31 December 2008

"On the Seventh Day of Christmas..."

...we went a'roving.

Not far. We'd dreamed about going to Gatlinburg this week, even if overnight, to see the Winterfest lights, but we really couldn't afford it. But James was looking for a calendar with aircraft artwork and hadn't found one in the local bookstores. So we decided to go up to Discover Mills, which has a calendar store.

The cold front had come through last night and the shades were flapping in the breeze when we got up, but the sky was bright blue and it wasn't all that cold. James had to right "Woody" the reindeer and the cross-draft on the freeway was pretty strong, but we made it up to Discover Mills without incident. This mall is built like a big oval track with the food court cutting through the middle and we saw many couples "doing the mall" for exercise. We did an entire circuit, too, finally found the calendar store, but he didn't find any aviation art. He got a black and white calendar of battleships instead.

The mini-calendar findings were meager. All the small calendars are larger (7"x7") than I need (5.5"x5.5"). They had dogs (breeds I wasn't interested in), horses, psalms, and something else that was so forgettable that I forgot it. What I got was a John Deere calendar. While I'm not into tractors, the pictures are seasonal and had the vaguely country flavor that the house does.

We came home by a new gaming shop that James wanted to try. We could barely edge through it since they were having an all day (and night) Pokemon championship tournament. Lots of kids playing and even some adults.

I'd been worried about rush-hour traffic, but we made it to Cobb County without incident—it was getting past Cumberland Mall that was the problem! We had a two-fer coupon for Fresh 2 Order, so we picked up our dinners and came home until it was time to leave for Bill and Caran's party. Ate, watched the news and Jeopardy!, set the DVR to record (all the That's Entertainment films are on TCM tonight).

Finally James baked his contribution to the party and I put on Rudolph's Shiny New Year. This is practically a Paul Frees festival...he does something like every other voice. I wish they'd been able to use the original Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer models. Not anywhere as good as the original, but I do like the "Moving Finger Writes" and Big Ben the whale, voiced by "the Great Gildersleeve" himself, Hal Peary.

Goodness! You can see the texture on everything!

Anyway, it's time to go. Happy New Year to all!

"On the Sixth Day of Christmas..." (Evening Edition)

I figure the best way to keep the kitchen clean between now and the party is not to have to cook much in it. So tonight instead of eating in we used our twofer coupon at Sweet Tomatoes. I didn't think I was in the mood for salad, but it tasted quite good, as did the bowl of soup.

When we finished we went to Borders. James wanted to get the new Eat This, Not That book. I found a Rick Steves' "Back Door" book from this year for only $4.

On the way home we drove through "Lights of Life." We hadn't done it yet this season and I believe it ends New Year's Day. Because they are repaving the back parking lot, they had the little Santa's Workshop display booths somewhere else. They covered the hill, usually the home of the Victorian village, with a forest of Christmas trees, some elves, and my favorite light display, "Santa's Flying School," which has a reindeer jumping off a building and parachuting down.

Across the road from the hill is a small pond, which always has a dragon (sea serpent variety) "in" it. He wears a Santa hat. :-) If you drive up behind the pond and then turn about to return to the road, the reflection of the lights from the hill in the pond, combined with the lights themselves, is quite stunning.

Aside from Santa and reindeer and the "Victorian Village," they also have a giant menorah and a nativity scene, penguins frolicking outside igloos, teddy bears snowballing each other, giant snowflakes, and even a teddy bear dancing with a bunny.

30 December 2008

"On the Sixth Day of Christmas..."

...there were parcels and presents!

We went out shopping at noon for needed groceries, but mostly ingredients for the item we're bringing to Bill and Caran's New Year's Eve party (a cheese bake recipe James picked up at Bulloch Hall) and the supplies for our party on Saturday. We came out with honey barbecue chicken wings, mini egg rolls, chicken taquitoes, Bagel Bites, cocktail franks, crackers, cheese squares, and baked Tostitoes to go with the salsa. We also have chocolates, M&Ms, potato chips, Goldfish, chocolate chip cookies, crackers, and cheese spreads, and James is going to make another cheese bake.

Plus we're scheduled to have an overnight guest: Shari's going to drive in from Birmingham! Yay!

We stopped at Borders on the way home because I was looking for a mini calendar. I keep one next to my computer that tells what gets paid on each of our paydays. I found a small calendar, but not a mini. I either have to find one or rearrange the papers next to my desk, because the small one doesn't fall well.

I nearly fainted when we got to the magazine stand: this is the first time all year I've found Yankee before the month it's supposed to be for!

When we got home, we carted all those things upstairs. Willow needed to go out and I wanted to check the mail, so we killed about four birds with one stone. Candy asked for photos of James and I and our bicycles, so here they are, in 65°F weather with Christmas in the background!

LOL. We don't appear to have Willow's attention.

with our bicycles

Not here, either!

James and bicycles

Linda and bicycles

Oh, and here's Willow and "Woody"!

Willow and

The mailbox was a veritable cornucopia of goodies. We had a card from James' friend J.P., my book had come from Amazon Marketplace (this is American Road, which is about a transcontinental automobile trip in 1919 which coincided with the building of the Lincoln Highway), and my package was finally here from Amazon.co.uk. I had taken the opportunity to order in Region 2 several Disney movies that Disney USA had not bothered to release widescreen in Region 1: That Darn Cat, Big Red, and The Moon Spinners.

I checked these to see if they were okay, but sat down to watch the fourth DVD, which was James Herriot's Yorkshire, in which Christopher Timothy (James in the television series All Creatures Great and Small) tours the sites made famous by Herriot in his books. The real James, Alf Wight, who was very ill at the time, appears for a few minutes and one can hear him narrating a couple of passages from his books in his Scots burr. The scenery is so lovely; Timothy and the film travel from Thirsk, Herriot's home, to the moors and Askrigg, where the television series was mainly filmed, and finally out to the seashore of Robin Hood's Bay and Scarborough.

29 December 2008

Christmas Books Online

Here's a preview of the first 47 pages of The History of the Christmas Figural. Many nice photos of vintage ads and lights!

The full text of all of Charles Dickens' Christmas stories.

Stories from the 1890s: Santa Claus on a Lark, and Other Christmas Stories

"On the Fifth Day of Christmas..."

...we slept late! It was in the 30s last night and wonderful for sleeping. Even James slept in.

We had to mail a package, so went to the post awful. We also wanted to buy a mailing tube, but the line was out the door—worse that before Christmas!—and James decided he'd rather buy one at an office supply store. We used the automatic machine instead.

Had two Bed Bath & Beyond coupons expiring today, so we went there. If nothing else, we could buy some sweets for the party. We ended up getting cashews instead—and some lovely sale items that can be used as gifts. They also had the Entertainment Book at 30 percent off...and there is a two-fer Atlanta History Center coupon in it! Woohoo! I really want to see the temporary exhibitions "Jim Henson's Fantastic World" and "Norman Rockwell's Home for the Holidays" before they leave. The price of the Entertainment Book only exceeds the ticket price by a couple of dollars...so all the rest is gravy.

We also stopped at Barnes & Noble just to browse, and went to Costco. Along with the milk, we bought a "pizza kit." It's a set of twelve 7" pizza crusts (in sets of three) with six packs of sauce. At suppertime James browned some ground turkey, then placed that on the pizzas with shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese. He added onions and mushrooms to the one he was planning to eat and made the third as a half-and-half. It was delicious! (And I still have three slices.)

28 December 2008

"On the Fourth Day of Christmas..."

...we took a holiday tour!

It was a bleak, grey, warmish but chillish (if that makes any sense), damp day. We had a leisurely breakfast while I finished washing clothes. In early afternoon we drove out to Roswell and toured Bulloch Hall. This antebellum structure was the home of Martha "Mittie" Bulloch, who became the mother of President Theodore Roosevelt (although she did not survive to see her son become president; she and Roosevelt's first wife died on the same day).

Teddy Roosevelt is my favorite president and I have always wanted to tour Bulloch Hall. Since the Hall was decorated for Christmas, it seemed an opportune time to go.

The house is done in the Georgian style, the typical "pillared" front, in white. The front door opens onto a large hall. To the left side is the parlor, then the dining room, where Theodore Roosevelt Sr and Mittie Bulloch were married on Christmas Eve of 1853, and then the small "warming room." To the right is the library, the master bedroom, and the morning room. Upstairs are four bedrooms and a room without a fireplace (the only room in the house without one) they believe was used as a sewing room. Downstairs in the basement is a brick-floored kitchen and a stair that descends into what was a pantry below the earth where it was cool; also there is another storeroom on the opposite side of the stair that is used for an exhibit for children of what children wore, how they lived, and how they behaved. None of the furniture is original, but it is all from that era. One of the bedrooms is "the museum room," with photos and paintings and narrative on the history of house and family, with exhibits of family china and other original objects from the house. There is also a reproduction of the original "Teddy" bear, a flag that flew over the house when Teddy Roosevelt visited, and a section of rail from the line that Roosevelt's train used.

In 1923, an Atlanta reporter interviewed the last surviving bridesmaid of Mittie's wedding about the event. Her byline was "Peggy Mitchell"—later famous as Margaret Mitchell.

Outside there is a reproduction of one of the two slave cabins, a dog trot cabin, one side set up as people would have lived in it, the other set up with some fragments excavated from the original cabins and the stories of the slaves, including excerpts from WPA interviews from the 1930s of people who were still living who had been born into slavery. (Amazing to think my parents grew up in a time where there were still ex-slaves.) Very sad reading most of it; there seemed to be kind masters, but even more brutal ones, or at least brutal overseers. It is hard to think that for most of history there has been slavery; one people conquered another and made them slaves. I wonder if someday it will be totally eradicated.

Anyway, we enjoyed walking around the house, but thought the Christmas decorations were a bit...unorthodox. It was called "Christmas Across the USA" and each room was decorated as a different city or (in the case of Hawaii) location. In some cases the effect was interesting or unique. For instance, the kitchen was done in Santa Fe style, and the combination of Mexican textiles and decor went well with the brick floor and simple table, benches, and cupboards, and the primitive look of the fireplace and bake oven. The warming room was done in a simple Moravian style with a star in the center, old toys in the cupboard, paper stars on a small tree, cakes and cookies for the traditional "Lovefeast," and a nativity scene, which was quite lovely. The morning room had simple decorations from Charleston, South Carolina. The library was done in Williamsburg style, with garlands and fruits and tea set out and hunting boots and riding regalia for Boxing Day on the morrow. And even if it seemed a bit odd, the dining room done in Nome, Alaska, motif, with arctic decorations and ornaments of Eskimos and huskies, and displays about the serum run in 1925, worked.

On the other hand, the Las Vegas room was pretty tacky. This was in the Wing Room, which was occupied by the last owner of the house before the historical society took it over. Her beautiful furniture and chair collection were overrun and overwhelmed with gambling trimmings and "Rat Pack" and Elvis junk. I think she was probably turning over in her grave. The hall has Florida decorations, and the master bedroom had Hawaiian ones, which looked a bit incongruous. The Santa Claus display in the brother's bedroom and the Memphis/Elvis/jazz/blues theme in Mittie's room was a bit less overpowering (and I did think it clever how they turned Mittie's bed into a steamboat).

James and I agreed later that we would have preferred to have seen the house decorated in a traditional ante- or even post-bellum style. (Or, in some rooms, just something a bit closer to the 19th century theme of the house: Victorian Santa Claus room, Wild West room, Pennsylvania Dutch...anything but Las Vegas!!!)

There's a photo in the Museum Room of Teddy Roosevelt standing at the front of the house with all the servants and other occupants of the house when he visited in 1905. I found it thrilling to have stepped where he did. It's a miracle the house survived at all. It was occupied by Union troops during the Civil War, but they spared Roswell. It is thought they spared Bulloch Hall because of the Masonic symbols once on the home.

James bought a couple of cookbooks and some sauce at the gift shop, then we went home via Trader Joe's to get supper for tonight (the usual salad/turkey we've been having lately) and Publix, both to recycle our plastic bags and to check out the two-fers. Several were useful for our party on Saturday!

We ate supper to What's My Line? and To Tell the Truth (one of the guests on the latter was Pappy Boyington!), and then started watching an assortment of Christmas specials I DVR'd last week. Dazzling Christmas Lights—in glorious HD on HD Theatre—was a collection of features on families or neighborhoods that erect big light displays for Christmas. This was less frantic and silly than the one HGTV puts on every year. There was a neighborhood of row houses in Baltimore, a Texas housing development, a 15-year-old boy who adds to the yard decorations every year, the Bronx Zoo, and more.

The Super-Heroes Guide to New York City didn't really have anything to do with Christmas, but it was kinda fun. It was about how New York City became an actual, real character in the Marvel Comics starting with Spiderman.

The prettiest special was from HD Theatre again and was called Christmas Lights. Like Sunrise Earth and their "flyover" specials, it was just footage shot in different places, no narration, no "gags," just some background music. They started at the skating rink at Rockefeller Center, moved to a writer's cabin in Alaska being decorated with lights and ornaments with a bonfire held outside afterwards, went to Washington DC for the display around the National Christmas tree and showing some other public buildings, then traveled to the coast of Maine where children and adults decorated a tree with lights and goodies like apples, popcorn, corn, seed-covered peanut butter pinecones, and even herring for the local wild animals, and finally ended with the streets and decorations and then the Grand Illumination in Colonial Williamsburg. It was dreamy, lyrical and simply beautiful.

Sunk on Christmas Eve was a Mysteries of the Deep special on National Geographic about the expedition to find a ship that was sunk on Christmas Eve 1944 in the English Channel. Some history of the event was given and then we saw divers trying to reach the wreck.

Next was a special called The Greatest Tree on Earth. This was a really fascinating special from Great Britain about the history and the traditions of the Christmas tree, following a Tokyo family, a Lappish family, and a Brooklyn family with their Christmas preparations, and intercut with historical insights and the workings of a Christmas tree farm. They talked about the 1914 Christmas Truce and the benefit to the environment of Christmas tree farming; all three families visited big Christmas tree shops to buy ornaments made in Germany (the Finns and the Japanese went to Germany itself). The most bizarre segment showed German propaganda films from World War II, made to convince the population that everything was fine. There was a huge tree hung with Hitler ornaments and glass acorns with swastikas on them, topped with a star, under a big swastika. Talk about an unsettling sight!

The final special I watched was Christmas and the Civil War. This was quite enjoyable. Using re-enactments, it showed how Christmas went from a small religious holiday to a national celebration, following the lives of Thomas Nast, Louisa May Alcott, a plantation owner's wife, and a slave who was originally a Christmas gift to his master's wife. The only thing I found amusing was that in the scenes with Thomas Nast, a birdcage was shown in the background of his home. In those days the small bird kept as a pet certainly would have been a canary, as they were extremely popular back then. Instead shown is a small yellow budgie! Budgies were exported to Europe in 1840; not sure when they arrived in the US. It seems anachronistic. But I could be wrong.

Anyway, I plan [cross fingers] to keep these last two specials and the Christmas Lights one. Excellent watching!

Happy 30th Anniversary!

Here's some nostalgia for you.

Christmas Eve on Sesame Street, Part 1

Christmas Eve on Sesame Street, Part 2

Christmas Eve on Sesame Street, Part 3

Christmas Eve on Sesame Street, Part 4

Christmas Eve on Sesame Street, Part 5

Christmas Eve on Sesame Street, Part 6

Christmas Eve on Sesame Street, Part 7

If you love this special, buy a copy on DVD!

27 December 2008

"On the Third Day of Christmas..." (Evening Edition)

We've been having a holly jolly holiday evening.

First it was "Muppetty." I put on John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together. Classic stuff! Love Miss Piggy's "ba-dum-dum-dum" and "Christmas is Coming" and the sweet "Peace Carol" and the Muppet Christmas story, told "straight" with specially-made Nativity characters.

Next came A Muppet Family Christmas. I actually haven't watched this in years and had forgotten most of the plot. Fozzie Bear takes all his buddies home to his mom's farm for Christmas, not knowing Mom is preparing to leave for Florida and has rented the house to Doc and his dog Sprocket (from Fraggle Rock). Meanwhile, Miss Piggy is finishing up a few publicity appearances and is heading for the farm—in the middle of a blizzard!

This is a novel Muppet special because it features all the different Muppet...families, I guess you'd call it, at the time it was filmed (1987): The Muppet Show gang, the Sesame Street crowd, the cast of Fraggle Rock, and a brief glimpse of The Muppet Babies. It's also infamous because when they released it to video (both versions), they released it in an edited version that cut out at least five minutes of the original broadcast. It's sweet, cute, and very funny to have the Sesame Street Muppets interacting with the rest and staying in character—the Count constantly counts things and Big Bird is reacts as always when the Swedish Chef tries to cook him for dinner.

The last special was Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree, based on the book by Robert Barry and first aired in 1995. Robert Downey Jr plays Willowby, a kindly wealthy man whose request for the perfect Christmas tree provides one for several others, including a cute family of mice. The story features a daffy romance between Miss Adelaide the governess (Stockard Channing) and Baxter the butler (Leslie Nielsen), and is hosted by Kermit the Frog.

Post Muppettry was Christmas night's What's My Line?/To Tell the Truth pairing. Oddly, TTTT had nothing to do with Christmas, but the WML? episode first aired on Christmas Day 1955. I particularly enjoyed this because I was exactly two weeks old the night this was broadcast! How I would have loved to have shown this to my mom and dad again! The guests were a Salvation Army band, a woman who was a regular on the panel of What's My Line? in Puerto Rico, mystery guests Peter Lind Hayes and his wife/partner Mary Healy, and finally a gentleman named Johnny Marks, whose name they didn't recognize! I guess Marks was not all that well-known in 1955!

Mr. Marks, of course, was the brother-in-law of Robert L. May, who wrote the original Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer story, and who wrote the song version of the story, not to mention several other Christmas and other songs featured in the television special of Rudolph. Cool!


by William Sansom

What can I say about a book I found totally by accident after seeing it mentioned in another book I bought on a total whim? Talk about serendipity!

Written in 1968, this oversized (but not coffee table size) hardcover book is crammed as full as a Christmas turkey with old engravings, woodcuts, and paintings. Sansom's text, covers in twelve chapers, like the twelve days of Christmas, all aspects of the holiday, from origins to modern celebrations, from the happy delights of the season to its sad portion, from country to city, from prose to poetry to song. The English celebration is chiefly focussed upon, but there are also glimpses of American, European, and even Asian customs, and Dickens, food traditions, decorating novelties, Victorian delights, gift givers, the pantomime, and more abound.

In addition, the text is written in an erudite, yet delicious fashion, as quoted in a previous entry, sometimes wry, occasionally frivolous, but altogether a veritable feast of words that even the grandiloquent John Charles Daly (or even Victor Comstock) would love.

Definitely worth finding if you are a Christmas book fan!

"On the Third Day of Christmas..."

...I bought a deer!

There's a gift shop called "Love Street" ('cause the original store, in an old house, is on Love Street) that I patronize, and they sent me a birthday postcard with a $10 gift certificate to each of the three stores (one is gifts, the second—next door, another old house—is shoes and clothing mostly, and the third, another old house up the street, is their home store). Before Christmas I used the original Love Street coupon to get a Webkinz camel for Christmas (I named him "Melchior").

Today we went to both the "clothing" store and the home store. All the Christmas things were half off, so I fulfilled two wishes. At the clothing store I bought one of these log reindeer:

timber deer

I've always wanted one, but even these little ones cost $30. With the sale and the coupon it was $5 and tax.

At the home store I picked up two gifts for next year and something else I'd always wanted, one of those retro "bottle brush" wreaths, which I put on the library door:

bottle brush wreath

I know it's absurd and it would be $300 for something that really is useless and puts no value on the house, but I would love to put a glass window door on the library. This would look so pretty on a glass door.

Someone asked me about my library tree ornaments that I've been "creating." Here's a couple of details.

In this first photo, you can see in whole the Hallmark Dorothy ornament from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and their "reading together" ornament, and way down in the lower right is the tree from How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Here you can also see, made from Schleich animals and figures from Hobbytown, and similar figures from Richards and Michaels, Misty from Misty of Chincoteague, Lobo from Wild Animals I have Known, and Pongo from The One Hundred and One Dalmatians.

The little book under Pongo is called Kriss Kringle on a Wheel and is a miniature reproduction of a Victorian book. The feet above Misty belong to the Pokey Little Puppy Hallmark ornament and a German Shepherd representing either Leader in the classic James Garfield book Follow My Leader or Flax in Flax: Police Dog.

library tree detail

Below, the Hallmark ornaments are Rhett and Bonnie from Gone With the Wind and, down near the left edge, the Ernest Shepard Winnie-the-Pooh and Tigger ornament. There's also Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer.

The rest are Schleich and similar figures: Flicka from My Friend Flicka, Lassie from Lassie Come Home, Bambi as a fawn from Bambi, the West Highland White terrier is McDuff, from the books by the same name, the little bit of a white seal near McDuff is Kotick the white seal from The Jungle Book. The blue robe you see just to the left of Flicka is Merlin the magician from The Sword in the Stone and to the left of Lassie you can just see the footwear and a little of Robin Hood.

Oh, yes, and there's Raggedy Ann as well.

Elsewhere on the tree are Zorro, little Red-Riding Hood, Elsa the lioness, Black Beauty, Curious George, Harry Potter, Cinnabar "the one o'clock fox," Hazel from Watership Down, and others.

library tree detail

This last photo isn't really a "Christmas decoration" as it's up all year 'round. Some years back, my cousin Deanna (who just got married!), made my mother this ceramic St. Nicholas. It was one of the things I brought home with me. How could I put him anywhere else but on the shelf with my bound copies of St. Nicholas magazine?

St. Nicholas

26 December 2008

Presepios, Zampognari and Witches

Christmas in Italy

"On the Second Day of Christmas..."

...I shopped!

I had bows, paper, and next year's cards already, so my idea was to go to Kohl's this morning, but once I'd eaten breakfast I really didn't feel like going. Instead, I headed up to CD Warehouse on Bells Ferry to see if I could find a copy of Get Smart (which I did). On the way I stopped at CVS for more tinsel and found some small Rudolph ornaments that would fit on the back of the Rudolph tree.

From there I went to the Hallmark store nearby. They didn't have the jukebox I was looking for, but I did get two other ornaments at 40 percent off. There was a woman in the store desperately searching for the Madame Alexander doll ornament, as she collects them. The clerk very kindly called the Hallmark store at the mall and, finding they still had one, had them hold it for her. That was nice.

Next I stopped at the Town Center Linens'n'Things. It was their last two days; nothing much left. At JoAnn I bought a 12 inch tall Santa that was half off.

Once I was done there, I drove up US41, intending to go to the Kohls near Books-a-Million. There is a Hallmark store on the way, and I stopped to find they had their ornaments half off. Wow. I've never seen a Hallmark that sold their ornaments after Christmas for more than 40 percent off! I did find the jukebox here. Unfortunately, it plugs into the tree lights to work. I can't keep it next to my bed like I do the old-time radio. (When things get intolerable during the summer, I can twiddle with the dial and hear the humorous commercials and bits of music.) Also did get the View Master and the Star Trek communicator.

When I reach Kohls, the parking lot was packed and I didn't want to brave the crowd. I went to Books-a-Million instead and found a gift for someone, plus found Ace Collins' two books about the history of Christmas songs at half price.

Went into Michaels across the street and got a few copper leaves for a year-round decoration and a small container to put them in. On the way back down 41 I stopped at Walgreens and then again at CVS closer to home, gathering half-price things here and there to put away for next year.

Had lunch and settled in to enjoy myself. Watched "Dear Dad" and "Dear Sis" from M*A*S*H and then my creaky old copy of A Christmas Memory with Geraldine Page. I recorded this from Channel 24 in Macon over 20 years ago. The picture is a bit blurry and terrible, and a disgustingly huge "bug," one-sixth the area of the screen, with the channel logo and the temperature pops up every so often. But I'm glad I taped it, however static-scattered, because apparently the color version (which this is) has "vanished" and all they sell now is a black-and-white version. Wish it wasn't so chopped up for commercials and was "bugless." I know the original version must be longer, since it was made in 1966 and there were fewer commercials then (IMDb states the original is 51 minutes; I have about 44). It's such a beautifully charming story and Geraldine Page is picture-perfect as Sook.

As a chaser: A Very Merry Cricket.

25 December 2008

"On the First Day of Christmas..." (Evening Edition)

...we celebrated!

We arrived at the Butlers about 4:30 and soon were in a happy crowd as the others arrived: the Skidmores, the Boroses, including their daughter, her friend and his sister, and the Lucyshyns. Since Colin's girlfriend was also there as well as Lin's mom, we had a full house of nineteen!

The house was full of chatter and laughter. We ate a delicious dinner of ham and roast beef, with sides of carrots and Ron's wonderful mashed potatoes, and two kinds of biscuits, and lots of other goodies. After supper we opened gifts and then spent some minutes searching for funny Christmas videos on YouTube.

We arrived home about ten o'clock, having spent time on the way home driving around looking at Christmas lights and trying to find a newspaper. We went to four places and no one had one. Why in the dickens is it so hard to find a newspaper on Christmas Day? It's just a regular daily paper. This is the fourth or fifth year in a row we haven't been able to find one. I enjoy reading the paper at Christmas; there are always nice stories.

Anyway, we chilled out by watching A Christmas Story and treating Willow to wet dog food.

"On the First Day of Christmas..."

We celebrated by sleeping in! Well, when you're an adult, this is a gift. :-)

Then we proceeded to the gifts! I had House season three, a book on identifying leaves, a Classics Illustrated version of Black Beauty (I'd told James how I loved these in the past), a Great Smoky Mountain calendar by Ken Jenkins, and a print of one of his photographs (the cutest chickadee you've ever seen). I also received a 1940s "Remember When" booklet and a little budgie from Jen, Rodney sent a book and a CD, and my cousin Debbie sent me two Rhode Island tree ornaments, a reproduction of the old Rocky Point amusement park gates and a chef doughboy with his hat labeled "Iggy's" (from Oakland Beach).

I gave James an 8GB SD card, a book about tornado chasers, Rescuing Sprite (this "from" Willow), a book about two of the "band of brothers," and the DVD set When We Left Earth.

We had biscuits with clotted cream for breakfast and I finished a Christmas project. We bought a friend an old book, but it came without a cover. Rodney collects these books and sent us a scan of the cover we needed. It was a bit battered and between James and I we "photoshopped" (actually PaintShopPro'd it...LOL) into better appearance. I tried to color print it on photo paper, but the black didn't adhere well to the glossy paper and chipped. It wouldn't have bent well anyway. So I just printed it in color on regular paper.

Now we are watching Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol. This is my favorite version of the story, although several of the movies are good. Despite editing of sequences for time and the Ghost of Christmas Present comes first in the queue, this is remarkably faithful to the novel. Whole passages are repeated verbatim, and the characters sound natural reading the lines. Despite the occasional cartoon "gag," everything is played straight. Even the sequence where the Ghost jokes about Scrooge being too cheap to buy spectacles doesn't apply to nearsighted Magoo, but comes directly from the novel. There are no made-up scenes (in the dramatic sequences, anyway; the musical numbers have more latitude), like Scrooge's father appearing in the George C. Scott version and Marley being Scrooge's fellow apprentice and helping him buy out Fezziwig in the Alistair Sim version.

And I do love the musical sequences. I thought it was cool that they used the framing sequence of Mr. Magoo playing in A Christmas Carol on Broadway...I adore the Broadway song, and "Winter Was Warm" always makes me cry. When I was young and lonesome and felt left out I always sang "All Alone in the World" to myself. The music was written by Broadway veterans Jule Styne and Bob Merrill, who did Funny Girl.

Nope, it isn't all shiny and new, doesn't feature farting and peeing jokes, and isn't in 3D CGI. In fact, it's in UPA's limited animation. But it tells the story, and with joy and fun. That's worth all the computer graphics in creation.

Off to have lunch!

"All is Calm, All is Bright..."

Despite the rain. :-)

We ate at table for a change, with Skye on the table next to me (she didn't like it very much; I should have put a paper towel over the top of the cage to absorb a little of the overheard light) and Willow staring hopefully up from the floor next to James.

Tomorrow she will have wet dog food and be happier. :-)

We had turkey thigh (with enough left over for a sandwich for lunch tomorrow) along with fresh Yukon gold potatoes, and served our drinks in our winter goblets. James had forgotten something at work and we were planning to go look at lights anyway, so we grabbed our wallets—it's much too warm again for coats; it smells like primordial ooze out there again—and me the camera and headed east.

On the way home from the building we drove down Mt. Paran Road to get pictures of the "dueling houses" as well as "Mr. Inflatable's" front lawn. Came back through Vinings, Austell Road, and Ridge Road, but nothing else was all that great except for one house, and by that time it was pouring so hard we couldn't put the window down to get a photo.

We arrived home to have a slice of pumpkin tart for dessert and watch our favorite Christmas Eve movie, Mercy Mission, with Scott Bakula and Robert Loggia, followed by the Hill Street Blues Christmas episode, "Santa Claustrophobia."

Now we are watching Midnight Mass from the Vatican.

24 December 2008


• A Christmas Beginning by Anne Perry

Some years after starting two Victorian mystery series, the original Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series taking place in the later Victorian era, and the William Monk/Hester Latterly series taking place a generation earlier, Anne Perry began writing short Christmas novels involving peripheral characters in both series. The first featured a younger Vespasia Cumming-Gould from the Pitt series, the second Henry Rathbone from the Monk series, then Grandma Ellison and then Dominic Corde from the Pitt series. The newest entry, out this year, is about Emily Radley, also from the Pitt series.

A Christmas Beginning finds Superintendant Runcorn, William Monk's prickly ex-supervisor, on a remote Welsh island, trying to forget the quite unsuitable woman he has fallen in love with (she is of a higher social station and her brother treated Runcorn with contempt when he was working on a previous case). On one of his long walks, he returns to his boarding house through the churchyard and finds the murdered body of a young, vibrant young woman he saw at services earlier. As the investigation proceeds, Runcorn discovers the woman he loves is also staying on the island, and is engaged to the police inspector conducting the investigation—a man who does not have the experience to solve a murder of that kind.

I think if you are a fan of the Monk series you will enjoy this book as it sheds more information on the reclusive Runcorn.

• The Christmases We Used to Know, published by Reminisce Magazine

This is a collection of short stories and brief anecdotes about Christmas celebrations from Reminisce magazine. The stories range from the early part of the 20th century through the 1950s, with the bulk of them from the Depression and World War II eras. With the stories are a wealth of vintage photographs, both from stock and from the authors themselves. Eleven chapters address different Christmas themes like shopping, plays, decorations, all introduced by columns by the late contributing editor Clancy Strook. If you're a fan of Reminisce or Christmas memoirs, you'll love this book.

• Christmas in Pennsylvania by Alfred L. Shoemaker, updated by Don Yoder

It's Christmas Eve and there's a knock on the door. It's open to admit a hideous, furred creature, the Pelznichol or Belsnickel, who quizzes the children of the household if they have been good. He seems to know who has been bad and chastises them with a smart stroke or two with his whip. To the good children he gives candy and nuts. At bedtime the children put out dinner plates to hold their gifts, and during the night the Christkindl visits the home and leaves them a small toy or a book, an orange and an apple, perhaps some more candy—store-bought to boot!

In the 19th century Pennsylvania "Dutch," this was the normal way to celebrate Christmas. Stockings were not the custom and no one had heard of Santa Claus, except perhaps in the big city. Shoemaker's book, first printed in 1959, was the first to detail these "folklife" customs about Christmas, using diaries and newspaper and magazine accounts of celebrations. Along with the Belsnickel custom and using plates as receptacles for gifts, the book covers Christmas mumming, the various churches' objections to the newfangled "Santa Claus" custom, Christmas tree trimming, Christmas cookies and "putz" (nativity) displays under the tree...just for starters.

Great, great reading if you love learning about old Christmas customs.

Incidentally, in the afterward to this new addition, Don Yoder recommends several history of Christmas books. One of them was entitled A Book of Christmas by William Sansom. Not two days after I finished reading Christmas in Pennsylvania, I looked down at a display of Christmas books in a used book store and there on top was A Book of Christmas. It was at a very reasonable price, so of course I picked it up. I haven't finished it, but I already love it...how can you not love a book that starts thus?
     What is the colour of Christmas?
     Red? The red of toyshops on a dark winter's afternoon, of Father Christmas and the robin's breast?
     Or green? Green of holly and spruce and mistletoe in the house, dark shadow of summer in leafless winter?
     One might plainly add a romance of white, fields of frost and snow; thus white, green, red—reducing the event to the level of a Chianti bottle.
     But many will say that the significant colour is gold, gold of fire and treasure, of light in the winter dark; and this gets closer.
     For the true colour of Christmas is black.
     Black of winter, black of night, black of frost and of the east wind, black dangerous shadows beyond the firelight.
     Darkness of the time of year hovers everywhere, there is no brightness of Christ Child, angel, holly, or toy without a dark surround somewhere about. The table yellow with electric light, the fire by which stories are told, the bright spangle of the tree—they all blaze out of shadow and out of a darkness of winter. The only exception is an expectation of Christmas morning, the optimistic image of sunlight on the snow of Christmas Day and a sparkling brisk walk through the white-breath frosty air. But it only lasts a short while, and has its own dark frame, made up of the night before and the early dark of a December afternoon.

So Bright!

I watched four of the ATM Christmas shows (1980, the two 1981s, and 1982), then cleaned up the spare room, which was still scattered with the remains of Christmas wrapping (there's one gift to go, but we can do that on the kitchen table), and folded up the table and vacuumed. Then I sat down to watch the two For Better or For Worse specials, "The Bestest Present," set when Elizabeth was small, and "A Christmas Angel," a later story set when April was a baby.

Now I have The Homecoming on. Glory be, how lovely it looks on this television!! I don't usually widescreen things that were made fullscreen, but this doesn't look too badly distorted and the Jackson Hole scenery is even more breathtaking in a wide format. I did like the original sets for this story! Granted, the set for The Waltons house was closer to the real Hamner home, but everything in The Homecoming looks as if it is vintage 1933 or earlier, and it looks much grittier than the series did, even in its first few years.

I particularly love the kitchen of the Walton house—the big Hoosier cabinet, the spice cabinet hanging on the wall, even the cast iron match holder next to the stove. Ike's store is great, too; the big iceboxes, the red soda keg, the old sewing thread cabinet in the background, Ike's butcher table, the post boxes with the coffee grinders on top of it—wonderful, wonderful set dressing. You can just smell the kettle of vegetable soup the kids have for lunch, feel the little chill in the general store heated only by a stove, taste the bologna Sheriff Bridges has for lunch, hear the hum that is in the air when it snows in the country.

Christmas Day Celebrations

Merry Christmas 2008 - Christmas Celebrations - Christmas Day

Christmas Eve Day in the Morning

Overhead on the telephone this morning:

Linda: "James, what were we bringing to the Butlers tomorrow?"

James: "The Thai ginger carrots. Wasn't that what we decided?"

Linda: "That's going to be a bit of a problem. We don't have any."

James: "Ooops."

Which explains why I was at Trader Joe's at 10:30 this morning. No matter. There wasn't a crowd and I was feeling rather chipper. I also bought a pumpkin tart and some French bread and oyster crackers.

Since I was the area I stopped at Michaels to see if their wrapping paper was already on sale. It was; I got some nice woodland designs.

Last night James has wrapped up some little gifts for a few of his co-workers. He forgot them this morning, so from Merchant's Walk I cut down the back way through Lower Roswell and Powers Ferry to his building.

On the way home I was going past the Heritage Pointe Michaels, so I stopped. They still had the cool bows, so I bought them. (I like to buy my bows for the year at Christmas. I use the red, green, and gold ones for Christmas and save the silver, blue, and purple ones for the rest of the year. But Michaels had interesting colors this year: a bag with golds, coppers, burgundies, hunter greens, and another bag with white, silvers, ice and sea blues. I ended up with a bag of both and three more wrapping paper designs.)

Now home for the day (hopefully). I've had some leftover pork loin from Fresh2Order, a glass of milk, and am watching Christmas episodes of Ask the Manager.

23 December 2008

Visits from St. Nicholas

One of the most enduring of all Christmas stories, Clement C. Moore's (or was it?) story in various video forms:

A 1946 sepia version, "'Twas the Night Before Christmas"

The Mabel Beaton Marionette version

A musical version done from book illustrations

Walt Disney "Silly Symphony" version

Disney Version with Ken Darby song arrangement

A Perry Como version with book illustrations

A Stroll on a "Christmas Eve Eve"

Or "Christmas Adam," as I understand it's called in some quarters...LOL. (How very apt, in fact, because December 24 is "Adam and Eve Day.")

Today I had a sleep in, then had a leisurely breakfast; so leisurely that I decided not to do what I was looking forward to this morning, but to postpone it to this afternoon so I wouldn't run into lunch-hour traffic.

So I finally got the last of the gifts wrapped—yes! Also tidied up, put the baking board away, tossed the trash, and vacuumed.

But the nicest part of the day was walking around downtown. I started at DuPre's, which was a department store until 1985 and is now an antique mall. It still has the original wide-board wooden floors, and if you go to the very rear of the store, there is a support post that still has nails stuck in it and papers posted on it from when the store was in business, like bills of sale and a list of prices for chicken and pigeon and other types of feed and a list of who was at what extension within the store. At Christmastime all these antique stores dot the sales floor with decorations, both vintage and new, so it's the best time to wander about.

I also walked to the antique store where Luke the poodle usually hangs out. This place has old Victrolas and today they had a 1960s television console I remember when it was new and being sold at the Outlet Company! They also have old Life and Popular Science/Popular Mechanics issues and some books.

I popped in the little toy/gift shop and the Hallmark store, then walked down to the smaller antique stores on Church Street. One wasn't open on Tuesdays. :-) I did wander about the one that was going out of business and moving into DuPre's (where I don't know, since I didn't see any empty space there!) and the other that sells primitive things. I bought a small primitive black sheep, although I was itching to buy more, and a small feather tree to boot!

Spent the evening chilling out. James wrapped my gifts, we had supper and watched Jeopardy and my favorite part of each evening, What's My Line? and To Tell the Truth, and finally a program I recorded off GPTV several weeks ago called Paperback Dreams, about the dwindling market for independent bookstores. Profiled were two northern California icons, Kepler's Books and Cody's Books. It brought back melancholy memories of Oxford Books at Peachtree Battle, and the old Paperback Books store on Weybosset Street in Providence. (And I wistfully wonder if Readmore is still hanging on out there on Route 44 in Taunton.)

22 December 2008

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

My plan today was to bake cookies.

Well, I certainly did, and now my back is telling me stridently about it.

The problem was that I didn't just bake cookies.

It started out with the wine bottle. I couldn't get the gosh-danged cork out. Last year I fractured the darn thing and I had to filter the wine because it had cork chips in it. After tugging unsuccessfully and even calling James to see if he had a tip, I took a chance and screwed the corkscrew all the way in and then use it to pivot the cork—really what looked like a piece of plastic—and it did come out without falling apart.

Now when I expressed concern last night if we had baking powder, James checked the pantry closet for me to answer in the affirmative. But this morning when I measured out the flour, I discovered I was short a half a cup needed to make the second batch.

Since I was out of yogurt anyway, I decided to go to Kroger. I put on "Holiday Traditions" and bopped over to the store. I bought the flour, the yogurt, and a few other staples.

James and I had a few toys we wanted to donate to the Toys for Tots program. We'd been planning it for weeks, but first we didn't know where to go (unless we wanted to drive downtown). Finally I heard on the news that they were taking donations at Publix and we had planned to drop them off there over the weekend. Since that fell through, I wanted to get them there today.

When I got there they said the donations had already been collected. Arrgh!

Anyway, I took the groceries home and went to the Toys for Tots webpage and found a number to call. The lady who answered the phone said that the Steak'n'Shake restaurants had Toys for Tots barrels and that they wouldn't be picked up until late this afternoon or tomorrow.

Late this afternoon? It was only a little before one, so I jumped back into the car and drove toward Steak'n'Shake. Since Michaels was on the way and I needed more bows, I stopped there for a few minutes to get some, then went on to Steak'n'Shake.

The Toys for Tots people had just picked up their donation box!

However, there was a gentleman at the takeout counter who said they had a donation box at the LA Fitness a mile down the road. So it was back into the car.

Success finally! The woman took the bag of toys from me and I was finally able to get home and start baking.

I made two batches of wine biscuits. The wine was very dark and the dough turned a nice purply color, although the first batch was rather dry. I kept adding wine to it, but I was afraid of getting it sticky, so had to fight with the dough a bit. The second batch of dough was perfect. I think I made about 70 of the wine biscuits.

James doesn't like wine biscuits, though, and I thought I would try another of my mom's recipes for him. I had bought some almond extract at Kroger and I halved my mom's almond bar recipe since I didn't know how it would come out.

Julia Child I ain't. First it was too dry (I added a little more oil and the rest of the egg that I used to glaze the wine biscuits). Then it got sticky, which was correct, according to a printed version of the recipe. Oh, boy, was it sticky. It was so gummy that I didn't really get a chance to shape it; I just laid it in a long, pseudo-loaf shape on the wax-paper lined cookie sheet and put it in the oven. Minutes later it was spreading sideways like an bumpy-looking amoeba.

I cleaned up while it was baking and finally took it out of the oven when it looked brown enough. The directions said to cut it while it was still warm and a bunch of it crumbled, but...there it is. I tasted it, and it actually tastes pretty good, even though it looks funny! :-)

By then my back was screaming in surrender, so I took Willow out for her walk, picked up the mail, and then swigged two Tylenol and sat down to do what I'd wanted to do this afternoon: watch some Christmas shows! I've been through the 1958, 1960, and 1961 Lassie Christmas stories and am feeling a lot better...even if I still have ten more gifts to wrap!

More Christmas Photos

Since the refurbished ceppo is now on top of the curio cabinet, the feather tree is gracing the microwave cart this year. I like it next to what we call "Willow's light," with its Christmasy "lampshade." Below are some avian Christmas boxes and a little reindeer and Christmas cupboard.

microwave cart

The feather tree close up. The Christmas baubles and plastic snowmen and Santas are 1950s vintage and were always on our family tree. I made the other ornaments and the gilded walnuts when I was in junior high school.

feather tree

Here's what you see when you walk in our front door! You can see the close up of the little cow figurines on the tier table in the previous set of photos.

the niche in the foyer

The miniature ornaments tree glows in the dark.

the glow of the foyer tree

Here's a cozy place to read!

a nice place to read

This year's version of the library tree, with even more ornaments. The garland didn't go on so well this year, though.

the library tree

Before we had room for a village on our mantel, we had a "vignette," Christmas at the lighthouse. I've always been fascinated with the stories of the lighthouse keepers and their children in the 19th and early 20th century. They withstood great hardship to keep the shipping lanes and coastline safe.


Here's the village, with proper yellow lights!

village with proper yellow lights #1

the bus, the tree seller, and

village with proper yellow lights #2

Christmas Eve 1913

Robert Bridges

A frosty Christmas Eve
     when the stars were shining
Fared I forth alone
     where westward falls the hill,
And from many a village
     in the watered valley
Distant music reach'd me,
     peals of bells aringing:
The constellated sounds
     ran sprinkling on earth's floor
As the dark vault above
     with stars was spangled o'er.

Then sped my thought to keep
     that first Christmas of all
When the shepherds watching
     by their folds ere the dawn
Heard music in the fields
     and marveling could not tell
Whether it were angels
     or the bright stars singing.

Now blessed be the tow'rs
     that crown England so fair
That stand up strong in prayer
     unto God for our souls:
Blessed be their founders
     (said I ) an' our country folk
Who are ringing for Christ
     in the belfries to-night
With arms lifted to clutch
     the rattling ropes that race
Into the dark above
     and the mad romping din.

But to me heard afar
     it was starry music
Angels' song, comforting
     as the comfort of Christ
When he spake tenderly
     to his sorrowful flock:
The old words came to me
     by the riches of time
Mellow'd and transfigured
     as I stood on the hill
Heark'ning in the aspect
     of th' eternal silence.
(If this sounds slightly familiar, and you own the "John Denver and the Muppets" album, this poem was adapted into a beautiful song used on the album.)

18 December 2008

Christmas Time is Here! (Photos Ahoy!)

I've divided this post into two parts. These are new items (or in one case, a major refurb).

The first photo isn't really new, but I don't remember posting a photo of it last year. It's my Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer tree, Rankin-Bass version, of course. The topper is simply a collection of red baubles to emulate Rudolph's nose.

the Rudolph tree

This is the little display of statuary (and cards) on the secretary next to Schuyler's cage. I had thought to put the little feather tree here, but it would have been covered with discarded feathers and seed shucks. This collection is much easier to keep clean! As you see, I kept Skye in the company of birds: the Jim Shore angel has birds, the Santa tin has a birdhouse and birds, and there is an English robin perched on the bell.

display near Schuyler's cage

Since we have a larger "night table" in there now, I decided to spruce up the guest room with a little Christmas display. "Rodney the reindeer" looks just right in this cool wire sleigh from Hobby Lobby with a peppermint stocking filled with peppermint decorations, all set next to a peppermint-bauble and candy-cane decorated mini-tree.

guest room night table

This is most of the gingerbread display in the kitchen.

kitchen gingerbread

I was in a Hallmark store last year and they had these cute little cow statuettes on sale. They're called "Mary's Moo Moos." Several were in a Christmas motif and I fell in love with this little fireplace with Papa Bull and his little calf. I didn't see a matching Mama Cow, but thought this cow and her quilt looked as if she went with the setup. She had a John Deere logo in the middle of the quilt which I covered with a printed quilt-block.

I had no idea where to put them until I realized there was a nice little space on the tier table.

Mary's Moo Moos with fireplace

Here's something old with a new look. I made this ceppo years ago to hold our miniatures tree. Since in the old house the Christmas tree was upstairs in the living room-cum-library and we were always down in the den with Bandit, the computers and the television, it was a handy decoration for downstairs. However, the first year I made it I was too late to paint it, and every year I procrastinated till it never did get painted. This year I decided I had the time (and the ability, since nothing was on top of the ceppo box—LOL). I found this heavenly, silvery blue for most of it, and painted the bottom shelf white scattered with different types of glitters to look like snow and the middle shelf with dirt and grass to look like a field in Bethlehem. (There are railroad diorama trees in the background.)

The blue delft-type angels on top are from the other Christmas shop in Gatlinburg, just a few blocks down from the Incredible Christmas Place, and the chickadees flanking from Hallmark. The "Peace" in the rear is from Michaels, embellished with the little wooden decorations from A.C. Moore.

refurbed ceppo

I gathered these copper items from various venues (Big Lots, Michaels, and one branch from the Incredible Christmas Store) and put them in a little red basin from Michaels.

copper bouquet

I found the little copper-topped bottle-brush trees with the Lemax Christmas village things. Not sure where the goofy deer came from (Gatlinburg, I think), but they seemed to be made for each other. :-)

goofy deer

This is James' airplane tree. About half of these are Hallmark ornaments (not sure if you can see Snoopy in his "flying ace" outfit also on the tree) and the rest are models James has built. The tree is not only silver, but made of a holographic material. The garland I bought because it was red and green like the directional lights on the wings of aircraft (the gold I had to live with). The star used to be on the library tree, but seems a good match.

This photo doesn't do it justice. It's much cuter.

Airplane tree

A "Chris Moose" sits upon the new bench in the foyer. Don't you just love the box? I found it at Garden Ridge. Very late 40s-1950s type design on the box.

foyer bench

Anyway, here's the china cabinet, Mark II. :-) The Santa collection is back and a bit larger. Like the "Peace" to the rear of the ceppo, the "Falala" next to the charming little sheep is from Michaels, embellished with more little wooden decorations from A.C. Moore. On the opposite side is a sheep ornament from the Christmas store in Helen, GA; his sign says "Merry Christmas."

china cabinet

The little tree in the middle, purchased from a vendor at a Blue Ribbon Affair, is probably my favorite decoration this year. It came out like a little jewel. I was trying for a late 1800s, maybe to 1910 look, and Michaels had the perfect tiny ornaments. I picked the blue and white bead garland to offset all the red on the tree itself. I think the perfect little rocking horse came from Hobby Lobby, and then I tried for period-looking gifts of white paper tied with red string (really cherry-colored embroidery floss) on the opposite side.

little feather tree

17 December 2008

"It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like...Easter..."

It's already 65°F here and supposed to be 67 for the high today. Tomorrow...more horrors: low 70s, and then 60s on Saturday. Since I wasn't brought up on the Australian-Christmas-shrimp-on-the-barbie-let's-go-to-the-beach philosophy, this is about as Christmasy as cold sushi served for Christmas dinner. In sheer self-defense I have my Christmas cassettes on and plugged in my USB Christmas tree for an additional fillip of cheer.

(I have to admit I'm glad that we don't have sleet and ice like the poor sods in Massachusetts—dangerous icy conditions are only fit for child molesters and Osama bin Laden—but this is ridiculous. I should have known this would happen when it got so chilly earlier in the season. Warmish is one thing, but humid and sticky is annoying. What's really aggravating is that three hours up the road it's 37°F! I wish Florida would keep its damn warm air where it belongs.)

I am delighted to listen to the cassettes again. I have a great deal of Christmas music still left on cassette. A few I have replaced with CDs, mostly if the tape broke or became crumpled near the leaders, and a few I could replace with CDs, but why fritter the money away? What I have left play fine [cross fingers, as the tape player did eat one of my tapes last year—luckily I could get another copy if I wanted) and I have several rare ones that I bought when Oxford Books went out of business, ones of British vintage.

The temperature has certainly confused the birds! There was a loud, melodic warble outside for the longest time; it came so close that I had to get up and peek out on the deck to see if I could catch sight of the bird. It was the little Carolina wren, his song almost larger than his little plump body with the upturned tail! He sounds as if it is mating season instead of December.

15 December 2008


by Gavin Weightman and Stephen Humphries

As mentioned in a previous review, this trade paperback was a purchase from the remainder table of original Borders Books on Roswell Road in Atlanta. I was delighted to find it because I had seen (and videotaped) the original television special years ago when it was broadcast on A&E (back when A&E showed quite a few documentaries). It is a history of the celebration of Christmas in Great Britain, and, like the television special, is crammed full of historical photographs about bygone holidays. It is especially fascinating talking about customs that are pretty much unknown in America, from the most familiar which might be the "Christmas cracker" to obscure customs like the "Mari Llwd," a horse's skull carried from house to house in Wales which was a legacy of pagan times (along with the wassailing of Christmas trees). Another once-popular custom—even more popular than having a Christmas tree—was a decoration called a "mistletoe," barrel staves decorated with tissue paper with holly or mistletoe mounted in the the center, that would be hung up as the main display. There are also memoirs from men and women who grew up poor in the early part of the 20th century and remember the meager Christmases of their youth, as well as memories of children and adults who had to celebrate in the workhouse.

And wait—there's more: memories of colonial Christmases in India, the Victorian contribution to the celebration, wartime Christmases...as full of goodies as a stocking hung on the mantel. Highly recommended!

10 December 2008

Trim Up the Tree (and the Mantel)

I finally got the library tree put up tonight. James had to add pins to the new animals I bought as well as the one figure, so I couldn't "dress" the tree until I had all the trimmings. I hate the way the bead garlands went on. I think I would rather do payment authorizations than put garland on a tree. Tinsel takes forever, but it looks breathtaking once you get it on. Garland is just a pain in the neck.

I have the village buildings on the mantel but have not set up the rest of the accoutrements. I would like to find yellow bulbs to put in some of the buildings rather than white...it's okay for the stores, but the house and the church at least need something "homier." I have orange bulbs in there now; it's not bad for the church but the house looks like Hallowe'en.

Of course I hope I can find yellow bulbs. I'm going to try Garden Ridge. The bulb supply at Hobby Lobby sucks. I suppose I could try Target or WalMart or such. Garden Ridge was good for bulbs last year—of course, here it is two weeks before Christmas...do they still have a good supply?

I decorated the tree in the foyer last night; once we pull out the ornaments for the big tree, we can pick out the airplane ornaments and decorate James' airplane tree. We have a lovely sparkly blue fabric to use underneath it.

If only the weather would straighten out! It's still warm and sticky. The cold front's on its way, but as far as I'm concerned, it's not fast enough for me! I hate decorating a Christmas tree when it's warm. :-)

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW: The World at Christmas

by Charles House

This may be the weirdest Christmas book I've ever read. And I thought The Christmas Mystery was odd.

The true purpose of this book is to illustrate how other nations outside the US celebrate Christmas. The narrative has Our Hero planning to use something called "a Transvolo stone" to transport himself to the various countries at Christmastime. But things keep going wrong. He asks to be transported to Greece and instead a Kallikantzeros (a Greek evil spirit who makes mischief at Christmastime) appears in his yard. He does get his Greek tour, but no sooner is that finished when all the Scandinavian "Nisser" (Christmas elves) appear in his yard, arguing which is the true Christmas bringer. Other attempts to go to other countries are either thwarted or the gift bringer from that country comes to him, saying they were summoned by a mysterious voice!

Turns out the saboteur is...Santa Claus! In this novel he is petulant, insecure, and selfish, thinking that just because Our Hero wants to learn about Christmas customs in other countries, he also wants that gift bringer to come to the United States and put Santa out of a job!

Of course Santa does finally come around at the end and in the meantime we get glimpses of Christmas elsewhere, but by then you are tired of the entire thing.

Recommended only as a curiosity.

07 December 2008

A Holiday Weekend (and a LONG Post)

Friday seems a million hours away! We had a super-busy weekend, which unfortunately started out, for me, badly. I tried a new salad at Sweet Tomatoes and I liked it, but it didn't like me, so I was in the bathroom for about an hour at 2:30 a.m. By the time I got back to bed I was chilled and it took me ages to warm up and fall asleep.

Nevertheless, we had a full plate on Saturday. Before lunch, we had to go to the bank. I'd had a bland breakfast with a Pepto Bismol chaser, but James grabbed some lunch our and we went to BJs for a few groceries. James bought me a Christmas gift and we also purchased WALL-E, which we never saw in the theatre but everyone has raved about it. Then we had to go to Kroger for bananas and yogurt and other necessities.

I still wasn't feeling up to snuff, so James dropped me off at home and went to the hobby shop. I took some ibuprofin and then slowly proceeded to decorate. I put up the gingerbread things in the kitchen, the feather tree (it's on the little microwave cart this year) with its surrounding vintage-looking toys, the refurbished ceppo (on the curio cabinet), and little feather tree surrounded by my Santa collection (on the china cabinet). I also decorated the console and the secretary next to the birdcage. (Schuyler has the two musical things, natch: the silver-based Santa snowglobe and the Charlie Brown and tree Hallmark ornament). I also cleaned the hall bath and put all the blue decorations up: an angel, two Santas, a snowman, and the blue snowflake hand towels, plus the decorative soaps. I have the tree plugged in in the foyer, but never did get the ornaments on it.

James got home around three and I took some ibuprofin and lay down about four o'clock for a half hour. While I didn't feel like turning cartwheels, I was in "good stomach" enough that I asked James if, since we were going to be on that side of town anyway, he wanted to take me out for my birthday dinner. He said yes, so we left about five on our way to the annual Atlanta Radio Theatre Company performance of "An Atlanta Christmas," this year at the Alliance Theatre venue.

But first we were off for a treat: we went to dinner at the Colonnade. This restaurant has been open for about 80 years, originally on the corner of Piedmont and Lindbergh until they lost their lease in the 1960s. They moved to Cheshire Bridge Road in front of the Cheshire Motor Inn, which, back in those days, was a good neighborhood. It's a bit run-down now, with girlie bars and "adult novelty" stores, but the restaurant, in slang parlance, "still rocks." The food is so good that when the kitchen caught fire in the 1970s, evacuating diners walked out with their plates and forks so they could finish eating.

I understand the pork loin, beef short ribs, and fried chicken are all good, but I can't tell you, because I go there for the turkey dinner. I am really not a stuffing/dressing fan and usually only take a mouthful or two, but I slice up my turkey at the Colonnade and mix it with their absolutely fabulous celery dressing and eat it all tooth and toenail. I love their applesauce; it is not over-sugared. And the baked potato was delicious, too. I thought we might have to wait, as the place was about 3/4 full, but we got right in and were served right away—served so fast, in fact, that our dinners came before the rolls!

Pleasantly full, we returned to our route. We were a bit early, so we stopped at Book Nook. I discovered there was a third Nicholas Meyer Sherlock Holmes novel, after The Seven-Per-Cent Solution and The West End Horror, something called The Canary Trainer. I also found a really odd book (text printed on pink paper!) called Christmas in the World, which seems to be someone traveling around the world and meeting all the evil spirits of Christmas, like Krampus and Black Peter.

Finally arrived at the theatre; we hadn't been at this venue before. Boy, is it dark outside the building. Not a lot of signs that there is a theatre there at all!

Anyway, it was the usual enjoyable performance. There were two new skits this year, a news show spoof called "Rudolphium," about the discovery of the element that makes reindeer fly, and a rather silly skit about pirates and Christmas spoofing lame television holiday specials. Not sure what the latter had to do with Atlanta, though, but it had some very funny parts. The actress who portrayed Tiffany, the assistant to the mall Santa Claus in "Santa Claus Blues," was hysterical. Tiffany is always portrayed as being young and very earnest, but in this incarnation, she was also filled with wonder, as if this was the best job she ever had.

It was getting rather late, so we chatted only a bit after the performance, then headed home. I asked James if we could go past the place where my old apartment complex was, the place I lived when I first moved to Atlanta, which I always referred to as "the Cubbyhole" (it was a studio apartment). Last year when we drove past the location they had torn down the entire complex (Peachtree Garden Apartments), and when I went by a little later in the year it looked as if they were filling in the little "valley" the complex was in. Well, the area is still unfinished, but there are now two huge buildings there, complete with parking garages.

We came home via Mount Paran Road. This is one of those routes that is increasingly being taken over by McMansions of every stripe: there are "Italianate estates" and an "English hunting lodge" (complete with a waterfall and pond out front!) and many Classical-design homes. One we refer to as "Mr. Inflatable" because he has inflatable decorations (which I think look horribly tacky) outside the house for every holiday, even if it's only one or two. He had at least a dozen of the darn things in front of the house for Christmas, including a Tigger in a nightshirt.

Anyway, near "Mr. Inflatable" is a rather new development with these imposing Classical-style homes, and the two closest to the street seemed to be having a dueling lights contest. Every inch of both properties were covered in white lights: house, windows, trees, bushes, fenceline. It was bright!

We were up at nine this morning so we could have breakfast before the Marietta Tour of Homes. While yesterday was rather cloudy most of the day, today was sunny and clear—and only in the 40s. So much better than two years ago when it got up into the 70s and it was sweltering! The wind was quite keen, especially before noon, but it became more comfortable as the afternoon hours came on, but some people were bundled up like Eskimos!

We noticed something this year about all the tour homes: the decorations seemed to be the traditional greens—cedar and juniper as well as pine and holly—with red bows. One house did have fruit as part of the design, but with pine underpinnings. There were no "avant garde" type decorations like the people with the sofa frame two years ago.

The first house was the Hardage-Smith House, circa 1890. This had a very interesting shared fireplace system; the four main rooms shared the same flue in one corner of the room. The mantelpiece of the parlor was covered by little putz houses and bottle-brush trees from what looked like the 1950s, and the owners also had Santa collections like mine in several rooms, even the master bedroom, including a group of them which were two inches tall and shorter! As with most of these homes, they have had modern additions and this one is seamless, with the same molding and doorframes in the entire house. The bath had the same black-and-white tiles I remember from the old homes of my cousins.

Oh, one of the things on the wall was a framed report card of one of the owners' grand (or maybe great-grand) fathers, from 1920, complete with marks for deportment.

The next house was called "Oakmont" and had a varied history. It was originally "Kennesaw Hall," a small plantation home, originally with 800 acres. The property was burned by Sherman's troops and only the foundation and the granite slave cabin in the rear survived. It was rebuilt and made into quite a large Queen Anne type house in Victorian times. Over the years it was actually downsized to a small one-story house, although then a small half-story was added above. For a long time a piano teacher lived in the house, giving lessons in the cabin, and most Marietta children of the time would have had piano lessons with her.

The house is still small, but the owners have done marvelous things with the place. There is a new state-of-the-art kitchen (like all the houses), but the old one still stands used as a combination laundry, mudroom and craft room, with a floor made of reclaimed bricks. The upstairs is a marvel of all available space used: there are cubbies on the stairway and a cute little den in the main area at the top of the stairs. At either side of the den are the little girls' rooms. Each has a bed, plus spaces under each dormer where a friend could stay for a sleepover or they could just read. One little girl had a private space in what probably started out as a closet under an eave. It had a light inside, a little pallet and all sorts of little girl treasures. The kitchen had great drool factor. The big stove was flanked on either side by what looked like architectural wood decorations, but were really vertical spice drawers. You couldn't tell unless you pulled them out!

They also had cool antiques like a wind-up Victrola and railroad memorabilia and the last existing set of shelves from the larger house's library. When they started refurbishing the house, they discovered the rest of them rotting in the yard!

The former slave cabin has been turned into a guest house. It was completely made of stone and you can still see the burn marks on the inside wall of the bedroom portion, which has had the plaster stripped from it, from Sherman's march through the city.

The third house was of World War II vintage, the Wellons-Brackman-Gronewald House. The woman of the house is an interior designer and it showed, although it wasn't flashy. The house is dotted with beautiful antiques including a campaign desk. Like most homes of this era, the original part was very small, and in the rear the kitchen has been extended and a master suite added, and a screened porch on the side was turned into a compact library.

The High Cotton House was next. This was built in 1867 and the insulation in the walls, future remodelers discovered, was packed cotton! It used to have a complete wrap-around porch but part of it is now reclaimed by a nice comfy den. The parlor had a beautiful carved oak fireplace surround and mantel (originally from a brothel in Savannah!) with a peacock-shaped firescreen. The master bedroom was completely done in beautiful ice-blue paint with matching spread, curtains, etc, even a blue Persian rug, and a wonderful flocked Christmas tree with blue ornaments. The master bath had a gorgeous pink dogwood-theme stained glass window over the bathtub.

We had a bobble here. We took the opportunity to go upstairs and when we came down James slipped on the step nearest the landing. (Well, the people near us said he slipped on a tilted board, but when he stumbled there was a sharp crack, as if the step had given under his foot.) He caught himself, but his right knee is still hurting.

The fifth house is officially called the Orr-Johnson House, but the docent told us it was nicknamed "Mosley Hall," since the hallway was so wide it was "mos(t)ly hall." LOL. It was a large hall, filled with antique cabinets. One had a collection of statues of the various gift-bringers in different countries, like Santa Lucia and Grandfather Frost. The doors to each room had big adjustable transoms over them to regulate the cool and warm air circulation in those days before central air and heat. A beautiful stained-glass window was in the parlor and this also had the most unusual stool made of longhorn horns, dated 1915.

The owner obviously does cross stitch and many of her projects were dotted around the house. I was quite taken by a Christmasy one in the kitchen (another redone kitchen, of course!); I would love to have the pattern! It said "Christmas is holly with berries of red, and the heavenly fragrance of warm gingerbread."

The final house was a few steps away, the Cash-Cooney House from 1907. This is owned by a couple (the house originally belonged to the woman's grandfather) with four boys, all but one who are sports fans, so the bedrooms were quite heavily decorated with sports themes. They also had themed Christmas trees. The little movie-watching room had a tree hung with movie candy boxes, and dad, a baseball fan, had the neatest tree, which was covered with enlarged baseball cards and boxes of Cracker Jack! As with all the homes, the kitchen had been completely redone, this in a beautiful cherry finish, and we were directed to what looked like a corner cupboard at the rear. When you opened the doors, it turned out to be a pantry closet the size of a walk-in closet!

Our final stop was at the tea room, this year located at the Anderson Mansion, one of the big old Victorian houses on Whitlock Avenue. We each had a small treat, as we were intending to have lunch at home. This house put me in mind of my original allergist's office, which was on Waterman Street in Providence, once a toney neighborhood. Dr. Freedman used the first floor of a similar-type Victorian house and there were other medical offices upstairs. It was the same setup, parlors in the front and a kitchen in the back, the pocket-panel doors, etc., except when Dr. Freedman had it, the place was rather dark. When he retired and my next allergist, Dr. Sturam, took over, he had the place redone. It was much brighter, but he had a lot of the historical look removed from the place.

At home we had some lunch and James had some Aleve and rested his knee. We then spent about 90-minutes putting up the lights outside. We did the same setup as last year, with the lights around the columns and the purple stars "falling down." Then James got that "guy-look" that men get around Christmas lights and disappeared into the garage. We had bought about five boxes of blue miniature lights several years ago for a dollar a box and two sets of blue LED bulbs. We put the LED bulbs on the stair railings, then one set of miniature lights zigzagged on the railings, one set draped over the bushes in the front of the house, and one set draped over the bushes toward the side. So we're even more "bluetiful" than before. :-)

Seriously, I like the minis on the bushes especially; it looks like small blue stars have dropped on them.

We had turkey breast with salad for supper and worked through the rest of the backlogged What's My Line episodes. GSN's showings of The Name's the Same ended and we saw some of the early episodes of To Tell the Truth where Bud Collyer collected the "votes" from the panel rather than them putting up their choice and stating why they picked that person.

While we were doing this I was trying to catch up on things on my laptop. To my surprise it was running very slowly and oddly. Windows Update kept coming up and telling me my Windows Update was not on, and sure enough, when I went in, it had been disabled. How odd. Not only that, but when I went into Internet Explorer, something called "Antivirus 2009" kept popping up saying I was infected with at least three things including a two Trojans, one wich was showing up as "critical." For me to clear this problem, I had to install this "Antivirus 2009," which I didn't want to do, knowing nothing about it. But you could only run, save or cancel it. When you cancelled out of it, it didn't stop; you had to use Task Manager to get out of it. Well, when I did this I got a message saying "Are you sure? If you install, your PC will remain unsoiled." "Unsoiled?" I don't think Microslop uses words like "unsoiled."

So I ran AdAware and it was screaming about a Trojan called "Virisure" or something of that ilk. I removed it. I guess this "Virisure" encourages you to install this Antivirus thing to get rid of it, probably installing yet another Trojan in its place or not removing it in the first place. What a pain in the butt.

Sigh...still never got the tree in the foyer decorated!

06 December 2008

A Man Called "Santa Klaus"

I had this out of the library last Christmas—note the spelling of "Santa's" name; it's from 1909! In any case, the whole book is reproduced here, except for one page that was badly scanned.

The Story of Santa Klaus by William Shepard Walsh.

05 December 2008

Good Things in Small Packages

This is my little Christmas wall display from "Country Pickins." They come every year to the Yellow Daisy Festival from Kansas. I haven't seen them in any other Georgia craft show. I think I would be in trouble if I did. They're not online, which makes it safer, too. :-)

Country Pickins Christmas display

They make several different sizes of these display shelves (to give you an idea of the size of the little things upon the shelf and on top, the width of this unit is a little less than 5 inches) and there are varying themes: winter, Christmas, fall, spring, summer, seashore, quilting, kitchen, apples, and more I can't remember. Some are portrait-sized, some are landscape. They also have little shelves, and then larger displays that look like little hutches or stepback cabinets. The little display shelves like this one are less than $10, but when you start adding all the little things to them, it starts getting expensive. That's why I bought the wintry/Christmasy combination background. Once winter comes I will swap out the Santa/Christmas things with snowmen and winter things and it will do dual duty.

I have a fall one that stays out most of the year, and a little mostly apple-based one that stays in the kitchen (where this is now, since my feather tree would block it if it was in the usual place).

Whose Night Before Christmas?

And just in time for St. Nicholas Eve:

Mary S. VanDeusen's massive, absorbing website includes these pages about one of her ancestors: A Mouse in Henry Livingston's House, her investigation into the mystery of who wrote "A Visit from St. Nicholas."

Enough her to keep you busy for days!

Christmas Sparkles and Sputters

My first impulse this morning was to go straight to St. Ann's for the Apple Annie show so that I wouldn't have to park on Roswell Road.

However, I did need to get a couple of more packages out and postage for my greeting card going to England. So, juggling about four tasks at once, I dribbled packing peanuts in one box, wrapped the gift to go in the other, and printed out two Christmas letters, one for a box, one for the English post.

Then came the time to do the labels. I handwrite all the cards, but the labels are printed. I had already purchased labels, so I figured I'd put them through...

Hm. The ink didn't stick to the labels. I knew it wasn't the printer's fault, as it printed the letter fine. I had some other labels. These were glossy. Same thing happened. Well, phooey.

So I just handwrote the labels, and finally got going. I was planning to mail them on the way back, but there is a huge post office on Lower Roswell Road, near the synagogue, and almost no one was there. Hm. Either go to this empty PO or the one downtown with the torn-up parking lot. No brainer, eh?

That done, I headed to the church to wander about for 90 minutes. I still had to park on Roswell Road, but by now I was pretty mellow, the packages being taken care of. I like this church; I get nice vibes from it.

There were lots of nice things at the show, but as always lots of jewelry, which I'm not interested in. Not a lot of cutesy kids clothing like Yellow Daisy or some of the other craft shows. Many decorative things I couldn't afford. I did buy a tiny pair of skates and a sleigh with winter greenery in them and a gingerbread girl made from a tiny flowerpot. I also bought a couple of things to benefit the Youth League: a candle topper that looks like the front of a house surrounded by fall trees and a little tealight holder that looks like an old-fashioned stove with the backboard and warming shelf, all decorated with apples, in black and white and red.

The woman who paints the wonderful bird pictures was there, so I bought the little chickadee I skipped last year; she had several chickadees, but this one had the cutest face. I also bought one of the chickadee bookmarks because I liked the verse she had on it.

The other purchase was three bars of herbal soap for dogs. Miss Willow's going to have a niiiiiice bath at some point.

(I had a fun time but people still drive me crazy with their heedlessness. The booths are very close together and it's frustrating when a knot of people stand chattering in the middle of the way, and there was a woman in a scooter blocking about ten people from using the stairs because she was looking for a signal for her cell phone! Sigh...)

On the way home I stopped at Michael's for a frame for the chickadee and at Office Max for—of course—labels that clearly said they were for laser printers, and, oh, yeah, at Trader Joe's, since we won't have time to come back over the weekend. I asked about the open house, like they did last year—and it's on a Tuesday, and only from four till seven! Phooey.

My last stop was downtown to buy the tickets for the Marietta Tour of Homes this weekend. That took about a minute, and since there was a train roaring by anyway, I walked toward the square and then turned on Church Street just to peek in a couple of the little antique stores there. One is moving and the sale prices are still high, but I love some of the things. I will have to go back to one store; they have some pretty small things in a primitive theme. What I would like to do, if it's cool enough, to go back next Thursday, on my birthday, walk around, maybe have lunch.