29 November 2007


Guideposts for the Spirit: Stories of Faith for Christmas
I love these books of short stories of faith. This particular volume has several stories I had read before, such as "Marty's Secret," Fulton Ousler's classic "String of Blue Beads," and "Elizabeth's Song," and a few others, but the remainder were equally enjoyable. If stories like these are your cup of tea (or cocoa), this volume is recommended.

Re-read: The Christmas Encyclopedia, William D. Crump
I have three Encyclopedia of Christmas volumes, including Gerry Bowler's monumental tome, and all are a little different, with different emphasis. Crump's focus is song and pop media, although he gives time to the Christmas symbols and how the holiday is celebrated in different countries. All the well-known Christmas specials, from Charlie Brown Christmas and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer to the lesser-known Rankin-Bass efforts like Nestor are contained in Crump's volume, and of course there are pieces on It's a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, and other holiday movies. Note: this is a McFarland small-press publication, so check out sales on this one.

Why Does Santa Wear Red?, Meera Lester
Subtitled "...and 100 Other Christmas Curiosities Unwrapped
The inside cover notes that this small gift volume "...contains abridged items from The Everything Christmas Book." It is indeed a nice little gift book, with a short history of Christmas celebrations, the meaning of Christmas symbols, plus the obligatory recipes, and a few short stories and poems. Nothing overly special, but much more worthwhile than another book presently in release, Christmas A to Z, which is basically a collection of pictures of Christmas items in dictionary form with lots of large print and white space.

Merry Kitschmas, Michael D. Conway
I found this on the bargain book counter and was hoping it was a history of those delightfully tacky decorations over the years. Instead it's a book about how to make tacky decorations. Shrug. Not my cup of tea.

24 November 2007

Treats Galore

Food Timeline's page of Christmas foods, including entries on Christmas cookies and exchanges, gingerbread, the Martinmas goose, etc.

23 November 2007

And So It Begins...

"Our Thanksgiving feasts have ended. Magic lingers. We can honestly say to family and friends who have gathered, "We'll see you again soon." The Christmas season may seem much too long, stretching as it does from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day. But with busy, demanding schedules, there never seems to be enough time to enjoy the beauty and sentiment of the holiday. The Christmas season is our chance to "wear our hearts on our sleeves," to decorate our homes with symbols of warmth, friendship, and nostalgia. 'Tis a season to arouse the sleeping child in us all and to pay respects to the memories of our families' pasts. The lights in our yards, the candles in our windows, reach out to neighbors and passers-by in a spirit of camaraderie and goodwill. Come closer...

. . . . . The Whole Christmas Catalog

(Out of print; worth finding used online: collection of beautiful photos, recipes, decorating tips, commentary about Christmas trees and customs in different countries, several Christmas tales including a few obscure offerings, and taking photos at holiday events. Published by Price/Stern/Sloan.)


Call it the flip side of Holly Claus. That is a Christmas tale guaranteed to bring back the late 19th century, from its language to its heroine and other main characters to its lovely detailed illustrations.

Christine Kringle, by Lynn Brittney, is thoroughly grounded in the 21st century—and totally fun. In Brittney's Christmas universe, there is no one "Santa Claus" or gift-bringer during the long holiday season between December 6 (St. Nicholas Day) and January 6 (Epiphany). Each country has its own gift bringer (or gift bringers) and all belong to the Yule Dynasty; many of them are married and have children. Every year they hold a conference in a different location to discuss various problems and innovations they wish to bring to the Christmas celebration.

This year the American Santa, Kriss Kringle, and his wife are nervously awaiting the conference. The Yule Dynasty always passes from father to son, and the Kringles only have one daughter, Christine, with no future chance of a son. The Kringles want to propose that Christine become the next American Santa Claus, but they know they will face stiff opposition from some of the more traditional members of the Dynasty, like the old-fashioned Babbo Natale (the Santa of Italy) and Grandfather Frost of Russia. They will receive lots of support from "The Sisterhood": the female gift bringers like Santa Lucia and Tanta Amie, but the head of the sisterhood is abrasive La Befana of Italy, who's always been a bit militant and off-putting.

Christine, in the meantime, makes friends with "Little K," an inventing whiz and son of the Japanese Santa Kurohsu, and Nick, the son of the British Father Christmas, who actually hates gingerbread and a lot of other things about Christmas. It is they who are recruited to sneak away with the help of The Sisterhood when an emergency arises: a small, failing town in England called Plinkbury has banned Christmas! Afraid this movement will spread, Christine, Nick, and Little K go to Plinkbury to find out what the problem is and to bring Plinkbury back into the Christmas spirit, with the help of Nick's mom Zasu, a flaky "tall elf," and her brother Egan, who runs a chain of Christmas shops.

This is a hilarious, inventive novel with lots of neat touches: the "Santa parents" are just like regular ones—some spoil their children, or they have to take care of mundane problems like laundry while dealing with reindeer and other magical creatures; it's the assistants like Holland's Black Peter and the other members of the "Black Gang" who keep order at the conference; the Yules have a Kareoke contest after their first dinner together; Babbo Natale drives a Ferrari instead of using an animal for transport; Nick's mother is a "blonde" in the most pejorative sense of the word, but is the sweetest, most generous woman; etc. In the course of the narrative Brittney skewers news reporters, indulgent parents, marital and parental relationships, Christmas aficionados—without ever forgetting the true meaning of the holiday.

There are some reliances on stereotypes—Babbo Natale and his family and assistants have strong Mafia overtones, for one—and American Christine and her family speak in Britishisms, but these are small quibbles in such an amusing book. Christine Kringle should be in everyone's stocking this year.

22 November 2007

How You Know...

...it's really Thanksgiving:

The daily newspaper is larger than the Sunday paper was.

...it's really Christmas:

The little Hershey kiss "bells" start playing "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" on the commercial.

"Thanksgiving Time"

The Autumn season finishes the year,
Hangs harvest moon in cooler atmosphere.
Grain ripens, wheat and oats leap into shocks,
We hasten toward the year's last equinox.

For Winter hides behind a northern sky,
Floats in each wavering wind that flurries by.
Thanksgiving time, corn hurries toward the barn
As ice forms isles on meadow-brook and tarn.

At borderland of every fertile field,
Marauding crows peck at remaining yield
Of grain dropped by machine or man, unseen.
They chatter as they sweet the furrows clean.

Apples, like small, red worlds, plunge down the night
On orchards, in mounds beautiful and bright;
Fall changes little as the years go by.
The prairie folk are glad, and so am I.

For every single blessing gives a reason
That we rejoice at this Thanksgiving season!

Stella Craft Tremble

19 November 2007

A Foot in One Season and the Second in Another

Traffic was appalling today, so I came home via surface streets, a convoluted path that leads me from the Shallowford Road exit to Dresden Drive cutting across Buford Highway and Clairmont Road, cutting across Peachtree and right around the golf course to Mabry to Windsor to Roswell Road and immediately onto West Wieuca, across the top end of Chastain Park to Jett, to Mount Paran, and finally to Cobb Parkway going toward Cumberland Mall. It's a wonderful route on a fall day and the trees are right at peak now. A new complex of apartments and offices on Dresden Drive is afire with young maples the color of pumpkins, one tree looked like molten rubies, and Chastain Park was afire with saffron, coral, and crimson, gold and bronze and bittersweet and scarlet, maroon and purple. I can't even guess how many shades of yellow, orange, and red I have seen this season. The new constructions of stone and brick homes nestle among the trees like comfortable old edifices settled into fall.

In New England peak has come and gone. November is a month of sere grass and the black bones of trees against the sky. I used to make a joke about God having put on His color show of autumn leaves only to be followed by the electric color show of humans celebrating Christmas. Here in Georgia the two overlap: while the trees blaze, men and construction equipment set up holiday lights. The city of Smyrna has been setting up their lights here and there for weeks; the decorations proper are now up and were undergoing final testing this evening when I finally drove through the rotary—the central tree appears to be done in blue LEDs—in preparation for the official lighting next Tuesday. A house on Powder Springs Street was brave with white-lighted bushes and a spiral Christmas tree, and the final sign of the coming season was there on Spring Road for all to see: a Christmas tree lot complete with pines and firs.

The Insects' Christmas

This interesting little stop-motion film was made in 1913 for a German audience (there are English subtitles):

The Insects' Christmas

Check out the old ornaments, toys, and the custom of having gifts on the Christmas tree.

More about the creator, Ladislaw Starewicz.

Tip of the hat to Elmer in the "Christmas Movies and Music" group.

17 November 2007

We Saw Our First Christmas Lights Tonight

There they were, on Smyrna-Powder Springs Road before the traffic light at Favor.

Technically, we're pretty sure we saw Christmas lights before Hallowe'en. We thought they were Hallowe'en lights, but James noticed they were multicolor and he also saw a reindeer. Unless it was a haunted reindeer.

Someone else on S-PS Road had their wreaths on the windows up last weekend, but the house is not otherwise illuminated. I suspect this was the only weekend Dad, or whomever puts the wreaths up, had the time to put them up.

15 November 2007

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW: The Legend of Holly Claus

This is simply a wonderful, old-fashioned fairy tale. It would not have been out-of-place had it been published in serialized form in a 19th century magazine like St. Nicholas or Wide Awake; it has echoes of Frank Stanton and L. Frank Baum, with a heroine Baum would have delighted in, Holly Claus, the child of Nicholas Claus (otherwise known as Santa Claus) and his wife Viviana.

One day a little boy named Christopher writes a selfless letter to Santa Claus, not asking him for toys, but asking him what he wishes the most for. Nicholas realizes that what he and Viviana want most is a child, and nine months later a daughter is born to them. On her christening day, Holly is cursed by the evil wizard Herrikhan, who was banished from the Land of Forever when he sought to have everyone bow to his wishes and grovel at his feet. The stench of evil and cockroaches surround him. Herrikhan's curse encases Holly's pure heart in ice and closes the Land of Forever. The only way to lift the curse is for Holly to give him her heart, but that will free him and bring his evil back into the world.

Holly grows up tutored and loved, but lonely without any other children around her. Herrikhan's magic makes many of the inhabitants afraid or suspicious of her. Under the watchful eye of Tundra, the white wolf who was Nicholas' closest confidant, and her friends Alexia, a fox, Empy, a tiny penguin, and Euphemia, a snowy owl, plus her godmother Sofya, Holly grows to young womanhood knowing she wants to do good in the world, therefore on the Christmas of her seventeenth year, she journeys to gaslight New York, knowing her encounter with Herrikhan will come soon.

The magic is enhanced by Laurel Long's astounding pen-and-ink illustrations, which are exquisitely detailed. There is now also a picture book version called Holly Claus: the Christmas Princess which features Long's illustrations in full color.


14 November 2007

Thanksgiving Prep Quiz

How much do you know about turkeys and Thanksgiving? Try your hand at the Turkey Trivia Quiz

Tip of the hat to Elizabeth in the "Christmas to the Max" Yahoo group.

13 November 2007

Black Friday Ads

Been perousing what's on the www.black-friday.com site: WalMart and some others not allowing ads, but noted that (so far) Staples is going to have a good deal on 2GB Memory Pro Duos, but if you want 4GB on the same item, Radio Shack is a better bet.

Toys'r'Us? Sears? God help us, Best Buy? Sorry...staying far away from them. Michael's and JoAnn will be bad enough. (Although Target wasn't too bad last year when I got the little Shark vac...good worker, too.)

12 November 2007

Down Autumn River Approaching Christmas Town

Sadly, we were disappointed when we went to Christmas in Lithia yesterday. There are fewer and fewer craft booths every year. This year the gymnasium was only half full. The lady who makes the cow accessories we loved doesn't even come any longer. :-( I was hoping to get a salt-and-pepper set from her at some point and maybe even the creamer and sugar bowl. Ah, well.

We did get a cute little dog ornament, a sheep trinket to add to my sheep collection, and a very pretty Thanksgiving/fall potholder in bright oranges and yellows that will be more used as a decoration, I suspect.

After that we had to take care of the "big shopping" at BJs and ended up making an early afternoon of it since my digestive system was doing the equivalent of handstand off and on all day.

James had to trot off to work this morning. I sat down and wrote my cousin Debbie a letter to tuck into her Thanksgiving card and also made out another card, then took them both downtown to mail. After doing one circuit of Marietta Square, I noticed a parking space available and took it. I wanted to check out the Hallmark store—they have the loveliest things, including dozens of Jim Shore items. The crechè shown as the featured item on Shore's home page right at this moment is there: isn't it gorgeous? I also wandered through one of the antique stores on the way back to the car. If it's cool on Friday I really ought to stop by and walk around, or maybe on the 30th; everyone's already decorated for Christmas, and these wonderful little shops, which used to be shoe stores and dress shops and haberdasheries and drug stores with the "indented" entries with display windows and tile walkways, are so wonderful at this time of year.

Stopped at Michael's to use one of the 50 percent off coupons and discovered that all the LeMax houses were half off, so got one for James to turn into a hobby shop. Almost everything was on sale, so I ended up buying a book with the coupon. Also visited the mall. Not many decorations up yet, but Hallmark was festive enough, and on the way home discovered that the city of Smyrna is putting up their Christmas lights.

If there is anything good about the drought we are having, it's been the vivid colors of the trees. Due to the soil difference, Georgia trees never look as brilliant as New England trees—several autumns have seen leaves that turn dirty bronze and limp brown—but this year we're having a run for the money. The dryness has brought out the trees in bright color and the frost we had a few nights ago really helped. Within three miles in several directions from our house are trees of such color they take your breath away. There is a little maple on Spring Road that shades from light green to bright golden to orange, with a half-dozen branches that end with tips of dark scarlet. The BP station at Atlanta Road and Concord has four small maples right on one corner and each is a different color: one a butter yellow, one orange, one a deep crimson, and one between orange and crimson. I have seen trees the color of a Werther's butterscotch candy, of molten iron, the maroon of the velvet curtains that used to open before the movie at the Majestic Theatre. Stunning.

I've spent a bit of the afternoon checking out the Christmas boxes. We need a few gift cards; otherwise everything is shipshape, and in the case of two gifts, ready to mail.

05 November 2007

Eight Reindeer Led by a...Duck?

Anyone seen the new AFLAC commercial featuring the Rankin-Bass Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer characters? You can find it here. (I couldn't get this to load in my Firefox; YMMV. It did work in IE.)

I've been watching Rudolph since it premiered in 1964, and I think it's cute, but I've hit at least one website while looking for it online that considers it "desecration."

But then I liked the parodies "Raging Rudolph" and "The Reinfather," too.

CHRISTMAS BOOKS REVIEW: The Christmas Survival Book and Unplug the Christmas Machine

I like to read these two volumes first before Christmas, sometimes in coordination with Celebrate the Wonder, to glean new ideas and remind myself that Christmas celebrations are not delineated by Hallmark ads, the settings of china and fancy foods in the monthly women's magazines, and television commercials.

Jo Robinson and Jean Staeheli wrote the classic of this genre, Unplug the Christmas Machine, about not responding to these picture-perfect and often stereotypical features of what the perfect Christmas must be. Advertising only brainwashes us into thinking that if we buy a certain item or certain brand, our lives will be changed, when really it is ourselves that must change. Another important fact emphasized is that we cannot change other people; we can just cope with people as they are or strategize celebrations that may defuse potential problems (don't serve alcohol at a party where Uncle Barney is present, lest he get drunk and ruin the occasion, etc.).

The Christmas Survival Book (formerly The Christmas Book) by Alice Slaikeu Lawhead runs along similar lines, with some amusing line drawings as chapter headings. She also encourages people to make Christmas what you want it to be, not what you are told it should be. There are chapters about being alone at Christmas, whether because of negative or positive reasons, and also about those singular Christmases, where crises of health or an emotional nature have interrupted the holiday.

If Christmas has become a maddening round for you, I heartily recommend either or both of these books, as well as the Kristin Tucker book Celebrate the Wonder, which is filled with ideas for projects, meals, Christmas planning, Advent and Epiphany ceremonies and details Christmas customs in other cultures. It is a very plain book, but crammed with content and some Victorian line graphics that are very beautiful.

02 November 2007


The wind-swept trees, leaf-desolated, sway;
In labyrinths of gloom suns lose their way;
The sullen hills look grim as if at bay;
               The skies are grey.

The forest pine-trees give a shivering sound;
The ragged flowers lie on the ragged ground;
The rustling leaves are eddying round and round;
               The vines are interwound.

But, sometimes, sunshine in the old sweet ways
Brings back a touch of summer to the days,
And through the dim grey pallor of the haze
               In fitful glory plays.

And in the sheltered places still are found,
Lying among the grasses damp embrowned,
A few late lingering wild-flowers, azure-crowned,
               Blooming as if spell-bound.

The world seems in a reverie sad and deep,
Haunted with dreams of joys it could not keep;
And while numb languors through its chill veins creep
               November falls asleep.


A "Holly" Day

Yay! XM103, "Holly," is on the air! I listened to it for about five hours off and on as I did errands (and, I say pointedly to the folks at Sirius, not one repeat!).

It started off cloudy with a bit of a breeze swirling turning leaves about me as I started out, showing off to great advantage the peeps of orange and yellow and red about each corner. There is a gloriously orange maple tree on Olive Springs Road and a vivid crimson tree on Bells Ferry. At the beginning of the week I was in our back yard noting only a few dozen turned leaves; now we have a brilliant red-orange tree near the fence next door, and yellow dappling most of the other trees.

I did find a November-December Yankee in Barnes & Noble and then approached the stand with the craft magazines. A B&N employee was restocking the shelves and looking quite put out; I remarked that she did not look happy and she said that the last person who had done the job had not placed the magazines correctly. I circled her and started to look through a cross-stitch magazine and she said, "I have another one of those that I haven't put out yet; are you looking for a particular one?" I said I never know until I look inside, and she actually got up, went in the back, and fetched the new issue of Cross-Stitcher for me. It was a keeper, too, so when I went to pay, I particularly mentioned to the cashier that she had been nice to me and people who work retail don't get enough compliments! He said he would pass on the compliment to someone higher up.

I popped in Hallmark for a moment; anyone seen the line of Christmas Beanie Babies out this year? They're adorable: a reindeer (named "Rooftop" or "Housetop," something like that), a gingerbread boy ("Hansel") and girl ("Gretel," of course), several bears, and today I saw what looked like St. Nicholas' white horse, with a wreath around his neck, and a bright red cardinal.

Next stopped at Michael's and raided a few small Mary Engelbreit Christmas things from the dollar bins, plus a skein of DMC color variations floss. From there I went to Garden Ridge. I have not been to Garden Ridge since August and Christmas was in full swing there: an entire forest of different sized Christmas trees, lighted and not, yard signs, lighted items, and aisles and aisles of ornaments. It was quite a hike walking around the store. I bought only a white garland with snowflakes for winter, an autumn-themed box, a very small holly pick to cover the damage at the bottom of the silver-based snowglobe I bought two weeks ago, and—success!—two packages of C-7 frosted blue bulbs! We had run out of blue bulbs and no one else had them; the spares were up on a shelf in the holiday storage closet. We use these not only for the candles in our windows, but I keep a night light in the hall bath all the time. A blue bulb is bright enough so you can use the facilities without turning on two blindingly-brilliant 40-watt bulbs at three in the morning, but not bright enough to keep you awake if you forget to close the bathroom door.

Incidentally, Garden Ridge had at least two trees lit with LED bulbs that look like mini-lights. They look...unnatural. Much too bright.

Off to JoAnn; all their fall things are 70 percent off, so I bought two small things for the porch as well as a stuffed squash for the library. These soft sculptures are made with different color and texture of materials, so they are quite interesting looking. They also had two standing decorations that said "JOY," one of distressed wood, another small one of resin, with the letters looking like birch limbs, embellished with a snowman and two cardinals.

Next I got gasoline at Costco and then went in to have lunch—Costco has the best samples! I had two Bagel Bites, five cheese tortellini, a small sample of low-salt kettle chips (if these are low-salt I'd hate to taste the regular ones), and a Belgian dark chocolate filled with hazelnut cream. I also picked up the 2007 Cooks Illustrated holiday guide (sometimes I think I buy these just for Christopher Kimball's wonderful editorials) and Caroline Kennedy's Christmas book.

Since I had the insulated bags with me, in went the milk and the cheese and the eggs and I was off to Books-a-Million for some masochism. Actually, someone had tidied the magazines and I did find some new ones, including the December issue of Blue Ridge Country. I re-upped our membership and received a nice-size, waterproof canvas book bag for free. This is quite nice; I may start carrying my cross-stitch in it, since the Quick & Easy bag is too small and too easily soiled.

One more stop at Michael's to purchase a second skein of floss and some decorative dollar boxes, and I was on my way home. One more stop and I had James' anniversary gift finished. [grins and bats eyelashes]

And then it was time for laundry and bed making and all that other exciting stuff.

Only fly in the ointment: our next-door neighbor apparently has his stereo up to eleven. And he even has his windows closed! The relentless tump-tump-tump is giving me a headache. He's driving the bass so hard that downstairs in the laundry room, the vacuum cleaner hose hung on the wall is vibrating. Why ain't he deaf? Ouch!

01 November 2007

New Christmas Videos

On Tuesday I received an early Christmas gift, a copy of the video Simple Gifts: Six Episodes for Christmas, which was first broadcast on PBS in 1978. It was repeated for a couple of years, then disappeared before I could videotape it after acquisition of a VCR in October 1980. This program has haunted me for years. Call it "Christmas animation for adults," six very understated pieces introduced by Colleen Dewhurst.

The prologue by Maurice Sendak is the short simple story of a poor little boy who turns into a Christmas tree and uses his own warmth to warm others. The six main stories are:
1. "A Memory of Christmas," from the memoirs of Moss Hart: archival photographs of New York City mixed with aged sepia-tinted animated stills of actors portraying Hart's family.
2. "Lost and Found," based on the "Toonerville Trolley" comic strip, animated in that archaic style; the one real humorous story of the group.
3. "December 25th, 1914," mixed animation and archival photographs to tell of an incident during the World War I Christmas truce, taken from a British officer's memoir.
4. "The Great Frost," based on "Orlando" by Virginia Woolf, with delicate children's book-like illustrations telling the story of a Great Ice Fayre held on the frozen river and of a romance that develops between a young Englishman and a Russian princess. This is the longest piece of animation and the one most people who remember this special will recall.
5. "My Christmas," charcoal-sketch limited animation taken from the diary of 11-year-old Teddy Roosevelt.
6. "No Room at the Inn," line-drawing animation, with no dialog, by R.O. Blechman about the Nativity that takes a poke at modern consumerism.

I find this just as enjoyable now as I did back when it was first on television. PBS Home Video should release this to DVD, since it was only available to libraries when it was first released on video.

When I am teleworking I spend my lunch hour watching Rick Steves' Europe and love the beautiful out-of-the-way places he finds in each region. So it was natural I pick up a copy of Rick Steves' European Christmas, which is also shown on PBS, but in an edited version. The complete DVD is 62 minutes and covers the following places: Bath and London, England; Drobak and Oslo, Norway; Paris and Burgundy, France; Nurnberg, Germany (for the Christkindlmarket and a look at the "Christkind" tradition); Tirol and Salburg, Austria; Rome and Tuscany, Italy; Gimmelwald, Switzerland (probably Steves' favorite place in Europe, a tiny Alpine village, in which the whole Steves family goes on a memorable Christmas tree search ending with a breathtaking night sled down a mountainside using torches); and the Christmas Eve finale. If the beautiful main feature wasn't enough, the extras are 30 minutes of song by the choral groups featured in the show, five minutes of highlights from Pope John Paul II's final Christmas Mass, a four minute interview with the young lady who is the Christkind, a minute of close-ups of the different presepio scenes, and a slideshow of four minutes of images from the show in accompaniment to "Carol of the Bells." Perfecto!