exploration of leg lamps, Christmas nostalgia, and "you'll shoot your eye out!"

A Christmas Carol Christmas Book, Tim Hallinan
This was only a buck at the library book sale and I keep looking at it every time it shows up, so this time I finally "done the deed." It's a thin, coffee-table size book put out by IBM to celebrate the release of 1984 television version of A Christmas Carol with George C. Scott. The first third of the book is a "photonovel" ('member those?) of the film and the last third is a complete version of the novel. In between are four sections about Charles Dickens and how the Carol came to be written and how the family celebrated, about Victorian crafts and traditions at Christmas, of typical Victorian holiday food and drink offerings, and about caroling.

Obviously, if you're a big fan of Scott's Carol, this will have the most draw for you, and you'll have a copy of the original book, too, which is a big plus as far as I'm concerned! The historical chapters are cool as well if you've never read anything about Victorian food and games. A nice primer to the Dickens' era.

(But everyone knows the best version of Christmas Carol is Mr. Magoo...[winks, ducks, and runs])

01 November 2017

November Exactly!

November has a contented glow about it. Not only from the autumn colours but fire and light bring a cheeriness and warmth to the now long, dark nights. Make time for your own golden hours during this peaceful month—festive preparations can wait—and indulge in slow cooking, appreciate the landscape or your neighborhood, simply enjoy reading or maybe drawing in a journal. Wherever your pleasures lie, be soothed and rested as this mellow season comes to a close. Calming comforts cannot be rushed, so light a fire, pull up a blanket and let the world get along without  you for a while. It will.

Lisa Sykes in the November "The Simple Things"

25 October 2017

Rudolph Day, October 2017

"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.

Only two months until Christmas! Fall is flying by as usual, while stinky, soppy, sullen, searing summer takes its own sweet time slouching toward Hades to die a welcome death and bring us autumn.

I've been having a Dickens of an autumn: literally! Netgalley presented me with two different books about Dickens and Christmas, and I approached them both with anticipation. Well, one out of two wasn't bad.

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW
book icon  Dickens and Christmas, Lucinda Hawksley
"There is a strangely prevalent belief that the British did not celebrate Christmas in any memorable way until ... the arrival of Charles Dickens' Christmas Books. Contemporary accounts ... show this to be untrue."

There are several new media about Charles Dickens and Christmas out this year, this one and a fiction entrée, as well as a film called The Man Who Invented Christmas. I'm not certain why, as it doesn't appear to be a Dickens' anniversary of any kind, unless we are considering the 180th anniversary of Oliver Twist. But it's our gain. This book is the nonfiction entry of the two, and is literally what the title states: Christmas celebrations over the years during Charles Dickens' lifetime, starting with how Christmas would have been celebrated when Charles was a boy (greenery in the home, great feasting on a Christmas porridge, gifts—but more commonly gifts at New Year—and a big cake and an even larger celebration on Twelfth Night that included a cake which has now been transferred to the Christmas festivities). The writing of Dickens' "Christmas Books" (some not taking place at Christmas at all, but just called that because the books were intended as Christmas gifts) and his celebrations with his family follow, with festive food and plays put on by Dickens and his children.

As with any family, the Christmases were not always merry. One year the Dickens' oldest child was very ill. Later Dickens and his wife separated as he carried on an affair with young actress Ellen Ternan, and the plays and feasts came to an end. Dickens spent his last few years doing readings of his work and pretty much working himself to death.

I enjoyed reading about how the family celebrated Christmas and how Christmas celebrations changed over the years, but it was also sad how Dickens' bright youthfulness turned sour and his family life collapsed. The book is liberally illustrated with period etchings and woodcuts.

book icon  Mr. Dickens and His Carol, Samantha Silva
I must be the only one who's read this book so far (having read some other reviews of it on Goodreads) who really wasn't charmed by it.

This is a fictionalized story about how Charles Dickens came to write A Christmas Carol. Things are not going well for Dickens as the year 1843 comes to a close. His novel Martin Chuzzlewit has not been well received, especially in the United States, since Dickens lampooned some of the "characters" he met on his American tours in the book. His publishers are asking for a Christmas book, but he has not one idea in his head about what to write. The family's extravagant spending has caught up with them; he still fears ending up in debtors' prison as his father did, and his improvident father is still charging his own expenses to his son's account, so the author begins lashing out at every expenditure made, even though weeks earlier he would have approved of them. And then Dickens compounds his problem by meeting up briefly with an old flame; when his wife hears about it, she packs up the children, Dickens' annual partners in the family's wonderful Christmas festivities, and leaves for Scotland.

A sober Dickens moves back to his old digs where he wrote The Pickwick Papers, and amazingly, finds a muse: a beautiful woman in a purple cloak who works at the theater where his friend performs. As he tries to track her down, he encounters situations that will later make its way into his writing—but can he write his Christmas book to pay his bills, and somehow make amends to wife Catherine in the meantime?

Author Silva actually apologizes in the afterward for creating a fictional situation around Dickens' writing of the book, saying that she loved Dickens so much she wanted to create an adventure around him. Honestly, I have to admire a lot of this novel. I love the way she uses Victorian language to describe situations: Dickens' hyperactive household (although she has the Dickens' kids playing with rubber bands in his study, two years before they were invented), the streets of London, the warrens of the poorest areas, the world of the theater. She also works into the story Dickens' habit of remembering unusual names and incorporating them into his tales. It's just that I figured out the secret behind Dickens' muse almost immediately and then became irritated as he tried endlessly to make contact with her. And then he writes another book before he even tackles the Carol? In the end it seemed overwrought and endless.

Here's a great BBC article about the actual writing of A Christmas Carol.

Of course, if Christmas preparations in August and Christmas carols in October incense you, you may enjoy this a bit more:

book icon  Bah, Humbug! Grumping Through the Season, gathered by William Cole
This funny little gift book is for your favorite pre-Carol Scrooge, with witty sayings and essays about the excesses of the holiday season. From Hilaire Belloc's terse Christmas card verse, "May all my enemies go to hell, Noёl, Noёl, Noёl, Noёl," to sour essays by luminaries like Roald Dahl and George Bernard Shaw, down to James Thurber's dour version of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" as written by Ernest Hemingway, it's the perfect gift for anyone who objects to Christmas trees appearing in craft shops in July, endless Christmas carols at the mall the minute Hallowe'en is ended, and the arguments for and against Black Friday's screaming approval of excess.

18 October 2017

Not Just Baking Cookies Anymore

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW
Mrs. Claus: Not the Fairy Tale They Say, edited by Rhonda Parrish

Santa Claus' wife: she's the plump white lady who bakes cookies for the elves, right? Homebody. Mistress of the kitchen, the lady who spoils the reindeer.

Not in this book! In fourteen imaginative short stories, Mrs. Claus is a valkyrja, a goblin fighter, a being from another planet, a member of the Fae, a witch; she detects, can repel North Pole invaders, pilot an airship, visit alien worlds, stalk monsters who kill reindeer —and in one story she's even evil! I loved every one of the concepts except for one, and the whole idea of Mrs. Claus not conforming to the standard housekeeping stereotype and having a talent separate from Santa, who is also portrayed in various nontypical ways, including being a woman.

Some of my favorites in this volume: "Wight Christmas," the spooky "The Asylum Musicale," "Christmas Magic," "Unexpected Guests," "Shouldering the Burden," "Captain Lizzy and the Stranger in the Fog," and "Red to Hide the Blood."

If you love Christmas, fantasy tales, and strong female characters, this one's a triple threat of delight! You'll never see Mrs. Claus and her wooden spoon and frilly clothes in the same way again.