31 December 2003

Seeing Out the Old Year

Well, here it is New Year's Eve and we're at home. Remember James' cold, the one he caught at work. Well, on Monday it was evident it had been transferred to me.

I slept most of the day yesterday; when I didn't sleep, my nose did a remarkable imitation of a faucet stuck in the open position. Today I had to go to the doctor anyway, to get my pills renewed; the doctor also prescribed an OTC med called "Mucinex" (how appropriate!).

In surfing through programming tonight, we watched a bit of Boomerang's "Hadji New Year" Jonny Quest marathon, and then switched over to Fox Movie Channel for a special I'd heard about. For the past several New Year's Eves, Fox has been doing a marathon of The Poseidon Adventure (they do a full-screen version, widescreen version, and "annotated" widescreen version with production notes at the bottom), but this year they were adding a documentary called Cult Culture: The Poseidon Adventure, about Poseidon Adventure fans. Boy, and they say science fiction fans are weird.

These folks had a convention on the decks of the Queen Mary, where the opening scenes of the movie were filmed, talk about their favorite scenes, and even have produced a musical spoof of the film. It was wonderful, silly and entertaining all at once.

28 December 2003

Someone Noted What Day It Was

The Discovery Channel is running a special about King Herod tonight: how appropriate since today is Childermas, or Holy Innocents Day, when Herod ordered the slaughter of boys two years old or less to try to kill the baby Jesus. According to one of my Christmas books, this day is considered unlucky and you should not transact business or start any new projects on this date.

26 December 2003

St. Stephen's Day/Boxing Day

Well, neither of us did anything much for "the feast of Stephen": James woke up with a violent sore throat and having had little sleep because of a stuffy nose, stayed home from work to ingest soup and lozenges; I had laundry to do and some painting projects I wanted to work on. The exciting part of the day was chasing a garbage truck down the street. While working on the painting projects (two small shelf boxes that I would like to go in the hall bathroom, a corner shelf for the den, and a formerly black frame turned apple red to frame an apple print for the kitchen), I watched some of fifth season M*A*S*H (my birthday gift from James) and an episode each on the three Lassie TV series DVDs I'd found in WalMart.

25 December 2003

Christmas Day at the Videos, Part 4

This is the last one: a real Christmas miracle occured--the folks at IBM decided after one call came in all morning that they didn't need a whole crew there and sent James home early.

The last film in the queue is one of my all-time favorites, The House Without a Christmas Tree. This is another non-DVD affair highly sought on e-Bay since CBS quit producing the videos several years back. I've seen some comment on Amazon.com that it "looks funny." That's because CBS produced it on the cheap in the 70s on the same videotape they recorded their soap operas on. I've always thought it would come out lovely run through one of those Avid editing machines, the same type they used to give Remember WENN such a nice forties Technicolor look.

The performances are so spot-on in this show I can believe I'm looking through a time-machine's window at something that actually happened in December of 1946. I love Addie--she's smart and resourceful with all the chuzpah I always wished I had. But Jason Robards is superb--his embittered James Mills is on the surface hateful, but the hurt and suppressed love evident in his manner and his eyes saves the character and makes him more than a cardboard villain.

The 1940s atmosphere is a big plus and this has yet another memorable score by Arthur Rubenstein.

And now we're off to dinner! Merry Christmas!!!!!

Christmas Day at the Videos, Part 3

Just finished watching The Gathering, with Ed Asner and Maureen Stapleton. As many Emmy awards and excellent reviews as this movie got when it first premiered in the 1970s, you'd think it would be a staple still, but it's hardly seen anymore.

It's a sad but ultimately joyous story of Adam Thornton, who became estranged from his wife--and most of his family--four years earlier after an argument. His older son has become as arrogant and independent as he is, his older daughter is a hard-nosed political activist, his younger daughter has a happy marriage although her husband's business is floundering, and he hasn't seen his youngest son in years, after he fled to Canada to avoid the draft. Now he has 90 days or less to live and he wants to make amends. With help from his still-loving wife, that dream comes true.

Besides the wonderful performances by Asner, Stapleton, John Randolph, Veronica Hamel, Gregory Harrison, Lawrence Pressman and the rest of the cast, there's a great musical score by John Barry (there's a particular lilting motif that shows up mid-film that I love), the "firework scene," and real winter scenery rather than ersatz snow, with Chagrin Falls and Hudson, Ohio, standing in for "somewhere in New England."

Incidentally, whatever studio produced this movie is losing big bucks not remastering it to DVD. Someone asked me where they could get a copy and I immediately directed them to e-Bay and checked it out myself. The copies of the professional videotape, still in wrap, are going for $40-$50; even previously watched tapes are going for $35.

Christmas Day at the Videos, Part 2

My favorite episode of The Waltons: "The Best Christmas" was next. I enjoyed the entire series of Waltons, except perhaps the final season, but the first six or seven years were the best.

It's Christmas 1937, and Olivia confides to Grandma, with Elizabeth overhearing, that she wants this holiday to be the best one, as the family may be scattered in future years. So everyone plans for a wonderful Christmas Eve dinner, despite the icy weather. But Grandma and Grandpa are stranded in Charlottesville visiting a sick friend, Ben is trapped at Yancy Tucker's house, Jason and John are helping clear away a tree that has crashed through the church roof, Jim-Bob is late because a friend he's invited for dinner was primping, Erin is still on duty at the switchboard because Fanny Tatum has not returned--and John-Boy, Mary Ellen and Curt, along with Verdie and Harley are busy rescuing Miss Fanny and her niece from their car, which has run off the road into a frozen pond, leaving Olivia and Elizabeth to hold the fort at home. It's a very warm, loving story that ends with a teary reunion on Christmas morning.

The pond rescue scenes are especially good: I know this was probably filmed in August on a hot soundstage, but the snow and ice is so well done that I get the chills just watching John-Boy and Harley wade out into the cold water.

I have a humorous memory of this episode from when it first aired, stemming from Mary Ellen and Curt's treatment of frostbite; they began with applications of cold water, gradually getting warmer--dozens of people apparently wrote to TV Guide, and a representative number were printed in their letters column, screaming that that was not the way to treat frostbite! Some of them were quite upset that The Waltons would "mislead" people into thinking this was correct. It was so stupid--of course we knew in the 1970s that frostbite should not be treated that way, but the show took place in 1937; that's the way frostbite was treated then. Had they used the 70s method of treatment, it would have been anachronistic! Duh!

After this was over, I switched the TV to WPIX to watch the Yule Log while I phoned first James--I was everyone's first call of the day--and then my mother, who was getting ready to go to my cousin's house for Christmas dinner.

Christmas Day at the Videos, Part 1

James wobbled off to work--he had no temp, only a sore throat--fortified with tea, a turkey sandwich, and some snacks--and I wandered into the spare room to sit with Bandit and watch The Christmas That Almost Wasn't. This is a thoroughly silly film, suitable for playing if you feel as if you're going to doze off, although I didn't. Rossano Brazzi plays a comic-opera villain called Phineas T. Prune, who hates Christmas and children, the sets are European gingerbread, and Paul Tripp spreads holiday cheer simply with his smile.

While the movie ran, Bandit told me a long budgie story (he lives a very full life).

24 December 2003

Life Happens When You're Making Christmas Plans

James ended up staying home today; he'd been getting more and more tired and sore throated all week. It's not the flu, just the creeping crud that was going around and finally got to him. I went out for a little while this morning: spent a couple of Linens'n'Things coupons on some kitchen gadgets we needed, then spent much too much at the "Giant Book Sale," mostly on "For Better or For Worse," "Baby Blues," "Fox Trot," "Mutts," and "Rose is Rose" compilations, plus the newest Jill Paton Walsh Lord Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane homage.

Thank God for the billboard on the way home, or I might have forgotten to stop at Harry's for the bread for our usual Christmas Eve feast.

Since James was home, we first played one of our favorites, John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together and then we settled in to watch the DVD of the extended version of The Two Towers, since we want to see Return of the King some time this weekend. It's not exactly Christmasy :-) but it was a nice thing to be able to do together.

(Before we watched Two Towers, I had James hook up the subwoofer. The new receiver has six speakers, right, left, center, surround left, surround right, and the subwoofer. Since we're going to be shifting the TV and the furniture around, I thought it silly to hitch up all the speakers now. But for Towers we really needed the subwoofer. Oh, boy, does it "woof." The funniest thing was watching Willow. The first time something rumbled onscreen she stepped up to the subwoofer, sniffing suspiciously, then she glanced at the center speaker, then back at the subwoofer, then something really growled and she ran backwards, barking at the top of her lungs! She did it twice before she got used to the subsonics. It really did make the floor rumble!)

Oh, during the Muppets someone knocked on the door; it turned out to be Steve, the guy who cuts our lawn. He brought us an amaryllis plant. I'm usually death to plants and we really have no sunny spot for it, but we're going to try it in the living room and see what happens.

I was half watching Towers and half reading one of my favorite books to read at Christmas, Kate Seredy's The Open Gate. It's not really a Christmas story, but a Christmas event figures in it and it ends the Christmas after the Pearl Harbor attack. Every time I read this book I have the uncontrollable urge to go out to live on a farm despite one of the lead character's admonition of the harshness--alongside the rewards--of farm life.

It's a joyous book, about the Preston family (parents, daughter and son, and the father's mother), who in June 1941 head out to a New York lake resort after Dad loses his job. Through a series of accidents and a little bit of machination by the grandmother, the Prestons end up buying a beautiful but run-down old farm in Orange County. Gran, homesick for the farm life she had when her sons were young, is determined to keep the farm--and she convinces the rest of the family as well. Soon they befriend the neighbors, an elderly couple raising their grandson after his parents were killed on Christmas Eve years earlier, and a Slovakian couple whose roots are truly in the soil.

Of course the inevitable happens on December 7, but the family, like the entire country, proceeds with resolve, and a special Christmas gift makes the first wartime holiday a special one for the Prestons and their new friends.

This all accompanied by Kate Seredy's delightful illustrations!

For dinner we had the usual spaghetti, thick with pepperoni, pork, and meatballs, and then "had Christmas" in the living room with the fire going. James received a plethora of books and a paper airplane calendar; I discovered, besides a copy of The Goodbye Girl and the much coveted Amelia Peabody's Egypt, that I had some pretty baubles, a carnivorous rabbit and a sheep in wolf's clothing (yes, you read that right). I'd seen the latter at DragonCon and laughed over it; James found it in an online catalog.

This should have been it, but we also baked a chocolate-chip chocolate cake to take with us for dessert tomorrow. (As of writing this, we haven't decanted it yet. Wish us luck...)

James is planning to go to work tomorrow, so to that end we are not attending Midnight Mass this year. This has made Bandit extremely happy--this means he can cling to my neck and chirble longer.

23 December 2003

Now That Smells Like Christmas...

Slept late this morning and really enjoyed it; actually awoke with some energy!

I spent the late morning/early afternoon making cookies. It was like a lovely flashback to my childhood although my cookie-baking is curtailed compared to my mom's. I made my favorite of the holiday cookies, wine biscuits (recipe here). I used the last of my hearty burgundy and haven't been able to find anymore. Looks like I'll have to visit my mom again just to buy more wine! (Geez! Twist my arm!) Plain old burgundy just doesn't do it.

Mom used to also bake almond bars, molasses cookies, and butterballs (which for some reason they call "Danish wedding cookies" here). I loved the molasses cookies next best, but the only year I tried to make them I ended up with a gluey dough that literally had to be scraped off my fingers. I keep forgetting, when I'm visiting home, to rummage around in the recipe box--an old cigar box--in which lives the classic cookie recipes hand-written on white or blue paper and find the definitive version of the molasses cookie recipe.

Mom baked many dozens of cookies, some which found their way on paper plates to be exchanged with relatives who gave us their wine biscuits, almond bars, etc. She also made them for my best friends' mother, other friends' families, and my godparents (both sets). If we were lucky, someone in the family would make wandi's, a friable, sugar-scattered confection that was twisted on itself and then deep-fried (the closest equivalent I can think of is a funnel cake, but that's not it either: funnel cakes are chewy and these are thin and break the moment you bite into them, showering you with powdered sugar). Wandi's are difficult to make and the older I grew, the less the aunts baked them, so they became the ultimate treat.

When the cookies were done, I ran out for a few groceries and discovered myself suddenly infected with Christmas spirit. Much better than the flu, trust me. :-) Came home to start making spaghetti sauce. Since I don't have my own home made tomato base, I start with a base of three jars of Classico d'Napoli sauce, tomato and basil, no sugar added (read my lips: real Italian spaghetti sauce has no sugar in it), add water since neither of us likes it that thick, and add a cut-up stick of pepperoni, chunks of pork, and meatballs.

It's been simmering for two hours now and has another hour to go. The house smells heavenly, of wine biscuits and "the gravy." Now that smells like Christmas! I sit and sniff as I watch Ask the Manager Christmas specials. But surely Heaven smells of spaghetti sauce, fresh-baked Italian bread, and wine biscuits...

22 December 2003

Back in Time

Something different tonight: a collection of silent films originally recorded from Turner Movie Classics; here they are collected on DVD: A Christmas Past - Vintage Holiday Films. The earliest film in the collection was from 1897 (which I believe is "The Night Before Christmas" [at Amazon they have it listed as 1905]) and the latest being "Santa Claus" from 1925. Most of them are rather cute, all are fascinating, especially "Winter Straw Ride," which depicts a group of young women going on a sleigh ride and then chasing the boys through the snow; they seemed to have so much fun in a simple manner in those days! "A Trap for Santa" and "The Adventure of the Wrong Santa Claus" I found the most interesting: in the first, an abandoned wife and her two children discover a special surprise on Christmas Eve; the other is a mystery story with the great detective "Octavius," sort of a cross between Sherlock Holmes and a young Peter Wimsey--one with a very funny ending to boot. "Santa Claus" is of note because part of it was actually filmed at the North Pole, showing actual reindeer, polar bears, and walruses.

I would suggest, should you catch this again on TCM or if you buy the DVD, to do as someone on Amazon.com suggested and turn down the sound. These were probably originally scored to some wonderful theatre organ music; any original scores that went with these productions were replaced with a dissonant mix of bells and really screechy violins that occasionally sound as if they're playing a Christmas carol or two. Pity someone couldn't have resurrected the original scores and found a nice Wurlitzer to play them on!

21 December 2003

Small Specials, Big Lights, and Radio Friends

Watched both The Little Drummer Boy (on tape, since the DVD copy is so stinky) and Mickey's Christmas Carol tonight--the latter is one of James' favorites. I love the song.

We also, since we won't have time Christmas Eve, went out looking at some Christmas lights. We drove around the neighborhood for a few minutes, but our local "glitter gulch" a few streets away was muted--I guess someone forgot to flip the switch.

So we drove out to Buckhead via Mount Paran Road to check out this year's display at the Albritton House. The tree is all green this year with a funky multicolor star (unlike the angel shown in the pictures). The ground cover lights are a mixture of purple, blue, and green that looks very cool. It would be nice to try on our own porch had the idiots who built the house bothered to put an outside power plug in the front!!!

Sad news, though: Mr. Albritton was outside talking to the spectators and it's their last year doing this, as they're moving soon. :-(

On the corner of West Wieuca and Powers Ferry they had a living nativity; several sheep grazing about the manger and the Magi pointing out the Star as we passed by.

We came home through my old homebound route, West Paces Ferry Road. West Paces was the best part of the day, except in summer when it took twenty minutes to inch down a couple miles of road due to the traffic and even with the A/C on you were broiling. This is the swank part of town, just like Mount Paran, with big expensive houses. James and I comment--as my parents and I used to comment--about how the folks with money seem to under-decorate while the middle-class folks go all out. A big wreath and a spotlight on it seem to do for a lot of these moneyed folks, while the little house on Pat Mell behind the Eckerds has lights everywhere, inflatable figures, and lighted figures.

Maybe because the folks with money have an image to live up to and can't be caught with tacky home decorations? Fiddle--they can keep their plain wreaths and white candles; I'm glad I don't have an image to consider!

Came home just in time for our annual Remember WENN online Christmas party. Folks bring 1940s era "virtual food" and we gab until a certain time, when every one of us who have WENN's Christmas episode on tape queue it up and try to watch it at the same time. Of course some folks are a bit behind or ahead, which makes it funnier.

At the end is a beautiful song called "You Make It Christmas" which Bandit and I always "dance" to. (Well, I twirl slowly and he sits on my hand looking puzzled, but he enjoys the attention.) Every year I thank God for giving us yet another dance together.

20 December 2003

Anachronisms Plus

Between chores today sat down to rest my aching back and watched both eps on the "Little House on the Prairie Christmas" DVD. As I'd mentioned before, the original "Christmas at Plum Creek" has one small anachronism in it, but otherwise is a charming, heart-tugging episode.

I watched "A Christmas They Never Forgot" for the first time in a long time and it's actually worse than I remembered. The characters in "Plum Creek" that seemed so natural are forced here; Melissa Gilbert was such a charming performer in the first story but her lines, as well as too many of the other characters' lines, seemed fake and false, and that hurts the entire story worst of all.

The premise of "Forgot" is that the Ingalls family, including the fictitious adopted Albert, James and Cassandra, and Laura and her new husband Almanzo are gathered at the Ingalls home on Christmas Eve. Hester Sue, the family's African-American friend, shows up with a surprise: Mary and her husband Adam. Lo and behold, as they celebrate, a blizzard blows up and traps them all in the little house on Plum Creek.

As one by one the children go to bed, the adults talk about memorable Christmases: Ma about her first Christmas with her new stepfather, Almanzo about the Christmas his brother told him there was no Santa Claus, a flashback to the Ingalls' Christmas in Kansas (from the Little House on the Prairie pilot movie), and finally Hester's memory of Christmas as a slave child.

The flashback scene is the best: it's taken directly from the Little House on the Prairie novel, and Victor French is delightful as the occasionally uncouth Mr. Edwards. Of the newer segments, only Hester Sue's is vaguely interesting: other black children have told her Santa Claus is a white man and doesn't care about her; her father borrows a Santa Claus suit and delivers an angel doll to her (sent by the plantation owner's daughter) to prove to her that Santa comes in all colors. Carefully skirted, of course, is the fact that Hester Sue and her parents are slaves.

For someone who has read the books, the first two stories are ludicrous. Young Caroline misses her father so much that she hates her stepfather and talks back to both her mother and stepfather; kindly Mr. Holbrook responds to this disrespect by being nice to her--giving her something her father had given him and then sending up a totally bathotic prayer in an embarrassing sequence. Oh, please. First, althought Caroline and her brothers and sisters were unsure of Frederick Holbrook, the fact he married their mother was a great relief to the family, who were having a problem making ends meet. And no child of that era would sass an adult in that manner, even if they were having problems with the relationship.

Even sillier, the package Holbrook gives to Caroline--the scene takes place in around 1840 or so--is wrapped in clearly modern printed Christmas paper with a modern bow! Christmas presents at that time were commonly wrapped, if they were wrapped at all, in white tissue paper tied with red string, but apparently someone figured no one could guess it was a Christmas present if it didn't have Christmas wrap on it. Sheesh. In "Plum Creek," the packages are more accurately wrapped either in tissue or brown paper. It didn't seem to spoil anything.

(Not to mention that Caroline comments that she was sad because it was raining on Christmas instead of snowing. Coincidentally, just as she decides to open her stepfather's gift, it starts to snow. Oh, geez.)

The Almanzo story is equally annoying. Almanzo mentions how strict his parents are and how the children spent all of December 24 cleaning house and are so tired they want to go right to bed after supper: instead Father Wilder sends the boys out to feed the stock and Mother sets the girls to cleaning the table.

Yet five minutes later, when Almanzo doesn't come in from the barn, Father goes out there and does an indulgent song-and-dance to explain why there are presents hidden in the barn, as if Mr. Wilder undergoes some type of conversion between the house and the stable.

It's a shame, because the early episodes of Little House, although they wildly veered from the books, were actually well-acted and had decent scripts. The later shows show none of the loving craftsmanship of the earlier seasons--it's not just "A Christmas They Never Forgot," but the remainder of the season as well. A few months back, I happened to catch the episode where Almanzo is paralyzed after diphtheria. The hand-wringing bathos of the story made a bad romance novel look clever in comparison.

19 December 2003

Airspace Over the Pacific

Watched one of our favorite Christmas movies tonight, Mercy Mission. This is a television movie starring Scott Bakula as a rather feckless young pilot who doesn't want to give up his free-agent life as a pilot, despite a pregnant wife, who takes on an assignment to fly a small crop-dusting plane to Australia. His navigational equipment goes on the fritz after he leaves Pago-Pago and he's lost over the Pacific. The pilot (played by Robert Loggia) of the only aircraft in the area, an Air New Zealand flight, is determined to save him. Even James gets teary-eyed as Jay guides his rain-battered Cessna into Auckland airspace.

18 December 2003

Thursday Threesome

Onesome: Chestnuts-- Okay, just which Christmas food won't you touch? I mean, even when Auntie Sarah is serving it up with a big smile!

Gosh...the anchovies in the antipasto, I guess. (I would eat one pickled pepper...) Oh, and there's this really awful looking stuff called "ambrosia." Nonsense. Dark chocolate is the only ambrosia there is.

Twosome: Roasting-- Then again, which Christmas food are you willing to risk life and limb for, even when Uncle George is between you and the platter?

The dark meat on the turkey!

Threesome: on an open fire-- Heh. This line reminds me of a joke! Do you have a favorite bit of holiday humor? How about it?

No jokes, but the movie A Christmas Story works!

15 December 2003

The Antique Christmas Lights Site

Found a blog where yet another person expressed astonishment at finding out the "12 Days of Christmas" were the twelve days after Christmas. I still blame this on advertisers, who use "the 12 Days of Christmas" as a last-minute sales pitch!

Anyway, from that blog I discovered this: The Antique Christmas Lights Site. Fascinating stuff, and even found a picture of how the bulbs in our old eight-bulb candoliers used to look! (There were others of the same size that had ridges on them, as if they were twisted, but Woolworth's didn't carry those.) I remember our candoliers still worked when we finally bought new ones, we just couldn't find the smaller sized bulbs (C-6?) anymore.

Holly Jolly Weekend

No sooner had I returned home Friday afternoon than the decorating of the tree commenced. We had done preliminary set-up the previous night: James fetched the big wooden box containing the ornaments (which, upended, becomes the tree stand) from the closet and moved the loveseat so I could vacuum. As always the lights seemed to take forever.

It struck me as I started work that "Sara," the Christmas tree whose name I chronicled elsewhere, is starting to show her age. I had to wire the top branch on with florist's wire this year, and one of the very small branches right at the top has broken off entirely. I suppose these days 13 years old is quite elderly for an artificial Christmas tree.

I started at four and just in time for Holiday at Pops at eight, I was done. Tired, but happy and chowing down on the delightful fried rice mentioned in "Yet Another Journal," we watched the Boston Pops annual concert. Thank God this at least is still being covered by A&E and wasn't sold off to WBZ and CBS like Pops Goes the Fourth was! The guest were Vince Gill and Amy Grant, this year's Santa Claus was very funny, and as always the sing-a-long had us joining in (the dog gives us such weird looks when we sing).

Saturday morning was reserved for errands, then James went off to the International Plastic Modeler's Society's local Christmas party while I spent a little time cleaning and a bunch of time reading online. There's always a gift exchange and he lucked out and returned with his favorite type of plane, an F104 Starfighter. I wrapped his gifts while he was gone.

When he returned we set off on our yearly trek out to Birmingham for a friend's Christmas party. We don't get to see her that often (now that they've got "real stores" like Borders and Barnes & Noble in Birmingham, she doesn't have to make the trip to Atlanta as much), and all her goodies are homemade; she loves to cook and does it well. James came home with a nice plate of stuffed mushrooms.

The ride was pretty annoying this year; it rained both ways--it's a little over a 2-hour drive. We amused ourselves by listening to Fibber McGee and Molly Christmas episodes both ways.

The inevitable milk run came Sunday morning, then we were off to Stone Mountain Park where the Atlanta Radio Theatre Company was presenting their annual "An Atlanta Christmas" at Memorial Hall as part of what SMP called the "Fruitcake Festival" (yes, they served free fruitcake!). Because of the fruitcake moniker, the usual sketches were joined by a fruitcake-oriented episode of Daniel Taylor's rural comedy Bumper's Crossroads, plus a new Rory Rammer, Space Marshall (a hilarious send-up of the children's radio science fiction series of the 1940s and 50s written by Ron Butler) was also presented--not to mention Grandpa Bumper telling the story of "Ernie the Christmas Snail." The show was presented in two parts and between "sets" we chatted with friends and cooed over new baby Grace.

The weekend ended with James taking me out for my birthday dinner (call it delayed gratification). I'd like to say the entire experience was sterling, but while the three-meat ravioli at Olive Garden was excellent, I was seated where I could get a draft from the front door and I was freezing. OG was crowded and I was so hungry from having forgotten my sandwich before we dashed off to SMP that I didn't even think to at least try swapping seats at our table. I ate my entire dinner in my jacket and hat and was very glad to go home and thaw out and watch Disney World Christmas celebrations on the Travel Channel.

12 December 2003

Nostalgia of Two Sorts

James and I talked about it when he got home and he's taking me out for my birthday on Sunday. I really don't like staying out late midweek. Instead we went to Publix to use the last of the $5 off coupons, and we each got ourselves something to supper for when we got home.

Which explains why I was sitting watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer last night eating Wheat Thins spread with ricotta. (Well, it was my birthday, right? I could have anything I wanted. I like Wheat Thins with ricotta!)

Rudolph's another treat I usually leave for my birthday. This year was my...wait for it...fortieth viewing of the show. It premiered in 1964, on what the General Electric people used to call the GE Fantasy Hour, at 5:30 p.m. Eastern time on a Sunday. (It pre-empted College Bowl, one of my favorite shows even at age eight.)

Poor Dad suffered through all those years of viewing Rudolph, especially after we got a color television in 1972.

(Dad made a devil's bargain on that TV that I sometimes think he regretted. He only paid cash for things, and had only saved up $500 for a TV but the new XL-100s--solid state, which is why we finally bought one; my uncle Ralph's tube color set seemed to be constantly in the shop--were $600. I had $100 I had been ostensibly saving for the Italian class' trip to Italy in our senior year. I really didn't want to go away anywhere with a bunch of strangers anyway, and I decided $100 on a TV would be a longer-lasting deal than going to Italy for a week. So I offered him the $100 with the understanding that the TV was "one-sixth mine," a fact I'd remind him of when I wanted to watch Rudolph or Charlie Brown Christmas or The Homecoming and, of course, The Waltons. Dad preferred Westerns and cop shows and hated "sappy" family-type programming, but Mom took advantage of the situation. The only thing I couldn't watch in color was Little House on the Prairie. My dad hated Michael Landon because he had left his wife for a younger woman the minute he'd made it big.)

I love Rudolph no less now than I did when I was eight; a great, well-paced story, puns, engaging characters, and wonderful songs. "There's Always Tomorrow" is a particular favorite. The DVD even has the infamous "peppermint" scene restored (it was in the first showing, but not in subsequent broadcasts; the scene was replaced by Santa picking up the Misfit Toys, which was not in the original broadcast. The DVD has both), but unfortunately Rankin-Bass couldn't find a decent color copy of the original credits, in which the cast and crew members names were on packages dumped out Santa's sleigh at the end, and on which Billie Richards' name was spelt properly.

We also watched the Christmas episode of one of our favorite series, Good Neighbors. This funny, charming and warm BBC series started life as The Good Life, but when they syndicated it here in the States they didn't want the title to conflict with the flop Larry Hagman/Donna Mills series from 1968. Thankfully they were able to retain the pun in the title: the protagonists' surname is "Good."

This is a wonderful series--I see it chided online at times as being "funny, but old-fashioned." So be it. It's one of my favorite comedy series of all times. If you haven't been graced with a viewing, you've missed a treat. The premise: on his 40th birthday, feeling he's done nothing useful with his life, Tom Good convinces his wife Barbara to quit the rat race with him. They own their home, so they become self-sufficent to live, raising vegetables in their big back garden and on their allotment, and keeping two pigs and a goat and chickens. Their neighbors, and best friends, are Jerry and Margo Ledbetter. Jerry is an executive at the same company Tom left and Margo is his social-climbing wife. Margo, particularly, is a delightfully snobby character who is saved from two-dimensionality by wonderful writing--she has a warm heart; it's just all tucked up in her social aspirations and the Pony Club set--and her portrayal by Penelope Keith. The rest of the cast is perfect as well: Richard Briers (seen most recently in Monarch of the Glen and the adorable Felicity Kendal as the alternative-living Goods and Paul Eddington (Yes, Minister) as harried Jerry.

Every episode is funny, but the Christmas episode is particularly hilarious: persnickety Margo sends the Ledbetters' entire Christmas--tree, decorations, food, drink--back in the van it was delivered in on Christmas Eve because the tree is six and one-quarter inches too short! Of course the company will not redeliver by Christmas, so the Ledbetters, instead of exhausted themselves on the social scene for a week, spend a fun and happy day at the Goods, making do with a roast chicken, veggies from the garden, Tom's home-made "peapod burgundy" wine, and newspaper Christmas crackers and decorations. The Goods' 15p spent on Christmas is much more well spent than Margo's hundreds crammed in a delivery van, both for them and for us.

Friday Five

1. Do you enjoy the cold weather and snow for the holidays?

What snow? Even in RI the chances of a "white Christmas" were only 1 & 3. In Georgia the chances are nil. Two years in a row we had an inch of snow right before Christmas, but it was melted by the next day.

Anyway, I love the cold. The air is so nice and refreshing to breathe. In the summer it's always thick and smells bad.

2. What is your ideal holiday celebration? How, where, with whom would you celebrate to make things perfect?

Home with my mom.

3. Do you do have any holiday traditions?

We have spaghetti on Christmas Eve, then attend Midnight Mass at a friends' church. We used to go down to James' mom's house for the day, but the two hour ride one way simply got too much after being up until 2 a.m. after Mass. We go the Saturday or Sunday afterwards where we can go to bed a little earlier. This also extends the holiday into the 12 Days of Christmas. On the Saturday closest to January 6 we have an annual Twelfth Night party. I've never done the thing with the bean, though.

4. Do you do anything to help the needy?

We give to the Can Bank at this time of year.

5. What one gift would you like for yourself?

A physical gift or something more esoteric? I'd really like perfect health. If it has to be a physical gift, I dunno. A PT Cruiser, or maybe a new computer.

11 December 2003

A British Christmas

Incidentally, what we watched before bed last night was a 1987 London Weekend Television production called Christmas Past, which the Discovery Channel showed for several years in a row before dropping it. This was a delightful "programme" about how British Christmas customs--many of which we also adopted here in the United States--developed in just a short time in the mid-1800s. The special uses old newsreel and film footage, personal reminisces from older people, including the late 6th Marquis of Bath, and a couple of recreated Dickensian scenes to illustrate Britain in pre-Industrial, Victorian, and war times.

I was lucky enough to find the companion book, also named Christmas Past, on the sale table at the original Borders Books in Atlanta many years ago. I love all the Borders branches, especially the big two-story affair in Buckhead, but I miss that original store: they always seemed to have some surprise in store, especially during the holidays.
Thursday Threesome

Onesome: The-- What is the "bestest" Christmas decoration in your mind? You know, the one that says, "This is Christmas!"

Oh, the tree, definitely, multicolor lights and silver icicles and all (and it's not a real tree without that "tinsel"!). When I was a kid I would get my lap desk and go write under the Christmas tree, or lie on my back underneath the tree and look at the wondrous glittery-bright colorful road before me.

Twosome: Christmas-- What style of Christmas ornaments do you like to see? Are you a glass ball person? ...or how about that bow thing? Maybe Christmas Muppet characters everywhere? Hmm?

Despite our growing Hallmark ornament collection, I have a real fondness for glass ornaments; they don't have to be balls. I like unusual shapes--"figurals," they're called--and colors. I have figural French horns and bells which I found one year in PharMor (sigh...I miss PharMor), and other figurals like an 1930s type car with a wreath in the front which I found at Hobby Lobby. I have a set of satin balls in different colors which, at least when I bought them, were very rare. I also like "different" ornaments. For instance I have a cloth ornament that is a unicorn in a stocking, and a couple hand-made from beads.

Threesome: Song--...and your favorite Christmas Song? Is there one that just sets the season for you when you hear it? I mean, even when you're in a "Ho-Ho-Humbug" mood?

Just one? Well...my favorite Christmas song is probably "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" (though I'm really fond of "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" and "Kay Thompson's Jingle Bells" and "Round and Round the Christmas Tree" and...well, see what I mean?). My favorite Christmas carol (two different things) is "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen." (Don't forget the comma! as Siegfried Farnon would remind you.)

10 December 2003

Christmas Sighs and Christmas Joys

Well, I was disappointed by I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown last night.

Lucy and Linus' little brother, Rerun, wants a dog. That's the storyline in what should have been a short, funny little story. Instead they stuck it into an hour timeslot; even without the commercials it probably ran 42 minutes and the story was stretched out to the limit. The animation was very crisp and nice, Rerun got off one really good line ("They were having a contest about crabby older sisters at school. I won!"), and there was one funny visual sequence with Snoopy collecting the musical notes that "poured" from Schroeder's piano; they tumbled into a wastebasket, then Snoopy used them to decorate a musical Christmas tree.

Aside from the story being overlong, the kids' voices sounded too old in many instances, especially Lucy. One of the charms of the original stories was that they used real children's voices; most of these voices sounded like teenagers. (I'll probably find out they were all 9- and 10-year-olds; maybe it's just all those hormones in the milk and in chicken--they sure didn't sound like little kids to me.) The story meandered too much, and in one really absurd scene, Lucy was so out of character that it was sad: seeing that Snoopy's brother Spike is thin from his trip from Arizona, she volunteers to nurse him (you even see her in a nurse's uniform). While Lucy's softer side has come out occasionally--she collects candy for Linus and then takes him home from the pumpkin patch in It's the Great Pumpkin, for example--I can't see her nursing a stranger, especially a dog!

Sorry, this won't be on my annual list any time soon.

On the other hand, I can watch my old Ask the Manager Christmas tapes and still get a laugh at the verbal banter between Dana and Joe and later Dana and Dan. The programming is long gone--indeed TV38 in Boston has been "Borg-ized" into just another UPN station--but the absurd antics of these guys still bring the chuckles--and the occasional tear.

09 December 2003

Christmas Life Rule #245:

Don't write out cards while watching Santa Claus is Comin' to Town. The story is a little cutesy trying to fit all the Santa myths into one coherent narrative, but it works pretty well, it has the voices of Keenan Wynn and Mickey Rooney, the Rankin-Bass stop-motion work is flawless, and the songs are great.

So if you get a card from us where one of the signatures looks a bit wonky, that's probably just because I was signing while belting out "Put One Foot in Front of the Other" along with Kris and the Winter Warlock. :-)

Watched A Charlie Brown Christmas as well last night. Occasionally chat about the "Peanuts" specials comes up, with people discussing the relative merits of early and later ones. I think the first four were the best and then they gradually lost quality. Charlie Brown Christmas comes with another Yuletide Peanuts story on the DVD, It's Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown. It's pretty bad, just a series of gags from the strip, with an inane thread about Sally and a kid she thinks is named Herald Angel, but no real plot like Christmas or Great Pumpkin or Charlie Brown's All-Stars had. There's a new special on tonight, I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown which I'll check out, but I'm not holding out much hope. Maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised instead.

I worked with an assortment of cards this year, not a single design. I used to prefer multiple designs when I was in my 20s, but started to prefer a single design, something I thought represented myself or later my husband and I. It was a nice change this year to pick out a design that I thought was appropriate to the individual I was sending it to. But next year I'll probably return to the single design, since there's not that many good assortments out there.

Ironically, after finding a nice font to print on the gold-framed holly labels and signing and stuffing the cards and rubbing on the stamps (drat, I ran out of Christmas stamps, too), I forgot and left the cards on the desk this morning!!! Utterly typical of life, as February Callendar would say.

08 December 2003

The table mentioned in the December 6 entry is finished, incidentally, and sitting on the porch to cure and deodorize of its Krylon smell. The top, with rub-on gold leaves spotting it, came out quite pretty. I'd prefer silver against the dark blue, but no one had silver and it's a little different to boot.

Christmas Cassettes Part 2

Ah, here we are starting the second side of the cassette case. Some of my very favorites are here, starting with the Revels tapes. The Revels originated in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but now there are over a dozen groups all over the country. They began re-enacting medieval Christmas celebrations and music and the earliest cassette reflects that. They have also done European carols, American folk music, Irish songs, Russian and Scandinavian offerings, and Victorian celebrations. This year the Revels is doing a Scottish Christmas.

And of course there's Mannheim Steamroller. I love their arrangement of classic carols which makes some of them sound brand new. The arrangement of "Silent Night" always makes me cry.

Here's an antique music box album--lovely tinkling tunes. Old English carols by the York Waits and St. George's Canzona and Sneak's Noyse. Carols on dulcimer and more commercially, the Singers Unlimited. Two cassettes of Christmas harp music. Peter, Paul and Mary and more Bing Crosby. Truly a collection of riches.

06 December 2003

Angels and Santa Claus

Not getting a lot of Christmas things done in my effort to get a small drop-leaf table finished in time for next weekend so I can place our ceppo with its small Christmas tree atop it (there's no room near the door anymore, as in this pic, and it was in the way there; it looks terrible up on the bookcase, where it's ended up the past two years). The table is painted in shades of blue and right now only needs some touch up to be finished before a concluding clear coat of Krylon on the top.

Cheered myself during the bulk of the painting watching The Little Match Girl. It's odd I enjoy this movie so much because I hated it when I first saw it. History buff that I am, I found it very unrealistic that a little African-American girl would be taken in so readily by various members of a rich white family in a 1920s big city (always suspected "Port City" was actually Philadelphia). I've read too many books of the time and knew how black characters were usually treated.

But I got to the point where I could go with the flow. The 1920s atmosphere is perfect, William Daniels gives a bravura performance, they have Irish servants who don't go all "sure and begorra" on us, and Keshia Knight-Pulliam gives Molly a roguishness that's quite charming even as she lights her magic candles and turns the situation from hopeless to holy.

I've also fallen in love with the German pyramid that's a motif at the end of the movie and regret that I don't have the money to buy one. We stopped by a light display last night on the way home from supper and they had a tent with a vendor selling Christmas ornaments and foods. The man traveled to different parts of the world to purchase these ornaments: he had been to Thuringia and other parts of Germany and returned with marzipan and stollen, blown glass ornaments and many different sizes of German pyramids, from one level to four levels. Most were Nativity scenes, but one small one-level pyramid had the Nutcracker characters instead. The cheapest (like the Nutcracker one) were $60.

James did buy me something sweet: One of the glass ornaments they had was hyacinths in a pot. He remembers me, in reference to buying books, always quoting the verse of the Gulistan of Moslih Eddin Saadi, which goes

"If of thy Mortal Goods thou art bereft,
And from thy slender store two loaves alone to thee are left,
Sell one, and with the dole
Buy hyacinths to feed thy soul."

I've also finished reading Jeff Guinn's The Autobiography of Santa Claus, which is a charming little book telling Santa's story in his own words, from when he began giving gifts even before becoming Bishop of Myra, to when he became ageless and began to pick up friends and followers, some from real life, to be his helpers (you can guess some of Santa's helpers: Charles Dickens, Clement C. Moore, Washington Irving, but there is at least one very odd one). Santa tells Mr. Guinn a good story: I admire Leonardo daVinci even more now since he was the one who devised how to make Santa's reindeer and sleigh fly! Layla, which is the real name of Santa's wife, seems to be a charming person who's not above ribbing her husband about his weight--how natural is that?

04 December 2003

Razzleberry Dressing and Harness Bells

Probably the first Christmas special I remember, besides Amahl and the Night Visitors, is Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol. It was so chopped up in subsequent television broadcasts--most of the time the Broadway show framing sequences were cut entirely--that I was overjoyed to see a video version; I bought the DVD almost the moment it came out. The text, although abridged, is pretty much completely Dickens, unlike some modern versions, and the songs are wonderful, not surprising since they were written by a real Broadway writing team, Jules Styne and Bob Merrill. I can’t tell you which is my favorite; I love them all. As a child, young Scrooge’s "All Alone in the World" touched me most; after I fell in love the first time "Winter Was Warm" had special meaning. "We're Despicable" has always been hilarious (and when I was very small, chilling, with those mouths opening!), I loved the wordplay of "Ringle, Ringle," and "The Lord's Bright Blessing" making me tear up every time. In New York in July, though, all I could hear running through my head was the wonderful opening song "Back on Broadway."

I realized last evening I've been watching Magoo's Carol for 41 years!

Operating in nostalgic mode yesterday, I was also reading Sleigh Bells for Windy Foot. I have an entire Windy Foot web page, since these were some of my favorite books in elementary school, so there's no need to explain the plot, but I marvel reading this book every year at the energy these folks have! This is a 1940s farm where there's no milking machine and cooking and heating is still done with wood, and there's very little time for just sitting and relaxing--Dad falls asleep on the sofa Christmas day, but he's just been up all night helping a cow give birth! Toby manages to do chores, keep the woodbox full, and rebuild a big sleigh to fit his pony, plus go skiing and sleighing, gather berries, do minimal Christmas shopping, and wrap gifts! Whew!

But y'know what? Most of it seems like so much fun!
Thursday Threesome

Onesome: I'm dreaming of a white Christmas- Are you hoping for a white Christmas this year, or are you somewhere you seldom see snow?

Oh, I always dream of white Christmases, but even in southern New England there's only a one in three chance of having one. In Georgia it's downright impossible, although for the past two years we have had a small (1-inch) snowfall a few days before the holiday, only to have it melt by the next day (or the same afternoon!).

Twosome: With every Christmas card I write- Have you begun the cards? Do you write a personal note in each one, or just sign a generic greeting and your name? Or maybe print out the ol' yearly form letter to let everyone know what's new for you?

No, I haven't done the cards yet, sadly. I really should mail them out on Friday. I have the stamps already, though, that being the hard part. I used to do a yearly newsletter, but since almost everyone I know has computer access, I just assume they're keeping up with us on our website. In certain cards I do write a personal note.

Threesome: May your days be merry and bright- What do you do for the holidays to ensure they'll be merry?

Chill. Christmas is not a gift-giving competition, nor a decorating contest, nor the Pillsbury cookoff. If your friends and family judge you by what expensive bauble you buy them, or if your house looks like Martha Stewart had decorated it, or how many different kinds of goodies you can bake, you need to find new friends and avoid those family members.

The Question of the Week is: Have you ever had a holiday disaster? Something that seemed horrible when it happened but now you can laugh about? The dogs got the turkey, the gifts you ordered on-line didn't make it in time, the cat knocked over the tree, whatever. Share your holiday disaster with us!

I can't say I've been involved in any disasters. I do remember occasionally having colds at Christmas, and one year I had the chickenpox for Thanksgiving. Now I do remember sad Christmases, especially 1983 when my cousin was killed by a drunk driver three days before Christmas.

03 December 2003

Empty Stockings by Denis Hamill

Fourteen-year-old Rory Maguire dreams of becoming a sportswriter and helping his family escape the shabby, vermin-infested walkup they share in Brooklyn in 1963. He also longs to get inside the mind of his father, disabled from a fall at work and unable to collect his due because his lying foreman said he was drunk; a war hero who was not acknowledged because he was in the Merchant Marine rather than the "real" Armed Forces--and lusts after a local attorney's classy daughter.

I really enjoyed this book although at points it was really sad to see the Maguires working harder and harder and losing ground at every turn. All the players in the story seemed particularly realistic, including the hard-working but sarcastic and callous Italian butcher Rory works for, a man determined that his son will have a professional job rather than also working as a butcher, only to find his dreams crumbling when the local supermarket steals his business, and the reactions in the community after President Kennedy is assassinated.

Don't expect a warm and fuzzy holiday story: this one has sex, gang violence, and some stark realities of life. But the tough Maguires are worth reading about.

"Merry Gentlemen"

We watched this last night: the Christmas episode of All Creatures Great and Small that aired during the show's second season. It's a particular favorite of mine for the quiet holiday preparations and the lovely 1930s British atmosphere: I can almost feel the draughty halls of Skeldale house, smell Mrs. Hall's joint of beef cooking and the odor of the fires in the room, taste the Christmas cake and the contents of Mrs. Pumphrey's hamper from Fortnum & Mason. Siegfried is such a manic character in most episodes that it's also nice to see his soft side--even while he plays a practical joke on snoopy Tristan. Skeldale's furnishings and wallpapers remind me of my grandfather's house and I feel warm and happy there.

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

Of course the moment Thanksgiving was over, I pulled out my Christmas music.

(Actually I’ve been playing it occasionally, surreptitiously, for weeks, music I downloaded from Usenet--out-of-print stuff--and my new Revels CDs, "Christmas in an Irish Castle" and "A Celtic Feast in Song." And of course the Holiday Music channel has reappeared on DishNet.)

I grabbed the tape case first, and have been listening to those cassettes this week. The case holds sixty, but I have managed to tuck four more at the top and two on either side and the carrier still zips. I used to have more, but I replaced some of my favorites with CDs when the tape ends started to crumple between seasons, distorting the first songs on the album. These tapes, like my CDs, run the gamut of different styles. In general, I don't care for a lot of pop singers, especially recent ones. I have no Amy Grant or Boyz2Men or Nsync or Wynonna or anything of that ilk. I do have Perry Como and John Denver and Steve and Eydie, etc., but I like to go for the unusual and different and not the fifty-fifth rerecording of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." When Oxford Books in Atlanta closed, for instance, I grabbed a bunch of cassettes recorded in England that recreates "the waits," carolers of old. They sing medieval and 17th century carols. Another album is "Christmas in Europe," with songs like "Still, Still, Still," "Il Le Ne," and "Past Three O'Clock."

The collection is well-represented in New Age instrumentals, Windham Hill, Tony Elman, etc. There are even the amusingly baroque "What if Mozart Wrote...", two albums of Christmas songs done as chamber music. A brass lover, I have the Canadian Brass and other brass albums. I also have colonial/Early American type albums, with the songs done on hammered dulcimer and other period instruments. One of these contains "The Huron Carol," a song I remember hearing frequently as a child which seemed to have later disappeared. It is a song told from Native American point of view of the birth of Jesus--his father is the "Great Manitou," and instead of swaddling clothes he is wrapped in rabbit skin.

It's a funny thing about Christmas music, how it makes you feel so much at home. James isn't much of a Christmas person, but there are still things that scream "Christmas" to him. I grew up on Perry Como singing about the reindeer with the scarlet proboscis, but to James Christmas is Gene Autry singing "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "Up on the Housetop," etc. So I gave him his very own Gene Autry Christmas album last year, to go along with the "Dr. Demento Christmas" CD I bought him the year before. (I have to confess I enjoy most of this one myself! Especially "Christmas Dragnet." I get a fit of the giggles when the "How most folks call 'em 'green onions,' but they're really scallions" bit begins.)

01 December 2003

25 Day Until Christmas

Today, unencumbered by yesterday's decluttering delay, I did my first Sunday of Advent decorating. This usually involves the outside of the house.

Several years ago, one of the "in" craft things was something Michael's called a "mailbox huggie," a piece of plastic curved like a saddle to sit over a "country style" mailbox (as opposed to the ones of my youth that were mounted on the house next to the front door; remember when the mailman used to walk his route and come right up to your door?) and having small hooks to fasten items to. The idea is to decorate the huggie with flowers or vines and set it over your mailbox. I wired mine with a pine bough, complete with pine cones, on either side along with a big plastic red bow; they recommended fabric bows, of course, but knowing the two or three hard rains (at least) we get during the holiday season, plastic seemed more weatherproof and less likely to look limp.

The easiest task was to remove the Thanksgiving banner and mount the angel banner in its place. The angel's white skirt is sadly yellowing; it looks as if this banner will require replacement next year. In the strong Georgia sun, even in winter, these big banners rarely more than last two years before they begin to fray.

The glass doors have a small wreath the size of a dinner plate, faux evergreen with one each bright matte finish ball in blue, red, green, yellow and purple, with gold tinsel between the ornaments adding a metallic glint. It can be seen well from the street, unlike the big wreath on the front door, which is sadly obscured by the screen. This, since it is sheltered by the porch roof, is decorated with a big wired red velveteen bow and Christmas colored "picks." Even with the porch light on it doesn't show up, so I gave up last year and bought it a set of lights. Against the gold door foil, it looks rather nice, although I wish I could find silver door foil or at least red-and-white striped like one year to make the wreath stand out more. The conventional door foils found come in only red, green, or gold and do not make the wreath "pop," as they say on the decorating shows..

I also set out the Advent wreath; I'd despaired in finding the proper set of candles and was delighted to find them, in all places, JoAnn. Various sources I have consulted say different things about the candle colors. White is recommended in some places, all purple candles in others. Several of the Lutheran sites recommend blue. Other sites say three purple and one rose-colored (pink) candle that is lighted on the fourth Sunday of Advent.

I learned this differently, that the rose-colored candle was lit on the third Sunday. The explanation, from a Lutheran site, is that the "...joyfully colored pink candle is reserved for the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday. 'Gaudete,' which means 'rejoice' in Latin, is the opening word of the traditional Introit for that Sunday: Rejoice!… the Lord is near. (Philippians 4:4).

I also packed Thanksgiving items up for next year. More decorations will go up this Saturday, on St. Nicholas Day.

Angels in the Bishop's Home

Had to run to Kroger for a couple of things yesterday and they had the DVD of The Bishop's Wife for a good price, so I grabbed it. I remembered this movie from when I was very small, not the story so much as the sermon of the empty stocking. It seemed to have disappeared for many years, then turned up again on cable.

I suppose I'd liked to have seen this made in color, especially for the beautiful woodwork of the bishop's home and the old-fashioned store windows, but it glows with color nevertheless, even in black and white, and the use of shadows (as in Dudley's first appearance) would have been lessened in a color film. It reminds me how different some things were years ago: trees (not shaped or shaved) decorated on Christmas Eve, the tabletop trees that were so popular, and downtown window shopping.

Some things never change, though, and that includes the glow and tears at the end when the Christmas sermon is read:

"Tonight, I want to tell you about the story of an empty stocking. Once upon a midnight clear there was a child's cry. A blazing star hung over a stable, and Wise Men came with birthday gifts. We haven't forgotten that night down through the ages. We celebrate it with a star hung on a Christmas tree and a cry of bells and gifts-- especially with gifts. We bind them and wrap them, and we put them under the tree. You give me a tie, I give you a book; Aunt Martha always wanted an orange squeezer, Uncle Harry could use a new pipe...oh, we haven't forgotten anyone, adult or child. All the stockings are filled -- all that is, except one, and we have even forgotten to hang it up: the stocking for the child born in a manger. It's His birthday we are celebrating, you know. Don't let us ever forget that. Let us ask ourselves what He would wish for most, and then let each of us put in his share -- loving kindness, warm hearts, and a stretched-out hand -- all the shining gifts that make peace on earth."

28 November 2003

A'Shopping We Will Go

Yes, I go out shopping on "Black Friday."

Heck, I've heard of some ladies who make a day of it. They shop, have breakfast, shop some more. But from what I heard, they mostly go in for clothes and shoes, and a lot of them go to the mall. I avoid malls on Black Friday.

What I buy depends on the offers. That's why we get a paper early on Thanksgiving; you plan out what you want most and a plan to get from one store to the other. In the past two years, when James got to go with me, what we went after was generally computer parts. He was building his own unit the year before and we hunted down a hard drive and a CD burner. We also got a cheap VCR for the TV in the spare room. Last year, after waiting in line at the door of Office Max with some very congenial fellow shoppers, we got memory, CD-Rs and slimline cases. We aren't using the CDs very fast, despite my radio downloads and my committing old files to storage, and still have a tower of CD-Rs and most of the cases left, so it's been a good deal. We got all but one of our rebates back, so $160 worth of stuff cost about $30 in the end.

This year we have some specific ideas of things we need and none of them were on sale. One of the after-rebate-free cordless phones (since the one in the bedroom has died despite new batteries) would have been nice, but they were all gone by the time I got to Circuit City. I never did find the little DVD players at CVS, but I got there at ten; they were probably gone.

So the laid-back arrangement probably worked best since I was under the weather; I'd woken up at 4 a.m. with a dry mouth from antihisthamines and never did get really back to sleep. So I was exceedingly sleepy when I reached Circuit City at about 6:30 and the fluorescent lights didn't help.

I spent most of the morning at Michael's, spending first 50 percent off coupons (including for a nice winter-themed garland). I also stopped at Borders for a bit, and had my car inspected on the way home. Then, to poor Bandit's dismay, went back to sleep. Wish I'd felt better, but that's the way things go sometime.

27 November 2003

We Gather Together...

On my Thanksgiving webpage I rant about how this holiday has disappeared between Halloween excess and Christmas excess. I can't help it. Tuesday's entry, about the home whose Thanksgiving decorations had disappeared, was typical. People think too much about the icons of the holiday, and not the real meaning, which is for us to appreciate what blessings we have, even if there has been hard luck during the year.

We had a very nice Thanksgiving day, despite the fact it ended up with a headache for me (a combination of too much feline dander and too much fresh flowers). We got up in time for the Macy's parade and I ran out for a paper so we could survey the upcoming sales. In between watching the parade, I made butternut squash and baked another cake since the low-fat version had broken apart again. [sigh] James made a corn casserole and the salad greens chilled in the freezer. The parade was fun, if the announcers yapped too much.

We spent the afternoon with friends munching on goodies and a totally marvelous golden brown turkey. TLC's Clean Sweep played in the background with alternating nice and horrendous paint schemes (really--who paints a wall split-pea soup green????) between chatting about divers matters. After various desserts we were all on our way home again, thankful for good friends who have become family.

25 November 2003

Now This is Silly...

On one of my routes home from work, there is a little house on the corner where the family loves to decorate for different holidays. On Valentine's Day they have pink lights, hearts, and frou-frou, green lights and shamrocks for St. Patrick, eggs, inflatable bunnies, and pastel lights for Easter, etc. They also decorate for seasons, and I noticed last week that they had supplemented their hay bales and scarecrow that had been their autumn motif with a giant inflatable turkey and an American flag.

By the time I went by their tonight, they had torn all the fall stuff down and put up all their Christmas lights. Good God, why tear down your Thanksgiving stuff three days before Thanksgiving???

24 November 2003

Too Early, Too Early...

Meant to mention that last Thursday, the 20th, came home through a different route and saw a home that already had an entire Christmas setup, not just the house, but both the front and the back yard. The glow could be seen all the way down the small side street to where I was passing.

I know a lot of people spend Thanksgiving Day putting up their Christmas decorations--but I think this is too early! At least wait until the first Sunday of Advent...or at least until "Stir-Up Sunday."

I think the sad thing about it is that these same people will rip down their decorations on Christmas night. On Christmas night Christmastide is just starting!

23 November 2003

Stir-Up Sunday

"Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people."

This is the first line of the Collect for the Sunday before the first Sunday of Advent, and traditionally this was the day in Victorian times in England that the Christmas plum pudding was prepared. Each member of the family was supposed to stir the pudding--always clockwise--to ensure good luck before it was sewn into a cloth bag and steamed, then left to age until Christmas. Holiday preparations were about to begin.

And we're off...

Christmas With Lassie

Back earlier in the year I found a list of some Lassie DVDs that were going to be released November 11, from the original television series. The title of one perplexed me mightily ("Lassie's Birthday Surprise"????) and I could never, up until this day, find anything that told me which episodes were on the DVDs (or indeed how many episodes were on each).

Nevertheless, I ordered two, just for the heck of it, the ones I figured I'd enjoy no matter what: Lassie's Christmas Stories and Lassie's Gift of Love (which is also a Christmas story.

They arrived today and I was quite pleasantly surprised. "Lassie's Christmas Stories" contains three episodes, 1958's "The Christmas Story," 1960's "A Christmas Story," and 1961's "Yochim's Christmas," which the DVD description says was also entitled "A Christmas Story." These are uncut episodes, complete with titles (albeit the syndication titles rather than the original titles, which will make little difference to most people) and credits. Meticulous English-major me has noticed a typo in the descriptions on the back of both DVDs, as well as a really silly character name blooper on "Lassie's Gift of Love" (the description says "When farmer McGregor causes a small snow avelanche..." McGregor? Where did they get the name McGregor? The character's last name is Krebs! Even his full name "Matt Krebs" doesn't sound a thing like "McGregor"! LOL!!!!), but otherwise these are nice-looking keep cases. "Lassie's Gift of Love" also contains the color Corey Stuart episode "The Greatest Gift."

The episode transfers themselves are excellent, nice contrast, little or no dust or scratches. The sound is typical TV mono sound, but it's clear and pleasant to listen to. "The Greatest Gift" is actually the most improved of the lot compared to the TV versions seen recently: the title is bright and clear, rather than dark, the color is consistent, if typical early 1960s NTSC color instead of being washed out or dark. You can still tell the stock footage from the scenes actually filmed for the show (the stock footage has begun to yellow), but it is nowhere as bad as what Discovery Kids/Animal Planet has showed in the past few years.

Also was amused at the menu screens. "Lassie's Christmas Stories" has what looks like a publicity shot with Lassie, Timmy, and a Santa Claus with a fake chimney. Very cute. "Lassie's Gift of Love" has a shot of Corey Stuart and Lassie with Bonita Granville Wrather from another episode! Her voice does appear in "Lassie's Gift of Love," though, doing a preview for the second part. I guess that's where the tie-in enters. :-)

All in all well worth your while if you're a Lassie fan or want some good Christmas stories for your child (or the child within you).

21 November 2003

I'm many up on my sis-in-law.

LOL. Just teasing; she was talking about all the Christmas albums she has. I've lost count of mine. I think there are at least 60 CDs. Some of them are double CD sets. And there's about 65 cassettes. Maybe 15-20 LPs. Lots.

20 November 2003

Thursday Threesome

Holiday Sweets Recipe Exchange

Onesome: Holiday Sweets-- What is your favorite holiday sweet? You know, the one you only really can get your hands on once a year?

It's not that I can't "get my hands on" it, it's that I just don't make it--my mom's wine biscuits. She used to do them on Easter, too, but I just do them on Christmas. There were several things I used to look forward to during the Christmas holidays: Mom would make molasses cookies, butterballs, and almond bars. I liked the molasses cookies best. I tried to make them once, but I think we got our wires crossed when she recited the recipe to me on the phone. All I got was this brown goo that literally did stick my fingers together. I had to wash them under hot water with dishwashing soap to get them free.

I also remember my aunts would have some hard candies I liked at Christmastime; they only seemed to sell them then. These were candies in the shape of small slices of lemon, orange, and tangerine, with wrappers that were images of the real thing. I used to wish they'd make lime. I didn't care for the lemon ones much, but the orange ones were great, and the tangerine ones actually did taste like tangerines.

The one Italian treat I did not look forward to that everyone else did was torrone. This is a soft white nougat candy with nuts in it, formed into a small rectangular, bite-sized bar. I always thought it was too sweet. The wrappers were always cool, though: they had a small drawing of a little Italian hill town on the front and were done in bright colors.

Twosome: Recipe-- ...and can you get the recipe for it? ...or is this one of those closely guarded family secrets handed down mother to daughter. ...and hey? What about us guys? How are we ever supposed to figure out how to do this stuff? ...or should we even try <g>?

James bakes all the time--ask him about his mods to the "Splenda and spice" cookies.

Okay: here's the wine biscuit recipe, as stated on my Christmas web page:

Since we were Italian, we didn't have anything as trivial as sugar cookies when we baked for Christmas. Instead we had molasses cookies, almond bars, and my favorite, wine biscuits. The latter are, in the British sense, a crisp cookie, not a dinner bread. Wine biscuits can be purchased in many stores that sell ethnic or Italian food, but the commercial ones are usually too crumbly and have dyes added to them to make them look red or purple. Ugh. Mom's recipe provides a firm, crunchy cookie with just a faint sweet taste of wine.

The ingredients:

4 cups of flour
3/4 cup of sugar
3 teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt

1 cup strongest burgundy wine you can find (hearty burgundy is best)
2/3 cup of oil

Using a large mixing bowl (ceramic Italian salad bowls work as well), mix the dry ingredients first, then add oil and water to a "bowl" you have made of the dry mixture. Using a large sturdy spoon, mix ingredients until they begin to stick together. Then you must knead the mixture by hand until it is completely mixed and smooth. Do not overknead! If the dough is sticky, add a little flour; if it's dry, add a little wine. End product should be a smooth, slightly shiny mass of dough with a "pebbled" type surface. If the wine you bought is dark enough, it may have a slightly purplish cast. Make a "loaf" of this completely kneaded dough and set it on a slightly floured surface so it won't stick.

Slice a piece of the loaf off and roll dough into a tube the width of your index finger (if you have large hands maybe the size of your pinky finger) and at least twice as long; the tubes should be made into doughnut shapes around 2 - 2 1/2 inches in diameter (you may have to cut off or lengthen tubes at times). Make sure the ends are "fastened together" if you want nice round cookies. Place cookies on cookie sheet covered in wax paper and bake in oven at 325 degrees until brown on the bottom. (Check after 20 minutes and turn cookie sheet around. Let it go another 10 minutes, then keep checking.) (I like them burnt on the bottom but that's just me being odd.)

You can make the wine biscuits look more attractive by mixing up one egg in a small bowl and using a small basting brush to brush the egg on top. This leaves them with a nice shiny glaze.

Threesome: Exchange-- But if you do have that recipe and you can bear to share, why not stop over at the exchange and drop it off? Barring that: do you routinely exchange sweets at holiday time? Yeah? What kinds?

Not really, and especially not this year since James was diagnosed with diabetes in the spring. We tend to exchange corn casserole with people instead. (Hi, Alex!)

18 November 2003

Some of My Own Answers #4

8. How would you like this year's holiday celebration to differ from last year's?

I just want it to go slower. Every wretched sweaty minute of summer crawls by and then the fall and winter just dash like that one-horse open sleigh! I was waiting for October and now here it is almost Thanksgiving and then it will be Christmas and Epiphany and then another bloody spring will be upon us.

New Christmas Albums

Listening to Christmas albums at work...yeah, they probably think I'm nuts. I just got them yesterday and had to listen. (They're not sold here, but I got "such a deal": until November 30 shipping is free.)

These are the two newest (at least that I know) CDs in the Revels collection. Revels started in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as a group that presented a medieval Christmas/Winter solstice celebration with the appropriate music. There are now at least ten Revels groups scattered across the country (none closer than Houston, alas), and they do different types of shows every year: this year, for instance, there are two Italian Renaissance-themed shows, a Victorian show, and the "main" performance in Cambridge is a Scottish-themed program.

I like the Revels stuff because I like different Christmas music, not the same endless parade of "White Christmas," "Rudolph," "Frosty," and the beautiful carols. When Oxford Books in Atlanta went out of business I got a bonanza of British/European cassettes, and just last year bought a CD of carols sung from the Brandenburg Gate, including carols in German and specific to that area. The Revels CDs have been devoted to early American songs, European carols, Russian and Scandinavian tunes, medieval music, and Victorian celebrations, and now these two newest ones are Celtic: "Christmas in an Irish Castle" from the California Revels and "A Celtic Feast of Song" from Revels North in New Hampshire. Both feature unusual songs and pennywhistles and harps, including the toe-tapping "Mairi's Wedding."

17 November 2003

Monday Madness Christmas prep questions at Yet Another Journal
Stories Behind Great Traditions of Christmas by Ace Collins

I picked this up Saturday at Waldenbooks because I had a 15 percent off coupon and it looked interesting. It actually has several tidbits I hadn't heard before (the obsessive care in lighting the Yule log and the watch kept over it), and is generally factual except for a couple of things (Alastair Sim's version of A Christmas Carol for instance, is from 1951, not 1957).

I'm just wondering where Collins lives where mistletoe has red berries. He mentions this at least twice...

13 November 2003

2 Weeks 2 Turkey

After all the endless days waiting for fall to be here, I can hardly believe it's only two weeks until Thanksgiving!

Several of the memes are already asking for Thanksgiving memories and today I mentioned one of my favorites: the parades. We didn't watch the Macy's Parade on NBC, but what CBS now calls its "All-American Thanksgiving Parades."

I remember watching the "original" parades back when CBS called it the "Thanksgiving Parade Jubilee," the theme song was a rousing Sousa march, and the host was Captain Kangaroo (later William Conrad of Cannon sitting by the fire). The parades then were the lynchpin Macy's, Gimbel's Thanksgiving Day Parade from Philadelphia, J.L. Hudson's Thanksgiving Day Parade from Detroit, and Eaton's Santa Claus Parade from Toronto (previously taped). Sadly, Eaton's and Gimbel's are both out of business, and I believe Hudson's exists mostly as the parent company to Target, whose commercials I'm beginning to hate.

I can't remember which of the parades disappeared first, Gimbel's or Hudson's. It was replaced with that hideous videotaped spectacle in Hawaii, the Aloha Parade, with Jack Lord of Hawaii Five-O as the host. Here it was, usually a brown, sere, and cold Thanksgiving Day, real "over the river and through the woods" weather except for no snow--who wanted to watch a bunch of people in bathing suits and leis?

Then Gimbels went out of business and that put an end to that. New York just doesn't seem the same without the Macy's/Gimbel's rivalry. Eaton's either quit their sponsorship of the parade first or went out of business first, but Toronto sponsored the Santa Claus Parade for a few years. It used to be famous for its storybook floats. I guess kids who are into cell phones and anime and videogames think of storybook characters as pretty old hat now.

For a while I seem to recall that the CBS melange had a Disney parade in there. Talk about product placement.

Detroit still has a parade, I see, and there's Macy's and the Hawaii parade; the fourth is coming from Nashville now. Yawn. Yet another place for some overrated star to push his new album, like CBS's horrible coverage of the Boston Pops concert last July--mostly they had bad coverage of the fireworks, and what they showed of the concert was simply a big plug for Leeann Rimes' new album.

So we're left with Macy's on NBC. It's still fun to watch, but the acts and the commentator chatter combine that we really miss a lot of the remainder of the parade. And the commentators are so vapid. If you do have someone who knows something about the parade, it's usually upstaged by some breathless NBC airhead actress who chirps delightedly, "Why, I didn't know that. Imagine Washington crossing the Delaware in all that bad weather and that ice! Didn't his men get cold?" or similar rot.

One of the things I remember most as a small child was Thanksgiving Fridays. Of course Thanksgiving was the signal for all the Christmas specials to begin and one of the local stations might parcel them out starting the next day. But the Friday was special because all the Saturday morning cartoons pre-empted the Friday morning programming, so that week you got two doses of The Magic Land of Allakazam, Ruff and Ready, Rocky and Bullwinkle, The Superman-Aquaman Hour, and whatever else was on.

All Kinds of Feasts

I've had people look at me pityingly when I said our family always went out to eat on Thanksgiving.

It was sensible, really. There were only three of us. We got invited to Papà's house for Christmas and sometimes for Easter and New Year's. We'd go to Papà's house afterwards anyway, for coffee and dessert, but for Thanksgiving dinner we were on our own.

I don't recall any type of a small turkey in those days. They came 20 pounds and up, too big a load for Mom's little Glenwood stove. Plus--and Mom wasn't shy about saying this--she really didn't like turkey all that much! Like me she preferred the dark meat and all you really got in one of those big turkeys was a big breast and not much else.

(Mom's nadir as a cook happened the year I caught chickenpox over Thanksgiving--I was delighted; it got me out of catechism class for three weeks and I didn't have to run home afterwards and miss ten minutes of Timmy and Lassie. Today we'd probably call Boston Market or cook some turkey pieces. Neither existed in 1967. Mom managed to find a smallish turkey--and we might have had the bigger Roper stove by then--and cook it. It was dry as that proverbial bone, even drumsticks.)

So after the parades were over, we'd hop into the car and drive out to Warwick to a place called Venetian Gardens. We never made reservations; the owner was a paisan of my Dad's. This was a big treat; we didn't eat out a lot, even at fast food places, except maybe in the summer when we were coming home from the beach or something, so different from my adult life when we eat out every Friday and Saturday. Nice restaurants were for holidays like Thanksgiving, Easter, Mother's and Father's Day. And Venetian Gardens was pretty nice, even if in a shiny collar type way as I got older.

It had been a supper club once, still did pretty good business on weekends, and for a long time the stage and the piano was still in the big main dining room. They had a foyer with a hat check girl, and there was even a elegant cigarette girl. We were dressed to the nines, like most people who went out back then: Dad in his best suit, his white shirt and dark tie, and his cufflinks, Mom in her best dress, with a hat and beaded purse and gloves of course, me in one of those cute little girly dresses with the skirt that stuck out with liberal help from an itchy net slip, black leotards and black patent leather shoes. The waiters were all in suits.

And if you were lucky, very lucky and arrived at the right time, there might be someone at the piano softly playing instrumental music like "Born Free" or one of the other hits of the day. (Later they had Musak-type stuff over the sound system and it just wasn't the same.)

Even though Mom hated turkey, we all had the turkey dinner. Dad said a blessing occasionally, and then we ate. I wasn't allowed to squirm or talk loudly or leave my seat: this was a special treat and one I had to earn. If I misbehaved, we all would go home and not go out for the rest of the day.

Later we'd join the aunts and the uncles and the cousins around the big table in Papà's cellar, but for now it was just us, "The Three Musketeers," all safe and warm and happy and together again another year.

11 November 2003


"Martin of Umbria was a bishop of Rome who was martyred during the seventh century. During his final imprisonment, he diligently kept the fasts of Advent, though he was already dying of hunger. Traditionally, Christians have recalled his faithfulness on November 11 by enjoying the last great feast of the season--in England a dinner of beef is consumed while in German roast goose is served. New wine is uncasked. Good children receive gifts of fruit and nuts--while naughty children receive little more than sticks, stones, and ashes."

I hadn't read this before I took something out for dinner; how appropriate I chose beef!

This is also the origin of the saying "As fat as a Martinmas goose."

09 November 2003

Till The Cows Come Home

We went to Christmas at Lithia this afternoon and had quite an enjoyable time. This has been the first time we've gone that it's actually been cool enough that you felt like being Christmasy. There were some really nice crafts--even if I don't have kids' clothes to buy I always admire the sewing, and also the quilting. There were many things there so pretty that we didn't have anything in the house to do justice to it, like the big beautiful Christmas wreaths; they were too big for our little front door!

I did buy two small things: a small white Christmas ball that had been painted with a snowman face and was sporting wire-and-puffball "earmuffs" and a small patchwork heart ornament that I plan to send to my mom. We also bought more things from "the cow lady," which is the name we've given to a woman who does ceramic things for the kitchen with various motifs, including the cartoon cows we've fallen in love with. We got a toothpick holder (James says it's a sugar packet holder), a wipable message tile, and a napkin holder all emblazoned with these cute cows.

BTW, we had two Granny-Smith-apples-and-caramel this year. We ought to buy the Pampered Chef apple corer/peeler/slicer. It's so easy I'm sure we'd eat more apples; and making apple pie would be a cinch!

06 November 2003

"Christmas at Lithia"

For those of you in the Atlanta area, the craft show "Christmas at Lithia" is going this weekend, Saturday and Sunday at Lithia Springs High School, 2520 E. County Line Road, Lithia Springs, Georgia. (Directions here.) Even if you don't buy anything, it's great just to wander around and see the various crafts that people do. Stop and have a bowl of Granny Smith apples with caramel sauce if the Pampered Chef folks are there.

We're hoping "the cow lady" is back. :-)

04 November 2003

Some of My Own Answers #3

5. How would you spend Christmas if you had no money to spend on gifts?

I don't think there's a person out there that doesn't like getting a gift, unless they know it was bought under duress. Unfortunately many Christmas gifts are bought under duress: "Oh, you have to get a gift for ________" Nothing is as disappointing as receiving a gift with no thought put into it. A gift certificate to a certain store can be a more thoughtful gift than just some geegaw bought to fulfill the Christmas gift trap.

Now to actually answer the question: I'd still savor the season. I'd visit those people I couldn't buy gifts for and still have a good time. Gifts don't make the season; they're just a nice thing to do to show people you appreciate their presence.

6. How do you think Jesus would want his birthday celebrated?

This is a question that is bothering me this year for a specific reason.

Everyone knows office parties, right? Like every other office, ours has one every year. The restaurants/halls we've gone to vary in quality from year to year: once it was a claustrophobic low-ceilinged room with a bad selection of food. One year we went to Anthony's, which is a classy restaurant in a regal old home in Atlanta, and it was great. Last year they did Mexican, which doesn't agree with my tummy. Fact is, I haven't gone for the past few years. The places seemed overpriced and the socialization seemed forced.

A couple of years ago they formed a committee to help defray some of the cost of the party. These energetic folks have bake sales, silent auctions, and other things throughout the year so that cost per person won't be so high.

And as always we become "Secret Santas" to kids who need some TLC. Last year we became acquainted with a place that helps both abused and abandoned children as well as abused and abandoned animals. They help each other to heal and love again.

Well, during the summer we heard that the place was low on funds. And as the committee posts their little bake sale promos and silent auction announcements, there's something in me that says "Why are we going through with this ornate Christmas party to feed people who already have enough to eat (in my case too much!) when these folks who are doing good things are in financial trouble?"

So the answer to Question #6 would be obvious...but I'm afraid I'm too chicken to broach the suggestion.

Or am I just being a crank? Sigh...

Stepping Through the Glass of Time

December 25th: The Joys of Christmas Past by Philip Snyder

One of my initial library finds; this year I happened to do a search on it and found a nearly brand new copy for a reasonable price. I reread it all in one sitting yesterday while I was nursing a bum shoulder. Snyder makes no attempt to correlate yesterday's Christmas customs with today's, other than to say most of what we think of as "old traditions" only go back 100 years ago. Using old newspapers, particularly four different New York City papers, Snyder paints lovely pictures of the joys of past celebrations. One account of the food market once located on the site of the former World Trade Center is mouth-watering enough to make one hungry. Another chapter is a delightful narrative of a Christmas Day snow in New York City, when all the sleighers came out to play. A third has a vivid 1912 report of the first community Christmas tree in the United States and the people who came out to see it.

Snyder doesn't pass over the excesses of the season, however. One chapter is on old-time drinking habits and another outlines the plight of the shopkeepers and workers who once toiled past midnight on Christmas Eve and sometimes on Christmas Day to make everyone else's holiday bright.

The book is illustrated with old woodcuts and engravings from the very papers he quotes, but it's his prose and the prose from the past that makes this Christmas book bright indeed. Out of print, but well worth looking for at used bookstores or on used book sites.

02 November 2003

Important Message...

...for our friends and family at "Yet Another Journal."

30 October 2003

Some of My Own Answers #2

1. What is your earliest Christmas memory?

It is probably spending Christmas with my relatives. We never stayed home on Christmas. When I was small we would do some visiting on Christmas Eve, but I was abed early. Christmas was spent, after opening the gifts under the tree and having eggnog for breakfast and then getting dressed to the nines in a little dress with one of those itchy net petticoats under it and warm leotards and little patent leather shoes, at my Papá's house.

We'd all go upstairs to see the tree, of course, with its old fashioned lead-foil tinsel and old ornaments, some dating back to World War II, and the crechè under the tree, and of course there was the usual long toil up the steep stairs to "use the facilities," but the afternoon would be spent downstairs in the roughly converted cellar, where the big cast iron wood stove converted to gas made dinner and then kept copious pots of coffee warm. Aunts, uncles and cousins would come wandering in and out, bringing in wintry breaths of cold and proffering chilly cheeks as you kissed them. Papá would serve his homemade wine and brandy and anisette to whoever wanted some, but mostly everyone drank coffee and the other kids had soda and I had milk. :-) Everyone, including the kids, would have a stash of pennies and we'd all play Pokeno, then the men and some of the more adventurous of the girl cousins, like my cousin Kathy, would settle in and play poker while everyone else talked and I could sneak upstairs and lie down under the Christmas tree and look up into the colorful wonderland that was inside the tree.

Behind the board wall that separated the proper part of the cellar from the boiler was a more fascinating world. There was the oil tank, of course, and an old icebox, and some type of old kitchen dresser, and a set of shelves where Papá and Uncle Guido kept their tools, nails, and screws, and the rows of ropes where the summer clothes lived in the winter and vice versa, since upstairs had no closets except in one room. You could sneak in the back and peek at the grownups talking and playing cards through a knothole in one of the boards and pretend you were a spy.

Later in the afternoon the poker players dispersed and Aunty would serve coffee and pie and cookies, and more aunts and uncles and cousins might show up. One year when Kathy and I were young enough to follow directions and yet old enough to follow directions, the older cousins staged a Christmas pageant that we put on in one half of the cellar, using a rope and a blanket for a curtain.

The other early Christmas memory is going to see Santa Claus at the Outlet Company in downtown Providence. Other stores like Shepard's also had a Santa, but we in the know understood the Outlet's Santa Claus was the Real Thing. We stood in long lines to see him in the Toyland in the basement. One year the Outlet people went all out and made a wintry path for the kids to wind through and all the children received a story and activity pamplet with mazes, games, and puzzles which I kept and cherished for years. The Outlet Santa was always big and genial and gentle--nothing like the manic Santa in A Christmas Story--and I always remember it being a fun and exciting experience.

29 October 2003

Some of My Own Answers #1

Thought I'd pick at random:

2. What are your favorite Advent and Christmas traditions?

For the past couple of years I've been trying to get us to do something Christmasy during the weekends of Advent. Last year we got a bit distracted by James' new job and I missed the one thing I wanted to do, the Christmas exhibit at the Marietta History Museum. We did get to see the Atlanta Radio Theatre Company perform at Stone Mountain Park. The year before, 2001, was quite fun. We went to the Candlelight Walk at the Atlanta History Center one weekend, out to the monastery in Conyers another weekend, etc.

I also like to spread things out so everything does not abruptly end December 25. I can't tell you how many people have surprised me by saying that the Twelve Days of Christmas are the twelve days before Christmas. This is some henious propaganda and rot that television and magazine advertisers have gotten people into believing. Christmas Day begins the Christmas season/Christmastide/the 12 days of Christmas, which lasts until January 6, the feast of the Epiphany, when, tradition says, the Wise Men reached the stable where Jesus was born. It at least lasts through what is usually Christmas vacation at school and New Year's Day.

A couple of years back James and I decided the two-hour trip down and then back again to Warner Robins on Christmas Day was just Too Much, especially since we like to go to Midnight Mass at a friend's church. We never got any time to ourselves on the holiday.

Now we go down to visit his mother, sister, and niece on the weekend after Christmas. It's nice and relaxed and we don't have to worry about going to bed late or getting up early. We spend New Year's Eve with friends and then have a Twelfth Night party on the closest Saturday to January 6. It stretches out the pleasure of the holiday.