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."