06 December 2016

Happy St. Nicholas Day!

 The Story of Santa Klaus, from 1909, attempts to bring the threads of the origins of Santa Claus together.

Nine Things to Know About St. Nicholas

What Has St. Nicholas To Do With Ireland?

St. Nicholas Day is celebrated most famously in the Netherlands, where he arrives on a ship from Spain accompanied by his servant, "Zwart Piet," Black Peter. Not long ago Peter was an ominous figure to Dutch children: parents would tell their children that if they didn't behave, they would be stuffed in Peter's sack and taken away. (Other Germanic cultures have a similar character, like Pelznichol—"Nicholas in Furs"—or the dreaded Krampus, who looks like a devil with a long red tongue.) Today Black Peter is controversial because he is often still played by people of non-African descent in blackface makeup, and portrayed on wrapping paper in stereotypical fashion with large lips and big rolling eyes. Most illustrators today are like the one above who makes Peter look like a real person rather than a hurtful clown and books like Santa and Pete have reworked the Black Peter character to present him in a positive manner as St. Nicholas' full partner. The modern Peter carries candy, not a sack, and gives out sweets to the children.

04 December 2016

Second Sunday of Advent

We stopped by Big Lots after completing our errands at Costco and some "us" time at Barnes & Noble. A year or two ago, the lights on the little pre-lighted silver tree we used for James' airplane tree died. We used it that year sans lights, and James bought a blue tree the year after, but it was not pre-lighted. We tried a candle, but there was no way to light up that tree and it sat sad in the dark unless the hall light was on. I'd been searching rather haphazardly for a new tree; really, a three-foot tree would have been perfect, but apparently they don't make three-foot trees anymore. So I changed my search to 4-foot. It's amazing how much some sites wanted for a 4-foot tree, but of course some of them came in big planters. Guys, just want a silver, pre-lighted Christmas tree.

Lowes, Home Depot, Michaels had only green trees. I guess I could have gone looking at Walmart, but...Walmart...before Christmas...oh, dear. That's suitable only for emergencies, and I couldn't find any small silver trees on their website anyway. So Big Lots was the only place I could find a 4-foot silver tree with white lights that didn't cost an arm and a leg.

Once I decanted it, I knew why it was cheap, too. I've seen twister seals with more tensile strength than the branches of this tree; if you can't hold a plastic Hallmark airplane without drooping, what's the chance it will hold a glass ornament? Poor thing was as "homely as two toads," as Aunt Emily used to say to Lucinda in Roller Skates, when I took it from the box. I've perked it up a bit, but it took a lot of fluffing, plus I had to bend some of the branches up to offset the weight of the ornaments. The stand is so wide and the stand downstairs so narrow that only two of the three feet are actually on the top; I had to shim the third leg. In the end, it came out looking okay, and I could finally use the red, green, and gold garland I bought for it originally, with the red and the green corresponding to landing lights.

Earlier in the afternoon we watched Maryellen 1955: Extraordinary Christmas based on the Maryellen series of "American Girl" books. Maryellen's adventures were released just recently and she was not one of my favorites; she's just too frivolous for me, and her little sister the ballerina is freaking annoying. I like her bookworm sister the best. Surprisingly, the film pulled the storyline together much better. Instead of Maryellen painting the front door red to welcome her mom's old war plant workers, in the television story she chiefly does it for the handicapped son of one of her mother's friends from the war plant. Instead of her going to her grandparents' for Christmas and being lonesome and disillusioned, she gives up the trip for a better reason. Plus Maryellen in the film is talented in drawing. Beverly the little dancing pest was heard from little and they gave Maryellen's dad something to do other than just be a name in the book. She was played by the same little girl who played Dolly Parton in the recent film Christmas of Many Colors (and its predecessor, Coat of Many Colors), which I found rather lightweight and unbelievable, despite the great cast; the script was just too didactic and childish. In fact this Maryellen episode was much better than that Parton film, although Alyvia Alyn Lind was perfect as young Dolly.

(Supposedly this is the first in a series of Maryellen stories on Amazon Video. Will be interested in seeing the rest. If you have Amazon Prime I recommend this.)
In the meantime, some videos to enjoy:

Probably my favorite episode of The Ghost & Mrs. Muir TV series: "The Ghost of Christmas Past"

Another "GAMM" favorite, although not Christmas: "The Medicine Ball"

Truman Capote's A Christmas Memory

03 December 2016

Trim Up The Tree...

...but not quite yet!

As I'd reported in my main blog, on the first Sunday of Advent I managed to get the Christmas candles up in the front window, the door wreaths up, and the wreath, little blue tree, the Santas in the chairs, and the Father Christmas flag up on the porch, and draped the net lights over the bushes out front. The other lights would have to wait. I had taken Monday and Tuesday off, and this helped greatly. I spent Monday morning divesting Thanksgiving and dusting off things, and putting out the Christmas stakes (reindeer, candy cane, and jingle bell) outside and the mailbox cover. Plus Woody and Holly, the log reindeer. I'd planned to have the foyer all decorated when James got home, but the string of lights on the mini-ornament tree failed and I wasn't going out during rush hour. Instead I toted all the boxes that needed to come upstairs upstairs (I even managed to get the village upstairs; it's not heavy, just awkward.)

Tuesday morning I had to run to Michaels. All they had were LED strings in sets of fifty. I used them, but the tree now looks garish. Sigh. The kids today will grow up thinking LEDs are normal and pretty, but they will never know how soft and sweetly lovely incandescent lights were, comforting and gentle rather than garish. Anyway, I was able to finish up the foyer, and then I put up the library tree and the decorations dotting the library shelves and the couple of things in the downstairs bath.

Wednesday I had to go back into work; got my telework training done for another year and sent a file on for approval. Unfortunately I think the chicken salad in my sandwich was starting to spoil. I got very queasy after lunch and finally came home. I logged on to work via my computer in case something needed immediate attention, but it was all quiet and I swigged some Pepto Bismol and finally had a short nap. James was late so I roused up and busied myself putting greenery in the china cabinet and cleaning off things in prep for decorations.

Thursday was a telework day, but I got a bunch done during lunch and after work: put up the ceppo on the china cabinet, the feather tree with the vintage ornaments and the gilded walnuts I made as a teenager (so I guess they're now vintage, too!), and finally the table, which had to be cleaned off first (I swear, horizontal surfaces in this house gather so much junk). I did everything but the "1910 tree" because there wasn't time, but did get to the gingerbread and candy cane decorations in the kitchen. This was all possible because James came home late because he was picking up his new glasses. They are pewter colored and look super with his beard. I even had the Christmas village up on the mantelpiece before he walked in the door.

Friday morning the decorating continued—the "1910 tree" becoming the centerpiece on the table, the Rudolph tree going up in the hall. I had to dust and polish my entire bureau before I could put the little Italian and Scottish decorations up our bedroom. I absolutely don't understand how the bedroom gets so dusty. I could probably leave the spare room without dusting for a year and it wouldn't accumulate as much as it does in our bedroom in a week.

All I had left was the woodland tree, but it was time for me to get dressed and head to the Apple Annie Craft Show at the Catholic Church of St. Ann off Roswell Road. I don't even know anymore how many years I have been going to this event. I like this church; it's a pity it's such a long drive away. There were a lot of jewelry vendors this year. I stopped to talk to the first one, who was a man who made his own links (jump rings) out of wire and then he makes chain-mail bracelets from them. If "chain mail" sounds big and awkward, these weren't; they were fine and beautiful. He does the chain work and his wife the beadwork. I felt old; I mentioned Trifari to him and he had never heard of it. ☹  It was such a part of my life growing up that it's hard to believe that no one remembers any longer except for some jewelry collectors.

Well, I had two surprises, one sad and one good. The sad one was that they are remodeling the meditation garden, so I couldn't have my usual peaceful visit. I was a bit unhappy at first, because they have torn out all the plants and the pond and the statues and they're putting in granite. But it turns out that they are building a columbarium, a place to inter ashes, like the place at the Church of All Saints where Amy Rutledge is, and a prayer garden. It was supposed to be done by Christmas. I know when it is done it will be very nice but I was sorry that the rustic look of it is going away.

The happy surprise is that I ran into Claudia Barbour. We chatted a few minutes and I invited her to the Twelfth Night party.

Most of the things I would have liked to buy were very expensive: solid wood lazy Susans with beautiful blocky designs, natural wood "no electric" speakers (I actually would have bought one of these but we had nowhere to display them properly) with beautiful geometric decorations, solid wood crosses hand-carved. Not a lot of cute clothing for grandchildren this year, either.

Did stop in the sanctuary to say some prayers before I left. I always pray for James and Tucker and Snowy to be healthy and for me to be a better person, but mostly I prayed for all this political hatred to end. Reading Facebook has become a chore and the vitrol from both sides is frightening.

I stopped at Michaels on the way home to get some Sharpie markers, Trader Joe's to stock up on Christmas goodies, and finally at Kaiser at Town Center to pick up my levothroid. I was thirsty and feeling a bit cranky, but then the phone rang in the purse of the lady ahead of me, playing the Boston Pops' "Sleigh Ride." It cheered me up no end.

I got the woodland tree up tonight before settling in to watch Christmas specials tonight: John Denver and the Muppets, A Muppet Family Christmas, "Santa Claustrophobia" from Hill Street Blues, and Christmas Past.

Christmas on the American Frontier 1800-1900, John E. Baur
I got this at the library book sale, having taken it out at least once. Taken directly from diaries, journals, and histories by the people who lived the experience, chapters address different aspects of the American pioneer experience, starting from the founding of the country and the customs brought from Great Britain, France, and Spain and introduced to the native inhabitants, some who took great enjoyment from the holiday, but sadly, mainly due to alcohol. Some inspiring stories tell about settlers, cattlemen, explorers, and trappers making the best of what they had and sharing what little they had with others, or riotous dances at distant ranches, but more often the tales are bleak: people lost in blizzards just feet from the homes they were heading for, groups on short rations enduring another hungry day, cowboys spending the day tending cattle and wishing for some camaraderie, rough-and-tumble miners breaking from hardscrabble life for one day, and even British immigrants learning to endure the wild Western weather. Other customs are learned as Spanish customs like farolitoes and La Posadas catch the eye of visitors.

This book is from 1961 so the text may not be as softened as it might be at the present time, but the main draw here are the actual words of the pioneers. Coloring-book type illustrations break up the text. Slightly dry, but with some surprises (for instance, the word "hop" as a synonym for a dance; it sounds like a 1950s term, but goes back at least one hundred years earlier).

01 December 2016

"Trees of Winter"

E.B. White

Oh, they are lovely trees that wait
      In the still hall of winter,
      Silent and good where the Good Planter
Fixed the root, wove the branch delicate.

Friendly the birches in the thin light
      By the frost sanctified,
      And here, too, silent by their side
I stand in the woods, listening, upright,

Hearing in the cold of the long pause
      Of the full year
      What trees intend that I should hear:
Interpretations of old laws...

Hearing the faint, the chickadee cry
      Of root that molders,
      Of branch bent, and leaf that withers,
And little brown seed that does not die.

27 November 2016

First Sunday of Advent

This year the season of Advent is the longest period it can be, because Christmas Day is on a Sunday. If you are a Christian, it is a season akin to Lent, in which you prepare yourself spiritually for the holiday. It's also time for more secular pursuits: baking cookies, shopping, attending Christmas plays or presentations, taking in a concert, and enjoying yourself with friends. I have a craft show that takes place on the first weekend of December, and we always attend the annual performance of the Atlanta Radio Theatre Company's Atlanta Christmas.

I also like to go to downtown Marietta right before Christmas to see the stores dressed up in their Christmas finery.

What is your favorite Advent activity?

What is Advent? | The United Methodist Church

The Voice: The Season of Advent

The Liturgical Season of Advent

Vox: Advent Explained

Where Did the Season of Advent Come From?

24 November 2016

By the time the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade began (well, with a few minutes' help from the DVR), I had walked Tucker, had breakfast, and had time to get royally frustrated: I could not find my Christmas cards. They finally turned up in the spare room, where I'd had them in my hand while putting away something else. I've become such a textbook example of what Pam Young and Peggy Jones used to call sidetracked. So that's what I did while watching the Muppets open the parade and all the Broadway acts dance by and finally the parade and the bands and the balloons stream by. Seeing Felix the Cat come along (a faithful reproduction of the original giant balloon) and hearing the theme song play was an exercise in nostalgia all in itself. Tony Bennett and the Parade are both 90 years old this year, but poor Tony was looking a bit seedy when he sang with Miss Piggy.

Watched most of the dog show while wrestling with registering with Office Depot so I could pick up some Black Friday specials today and just pick them up tomorrow, ditto with Staples. Needless to say, it didn't work well and I was suddenly racing to get dressed to take our goodies over to the Lucyshyns for Thanksgiving dinner. James had made glazed, roasted carrots; a corn casserole; and a cucumber and tomato salad. The GPS took us on an inexplicable ride through lesser streets when we could have just gone through Sugarloaf Parkway, but it was no matter, as it was a beautiful, clear day if somewhat warm.

It was so warm half the crowd was sitting outside and playing fetch with Cole, the dog. I spent a little time outside listening to Juanita talk about her berserk boss and other things, and some inside, where I said hi to Jake (Nancy was too ill to come) and met Kristine's sister Dorothy, and noshed on appetizers (relish tray, vegetables and dip, pita and some type of potato dip).

We had a huge spread: three kinds of turkey (baked, Cajun, and smoked), pot roast, glazed ham, mashed potatoes (all of which was eaten up tooth and toenail), the corn and carrots and salad we brought, crab louis, two kinds of stuffing, cranberry sauce, rolls, sweet potatos with marshmallows, green beans, creamed corn, and other things I've just plain forgotten, and then after dinner we sat down and chatted with Phyllis and Leigh and Clair.

By the time we left it was dark enough to see burgeoning Christmas trees and lights popping up everywhere. There was a good deal of traffic, but none delayed, and we were able to come home and relax a bit before going to bed early.

Today I am thankful for...
  • James making it out of the hospital in one piece
  • Tucker, who makes us laugh
  • Snowy, who gives us the gift of music
  • Our friends and family both here and far away
  • Our home and all its hygge
  • The books that keep us dreaming
  • The work that buys us books
  • Summer finally being gone, gone, gone
  • And for all those who serve: military, firefighters, police, doctors, nurses, social workers, and so many more—you do so much for so little and fewer thanks

23 November 2016

Twas the Day Before Thanksgiving...

It has been a busy, busy morning here. JoAnn decided to start their Black Friday sale on Wednesday, so I had gotten up not soon after James, dressed, had a little milk and grabbed a packet of peanuts, and headed to Kennesaw. A fluorescent light James used in his modeling had died, so we recycled the old one last Saturday and I picked up a new Ottlight for him as a Christmas gift, and bought myself a watercolor pad with a coupon. I would like to come back on Friday, though.

Since it was still before nine, I stopped at the nearby Office Max to see what might be interesting there tomorrow and bought a desk calendar for work, since apparently no one sent me a message that they were ordering calendars this year. I got a very interesting coupon on the receipt: 30 percent off a chairmat, which we both really need.

What I needed now was breakfast. Alas, Chick-Fil-A has discontinued my favorite breakfast, the #8, oatmeal and a fruit cup. Thanks...the only low-cal entry they had and they killed it. So I went to Panera and had "power almond quinoa oatmeal," which was okay, but a little too sweet for me. I also didn't think much of the "power." I was hungry again by 10:30.

Stopped by Barnes & Noble to see if there were any new books out (nada for now and didn't buy anything because there's a coupon for the weekend and all the magazines are 30 percent off), then stopped at the post office to get Christmas stamps before heading to Publix to pick up lunch. They had a James favorite, chicken and wild rice soup, so I got two for supper and picked up a baguette to make a sandwich when I got home. A quick stop at Staples to see if there's anything of interest for Friday, and then I made one final stop at Office Max, since I couldn't find a mailing tube at the post office. And now I have another coupon for another chair mat to boot.

It wasn't lunchtime quite yet, though, because I'd gotten a call from James saying he had forgotten his insulin this morning. I stopped at home quick enough to refrigerate the soup and played Mercury with the insulin.

I had some preserves and baguette for lunch with a milk chaser and spent the afternoon watching Lassie episodes on YouTube.

Incidentally, one of the things I found at Publix was the Thanksgiving newspaper. Now I don't have to go to the QT before the Macy's Parade tomorrow. Something else to give thanks for.

(Later on: supper, a special on the 90th anniversary of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, and then some pre-recorded specials, including The Thanksgiving Treasure.)

In the meantime, I've had a good read with this new book:

Thanksgiving: The Holiday at the Heart of the American Experience, Melanie Kirkpatrick
It's always nice to find a Thanksgiving book for adults out that is not a cookbook. This one is a history of the holiday written after the author visited a high school where most of the students are immigrants. She wanted to examine all the aspects of the holiday, not just the tired Pilgrim-and-Indians story that's trotted out every year (and believe it or not, a story that no one outside of Plymouth, MA, knew about until the mid 1800s). That is a part of the holiday, but not all of it; for a long time it was the holiday that substituted for Christmas in New England, since the strict Puritans and their successors did not celebrate it.

Kirkpatrick touches on all aspects of Thanksgiving, including an entire chapter on football, which has been a Thanksgiving tradition for almost 150 years (and it's possible a form of football might even been played at that classic "first Thanksgiving"). She also delves into the unique Plymouth holiday Forefather's Day, and the Native American Day of Mourning—and of course the 1930s controversy over "Franksgiving," when FDR dared to move the holiday up one week to improve Christmas sales in the Depression.

The final third of the book are different Thanksgiving readings from authors from George Washington to Laura Ingalls Wilder, Abraham Lincoln to Billy Graham, and then some vintage recipes from Thanksgivings gone by. I wish they'd included a Marlborough pie recipe as they kept mentioning this vintage dessert throughout the book. (Recipe from "New England Today.") Possibly one of the best things about this volume are the little watercolor-and-ink spot drawings as chapter headers and between sections of chapters which are also used on the endpapers. It lends a special touch to this neat little volume.

20 November 2016

Stir Up! Sunday

"Stir up, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people, that they plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded.”

Traditionally, this collect is read at services on this last Sunday in Ordinary Time (also known as the Feast of Christ the King). In Great Britain, it was the signal that it was time to make your Christmas puddings. Toss away your visions of Jello pudding; this is a spicy, dense cake filled with raisins, citron, and nuts which is steamed rather than baked. In days when dessert was few and far between unless you were fairly well-to-do or wealthy, even poor families would scrape together the few extra pennies and shillings it might take to have their Christmas pudding. Since after it is steamed it is soaked in brandy, and the brandy needs some weeks in a cool location to "set" into the mixture, it was made several weeks before Christmas and then warmed up to serve with some hard sauce for the topping.

To thoroughly follow traditions, each person in the household should be allowed to stir the pudding and it should be stirred from "east to west" in honor of the journey of the Magi.

Christmas 2016: Stir Up Sunday – What It Is and How to Celebrate It

Pudding Recipe for Stir Up Sunday

Good To Know: Stir Up Sunday

The Story of Santa Klaus, William S. Walsh
In 1961, Omnigraphics reprinted this charming little Christmas volume from 1909 in which author Walsh takes the threads from many cultures to explain how thin, ascetic Saint Nicholas became the children's friend, chubby and jolly Santa Klaus [sic] and how other legends inspired the modern traditions of items like the Christmas tree and gift giving. He takes us to the ancient Turkey where he discusses all the legends surrounding Nicholas of Potara, later Bishop of Myra, who became St. Nicholas, patron saint of children, pawnbrokers, sailors, Russians, and a good dozen other things. Christmas celebrations go back to the Church's effort to overlay the pagan celebrations of Saturnalia with a layer of Christian respectability and giving old traditions new meaning. While the Christmas tree has certain legends surrounding it—St. Winfred chopping down the oak tree to reveal an evergreen, Martin Luther decorating a small fir in imitation of the beauty he saw walking home one winter's night—Walsh goes even further back to the Scandinavian sacred tree Yggdrasil. Also discussed in charming Edwardian prose is the journey of the Magi, the Christmas tree's journey from the Germanic countries to Great Britain and the United States, the French custom of Twelfth Cake, and the story of La Befana/Baboushka.

This book is well worth finding at a used book store or book sale for its old-fashioned history of Christmas through the "modern times" of 1909. There are many black and white illustrations of famous artwork having to do with the Nativity and newspaper clippings, however, the former are rather muddy. Luckily this is 2016 and you can look up any one of them online to be seen in detail.

15 November 2016

Old Advent

Originally both Advent and Lent were of the same length, forty days, and a time of fasting and prayer in preparation for the great holiday ahead.
"The word 'Advent' is from the Latin 'Adventus,' which means 'coming.' Advent is the beginning of a new liturgical year (in the Western churches), and encompasses the span of time from the fourth Sunday before Christmas, until the Nativity of Our Lord is celebrated. The first Sunday of Advent is the Sunday nearest the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle (which is November 30th), and so it will always fall somewhere between November 27th at the earliest and December 3rd at the latest. The liturgical color for this season is purple (Usually a deep purple as opposed to the lighter, red-violet shade of purple associated with Lent).
Like Lent, Advent is a preparatory season. It has significance because it is a season of looking forward and waiting for something greater; both for the annual celebration of the event of Christ's birth, and for the time when Christ will come again." *
Today, of course, Advent is simply a great rush of shopping to get "the best" gift ever for someone.

This year the Advent season is at its longest since Christmas is on a Sunday, and in a few days it will be "Stir-Up Sunday," the day you are supposed to bake and then put away your Christmas puddings "in the larder" for the upcoming holiday.

In the meantime, a take on classic Victorian Christmas literature for the first day of Old Advent:

Away in a Manger, Rhys Bowen
Former "female detective" Molly Murphy—now Molly Murphy Sullivan with a toddler son—is doing some early Christmas shopping with her young ward Bridie when they come upon a tiny blonde girl singing Christmas carols with the voice of an angel. Bridie is intrigued by the girl, and in the process of being kind to the child, they meet her brother, find out the children must earn money under the tyrannical rule of their "Aunt Hettie," and notice that both of the youngsters speak with cultured British accents. Molly can't understand for the life of her how these two ended up on the streets—but if you are familiar with the Molly Murphy mystery series you know she won't leave the situation alone, even though her husband Daniel, a newly-minted, unbribable police captain, warns her that they may be part of a confidence ring.

While the usual Molly regulars appear, including Daniel's imperious mother and Molly's loving but eccentric neighbors Sid and Gus, Bowen has done this one one better by writing it in the plot fashion of a Victorian Christmas melodrama, with the primary characters, two well-bred children of evident aristocratic heritage, immediately in place. So don't be surprised when some of the villains of the piece appear Dickensian or sound like they come from a 1900 novel (this means you can pick out one of the bad guys just by how that person is described), all wrapped up in modern sensibility. Just sit back and enjoy the Victorian machinations and the evocative descriptions of Christmas in New York at the turn of the last century: slippery sidewalks, crossing sweepers, the new technology of mechanical figures in store Christmas display windows, mistletoe, buying a fresh Christmas tree from a streetcorner vendor, hot chestnuts, cold sleet, home-baked Christmas goodies (even from Sid and Gus!), charity, and a character losing hope...

And of course there's the usual massive coincidence as well. Never mind: it's all about family and finding a home and making happiness out of the small things. This one has jingle bells upon it.

* from aquinasandmore.com

11 November 2016

St. Martin's Day

St. Martin's Day, also known as "Martinmas" or "Martinstag," is a celebration based around St. Martin of Tours, a soldier who later became a saint. He is best known for having given half his cloak to a beggar who was thinly clad on a freezing day. He later left the military and devoted his life to helping the poor. In Europe the holiday is celebrated with lanterns and roast goose.

Back when the season of Advent, like Lent, was forty days and involved fasting, Martinmas was a last feast before November 15. In some parts of Germany, "Here comes St. Martin on his white horse," means it's about to snow.

More about Martinmas:

About St. Martin of Tours

St. Martin's Day Traditions in Bavaria


Fish Eaters: Martinmas

St. Martin's Day in Ireland

St. Martin's Day (mouse over the photos to see the full images)

And appropriate for a Martinmas Day:

Christmas 1914: The First World War at Home and Abroad, John Hudson
I found this book in a discount book catalog and ordered it thinking it might be another book about the Christmas Truce, judging by the soldiers on the cover, and was pleasantly surprised to find it addressed Christmas in Great Britain (specifically in England) in all its aspects, including the Christmas Truce and also about the famous Princess Mary box, a gift that was sent to all of the soldiers serving (I was surprised on finding out after all these years how truly tiny it was!). In the process, it covered aspects of World War I that I had never heard of before, including zeppelin raids on the famous British beach Scarborough and other North Sea sites. Chapters are devoted to members of football/cricket clubs and military schools who joined up together only to have their ranks decimated by the war, the efforts of British women and girls (and even elderly men and invalided males) to knit items to keep their "boys" warm in the trenches (this includes a discussion of "trench foot" that would have horrified females of that day), Christmas fĂȘtes given for the soldiers, Belgian refugees on British soil, meeting Germans who had once been employed in England, and other memories wistful (families celebrating without a son or slon-in-law or father) or terrifying (early, uncensored reports of the carnage). Vintage postcards and photographs fill out this unique little book. As a history buff I enjoyed this.

25 October 2016

Rudolph Day, October 2016

"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.

And it's now just two months until Christmas! What are you doing to prepare? Perhaps reading some Christmas books?

A Country House Christmas, John Chandler
Fans of Downton Abbey, plus the older British dramas like Upstairs, Downstairs, The Duchess of Duke Street, and Flambards would probably love this compilation volume from Sutton (part of their "Christmas in..." series of British memories). Passages are taken from the real-life country house reminisces of Phyllis Sandemann, Harold MacMillan, Kenneth Grahame, and Hilaire Belloc among others; fiction in country houses is supplied by the pens of Charles Dickens and Washington Irving (and a nice skewer of the country house set is given in the humorous "Christmas at Boulton Wynfevers"), plus there's the jaw-dropping tale of a real-life mad Christmas Eve in the 1930s delivering "Milord's" gifts ("Pheasants by Taxi"); and many-day-by-day diaries of guests in country homes (and a letter to her mother from one harried hostess). Old favorites like "The Mistletoe Bough" and Robert Herrick's classic Candlemas poetry, plus vintage illustrations, photographs of country estates, and Randolph Caldecott art round out this nostalgic volume.

Christmas Ornament Legends from Old World Christmas 
The Old World Christmas company supplies traditional glass ornaments in Christmas shops all over the country (including The Incredible Christmas Place in Pigeon Forge, TN, Bronner's Christmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth, MI, and the Yankee Candle Flagship Store in Deerfield, MA), made in Germany by third- and fourth-generation craftsmen (but at an affordable price as opposed to Radko ornaments). This little gift book is worth finding for a dollar or two; it mixes old Victorian "scrap" illustrations (mostly of St. Nicholas/Father Christmas/Santa Claus) with pretty full-color photographs of their ornaments that have meaning behind them (grapes for fruitfulness, for instance, or rabbits for good luck) or rare ornaments like the "John Bull" or "Spark Plug" figurals. Cute if you can find one at a reasonable price.

Don't you love the Santa Claus at left? I really love the Victorian Santa Clauses in their hooded robes rather than the modern Santa in his fire-engine red pants, jacket and tassel cap. Some Victorian Santa Clauses even dressed in other colors than red—palest of blues, off-white, green—as shown in these Google images. Even better, a search on "vintage st. nicholas illustrations" brings this delightful result.

Did you know that two of the oldest Christmas songs—not Christmas carols or hymns about the birth of the Christ Child, but songs about the secular side of the celebration—are both about Santa Claus? "Up on the Housetop" was written in 1864 and "Jolly Old St. Nicholas" in 1881. ("Jingle Bells" was written in 1857, but isn't about Christmas—it's a song about taking your girl out alone on a fast ride, as later generations would use a sports car.)

13 October 2016

A Country Pick'ns Thanksgiving

More years ago than I can remember, we have been going to the Yellow Daisy Festival, and one of my favorite vendors there are a couple named Tom and Jan Messenger out of Kansas who run a craft business called Country Pick'ns. They make little shadow boxes and then the tiny things that go in them, all with a country theme, and sell them at craft shows all around the country. They have several themes: Christmas/winter, camping/cabins, autumn/Hallowe'en, summer/beach, patriotic, sewing, gardening, kitchen/cooking, farm, and homespun/housekeeping. The "shadow boxes" themselves are vertical or horizontal, and some look like bookshelves, but all are in miniature. Over the years, I've bought several sets from them:

Previous Purchases

The "Me" Shelf Completed

In addition, when my friends Mike and Jen got married, they went camping in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for their honeymoon, and I did a Country Pick'ns shadowbox as their wedding present, with a deer, a canoe, a campfire, a lantern, and a few other appropriate items.

The one shadowbox I've always wanted to make, however, was a Thanksgiving-themed one, but they didn't have one. I've been thinking and thinking about this for several years now, and when we went to Yellow Daisy this year I went through all the items, bit by bit, to see what I could work with. Below is what I came home with.

As you can see, most of the items have a general fall theme. The closest shadow box background that I could find that would work with Thanksgiving, however, was actually a Hallowe'en-themed item and originally had a goofy-looking cat behind the pumpkins. I took the back off and painted it out before I took this photo. Then I went online and found a cartoon turkey (at left) that was the closest I could find that would approximate the Country Pick'ns style. I cut a slit along the top of the pumpkins in the background image and slid the turkey in.

The bread on the breadboard, the pumpkin and "bittersweet" in the pail, the second pumpkin, the corn in the basket with the leaf on it, the pie, and the "harvest blessings" sign I could use "as is," since they all related to harvest and feasting, but the rest would need a little fixing.

The witch hat I sawed the top off, and also the little curl on each side, and painted the whole black with a brown band and a gold buckle to be a "Pilgrim hat." Yeah, I know Pilgrims didn't wear hats like that, despite the pictures, but it's part of the iconography. Even the Mass Pike has the stereotypical Pilgrim hat as a symbol.

The chicken I took and painted its body brown like a turkey and gave it a big wattle. It still looks chicken-y; I guess we can call it a ticken? :-) Or a churky? Whatever.

I took the autumn lady, clipped the brims off her hat, and then painted what was left of her hat white, giving it some bonnet lines with a drawing pen, and gave her a big white collar as in the paintings of 17th century woman, along with black shoes with buckles, plus I darkened her skirt to a darker autumn color.

The "jump in the leaves" plaque I popped the leaves off with an X-acto knife (losing one in the process) and completely repainted, then glued the leaves back on. (I had to buy extra leaves through an online craft store since Michaels quit carrying them. I peppered a few more on the shadow box frame itself.)

If I had it to do over again I would not have used such a wide drawing pen. It doesn't quite look like Jan Messenger's work, although I tried to duplicate her style as much as possible. I think I'm also going to borrow some matte-finish from James so the repainted areas—I only had gloss paint—won't shine so much.

But...here's the result. I have my Thanksgiving shelf at last.

11 October 2016

Happy Hygge!

Do you know about hygge? it's a Scandinavian concept with an "emphasis on the delights of small pleasures slowly taken." There's summer hygge as well, but in winter it comes into its own, "all about candelight, wood piles, open fires, warm socks, felt slippers and cosy blankets...[i]t's also about cherishing the magic of autumn and winter—from wild walks along stormy beaches to stargazing in clear winter skies to celebrating the year's first frost" and then coming home to warm drinks, good food, and the warmth of fire and friends.

Here are some books about hygge:

The Cozy Life

Hygge: The Complete Guide

Hygge is what some magazines today are calling "mindfulness"—to slow down and appreciate all the good things in your life, even if it's something so small as seeing a new bird, watching a beautiful leaf fall, eating a crisp fall apple, or doing some tiny thing. It can be translated into a way of cooking or a way of decorating, but that's not really "hygge"; it's truly the thought that counts. One of my favorite new magazines, "The Simple Things," tries to celebrate the idea of hygge in every issue: a handful of bright flowers in a drinking glass, a simple meal with friends, reading a favorite book, sitting by a fire and sipping tea.

This fall and winter forget the competitive Christmas shopping and enjoy some hygge!

Incidentally, it's pronounced "hue-gah."

(The quotes in the first paragraph are from the September 2016 issue of "The Simple Things.")