25 January 2009

Rudolph Day, January 2009

The purpose of Rudolph Day is to keep the Christmas spirit all year long. One can prepare Christmas gifts or crafts, watch a Christmas movie, play Christmas music, or read a Christmas book.

For our January edition, here is purportedly the first sound version of A Christmas Carol, Sir Seymour Hicks as Scrooge, from 1935.

For your perusal, a site dedicated to the old paper Christmas village pieces you could find in Woolworths, Grants, Newberrys, Kresges, McCrory, and all the other wonderful "dime stores": Papa Ted's Place.

I have one Christmas project that is nearly completed; one more wooden cutout will do it.

Since I found wrapping paper for 39¢ per roll, I bought three, which fills up my wrapping paper container.

I also finished the book Christmas the World Over by Daniel J. Foley, originally published in 1963. This is a thin, readable volume of celebrations around the world, although it is skewed more to European and North American customs. However, Russia is included, despite the Soviet Union's restrictions upon worship at that time, and even China and Japan are touched upon. Australia abruptly ends with the index! However, since this was published in 1963, there are some fascinating details of customs that have disappeared since the book was published, with Christmas becoming more homogenized. Illustrations are in black and white. Worth getting at a reasonable price if you are interested in different ethnic Christmas celebrations.

14 January 2009

Snow Good

One of the things I bought at one of the craft stores (Michaels, I think) on sale after Christmas was a tube of something called "Glistening Snow Writer." From the description, it sounded like it was something that put a three-dimensional snow coating, with a bit of glitter, on items to make them look snowy. So this afternoon when I had a minute I applied it to three different items: the Marjean Bastian wheelbarrow Hallmark ornament which I had with my winter display, a little gold box filled with "berries, pine and a pine cone," and a woven twig basket filled with artificial pine (three kinds), two different types of berries, and twigs. I am using them all as winter decorations, but they have never been snowy enough for me.

I loved the way this stuff went on, but sadly, the white has dried as clear as Elmer's glue, leaving only the glitter behind. I suppose it's a good thing I scattered an entire container of white glitter on all three items before the "Snow Writer" liquid dried or it wouldn't have been as white as it is. Wish I'd used the snowflake-like white glitter now!

Still, it does look frosted, at least.

10 January 2009

Wintry Mix

Not the weather, more's the pity. It's raining out, but there's a cold front on the back of it.

Well, downstairs is swept, the upstairs and the stairs are vacuumed, and most of the winter decorations are up except for the things that go on the railing of the porch, like the silver wreath. Because of the rain, it's not really a good time to put them out. I did put the snowmen out there, and the snow garland, and the sled and the shovel.

Most of the Christmas gifts we got are still sitting on the hearth. Must find homes for them soon.

The autumn things that go back up after Christmas (the scarecrow on the landing and the things that go on the mantel) are still in boxes downstairs. All in good time, I suppose.

09 January 2009

Burnt Out (Me)

With the help of James' brawn, all is now ensconced in the closet.

I won't put the rocker back in its corner until I vacuum, and I'm not doing that tonight. Everything needs to be vacuumed again, and the downstairs hall swept, then I can put things back in their places and can put the winter decorations up.

At this rate it feels like it will be spring before I can accomplish it.

All I want is a good night's sleep...

Burnt Out

It struck me that it might be prudent to save some of the bulbs from the discarded set, even though I found two replacement bulbs in the ornament box. I pulled the string from the trash. These are miniature white lights under colored caps. I unscrewed a cap to find the light burnt out. Upon inspection, most of them are burnt out. And the one or two I found that look sound, I can't figure out how to get them out of their socket. Usually there's an edge of a bulb you can get your fingernail under, but these bulbs are inset into the socket. If one bulb does blow out, I have no idea how you replace it!

I did save some of the caps in case one breaks going up and down the stairs to the closet.

O Christmas Tree

Or, "Undecking the Halls, Part 3."

I really wasn't in the mood for undecorating anything. I woke up with stomach cramps at 3 a.m. and was "unavoidably delayed" for about an hour. It must have been the popcorn. Sigh. But after breakfast at nine, I placed all the Christmas village pieces back into their box, with the cords in the empty places and the trees and the figures on top of the cord or around the houses. I have bubble wrap between the houses but will be a nervous wreck until James gets the container back downstairs into the closet.

Next I tackled the tree. Oh, I remember the days when I could re-use the tinsel! I haven't seen lead-foil tinsel since I was very small; I pretty much grew up on the newer mylar stuff they replaced the lead-foil with when the dangers of lead were exposed, but the old mylar icicles used to be twice as wide and you could place them neatly back on their little holder without much loss. These newest icicles are so thin they almost crackle with electricity; you can barely take them off the holder in small groups to drape the branches. So in the last few years since I have had to buy it, I just rip it off and toss it in the wastebasket. Seems so wasteful.

I just worked at my own pace and got on tolerably well. At first I put on some music: Lou Monte's Christmas album, and then David Lanz's "Christmas Eve." Then I watched a couple of DVDs, Christmas Is and The City That Forgot About Christmas, and I was done about ten or fifteen minutes after the last one ended.

I decided I was getting tired of all the small boxes in the ornament container. I'm not anal about keeping the Hallmark ornaments in their original boxes, but I've been keeping multiple ones in the boxes I've kept. This year I decided to put only the glass ornaments in boxes, and put the rest (mostly plastic, some cloth, a couple of metal ones) in gallon Ziploc bags laid flat. It worked out quite well.

When I finished stripping the tree, I dealt with the dead string of lights. We don't have any replacement bulbs for these two strings of lights and Seasonal Concepts, where we got the strings, is out of business. I don't think it's just a burnt-out bulb, seeing what happened: the lights flickered, got very bright, then went out. I think the string is fried. So I took the string off and put on one of the new GE strings I purchased after Christmas.

Now, putting lights on a Christmas tree is, on my tiny list of Christmas things I hate, is just about one of the worst (even worse than "The Christmas Shoes" and "Pretty Paper" <g>). But I managed it. Doesn't look too bad.

I also wrapped up the nativity set, but instead of putting it back into the old cardboard box it's been in since it came home from my mother's house, I now have it in one of those larger plastic shoeboxes.

By the time I was finished, I was starving, so I had lunch and put The House Without a Christmas Tree on. I had the incidental music going through my head last night.

I know everyone can't like everything, but it upsets me when people abuse this story. I don't even mind—well, not much!—people saying "it's boring," but making fun of it drives me crazy. It's a slice-of-life tale and I know everyone doesn't like those. But I feel a deep kinship to this story. I don't have Addie's chutzpah and was a lot shyer, but otherwise she reminds me a lot of myself at age ten, bespectacled, relishing in vocabulary words and reading, drawing things all the time. Her home is so familiar to me...most of my relatives lived in older homes or triple-deckers with the same homely old wallpaper, the beadboard cupboards, the vintage fridge, the kitchen stove with the warming shelf overhead and the stovepipe going out the wall (my grandfather and my godmother both had similar kitchen ranges into the 1960s), the wooden floors and the old linoleum, attic space under the eaves, the big floor-model radio, even the old wooden high-chair in the kitchen, being saved and used as a table because nothing still sturdy and useful was ever wasted. My godmother's mother was like Grandma; she even wore the same type of housedress and apron. (Most of my aunts did, too, like my Auntie Petrina.) I remember all those little things in the background being in use, like the "flit" gun on the windowsill.

Addie's father even shouted like mine did. One of the reviews of the DVD I read talked about James' "emotional outburst" possibly scaring younger viewers. Gosh, everybody's dad shouted like that when I was a kid. We were Italian; we did everything at the top of our voices. Dad got angry and yelled, and then it was over with. I preferred my dad being mad with me than my mom. He shouted and then it was over. Mom didn't speak with you for hours—that was scary!

I did read a review that said this was "a 1970s view of the 1940s." I'm not sure I agree. Certain 1970s sensibilities did creep in. I really can't see a 1940s teacher sitting on her desk, for example, and Addie and the boy who made fun of Grandma probably would have ended up in the principal's office for fighting, not being reasoned with! (Heck, back in those days some schools still struck kids on the hands with a ruler, or paddled them.) Also, if all the 1940s books I read are any indication, kids still had to stand up to talk when the teacher called on them, unless Miss Thompson, with her desk-perching and explanations, was one of those newfangled progressive teachers. :-) The only real anachronism I noticed was the artificial tree in the drugstore where the girls go to buy Miss Thompson's gift. Artificial trees are nothing new; they've existed since the feather trees of the 1800s. But the string of blinking lights on the tree are miniatures, like we have today. Not sure if blinking lights existed in 1946, but miniature lights were invented in Europe and weren't sold here until the 1960s. (I think my research said they were first sold here in 1960.) The tree should have had the old-style C7 nightlight bulbs.

Otherwise, the home, the old-fashioned classroom with its wooden trim and painting of George Washington, the snow-rutted streets and the neighborhood pharmacy, always looked and felt perfect to me, and my parents, who were adults in the 1940s, noted the authentic look.

Anyway, I've surveyed the house for "leftovers"—I always seem to leave something behind that doesn't get put away and I want to avoid that this year; the closet where everything is stored is getting much too crowded to have loose things hanging about. So all the boxes appear to be packed up, and labeled properly, waiting for James to lug them downstairs and put them in their proper places on the shelf, and all I have to put away are the Christmas things in the bathroom, which are still waiting on the snowman soap dispenser to drain before they can be tucked away in the rear of the cupboard under the sink.

The house was so nice and tidy for the party last week and now it's a wreck again...it will be nice to have everything placed in the closet and stored for another year, just waiting for the magic to return.

In the meantime, I'm going to sign off, since I've just put The Small One on and I know I'm going to be reduced to a sniffling mess by the time it finishes. :-)

08 January 2009

Undeck the Halls, Part 2

I don't know why I am so frustrated that all of this is taking so long to take down. It took me three weeks to put it up! :-)

However, I do have the Rudolph tree down, with the little decorations for the bedrooms tucked in with those. The things for the porch are boxed with a little room left there. I may have to count on that box to put up the items on the room divider, and the Rudolph box is very crowded, and the dining room/kitchen box is pretty full (yes, I stripped the kitchen and dining room, too) and the foyer box is full.

I would have probably gotten the village down, too, but I couldn't work during lunch.

I am dreading the tree. Everything already looks so empty and it's so pretty and glittery...but as Mrs. Brown said in National Velvet, it's time to get on to the next thing.

07 January 2009

Undeck the Halls

Well, downstairs is "undecked," as are the windows. It takes a shorter time to take things down, even if you are placing things in certain boxes, because when you put up the decorations, you need to arrange and fluff and unwrap. But it still takes a while...whew! I discovered that the airplane tree and ornaments, the Santa and tree in the bathroom, the things in the hall, and the woodland tree (just the tree, with the gingham table cover) would all fit in the library tree box without squishing. The woodland ornaments, Santa, and other decor I put in a big clear shoebox which should fit somewhere in the closet.

Oh, something funny happened early in the afternoon. If you recall, I said that the Dish Holiday Music channel was still on. It played in the background all morning. Then, at 1 p.m., just when I was thinking about lunch anyway, I noticed that the channel had change. I have the DVR set up to change channels when any new episodes of the "Animal Heroes" shows, like Animal Precinct and Animal Cops, come on, but they are usually broadcast at 10 p.m. weeknights—but sure enough, this was a new episode of Animal Cops South Africa.

So I had my lunch and watched it, but after it was finished, just went back to work without changing the channel. In a few minutes I became aware that the next program on Animal Planet featured...ugh...snakes. Well, I'd just put the Holiday Music channel back on!

Except...it was gone! Like that, flat in the middle of the day! How extraordinary! I would have thought they would have waited until the day's end to cut it off.

I am watching a cheap DVD I bought on Amazon, "Christmas at Home." It's a dog's breakfast of different cartoons, pretty badly transferred. Some of them are fairly well-known, like the Fleischer Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, a "Little Audrey" short, and a Sylvester and Tweety cartoon. One is a British cartoon called Santa's Pocket Watch, where Santa has a collection of funny elves named after their physical attributes and one reindeer named Garibaldi (why the reindeer is named after a cookie is beyond me). Apparently this is the original British version (however badly transferred) rather than an American-dubbed version which some viewers found "terrible." Also included on the disk is Santa and the Three Bears, The Little Christmas Burro, and the unrestored version of Rankin-Bass' Jack Frost, which actually isn't a Christmas offering, but is hosted by a groundhog and is a winter story.

Christmas After All

My new calendar says today is Eastern Orthodox Christmas, so I have turned the tree lights on, and plugged in the village. :-) Dish Network's "Holiday Music" channel is still going, so I have lit a Yankee Candle cafè au lait tea light and am availing myself of both as I work. Outside it is finally cold again after several miserable days of temps in the high 60s. How the wind does blow! I can hear the winter banner rattling on its flagpole and turn to look down on the flag bellying out every so often as a gust takes it.

However, I have taken the candles out of the windows upstairs and have the boxes down (thanks, sweetie) and ready for this year's "hibernation." I am also making notes of things that are needed for next year, like proper extension cords outside and most probably a new five-candle candolier as one of them that I inherited from Mom no longer lights one of the bulbs anymore (the bulbs are fine; it's the socket).

Lest you think now that the holidays are over the crafts are as well, I say nay! I bought four inexpensive items from the dollar store last week, mostly to use on the porch. One, a Santa face, is fine, but the freestanding "Noël" with the Santa figure was dented a bit on top, and the three-panel "Tis the Season" is a bit plain. I will fill in the scraped paint of the dent with a similar color then "sprinkle" the already "snow spattered" Santa with white paint so it all matches. On the "Tis the Season" panels I will put some Christmas-y wooden cutouts.

The fourth item is a snowman with a tall hat that says "Let it snow" and "Welcome" with a cardinal and a snowflake on it. It is wintry rather than Christmas-y, except for the red band on his hat trimmed with a holly cutout. I will pry the holly cutout off, paint the band blue, and glue a wooden snowflake cutout (also in blue) on it instead. Voilà! Winter decoration!

Incidentally, I was so frazzled yesterday when I was removing Christmas decorations from my cubicle. I have winter decorations that include winter, snowy calendar pictures, a winter bouquet of evergreens with pine cones and snow glitter, and a bouquet of holly leaves covered in white flocking and snow glitter. Previously I have had a plain green garland with silver shot through it, like a pine tree after an ice storm. To me that is "winter," not "Christmas," but people still come by and say "Why are your Christmas decorations still up?" So this year I bought an extra white snowflake garland and put that up instead. Wouldn't you know someone came by and asked, "Are you still putting up Christmas decorations?"

What? It only snows at Christmas??? ARRRRRRGH! ::sigh::

06 January 2009

Making Up for Lost Time

My constant complaint this year has been that time has simply gone by too quickly! After Thanksgiving, someone might have just as well hit an accelerator pedal under the calendar and sent it streaking away. I didn't even watch some of my usual favorites during the holiday season and made up for some of them today: The Waltons "Best Christmas" for one. I love this episode, but there's a scene I've always found curious: this takes place a couple of episodes after Ike and Corabeth have adopted Aimee, and Corabeth and her new daughter have put up a beautiful homemade Christmas display at the back of the store, with a tabletop tree and a Sicilian cart filled with fruit. Elizabeth says to Aimee, "I bet you're getting everything you asked for," and Aimee responds in a very unsure voice, "I guess so." Never understood the tone of her voice or the wistful look in her eyes. I suspect it's because Aimee is still unsure of her new parents' love, but it somehow leaves you up in the air, with the feeling there was something missed.

Also watched the 1968 animated The Night Before Christmas. This isn't the Rankin-Bass story with the mice, but a fictionalized tale of how Clement C. Moore wrote "A Visit from St. Nicholas." The music and songs are by Norman Luboff and the story uses the musical arrangement of "The Night Before Christmas" originally written by Ken Darby for the Fibber McGee and Molly radio series. Radio veteran Olan Soulé is Moore.

If you've never seen this cartoon, here it is on YouTube:

The Night Before Christmas, part 1

The Night Before Christmas, part 2

The Night Before Christmas, part 3

It used to be a syndication classic before Christmas, along with Lutheran Television's Christmas Is and The City That Forgot About Christmas.

As a chaser, Rankin-Bass' The Little Drummer Boy (my old tape since the DVD is not complete) and a videotape I found in Dollar Tree, Animaniacs "Hellooooooo, Holidays!" It was pretty cute, but nothing special.


Christmastide has always been a time for gift-giving. While most think this references the gifts of the Magi to the infant Jesus, gift-giving at New Year's was already an established custom started by the Romans. "Strenae," sweet cakes and small trinkets like thimbles and needles, were the usual gifts.

In some of the northern countries, St. Nicholas was the gift giver and arrived on the eve of his saint's day, December 6. Due to the gifts received by Jesus and connected with his birth, the most common gift day is December 25.

But in many of the warm countries, the gift-giving day is the feast of the Epiphany, when Biblical record tells us the Magi found Jesus, His mother Mary, and His foster father Joseph. The nativity story is actually in two parts. The one which Linus quotes in A Charlie Brown Christmas is from Luke, which tells of the journey to Bethlehem, the angels announcing the birth to the shepherds, and the visit of the shepherds themselves.

The visit of the Magi, or Wise Men (or "kings," although the Bible never says they are royal), occurs in Matthew, and does not happen concurrently with the birth/shepherd story (as has been presented in many stories, including Rankin-Bass' iconic Little Drummer Boy). Matthew, in fact, states that Jesus and his family are not in a stable, but in a house, and that Jesus is a small child, not an infant. The number of Magi is not mentioned either; they are usually numbered at three because of the three gifts mentioned. There could have been more gifts: the gold, frankincense and myrrh were symbolic of Jesus' kingship, priesthood, and death.

The gift givers vary by country. Most Spanish-speaking countries are given gifts by the three "kings." In Syria, the gift-bringer is actually the smallest camel in the kings' caravan.

Both Italy and Russia have a twist on this story. Italy's traditional gift-giver is La Befana, although most modern Italian kids ask for gifts from "Babbo Natale," their version of Santa Claus. "Befana" is a corruption of "Epifania." The Russian version is named "Babouscka." She is usually portrayed as looking a bit like a kindly Hallowe'en witch, with tattered clothing and old shoes because she has been traveling for so long.

So the story goes, elderly Befana, like most traditional Italian women, was cleaning her house. The three kings stopped at her house for directions. After offhandedly pointing the way out to them, Befana is in a hurry to get back to her cleaning. They ask her if she does not want to come with them to see the infant King. No, no, she says, I have to finish my cleaning.

The kings leave (in some versions of the story, she misleads them, but the star shows them the true route) and Befana finishes her cleaning. She now feels guilty, gathers up gifts for the new little King, and hurries after them. But she never catches up with them. Instead she visits every home where there could be a child, and, not knowing if this is the correct one, leaves a gift. (Sounds a bit like the Flying Dutchman...)

The feast of the Epiphany officially ends Christmastide. Some legends say all greens and decorations should be out of the house by this date. However, Candlemas (February 2) is known as the last day for the burning of the Christmas greens.

In Norway, the official ending of the Christmas season is January 13, St. Knut's Day.

05 January 2009

"On the Twelfth Day of Christmas..."

...it's time to watch the holidays come to a close. As I drove through downtown Smyrna this morning, all the decorations were down except for the tree, and I knew it would be gone, or mostly gone, by this evening. Sure enough, by five o'clock all traces of the Christmas tree were gone.

They should have a counter-song to Andy Williams' "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year"—maybe "It's the Most Sorrowful Time of the Year," watching the tinsel and the glitter fade away to be replaced by plainness.

Of course if we had the tinsel and the glitter all year long, at Christmas it wouldn't be special, just as in the William Dean Howells' story "Christmas Every Day." Still, maybe this song from Rudolph's Shiny New Year is the most appropriate:
The moving finger writes,
And having writ, moves on.
You can't hold back the clock;
It just ticks on and on.

The moving finger writes
And having writ, moves on,
So treasure memories,
For what is gone, is gone.

And, oh, you may
Sweat and strive—
Don't you know it's great
Just to be alive?

So...make every moment count,
Rejoice with every dawn,
The moving finger writes
And having writ, moves on.
After I arrived home and took Willow for her "airing," I settled down to watch The History of Christmas DVD that I purchased at Borders. This is a compilation of four documentaries, the first being Christmas Unwrapped, originally appearing on the History Channel. This is a brief history of the holiday, featuring writers Stephen Nissenbaum and Penne Restad, authors of two of the definitive Christmas histories, The Battle for Christmas and Christmas in America. Jean Shepherd (A Christmas Story) also appears.

The second piece is the "Santa Claus" biography that was originally shown on A&E's Biography series hosted and narrated by Jack Perkins (before Biography begat its own channel). I saw this when it was originally broadcast, but haven't seen it for years. Lovely to hear Jack Perkins' voice again! I see he is now retired and a nature photographer.

As I watch, I keep glancing over my shoulder at the Christmas tree. It will look very blank there in a few days. We'll also have to find places for the gifts! One will go in the car—we were given a second Entertainment Book! Very cool, since later in the year there is an Abraham Lincoln exhibition at the Atlanta History Center. This also means we have another Mountasia coupon, too! Let's hear it for mini-golf...PUTT!:-)

04 January 2009

"On the Eleventh Day of Christmas..."

...we cleaned up from the tenth day of Christmas. :-) We had a late sleep-in first, though.

As we had put all the perishable food away last night, we just needed to clean off the table, vacuum again, wash the serving dishes, and then put everything away and tidy the kitchen. This actually didn't take very long as a whole, but it seemed to take forever since we are in our usual post-Christmas depression. Betty Roberts declares in "Christmas in the Airwaves" that "December without Christmas is like...January."

Well, darnit, it's January.

If it was cold it would help, but it's dark, gloomy and warm. I'm in shorts and a sleeveless shirt. Tuesday it's supposed to be 70! Another 85°F day in my cubicle, I see.

We also went to Kroger to get a few things...which grew into a few more things...and we still forgot to get juice!

When everything was tidy again we settled down to watch What's My Line? and To Tell the Truth. These were back starting from New Year's Eve, and they showed the New Year's Eve 1950 What's My Line?. The show was brand-new then and the only one of the remembered panel on the panel at this time was Arlene Francis. The mystery guest, appropriately, was Guy Lombardo. After finishing all those in the queue, we watched something on National Geographic Channel: Dogs in the Womb. Following was a similar special about cats.

I keep looking wistfully at the Christmas tree. Seems like just yesterday I wrestled with putting it up, and now it's time for it to go in hibernation for another year.

And of course the weather forecast is for rain Tuesday night, so all the outdoor decorations will be wet when it's time to take them down! Typical of life...

03 January 2009

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

The last guest has just left and I'm about to help James put the things away. We had a big crowd and still had food left over. I told Alice we need to have a game night soon! LOL.

We spent the afternoon getting ready; the first guests arrived about quarter to five—it was Ann and Clay, which is lucky because they have three dachshunds and are used to the Ritual Barking of the Dog—and it soon became busy. One of James' work friends came and also his friend Rusty from the hobby shop with his wife Cindy and son John. John has to use crutches to walk and I was afraid he might have trouble with the stairs, but he navigated them deftly.

Part of the crowd was watching the end of the Falcons game, and the rest sat around the table chatting. After everyone ate, we exchanged gifts. Mel tried to help me solve a computer problem that I have responding with my domain e-mail in Eudora via Earthlink. I think he may have found a solution, but I'll have to try it and see.

Aubrey (13) and her friend Isabel (12) kept the place hopping. They retreated in the spare room to play Jenga and draw. I gave Aubrey a waterproof case with a drawing pad, colored pencils, an eraser and a pencil sharpener as she is always carrying her drawing things with her. Isabel actually found the pickle ornament on the Christmas tree but I gave the prize (a pickle ornament) to Aubrey since Isabel accidentally messed up the little slinky-bracelet I gave to Aubrey.

We all had a great time, but boy, are we bushed!

[Later: we have the food cleaned up and will tackle the dishes and the vacuuming tomorrow. Feet and back hurt. Nice time, though...]

"On the Tenth Day of Christmas..."

...more party prep. We were up until two and ended up sleeping past eleven, so we had to run to Kroger for the bacon bits to top the cheese bake. While there, got things for lunches at work.

James went to the hobby shop for about 90 minutes, while I put things up and then shot part of a "movie" on my camera. It's just of the house all dressed up for Christmas.

We have all the snack/nibbly type things out (Chex mix, M&Ms, cheese cubes, mint candies, crackers, candy cane Jo-Jos, pumpkin cake, etc.) and I have mixed the cheese spreads and they are chilling in the fridge. James is now warming up all the hots: chicken wings, taquitoes, mini egg rolls, cocktail weiners, and Bagel Bites.

Twenty minutes to go. I wonder who will come first, as they will experience the Ritual Barking of the Dog. (After about five guests, she gives up.)

02 January 2009

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

The floors are washed, the carpet and stairs are vacuumed, the sofa is clear, Willow's had a bath...I think we're ready. (Well, after I clean off the dang coffee table, anyway. it's like a magnet that attracts stuff.) :-)

We went out for supper at Golden Corral, which, surprisingly, was not crowded, and stopped at Staples on the way back to get a mailing tube. They had some pretty wintry (not Christmas) stationery and labels at half price, which I bought, and also two great gift items at half price. More things for the box!

The bad news: the friend we were expecting for the weekend cannot come. :-( She caught a bad cold from her nephew and needs to get it under control by Monday for work. As Podkayne says, "Snellfrocky! Hangnails! Dirty socks!"

The good news: a friend of ours got in a car accident this afternoon, but is okay except for a few bruises. The car, however, is totaled. Whew. Thank God it was only the car.

"On the Ninth Day of Christmas..."

We're getting ready to party.

Well, I'm getting ready to party. James is back at work, where I'll be on Monday. Bit by bit the magic is going away and it will just be the workday world again.

It's gloomy and chilly and damp out, and I was looking forward to getting the floors washed early when I realized I was out of what I needed to wash them with. I thought I had bought more cleaner, but there was none in the closet or downstairs. Well, phooey.

Ran out to Food Depot, but they didn't have what I use. Actually, I couldn't find anything but PineSol! But I did find it next door at Dollar General. Looked through the half-price Christmas things and found a few things I can decorate for the porch for next year. Then I did all the floors and got clothes together for a last load of laundry, and had the rest of the little pizzas from the other night for lunch.

To go with my lunch, I put on The Gathering. This is a 1977 television movie with Edward Asner and Maureen Stapleton, and why it isn't out on an official DVD is anybody's guess. It won all sorts of awards and is a brilliant, touching but not mawkish, Christmas film. Asner's character, Adam Thornton, a hard-nosed businessman in a small New England town, is separated from his wife after an argument (the film implies the fight was over their youngest son going to Canada instead of Vietnam, but the novelization says it was because Adam, with all the children gone, wanted to abandon the family home, and wife Kate refused) and estranged from all of his children except his younger daughter.

Then Thornton discovers from his doctor (and close friend) that he has only a few months to live. With Kate's help, he arranges a family reunion (without telling the children the bad news so it won't be a "pity party") at the house, as much to straighten out things between himself and the kids as to see them once more before he dies.

The supporting cast includes Lawrence Pressman, Veronica Hamel, Gail Strickland, Bruce Davison, Rebecca Balding (who later co-starred for a few episodes with Asner in Lou Grant), Gregory Harrison, Stephanie Zimbalist, Edward Winter, and John Randolph. Truly wonderful film—with a beautiful score by John Barry to boot.

(Bit of trivia: this film was produced by Hanna-Barbera and Yogi Bear makes a brief cameo—it's a puppet that the grandchildren have.)

01 January 2009

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

It's been a nice quiet day. I've tidied up the guest room and washed the linens, and read some of Mark of the Lion (the first Jade del Cameron mystery) and watched "Merry Gentlemen" once again. We had a nice slice of Smithfield ham for supper, which James had soaked for two days in pineapple juice and honey with pineapple bits and craisins. It was superbly tender. We had it with boiled potatoes and I even ate a couple of spoonfuls of Hoppin' John for the new year, although I usually avoid black-eyed peas. (I probably should have, too. My stomach is sour again. But it's supposed to be good luck to eat Hoppin' John...or at least plain old black-eyed peas...on New Year's Day.

Nothing on television tonight besides bowl games and marathons, so I put on The Last Detective.

Christmas Comfort Reading

I have certain books I go back to every year, as they are as much a part of Christmas as the tree and A Christmas Carol. One I read first at my own home, another from the Stadium School library, and the third is a recent acquisition.

Sleigh Bells for Windy Foot was written in 1948 by Frances Frost. In the 1960s, the "Windy Foot" books about the Clark family and their Vermont farm were standard issue in children's rooms and school libraries. In the first novel, Windy Foot at the County Fair, Toby Clark is given a pony he names Windy Foot for his birthday. He meets Letitia "Tish" Burnham at the fair where he is planning to race Windy in the annual races. In this second offering of the series, Tish and her horse-trainer dad Jerry (her mother is deceased) visit the Clark farm for Christmas. What follows are nostalgic preparations for the holiday: converting a sleigh for Windy to pull, Christmas shopping, carol singing in the town square, popping corn by the fire, awaiting the birth of a calf that will be a gift for Toby's little sister Betsy.

But a marauding bear poses a danger to the livestock and Toby's plan for skiing with Tish, if another hidden danger doesn't strike first.

All the Windy Foot books are great snapshots of small farms in the late 1940s/early 1950s, but this is my favorite: I love going snowshoeing with Toby and Betsy for Christmas greens, singing carols in the town square and shopping in the country store, sleighing under the stars. The Clarks don't live an easy life, but it's a happy one.

Whitman Books published a series of books in the 1960s about the Tucker family: five kids and mom and dad, with the obligatory big shaggy dog and also a cat living in a big old house in the small town of Yorkville where dad works with his father in running a variety store. The books were written by at least two authors and continuity is a mess, but the stories are fun.

The Cottage Holiday, however, breaks from the routine a bit by emphasizing the story of 7-year-old Penny. The youngest girl and the next to youngest child, Penny is plagued by constant colds and bad health, and worries about her place in the world and even within the family group. When she envisions a Christmas celebration at their lake cottage and is allowed to go by her pediatrician, Penny begins to learn more about her hidden strengths. In the meantime, the kids not only play snow games on the beach and prepare for Christmas, but are involved in the mystery of a supposedly abandoned baby and the hunting of a cougar killing livestock at the local farms.

Again, it's one of those books where you want to be there, having fun with the family and their holiday preparations, but the subplot of Penny searching for her place in the order of things is also very appealing and the sort of story that was ordinarily not featured in a series book of this type. The end of the story requires a tissue. :-)

A newer book that has become de rigueur in my reading queue at Christmas is Christmas After All by Kathryn Lasky. This book is part of the "Dear America" series and is based on Lasky's own family. The Swift family, including 12-year-old narrator Minnie, are enduring the privations of the Depression at Christmastime of 1932, closing down room after room to save coal, surviving on endless meals of bits of meat stretched by bread, rice and cheese, and wondering why their father comes home a little earlier each day. Then a telegram requests that they pick up Willie Faye Darling at the train station. Willie is the daughter of Belle's cousins and both her parents have died in the Dust Bowl town of Heart's Bend, Texas.

When Willie Faye arrives, stunted by malnutrition and carrying only two pairs of underwear and the clothes she is wearing (and a kitten she saved from a dust storm), not having ever seen a movie, an indoor bathroom, and the comics, Minnie thinks her cousin will have a lot to learn from them. She doesn't dream what the little girl from Heart's Bend will teach her and her family.

Lasky makes everyone in the story so real—probably because they are based on actual family members—from Minnie's only brother, an electronics prodigy, to her unconventional sister Lady, to her practical older sisters Gwen and Clem, to her warm parents, to Jackie, the family housekeeper, not to mention a snotty classmate, her sisters' boyfriends (including one based on her father), and the victims of the Depression living in a "Hooverville." The story mixes humor, family experience, and even anxiety after Minnie's classmate's father commits suicide.

Lasky writes great books anyway; I have loved her Prank, set in East Boston, and the Cambridge-based Callista Jacobs mysteries, which, sadly, there were only a handful of.

"On the Eighth Day of Christmas..."

...we are resting and watching the Rose Parade. (I said to James yesterday, "You know what I want to do tomorrow? Nothing!") The New Mexico Coyote/Road Runner float has just gone by. So beautiful in HD. Look at the details!!! We're watching on HGTV, and, where their coverage has improved over the years—I remember their first broadcast only had wide-angle cameras and we got no close-ups at all—the hosts are starting to yap too much (like their network counterparts) over announcements and occasionally interviewing hosts of their series instead of concentrating on the parade. At least we don't have to watch commercials and this year's featured celebrities being interviewed to plug their NBC series.)

Cloris Leachman is the Grand Marshal this year. Gosh, she looks great for 80 years old!

Many beautiful floats, including the African veldt theme, and those lovely horses. The western groups have changed over time—I remember when "Monty" Montana and the Sons of the Pioneers were fixtures—but are always beautiful.

I can tell you one major way the Rose Parade has changed in 40 years: when I was a kid, New Year's was still considered part of the Christmas season and you did hear Christmas songs, like "Frosty" and "Winter Wonderland" (usually the wintry things, although I remember "Deck the Halls" since it mentions the New Year), played by the bands. You don't hear them anymore.

{Bother..."Holly" is gone already, too; used to last through New Year's Day. Stupid merger.)

Anyway, we had a lovely time at Bill and Caran's last night: good food to nosh and lots of people to chat with. The crowd seemed to be thinner this year, however, and we were a creaky crowd hanging out in the library except when Aubrey was there. Fiona and Geoffrey's baby daughter Zada (almost 11 months) was the hit of the party.

Sadly, about ten minutes to midnight, I developed stomach cramps. I was able to slip downstairs for a few minutes to join in the end of the countdown and wish everyone a happy New Year, then was stuck in the bathroom for the next 40 minutes. So we had to leave rather abruptly. Came home to wrap in a fleece and wish Rodney, Mike, Jen and Jen's sister Meggan a happy new year online, to the accompaniment of TCM's marathon of That's Entertainment movies. We would have gone to bed earlier, but the segment on Busby Berkeley routines in That's Dancing had us mesmerized.

[2:46 p.m.: Watching the Rose Parade rebroadcast on the Travel Channel. Hosts Stephanie Edwards and Bob Eubanks are a bit ditzy, and we have commercials, but at least they are talking what the floats are made of...and we got to see several floats that HGTV either "forgot," or ignored so they could plug their own programming.]