13 October 2014

A Pioneer Christmas

A Little House Christmas Treasury
This is a darling little book comprised of Christmas chapters from "the Little House" books, with the now-classic illustrations by Garth Williams in color, and decorative snowflakes scattered throughout. The Ingalls celebrate Christmas in Wisconsin, Kansas, Minnesota, and finally in DeSmet, Dakota Territory, and the Wilder family has a feast in upstate New York. It will strike you all over again how little these children had, but who made their own fun in inventive ways, playing tea parties with leaves and acorns, cutting paper dolls from scraps of paper, just running and making "snow people" and having snowball fights, and how little it took for them to be happy: red mittens, a drinking cup of one's own, a stick of candy, a rag doll, a "boughten" hat. It also brings home the chill of living in a cabin where the only heat comes from a fireplace...in other chapters not included in this book Laura describes waking in rooms so cold that the nails in the wall are furred with frost, and the visiting relatives in these stories wrap in layers and layers of clothing and blankets in order not to be frostbitten on the sleigh ride home.

A super acquisition for your Christmas library, especially if you have young children—but it will make you count your blessings!

02 October 2014

Whetting Your Appetite for Hallowe'en

Some videos just for fun:

Bunnicula the Vampire Rabbit

Halloween is Grinch Night

"Trick or Treat"

Winnie the Pooh's Halloween Stories (complete with CBS Special Presentation logo!)

24 September 2014

Small Town Mystery Dressed Up in Bows

Silent Knife, Shelley Freydont
In this second of the Celebration Bay cozy mysteries, town events' manager Liv Montgomery is overseeing what plans to be the most beautiful Christmas the town has known. The square will be nostalgically dressed for the holiday season and all sorts of events are planned, but there's one fly in the ointment: the tacky new Christmas shop that has opened right on the square, spoiling its cozy nostalgia with windows festooned with drunken reindeer, beer-belly Santas under palm trees, and other tacky and inappropriate decorations, with the proprietor a grumpy Scrooge of a woman. Just when the town inhabitants think things can't get any worse, the man the owner of the Christmas shop hired to play Santa Claus has his throat cut in the store during the town Christmas parade.

Freydont populates her town with people you'd love to know: the friendly bakery owner who cooks delicious treats (even for Liv's West Highland White terrier), the gregarious coffee shop owner, the nurturing quilt shop owner, the ex-hippie natural gift shop proprietor, a friendly good ol' boys club of a town council, two darling elderly ex-schoolteachers, Liv's 60-ish assistant Ted who has daily "singing" bouts with Whiskey the terrier, the bewhiskered older man who always plays Santa Claus so well, one bitchy ex-events' manager (well, there had to be one unfriendly person in town), and even a sexy but usually diffident newspaper editor. The mystery is reasonably convoluted (although you know the nice people who are accused can't possibly be guilty of the crime), the Yuletide atmosphere so Christmassy it will make you hear jingle bells and shiver against the chill, and personal attractions begun are continued.

Readers of police procedurals and Nordic noir, take note: this isn't your bag, but if you're the type of person who likes cozies and Christmas, this book will be perfect for your holiday reading. It even ends up with a meal so luscious it will make you hungry, and some mistletoe. Enjoy!

23 September 2014

16 September 2014

A Simpler Christmas

Unplug the Christmas Machine, Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli
The Christmas Survival Book, Alice Slaikeu Lawhead
These two books were originally written within three years of each other (1982 and 1985, respectively; the Lawhead book originally titled The Christmas Book), and revised in the early '90s, and are virtual bibles for trying to change the conception of Christmas from a holiday of spend-spend-spend and false promises about what the holiday will provide. Lawhead does quote from Christmas Machine: the memorable "Ten Hidden Gift-Giving Rules," which are uncomfortably true. Both books address the same topics (children stoked with toy commercials who compose incredible Christmas lists, the reality of Christmas as opposed to the dream vision given to us by advertising, the fact that Christmas doesn't reform unpleasant families or crises) and even supply their own fictional tale of Christmas woe (Machine's updated version of Christmas Carol and Lawhead's Christmas Eve fantasy vs. reality). Machine provides a large appendix of alternate gift suggestions, addresses how men feel left out of Christmas celebrations and women feel overworked, and suggests ideas for simpler Christmases. The Lawhead book emphasizes spirituality more, even including a chapter of how churches unconsciously add to the burden of Christmas by scheduling too many events. It also mentions how traditions can be meaningful—or a burden. I was also happy to see that she talks about extending Christmas activities into Christmastide itself and through Epiphany, and there are suggestions for non-alcoholic New Year's Eve activities.

Even though they cover some of the same ground, the two writing styles are very different; both, if found, purchase both.

04 September 2014

Sweet September

Just when I thought summer would never end, September slipped in the door in the midst of DragonCon. You couldn't have told it by the weather, which has remained hot and steamy. But a few autumn magazines have already strayed my way, and the sky knows it's autumn if the sun does not. Today I found a Christmas magazine from the publishers of "Country Sampler." And I've been reading the first of my three pre-Christmas reads, Celebrate the Wonder: A Family Christmas Treasury.

It's usually the first because it talks about planning for Christmas as early as September, which may make some blanch, but Christmas has turned into such a circus of excess, and even more in the intervening years since this book was published in 1988, that it feels like you must start planning the holiday as if it is a military campaign. Never fear, this book makes planning a gentle thing; the authors' sole purpose is to start you thinking early, with gentle meetings, musical interludes, and thoughtfulness, so that your December does not become a frantic, stressful rush. The volume is Christian-centered, which may turn off some readers, but if you are more a secular celebrant there are many good ideas for simple crafts, ethnic dinners, and tons of snippets about the history of Christmas celebrations and about celebrations in other countries. While many of the illustrations are clipart-type simple line drawings, the book also features some wonderful 19th century engravings from Thomas Nast and other Victorian artists. One of my favorite parts are the bits of poetry quoted throughout, from unfamiliar European carols to familiar passages from A Christmas Carol. It makes you want to pick up a book of holiday poetry.

These days there is also a wonderful nostalgia factor to the book, as it was written just as the internet was aborning. Catalog shopping has been replaced by web surfing, but in the end the results are the same. If you have a chance to pick up this mellow volume at a used bookstore or library sale, it still has something to say to today's Christmas celebrants. My only quibble with it is that it does not address anything after New Year's, although Epiphany and its cast of characters (La Befana, Babouska, the Little Camel, etc.) are talked about in earlier chapters.

04 July 2014

Happy Independence Day!

25 April 2014

Rudolph Day, April 2014

I thought for April I would review the three "Christmas Around the World" books from World Book that I picked up at last month's book sale. It was a nice trip into the holidays in an annoyingly allergic spring!

Christmas in Mexico
There are certain Christmas customs from Mexico that have become universally loved, especially the poinsettia and, to a lesser extent, the piƱata and La Posadas, and they certainly have their time in the sun in this book, but other charming customs come to light as well, especially the naciamiento, what the Mexican people call the Nativity scene. Like the French creche and the Italian presepio, the Mexican version mixes the traditional figures with those more familiar figures: people in serapes, tortilla makers, and other friendly faces that bring the world of the Christ child closer to His followers. Another custom I was not aware of was the performance of pastorelas, descended from the medieval mystery plays. A typical performance includes the Devil as a character who tries to tempt one or two humorous, but weak shepherd figures, but who is inevitably defeated by the angels. I also did not know the traditional Mexican celebration lasts all the way through Candlemas.

Christmas in the Philippines
The Filipino celebration, while highly Christ-centered, is also a time of great feasting and fun. Traditional Asian dishes with ingredients like coconut join foods of Spanish heritage, reflecting their history. While the Filipinos have and love Christmas trees, the decorations central to their Christmas are the belem (short for Bethlehem) or what we would call a manger or Nativity scene and the parol, the star lantern, which can range from a simple small wood-frame and colored paper decorations with a candle in its heart to huge pieces made of colored plastic and metal so large they must be carried on trucks. Celebrations revolve around church services and family, and end on the feast of the Epiphany, known as Three Kings Day.

Finally we travel from two warm locations to a cold one:
Christmas in Scandinavia
Portions of this book are expanded on in the Christmas in Denmark book, especially the story of Christmas seals and the Christmas plates, but its charm is that it includes the other Scandinavian countries, so there are pieces about St. Lucia Day in Sweden, specific culinary treats in each of the countries, Norway providing Christmas trees to barren Iceland (and one very special tree to Trafalgar Square, commemorating the British aide to Norway during World War II), the different aspects of the Christmas elves, and the Star Boys who see out the Christmas season on St. Knut's Day, January 13. Beautiful photos of candles and bonfires against the Christmas snow give this volume a warm, welcoming feel.

16 April 2014

The 2014 Hallmark Christmas Dream Book

I can hear Seigfried Farnon talking about the carol singers in the All Creatures Great and Small episode "Merry Gentlemen," remarking that they come earlier every year and soon they'll be coming before they turn back the clocks! Here it is barely spring and the Hallmark ornament "Dream Book" is already out.

Check it out here.

25 March 2014

Rudolph Day, March 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.

The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries, edited by Otto Penzler
If you like your Christmas stories with a bit more excitement and less content for your soul, you'll probably enjoy this huge collection of Christmas mysteries. Of course it contains the usual collection of Christmas standards, like the Father Brown "The Flying Stars," Sherlock Holmes in "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle," and "The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding" featuring Hercule Poirot—even a mystery from classic author Thomas Hardy, "The Thieves Who Couldn't Help Sneezing"—but even if you've read the bargain shelf collection Murder for Christmas, there's not as much overlap as you might think (and you don't have to read that awful Woody Allen short story, either).

The book is divided into sections, from "A Traditional Little Christmas" to a special section for some Sherlock Holmes to modern Christmas tales, from police procedurals (at the 87th precinct and more) to amateur sleuths (Lord Peter Wimsey and Ellery Queen among them). There are also some thrillers and psychological pieces, and the authors are a delightful variety of talent including Ellis Peters (two tales, in fact, one not a Brother Cadfael story), Ngaio Marsh (Inspector Allyn), E.W. Hornung (Raffles), Colin Dexter (Inspector Morse), and Rex Stout (Nero Wolfe, of course). Plus a final Christie featuring Miss Marple!

Best yet, there are over fifty stories in total, so you can start sometime in November and end on Epiphany, so you'll be able to read one a day throughout the entire Christmas shopping season and Christmastide.

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!

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


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.