31 December 2004

St. Sylvester's Day

"On the seventh day of Christmas
"My true love gave to me...
"...seven swans a'swimming
"six geese a'laying
"five gold rings
"four calling birds
"three French hens
"two turtledoves
"and a partridge in a pear tree."
Been a busy day--got some things to take to the parties tonight, bought some groceries, visited Borders...am now home watching The Poseidon Adventure, which takes place on New Year's Eve/Day. For many years Fox Movie Channel has shown this film on New Year's Eve. One year they had the full-screen version, widescreen version, and a version with popup facts. Last year they showed it with a documetary about Poseidon Adventure fans.

This year there are other films on, in respect, I will assume, for the victims of the tidal wave in Indonesia. The photos and stories coming from that part of the world are heartbreaking. If you're an Amazon.com customer and are looking for a quick way to give the relief effort some help, you can do a one-click payment via Amazon. Or visit www.redcross.org.
Thursday Threesome

::Taking the Lights Down...::

Onesome: Taking-- --some time off? Are you on holiday schedule tomorrow? ...or is it just another day in the mines? How about a party in the evening? No?

When a holiday is on a Saturday, you get the Friday off where I work. But since I had Friday off anyway, I got Thursday off as well...and then we had the power failure on Wednesday which sent us home before noon. So even though I had to work this week (I had no leave left, after taking two weeks of vacation), it was a nice short one! (It's actually not bad working between Christmas and New Year's...no one else is at work! You bring a book and enjoy yourself.

Twosome: the Lights-- Hey, is this the weekend all the decorations come down? When do you "de-Christmas" your place?

After January 6th, which is when the twelve days of Christmas are over. This is the feast of the Epiphany, when it is said the Wise Men reached the location of the Baby Jesus.

Threesome: Down-- --time... Are you getting any relaxation time this weekend? ...or are you all wrapped up in parties and events? ..and for the students: are you done with down time? When do you have to go back?

We have two New Year's Eve parties tonight, but hopefully it will be fairly quiet afterwards. We have to rest--we have a Twelfth Night party next Saturday.

30 December 2004

Churching Day

"On the sixth day of Christmas
"My true love gave to me...
"...six geese a'laying
"five gold rings
"four calling birds
"three French hens
"two turtledoves
"and a partridge in a pear tree."
The titles that I'm giving to the Twelve Days of Christmas, BTW, are from a novel called The Thirteen Days of Christmas, a medieval tale about a wealthy man who gives his intended bride the twelve days of gifts (no, this isn't the sarcastic version in letters) to convince her he's not staid and unimaginative. The children in the Kitson family conspire with the suitor to get their bossy sister Annaple married off because they hate her cooking! It's very funny.

Another visit to the past today: A Louisa May Alcott Christmas, short stories from various 19th century magazines. This volume cheats a bit--two of the stories are Thanksgiving tales, but the merrymaking is Christmasy enough. (There's another volume, A Louisa May Alcott Christmas Treasury, which purports to contain "all Alcott's Christmas stories," but only about half of the stories and poems are duplicated between the two books.) Alcott Christmas was marketed as a children's book, but at least two of the stories are adult domestic dramas with Christmas framing. The cover makes it look too cute for words.

29 December 2004

St. Thomas of Canterbury Day

"On the fifth day of Christmas
"My true love gave to me...
"...five gold rings
"four calling birds
"three French hens
"two turtledoves
"and a partridge in a pear tree."
A freebie today, as the power went out at work. I spent the blackout time reading Paul Davis' The Lives and Times of Ebenezer Scrooge. If you're a fan of A Christmas Carol, you'll enjoy this examination of how readers' interpretations of this simple book have changed in the 140 years since it was written. To the early Victorians it was a plea for charity at the Christmas season, to the late Victorians a celebration of family and children (up to the exclusion of Scrooge). In one era it was treated as a children's story, in another an indictment of economics. A great examination of changing social mores.

28 December 2004

Childermas (Holy Innocents Day)

"On the fourth day of Christmas
"My true love gave to me...
"...four calling birds
"three French hens
"two turtledoves
"and a partridge in a pear tree."
Anyone interested in the history of Christmas customs in the United States should get a copy of Karel Marling's Merry Christmas! The history of Christmas customs has been chronicled in many other books, but Marling's fresh take is informative and interesting. Do you know why we wrap Christmas gifts, when the first gifts were actually distributed unwrapped and hung on the tree? Did you know those ubiquitious Christmas villages lit from within by electric bulbs weren't the creation of Hallmark or any other Christmas merchant, but derive from old European custom? Do you know how Santa Claus evolved from an aesthetic bishop to a "right jolly old elf" to the "six foot God Emperor of Christmas" (complete in red and white, Coca-Cola's colors)? Marling's book tells you all this, and more, from the evolution of "White Christmas" to the celebration of the holiday in foreign climes. Highly recommended!
Tuesday Twosome

1. Do you make resolutions and why (or why not)?

No, I don't keep them.

2. What two things do you want to change about yourself or your lifestyle in 2005?

Lose weight and get more sleep.

3. What are two important events that occurred in your life in 2004?

It'll have to be four: My budgie Bandit died, I had surgery to remove an ovarian cyst and had a hysterectomy, I adoped Pigwidgeon, and I bought a new car.

4. If you could change two things/events of 2004, what would they be?

Most importantly my mom's cancer not getting worse would have been the best thing to happen.

That dippy woman in the SUV who hit me could have slowed down and missed me, too.

5. Are you going to "Partay" on New Year's Eve or just "chill"?

"Partay" with friends, but most of us don't do that drinking thing, and those that do, don't do it to excess. I don't even know if I could drink, even if I liked to, because of my heart pills.

27 December 2004

St. John's Day

"On the third day of Christmas
"My true love gave to me...
"...three French hens
"two turtledoves
"and a partridge in a pear tree."
I finally had a chance to put on my "Happy Holiday Hearth" DVD tonight. This is a version of WPIX's beloved "Yule Log" with a fire crackling onscreen. You can watch it with the fire crackling, with Christmas carols, or with both.

There are several versions of video fireplaces, of variable quality. This one is pretty nice; generic singers doing the carols, pretty traditional. There's one fireplace set that actually has non-Christmas music to it so you can use it all year 'round.

I was ambivalent about the existence of video fireplaces, but I kind of liked it last night as I was reading, with the crackling of the fire in the background. It must be a visceral, instinctive thing, being attracted to the snap and crackle of the flames.

(Of course I could go upstairs and listen to the real fire, but it leaves Pidge alone; I spend so little time with him weekdays that I hate to do so.)
Monday Madness

1) Which holiday do you celebrate this time of year? (If necessary, modify the following questions to suit your holiday.)

The Christmas season, through Epiphany. (And Advent, of course.)

2) Do you begin shopping for gifts earlier than Thanksgiving, looking for the perfect gift? If not, when do you begin?

I shop for gifts all year long. I know what the people whom I buy presents for like and when I see an appropriate gift, I buy it.

3) Do you only purchase gifts that you know are perfect for the recipient and if you don't find that gift, do you just get anything?

I still try to get a gift that's appropriate. I had particular trouble with one friend this year, but found something in that person's sphere of interest at the last minute. I would have preferred something a little more personal, but this was quite close.

4) Did you receive or give any "obligatory" gifts this year?

I dunno if it's an obligatory gift--the nice fellow who cuts our lawn gave us an amaryllis plant. I wish he wouldn't; I killed the one he gave us last year. We really don't have anywhere to keep it and I'm allergic to flowers.

5) Do you decorate your tree as evenly as possible or do you skip the areas that are not visible?

I put the older ornaments in the back of the tree. (You can tell; they're faded.)

6) Do you like multi-colors on your tree or do you prefer monochrome?

The tree and front door wreath are multicolor; the rest of the lights are blue. Both James and I love the ethereal look it gives to the house. If we ever get a plug put into the front of the house we can put up more lights...

7) Did you bake "traditional" cookies, frost them and decorate them? or did you cheat and buy the ready to bake kind? (like I tried)

Frosting? Ugh! I did make traditional cookies, Italian wine biscuits. This is what my mom used to bake, along with almond bars and molasses cookies and butterballs. The butterballs had powdered sugar on them; that's as sweet as we got. (Frosting...shudder...)

8) Are you the host of a holiday gathering? which one? family, work, friends?

We have a Twelfth Night party on the closest Saturday to January 6. I've never done the cake, though. (You're supposed to put a bean in it and the person who gets the bean will have good luck throughout the year.)

9) With whom do you spend the holiday?

Sometimes we are invited to friends' homes, but this year we had Christmas on our own. We went to see James' family on Christmas Eve.

10) How did the holiday turn out? Perfectly? funny mishaps? miss anyone?

We had a nice quiet day which was quite relieving for this year! We had vacation at Thanksgiving and the week after and then two weekends where we did nothing but run off our feet doing errands and repairing things. We slept late, had presents, spent a quiet afternoon with the animals, had turkey for dinner and made turkey soup.

26 December 2004

Boxing Day/St. Stephen's Day

"On the second day of Christmas
"My true love gave to me...
"...two turtledoves
"and a partridge in a pear tree."
We ended up not going down to the Fox at all. We had the usual weekend errands to run since we'd played hooky for the rest of the time. The usual tiresome run for groceries, of course, and the ubiquitous washing of the clothing. But now we have Christmas cards for next year and have stocked up on some soda for our Twelfth Night party.

We discovered that if we want to see the World War II exhibit at the Atlanta History Center, we're going to have to make tracks there next Sunday since the Center is closed New Year's Day. January 2nd is the last day.

Looking a the calendar and watching those last few days of 2004 clock down.

Sigh. Another year gone...

25 December 2004

Anticipation is the Best Part...But Can't We Make It Last?

I found this beautiful passage in Kate Seredy's The Open Gate:
Christmas never comes all of a sudden. It shouldn't. It has to be hoped for and waited for with joy. It is like a beautiful, bright, glowing comet that one can see from very far away. It floats closer and closer, growing more beautiful as it comes. The few days before it finally envelops the whole world in a shining, warm light are perhaps the best part of Christmas. They mean secret smiles at bulky, strange objects trying to hide in closets and under beds, or anywhere, where people are not supposed to look, but, because it's Christams, always do. They mean wonderful, spicy odors all through the house. They mean whispered conversations that suddenly stop when one comes into a room unexpectedly, and the bubbling feeling inside one that comes from the knowledge that there is another surprise being talked over and plotted with such secrecy that one can't help but know about it. That is the best part of Christmas; the waiting, the preparing, the hoping for the joy to come."
We wait so long for this time of year--why rush it when it comes? As Kris Kringle said in Miracle on 34th Street," Christmas isn't a day, it's a state of mind. But yet somewhere tonight trees are being undecorated and "Christmas is over."

What happened to letting the Christmas season at least go through New Year's Day? Even the stores tear down their decorations where they used to last until New Year's. There are twelve days of Christmas, and, even though most of us poor working class drones must go back to work on Monday, why not keep the season going as it should and parcel a bit of fun through each of the days? Enjoy the decorations and the movies and the scents and the colors and the plays of the season! It's all yours to celebrate--don't let it slip away so easily!

There's No Christmas Like a Home Christmas

"On the first day of Christmas
"My true love gave to me...
"...a partridge in a pear tree."
Woke still feeling a bit under the weather; at this point I still have a nagging headache. However, the animals are overjoyed: Pidge is running riot with his new bird toys and chirping at the top of his lungs and Willow is clinging to her daddy happily. We had presents late this morning and then breakfast; then James popped a new network card in his new computer--and viola (as Snagglepuss would say), now everything works, so it looks like the network card was the culprit. He's happily downloading new versions of Firefox as we watch holiday window and yard decorations on HGTV.

Up in the kitchen the turkey necks we bought are simmering into turkey soup and our dinner, turkey legs and wings, are brining ala Alton Brown before cooking, the living room stereo is playing carols, and the tree glows over the small cache of gifts, mostly books and DVDs. Since we didn't make it out to the real movies (we were planning on seeing The Aviator), we'll probably watch one of the DVDs in a bit: Robin Hood: Men in Tights (which we had to order from England).

24 December 2004

I Spoke Too Soon

The trip to church has been abandoned. I seem to have had a bad reaction to something I ate and am sticking close to the bathroom. But there's Christmas music here and a warm fleece wrap and Pidgie singing a bird carol.

35 minutes till Christmas...

Ho, Ho, Ho, the Festivities are Just Beginning

We drove down to Warner Robins today to visit James' mom, sisters, and niece. Before arriving we stopped to exchange gifts and vist with our friends Clay and Marianne and their two mini dachshunds, Rupert ("Ripper") and Jenny. At James' mom's home we had a buffet lunch and chatted and exchanged gifts under the tree and showed them our vacation pictures. James' mom has an enormous Christmas village that covers one corner of her living room. I haven't counted the houses, but there are several dozen of them, and sleighs and skaters and horses and all sorts of village goodies. On the sideboard and in the dining area are little Santa and other Christmasy statues. It's a veritable Christmas wonderland.

We left about seven and rode, as we had on the way up, to the Christmas songs on the radio. At the beginning of the season I programmed the three Atlanta FM stations doing Christmas music into the buttons on the radio. I'm mainly listening to Lite 94.9, but when they start yakking I just press the buttons for another station. WABE (Public Radio) was doing some carols as well.

We got home in time to have a bowl of warm soup and play (or in Willow's case, cuddle) with the animals a while. Disappointed: HGTV is not doing Christmas Across America this year! They've done it for all the time I've been watching HGTV, I think, and this year nothing. Darn. It was fun to watch all those different town and home decorations.

And of course we checked in on Santa's progress on the NORAD site! He's over Newfoundland and Labrador at the moment, with a two-fighter escort courtesy of the Canadians. We're waiting for you, Santa!

But right now we're off to Midnight Mass at the Church of Our Saviour in Virginia Highlands. Our friends the Taylors go to this church and we love their Midnight Mass. The highlight is when they turn down the lights and the choir sings "Silent Night" with candles. I always end up crying.

One hour and 35 minutes until Christmas!

23 December 2004

Gerald Toner's Christmas World...

...packaged with love in A Cozy Nook.

22 December 2004

Airborne Christmas

Sat down to watch Christmas specials last night: Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol first of all; this is the first Christmas special I ever remember watching, except for Amahl and the Night Visitors. The score is so memorable it was in my head years later when Magoo wasn't broadcast for so long. I wanted to see Broadway someday just because of that opening song!

We also watched the Hill Street Blues Christmas ep, "Santa Claustrophobia." There are a lot of memorable scenes in this one, including Furillo talking to a resentful boy and Renko's "Oh, Lordy God, it's Christmas Eve and I'm going to be shot dead in a moose suit" (he's just finished a hospital benefit where he's been dressed as a reindeer), but our favorite scene is where raucous drunk "Buck Naked" exposes himself to Fay Furillo so he'll get arrested and sent to the Michigan Avenue Complex for a turkey dinner. Fay wails (Fay was always wailing) "Can't someone arrest this man?" and Lucy Bates, after gazing at the fellow's "attributes," says drily, "Insufficient evidence, Mrs. Furillo."

By far, however, James' treat of the night was Mercy Mission: The Rescue of Flight 771, a television movie from 1993. Scott Bakula plays Jay Parkins, a rather feckless pilot whose wife wants him to settle down now that they are expecting a baby, but he doesn't want to be trapped in a 9 to 5 type job. To make some money, he and a friend take a job shuttling two crop dusting planes from San Francisco to New Zealand. At Pago Pago, his buddy's plane is disabled, but Jay, needing the cash, flies on, not knowing his instrumentation is damaged. Soon he realizes he's way off course and lost.

Enter an Air New Zealand flight enroute to Auckland. Pilot Gordon Vette is determined not to let the young man die and convinces his crew, passengers, and air traffic control to allow him to help find the plane. By a series of rather unorthodox tricks in a computerized age, Vette locates Jay's plane and is able to guide him through one last obstacle, a violent thunderstorm.

This is a suspenseful movie, despite the fact our leads are stuck in aircraft seats for 3/4 of the movie. Bakula is great in the lead, but it's Robert Loggia's irascible Vette who really shines.

If you're able to see the movie, look for two men cheering and hugging each other in the tower when the plain lands; one is very tall with light hair and the other is shorter. These are the real Jay Parkins (real name Jay Prochnow) and Gordon Vette.

Vette, I didn't realize until "googling" him, is quite a "name" in commercial aviation. He wrote a classic book, Impact Erebus, on the Mount Erebus air disaster in which a New Zealand flight crashed into a mountain in Antarctica.

Here's a great review of the movie at Air Odyssey, which includes the differences in the film and the real life story. (Also an image link to something that looks like a DVD cover, except the movie's not on DVD; a great pity.)

I also found Mayday in December, an account of the incident and how celestial navigation was used to locate Prochnow's plane.

20 December 2004

Curled Up by the TV With A Christmas Book

Finished Ann Hodgman's I Saw Mommy Kicking Santa Claus. This is pretty much a funnier version of The Christmas Survival Book. Hodgman talks about the unrealistic Christmas expectations we make for ourselves. The most amusing part of the book are the anecdotes that pepper its pages from individuals remembering their worst holiday memories (from the cat knocking over the tree to rude relatives and botched gifts).

Also read Ben Logan's Christmas Remembered. Logan, the youngest of four boys, grew up on a Wisconsin farm in the 1920s/1930s. His earlier nostalgic book, The Land Remembers, is a fond account of the hardships and happiness of farm life back before labor-saving devices and electricity. His Christmas book is as lyrical and absorbing: accounts of two farm Christmases, plus his later Christmases serving in World War II and postwar living in Mexico. His account of family life during a blizzard will make you long to be snowed in.

17 December 2004

Christmas Fun...and Aggravation

I slept late, so I was in a good mood when I set out this morning: was headed for a couple of places at Town Center--mainly Barnes & Noble to get the latest copy of my favorite cross-stitch magazine, Quick & Easy--and expected it to be crowded. But it was a Friday and I expected many people to be at work. They weren't. I finally blew off going to JoAnn Etc and dropping in at Media Play, made a U-turn on Barrett Parkway, and drove back down to the Cumberland Mall area where everything was much saner.

Most of the crowd up on Barrett was going to the mall; it was jaw-dropping. It continually astonishs me every year how many people leave Christmas shopping till the last minute--and how much importance they put on the excursion. I know we are bombarded from October onward with this buy-buy-buy mentality, but it's extraordinary. And I know why these people hate Christmas. To me Christmas is a nice, friendly holiday. You listen to special music, put up colorful decorations, visit friends and family, make goodies you don't ordinarily make during the rest of the year, and buy a small, appropriate gift for certain people that you like. But so many people make it a contest: give the most gifts (and max your credit card out on them), put up the prettiest decorations, cook the finest meal, make the most cookies...for cryin' out loud, you're supposed to be having fun here! It's like sports: they're supposed to be for fun, and people make it into this life-and-death thing and harass their children who don't win.

I'm sorry so many children are getting initiated into this "you get expensive things or nothing" lifestyle. Looking back, I remember getting many nice gifts at Christmas: a television one year, a tape recorder another, the crowning glory--my typewriter--yet another. But not one of my special Christmas memories has anything to do with a gift! It's scents and colorful lights and family gatherings and Italian baked goods and sometimes snow and going to church on Christmas Eve and the surprise on Mom and Dad's face when I gave them a present.

In that vein, I bought a new book at Border's, I Saw Mommy Kicking Santa Claus, which is supposed to be a humorous book about how to cope with all this crass materialism and competition at Christmas.

And it didn't matter that I skipped JoAnn at the end: I got some bits and pieces at Michael's and one at the Dollar Tree to do what I wanted: gather some things for a winter exhibit after Christmas. I have a little blue gateleg table in the den that right now holds our ceppo with the little Christmas tree full of Hallmark miniatures, plus a candy dish and some other Christmas decorations on some cotton batting. In the fall I had a fall bouquet and some autumn leaves and a little stuffed scarecrow on it, and before that it was a bouquet of lilacs and some little games (I don't decorate much for summer; it's a season I'd rather forget) and in the spring I had the Easter tree on it. I wanted a winter exhibit: I have a silver and blue bouquet and a stuffed snowman, and today bought some silver and blue branches and some pine needles and cones, a couple of statues of animals in the snow and little pine trees, and another stuffed snowman. It will look nice during January and February and the first part of March.

15 December 2004

Parakeets, Purses, and Pumpkin Pie...All In One Place

For some reason the lights on the Christmas wreath had quit working when I put it up (they were fine when I put the wreath in the closet last year), so we had to buy another set.

Christmas lights are everywhere these days: you can get them in drugstores and supermarkets and craft stores, and from Sears to Kmart (almost hard to believe that over 100 years ago you needed a "wireman"--electrician--to set up Christmas lights on your tree; the darn things were $20 for a set of 16, or something like that). And I knew that.

But the first thing I said was "I miss Woolworths."

I did an online search on "Woolworths" last night and found it very depressing when all the British, Australian, German, and New Zealand stores showed up–to know that here in the US, where Mr. Woolworth pioneered a new type of store, it's no more.

Okay, who out there remembers Woolworths? Not the Woolco department stores, nor the last-gasp Woolworths of the 1980s, but "the five and ten," Woolworths, the one you walked into and smelled the good hot coffee and simmering soup from the lunch counter on one side of the store plus the fresh popcorn offered in the candy department. Where you could literally order soup–at the lunch counter–to nuts–canned Planters, in the candy department. Where you didn't have to buy candy in measured containers, but could order it freshly scooped by the candy lady in as little or as much as you wanted. Where the parakeets chirping from the pet department accompanied the whirr of the demonstrating fans in the summer and the low hum of the heater in winter. Where you could get anything from hardware to inexpensive toys to sewing thread to dry goods, and the aisles were packed with all sorts of goodies, from toy cars to candy bars to ladies' makeup and shoe polish.

Oh, there were Valentines aplenty in February and too many marshmallow chicks and chocolate rabbits to count at Easter and flags flying and picnic sets for Independence Day, but it was at Christmas that Woolworths came into its own. After all, Frank Woolworth sold the first glass Christmas tree ornaments imported into the United States from Germany in his stores. At Christmas Woolworths became an explosion of color. The store was draped in garlands–tinsel garlands and accordion foil garlands and holly garlands and pine garlands--and lights, and Christmas decorations popped up everywhere from the front windows to the lunch counter. The waitresses wore Christmas corsages and the checkout clerks donned red-and-white Santa hats. Woolworths had their own line of Christmas decorations and lights and artificial trees. To the scent of popcorn was added the delightful odor of peppermint. The aisles bloomed with net Christmas stockings, holiday-wrapped Whitman samplers, and Elizabeth Arden gift sets, plus cards, bows, ribbons, wrapping paper, tissue paper, stickers (anyone remember Christmas stickers, the things that held your wrappings together before adhesive tape was popular?), and tags. There was always a train, however small, set up someplace, with some type of Christmas boxcar (this year's newest design), or a flatcar full of Christmas trees. They were usually too small to have a Santa Claus like the department stores, although some Woolworth Santas did exist, but there was a Toyland, filled with all the latest dolls and trucks and other coveted playthings.

In certain parts of the country, in the basement with the Christmas decorations, you could find bins filled with different figures for the family creche scene. One started out simply, with the Holy Family. Then the Three Kings could be added, and some shepherds and of course an angel. In subsequent years you could add the ox, and the donkey, the camels and the camel boy, other people offering gifts, sheep, a goat or two, a sheepdog. A crudely-made stable could also be purchased, as well as miniature straw bales, so that an entire Bethlehem scene could sit under the tree or on top of the big box-shaped television for the kids to move about and re-inact the Christmas story. The traditionalists didn't put the Baby Jesus figure into the manger until Christmas Eve and started the Kings and their camels in the kitchen, slowly following the star until finally arriving at the manger on Twelfth Night or the day of Epiphany.

Among this forest of Christmas fantasy were all the ethnic goodies that made the holidays so memorable. The Woolworths in our neighborhood sold torrone and panettone along with German stollen, and we knew in the Spanish and Portuguese neighborhoods those folks were able to buy their own favorites at their Woolworths. It was one of the few non-specialty stores where you could find Hanukkah fixings: small menorahs, blue candles, plastic dreidels, and net bags full of chocolate Hanukkah gelt. Jewish kids would tease us that they got eight days of gifts and we only got one.

Plus there were those hard candy fruit slices in orange, lemon, and tangerine flavor that only were sold at Christmas, and the little candies whose wrappers looked like strawberries and which were strawberry-flavored inside, and red and white popcorn balls and of course candy canes of every stripe, and spheres and disks of chocolate covered with Christmas-themed foil.

Oh, for a time machine, if just for one day before Christmas...

13 December 2004

On the Christmas Track

I've read the reviews of David Balducci's The Christmas Train on Amazon.com. And all I can say to a few of them is...did we read the same book?

The Christmas Train is the story of reporter Tom Langdon, who, having been banned from flying in the continental US after an unfortunate contretemps in security, takes the train from Washington, DC, to LA to be with his current girlfriend who he doesn't have much of an emotional attachment to. His great love was Eleanor Carter, a fellow reporter, who walked out on him in Tel Aviv many years earlier--and who, coincidentally, turns up on the same train with a movie producer and his assistant, a pair of lovebirds who plan to be married enroute, a priest, a rather overweight woman who's friends with all the train staff, plus a hoard of friendly train employees and unusual train travelers.

The reviews decry Train as not being like Baldacci's other books, as being a commercial for Amtrak, for being like a romance novel. Folks, did you even read the description of this book? It is a romantic story, and it is an unabashed paean to the good old days of train travel--what did you expect in a book taking place on a train with a plot about a man writing about the romantic side to train travel, a commercial for Delta?

I won't claim this book is perfect. There are almost too many eccentric characters--doesn't anyone normal travel by train? (I guess those are the people we don't get names for, who are also on the train; they're too normal to figure in the story.) Also, there's not one Amtrak person who doesn't like working on the train (or if there is, we don't meet them). This is sort of a book version of a good old Hollywood Christmas film like White Christmas, or one of the classic Lassie and Timmy Christmas episodes and should be savored as such; if sentiment isn't your bag, pick up a Jack Higgins thriller. But please don't criticize The Christmas Train for being something it's not supposed to be.

(And for heaven's sake don't make the mistake of thinking it's like John Grisham's excruciating Skipping Christmas. While Balducci's book makes me want to take a train trip and be nice to people, all Grisham's book makes me want to do is murder the Kranks' neighbors.)

BTW, several folks comment that "Mark Twain is mentioned several times for no reason." In your haste to read this book looking for murder and mayhem, you completely missed the explanation that Tom Langdon was related to Olivia Langdon, Twain's wife.

Detractors of The Christmas Train will probably be turned off by the beautifully illustrated The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, which I also purchased this weekend. It's the simple, sentimental story of an embittered woodcarver who takes on the job of carving a new nativity scene for a widow and her little boy. The detailed illustrations make you want to leap into them and live within.

Happy St. Lucy's Day!

In Scandinavia, many people still follow this old custom: the eldest daughter in the household rises first and serves her family coffee and a special coffeecake, called Lucia cakes. Traditionally, she wears a crown of lighted candles, but I wonder how many families follow this seemingly-dangerous custom these days! It does sound lovely, however: imagine the young woman coming in the door in a probably dark or dim house, crowned with bright candles!

Here's a web essay by Margarette Connor about celebrating St. Lucia's day.

O Christmas Tree!

I'd like to say I had a joyous, happy time decorating the tree on Sunday, but I had a backache that had started before we had to get together and fix the fence (see today's "Yet Another Journal" entry about the fence), and then I fought for about an hour with the string of lights before abandoning it for another string. (I'm having a problem with light strings this year: first the one on my mom's tree, then the one on the wreath--which still isn't fixed--and now the tree lights. They worked fine when I took them down last year!)

The lights go first, of course, then the ornaments, and finally the icicles. I wonder how many other folks still put on "the tinsel"--even my mom has abandoned the custom since it's just too much for her arthritic fingers. When I finished I watched the silvery threads floating in the breath of air from the furnace.

I remember reading one of the books about the old-style icicles, the original version made from lead foil. Of course they were banned in the late 60s when all the data came in about lead poisoning in children. It seems to me, though, that even in my childhood we had the lighter mylar tinsel (perhaps in the 50s we had the older sort that you had to throw away every year because it tarnished). This book went pretty hard on the mylar stuff because the lead foil hung like real icicles from the tree while the mylar blows and vibrates in every breeze and holds a static charge.

The latter is a pain in the neck. One of the reasons I won't let the dog near the tree is because tinsel follows her like crazy; she's very "magnetic." But it's funny, the other reason that the author dislikes mylar icicles is the very reason I like them: the way they move when a slight draught eddies about the tree. It is almost as if the tree is alive when they move, like the light fur on an animal or the leaves on a tree. In the end it is what you've grown up with, I suspect.

10 December 2004

Grinch of Another Color

A couple of months ago I lucked out on a used DVD sale at CD Warehouse; got PBS's Seabiscuit, White Christmas, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas at a good price.

Watched the Grinch last night: since this was in a paper case and not a keep case I figured it was just basic special and that's it. To my surprise, I discovered it had commentary on it by animator Phil Roman and voice artist June Foray (who was "Cindy Lou Who, who was no more than two"). I can't say it was the most informative commentary I've ever heard, but it was quite pleasant. There are also two short documentaries about the music and TNT's "Making of the Grinch" special with the late Phil Hartman (who I don't find as funny as everyone else does).

The Grinch isn't my favorite Christmas special, but it's fun and I love the "Welcome Christmas" song.

I see there's a furor going on in the Amazon.com reviews about the DVD version: yes, the Grinch is yellowish in the first part of the story on DVD. I have no idea why. I thought I was seeing things. Oh, well, I'm sure someone will do a super-colossal release of the story some day. And a yellow Grinch is infinitely preferable to a Jim Carrey Grinch of whatever persuasion.

In the meantime, we Chuck Jones fans would like more of his productions out: what about the three Jungle Book stories from the early 80s, "The White Seal," "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi," and "Mowgli's Brothers"? Or all three of the Chester Cricket specials, which includes A Very Merry Cricket?

09 December 2004

"And God Bless Us...Everyone"

A few years ago I found Michael Hearn's The Annotated Christmas Carol on the remainder counter at Border's. Let me say simply that I love annotated books. You not only get a text you want to read, but histories and explanations that enhance its meaning. Since I love history it's as if you've gotten a bonus.

The Carol annotations are superb. Hearn starts with a history of Charles Dickens up to the writing of the book, chronicling its conception and publication, the "rip off" versions--even Dickens had trouble with plagarism--and reviews of the day. Then all the referrals in the text are footnoted: not just allusions to other literature, but explanations of terms that were common in Dickens' day that are unfamiliar now: what is the "'Change" Scrooge is known on, for instance, or what a Sir Roger de Coverly dance is. It was an embarrassment of riches.

Earlier this year I found out Hearn had done an expanded edition for 2004. The mind boggled. The introduction now included reviews of the Carol, there were additional footnotes, and the book also included the edited version of the story that Dickens employed when he did live readings. It was pricey, so I decided to bide my time to find a reasonably-priced edition.

Well, I walked into Borders yesterday to get the newest magazines and there to my astonishment was the new edition on the remainder shelf. Ohboy! (And yes, it's as wonderful as I thought it would be!)

Home to Nebraska

Even though we had watched it last Friday, I came home the other day and put The House Without a Christmas Tree on once more.

I love this story so much. It's a combination of everything: the characters, the storyline, and the setting. I especially appreciate the setting as so many period pieces are so obviously trumpeting "this is a period piece and look at all the neat costumes/props we have from the era." The 1940s postwar era is portrayed in this story as ordinary life: there is no trumpeting--that's just the way it is. And what a homey (or "homely," as the British say) setting: the kitchen and living room remind me of many of my relatives' homes before they were remodeled. Look at the hoosier cabinet in the kitchen, the stove, James' easy chair, the fireplace...it's truly like going home.

I adore Addie. She reminds me somewhat of myself, with the drawing and enjoying school, but I could only have wished for this child's self-confidence and assertiveness. I delight in her creativity. It would have been so easy to make her father the villain--I'm certain a modern production of the story would have--but instead one can see his own pain beneath his gruffness and occasional cruelty. What he can't express in words he does in small things: leaving Addie a cupcake from his lunch, teaching her physical and mental skills. He is a marvelously complicated character.

The schoolroom is perfect. I would have loved to attend Miss Thompson's classes, warm with steam heat, with the memorable scents of chalk and wood and the traces of sweet pea perfume, learning vocabulary and music and history.

Even the theme music is memorable, as well as the collage commercial segues. On tape they divide the story into acts like a classy stage play.

The sequels are also good, especially the first (Thanksgiving Treasure), but nothing quite equals this lovely Christmas story. A pity it isn't on DVD. Anyone listening out there at CBS???? (Or are we simply to drown in CSI clones for the rest of our lives?)

08 December 2004

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

If I were still living at home I would be going to church today: it's a Holy Day of Obligation.

It took a while for some kids to get it once we learned about the facts of life. "If Jesus was born in December," they argued, "how could Mary get pregnant with him in the same month? Was she pregnant a year?"

The Immaculate Conception has nothing to do with Jesus. It is rather the Virgin Mary who was immaculately conceived without sin in order to be the mother of Jesus.

Here's the doctrine from the Catholic Encyclopedia.

06 December 2004

Very Merry Reading

I picked these all up on vacation:

It's a Wonderful Christmas, Susan Waggoner. I saw this before we left; for some reason, I found it in Borders Books in the Collectables area. It's not a collecting book with prices, however: it's a delightfully nostalgic look at Christmas in the 1940s, 1950s, and early 1960s by use of text with reproductions of old advertisements, toy and Christmas ornament boxes, magazine and book illustrations, wrapping paper and cards, etc. Woolworth Christmas ornament boxes, ads for vintage toys, and wartime memorabilia bring back a world that was, while flawed, appears closer and warmer than today.

A Quiet Knowing Christmas, Ruth Bell Graham (Billy Graham's wife). A find from the bargain shelf at Barnes & Noble!--poems, anecdotes, small simple craft projects and recipes in a quietly beautiful book. Christian oriented but not "pushy." It's a firelight and cocoa read-by-the-Christmas-tree type book.

All Aboard for Christmas, Christopher Jennison. Surrounded by wonderful baubles in the Breakers' (Newport, RI) gift shop, I was mesmerized instead by this wonderful hardback volume concerning trains. I like watching cool model railroad setups and I am moderately interested in the romantic side of train travel, but I'm nowhere near a "train buff." However, unless you really consider trains boring, this volume is absorbing from beginning to end as a history of a vanished way of life. There are chapters on train travel on or for the holidays, toy train setups at home and in busines, and railroad workers during the holidays. The text is accompanied by fabulous train advertisements, toy train memorabilia, and paintings of trains in the snow. Indescribably beautiful and nostalgic.

27 November 2004

Christmas Lights A'Comin'!

Holiday lights in Yet Another Journal.

25 November 2004

Ahead of a Thanksgiving Trend

The front page of the Providence Journal features an "above the fold" story called "Busy and Winging It."
"It is the iconic symbol of Thanksgiving from six decades ago: Norman Rockwell's 'Freedom from Want' illustration that depicts three smiling generations seated around a white linen-sheathed table as the grandmother, with the grandfather beside her, presents the plump turkey.

"This year many families in Southeastern New England will be headed over the river and through the woods...to a local restaurant.

"It's not your grandmother's Thanksgiving anymore..."
Wow, I grew up "ahead of the curve"! The three of us always went out for Thanksgiving.

The day started at nine, when the CBS parades began. Back then the eye network had an eclectic mix of holiday marchers that didn't include Hawaiian flowers or Disneyfication: the classic Macy's from New York, which was also covered in full on NBC; Gimbels from Philadelphia (Macy's had balloons, Gimbel's had giant heads); J.L. Hudson's in Detroit (Hudson's now survives as Target); and Eaton's Santa Claus Parade from Toronto. The children's friend, our beloved Captain Kangaroo, hosted the affair from New York; he was succeeded by William Conrad sipping eggnog in a plush den and reading "A Visit from St. Nicholas."

As the last hour of the parades tripped by, it was time to get dressed--and no casual clothes today!: leggings and slip and dress--and the curlers out of your hair and a fresh bow for your hair. We always went to the same place, Venetian Gardens out on West Shore Road. They used to be a supper club and still had awe-inspiring (at least for a kid) things like a hat-check girl, a cigarette girl, and waiters in black tie. Sometimes there was actually live piano music. It was best behavior time, but it was fun because it was such a treat--we didn't go out to eat much back then.

After dinner we rode around a bit to give the relatives time to eat, then dropped in from house to house sampling all the different desserts. There would be Auntie Lisa's big tall-crusted apple pie, and pumpkin and squash pies, and probably wine biscuits and other cookies and Hershey kisses scattered in between them. There would be coffee for the adults and soda and milk for the kids, and chat--although more than a handful of the men would be in the living room absorbed in one of the football games.

We kids would go to sleep that evening full of turkey and treats, looking forward to the holiday tomorrow, when all the Saturday morning cartoons would be broadcast. Some of us would go downtown for Christmas shopping and to see Santa Claus' arrival on a fire truck. One memorable year Santa arrived with a reindeer. I was so absorbed with following them that I got lost--but I knew what to do. Mom and the policeman found me where I was supposed to go when I got lost, next to the big cast-iron clock outside Shepard's department store. "Meet me at the Shepard's clock" was a Providence watchword for years.

12 November 2004

Too Early is Just Too Early

Last year several days before Thanksgiving I was pop-eyed at a house that already had their Christmas decorations up (we're talking lighted deer, swags, inflatable Santas, the whole nine yards).

I forgot to mention that last Saturday--yes, November 6--we passed the same house.

You guessed it--Christmas City already! Ye Gods. I suppose they can't be blamed: I wandered through Barnes & Noble yesterday and there were Christmas books out galore. Warning: that is not a new collection of stories in the Santa-Claus covered Christmas at the New Yorker. It's just a new dust cover.

04 November 2004

Search for the Silver Star

One of old-time radio's classic holiday programs was a children's serial story called The Cinnamon Bear. I have a copy but have never listened to it.

The folks linked have produced a Cinnamon Bear CD set and on this page tell the story of the production of the series and a history of its syndication, and have a synopsis of the episodes. Looking forward to hearing it this year.

30 October 2004

Slow Going

I was going great guns on this site last year and this year is a bit slow. The car accident threw a big wrench in the works and I seem to have had some emotional repercussions from it. Also, we're going through a reorg at work and even more importantly, my mother isn't well and it's worrying me.

It's one of those atypical years that they talk about in Unplug the Christmas Machine. It happens, especially as you grow older. Once the car issue is resolved and I can see my mom (the two are tied together as we're driving to see her--if the body shop ever gets it fixed!), perhaps I'll be on a little more even keel.

But holidaywise I can recommend some things:

The new issues of Thanksgiving Ideals and Christmas Ideals are out. I like these Ideals season issues much better since they began using photography and better artists. I never could get into the old issues where they used very bad commercial art and tinted pages along with trite poetry. The modern fall editions, for instance, now have gorgeous photos of autumn leaves, and the Christmas edition has lovely snowscapes. The poetry, which has improved immensely, also contains lovely imagery, and the poems are interspersed with essays about the season and one or two articles about collecting antique items or profiles of historical people.

I received "Christmas at the Almanac Town Hall" a few weeks ago. It's delightful--it sounds as if several neighbors who play different instruments got together to play seasonal items for a gathering at a Grange supper or community dance. Also, just found out there is a new "Windham Hill Christmas" album out, called "I'll Be Home for Christmas." Anonymous 4 also has a new one out, "Wolcom Yule" I believe is the title, with medieval and Renaissance carols.

11 October 2004

How Fast the Earth Spins!

Here it is Columbus Day again! While there are no leaves to see here like up in New Hampshire, we have completed a long-anticipated job in our master bedroom. It was a tiring weekend and a very short one.

I picked up a nice Christmas CD at Walmart of all places: "Christmas Dinner," instrumental carols done on saxophone. I'm about to order another, "Christmas at the Almanac Town Hall," which is distributed by Yankee magazine. It's Christmas songs and carols done with guitars, fiddles, and other "homely" instruments, as the British would say. The result, as a reviewer on Amazon.com says, is as if you're hearing a band at a VFW hall in the 1930s and 1940s. I'm also about to order this year's Thanksgiving and Christmas Ideals.

I'm hoping this will be a lovely and memorable (in a nice way) holiday season. We have plans to drive north and visit my mother for Thanksgiving, taking the pets with us. We want to stop in Washington, DC, and see the new Air and Space building at Silver Hill and also the World War II memorial. But the best part will be being home and seeing the relatives, although, sadly, most of the older ones are ill. My mom herself is suffering from scalp cancer. She doesn't do much any more except go to church, to the supermarket, and to the doctor, so we're hoping we can show her some fun.

10 October 2004

Mediocre Drumming

I was interested to notice earlier this year that Sony Wonder would be releasing a stand-alone copy of Rankin-Bass' moving story of The Little Drummer Boy. Last year I did a nasty review of the version that was included as a bonus on last year's DVD release of R-B's classic Santa Claus is Comin' to Town. While Santa was pristine, Drummer Boy was a dreadful, dirty, dark transfer with parts of the soundtrack missing. I was disappointed.

I took the risk and ordered the stand-alone copy in the hopes that this new release would be a better version of the complete story.

No such luck. I'm arranging to return it now. Sadly, it's the same version as on the previous DVD. It's sad that the videotape version is better than this misbegotten copy.

(Ironically I'm just starting to watch my set of Make Room for Daddy's fifth season, from 1957. The episode quality, filmed ten years before Little Drummer Boy, is excellent.)

28 September 2004

Skipping Grisham

I placed a book review of John Grisham's Skipping Christmas in my book blog, "A Cozy Nook to Read In."

Warning: if you liked the book, you'll probably hate my review.

24 September 2004

Fall at Last

And of course we had to shut the windows again and put the A/C back on because it got warm again. Summer has its claws dug in tight and doesn't want to let go.

Despite my "wrecked car depression," I did manage to dress the house for fall on Wednesday. I thought I needed a new small autumn wreath for the glass doors this year (turns out I'd purchased one last year) and went crazy trying to find a new one. I usually use a candle ring, but such an animal doesn't seem to exist in Michael's or JoAnn any longer! Instead, I found something that was a curved, woven cane with fall leaves and gourds on it in appropriate colors. I put a fall ribbon on it and it looks just fine.

I ripped down all the summer things in my cubicle today and decorated with a leaf bouquet, autumn leaf garland, a smaller fall bouquet of leaves, nuts, corn, etc. and some stunning autumn photos and drawings culled from old calendars. So now it's bright and cheery again, even if work is going to the dogs...

16 September 2004

A Happy Rosh Hashanah!

May your new year be sweet!

15 September 2004

It's Never Too Early to Begin

The folks at Organized Christmas.com have already started their countdown.

Many ideas and plans herein, and forums to share thoughts.

30 August 2004

A Glow on the Horizon

I had a joyful experience on Friday--walked into Barnes & Noble and found out that all the fall magazines were out, including Yankee magazine's Seasons, which I had considered ordering online. It's a lovely magazine, but it's not quite as spectacularly photographed as last year's; this year's photos seem more misty and dreamlike and subdued. Yankee's issue is only September, so there aren't many fall photos yet. But there was a welcome September feeling to it.

But Vermont Life--oh, the autumn issue of Vermont Life! Last year's was so disappointing, and this year's has so wonderfully made up for it. Several dozen gorgeous photos of blazing trees and white churches and green meadows interspersed with interesting stories, including one about a World War II training flight crash. But I wanted to fall--pun intended--into those glorious photos and go walking among the paths of shimmering color so badly...

17 August 2004

Christmas in August

As I previously posted, I ordered a few used Christmas books from Amazon.com Marketplace and Inventing Christmas had already come. In the past week I also got copies of The Reader's Digest Book of Christmas, Christmas at the New Yorker, and Flight of the Reindeer.

The Reader's Digest book was a real bargain: this is a beautiful, as new copy of an oversize , 303 page hardback volume full of color illustrations and stories. I bought it for several Yuletide short stories I didn't have, primarily Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory." It cost me only 52 cents, with the postage only $4. The Christmas story is illustrated with beautiful old paintings and the end of the book talks about Christmas customs in different lands. The illustrations throughout the stories are quite lovely.

I was a little disappointed by Christmas at the New Yorker. Since this is the New Yorker, I had no illusion that the stories were going to be fuzzy, warm little Christmas tales ala the "Christmas in My Heart" books, but most of the tales were so depressingly boring, populated with tediously spoiled rich kids and cheating husbands. I do love the cartoons, however, and enjoyed most of the poetry. I'm glad I didn't pay more than the $1.69 price tag, though.

And then there's Flight of the Reindeer, a whimsical book filled with enjoyable Jan Brett-like illustrations, proving the existence of Santa Claus and especially those flying reindeer. Again, something I'm happy to have, but glad I didn't pay full price, either.

09 August 2004

Too Early a Season

The first day of school is today.

After 20 years in the South, it still disorients me. For 13 years (sixteen if you count college), the routine was inviolable: school began in September, in public school’s case the Wednesday after Labor Day. First that week would be the holiday, then the first day of school, then the Fall Preview TV Guide. September was the universal school month, celebrated in magazines and books, linked inevitably with leaves starting to turn, the apples ripening in the orchards in the western part of the state, shorter days, and counting the days until Christmas.

My mom tells me they are starting school end of August now, too, but I can’t tell you how it astonished me when I first arrived down here and discovered school started in August. Maybe it’s because of the air conditioning in school. In Rhode Island August was still a raging inferno and you wouldn’t send a dog into those superheated airless classrooms. The first couple of weeks of September were bad enough.

Of course we didn’t get out of school until the third week of June, where the kids here are out by Memorial Day. Given the choice, I preferred school in June, which was noticeably cooler, than in terrible August. But it seems to me the date has "pushed up" in the past 20 years. I seem to recall the kids starting school the last week in August when I arrived here, now it's the second week of the month.

Of course they get more vacation time, or at least it seems, but it's probably a trade-off. We got only Thanksgiving and the day after back then; it seems now that they get the entire week. But here they don't get Columbus Day and Veteran's Day off, either. I can't imagine not having had Columbus Day off. This was the last hurrah, the final weekend the family could go to summer venues before it turned into winter-coat weather. We usually joined the thousands of "leaf-peepers" that weekend in enjoying the peak of fall glory up in southern New Hampshire and Vermont.

As much as I disliked summer heat and enjoyed most of school (except for math and PE and some of the science), I still used to stand in back of my door at bedtime before the first day of school and hum "Taps." ("Stop that," my mom would say with a roll of her eyes.) Well, I did at least until the summer I had to go to work. :-) Even algebra was better than work...

02 August 2004

First Christmas Book of 2004

Had found a few more expensive Christmas books online at remainder prices and snapped them up; I get most of my Christmas books that way, since half of them are so expensive.

Today's arrival was one of them, a mostly graphic volume by Jock Elliott called Inventing Christmas: How Our Holiday Came to Be. The narration is exuberant and the beautiful 19th century lithographs are worth the price of the book--as long as it's priced a bit lower. :-) Original price on this one was $24.95.

Elliott talks about the development of Christmas as a family holiday rather than an excuse for drinking and sex, Christmas cards, Christmas gifts (with illustrations of the original Christmas gift, the compilation "gift book"), Santa Claus, Christmas trees, Christmas carols and "the genuine article," Dickens' A Christmas Carol. But it's the illustrations of 19th century cards, gifts, and book illos that really make this volume shine.

(And when I put up the book, I get to walk into the library, which is decorated for fall all year...)

11 July 2004

Sleigh Bells Ring...

...in the distance, anyway.

We attended the preview of the 2004 Hallmark Christmas Ornament line today. (Hey, it's a summer Sunday; what can I say? The only good place to walk is inside.) Of course, turns out the ornaments I like best this year are the animated variety, including a darling Noah's Ark and Santa's Workshop. They also have Herbie the Love Bug and a new Nature's Sketchbook bird ornament based on Marjolein Bastin's art--it has chickadees on it, which means I'm committed. I love her birds and I adore chickadees; they have such "attitudes"! James has already bought me the chickadee and the English robin sculptures based on Bastin's artwork.

James, of course, wants this year's airplane, which is a Spartan.

30 June 2004

Signs of Fall

Yes, this early in the summer. Michael's has begun putting out their autumn flowers and decorations.

Please God, that there's a light at the end of this tunnel...

01 June 2004

“But It’s Comin’ By Gum, You Can Feel it Come...”

You know, I remember when I used to love June 1.

Of course I was in school at the time and wasn’t old enough to have to work in the summer and June 1 meant that school would be over in about three weeks. Plus the unrelenting heat of summer hadn’t really started yet (living a thousand miles south now really ruins that aspect).

But on June 1 all a child has to dream about is endless days of not having to get up early and only donning good clothing for church or going somewhere with your parents. Watermelon, cherries, Del's frozen lemonade, playing kickball on Overland Avenue, Japanese lanterns, doughboys at Oakland Beach, Dad’s vacation and trips out of state, beach excursions, picnics in a grove somewhere in South County, a trip to the zoo, later bedtime, summer replacement TV series, Dad in the summer bowling league, the Diamond Hill Music Festival, Fourth of July, Sundays in Newport on Brenton Point or at Point Judith, miniature golf, Rocky Point amusement park and clam cakes, the church feasts and doughboys sold at a booth...

There were lots reasons why that on June 1, a kid like me grabbed Mom’s “Summertime” record album and played “June is Bustin’ Out All Over” as loudly as an adult would allow and sang along...

31 May 2004

Memorial Day

Dad was still a babe in arms when the cannons began going off in Europe in 1914. It's possible he might have had a dim memory of the Armistice. I'll never know.

In the meantime, he lived the life of most Italian boys growing up in the Silver Lake neighborhood in Cranston, RI. At home his parents spoke Italian with their children. His dad dug ditches for the Providence Gas Company. His mother made home-made macaroni every day. He went to school and tried to escape the usual punishment in those days, being rapped across the hands with a wooden ruler. He and his brothers and sisters lived through the usual childhood illnesses and occasional crises--his sister actually did poke out one of her eyes with a stick, as our parents always warned us about. He learned to swim in Dyer's Pond and learned to drive at age 14 by borrowing a neighbor's car from the curb. Age 14 was also when he had to quit school, at his father's insistence. He learned to polish knives like his older brother and went to work in a factory like most of the boys he grew up with.

In the meantime, a madman started ranting in Germany about Third Reichs and master races. One day he gathered his armies and began his takeover of Europe. We here in the United States watched it warily. After the carnage of the Great War, we wanted no part of Europe. The America First protesters were strident, even as Adolf Hitler and his minions overran Czechoslovakia and Austria and Belgium and France. And the Netherlands and Norway, and also marched east to Moscow.

Dad did join the National Guard. He trained at Fort Adams in Newport. He always had a bit of a peeve with the U.S. Navy: "We cleaned up the beach for them, and then they wouldn't allow us on it." They'd leveled the shingle and cleared up the tourist trash and cleared the land and then the Navy moved in and forbade anyone else on the property.

To add insult to injury, the folks on Bellevue Avenue (where the Newport Mansions are situated) ordered that the troops not march there. It ruined the look of the neighborhood. Heaven forbid Mrs. Rich Bitch had to look at social underlings in khaki passing her home.

And then one Sunday afternoon in December 1941, when folks had settled down to listen to a football game or a concert on the radio, or were at the movies, or visiting their mom, there came a news bulletin that changed everything...

After Pearl Harbor, Dad was sent to Fort Jessup in Georgia for basic training. He'd never been out of New England before, except by train to New York, and he was astonished by the men of Italian descent he met there. They didn't speak Italian with their parents, or eat Italian food, or even know which paese their families came from. Talk about culture shock! And the climate, he said, was about as bad as the Army chow.

He was then shipped to Germany, near the Black Forest. I never did ask him for more details, which I'm sorry for. All I have left are his photos. When I was a little girl one of my favorite stories was about Dad and the fawn. He had a photo of it, a red deer fawn that he and his troopmates had found wandering alone after a battle. They fed it and cuddled it and took pictures with it--until its mother appeared, bawling for it at the edge of a field, and they let it go home. Now that I know the whole story of what happens on battlefields, that event must have seemed like an oasis of normality for the men. Perhaps when they cared for the fawn they were thinking of a pet at home, a bunch of homesick American boys remembering a beloved dog, or cat, or horse, or a pet bird no bigger than a minute.

Dad liked the German people as much as he hated the Nazis. He always talked about how clean they kept their homes, even in the horrendous situations created by war. And he was astounded, when they actually found intact forests, at how neat those were from the foraging of surrounding townsfolk for firewood. Much later we found out that a German woman was running the motel we stayed at in Lake George, New York, and she and my dad would talk about "the old country."

Of course he survived the war. He didn't talk about the more harrowing memories, at least not to me. The only "war story" I'd heard was a relatively mild one, about his platoon capturing some German soldiers. He confiscated a pistol from a German officer. After the war, he confided his memories to my mother, who had already had heard the worst listening to her younger brother's harrowing postwar dreams. I expect my grandmother heard the same nightmares, for Dad's bluster covered a sensitive soul, one he'd been teased about as a child. He must have remembered, though, the buddies he'd made that had been killed, sniped from his side, blown up by mines or mortars. I'm sure, as bullets screamed over his head, as he was deafened by cannon fire, as he was sleeping in the dirt, eating out of cans and washing out of his helmet, he dreamed of all the things he'd rather have been doing: eating a heaping plate of his mother's spaghetti and meatballs, fragrant with tomato sauce and basil, squiring a young lady to a dance--oh, how Dad loved to dance, even the jitterbug!, even grumbling in the early morning light as he got ready for work.

He left that all behind to defend his country.

I wish I had some beautiful words for him, and all the men and women who went into that cauldron, especially for the ones who never came out, and for the ones who came out broken and battered. I don't have any beautiful words.

All I can say is "Thank you."

09 May 2004

Let's Hear It for Mom

I'm a long-distance Mother's Day giver these days. Oh, there's a phone call and a present (this year it was a DVD player), but it's just not the same.

Mother's Day was always heralded with flowers when I was a kid: not many florists' bouquets, because I was allergic to flowers. Occasionally my dad got my mom some roses, her favorite flowers, but then they would have to stay on the porch.

No, Mom's beautiful pink azalea bushes usually managed to bloom just around Mother's Day. They flanked each side of the front door and gave the house a cheery look. But behind the house was something I loved. Our neighbor on the other side of the chain-link fence had an errant lilac bush that always grew into our yard. My dad hated it, but I reveled in it. In May it would bloom in rich lushness, dangling thick bunches of sweet-smelling lilac blooms over the fence. Allergy or no--and I paid for it later--I buried my face in the flowers, breathing in that heavenly smell. It's still my favorite scent and, had I been able to manage it, I would have had live lilacs at my wedding.

Mother's Day was an occasion to go out to eat in those days, a luxury for us. Oh, we dropped in at the occasional hot dog place or Arby's and later McDonald's on summer Sundays. But going to a "real" restaurant was another story. It was time to dress up: skirt, nylons, good shoes instead of Hush Puppies, the whole nine yards. Dad wore his suit and we squired Mom to someplace that had white tablecloths, cloth napkins, clean menus, and waiters in suits. Our usual early venue was Venetian Gardens, on the way to Oakland Beach. We ate all our Thanksgiving dinners there as well. Then one of them discovered The Inn--now Bassett's Inn--on West Shore Road. We went there to fill up on salad and baked stuffed shrimp.

One Mother's Day--I think it was Mother's Day--we tried that epitome of Rhode Island restaurants, Twin Oaks. Twin Oaks sits on the shore of Spectacle Lake in Cranston. (We lived not far from the opposite shore of "Spectacle Lake," which we always called "Speck's Pond." I nearly laughed myself silly when I found out this tiny body of water was actually called "Spectacle Lake.") It was a legend in Rhode Island, one of those restaurants that gets written up in newspaper food guides and tour books. They took no reservations and people waited two and three hours to get in. On the day we went--and it couldn't have been Mother's Day; it would have been SRO--we went at an "off hour," after two on a Sunday afternoon, because we didn't think any restaurant was worth waiting in line so long for. We only waited about 45 minutes at this odd hour.

The place was nice and the food was good (although the portions were pretentiously small like those served at famous restaurants). We had a good time. But we emerged thinking that we had eaten just as good food other places, like the Inn, and never went again. Twin Oaks still marches on and I still haven't figured out what people see in the place.

11 April 2004

"In Your Easter Bonnet..."

Do people even have Easter bonnets anymore? :-) I know they still do the Easter Parade in New York; my friend Dana talked about going to it the year before she died. She had been planning to go the next year, too, wheeling her new baby and with her little daughter dressed up to the nines with her and her husband. But this didn't happen...

Remember having an entire new outfit for Easter? When I was a kid this was usually a new suit for the little boys--depending on their parents they could be with short pants or long ones. The shirt was usually blue, maybe with a white tie and matching white shoes, if the boy was young enough, otherwise the footwear was black. We little girls were in pastel dresses with skirts that billowed out by means of hideously scratchy petticoats underneath, ribbed leotards, patent leather shoes, and the inevitable straw Easter hat, brave with a ribbon band and perhaps a flower or two, with the elastic band to hold it on. It rubbed under your chin and was annoying. I knew a lot of little girls who chewed on theirs.

It also meant having your hair washed and put up in curlers the night before. These were hard and rubber and you hardly got any sleep, but heaven forbid you appeared in front of the aunts without curls!

If the petticoats and the elastic and the curlers were bad, there was always the good part: the holiday itself. You woke up to find a big Easter basket full of chocolate eggs and a chocolate bunny, and perhaps even a stuffed rabbit. My favorite stuffed rabbit was the last one I got, because he looked like a real rabbit. His name was "Harold J. Rabbit," or "Hoppy" for short.

After church there was the visit to the cemetery to bring big pots of geraniums to the grandparents' graves (and my uncle Ernest, who I barely remembered), and then visiting the relatives. All the aunts had made cookies, piles of Italian cookies on big round platters: butterballs coated in powdered sugar, wine biscuits, molasses cookies, almond bars, scattered with foiled Hershey kisses in between. One of the aunts or cousins, more ambitious than the rest, probably had made wandis, big crispy fried knots of dough that crumbled as you bit into them, scattering the powdered sugar on top all over your new Easter outfit, to your mom's dismay.

For dinner we had ham, and dessert was probably rice pie, which is exactly what it sounds like: a custardy dessert that used white rice as one of the fillings, rice pudding in a pieshell. There was always an apple pie for those of us who hated rice pies, and always more cookies with the coffee at dessert.

If Easter didn't come too early, it was probably sunny and warm and we kids could go outside and play--as long as we didn't get our clothes dirty. We were ingenious and managed to play anyway, even if it was just hopscotch on the long sidewalk outside Papà's house. It was then we could finally leave the straw hats and ties in the capable hands or purse of mom's and be as free as one could in dress clothes.

19 March 2004


What do Irish folks traditionally do on their holiday? Drink!

What do Italian folks traditionally do on their holiday? Eat a fattening pastry!

I dunno about you, but of the two unhealthy alternatives, I'd rather take the latter. :-)

All joking aside, I remember doing St. Patrick's Day things at school. We learned to do Irish jigs in gym class and they were usually featured in a St. Patrick's based assembly that included songs like "Danny Boy" and "My Wild Irish Rose" (which I ended up playing for the organ recital in fifth grade). My favorite "Irish" song, however, was the rollicking "McNamara's Band." I loved the sound of "Hennessey Tennessey tootles the flute."

"Our" holiday, however, was today, which is St. Joseph's Day. It's not a Holy Day of Obligation, nor is it celebrated with parades. However, there is one tradition: the zeppole. Take a pastry shell and shape it like a hollow doughnut. Fill it with yellow cream. Top it with piped white cream in a ribbony flow. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a zeppole. They are unapologetically rich and are still eaten despite Lent and fasting, to celebrate the foster father of Jesus. No one knows what rich pastry has to do with St. Joseph--but hey, enjoy!

Seriously, I've never been all that much of a zeppole fan because I never liked yellow cream. I would avoid the cream puffs from the Italian bakeries for that reason. The only bakery in town that made cream puffs with white cream was Bob Carol's bakery out on Oaklawn Avenue, so I enjoyed the very occasional visit immensely.

I was amused to notice, however, that most of the zeppole recipes I found on a short web search were more like doughnuts. I believe that is the Sicilian version of the pastry; they are made differently all over Italy. Or the filled ones are a specialty version that only bakeries have the patience to make. Certainly a pseudo-doughnut is a lot easier to cook than a filled pastry shell!

17 March 2004

Wearin' O' the...Green?

I'm wearing red, actually. I'm Italian...Friday's my day. More later...

Birthday Dog

Sometime at the end of May in 1998, after the death of sweet, laid-back Leia, we went to the Cobb County Animal Shelter and found a shivering fuzzy brown three-and-a-half pound puppy. She had big liquid eyes and was shy, so the name "Willow" from the Buffy character suggested itself immediately (this was before Ms. Rosenberg turned from shy geek to überwitch). They told us she was about 10 weeks old, so we counted back and declared her birthday to be something we could remember, hence the St. Patrick's Day date.

Please be assured we aren't having a canine birthday party for her, complete with doggy buddies in party hats and a special dog ice cream cake as I've seen done. Wil is spoiled in ways, but she's still a dog, and she doesn't get party hats or cuddled and called "little sweetie doggums" or the equivalent. James won't even let me buy her reindeer antlers. :-) She has to "make do with a Christmas bow.

She probably will get a nice Little Champions packaged dinner tonight--and as always wolf it down in ten seconds and then look eagerly for more.

I was thinking about the birthday party thing with some amusement because one of the guests yesterday on Dr. Phil was a woman who claimed she felt like her husband loved his dog more than her. He comes home from work and, although wife and baby son are sitting right there, the first one hubby goes to greet is Lola, the lab/pit bull mix. He snuggles with Lola in bed instead of his wife. Plus, the wife is pregnant again (so I guess there are some times Lola isn't in bed) and her nose is so sensitive that all she can smell is the dog in bed. (Dr. Phil has a beagle and part of the conversation digressed into what it was with women and the smell of dogs.)

I don't have to worry about Wil in bed; I'm allergic to her so she's banned from the bedroom. Seeing how she sleeps, though, I wouldn't want her there anyway; she'd hog the bed and make sure she got a pillow! James does greet her first, but it would be hard not to: she's usually been staking out the door for an hour waiting for him, giving deep sighs when the next car down the street isn't the truck, and is scrabbling at the glass when he enters.

Over the years, too, we've joked about changing her name. Sometimes we'd like to call her "Hilary Booth," because she's occasionally a demanding little bitch. Lately, though, she's turned into "Teeny," the little girl who always bedeviled Fibber McGee. When Wil curiously sticks her nose into something, we can almost hear her saying "Whatcha doin' mister? Whatcha. huh?"

I figure if Wil could talk she'd either sound like Marian Jordan doing Teeny or Josie Lawrence of the British version of Whose Line is It Anyway.

14 March 2004

Setting Sail

The Bradford pears are in full bloom now, big egg-shaped tree bodies covered with white blossoms as if they were wreathed in snow. Some of the forsythias, brilliant yellow against the still-emerging lawns, are already leafing. We've had the grass cut for the first time this year already.

I wish the Bradford blossoms were snow...it's already too warm.

So we're setting sail from Holiday Harbour, sheets abillow with the March wind. We'll be checking back from time to time on holidays and family celebrations...in the meantime


06 March 2004

Time to Go Into Mourning...

The trees are starting to bloom. The forsythia has green shoots, pale green is showing on the Bradford pear trees, and other trees have red buds and leaves. Some of the azaleas are even blooming.

Plus this week it was 70°F here almost all week. The moment it got warm, my nose stuffed up, my sinus headaches started up, and tonight I had a coughing fit. How can I help being so negative about a season that makes me feel so wretched?

Plus last night the first mosquito of the year was buzzing around the den. Gah.

Too bad I can't just block my nose up and enjoy the colors of spring: the bright yellow of the forsythias, the snowy white of the Bradford pears, the pinks and reds and purples of the azaleas, the red buds of some of the trees, the moony glow of the white dogwoods. At least it's going to go back to being cool at night again, at least for a while. The tropical nights are the worst. I can stand almost anything as long as it's cool enough at night to sleep, and the daytime sky remains a heartbreakingly beautiful blue.

It's when the horizon turns yellow and scummy and the air is too humid to breathe that I want to hibernate until better weather comes...

15 February 2004

Happy Half-Price Candy Day!

I was good. I didn't buy any. Of course I didn't go by Kroger, which had the Russell Stover low-carb candies in Valentine baskets, either. :-)

14 February 2004

Be My Valentine

We had a nice Valentine's Day, even if it rained miserably all day. We started out the day with lunch--or rather dinner, since we had the dinner portion--at Olive Garden. We went for broke: appetizers, entree and dessert (the black tie mousse cake, of course). We bought substantial parts of each of the first two home with us.

We also "did presents": I had a copy of PhotoImpact 7 and part of the price of the Lost in Space season 1 DVD set. I had bought James X-15 and The Princess Bride DVDs.

We watched X-15 after we got home from doing errands (errands still must be done on Valentine's Day). There's a domestic plot with Mary Tyler Moore, but for James the attraction is all the aircraft shots--and I think he was a bit disappointed. The movie is on DVD in widescreen, but all the shots of the aircraft in the air are distorted, as if they took a full-frame picture and stretched it sideways. As X-15 was originally made in widescreen, neither of us can figure out why this is.

X-15 is memorable to me simply because of the music. The first time James ever turned the movie on, I listened intently. "That sounds like Nathan Scott," I said, about a second before his name showed up in the credits. Nathan Scott did the music for Lassie from 1963 through 1973, and it's very distinctive; lots of violins and trumpets, and much of his score for X-15 sounds a lot like his Lassie motifs.

After that we put on Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, which we'd also picked up at Costco (along with LIS). I didn't realize it was out already and picked it up in delight. It's been a long wait between Trek DVDs as I wasn't about to pick up The Final Frontier. I might grab it if it turns up used on discount somewhere; I do like the park scene, and a couple of the quips, and of course Shatner finally getting to ask the most damn obvious question that no one ever seems to ask the so-called omnipotent being that captures their craft: "What does God need with a starship?" Unfortunately the rest of Final Frontier ain't worth the price.

09 February 2004

Happy Birthday, Mom!

She is 87 today!

I sent her a big box of goodies last week: her actual birthday presents: copies of Seabiscuit and My Big Fat Greek Wedding; a birthday card and a Valentine card, and copies of the pictures we took over Christmas and New Year's.

I also sent her our old Babylon 5 tapes (seasons 1-4, anyway) since we have the series on DVD. She didn't watch the show, but she likes SF, continuing stories, and Bruce Boxleitner, so she ought to love them. I also sent her a tape set a nice friend gave me of an entire day's programming on a Washington, DC, radio station in 1939. Yet another friend had sent me the entire day on CD as an .mp3, so I thought I'd pass the tapes, which she could play, on to her. It's created a little room in the videotape cabinet, which makes me happy, and it's something she likes, which makes her happy. Everyone wins!

04 February 2004

The Yearly Complaint

It's Valentine's Day and the jewelry commercials are in full swing.

You know it's one thing if MS (male sweetheart) asks FS (female sweetheart) what she would like for Valentine's Day and she says "Oh, I'd love that little diamond pendant we saw at the jewelry store."

It's another thing for a commercial to imply that unless you buy FS a diamond, she will not know your love for you is eternal. Oh, good God. Oh, and that your love is proven by how much you spend on this bauble. I read somewhere that a woman's engagement ring is traditionally supposed to cost the equivalent of the man's monthly salary for two months. I believe the average works out to something like $4000. $4000 for a piece of pressurized coal? Are you mad? Do you know how many really useful and/or fun things you could do with $4000? My God, for that money I could get at least some of the horrid wall-to-wall carpeting out of the house and have real wood or laminate floors. Or we could have a nice vacation and even stay in NYC. And you want to waste this on jewelry?

I'm also amused by the fact that between the months of November and December, every facet of display was urging to people bake or cook something delicious (that is, when they weren't sitting down producing fifty "charming" craft projects). Wham! Walk into the bookstores on January 1 and everything's covered with dieting books and now articles are telling you how to lose weight. Lo February appears and the aisles of everywhere fill up with candy containers. (We'll have more dieting for Lent and then another chocolate surge for Easter.) No wonder people have weight problems...

02 February 2004


Today is Candlemas, the traditional day that all the church candles for the year were blessed. It is also the last day to take down your Christmas greens.

(How the heck, I hear someone say, could you keep real Christmas greens up this long? They would have dried up by now. Well, yes, today. Remember homes didn't have central heat back then. Fresh greens in the family parlour, which was only used on holidays and perhaps Sundays, would last for a while.)

I don't have any greens, but I still do have my Christmas cards up. It's about time I took 'em down. They're so pretty it's a pity not to leave them up longer than a few weeks.

I understand General Lee didn't see his shadow, so spring is a'comin' to the South, but Punxatawny Phil the Pennyslvania guy did. Pity we can't swap forecasts. The Northeast could use an early break from the snow and I'm not looking forward to more heat, mosquitoes, and pollen everywhere, especially since I'm allergic to anything live and green out there.

Some people get massively depressed at Christmas. I've been massively depressed since Christmas was over, even before Bandit died. Now without him to have to care for and keep his spirits up, there doesn't even seem to be a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

31 January 2004

Well, cool. James isn't working Valentine's Day, he's working the day after.

26 January 2004

The World in Shades of Pink

Valentine's Day is coming, did you know? :-)

One of the things that depresses me about the day after Christmas is that the holidays aren't even allowed to "settle." Even though there are twelve days left to the holiday and New Year's Eve and Day yet to come, the stores have already torn down everything Yuletide related, shoved it into a corner for quick sale, and by afternoon, the Valentine candy, boxes, cards, and bears are up and running. It's disconcerting.

It doesn't help that I don't like teddy bears or pink, the latter which is my bete noire. I'm the child of first-generation Italo-Americans, both born before 1920. My grandparents were not only Victorian, but ethnic Victorian, and one of the things handed down from this upbringing, almost incomprehensible in this age of primary-color children's clothing, was that small children should only wear pastel colors.

As a small child, my favorite color was red. So guess what color clothing well-meaning older relatives always stuck me with (additionally of course because the "color for girls" was pink). It began a lifelong loathing of pink, especially those salmon/brownish pinks like "dusty rose."

So there are times that Valentine's Day exploding early sets my teeth on edge. I think the worst experience was a couple of weeks ago in Target. Of course Target's colors are already red and white. They had the small girls' clothing in the front of the store and the combination of Target red and white and the feminine shades of pink with accents of lilac and lavender were enough to put my system on overload.

In any case, I was looking forward to Valentine's Day, until I found out James has to work that Saturday. Sigh. Last year I did something cute: I didn't feel like facing the restaurant crowds, desiring something more intimate. So I ordered two T-bone steaks from Ryan's, brought them home along with one of those decorated chocolate-chip cookies from the mall, and served dinner on a small table in front of the fireplace in our living room. Our own private little bistro!

12 January 2004

Farewell to Christmas

I had most of the decorations down and piled up in the living room by Wednesday, except for the kitchen bouquet, garland around the living room door, the door wreaths, and the tree. I took the first three down Saturday while James was at the hobby shop, and he helped me take the tree down. (It still took over an hour with the two of us.)

So everything is back in place again, the winter bouquets up, and the tree is back in the closet. Whether it comes out again next year depends on the selection of trees next year. I never did see a 6-foot tree I liked last year. The present "needles" are short, like a spruce or fir, which I like. The only 6-foot trees I saw had longer needles. Those are good garland trees, but I use silver icicles--plus I don't like Scotch-piney looking trees anyway.

Plus so many of the trees already had lights with them. I'd love to leave our lights on, but there's no basement here like we had in Rhode Island to stand the tree up in, in a corner covered with plastic wrap, until next year.

Hopefully next year will take care of next year.

The living room looks rather bleak again, even with its bright autumn leaf motif. It always does for a few weeks, anyway, until I get used to it again.

09 January 2004

More Christmas Books

For several years now I've seen Joe Webber's small holiday books, Christmas in My Heart, on bookshelves in December; these paperback-size hardbacks each have about a dozen Christmas short stories in them. I tried not to look at them--the going price for the darn things is $16.95 each!--so I wasn't acquainted with their content: were these modern inspirational essays or stories?

Well, Borders had the second and third books on the bargain table, $3.99 each, plus 50 percent off all Christmas books, so I bought them. I'm still not going to pay full price, but if I see books one and four at a reasonable price, I certainly will purchase them: Wheeler has gone searching through old journals, magazines, and other publications, some as early as 1910, and picked out stories, some of which he remembers hearing as a child, for these volumes. Some are from Christian publications, some from non-US sources, all of them emphasize, although Santa Claus may make a brief appearance occasionally, the joy of giving to someone rather than getting gifts and gluts of presents and little elves and reindeer.

One of the stories in the third volume, in fact, is an old-fashioned favorite of mine, "The Fir Tree Cousins," which I believe I first read in the 1921 Christmas issue of St. Nicholas. It's about a woman who could care less about giving holiday gifts and entrusts the wrapping and addressing of family presents to a friend. The friend confuses the costly trinkets she buys for her parents and siblings with the sensible gifts (thinking that people who live on a farm would only like useful gifts) she sends to her husband's "fir tree cousins" in Maine.

If you like heartwarming Christmas stories and can find these books at a reasonable price, I heartily recommend them.

06 January 2004


I always find it hard to wind down Christmas. It's such a joyous, bright time in a season of increasing cold that it's hard to let go from. The lights are always the best part. Even staid houses that had icy looks even in July look welcoming at Christmas with a wreath upon the door and a candle in the window. As if at one point in time we are all neighbors and all welcome.

There's not even snow to keep things pretty for a while, to carpet the world with a blanket of silence and the minty breath of cold, just endless days to look forward to of rising in the dark and fighting your way to a place too brightly lit with harsh reality. The candles and the trappings of Christmas manage to soften even that, but it doesn't last long. Back to the same old music, the same old rules, the same old dreary days.

05 January 2004

As the Yule Log Burns Down

"The yule log smouldering in the hearth is like a wild beast in a cage. It comes from another world, that of wilderness and the elements. Its conflagration is a giant hourglass for the rhythms of the Christmas feast, slow-burning with the same patient unhurried sense of time that is evident in its rings of annual growth. The tree's enormous pent-up energy, released into the Christmas parlour by slow degrees, is full of the remembered warmth of spring and summer and the promise of warmer days to come. The essense of the yule log is that its pleasures should be long and slow: it must consume itself gradually, with no sudden bursts of too-passionately flame to spirit away its substance up the chimney into the cold night."

"The Everlasting Flame" by Roger Deakin
in the December 2003 issue of "Country Living."

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas...

The December issue of the British edition of "Country Living" has an article on the "12 Days of Christmas" song. The origins of the song are obscure. Ace Collins' Traditions of Christmas, as well as some others, claim that it was a secret teaching tool when Catholicism was suppressed at the time of Henry VIII and later Oliver Cromwell. The most probably origin was as a forfeit in a parlour game: the Victorians were fond of parlour games, and if you lost, you had to pay a forfeit: recite a tongue-twister correctly, for instance, or, in this case, remember all twelve items in the song.

It did have an interesting fact I'd never heard before, that the words "a partridge in a pear tree" is a possible misinterpretation of "a part of a juniper tree."

The other thing I noticed was that they mention the alternative descriptive of the "four calling birds." When I first learned the song, I also recall the line as being "four colley birds. Colley, or "coally," is a synonym for black, so those calling birds may have just been ordinary blackbirds.

"Colley," incidentally, is where the collie dog gets its name. It was renown for herding the "colley" (black-faced) Scottish sheep.

"On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me,
"12 drummers drumming,
"11 pipers piping,
"10 lords a leaping,
"9 ladies dancing,
"8 maids a milking,
"7 swans a swimming,
'6 geese a laying,
"5 golden rings,
"4 colley birds,
"3 French hens,
"2 turtledoves,
"and a partridge in a pear tree."

Home to Clear River

Found this great story about Gail Rock, the creator of the Addie Mills' stories.

03 January 2004

Calm Before the Storm

But it's a good storm, our annual Twelfth Night party. It's actually being held this year on Tenth Night, but who cares? "On the Tenth Day of Christmas my true love gave to me...one party with baked chips, sugar-free candy, and diet dri3nks" [the "3" is courtesy Bandit the budgie, who leaped off the keyboard at that point]--hey, most of us are over 40 and can recite our illnesses in unison. :-)

It's been quiet here because this cold has me exhausted. I wish I would just get a fever and burn whatever it is off; my temp has wavered from 96.8 to normal, and back, mostly about 97.something, which used to indicate I was having an allergy attack. Well, if it's an allergy attack, I've had it for a week! Is there a cat hiding in the house I don't know about?

01 January 2004

Tournament of Roses Parade 2004

It strikes me that one of my dreams is to see the Rose Parade in person...and I couldn't. Someone online says the one thing the television coverage doesn't give you is the wonderful scent of the flowers.

The wonderful scent of the flowers would give me an allergy attack!

This year's theme is "Music, Music." We watched bits of the pre-show and there's a Bob Hope tribute and a dragon.

Woohoo! Talk about openers: we had the theme winner, a calliope, followed by the Air Force Academy band, during which three aircraft, a F-117 Nighthawk, a B-2 Spirit, and a FA-22 Raptor, flew right over the HGTV booth (we always watch on HGTV--no damn commercials!).

The Bob Hope float was great: a giant figure of Bob surrounded by radio, film reels, television, microphones--and a suitcase, of course, stamped USO. (The Bob Hope Humor Trophy went to the float with the singing cactus...singing "Cool Water.")

The Grand Marshall this year is John Williams, who was blithely wearing his Boston Red Sox cap. He was followed by a combined school band 500+ strong, and a float called "Music of the Spheres," a lovely representation of Pythagorian theory, which was playing a John Williams theme.

The tallest float was a recreation of the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror ride, which could actually telescope (not on the route, but to get through the infamous bridge all the floats have to make it through). The competing team floats--USC and Michigan--were much cheered.

The aforementioned dragon float was awesome...the detailing alone was spectacular, plus the float was animated. Some of the organic material had to be cut and dried 36 hours before it could be glued onto the float. There were old-fashioned floats with gazebos and bridges, animal floats (Willow sniffed suspiciously at the cat float, but knew it wasn't real), wildlife floats, kid floats, toy floats, Cinderella in her coach and burst plumbing (Rot-Rooter sponsored, of course)--and even the little old lady from Pasadena, who got to really zoom down Colorado Boulevard.

And of course, horses, horses, horses--curly horses, palomino horses, horses led by Monty Roberts, horses ridden by the children of old cowboy stars, buffalo soldiers on horses, quarter horses, Andalusians, Appaloosas--all appropriate since the Tournament of Roses Parade was founded by the Valley Hunt Club.