01 April 2018

Happy Easter!

25 March 2018

Rudolph Day, March 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.

I'm still in "read a book for Rudolph Day" mode, but got a little delayed by James' hospital stay, which started out in a frighteningly abrupt manner that brought him to the ICU and ended up somberly twelve days later, with new protocols and routines for both of us. However, since it was Women's History Month, I decided to read something on that subject, and came across this little volume, which I had read before, but apparently had never mentioned in this blog.

"May Your Days Be Merry and Bright": Christmas Stories by Women, edited by Susan Koppelman
There is a genre of literature called "occasional stories," which, many years ago, were written for magazines, whether for sensationalized pulps such as "Black Mask" or "The Shadow" or for staid newsstand favorites like "Redbook" and "The Saturday Evening Post." Many of these "occasionals" were written for women's magazines and of this subsection there was a smaller genre of Christmas stories that usually revolved around home or family. You've probably read many of these if you are an aficionado of Christmas literature.

These are, in general, more obscure tales from noted writers like Edna Ferber and Dorothy Canfield Fisher, bookended by the Christmas chapters from Little Women and the story "Christmas for Sassafrass, Cypress, and Indigo," who are the "little women" one hundred years later, three daughters of a traditional Gullah weaver who was widowed in wartime. In between are such treats as "Old Mother Goose," about a despised woman from the wrong side of the tracks who longs to see the famous singer Thamrรจ—who is keeping a secret of her own), the enjoyable "Mrs. Parkins's Christmas Eve" (a bit of a cross between "A Christmas Carol" and the Christmas tale "The Water Bus") in which a parsimonious woman has a telling lesson on the day before Christmas, the chilling "The Twelfth Guest" wherein a family accidentally sets an extra place at dinner only to have a lost child show up at the door to fill it, the Damon Runyon-ish "The Nth Commandment" about an exhausted shopgirl supporting a sick husband and a child and the raffish man pursuing her, and Edna Ferber's pointed "No Room at the Inn" which rewrites the Nativity story as a modern-day refugee tale. The rest of the stories are swell, too, especially Fisher's often amusing "As Ye Sow" about a woman who discovers her little boys are tone deaf.

A great collection of Christmas gems, but without the mawkish sentiments that often accompany Christmas stories.

25 February 2018

Rudolph Day, February 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.

Valentine's Day has come and gone. This year I had some time to take with dinner, and when James arrived from work, he discovered dinner nearly ready, a card and a gift, and a menu in French. (Let me say I know very little French. Le Menu was courtesy of Le Google Translate. ๐Ÿ˜ ) We had lobster ravioli in a butter sauce I cobbled together from ghee, Kerrygold, and Smart Balance, with flavored vinegars and a little sweetener (it, amazingly, came out pretty well) with a cucumber salad. (It was supposed to have tomatoes as well, but I ran out of room in the bowl.) For dessert we had three selections each from a box of dark chocolate only Russell Stover candies. I gave James a book about a fighter pilot and a stand for his cell phone; he gave me Red, White, and Who: The Story of Doctor Who in America, which I dived into like a heated pool and didn't come out until I was finished.

Chocolates were the reason I chose the following book for this month's Rudolph Day reading:

Christmas in Belgium by the staff of World Book Encyclopedia
I started collecting these with the resolve that I was going to only pick them up at book sales and was not going to get any of the volumes about Christmas in hot places. But then I couldn't leave Australia out and when you start a collection you want to finish it. So I am trying to assemble the rest of the collection from inexpensive online sources.

I was particularly interested in Belgium because they combine two different cultures, the Dutch-speaking Protestant Flemish in the north and the French-speaking Catholic Walloons in the south (with a substantial German population as well). This is a really nice volume because it talks about how the two cultures enrich each other. Like the Dutch, they still celebrate St. Nicholas Day, like the French they include santons in their Nativity scenes, which, the book tells me, dot the Belgian cities and countrysides. As in all the World Book Christmas volumes, they tell you how Advent, Christmas, and Christmastide is celebrated with food, the growing popularity of Santa Claus and Christmas trees, Advent wreaths, and special cookies called speculoos, which you can buy here in the US as "Biscoff" cookies.

However, there are several unique aspects included as well: there is a piece on the Christmas Truce of 1914 during World War I, the famous lacemakers of Belgium (lace ornaments being popular on trees), Belgian chocolates (said to be the best in the world; Godiva is a Belgian brand), post-Christmas customs like "Lovers Day" and the National Horse Show, and the story of Begijnhofs, small towns of women in the post-Crusade era that supported themselves.

This is an excellent entry in the World Book Christmas series.

13 February 2018

Before Ash Wednesday Comes...

The 40-day period before Easter is known as Lent, a time when Christians prepare for the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a time when you fast from all rich foods, and people who are participating in the fast usually eat last hearty treats like pastries, doughnuts, cake, and pie on the day before Ash Wednesday. That is why it's referred to in the US and in France as Mardi Gras, which means "Fat Tuesday." The most famous Mardi Gras celebration in the United States is held in New Orleans, where parades, social organizations called "krewes" who supply the floats for the parade, candy and beads glitter the day.

Mardi Gras New Orleans

In England the day is called Shrove Tuesday, because the faithful went to church on that day to be "shriven" (confessed) of their sins and then took the next 40 days to do their penance. To use up all the fat in the household, traditionally pancakes were made, so it's now referred to as "Pancake Day."

Shrove Tuesday: What is It?

The Origins of Pancake Day

Pancake Day: Why Shrove Tuesday is a Thing - BBC News

Happy Pancake Day 2018!

What's the Meaning Behind Shrove Tuesday?

06 January 2018

For Love of Language and Christmas

A Book of Christmas, William Sansom
I found this book in a very funny way. I was just finishing the book Christmas in Pennsylvania and reading the bibliography. The author states that probably the best book he knows about Christmas was William Sansom's Book of Christmas, and I thought to myself that I should look it up sometime. A few days later I went by Atlanta Vintage Books on my way home from work. They only have their Christmas books out at Christmastime, and since December was upon us I hoped they had their small supply available. I was rewarded by a small stack of books on top of a small stool.

There on top was A Book of Christmas. It could have only been fate.

Oh, and Christmas in Pennsylvania was quite correct. This is a wonderful book. I have other histories (or "biographies") of Christmas, but Sansom's is told with delightful language—his opening paragraphs alone are poetic:

     What is the colour of Christmas?
     Red? The red of toyshops on a dark winter's afternoon, of Father Christmas and the robin's breast?
     Or green? Green of holly and spruce and mistletoe in the house, dark shadow of summer in leafless winter?
     One might plainly add a romance of white, fields of frost and snow; thus white, green, red—reducing the event to the level of a Chianti bottle.
     But many will say that the significant colour is gold, gold of fire and treasure, of light in the winter dark; and this gets closer.
     For the true colour of Christmas is black.
     Black of winter, black of night, black of frost and of the east wind, black dangerous shadows beyond the firelight.
     Darkness of the time of year hovers everywhere, there is no brightness of Christ Child, angel, holly, or toy without a dark surround somewhere about. The table yellow with electric light, the fire by which stories are told, the bright spangle of the tree—they all blaze out of shadow and out of a darkness of winter. The only exception is an expectation of Christmas morning, the optimistic image of sunlight on the snow of Christmas Day and a sparkling brisk walk through the white-breath frosty air. But it only lasts a short while, and has its own dark frame, made up of the night before and the early dark of a December afternoon.

The twelve chapters (with header drawings from "The 12 Days of Christmas") cover the spectrum of the celebrations: sacred celebrations, feasting, Christmas music, plays, literature, giftgivers, etc. in pages crammed with color and black and white illustrations, photographs, woodcuts, and engravings. Any Christmas lover should enjoy Sansom's tale-spinning of pantomimes, Krampuses, holly bushes, vintage decorations, "Merrie Olde England," sacred art, and all the trappings that herald Christmas.

02 January 2018

"Old Christmas" from the Source

December 25th: The Joys of Christmas Past, Phillip Snyder
When Snyder set out to do a book on antique Christmas ornaments, he found himself reading nineteenth-century newspapers on microfilm, chiefly from New York City. He was so enchanted by the reports of Christmas celebrations that he continued reading and came up with this book, designed to take you "way back when" to see how the holidays (and they were called that, even back then, because the custom was originally to give gifts at New Year) were celebrated.

Incorporating the words and descriptions of the unnamed reporters of the day, supplemented by a five-page bibliography and a dozen magazine articles, we discover the sights, sounds, and smells of the Christmas food markets in Victorian-era New York City and discover what prodigious feasts those who could afford them had; read about the racket that used to greet Christmas day, whether it be small boys with horns or men pounding gunpowder on anvils; the sheer fatigue of the overworked store clerks, delivery boys, elevator operators and other sales employees in the days when stores stayed open through midnight on Christmas Eve; the experience of a sleigh ride one snowy Christmas; the unfortunate drunkenness that accompanied Christmas celebrations; the first department store Santa Claus (and where that jolly old persona came from); and more, from Christmas trees to live evergreen roping to sacred music to the delightful experience of an elderly man "taking a slide" one Yuletide night.

Snyder takes care that the experiences sound as first hand as possible, taking his narrative directly from the newspaper reports, which gives you a "first hand" appearance that most histories of Christmas do not. In addition, the book contains old illustrations and woodcuts from newspapers and the reference books to enhance the experience (the development of the "look" of Santa Claus, street scenes, market scenes, etc.). If you're at all interested in the history of American Christmas celebrations (or non-celebrations, as in Puritan-influenced New England), you will enjoy this book!

01 January 2018

Not As Old As You Think

Christmas: A Biography, Judith Flanders
Flanders, who's previously described the Victorian home and the Victorian city in her immensely readable books, tackles the story of Christmas in this newest volume. She opens by reminding us that Christmas is a very different holiday depending on where you celebrate it, and everyone believes their Christmas customs are the authentic ones, when nothing could be further from the truth.

For instance, there is a notion that Christmas was "more religious" in the past, yet most of the writing about Christmas in the "goode olde dayes" is about eating and drinking. Texts from the year 389 and in the seventh century had clergy complaining about feasting, drunkenness, and gluttony. Indeed, for the first few hundred years, it was unthinkable to celebrate Christ's birth, as if he was "some pagan god." The date of Christmas was fixed on December 25 to coincide with existing celebrations (the Kalends, Saturnalia, Mithras's birth, Yule) and many pagan symbols were given Christian symbolism (Christmas trees from the "everlasting life" of the evergreen, holly standing in for the crown of thorns, etc.).

Flanders also discusses how "traditional" Christmas celebrations were said to come from the "days long ago" when some of them were only several decades old, how businesses were open on Christmas (so people could buy Christmas food and drink) until very recently, how those wonderful old country house celebrations you hear about (like Christmas at Downton Abbey) required a great deal of drudgery, dirt, and loss of sleep for the servants despite their being tales of revelry among the staff, and how Christmas advertising goes back to the 18th century and that people at the turn of the last century were already complaining about Christmas commercialization (and how wealthy young ladies already bemoaned the fact that their friends got more Christmas gifts than they did).

There are more detailed books about the "biography" of Christmas (which Flanders notes in her bibliography), but this is a great summary of all of the truths and the fallacies about the holiday season. Flanders even provides little icons in the margins to indicate which subjects she is discussing (a horn for music, a mask for revelry, a Santa face for the history of gift givers, etc.).

30 December 2017

Of Icons and Airplanes

Ideals Christmas, Worthy Media
This 2017 edition of the yearly magazine contains the usual complement of artwork, cozy photographs, poetry and essays. I was surprised this year to see an essay by a man, as the "Ideals" essays usually tend to be written by women. The Robert Frost "Christmas Trees" is also included, and there's an essay and poem by Edgar Guest.  I really loved the illustration opposite the title page; very stylized, like a 1930s or 1940s card, and the beautiful photograph of Beacon Hill in Boston in the snow.

Spirit of Steamboat, Craig Johnson
This is a dandy novella in the Walt Longmire mystery series. Before Christmas, Walt is visited by a young woman of Japanese ancestry who says she has something to return to the man who preceded Walt as sheriff of Absaroka County, Lucian Connally, a former World War II bomber pilot. She claims to know both Walt and Lucian, but they don't recognize her. Until she mentions the word "Steamboat."

It was back in 1988 when Walt, fresh in his sheriff's uniform, is coordinating a lifeline flight of a little girl who was burned in an accident. It is Christmas Eve and Absaroka County is in the midst of a raging snowstorm. The lifeline helicopter pilot refuses to go on to Denver, and there are no facilities to help her nearby. None of the other airplanes at the local airport is powerful enough to get through—except a World War II-era B25 named "Steamboat." Determined to save the child, Walt ropes Connally into flying the B25 to Denver.

Although how the flight turns out is not in doubt, this was a page-turner as the pilots and Walt keep "Steamboat" running and Walt also helps the attending physician keep the small child alive with the help of her grandmother. Erratic navigation, ice buildup, low fuel and open bomb-bay doors plague the flight, and there's a hair-raising conclusion to their rescue mission. Enjoyed this one a lot.

(I was also amused to recognize the procedure the doctor performs on the little girl as the one Steve McGarrett had to do on Danny Williams in the penultimate episode of the latest season of Hawaii Five-0.)

Back to Monroeville for Christmas

Tru and Nelle: A Christmas Tale, G. Neri
Nelle Lee and her friend "Big Boy" Carter eagerly await their friend Truman Persons on a sweltering December day in Monroeville, Alabama. They haven't seen Tru for two years; he's been living with his self-absorbed mother and new stepfather. They expect Tru will jump at the chance to live back in Monroeville with his beloved cousin Sook and her family, but instead at a custody hearing between his mother and his father, Tru baffles them both by choosing to go with his mother and be adopted by his stepfather.

Two years later it is Truman who is running back to Monroeville, having been stuck in a military school by his mother. He's convinced he's cursed, but when he find the most beautiful Christmas tree ever, he thinks bringing it back to Sook and her family is the one way to break the curse. Instead it it's only the start of an incredible series of adventures.

Neri's text, as in Tru and Nelle, mixes real-life events (the trial Amasa Lee participated in that inspired To Kill a Mockingbird, the incident with a bully that prompted the short story "The Thanksgiving Visitor," plus touches of "A Christmas Memory" with Sook and the fruitcakes, Truman Capote's experience with his mother and stepfather, a fire that destroyed the home of Sook, Jenny, and Truman's other cousins) with fictionalized involvement of Nelle with a murder trial and events around a rare snowy Christmas. The interactions between the kids is great, and Neri does not softpedal the terms of the time nor the racism, but it also seems like an "everything but the kitchen sink" drama, with the murder of the river merchant and the events with the tree and Truman's feeling of being cursed and the events with the fire all jockeying for attention. I think I liked the parts best which dealt with Truman's conflicted feeling for his parents and Nelle's and Big Boy's attempts to help him.

As a whole, glad I read it!

28 December 2017

Childermas Day

Childermas, or Holy Innocents Day, commemorates the slaughter of the children by the orders of Herod the Great after he was visited by the Magi following the star to the birthplace of the infant Jesus. Because of the horrific associations of the day, it is said to be bad luck to start on a project on this day.

Massacre of the Innocents - Wikipedia

Liturgical Year: Holy Innocents Day

Feasts and Festivals: Holy Innocents

27 December 2017

A Depression Christmas

Christmas After All, Kathryn Lasky
In 2001, the "Dear America" books were still in the middle of their run. This one caught my eye because (a) it was a Christmas book that took place during the Great Depression, which my own parents had endured, and (b) it was written by Kathryn Lasky, who wrote the Calista Jacobs' mystery novels for adults and some great novels for kids like The Bone Wars and Prank, the latter which takes place in East Boston. I opened it and was immediately transported into the life of Minnie Swift, age eleven, at the end of 1932 as the Depression closes its relentless jaws around her family. They've already closed off rooms to save coal, hardly eat any meat at meals, and her father comes home a little earlier from work every day. Minnie correctly deduces that this will not be a season of bounty, but one of want.

And then a surprising thing happens: the daughter of one of Mrs. Swift's cousins is sent to live with them after the death of her mother in the dust-scourged tiny town of Heart's Bend, Texas. Willie Faye Darling arrives encrusted with dirt, carrying a basket with a kitten whose nose and mouth she must siphon out three times a day to keep it from suffocating, meager clothing, and not much else. Minnie is astonished when Willie Faye reveals she's never seen a movie, doesn't know who Buck Rogers is, has never used an indoor toilet, and is frankly amazed by the hyperactive Swifts, including Minnie's super-intelligent younger brother Ozzie and her "distractible" and artistic older sister Lady, so Minnie figures Willie Faye will have a lot to learn from them.

What she, nor the family, knows is how much they will learn from this undersized, quiet refugee from the Dust Bowl.

The story pretty much paints a bleak view of the era, with her father eventually losing his job, friends who have had fathers disappear, seeing friends in bread lines, their visiting a shantytown. But the Swifts also manage to have good times and their ingenuity works to help them. Like my parents did, they forego other treats to attend the movies, make their own Christmas gifts, and find inexpensive amusements.

Only the epilogue comes off as slightly too fanciful.

Otherwise this is a magical book.

Once Again, A Gift from Joe Wheeler

Christmas in My Heart, Book 12, Joe Wheeler
Wheeler has done almost thirty of these little books that combine old Christmas stories from magazines with an original Christmas story he writes for each volume. The later volume also started including more modern stories from "Reader's Digest" and what you might call "Chicken Soup for the Soul" type tales, but nevertheless, all the entries are heartwarmingly appropriate, from the pre-1927 stories like "Christmas Bread" (written by Kathleen Norris, who was my mother's favorite author, and which has a woman surgeon as a protagonist) to 2000's "Merry Christmas, Mr. Keene," about a wealthy man and a Christmas pageant. There was even a Temple Bailey (author of the lovely "Candle in the Forest") story I had never read. This volume concludes with Wheeler's "Christmas Sabbatical," about a Ph.D. who lost track of life in his pursuit of a degree, and a wonderful opening essay about Joseph, the "hidden man" of the Holy Family, which including an excerpt from one of the Pearl Buck stories I had just finished reading yesterday.

Grab these when you can! They are out of print now, but occasionally turn up in used bookstores. I liked the earlier ones better, when he just resurrected vintage magazine stories rather than using the "Chicken Soup-y" entries, but they're all worth the trouble, just for his stories.

26 December 2017

Spend the Holidays With Pearl Buck

Once Upon a Christmas, Pearl S. Buck
I picked this up at a used book sale noticing it had the essay "Nineteen Stockings by the Chimneypiece," which was reprinted in "Reader's Digest" for so many years, and figured it would also have Buck's most famous Christmas story of all, "Christmas Day in the Morning," about the teenage boy who devises a novel gift for his father. To my surprise it is not in this volume, which is a combination of essays by Buck about various Christmases in her lifetime and short stories she wrote, including "Christmas Miniature," about a little boy who sneaks downstairs on Christmas morning, just to see if Santa has been, you understand, and ends up saving a very small life; "The New Christmas," in which a family of seven discovers a "new" kind of Christmas when it looks like they won't have any money for a big celebration; and "The Christmas Secret," about a couple who has adopted a Vietnamese child of mixed ancestry (this one annoyed me a little, as the couple appeared to be protecting a man who came off as a jerk, but which I believe was Buck's intent).

I loved both stories and essays, but found the latter fascinating learning more about Buck's life as the child of missionaries in China (missionaries who did not believe that the Chinese they were living among were "heathens" or not as good as white people). Her story about the Christmas they didn't celebrate because they were too busy keeping Chinese refugees from starving, or about the Chinese boy who turned up at their doorstep and whom they adopted, or about their almost being murdered when the Japanese invaded Nanking were quite affecting. My favorite essay was "Thoughts of a Woman at Christmas," which begins as an essay about Joseph and turns into one about feminism, and something I've been thinking for years, that the reason men want to entrap women behind veils or under burkas, or abuse them and abuse children, is that there are too many men who are really afraid of women, that a woman being as intelligent as they are or as strong as they are somehow demeans their manhood. Back in the 1950s, Buck was writing about issues that still trouble us today: equality between the sexes and equality between the races, and her anger about the injustices of mixed-race adoption are those I remember from Helen Doss' The Family Nobody Wanted.

As a bonus this volume contains pencil illustrations by Donald Lizzul. Worth your while.

25 December 2017

Old-Fashioned Christmases

The Children's Book of Christmas Stories, edited by Asa Don Dickinson and Ada M. Skinner
I picked this up at the Northside Library in the fall, a jacketless volume from 1913 that I knew would at the least contain either a whole copy of A Christmas Carol (as these books were wont to do) or excerpts thereof, and I was correct. In fact. the Cratchits' Christmas dinner is excerpted twice, under two different titles, as if the editors didn't even notice. And certainly there were the usual reruns: Andersen's "The Fir Tree," Ruth Sawyer's "Voyage of the Wee Red Cap," "Why the Chimes Rang" (a reworking of the story of the Widow's Mite, "Little Wolff's Wooden Shoes," and "Little Gretchen and the Wooden Shoe" (the last two prime examples of the noble small children in 19th century stories who know the real meaning of Christmas).

But there were several new ones that I found enjoyable. About four were stories gleaned from a 1904 volume called Kristy's Queer Christmas. Apparently the Kristy of the title is a little girl who gets sick at Christmas, and instead of being able to celebrate must stay in bed, so various guests and her relatives cheer her up with stories (rather like Alcott's Spinning Wheel Stories). These include "The Telltale Tile," about a poor woman who does a fiscal favor for an even poorer neighbor and finds her contribution repaid tenfold, and a story about a snowed-in prairie family. Several other stories were taken from that venerable children's newspaper "Youth's Companion," including "The Little Sister's Vacation," which made me angry until the end (our heroine, Peggy, is the one child still at home, and when her married sister and her professional sister come to visit, the mother drops everything to socialize with them, leaving Peggy—"Peggy is so handy!"—to plan the dinners, help in the kitchen, and ride herd on the married sister's three year old daughter, plus study for a Latin exam during her Christmas vacation!). Another was about Betty, who had to stay at boarding school over the holidays because there was no money for a visit home, and how she made the others staying there happy, and the third about a philanthropist who refuses to meet the people he gives money to, until his lost dog draws him into a mystery. Another boarding school story involves a little boy who cannot go home for the holidays.

One story I'd read before and liked seeing here was "A Christmas Matinee," about a wealthy girl who runs about with a fashionable crowd who does a good deed for a trolley driver in 1890s Boston. The familiar streets and trolley stops always make me smile.

A worthwhile purchase, even with the duplicate stories!

Christmas in the Air

As I mentioned, James volunteered to work today so he wouldn't get drafted, especially on New Year's Day. Plus it was double time and would make up a little for his three doctor's appointments last week. So this Christmas morning James was up at seven to work. I got to sleep in a bit.

James was twiddling his thumbs when I got up and had breakfast. I was changing channels looking for something Christmasy, and stumbled over Come to the Stable on FXM. I wish I'd known it was on. I hadn't seen it in years. It's not really a Christmas movie, but begins in winter when two nuns arrive in New England to try to found a children's hospital. I'd forgotten how funny bits of it was, especially Sister Margaret driving the jeep.

Tucker was very patient and waited for me to finish with the movie to go out. It was very cold out, in the high 20s with a sharp wind snapping the St. Nicholas banner and the flag. It felt good! There were high clouds and bits of sky showing as we strolled the neighborhood. Someone down the street was having company for dinner. The cars filled their long driveway and spilled out to the street.

James took a break before lunch and then we had presents! O, what a haul! Four books and two DVDs, the books all from my Amazon wish list: World War II in Rhode Island, Rhode Island Radio (with a photo of Jack Comley, my favorite radio talk show host ever), Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and Britcom FAQ.  The DVDs were both Rick Steves: his new episodes for 2017-2018, and all his specials (even the Easter special). I gave James two military nonfiction books, Andy Weir's new book Artemis, the second season of WKRP in Cincinnati, and a Jethro Tull concert DVD. And of course the chair he was sitting in! (We discovered Tucker sleeping in it last night, and it looked so sweet, the little dog curled up in the big red chair next to the Christmas tree.

Put on The House Without a Christmas Tree while we had lunch: our turkey leftovers from West Cobb Diner on Friday night, a clementine, and Terry's dark chocolate orange slices. Tried not to snack too much so we could save the calories for the feast at the Butlers!

While James waited for someone to call, I also washed some towels and unloaded and loaded the dishwasher and made the bed.

Spent the later afternoon watching The Homecoming and feeling very drowsy, so took a 45-minute nap (well, I tried to; I really didn't sleep much), then took Tucker for a walk, fixed him a special Christmas dinner with a little chicken broth and beef and carrot dog-food puree, got dressed and washed my face, brought James his shoes (otherwise he was ready to go) and a hairbrush, and put the gifts together.

At five o'clock James signed off having had nary a call, and we loaded up the car with presents and chocolate cake and were off to the Butlers to enjoy three hours of friends, food and fun. People had just sat down to dinner and we availed ourselves of apple cider basted turkey, spiral-sliced ham, pot roast, mashed potatoes, noodle kugel, sprouts, and carrots. Dessert was two homemade pies, fruitcake cookies, our chocolate cake and a coconut cake, and some Andes mints we also brought. Once the feasting was complete, we gathered in the living room for gifts. We got many lovely things, too numerous to list.

Journeyed home about eight, stopping at a housing plat along the way to see their decorations. One end definitely had a "glitter gulch"! Yet another lawn was covered with inflatables: two Mickey Mouses, a Minnie Mouse, a Minion, Olaf the snowman, Santa in an airplane, Santa with his sleigh, and about a dozen more.

Once home we watched the Call the Midwife Christmas special—very interesting story based around "the Big Freeze," the cold winter of 1962-1963. Will the actress who played Barbara not be in the new season? They have sent her and her husband the curate to another church for six months. I've always loved Barbara and will miss her.

24 December 2017

Books and Christmas Lights in Our Hearts

It's almost as hard to sleep on Christmas Eve as it is to sleep on Christmas morning, which explains why we were up at eight o'clock this morning. James thought about making biscuits, but I scotched the idea. If you're going to be stuffing yourself on carbs soon, better save them for the one-time-a-year yummies, and that last word definitely describes Lin's pies and Ron's mashed potatoes!

But we were intending to go out and have a good time anyway.

First we had to start with the adult mundane stuff: that 32 percent off coupon at CVS (and a CVS gift card) made buying stuff we needed, like Band-Aids, Neosporin, and the like a good bargain. Once that was all taken care of, it was off to Acworth, enjoying Christmas displays in front of people's homes, as we go a back way through country roads. I needed one more gift, and there it was at Books-a-Million. James got a few magazines and a game, then we had hot peppermint cocoa to make the trip really worthwhile. ๐Ÿ˜‰

We took a few minutes off to get James' truck some gasoline—why is gas 14¢ a gallon cheaper in Acworth?—and then had lunch at Panera. It wasn't raining, but it was a grey and damp day, so hot soup hit the spot!

Then it was on to Barnes & Noble. Perhaps everyone at the mall doing their last-minute Christmas shopping were in bad tempers, but at both bookstores everyone was full of good cheer. Used my second 20 percent off newstand purchase for a Christmas "Landscape" and a cross-stitch magazine and the "Writer's Digest" yearbook and bought James an aviation magazine.

Headed home in the gloom to find the television still playing Christmas music for Snowy. We sat and relaxed for a while, then when it started getting dark went out to look at Christmas lights. We used to do this after we ate dinner, and it would be like by the time we went out (around 7:30) half the houses would have their lights turned off already. Timers, people, timers! Even if you have to be out, your lights will be on! They don't cost that much!

We were listening to Christmas music from one of the local stations through most of the ride and had the windows down (we were bundled up and it was only 45). We just stayed in Smyrna; went up toward downtown and drove around there looking at the lights, then checked out some side streets. Went down Bank Street with all their delicious new Craftsman-style homes, and crossed Atlanta Road to check out the "Craftsman" units on "old" Spring Road and opposite the railroad tracks. Our final stop was the unusual development near the end of Old Concord Road: the homes are quite close to each other and all have double glass front doors.

Some people still didn't have all their lights on, as late as seven o'clock! Some lights came on just as we were driving by at 7:15! One of our favorite things wasn't there: one of the houses near downtown Smyrna has this swoopy star that looks like a comet, but it didn't seem to be up, let alone on. But we saw two pairs of the same figures: Yoda and Darth Vader next to each other. One set was made of lights and the other set was inflatable, on a tiny lawn filled with inflatables: they also had a Dory, the M&M guys, Santa in a helicopter, a snowman, and more.

Dinner was kinda small. We picked out some shrimp to have as shrimp scampi, with linguini, but we should have bought more shrimp. We were trying to keep costs down, so basically James had nine shrimp and I had eight. This would have been fine if they were jumbo shrimp, but they weren't. I was hoping we had some clam chowder left in the larder, but almost all the clam chowder went away in the Great Sodium Purge, and the one can we did have amazingly seemed to have come from the old house! Neither of us wanted to eat that! We did find some vegetable orzo soup and shared that, and had gingerbread sticks for dessert.

During dinner we watched the Christmas episode of Remember WENN ("Christmas in the Airwaves"). Noticed the costume designer seemed to work it out that when Scott and Betty are next to each other they are mostly in red and green. :-)

For the last story of the night, I played The Little Drummer Boy. I still have my VHS version because the DVD is missing bits of the soundtrack, and it looks terrible to boot ("restored" version my foot). But as always the story is luminous.

"Christmas" by John Betjeman

The bells of waiting Advent ring,
The Tortoise stove is lit again
And lamp-oil light across the night
Has caught the streaks of winter rain
In many a stained-glass window sheen
From Crimson Lake to Hookers Green.

The holly in the windy hedge
And round the Manor House the yew
Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,
The altar, font and arch and pew,
So that the villagers can say
'The church looks nice' on Christmas Day.

Provincial Public Houses blaze,
Corporation tramcars clang,
On lighted tenements I gaze,
Where paper decorations hang,
And bunting in the red Town Hall
Says 'Merry Christmas to you all'.

And London shops on Christmas Eve
Are strung with silver bells and flowers
As hurrying clerks the City leave
To pigeon-haunted classic towers,
And marbled clouds go scudding by
The many-steepled London sky.

And girls in slacks remember Dad,
And oafish louts remember Mum,
And sleepless children's hearts are glad.
And Christmas-morning bells say 'Come!'
Even to shining ones who dwell
Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.

And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window's hue,
A Baby in an ox's stall?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me?

And is it true ? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,

No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare -
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.

Fourth Sunday of Advent: Dreaming of the Cold

An early December snowstorm raised our hopes for a completely chilly December after a very late fall. And indeed it was a bit of a miracles as we usually have snow one day and rain comes along, or high temps come along, to wipe 90 percent of it away the next day. This time the temps stayed low enough that we had some snow around for a week, even if on the last day it was just in the folds of the roofs of houses and in shady spots most of the day. But in the past few days we've had 60s, and sometimes high 60s, and almost all very stick 60s as it keeps raining.

So I've been fantasizing about Canada, somewhere I haven't been in a good many years. I went there several times in the late 60s and the 70s, including to what was left of Expo 67 in Montreal and several times to Quebec City (for some breathtaking views of the St. Lawrence River from the escarpments of the Citadel) and once near Toronto to Canada's Wonderland. (There were also a couple of trips to the Canadian side of the falls at Niagara, where I remember wonderful cherry orchards between Horseshoe Falls and the little city of Niagara on the Lake.)

I fondly remember Canadian programs, too, like Swiss Family Robinson with Chris Wiggins and Diana Leblanc, and Strange Paradise, with Colin Fox and Dawn Greenhalgh, but some of my best memories are of Canadian Christmas stories, including the unusual North Station/Station Nord, which I saw for the first time when we got HD television some years back. Sadly, North Station/Station Nord is not available anywhere I can find online, and you can't buy a DVD. You can find it in Italian in two places on YouTube as Miracolo di Natale, but the voices are chipmunk and at least one is "flopped" (mirror imaged).

But here are a couple of links to a few Canadian Christmas tales, including two episodes of The Forest Rangers, which was syndicated in the 1960s and turned up on early morning weekend television:

The Christmas Martian

The Christmas Raccoons

The Forest Rangers: "A Christmas Story"

The Forest Rangers: "Santa MacLeod"

23 December 2017

Rainy, With a Chance of Kringly

The forecast of rain precluded us going to Chattanooga today, so we had an alternate idea: we'd go up to Books-a-Million for a hot cocoa and a look at the calendars, and come back by MicroCenter to return something we'd bought that we didn't need. Well, the weather report seemed to indicate the rain would start at noon and end right after three, and we didn't want to rush, so we put off the book trip. Since we don't have to cook for Christmas Eve (much), we can go up there tomorrow.

Instead, after breakfast we returned the item to MicroCenter, then, because we were halfway there, made a quick trip to Trader Joe's for a tea James liked, got a little more peppermint bark (the Peppermint JoJos were completely gone), and then headed for Ollie's Bargain Outlet, as James was looking for new bungee cords to hold the tarp on the power chair. We picked up a gadget that is supposed to air fry in the oven (and if it doesn't it's only $10 wasted) and I found the same three-calendar set as I did last year, so I can have a small calendar near the computer. It has become so hard to find calendars smaller than 7x7 anymore. There used to be several sources: Michaels, Kmart... We got home right as a few specks of rain tapped the truck window.

Had lunch to M*A*S*H Christmas episodes, then did a spate of vacuuming while James was making more breakfast burritos. This will get him past Twelfth Night before he has to do any more. Once he finished, did two more M*A*S*H episodes, and finally The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, after which we left for supper, timing it just as the mailman arrived, with another Christmas card from a friend, and two Christmas packages from two different friends. And the rain? The few specks of rain went away until about one, we had about a half hour of hard rain, and then, whoosh, it was gone. We even saw a brief gleam of sun until the clouds closed up again.

Oh, well, I can't say I wanted to drive up to Chattanooga two days before Christmas...

Supper was at Fried Tomato Buffet (it's barbecue rib night) and we came home by Kennesaw Avenue to see the decorations on all the big old houses, and then went past our old neighborhood to see if they still do luminaria in Dunleith. If they do, it wasn't tonight. We did go past one of my favorite houses; among all those modern designs, there is a house that looks like a colonial saltbox, complete with a period door, etc. They still just use plain white candles and plain green wreaths and red bows, although the white electric lights on the big pine tree out front kinda ruins the period effect. ๐Ÿ˜ƒ

More Christmas specials tonight: Father Christmas, The Snowman, The Night Before Christmas, "Christmas at Plum Creek" from Little House on the Prairie, and finally The Best of the Andy Williams Christmas Specials. Snowy sang blithely to all of them!

The only sobering part of today is waiting to hear about James' mom. She and his sister went to visit his sister's daughter and husband and their little boy up in New Jersey, and Mom was not feeling good, so they went to the emergency room. She is not critically ill, but she's stuck in the hospital while they are doing tests to see what is causing her shortness of breath, and who wants to be in the hospital at Christmas, even if it's the best hospital in the world?