31 December 2006

On the Seventh Day of Christmas

Fast away the old year passes,
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la la.
Hail the new, ye lads and lasses,
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la la.
Fast away the old day passes, too! We did sleep late, then went to Ikea (goodness, it was crowded, especially with parents and small children; maybe they're having a children's furniture sale?) for a desk for my telecommuting equipment, Costco for gas and milk (woohoo, Costco has the Walt Disney Legacy sets, with the True-Life Adventures, much cheaper than Amazon.com!; James accepts hints, so I hinted at one for Valentine's Day), Kroger for trash bags and other assorted groceries. James spent the late afternoon in the kitchen making the pork/peanut triangles for the party tonight, and also a batch with turkey in them for our friends who can't eat pork. Listening to the last gasp of Sirius' Christmas music channel.

Auld Lang Syne Time is Here Again

So it's time for the festivities again:

New Year's Eve at Answers.com

New York is all set:

Times Square Alliance

And you can even watch it live on the web:

Earthcam Covers Times Square

The folks in Sydney will be putting on another "rilly big shew" again this year:

New Year's Eve in Sydney, Australia

Some cities have a non-alcoholic celebration featuring artists and performers, music and drama; it's called "First Night" and was started in Boston in 1976. Heaps of fun:

First Night International

New Year's Eve celebrations are held on St. Sylvester's Day:

Round About New Year's Eve: St. Sylvester's Day

The most famous ethnic celebration on this day is the feast of Hogmanay, in Scotland. The customs include "First Footing," in which a carefully-chosen person enters your house at midnight to bring luck to the New Year. More about Hogmanay (and which person needs to cross your doorstep when the clock strikes twelve):

What is Hogmanay?

Hogmanay Customs

Hogmanay Traditions


30 December 2006

On the Sixth Day of Christmas...

...a trip to see the family, with a quick trip to the library first to do our last donation of the year.

Traffic was absolutely loathsome, bumper-to-bumper between around Southlake Mall to south of the Tanger Outlet Mall. On the way down it looked like there had been a bad accident, but the clog on the way back seemed to have no earthly excuse. It vanished after we passed the exit for I-675, but it appeared that only a dozen cars actually exited there. Too bizarre.

So we relaxed with the folks, had presents—got a lovely white sweatshirt with a snowflake done in blue and silver metallic trimming on it and two cross-stitch kits—and spaghetti for lunch and watched some of the coverage for President Ford and also the movie The Fifth Element, which was almost as bizarre as the traffic on the freeway. :-)

Returned home to a foggy Atlanta. James is watching his Christmas gift, One Six Right.

29 December 2006

On the Fifth Day of Christmas...

...my true love gave to me, six Christmas movies (I can't seem to match these numbers <g>):

• A Christmas Memory, the Truman Capote story starring Geraldine Page as "Miss Sook" and Donnie Melvin as "Buddy" (young Truman). Recorded this off Channel 24 in Macon many years ago; it's plastered with a big, invasive "bug" and the time every so often, but it can't dim the charm of this lovely story. Apparently there's a VHS release, but only in black and white. Huh? DVD, please!
• The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, starring Loretta Swit as Grace Bradley and Fairuza Balk (back when she was cute) as Beth, was written for the screen by its author, Barbara Robinson. A pretty good translation but I still prefer the book, especially for Robinson's descriptions of characters, especially prissy little Alice Wendleken (who's played in this hour-long special by Ocean Hellman of Danger Bay).
• The Gathering, one of the best television Christmas movies ever made, with Ed Asner as Adam Thornton, a man estranged from his family who finds out he is dying. With his wife's help, he is able to gather the family around him one last time. Could have been mawkish, but is instead adult and splendid, with a wonderful supporting cast (Maureen Stapleton, Lawrence Pressman, Veronica Hamel [whatever happened to Veronica Hamel?], Bruce Davison, Gail Strickland, Gregory Harrison, Stephanie Zimbalist, and John Doucette) and a wonderful score by John Barry.
• The Little Match Girl with Keshia Knight-Pulliam in the title role, ably supported by William Daniels, Rue McClanahan, and John Rhys Davies, among others, and a great "roaring '20s" setting (the set dressings alone make me want to leap into the first time machine that happens by). This movie has particular memories for me because (a) I didn't really like it at first and (b) because I remember seeing my Aunty Alice for the last time on the night it was on. My mom and I were visiting her apartment and she and my mom were in the den watching this story while I talked with my cousin Jimmy out in the kitchen.
• The Voyagers! episode "Merry Christmas, Bogg," one of my favorites. Jeff and Phineas meet and help George Washington and also Jeffrey's great-grandfather, who is Samuel Gompers' attorney. Always loved the voiceover at the end, telling you that if you wanted to read more about the historical characters featured, "take a voyage to your local library. It's all in books!" Yes, indeed!
• And, of course for the season, Rudolph's Shiny New Year. While much inferior to the original, heads, shoulders and all the other body parts above that dreadful Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July (shudder). I love the introspective "The Moving Finger Writes" song; very melancholy.

28 December 2006

On the Fourth Day of Christmas...

...my true love gave to me three Christmas games:

See how far you can get the Yeti to bop the penguin.

A cutie with music: the higher the bunny hops onto the bells, the more points you get.

This one's neat: you draw a slope from left to right, click "play," and a little man slides down the slope you have made. The smoother the line the better; if you draw the curves just right you can get him to loop-the-loop without falling off the sled.

27 December 2006

The 12 Days of Christmas

Not sure why they have Epiphany on January 7, though.

Catholic Culture: 12 Days of Christmas

On the Third Day of Christmas...

The feast of St. John.

26 December 2006

"There's That Moose Again..."

My favorite Christmas commercial for 2006: Garmin TV Commercial.

Boxing Day Specials

In Britain and Canada, they have Boxing Day. In the U.S., we have Shopping After Christmas Day. <wry g>

It was a profitable day since everything was at least half off. :-)

At Walgreen's, for instance, I got two snowmen for the front porch. Right now they say "Merry Christmas" on them, but with a deft application of some blue and brown paint, we'll have "Let It Snow" and "Welcome Winter!" for the remainder of the season.

After a brief stop at Barnes & Noble for a "Cross Stitcher" magazine, it was off to Michael's. They had a 15-inch artificial tree in a Santa boot "pot," just perfect for the Rudolph ornaments, plus a few inexpensive "snowy" things. Next at JoAnn, a few more inexpensive winter things and two small Santa Clauses (also a wreath which was perfect for the door to the deck where we have the bird feeder; it says "Every Birdie is Welcome"). Linens'n'Things provided a birthday gift with a coupon.

Got another over-the-drawer towel rack for the kitchen in Bed, Bath and Beyond as well as something for James for Valentine's Day with another coupon. Borders provided a gift for next year; yay! 30 percent off coupon after the first of the year. Costco for gas, then a stop at Eckerd on the way home. They had small bead garlands; I got a gold one for the feather tree and a red one for the Rudolph tree (which I put up when I got home; it's not complete because six Rudolph ornaments are on the main tree). Looks cute, though.

The Christmas things at CVS didn't seem to be on sale, so I left.

I tried to get a DVD called One Six Right, a history of Van Nuys Airport that has garnered critical acclaim, for James for Christmas, but had to give him an IOU. I checked e-mail today and Amazon says it's getting ready to ship.

He's going to love it. I know because I saw it this afternoon: it was on Discovery HD! There's only one problem; it's going to make him "homesick."

At least I think it will. I got teary-eyed through the last ten minutes and I'm not even airplane crazy.

On the Second Day of Christmas...

The Snopes folks clear up a few misconceptions about Boxing Day.

Elaine's Boxing Day Page

So who was St. Stephen?

The Irish Holiday of St. Stephen's Day

"Hunting the Wren" on the Isle of Man

Who was "Good King Wenceslas" and what about that song about him?

25 December 2006

Tick...Tock...Another Christmas Counts Down

It was a wonderful evening of friends and (quiet) frolic—dinner, gifts, and warm chat. The Lucyshyn twins put together their "spy gear" toys, Mel showed us their collection of Hanukkiah via computer, and on the way home we wound through a few more streets to see Christmas lights.

We came home to cuddle with the critters and watch Scott Bakula and Robert Loggia in James' favorite Christmas movie, Mercy Mission.

The one fly in the ointment: we went to five places (two QT gas stations, a Shell station, a CVS, and a Walgreens) and never did find an Atlanta newspaper. I wasn't really looking for the sales flyers, but I like reading the newspaper on Christmas because of the special stories they usually include. Well...phfttttt.

Eggnog and Sleighbells, Biscuits and Bows (and Angels!)

We've had a lovely holiday so far, very relaxing compared to the past few weeks (but that was fun all on its own).

Last evening we had dinner at the Boulers with the Spiveys and the Elders and Keith Tarpley. We exchanged presents before the fire, and then came home to watch The Homecoming and then A Pops Holiday, which I had recorded earlier. This was a compilation of clips from various concerts, so we saw Arthur Fiedler and John Williams as well as Keith Lockhart.

Then it was off to bed. James was awakened by thunder during the night but I slept through it.

We did gifts upon rising; I gave James a DVD collection of jet documentaries, some stick-on lights for under the kitchen counter (he always says the prep area is too dark), a protective cover for using on cooking magazines while cooking, and a book of 101 tortilla recipes, the book version of Mail Call with R. Lee Ermey, plus an IOU for a DVD of a flying film called One Six Right, which I tried to get on e-Bay, but eventually had to order on Amazon. Pidgie gave him Gordon Cooper's biography and Willow gave him a book of turkey recipes.

He bought me a Pocket Dragon (it's jumping on a panic button!), a calendar of cutouts for use in scrapbooks/cards, a pair of new wire cutters (I've been hunting for one), the book Thunderstruck by Erik Larson (I can take it off reserve at the library now; I was 64th in the queue! <g>) and a set of the series Voyagers! on DVD. Pidgie got me a book about imitating birdcalls, because I always whistle for the birds when I fill the feeder, and Willow's gift was the book Dog is My Co-Pilot.

Then James made biscuits and I made a proper eggnog, with real eggs. I got the Davidson pastuerized eggs that they sell at Publix (and thanks to whomever it was on alt.ri who suggested them). Mom used to make me an eggnog every morning for breakfast when I was in school—we'd get 'em straight from Stamps Farm out on Scituate Avenue, which is all homes now—because it was the only way I would eat eggs. Missed it since this salmonella scare started.

We had the biscuits with a tiny container of clotted cream we bought at Cost Plus World Market, which is just enough for four biscuits (and that's about enough clotted cream, too). Pidgie pecked biscuit crumbs off the table in between mugging his new "Girlfriend," and Willow cadged her little biscuit James always makes her. She loved her new "monkey" (a hedgehog toy that squeaks). She barfed so badly on the old one during vacation we couldn't save it. We didn't realize she missed it so much.

After breakfast we watched The Bishop's Wife and listened to carols on the Sirius Classical channel.

Meanwhile the birdies are running riot at the feeder again. It being chilly and drizzly didn't stop them from mobbing the bird feeder. It was like rush hour out there! They'd consumed so much since yesterday I had to interrupt the gobbling to refill the seed. One brown-headed nuthatch got so excited he flew over while I was refilling, then saw me, cheeped and retired until I went back inside.

And now it's time for us to go to dinner...Happy Christmas, everyone!
A Merrie Christmas!

On the First Day of Christmas

A Christmas Mystery—12 Days' Worth

Did Coca-Cola Create Our Image of Santa Claus?

Many histories claim that, although St. Nicholas/Santa Claus was an American character fixture from the early 1800s, the way we see him today, red-and-white suit, jolly life-sized man, was actually created by a soft drink company. Here's the scoop in Cokelore (The Claus That Refreshes).

24 December 2006

Waiting for Santa

This morning started a bit iffy.

Yesterday after buying the feather tree and James baking some pumpkin bread for Christmas dinner, we visited the DeKalb Farmer's Market to pick up ground turkey and ground pork to prepare next week for Bill and Caran's party. I love going to DeKalb before Christmas; they have all sorts of ethnic Christmas food like stollen and panettone and it's fun to see what each group likes for Christmas. Then we had supper at Boston Market and, because we were early for the Atlanta Radio Theatre performance of An Atlanta Christmas, dropped at Borders for a few minutes to pick up a gift.

When we returned to the Stage Door Players site, I was getting a slight stomachache and retired to the ladies' room. Nothing. But the pain continued to increase througout the show.

The show was so good I could ignore the pain. They had lost their prerecorded music and most of the cast sang a capella, which was fabulous. They did most of the usual presentations, including my favorite, "Are You Lonely Tonight?" and a new World War II story called "The Gold Star." I had my heart in my mouth when the car carrying the Navy man pulled up to Grandma's door.

We stopped to chat with everyone afterwards, but the pain was making me increasingly uncomfortable. If it had been a plain old "stomachache," it would have been okay, but I was concerned because it hurt when I moved, whether I just shifted position in my seat or stood up or walked around, hurt not just down there but my back and upper legs.

To keep it short, I wasn't feeling well most of the night, despite a few bathroom sorties. I was cold, and I even wore flannel pajamas to bed, which I haven't done for nearly three years due to the hot flashes. The movement pain, however, went away this morning, which was quite welcome because I had tons of things to do. Mom always said the house should be spic and span for Christmas Eve, so I vacuumed, did another load of clothes, mopped the kitchen floor, washed some dishes, swept the hall and the foyer, and vacuumed the stairs.

This afternoon we did something special: watched a DVD our friend Mike Waters sent us. I sat and laughed and cried throughout the entire thing. It was the broadcast of The Hollywood Palace from December 25, 1965, and the DVD came complete with commercials for Clairol "Loving Care," Sylvania Blue-Dot flashcubes (I remember when flashcubes came out; I suppose today the kids would say "what's a flashcube?" LOL), Schiltz beer and Sunoco gas. The host was Bing Crosby, the singing guest Dorothy Collins, and the special guests included a guy and his spaniel, Louie, who basically just stood there, limp, while his trainer worked him through a series of "tricks." The headliner special guests were the entire cast of Hogan's Heroes, who "escaped" from Stalag 13 with Sergeant Schultz and Commandant Klink in hot pursuit. Later Werner Klemperer and John Banner sang "Silent Night" in the original German and Robert Clary sang a verse of "Il Est Né." Too wonderful for words.

James has been making mashed sweet potatoes for tomorrow and now we are watching "O Christmas Tree" on WPBA, the Atlanta PBS station. Later they're going to have a Boston Pops concert with excerpts with Arthur Fiedler and John Williams. We both miss the annual Holiday at Pops! concert that used to be on A&E.

In the meantime, the birds have been running riot at the bird feeder almost all day. They are so much fun to watch: woodpeckers, goldfinches, chickadees, sparrows, titmice, nuthatches, and even a young bluebird, flying in and out, chittering at each other, chasing each other away and coming back, and munching and pecking seeds. Any seed that goes "overboard" is cleaned up by the mourning doves who peck industriously under the deck.

23 December 2006

Old Times

I bought a feather tree today!

I brought some of my mom's old ornaments home last year; not many, because I incorporated most of them into gift display bottles, one for me and the others for my cousins who always helped my mom with her Christmas decorations. I had three of the old 1950s glass ornaments left, plus a red plastic boot, two plastic Santas, and four snowmen. Then I had a couple of ornaments I had made when I was younger, which my mom always included on her tree. I wanted some way to display them, and they really didn't fit on our tree (physically, not theme-wise or anything).

I remembered that about a year ago I had parked in downtown Marietta one day and walked around to the various stores. "Way back when" the stores had been for shoes and clothing, or hardware, and had included banks and other businesses. Now they are selling antiques or food or are little boutiques and specialty stores. I had visited one antiques store where the woman sold various size feather trees in a back room.

Anyway, after paying a holiday visit to the hobby shop, we came home by downtown and just providentially found someone pulling out of a parking space. Downtown was mobbed, because in the square they had a Santa Claus and there were several dozen children in line to see him. Later we did walk around the park and absorb a nice draft of Christmas spirit, but first we walked down to the store I remembered.

Apparently she has quit having a feather tree area (it's taken over by rugs), but she had one feather tree left! I brought it home and decorated it with Mom's old ornaments, two homemade ornaments someone had given me, and the gilded walnuts I had made back when we were first married and our tree wasn't as full of ornaments.

It doesn't quite look antique, but it looks like a feather tree should, decorated simply with treasured ornaments. At some point I'll probably make or buy a bead garland for it, maybe an antique-y-type star for the top.

decorated feather tree

22 December 2006


A few posts ago I mentioned a play version of the classic television movie, The Homecoming, which was the pilot for the series The Waltons. Author Earl Hamner Jr. adapted the television movie from his novel, which, although it holds the same basic story, has more of an "edge" than the television movie. As the characters in The Waltons were softened for series TV from The Homecoming telemovie, so the movie version was softened from the novel. There is, for instance, no bus accident in the book. Olivia's parents are involved in the story rather than her husband's parents, and her mother keeps making cutting remarks about him possibly being out drinking. Clay-Boy (his name in the novel; Hamner was not able to use the original name of his family from this novel in the same "universe" as Spencer's Mountain for use in the television movie/series for legal reasons) smokes in one chapter. some vocabulary, while mild by today's schoolyard standard, is rougher than what was allowed on television in 1971.

There are several more adventures in the book than in the movie, such as Clay-Boy's encounter with an albino deer, and situations are a bit different: the giving away of gifts at the store, for instance, and the search for Clay Senior. While dealing with the hard life of these mountain people, Hamner also captures the beauty of the winter and the mountains in vivid vocabulary and gives us a real insight into the life of an Appalachian family. Worth finding for an annual read.

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW: American Christmases

These are short excerpts from diaries and letters (and even some poetry), compiled by Joanne Martell, from a short account of Christmas at Jamestown to a letter from an American soldier serving in Iraq. There are several accounts of the "new" Christmas customs of decorating trees and waiting for Santa Claus, and very many journal entries and letters home (and some bits from memoirs) of Christmas during various wars, going back to the Revolutionary War.

Nice for bedside reading before Christmas. Illustrated with Thomas Nast magazine illustrations.

The final entry says quite a lot in a few verses:
Touch Hands
William H. H. Murray

Ah friends, dear friends, as years go on
     and heads get gray, how fast the guests do go!
Touch hands, touch hands, with those that stay.
Strong hands to weak, old hands to young,
     around the Christmas board, touch hands.
The false forget, the foe forgive,
     for every guest will go and every fire burn low
     and cabin empty stand.
Forget, forgive, for who may say that Christmas day
     may ever come to host or guest again.
Touch hands!

"The Shortest Day"

Ancient Origins: Solstice

A 2003 Kids' News Entry about the Winter Solstice

The BBC Talks About the Winter Solstice

And, of course, Susan Cooper's poem which is read annually at the Revels Christmas performance:
And so the Shortest Day came and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year's sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us - listen!
All the long echoes, sing the same delight,
This Shortest Day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And now so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome Yule!
(Meanwhile, our friends in South Africa, the southern tip of South America, Australia and New Zealand are celebrating exactly the opposite. Happy summer to you all!)

21 December 2006

Christmas Relic

This would be interesting to see!

Copy of Poem Sold; 'Twas Worth $280K

20 December 2006

It's Almost That Time!

Norad Tracks Santa 2006

19 December 2006

John-Boy...No, Rather Clay-Boy...is Back

NPR interview: A Revised, Edgier Homecoming

Basically what they have done is base the play on the book, which was rougher (smoking and drinking and card playing are all mentioned, and there is some mild swearing); Hamner had to "pretty up" the story for television or I'm sure it would have garnered criticism. He's also using the actual names of the characters from the book, rather than having to change them like he did in 1971 because Warner Brothers still owned the rights to the Spencer family names after doing Spencer's Mountain in 1963.

(Ironically, the original Homecoming was a lot grittier story than the Waltons series it spawned.)

Earl Hamner sounds like Grandpa Walton these days, but then he is 83.

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW: Christmas: Its Origins and Associations

"The origin and associations of Christmas, together with its historical events and festive celebrations during 19 centuries: depicting, by pen and pencil, memorable celebrations, stately meetings of early kings, remarkable events, romantic episodes, brave deeds, picturesque customs, time honored sports, royal Christmases, coronations and royal marriages, chivalric feats, court banquetings and revelings, Christmas at the colleges and the inns of court, popular festivities, and Christmas keeping in different parts of the world, derived from the most authentic sources and arranged chronologically. Illustrated."
Let's say if you were expecting a light, colorfully illustrated volume on the history of Christmas over the years—this ain't it. :-)

Like Clement Miles' 1912 Christmas, this 1902 volume by W.F. Dawson is a scholarly approach to Christmas, beginning with the retelling of the Christmas story and the orthography of the word "Christmas." After briefly touching on some early celebrations, the book returns to its main concentration: the history of the Christmas celebration in England, beginning with the early tribal kings and of course King Arthur, and then describing the Christmas feast for each English king all the way back to King Alfred. While the London "Inns" and some Yuletide experiences at Oxford and the other colleges are chronicled, this largest portion of the book (at least a half dozen chapters) is about Christmas as celebrated in the royal courts (peasants and the middle class are only briefly mentioned in a few sentences), ending in "Modern Christmases at Home," which begins with King George III! There is also "Modern Christmases Abroad," describing the customs of expatriates in any area the British Empire covered, and also a chapter about the mixed celebrations in the United States, which includes two pages devoted to the unfortunate Victorian predeliction for stories about the "quaint celebrations" of "amusing" and "childish" "darkies" in the American South.

Recommended only if you are a student of Christmas history or are interested in the kings and queens of England.

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW: The Country Diary Christmas Book

In the 1970s PBS's Masterpiece Theatre began broadcasting the British production of Upstairs, Downstairs, a story of life in the wealthy Bellamy household, both abovestairs with the Bellamys and belowstairs with the various servants. The series was phenominally popular and started a trend for any Victorian/Edwardian stories. Masterpiece Theatre obliged with other productions like The Duchess of Duke Street, and other stories such as Flambards and Edward the King were sold for sale in the states.

In the midst of the fad, a collection of seasonal observations, poetry, and pictures of birds, plants, and insects originally called "Nature Notes for 1906" was rediscovered. The author of the journal, Edith Holden, a British illustrator, was an instructor at the Solihull School for Girls and wrote "Nature Notes for 1906" as a model for the nature diaries she wanted her students to compile. Edith's "Nature Notes" were published in 1977 as The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady.

The book was immediately popular—another volume called Nature Notes of an Edwardian Lady was released—and began a craze for reproduction books. Many spinoff books were created from Edith's original, including a "cookery" book, diaries, journals, calendars, and other volumes.

One of these was The Country Diary Christmas Book. Editor Sarah Hollis took the Christmas and winter entries from Edith Holden's books, included Holden's beautiful watercolors of plants and animals, then mixed other artwork of the English countryside and poetry, essays, and humor of the era or theme, added craft projects, vintage recipes, and notes on period entertaining and housekeeping, and produced this beautiful, crammed little book. Every page has some lovely artwork, text talking about Edwardian Christmas and customs or something about life in rural England during the winter. You can dip into it at your leisure or curl up with a cup of your favorite hot drink and enjoy the whole.

Well worth finding and keeping.

18 December 2006

The Holiday Whirl

Busy weekend: we had to supply the lunch centerpiece at Hair Day—the chicken wings worked out so well at the mover's party we served them again. Also delivered a Hanukkah gift and received a Christmas dinner invitation.

Later in the evening we hit Border's (good book coupons this weekend) and then drove out to Birmingham for a friend's annual Christmas party. It's a long ride (about 140 minutes), but we usually only see her once a year. She just got a super new job, so there's little chance we'll see her back in Atlanta any time soon.

She delivered the sad news that she can't attend our Twelfth Night party because she's flying out the next morning to attend job training for a week.

In San Francisco.

And they're putting her up at the Fairmont!

Woohoo! What a deal!

We got back about three a.m..

On Sunday had lunch at Ikea, then hit Richard's in Buckhead just for the heck of it. Richard's is probably the last "variety store" left in Atlanta, and looks a lot like a Woolworth's used to except it sells no clothing at all, but does have houseware, hardware, stationery, gadgets, cards, and, at this time of years, lots of toys. They had the most incredible selection of retro toys, and books that I thought were long out of print, like Lois Lenski's "Small" and "Little" books, The Biggest Bear, etc.

They also have things like "action figures" of Einstein, librarians (she says "shhhh!"), and also GI Joe size dolls of various Presidents (they play different presidential quotations if you press the suit jacket lapel). The Theodore Roosevelt one uses actual recordings of his voice. Too cool.

Also stopped at the Buckhead Borders. The place was packed; turned out Rachael Ray was autographing her new book. I found a keen book called The Essential "It's a Wonderful Life". Those who know me know I'm not much of an It's a Wonderful Life fan (Uncle Billy would have been relegated to doorman long ago if it were my Building and Loan). However, this points out little things to note about the film (such as in the first scene where everyone is praying for George, in the scene you see of Bedford Falls, there's a man running up the street waving: George Bailey) and there are historical notes about the time the film is set in and other film trivia about the actors.

Came home to discover we also have a dinner invitation for Christmas Eve. Super!

Christmas Traditions

Christmas Traditions

15 December 2006

The Scent of Christmas

I've got three cookie sheets of wine biscuits cooling on the stove and the house smells like Christmas. There's only about 45 of them, but I'm the only one that likes them around here; they'll last a month and be a brief reminder of childhood holidays.

Mom and I baked cookies every year: not just wine biscuits, but almond bars and molasses cookies and butterballs (I think they call them Danish wedding cookies in the bakeries: flour, butter, a little vanilla, sugar, chopped nuts, rolled into little balls, coated in confectioners' sugar). Most would go in bowls on the stairway to be brought out for company or on Christmas afternoon, but she'd always arrange an assortment for friends and family who didn't already bake them (my godmother, Sherrye's parents, Cindy's parents) in a paper plate with red and green and silver-wrapped Hershey's kisses scattered among them.

If you went to my aunts' homes you saw the same thing, except on large platters, sometimes with wandis (which are fiendishly difficult to make) and jam-center cookies. Scattered with the Hershey's kisses would be the little boxes of torrone, with their bright scenes of the Italian countryside, and they would be all wrapped in cellphane with a big bow in the center.

I used Mom's baking bowl, which now has a hallowed place in the china cabinet, and thought of her as I kneaded. The recipe (top of page) is her own adaptation, I think of my Grandma Lanzi's. She cut down on the sugar, of course. To this day I don't like sugary things; I don't even like raisins because they're too sweet. They aren't quite the same without Papá Lanzi's homemade red wine; it was very strong and gave the cookies a vivid flavor. I use Gallo's hearty burgundy, but it's only a fair substitute.

Daddy used to dip them into coffee, and then cocoa after he quit drinking coffee. I just liked them straight, sitting cross-legged under the Christmas tree writing yet another story and watching something like Charlie Brown Christmas or Rudolph or The Homecoming. Those were nice times.

14 December 2006


...if you needed it with all the publicity it usually garners:

La Salette Christmas going on now for all Christmas light display fans in the Providence/Boston/Fall River area.

13 December 2006

Happy Christmas Evening

James attended his IPMS club Christmas party tonight so I had a favorite supper (chicken broth and rice) and watched Christmas programs.

I'd found a couple of links about The House Without a Christmas Tree today

Kimba66's Profile

A Christmas Tree "Convert"

so I watched that first of all. I received at least a half dozen e-mails about the Addie Mills stories this month alone; between those posts and the e-mails it looks like I'm not the only fan. Sensitive, thoughtful dramas like this seem too few and far between today (and when we do get them, they are interrupted by dozens of commercials, network "bugs," and popup ads for programs coming up. What a treat to see the entire television screen taken up with a story and nothing else—and excellent actors like Jason Robards and Mildred Natwick to boot.

Next I watched Holiday Inn, my first time. Yes, in 51 years I have never seen Holiday Inn, just the little clip where Crosby and Reynolds sing "White Christmas." I found it...okay. Astaire's dancing was spectacular but his character was so unlikeable it soured the movie for me. I do want to watch it with the commentary: there's archived commentary by Crosby, Astaire, and John Scott Trotter.

Seeking something lighter, I then watched both Lynn Johnston For Better or For Worse specials. The one where the kids are still young is the better story, I think. And I'm a bit partial to the "Snow" song, too.

Pidgie sang most of the night, and that was nice, too.

James didn't get home until 11:20—he had almost a two hour drive back (and a two hour drive there because of rush-hour traffic)!

12 December 2006

Now It's Really Christmas

House photos:



garden bell


alternate view of porch

detail of porch

The Santa in this chair is the Polar Express Santa.

another detail of porch

You can see "Anne" and "Diana" caroling in the back at right.


deer on the landing

The other was a better shot, but you couldn't see the deer's eyes, so I took this one:

landing from above

This is the half-wall that divides the living room from the foyer:

xmas things on divider

Christmas tree

This was our nativity set when I was growing up. The figures were bought one and two at a time from the five and ten, Woolworth's and probably Grant's. I remember bins of each figure in Grant's. The camels and one of the sheep (he's lying down next to the shepherd) are actually of rubber:

manger scene


Click here for a badly stitched panorama of the village.

Good Neighbors/The Good Life: "Silly, But It's Fun..." is on the television:

cards and TV

dining room


Here's the ceppo and a small collection of old-world Santas:


11 December 2006

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW: An Irish Country Christmas

I found this lovely book at the library recently. It shares some similarity with Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas in Wales in that it speaks of customs that no longer exist.

For young Alice, growing up in rural Ireland in the early 1950s, thoughts of Christmas begin when Aunty Kate from America sends her annual, early Christmas card, the grocer stocks the special raisins and other baking supplies only used during Yuletide, and the geese are prepared for sale (and Christmas dinner). She describes the people around her—old Nell, who refuses to have her chimney swept, Black Ned the sweep and the other Ned, the town storekeeper, Johnny the Post, and various other friends and relatives—and the homely, old-fashioned Christmas preparations with vivid words. On Christmas Eve you are in the warm cottage smelling the roasting goose, setting the Christmas candle in the best turnip in the window, decorating with paper chains and holly branches and ivy. Warm and wonderful.

Chicken Soup Stories

"The Last Straw," a Christmas story.

10 December 2006

Well Begun is Half Done

We had so much to do today! (I'll be glad to go to work tomorrow. It should be less strenuous!) We slept late because we had stayed up last night watching a special about a Christmas lights display contest in Richmond, Virginia. Wow. (I'm sure there are more appropriate words for these displays, but "wow" will do.) And partially because James seems to be coming down with a cold and he needed to sleep.

After breakfast we ran to JoAnn, because I had three 50 percent off coupons and needed some plastic storage boxes, and to Hobbytown, where James bought some little models for a couple of the guys at work. We then had to stop at B.J.'s for milk, orange juice, and other groceries for the week, and at Lowe's to get more birdseed for the feeder. So by the time we got home it was four-ish. James had to eat because he was crashing and then it was dinnertime. While he was cooking I did another load of clothes and tidied the speaker wires in the corner where the tree will be and vacuumed.

So we didn't start on the tree until about six. This is a new tree, so it had to be unboxed and assembled and then fluffed. Very boring procedure. At least there was the Christmas edition of America's Funniest Home Videos to amuse us. Then came the worst part of Christmas tree decorating, Those Damn Lights.

However, in the past we had only 100 lights on our 4 1/2 foot tree. This is six feet tall and we thought it deserved more. Last fall, we had bought the tree at Seasonal Concepts. They also had all their lights on sale. James took a fancy to some mini-lights that had large bulb size covers over them, seventy in total on two strings. So he put them on the tree in a spiral pattern like the red on a candy cane. Then with two strings of 100 lights each we circled the tree and filled in the gaps between the bigger lights.

And we put "Little Blaze," the star on.

By that time it was after ten so we have quit. James will bring up the ornament boxes tonight or tomorrow and I can decorate the tree and do the tinsel when I get home.

09 December 2006

The Christmas Rush

Zowee, what a day!

• Post awful: Mailed one package and got air mail postage for a card/letter to England.
• Since I came up with a sudden "you need to use the bathroom now" "message," I went to the closest place: the library. On the way out I passed the Christmas book section and ended up coming out with three I hadn't read. Not bad for less than 15 minutes.
• Linens & Things: Table runner in Christmas theme (bordered in red; holly garlands against ecru with damask-pattern background, which at home replaced pale eggshell runner with autumn leaves and cutwork around the edges; only changed runner and put Christmas basket on table and entire mood of table has changed) and one of those Squid electrical plug things (for porch to straighten out Christmas lights).
• Borders: Using my Holiday Rewards points/E-rewards points and my personal shopping day (and a 25 percent off coupon on one book), got Taaschen's All-American Ads 1940s, two Christmas books on the remainder table for $4 each, and the December Yankee for...nothing. Nada. Zero. Zilch. And have $16.71 left over.
• Costco: Gasoline for car, multipack of Doublemint gum for the car. Also "ate lunch." Costco gives lots of samples. Good Costco!
• Michael's: bought silver picks at half price and a small wreath for 40 percent off. Also two blocks of styrofoam to make a hill (more below) with my 40 off coupons. Also go next door to Petsmart to buy Willow an new hedgehog toy and "cookies" for Christmas.
• Dollar Tree: Bought big red bow for $1.
• Food Depot: Bananas and yogurt.
• Dollar General: A few special Christmas cards and also an old-world Santa (I had an uneven number, which I didn't like).

Then I was pooped and went home, whereupon:

• Washed a load of clothes. Made bed.
• Fastened silver picks and big red bow on wreath with the wretched floral wire (at least I found it <g>) and hung it from the porch rails. Used Squid to make sense of all the cords on the porch. Small Christmas tree with blue LED lights is now where it belongs. I also use the floral wire to attach winter branches to the little sled I bought at A.C. Moore in Virginia. That is also on the porch and completes the Christmas decorations there.
• Used a knife to carve the styrofoam into a quasi-sledding hill for a couple of the figures for the Christmas village, which has been set up on the mantel. These figures of kids playing in the snow and their snowman weren't showing up because they were behind the bus. Definitely not a real hill, because the boys sledding would kill themselves coming down the slope, but with trees and some silver glitter, looks okay. Village is now almost finished except for a couple of flags. I put up two signs, one in front of the church that says "BINGO, Friday night, Proceeds go to the USO" and another in front of the WENN building that says "TONIGHT, Hilary Booth in A Christmas Carol."
• Put up the mistletoe. (Hey, I have my priorities here...LOL.)
• Played with Pidgie and "Girlfriend" for a half hour.
• Started sorting new ornaments together as prep for putting up the tree tomorrow, but didn't finish.

By this time James was due home from work (it was his monthly weekend work day), so I was ready and waiting at the door for him. We went back to Border's and I got the Taaschen All-American Ads 1930 with another 25 percent off coupon, the rest of the Holiday Rewards/personal shopping day, and two $5  Preferred Reader coupons. Total paid: $1.07. And I still have three $5 coupons left. Yay!

Then James treated me to my birthday dinner early: we went to Olive Garden. Yum.

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW: Sleigh Bells for Windy Foot

It started in our elementary school library, which had a good collection of the popular books at the time: Beverly Cleary, the Danny Dunn and Miss Pickerel fantasy books, the standards like Little Women and Treasure Island. But my favorites were always the animal stories. I coveted them all, especially Charlotte Baker's The Green Poodles, but held a special fondness for Frances Frost's three books about the Clark family in Vermont and their pony, Windy Foot. (I didn't find out until I was an adult that there was a fourth Windy Foot book.)

Although Windy Foot is always in the titles, he's not the total focus of the series or some type of super-Lassie equine. The stories really revolve around the Clark family: Mom, Dad, the main character, elder son Toby, younger sister Betsy and little Johnny, who makes rhymes when he's happy, and their faithful farmhand Cliff. It's post World War II in the Clarks' world; they live on a dairy farm near the Crooked River and live with electricity in the home, but a wood stove for cooking and heating, and lanterns in the barn and stable. There's no television, just a radio, and they own a truck but often use a buggy (or in the winter a sleigh) to get to town; in short, like a lot of small farm families back in the late 1940s. When Toby and Betsy and even little Johnny aren't busy doing chores, they hike, ski, swim, gather nuts, have fun with their friends or shopping in town—all without the help of electronic conveniences.

In the Christmas edition of the Clarks' adventures, they are eagerly awaiting their friends the Burnhams, who will be visiting for the holidays. Toby awaits the gifts he's bought from the mail-order catalog and rebuilds a big sleigh into a smaller one for Windy Foot, Mom cooks up Christmas goodies, the kids hunt up evergreens and berries to deck the house, and Dad and Cliff keep their eye on a cow about to give birth. The family attends a carol sing in town and does Christmas shopping at the general store. But danger is looming, too: a bear is stalking the neighborhood and threatening the livestock.

The Clarks' lives sound hard, with the farm taking first attention. But after reading about their enjoyable Christmas preparations, you almost wish you were out there pitching hay with them. Much recommended for lovers of New England Christmases and just plain old-fashioned enjoyment, no matter what age you are.

07 December 2006

Tree Trimming

Not yet for the big tree, but I put up the small tree with our Hallmark miniatures last night. Formerly these ornaments were on a small tree less than a foot high and that little tree set on top of our ceppo; the setup looked like this last year.

This year I bought the Hallmark miniatures tree for the ornaments since I had a coupon. The tree itself is twice the size of the other tree, so I was sure I'd have blank spaces. I had bought about eleven small ornaments (two sleds, four stockings, and five candy canes) at A.C. Moore, but knew if the tree turned up short there were more mini ornaments at Hobby Lobby.

Gad. I managed to fit the mini Rudolph ornament and the Santas from many lands set from this year, but even with the tree being larger I couldn't fit the Peanuts nativity set on the branches in front (I usually put plain lightbulb-shaped ornaments on the back of the tree since no one looks at it)! I guess I will just set them up in front of the tree like a real manger set.

First I cleaned all the fall things out of the foyer and put them into a Xerox box for storage in the garage until January. Then I dusted and polished the furniture down there to start with a clear pallet. I decorated the tree upstairs while watching White House Christmas 2006 (good heavens, it's red). After I put the ornaments on I put a red-and-green garland on the tree that Mom used to have on her little Christmas tree. I am not satisfied with the garland; I am terrible with garlands since I am a tinsel person. But the tree is too small for tinsel, I think, unless I trim it a little, and I had wanted to use Mom's garland. James suggests the garland, even though it's only 1/2 inch wide, is a bit heavy for the tree. I think he's right.

Maybe I'll trim the tinsel after all...

There are some pseudo-boxes underneath, and also the little toy airplane and the lion and the lamb underneath (the ones you see in the ceppo photo). I still need a cloth or doily to go under it.

I have put Christmas plaques up in the place where I hang seasonal plaques, and underneath that the caroling figures of "Anne Shirley" and "Diana Barry." Two angels sit on the tier table, right now with a Christmas cake between them.

The wooden reindeer I bought at Christmas in Lithia is at the foot of the divider where the bouquet of fall leaves usually is. He looks a bit bare. Above him sits a dangly-legged figure I saw at Michael's and just had to get. It is a woodland figure of a moose sitting down. He has a scarf around his neck and sitting on his left shoulder is a squirrel.

As a child of the 1960s, you can see why this called to me. <g>

It's not finished yet, so there's no pic.

The remainder of the ceppo is upstairs on the china cabinet, with the nativity set and the St. Nicholas in the woods figure in its usual place. I have placed a small collection of resin and wood old-world Santas around it.

The table is still in fall colors and I should get to it next, except I am really anxious to get the village on the mantelpiece after all that work!

(So did anyone catch the Mythbusters holiday edition last night? What a riot, especially Adam and Jamie's Rube Goldberg Christmas device triggered by Mentos and Diet Pepsi [those guys are really enamoured with that chemical reaction...]!)

06 December 2006

St. Nicholas in the News in Europe

Saint Nicholas: The Bearded Legend

Christmas Backlash: Saving St. Nicholas from Santa Claus

On the other side of the coin:

Vienna Kindergartens Saying No to St. Nicholas and Santa's Evil Sidekick Gives Jolly Fright to Kids, about the Austrian St. Nicholas' companion Krampus.

Lil' Devils Take Over "Mikulas", about children dressing up on St. Nicholas Eve.

The Most Famous Christmas Poem of All

Pat Pflieger's essay on Clement Clarke Moore and "A Visit from St. Nicholas."

(Pat has a super site about 19th century children's reading. Please visit!)

Cards Ahoy!

I had signed all of them on Monday night and finished addressing and sealing and stamping them (literally; I found old-world Santa cards that matched the old-world Santa banner that is out in front of the house and they came with silver seals) last night and James has popped them into the mail this morning. I would have had them out this weekend except that I had not finished the letter to go into some of them—several folks told me they missed our annual Christmas letter, so I did one again this year—and that I had no Christmas labels (no labels period!) to print the addresses on. I stopped at Office Depot on the way home.

It was nice because I found out the only labels they had came in a kit with stationery, which I found odd because OD usually has at least a half dozen different label designs available. I asked an employee about it and he said that this was all he had. Well, we have a color laser printer and Christmas icons, so I asked him to direct me to the plain labels. While I was making my selection, he evidently kept looking for Christmas labels for me and came up with the prettiest silver snowflake labels! That was very nice of him.

And they match the stamps!

I still need to go to the post awful to mail one package and to get air mail postage for the card that is going to England, plus get two Hanukkah cards. I hope to hand out a few cards in person on Friday; if not they will just go in the mail.

Watched The Waltons: "The Best Christmas"—their best Christmas episode—and the two documentaries, British Christmas Past and History Channel's Christmas Unwrapped, which featured both Penne Restad and Stephen Nissenbaum (the only one they missed was Karal Ann Marling) while I was processing the cards. Nice way to spend an evening.

04 December 2006

Always "Remembering WENN"

Over the years I have looked at "Christmas villages," those miniature worlds where all is merry and bright, with different levels of envy. My mother-in-law has a corker of a village setup in the corner of her living room, but I've been reluctant to get that elaborate and we really don't have the room (except perhaps by taking everything out of the foyer). On the other hand, a few homes on the mantelpiece wouldn't have been bad, except that there was really no room at the old house for that sort of thing. The fireplace was of fieldstone with a narrow, rough board for a mantel.

The new mantel is white and pristine and begging for a village.

I have observed over the years that the majority of Christmas villages tend to have a Victorian theme, with horses and carriages, men in top hats and women in long skirts. However, I noticed this year that several of the stores had 1940s-looking figures and vehicles with their Christmas villages, so I decided to make a 1940s village. I have a grocery store, tree lot (with period trailer), church, post office, and a house where a soldier is just arriving home and greeting his girl. Kids play in the recesses between the buildings, the grocer sweeps in front of his store, the man running the tree lot waves at the bus, loaded with old-fashioned valises and suitcases in its luggage rack and having just dropped off our soldier, passes by, and a family listens delightedly to two nuns singing Christmas carols while Father studies his Bible. (Right now this is all set up on the library floor.)

From the internet I have found old war posters plus I have made a couple of signs, so the grocery has a poster advertising war bonds, a 48-star flag that James found, and a sign "Bring your fats here." The post office has a recruiting poster for the Army Air Corps and a Red Cross "give blood" sign, and of course our soldier's home has a blue star flag on the house.

But there was also something else I was determined to do if I found the right building: to convert one of them into the building where WENN, the Pittsburgh radio station from Remember WENN, had its studios. Finding a building was actually harder than I thought. I was looking for a tall office building type and what I was finding was toy shops, candy stores, restaurants and other "quaint-shoppe" edifices.

Finally I found the right building. James helped me and this is what we came up with (these are linked rather than posted directly in the blog because the photos I took are large).

I started with Lemax's 3rd Precinct Building. We also bought an oil derrick that would go with a model train setup and James placed a pointed aerial on it and painted it silver.

Then he removed the interior scene with the policeman at his desk. There wasn't much else we could do with it, but I turned the desk so it was in front of the window at the side and glued the policeman back down on the floor, which James painted a solid brown. He also painted the "jail door" a solid brown, and on the inside wall which you could see from the window, I put a miniscule menu. Finally I printed up some "gingham curtains" on the color printer and pasted them in the window. This became "The Buttery," the restaurant the folks from WENN patronized.

Then, with the printer, I replaced the signs that made it a police station and added a Red Cross poster in the window and a signboard for the Buttery. James glued the tower to the roof and I applied the call letters to the tower (these are lettering for scrapbooks).

This is now what the building looks like, except for the modern NO PARKING sign still on the lamppost:

WENN Building

Here's a (little darker) picture of the finished product, but with that pesky NO PARKING sign replaced.

Completed WENN Building

The darker pic shows the "gingham" a little better.

There's a funny story about the antenna at the very top. As I was taking that second picture, although I lifted it in place carefully, I snapped the hair-thin thing off. James shook his head, then disappeared back downstairs to his workroom and returned a few minutes later with a new antenna. "This one is flexible," he told me. "Oh, what did you use?" "It's a bristle from a hairbrush, spraypainted." That's my guy!

This took us most of Saturday night from concept to conclusion, but it was quite fun. I know why people with train sets get so involved with setting up the scenery!

Buon Natale

A page devoted to the VALENTE-DiRENZO family, originally from Gambatesa, Italy, features these two pages about Italian Christmases.

The Christmas Zampognaro

and its sister page, Christmas Eve and More Shepherds

This live365.com page plays only Italian Christmas music.

Sorry, to me, "Mob Christmas" isn't really "Italian Christmas music."

03 December 2006

CHRISTMAS BOOK(S) REVIEW: A Louisa May Alcott Christmas and Louisa May Alcott's Christmas Treasury

Some years ago Stephen Hines found the Louisa May Alcott short story "Patty's Place" in an old children's magazine. Alcott was very much in the news at that point as one of her previously unknown adult "blood and thunder" stories had been found and recently published. "Patty's Place" was renamed "A Quiet Little Woman" and sold as a gift book with two other Christmas tales. A few years later, Hines published "Kate's Choice," another story with Christmas providing the pivotal scene (a story a bit akin to Eight Cousins) with two other Alcott Christmas stories.

In 2002, the aformentioned six stories as well as some others, for a total of nineteen stories and poems, were published as Louisa May Alcott's Christmas Treasury. Two years later, Harper Festival paperbacks published A Louisa May Alcott Christmas with twenty stories and poems.

The two books have some overlap: the same ten stories appear in both. One story is known as "What Love Can Do" in the Hines book and "How It All Happened" in the Harper paperback, and the wording is slightly different. The Harper paperback "cheats" a bit since the first two stories, "An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving" and "The Silver Party," are actually Thanksgiving stories. Also, there is a piece called "Cousin Tribulation's Story" that is basically the tale of the March girls giving away their breakfast in Little Women with different names to the characters (and the father character appearing).

The collection in the Hines' book is rather marred by his heavy-handed afterwards to several of the stories where he moralizes endlessly by explaining what Alcott was trying to get across and comparing the situations in her stories to her real-life. Very snooze-making and I don't think Alcott requires afterwards to explain herself! One of the stories in the Hines' volume is the Christmas chaper from Little Women and "Becky's Christmas Dream" is curious in that it's the same basic story as "Patty's Place/A Quiet Little Woman," but shorter and with fantasy dream elements where Patty's story is played straight. "Gwen's Adventure in the Snow" is also misplaced, as it is not a Christmas story, but simply a winter story.

However, if you are an Alcott fan, both these books are worth finding, although I advise you look for a used copy of the Hines book as it is quite pricy. I do wish some nice publisher would put out an omnibus volume of all Louisa May Alcott's short stories for children, from her contributions to Merry's Museum and St. Nicholas (including the "Spinning Wheel Stories") to the tales in her final books like the Aunt Jo's Scrap Bag volumes and Lulu's Library. I'd certainly be interested in purchasing something like that!

Incidentally, I rewatched the American Girls' movie Samantha: An American Girl Holiday last night and have read all the books, and I find it amusing to note the modern "rewriting" of history as regarding orphan children being adopted. Alcott's stories about orphans, especially "Becky's Christmas Dream" and "Patty's Place," more correctly show the children as being lucky enough to be taken into a household as a servant and kindly treated: given good clothing, schooling, and respected, but as a servant, not as a member of the family. Children from orphans' homes in the 1800s were rarely adopted as "children," they were adopted as help. Situations like Anne of Green Gables, where the child actually becomes a member of the household, were quite rare. Had the Samantha books been written in Alcott's time, Nellie O'Malley and her sisters probably would have received good treatment and schooling at Uncle Gard and Aunt Cornelia's home—but they wouldn't have been family members, they still would have been servants.

First Sunday of Advent Activites

Each year I try to find something Christmas-y to do each weekend of Advent. One of the things I have been hoping to do since we moved to Marietta was go on their yearly Pilgrimage of Historic Homes. Each year they pick out six homes which range from the mid-1800s to the late 1920s, the homes are decked out with Christmas decorations, and then tours are let in the first weekend of December. Other years I've either forgotten to get the tickets on time or just didn't feel like going, like last year.

Friday I managed to make it by the Marietta Welcome Center to pick up two tickets. Along with the six homes, all the public buildings associated with the historic society are open, including the Marlow House, which is now a bed and breakfast/functions site and the Root House, which we pass almost weekly going up to Barrett Parkway, circa the 1840s.

So today was the day: we parked the car and boarded our school bus shuttle that would take us up to the Cherokee and Church Streets neighborhood, which is fairly well-to-do, with homes in the $500,000+ range in general.

Our first stop was the Montgomery House, which was the oldest of the homes, built in 1847. It had been remodeled in the 1920s and a second story added (and then recently updated), so it no longer looked like any type of "frontier" house. At one time it was owned by the first female attorney in Cobb County. The house was remodeled within the last ten years, and the kitchen was completely redone (very much James' dream kitchen, with lots of room and an island). The unusual thing was that the house had two kitchens, the new remodeled one and an older kitchen in a separate room which reminded me very much of the kitchens in the triple-deckers some of my relatives had, beadboard cupboards and all. This was the least holiday-decorated because the house is for sale.

As we emerged from the house, there was a blue 1949 Chevrolet pickup truck just out the door. It had three owners and only 130,000 miles on it. The man who owned the house had not reconstructed it, but just reconditioned it a little. As we were standing there admiring it, a man bounced up and said eagerly, "Would you like to see the engine?" and popped open the hood; very plain and simple as these original engines were and clean as a whistle! Turned out it was the owner.

The next house was the Neel Reed-Brumby House (Reed was the architect). It had a side porch and also a garden that were reached by French doors that were made to look like windows. This also had a big remodeled kitchen. Christmas touches were everywhere in this house, and the Christmas tree on the sun porch had two different size LED light strings. The side garden was called the Charleston Garden and had stone paving with a fountain.

The third house we saw, the Latimer-Hill-Register House, was the one we both thought was the most comfortable-looking. They had some antique things, but nothing that was too pretentious. It had at one time been owned by the mother of Virginia Hill, who was gangster "Bugsy" Seigel's mistress; Hill paid $11,000 for the house in the 1930s, and paid for it in cash with $100 bills! The present owners had taken the back of the house off and a second story was added as well. This had a big open kitchen with a grill/stovetop and other neat things. The Christmas trees here had themes and the one in the guest room (and the guest room itself) were decorated with black and white Scotties (mostly belonging to the owner's mother), and another in the kitchen was just Christmas pickles. Upstairs there was a Grinch tree, which the docent said was a recent collection the family had started.

Outside the home where there had once been a front door (the steps are still there but they lead to nothing), there was a small pond. We counted one...two...three koi in the pond. Ohmygosh, "three little fishies in an itty-bitty pool"!

The Northcutt-Shilling-Fazzio House was decorated in a more eclectic style. For instance, on the porch they had the frame of an old sofa—no upholstery or stuffing, just the wood framework—wound with Christmas greens. There was a piano in the foyer and a tree in the big den off the kitchen decorated with old picture frames. A tiny little office was just off the stairs and just off that a tiny little laundry room where the owners had strung C-9 lights and then clothespinned old underwear to the "clothesline." The back porch had a big tree decorated with old toys and four huge artificial bells in red and white.

The Northcutt-Whitaker-Gillis House is on Church Street. When James and I come home from supper at Sweet Tomatoes/a trip to JoAnn/visit to the Borders at Kennesaw we usually drive by Church Street and there are several large houses that I love. Well, it turned out this home was the one that was my favorite, a big square house with a big front and side porch and a pool house in the back, painted grey with burgundy and hunter green trim.

It is just as lovely inside. The owners have enlarged and restored it. It has front and back stairs, beautiful hardwood floors, enclosed porches, and wonderful decorations. This had a tree in each room including a lovely feather tree as tall as me decorated with acorns and cross-stitch ornaments that a family friend has made over the years for the owners' children. A big glass curio cabinet contains little doll-like figures from Germany. On the wall upstairs after you climb the stairs, 25 years' worth of the children's pictures with Santa are displayed.

The funniest thing was in the remodeled kitchen, which is beautiful without being pretentious. There was a photo on the counter of the kitchen before it was remodeled; the owners had entered the room in a Good Housekeeping "ugliest kitchen in the United States" contest in which the prize was a remodeling and had thought they had won, but they only got a cash prize, which they used to start a remodel. Boy, was it ugly; as the docent commented, "I'd hate to see the kitchen that won!"

The last house, Red Door Cottage, took us the longest to get in. It was small, the line was long, and they only allowed about ten people at the time in. This was pocket-sized, with small lovely rooms with antiques, trees and bowls and wreaths of antique ornaments, paintings done by the owner's father (quite a watercolor artist!), and yet another butler's pantry (almost all of these houses had butler's pantries). A small room at the back of the house had been added in the 1940s and the owner uses this as her office; the bulletin board she uses is made of the original front door from the house!

Just slightly (LOL) footsore (we'd been walking for over two hours at this point), we rode the bus back to the Marlow House. This was originally a boarding house and now is a Bed & Breakfast and is also used for functions like showers, etc. You could see the rooms upstairs (long steep stairs!), but the third floor was closed off. Downstairs was open and they were serving sandwiches and drinks and selling gifts.

Finally we went to the Root House. Again, we have often passed the Root House on our way somewhere, as it is on the main road. It was built by the first pharmacist in Marietta, but not at the location it is now. It was "turned" once on its previous lot and then moved out to its present position in 1990. This house has been "brought back" to what it looked like in 1850 and is decorated for a simple Christmas with a small cedar tree with candles and homemade ornaments in the parlor "best room." The north room, across the hall, was the family chamber; they had furniture on casters so they could eat and even sleep in the room. There was a room in the back which had the history of the family and relics dug from the original site and also sold some books on cookery and history of the area. Upstairs was the family bedroom, and we do mean family: Mom, dad, and six kids slept upstairs all in one room (grandma slept downstairs with the new baby because it was warmer down there). The house has young ladies as docents in the different rooms and they give quite a different speal from the usual older guides in historic houses. The young lady in the bedroom was quite funny talking about keeping clean, discouraging bugs—apparently bedbugs don't like chinaberry berries or lavender—and getting dressed in 1850.

I thought something was quite funny: in the parlor and the north room, they had some of what I thought was hideous pink and blue on white, "60s-looking" flowered wallpaper. I wondered at the garish color scheme until the young lady in the north room showed us the wall where they show you how the wallpaper was put on. Boards were just hammered on the wall lengthwise, plain rough boards. This was covered by muslin tacked on. Then the wallpaper was applied to the muslin. She showed us a board of the original wallpaper and darned if, under all that yellowing and water staining, there was that bright pink-and-blue-on-white flower pattern!

The kitchen, as was common with most old Southern homes (I think old homes period to some extent, but particularly in the South, where you didn't have to tramp across snow during the winter to get to the kitchen), was a separate building, so if the kitchen caught fire from the cooking, the whole house didn't go up with it. They have a wood stove in there and bake in it, and we were able to sample gingerbread boys that were cooked in the wood stove, just like Polly Pepper might have baked in the old stove at the Little Brown House!

We also got to sample beaten biscuits, baked in the same stove, which I have read about in old books—they pop up a lot in St. Nicholas stories—but had never seen. They were only made for special visitors in the old days because after you mixed the biscuit dough, you had to beat it with a mallet 300 times! (500 times if the company was very special!) In the kitchen was a "labor-saving" gadget for making beaten biscuits; it looked like an old-fashioned washer wringer and you only had to run the dough through it one hundred times! Then you cut them out with a cutter or glass about the size of a quarter and baked them.

They were actually quite good, tasting like a biscuit but denser with a tiny crunch, although they look a lot like a Vermont common cracker, which are crunchy and not biscuity. (The docent told us that it's easy to make them today; you just toss the dough in a Cuisinart for two minutes! I bet those ladies of 1850 would have loved that!)

So we walked back to the truck, having intended to go to the museum, which was also included in the price of the tour, but it was 3:40 p.m. and the museum would close in 20 minutes. Oh, well. Great tour!

Read more about the tour and the homes at The Marietta Pilgrimage - A Christmas Home Tour.

"Glow of the Season"

One of the most beautiful and evocative symbols of the Advent season is the traditional Advent wreath. You can create your own unique Advent wreath along with your family by adding candles, bows, and other creative adornments to a real or artificial evergreen wreath.

The circular evergreen wreath symbolizes God's neverending love and grace. The candles—typically three purple and one rose—represent hope, peace, joy, and love. Real wreaths made from yew, pine, cedar, fir, laurel, and holly are especially fragrant and lovely. Once you have decorated your wreath, set aside a special time as a family to display it in a place of honor on your table, hearth or mantel.

Celebrate Christmas

"Glow of the Season"
An Advent Lighting Prayer
by Sharon Hudnell

Lord of this Holiest Season,
We ask Your blessing for those gathered here tonight as we light
   these candles for Advent.
As we illuminate this season with the glow of hope,
   Let us remember those who waited in father for a Messiah
   And our own hope of His return.
As we illuminate this season with the glow of peace,
   Let us remember the quiet strength of the Virgin
   And live the message of peace Her Son gave the world.
As we illuminate this season with the glow of joy,
   Let us remember the eleation of the shepherds one Holy Night
   And embrace the joy of sharing this moment with those dearest to us.
As we illuminate this season with the glow of love,
   Let us remember the Child, given in all His tenderness to the world
      as our light through every darkness
   And His simplest commandment: Love one another.
As we celebrate this Advent,
   Let the glow of hope, peace, joy, and love illuminate our hearts
   And shine through the world like a candle in the night.

02 December 2006

Apart Again

These are the Christmas albums that comprised the set I bought for my mother two years ago and sadly had to bring home last summer. While the treatments of the songs are nothing special, they bring a bygone Christmas to life—and the old commercial contained herein are enjoyable as well (except several are from June and July and you can tell positively with at least one!).

I'll Be Home for Christmas

An American Christmas

Home for the Holidays

For more nostalgic holiday music, recommended is "A Vintage Christmas Cracker" containing both American and British Christmas songs from 1915 through 1949.

And also "Christmas at the Almanac Music Hall," which sounds as if it were played and recorded at an old VFW hall or grange meeting, recalling simpler but heartfelt celebration.

01 December 2006

"The Meteorology of Love"

I saw this after I bought my Christmas card stamps today.
Every Christmas,
as my mailbox
is snowed in
with cards,
I shovel aside
the expected,
keep looking
for the friends
who don't write;
who've moved, don't
forward their mail,
or stop
sending cards;
somehow become lost.

My husband says
to think of the cards
I do receive;
Kodaks of plum-
cheeked babies,
long, long letters;
to think of the friendships
that last, skein back
through years, fit
like old sweaters.

But I still think
of the friends
that drift away
like snowflakes,
their loss
a wind-
chill factor:
the cast off stitches,
the unwound yarn.

...by Barbara Crooker

Welcome to December!

December Holidays - School of the Seasons