31 December 2009

C is for Christmas Crafts Continued

Remember this?

Well, it now looks like this:

You can see roof, top glass, and pavement have been slightly "dirtied down."

Poster has a soldier with "We'll Meet Again...Buy More War Bonds" surrounding.

The handbill at front says "War Bond Rally...7 PM City Hall...Help our boys fight!"

Here's the other side:

"Kilroy" grafitti visible. The poster says "When you ride alone, you ride with Hitler...join a car-sharing club today!"

All done to a lovely accompaniment of Strauss on WABE: selections from Die Fledermaus and also "The Beautiful Blue Danube"—which, of course, I can't hear without thinking of Rudolf and Flavia dancing in The Prisoner of Zenda (the original, of course, with Ronald Colman...drool...).

I never could find a proper figure to go in the stair. I'll look again next year. I have a stray cat that can be placed outside.

30 December 2009


by Anne Perry

Okay, having a donkey and a dark-skinned foreign gentleman named Mr. Balthasar in a Christmas story is a bit derivative—but I found it didn't matter.

Thirteen-year-old Gracie Phipps—who will soon become a servant in the household of Charlotte and Thomas Pitt—lives with her impoverished grandmother in one of the poorest areas of London and soon faces life working in a factory. But just before Christmas she befriends 8-year-old Minnie Maude, whose Uncle Alf has just been murdered while on his rag-and-bone route. Minnie is desperately searching for Uncle Alf's donkey Charlie, who vanished after the murder, and good-hearted Gracie promises the little girl that she will help her look for the creature.

But as the two children start asking questions, it becomes obvious that others involved with the crime, like Minnie's aunt and uncle and the man who found Uncle Alf's body, are frightened, but frightened of what? And is the killer now stalking Gracie and her new friend?

Perry's descriptions of Gracie's life bring this little mystery to life: the cold, the poverty, the residents' efforts to celebrate Christmas despite their social situation. It's an exciting tale that solves a further mystery in its final two pages.

28 December 2009


by Daniel J. Foley

Another library find! I have Foley's Christmas the World Over, but this volume is a treat as well. Foley talks about the custom of bringing greens into the house, and the history, as far as it can be determined, of the Christmas tree custom, and the Christmas tree custom in the United States, followed by a history of Christmas tree lights and also Christmas tree growing. The book was published in 1960, so the photos are all in black and white except for a four-page color insert, and any photos with people have a quaint quality now, like those in the early part of the century, but I note that several myths that still persist to this day, such as Martin Luther being the creator of the Christmas tree, have already been gently debunked, or at least designated as "not proven," in this volume.

Legends connecting other plants with Christmas, a chapter on Christmas decorations from the original apples to the shiny Germany ornaments, and information on other Christmas-tree substitutes (like the German pyramid and the Italian ceppo) are also included, with a wealth of 18th and 19th century engravings.

27 December 2009

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW: The Light of Christmas

edited by Frances Brentano

Last year I purchased several older Christmas story collections (The Fireside Book of Christmas Stories, Uncle Toby's Christmas Book, etc.) looking for uncommon Christmas stories, ones I had not read over and over in multiple anthologies. I did find many, especially in Jack Newcombe's New Christmas Treasury, but I was still dissatisfied.

This year this book turned up at the library and darned if it wasn't just what I was looking for! It has six sections, the first stories centered around Christ's birth from various POVs—including a play written by Dorothy L. Sayers of Lord Peter Wimsey fame!—and then around the influence of the Biblical tale. The third section has stories about children at Christmas, the fourth about families, the fifth and sixth filled with fictional Christmas stories and Christmas memories. Several of them were familiar, like Robert Tristam Coffin's "Christmas in Maine," but all were joys, including the Biblical tales "The Sequel to Bethlehem," "Anniversary" (about a hunchbacked child), "Journey to Christmas," the Christmas chapter of Our Vines Have Tender Grapes, "Christmas on the Prairie" from Bess Streeter Aldrich's classic A Lantern in Her Hand, the Moss Hart Christmas anecdote later used in PBS' Simple Gifts, and more. It was an absolutely delightful read!

C is for Christmas Convocations

We had a quiet Sunday morning and afternoon. The moment we rose, James put both the gingerbread and the brownies in the oven, so they would be cool enough to decant before we left for the Lawsons' house. Read. Watched Schuyler. James eventually fell asleep in his chair. Nice.

From 4 p.m. onward we were at the Lawsons for a combination games night/gift exchange. The gingerbread and the brownies were a big hit, and even the cookies we brought had a big dent made in their amount. We got some majorly cool gifts which I opened so quickly and with such pleasure that I have pretty much forgotten which gift was from whom, but they were all fantastic: small things to use with electronics, a cool Disney book and a cross-stitch volume, two lovely plaques for the house, cashews, and others. The guys, as usual, went into the den and discussed changing the world, the kids played various video games, and we ladies played the new Mental Floss trivia game and a Cranium dice game where you had to complete three challenges, like totaling up to a certain number, finding three images, fitting a word into a sentence, or doing a "stunt." Both were wonderful fun!

Sadly, we had to head home about eight so James could get ready for work.

And so endeth St. John the Apostle Day...

C is for Christmas Crafts

One of the things I bought yesterday was the "Carol Towne" subway entrance:

Since about half of the mantelpiece village is a city scene, I thought it would be appropriate between two of the buildings rather than the trees I have there now.

But my scene is wartime/1940s and the Carol Towne piece Victorian era, and it also has no "snow" on it like the other pieces, so this morning I took it into my own "Santa's workshop" and started to work some magic on it. First I aged it just slightly by dry brushing some brown and grey paint on the "onion dome" type top and on the "glass" roof and overhang. I also put some on the floor to the entrance so it will look like people with dirty boots have tramped in and out. On one of the panes of "glass" opposite the newspaper box I drew a "Kilroy was here" figure.

From there I could have just added white paint, but I like the snow to be a little more three-dimensional, so I have used Elmer's glue to make little "snow piles" at the sides and in the cuts on the entrance dome. Right now those are drying and I will paint over with white paint when it is finished. I also used a black paint pen to correct something: the price on the newspaper dispensing machine (which they actually wouldn't have had back in Victorian times, just a newsboy) said "25¢"—good heavens, even magazines didn't cost that much at the time, and not even in the 1940s! So I blotted out the "2."

In the meantime I have printed out two WWII posters on James' color printer: the "You drive with Hitler when you drive alone" poster which I thought appropriate for a subway entrance, and another war bond poster, plus made a home-made sign announcing a War Bond rally for 7 p.m. at City Hall. Those will be glued on the sides of the entrance after it's "snowed." Then it will be finished, although I am toying with another idea. Of course there is no stairway "down" except for a black spot representing the stairwell. I was thinking of buying a figure and then cutting it in half, gluing the top half of the figure on the "stairwell" so it looks as if someone coming up from the subway.

Fun stuff...love doing this!

26 December 2009

C is For Christmas Deflation

Gah. I woke several times during the night, and when James got up for work, and again, and again, and finally with a post-Christmas depression that just wouldn't quit. I've been fighting these depression attacks since after vacation and this one annoyed me. I have nothing to be depressed about. I had a nice Christmas. We are looking forward to a nice Christmastide with dinner out tonight and a games night tomorrow and a family visit next Saturday and a party the Saturday after that. But James is at work and I'm morose and for a while I huddle in my self-made misery.

Finally I roused myself to re-envelope and stamp a card that the post office returned. I had the right address; she went away for a few days and had the post awful hold her mail. When the box holding her mail got too full, they returned all the rest. Duh. And the USPS wonders why they are losing business. I also sent a card to cousins I hadn't seen in a while; she sent me a note via her son's Facebook page.

Then I dressed and went out to stick the cards in the mailbox, and went out. Stopped at Borders, which is starting a sale today. Found something for James and also Irene Pepperberg's Alex and Me. Stopped at Lowes, but evidently they have been clearancing their Christmas stuff for a while; the place was stripped. Where the Christmas trees were are flowers in pots. Only a few ornaments and village pieces remained, not even any light strings or bulbs. I found a subway entrance for my manteltop village, and something I just bought because of the nostalgic vibes. Except for the tiny wreaths on its sides, it doesn't even look like a Christmas building. It's a circa 1950s-1960s bowling alley, complete with a window to look at the bowlers, and a sign that advertises billiards, just like the old Garden City Lanes. I had to buy it. Maybe I'll use it as a nightlight downstairs or something.

Stopped at a CVS and bought some more tinsel. Heaven knows, maybe someday they'll quit making it, and then what will I do?

Finally went from one "Love Street" store to the next, spending my birthday savings. I found a gift in Love Street Home (and bought an identical piece for myself). Looked around the Love Street Heart and Soul store, but couldn't decide, so went across the parking lot to the main store. Bought some half-price Christmas ornaments, and a "girlfriend" for "Woody" the log reindeer. It's a log reindeer with holly for antlers, so I named her "Holly." It's also real holly, so I'll have to find replacements by next year or find something artificial.

What can I say? Woody looked lonely. :-)

Came home intending to eat lunch and ended up contending with an overflowing toilet. It made me cranky again, and I ended up not eating except for some bread and later an orange.

Gotta go...need to take Wil out before James gets home.

25 December 2009

C is For Christmas (Evening Edition)

We had dinner at the Butlers...a small crowd this year: only four Lucyshyns and two Skidmores along with two Youngs and four Butlers along with Lin's mother, who did manage to visit despite her hip problems. We had a magnificent dinner, with ham, tenderloin, and a Cajun turkey (I skipped the latter, but I understand it was delicious), Ron's mashed potatoes, James' corn casserole, the Trader Joe's Thai ginger carrots I brought, brussels sprouts, Lin's apple stuffing, and other stuff I've forgotten. Plus for dessert there were big cherry and blueberry pies, and Lin made the little piecrust goodies as always. Between dinner and dessert there were presents, but the company was the best gift of all.

On the way home, James drove in and out of the streets so we could see more light displays, and then we came home and relaxed until it was bedtime, which was early, since James had to work on the morrow...

C is for Christmas Morning

Merry Christmas everyone! Hope everyone has a nice day, even if they aren't celebrating...enjoy your day off!

After our Christmas Eve supper we bundled up, for it was already raining, and went to look at lights. The ride up Mount Paran Road was rather a bust, as "Mr. Inflatable" must have gotten read the riot act from his neighborhood association, for there were only two small inflatables on his lawn, and more tasteful lighting. :-) And nearby, the "dueling houses" from last year aren't dueling anymore because one of the pair is empty and for sale. The other was lit quite brilliantly in white, though. We did find some garlands and bows and wreaths, and a few colorful displays, but mostly white, or white and gold.

But so many houses didn't have any decorations at all or were quite dark. The economy? More occupants who don't celebrate Christmas? Maybe just apathy?

The working-class neighborhoods were much nicer. We noticed this even when I was a kid: the decorations on the "rich" homes tended to be spotlights on the wreath on the door, where the blue-collar neighborhoods went all out. Maybe the electric bill in January was horrendous...but, hey, we looked beautiful!

And then came my favorite part of Christmas Eve: watching The Homecoming! Love this movie; have loved it since 1971...looks much more gritty and country than The Waltons ended up.

Then we were sleepy and wandered off to bed...only to be woken by the alarm on my phone at nine. Remember when you were kids on Christmas morning, how nothing could keep you in bed after 7 a.m.? How could you wait so long? Breakfast? Are you kidding me?

So I clicked on the television for Schuyler and I swear this morning Today was more commercials than show. Ye Gods. There was an animal sequence with Hoda and Kathy Lee and Julie Scarpitta: Kathy Lee was cuddling a sloth through the entire segment; it did not want to let her go. In the meantime Hoda fed it bits of pineapple and it looked happy. Well, happy for a sloth. There was also a reindeer named Holly and two penguins who wandered the set with a "what the heck is this?" expression, and two lovely otters who dug into their Christmas boxes enthusiastically and feasted on the resulting fish. Goodness, I wouldn't have wanted to smell their breath.

James made me wait anyway; he fixed biscuits which I had with butter and he had with homemade country sausage we bought at the last of the Farmer's Market (and Willow as always had her own biscuit, as well as doggie snacks, and Schuyler devoured her Christmas gift, a short sprig of millet, in minutes), and we had little cinnamon rolls from Trader Joe's, and then we opened gifts. The fids gave him the DVD set of Firefly and I bought James a copy of Superfreakonomics and a new GPS unit. It's a Garmin, so now he can go out on the town with Nutcrackers looking for curling matches (and hopefully miss the creepy clown on the roundabout). LOL.

(And hopefully this one won't send us down anymore dirt roads or tell us to turn where there isn't a street...)

He gave me the book companion to Ken Burns' The National Parks, a colonial couple cross stitch he bought at Valley Forge, and a time turner—it's a piece of jewelry, but it comes with a display case. Pity I can't make it work...I'd dial it back to vacation and do the last month and a half all over again! Where did the time go?

So we have been sitting watching A Christmas Story—and the birds at the feeder: the male red-headed woodpecker greedy at the big feeder, and two titmice sitting like little statues on the mount, and the white-breasted nuthatch eating upside down—and James called his mom, and now A Charlie Brown Christmas is on and Schuyler evidently likes the Guaraldi score 'cause she's singing along and James is starting his corn casserole...

A Christmas Gift

The color version of Truman Capote's bittersweet A Christmas Memory:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Looks like it may be uncut (except for the credits), unlike the copy I recorded from Macon's Channel 24 almost 20 years ago, and without a huge "bug" and time and temperature.

24 December 2009

How It All Began

Behind the Scenes: NORAD's Santa Tracker

The Christmas Spirit

How much more perfect for Christmas Eve? The gentle Lutheran-produced drama Davey & Goliath: Christmas Lost and Found.

23 December 2009

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW: The Battle for Christmas

by Stephen Nissenbaum

It was a long road from the original Christmas celebration in the United States to the child-centered, family-oriented holiday we know today: it began on our shores as a riotous, often-violent celebration of half-inebriated men and boys wandering from house to house, making loud noises and pounding on doors demanding liquor and food. In fact, this was the main reason the Puritans held Christmas in disregard for so long: not because it was an idolatrous birthday celebration, but because it was so long celebrated with drunkenness and incivility.

This is a scholarly but readable history that brings us from those obnoxious revelers to the Victorian celebration that is so close to what we celebrate today. Some critics wonder why Nissenbaum stopped there, but it's evident; all the elements were then in place. Covered are the drunken "callithumpians" versus the Puritan element, servants versus the upper class, the writing and influence of "A Visit from St. Nicholas," the change in the gifting dynamic, the rise of the "old-fashioned Christmas tree" as a vehicle for dispensing the gifts versus the stocking tradition, gifts for the poor, and the plantation traditions of the ante-bellum South. Also recommended on this subject: Penne Restad's Christmas in America.

Here and There on "Christmas Adam"

"Christmas Adam" is a joke I found somewhere; apparently a child piped up one day and said if December 24 was "Christmas Eve," then December 23 should be "Christmas Adam." I thought that was cute, especially as December 24 is the Feast Day of Adam and Eve. So I have tooled around this morning celebrating "Christmas Adam."

I was headed out to BJs for BreatheRight strips, as I've been out for a couple of days and I woke this morning with a stuffy nose. But on the way I stopped at Hobby Lobby for a last dose of Christmas cheer, knowing that on December 26 everything will be ripped up and shoved into a corner for sales while the rest of the store is turning pink and red for Valentines Day. Alas, the changeover has already started: the walls are cleared and moved to the seasonal aisles, and everywhere is already appearing signs of the dreaded "S" word: "S" for "Spring," that is, which leads to an even worse "S," horrendous "Summer."

However, I did have a good wander about and found some small winter decorations at half price, and something else that would make a gift. Then made a short stop at Borders, then went to BJs and found a...wait, if I mentioned it, it wouldn't be a surprise to someone, would it? Heh.

Finally stopped at Kroger to fill up the car, then went inside to buy some turkey thighs for Christmas Eve dinner—turned out we were completely out! I got one of the smaller carts and filled it up almost completely, then left with three packets of turkey thighs and a baguette. The rest was all for the Can Bank.

Most satisfying thing I bought all day, except for the surprise.

Vacuumed this afternoon and tried to tidy the coffee table a little, had bow-tie pasta for lunch and watched Rick Steves' talk about Granada and Gibraltar, but spent the afternoon watching "Lassie's Gift of Love" and "Christmas at Plum Creek" and, once again, "Merry Gentlemen." James arrived home early from his doctor's appointment; it's the final one. The doctor says his broken finger is healing fine; he just needs to keep exercising it.

Golly, I'm hungry...

22 December 2009


by Anne Perry

Dominic Corde, once the brother-in-law of Charlotte Ellison Pitt, is now a curate with a loving wife, Clarice, working in a dreary parish with an overbearing superior. When he is offered a temporary job at a church in a small village over the Christmas holidays, he jumps at the chance. But while he worries about what he can say to a congregation whose minister seems almost perfect, Clarice begins to suspect that there is something strange about the Reverend Wynter's holiday after she discovers that he has left his personal Bible—as well as other objects—behind, items he would have certainly taken on a holiday.

This was more like what I was expecting from an Anne Perry Christmas mystery, unlike A Christmas Grace: a compelling setting, a complex and interesting mystery, and Christmas as the background. Plus Perry's forté for description comes to the forefront: I could almost see the homey parsonage and feel the stinging cold of the snow and winter wind. The village characters are also an interesting lot as their mysteries are revealed, especially the sexton who suddenly gave up his job. All in all a satisfying short cozy.

Black and White Christmas

Last year I bought something called "Holiday Family Collection" off Amazon...it was less than $10. It's a bunch of old Christmas cartoons, some Christmas movies like The Great Rupert and Beyond Tomorrow, and Christmas episodes of mostly 1950s, but also early 1960s television series. I popped out the volume that had the television shows on it.

The first episode that started was "The Late Christmas Present," the very first Christmas episode of the Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, and it came with the original Aunt Jemima Pancake mix commercials. It was a sweet story: on Christmas afternoon Ricky and Ozzie go to the home of another Nelson family to see if the department store delivered Ricky's missing catcher's mitt to them. They find out Mrs. Nelson is a widow with three little children who had a tiny tree and a poor Christmas. So they gather toys and things to help them.

Next I played "Cannonball Christmas," from Petticoat Junction: Scroogy Homer Bedloe tries to shut the Hooterville train down on Christmas Eve, before the annual caroling tour. This was intact except the theme song was replaced due to copyright considerations. But it had the original Filmways logo! Following that, I put on the Paul Winchell Show episode. It was rather slapstick-y, although the second half was a "space cadet" 1950s look at the year 2000, where Paul spends Christmas on the moon. This came with the original Cheer commercials, for "new Blue Cheer," which was advertised as making your clothes so clean they needed no bleaching nor bluing. (Does anyone still know what "bluing" your clothes means?) It also had the old "NBC Television Presentation" logo and black-and-white logo at the end.

The next episode was "The Christmas Present" from the British Scarlet Pimpernel series, with Marius Goring as Sir Percy. And, oh, my ears and whiskers, Patrick Troughton playing one of his best friends! This was from 1955, the year I was born. The Pimpernel rescues four royal children from the clutches of Chauvelin. (Hey, this guy is good...he not only manages to bring four kids to England, but a donkey and a dog, too!)

One Shining Blue Day Before Christmas

Well, I'd started off to Publix with good intentions—until I realized I couldn't remember if I had locked the front door. So after I had recycled the plastic bags, I went back to the house. This would give me an opportunity to fetch the Borders coupon I had left behind.

I think sometimes God has a hand in these things, because, when I emerged from the house with coupon (and having locked both locks), I was entranced for about ten minutes by the antics of the bluebirds. They have just suddenly appeared at the feeder again, and now at least a half-dozen of them, perhaps as many as eight, both male and female, were chasing each other around, playing tag with each other, perching on Susan and Josh's mailbox, and racing back and forth between the front yard of the folks two doors away and the folks across the street. What fun to watch!

Anyway, I finally headed out, on my way to Borders. I stopped at Book Stop, a new used bookstore on Atlanta Road and Paces Ferry. It's very small; as usual in used bookstores, a lot of romances, but a fair amount of mystery. The proprietor is very nice. I picked up a copy of Rick Steves' Postcards from Europe.

I didn't stay at Borders very long; I was just there to pick up a copy of Ballet Shoes, which I have to admit I really enjoyed and wanted a copy of. From there I went to Michaels, which was a mistake. The Michaels in Smyrna is at a shopping center with a really funky intersection—James and I figure the highway engineer was on some good drugs at the time—and it was backed up as I entered because about four car lengths in there is a stop sign so you won't run over people going to the makeup store.

I'd hoped to get an early birthday gift at Michaels, but they didn't have anything I though was appealing. I did get a bunch of wintry Christmas picks; I had so many in my hand when I got to checkout that I looked like the Christmas bride I wanted to be (before I was talked out of it). Also found some Christmas stationery with robins and a snowman—how cute!

Overshot the Sibley Library in going down Atlanta Road in the other direction (toward downtown Marietta), so figured I would just go to the Central Library instead. I did a circuit and a half around the square and someone backed out of a space, so I took it as an omen and parked, just for a leisurely walk around the square.

I always pop into the antiques store on the corner of Church Street and North Park; they have an old wringer washer in the window and a green and white enameled range that reminds me of the one my godmother had, except I remember hers having the warming shelf. She probably loved having a new stove, but I always missed that pretty enamel-and-chrome one. This store doesn't sell all that many antiques anymore; mostly preserve goods and antique reproductions. I also went into the antique store a few doors down; they have lovely old furniture, including a bookcase cabinet that also looked like something my godmother once had, and a mahogany table with folding sides that looked a lot like the one in our house.

My last stop here on Church Street is always Willow Antiques Too. The other stores are decorated for Christmas with greens and ornaments here and there: a branch here, ornaments in egg cups, tinsel in a bowl. But when you walk into Willow the space around the checkout counter is always full of antique Santas and kugel and old candles and other Christmas-y things; it even has a big fireplace mantel to display things on. I love wandering all the way to the back to what was probably the original store's store-room. This year, on the way there, I found a bowl full of nativity figures that looked vintage with my own, which Mom and Dad collected a piece at the time from bins in Woolworths and Grants. One kneeling shepherd figure looked like a close match, so I bought him...we only have one shepherd to go along with the man with the eggs and the piper. I also bought a prim sheep, which I can't resist.

I was starving by this time, but didn't think I had time left to sit down and eat (it's only two hours parking downtown and I had already used up an hour). So I went into the Australian Bakery and bought a big cookie. I wanted an apple turnover but they didn't bake any today.

Finally I walked up to Antiques on the Square and Luke the white standard poodle was there! He was at the door greeting visitors and when I offered him my hand to sniff, his nose went immediately to the bag I had put the cookie in! Smart boy that!

This is a neat store to wander around because they have a lot of old photography equipment and record players along with the usual china, lots of LP records, old books, and other things. I was arrested by two copies of The Ladies' Home Journal on a shelf—oh, how I wish I had $90 to blow on the two of them! They were from October and November of 1918, with wonderful advertisements, including ones for World War I rationing, support of the troops, etc. Wow.

But my two hours were almost up, so I hiked back to the car and finally got my books back to the library. With my "to be read" pile at home, you would have thought I'd just head back out. But I wanted to see if they had Anne Perry's A Christmas Secret, and once I had that, it was just a short walk to two other Christmas books and some Sherlock Holmes short stories. I'm incorrigible.

But then I really was heading home, to have the rest of my goat cheese for lunch with crackers...

21 December 2009

The Shortest Day

Susan Cooper's classic winter solstice poem:

And so the Shortest Day came and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year's sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us - listen!
All the long echoes, sing the same delight,
This Shortest Day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And now so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.

And more about this afternoon's solstice:

Winter solstice 2009: What It's All About

Winter Solstice Rituals

Winter Solstice Facts

The Solstice and Yule

Meteorological winter actually began December 1.

The Christmas Mystery

I spent an interesting day either working in my craft room or wrapping Christmas gifts.

Two of the gifts require "presentation"—basically, I don't want the gift to look like what it is. So I am presenting it in a different way, which required some painting. I realized when I started to paint that the surface I was painting had a varnish on it. So I did manage to paint it, eventually, but it was a struggle. I made sure to use a little sandpaper on the second item and the painting went a bit better. Then the items were trimmed and left to dry.

I also started a decorative Christmas craft, but might use it as a gift, so will not talk about it.

I wrapped gifts one and two and three at the time, going back to the crafts, or to harvest crops in Farmville, or even to grab a peanut butter sandwich. I finally got to the last one I could do, which was wrapped in tissue paper and had the person's name upon it.

Except when I opened it, it wasn't a gift for that person at all, it was the two Christmas ornaments I had bought up at the Christmas shop in Dillard last April. Too weird. I swear I bought the gift...so where is it?

20 December 2009

A Good Day for Christmas Shopping

After a very late night on chat, on which we learned with relief that Rodney had made it safely to his mother's house for Christmas, after a harrowing 13 1/2 drive in the snowstorm that just hit from North Carolina northwards, we awoke around ten to still cloudy skies. However, the clouds cleared as the day progressed, but it never got much warmer. I don't think it topped 40°F today, which was fine with me. Wonderful weather for Christmas shopping. (Certainly better than 70s—I remember the first Christmas I was in Georgia and flew to Rhode Island, having to leave wearing my coat, hat, boots, and gloves because it would have taken a second suitcase to hold them, and it was about 72°degrees!)

Since it was almost eleven, we just grabbed a Special K meal bar out of the cupboard and split it, since we were planning to have lunch at our destination, Discover Mills. Ostensibly we were going out there (about an hour's drive) to check out the calendar store. James likes to get an aviation calendar each year and this store usually has the best choice. Also, I wanted to go to the Bass Pro Shop. If you've never seen one of these, it's a funky camping/hunting/fishing/outdoor living type amalgamation of a store, with a big fish tank of game fish and a waterfall and a rock climbing wall and at this time of year they even have a Santa Claus, outdoor outdoor-themed ornaments and lights, and gift items. We found we had a couple of extra presents to find, and Bass Pro was the perfect place to find one, as well as another we were working on. We found some neat stuff, and I discovered their bird suet was all 99¢ each, even the berry/peanut/fruit kinds, which are all over a dollar now at Lowes! I bought seven different kinds, and some collapsible cups, and a light that clips to your hat brim.

Anyway, the first thing we did was eat lunch at Johnny Rocket's. I had a cheddar grilled cheese sandwich, not because I had to, but because I wanted to. I love everything about this place except the music. WHY DOES IT HAVE TO BE SO LOUD? I should not have to shout to be able to talk to the waitress or to James across the booth from me. Sheesh.

We also passed by Bath and Body Works, which supplied another gift, and I discovered they had the mid-sized "lambie" figures on sale. This one has a brown face, so you can see its cute little stitched eyelashes.

We did get to the calendar place, although James did not see anything as unique as he wanted. He did get a discount calendar with jets on it, and bought a gift for a friend. I lucked out: not only found a New England Seasons calendar for work, but a Boston calendar for my craft room (with a lovely shot of Quincy Market in the snow), and a small Susan Branch calendar for the guest room. Enjoyed having Jen and Meggan this year and hope to have more guests next year. Shari says she thinks she will be able to come to the Twelfth Night party, so...that's one!

Of course if I don't finish wrapping gifts she will have nowhere to sleep. I now have three more to wrap!

Before leaving we popped in at Books-a-Million, and there was the December Country—yay! snow pictures!

We stopped at the Sandy Springs Trader Joe's and got some chicken and baby salad greens for supper, plus more Christmas goodies and another pumpkin tart. There were fresh balsam and cedar swags and wreaths outside and I contented myself to not being able to have them in the house by taking a few good sniffs. Mmmn!

Also stopped at MicroCenter for a small gift, so I think we really are done now, then fed the car and bought a newspaper (got a double paper, only to find there were no coupons this week—what goes? the next two weekends are the holiday weekends!) before heading home.

We had the Asian salad for supper, then watched the Grinch and A Very Merry Cricket, then while James baked some cookies, I watched four Christmas-themed Ask the Manager episodes (1980, two from 1981, with Joe Dimino, and Dan Berkery's first Christmas show in 1982). James has had a wild hair to bake some of the "Splenda and spice" cookies from the Splenda cookbook for a couple of weeks. These are bite-sized cookies which are supposed to be cinnamon-y, but he has fiddled with the recipe enough that they almost taste like gingerbread. He's also fiddled with an alternate recipe and makes a chocolate batch, with sugar-free Hershey's syrup.

And now we are watching Apollo 8: Christmas on the Moon. Talk about bringing back memories! Remember the astronauts reading from Genesis on Christmas Eve...when they played that clip I got goosebumps all over again.

Christmas Crackers

This appears to be a series of five minute films made for BBC television about different aspects of Christmas. Here they are in order:

"Nativity Tales"

"Making Merry"

"Commercial Christmas"

"Santa Claus"

"Festive Food"

"Green Christmas"

"A Time for Giving"

"Christmas Past"

"Christmas Climate"

"Christmas Animals"

19 December 2009

A Great Christmas Story

Daniel Taylor had this wonderful story linked on his blog. I wanted to link it, too, since it's such a wonderful story!

(This made me nostalgic as well—'cause I've been to that farmer's market. On the 1978 California trip with my parents, we got tickets to see Match Game, which was filmed at CBS Television City, and we ate lunch at the market. I know it was 1978, because they still had a poster up from CBS: On the Air, their 50th anniversary special which had aired earlier that year.)

18 December 2009

It's Time for Cookies...

...but it took a while to get there.

I had all the ingredients and the equipment set out, the recipe in front of me, had mixed all the dry ingredients—and then noticed the light shining in the wine bottle. There was something on the surface of the wine. It looked...oily. Eh? Opened the bottle and sniffed.

Okay, I'm a total wine dork. My paternal grandfather used to say I wasn't really Italian because I didn't like pepper or wine. Frankly, unless it's a sweet wine or sangria, it all tastes sour to me. Wine is to cook with (and not those nasty cooking wines, either). But this didn't smell right, either.

Now, it's tough being Italian in Georgia. In Rhode Island I could have popped in the car and driven to any liquor store (never mind driven up to the State Line Liquor stores in New Hampshire over leaf-peeping weekends) and found hearty burgundy wine. I called three liquor stores close to the house and none of them had it. Even worse, one was a wine store and the clerk had never heard of hearty burgundy wine. One clerk at a liquor store thought I was looking for a brand name ("Hardy").

Sigh. Good thing I hadn't started pre-heating the oven.

So I headed out into cold, miserable, mucky, grey weather (it was so dark the outdoor lights were on all day, a perpetual "dusk"), on the way to Harry's Farmer's Market, which was the only place I knew I might find it. (You can use regular burgundy, but it doesn't have the rich taste, nor does it turn the dough a proper color. Hearty burgundy is the closest I can come to my dad's father's wine, which was so dark it almost looked like grape juice. He had a "cold room" wine cellar off the basement and pressed his own grapes.) On the way, I noticed the big liquor store on Delk Road, Mink's. So I stopped there.

Again, the first clerk I talked to didn't know what I was talking about. Apparently there is an Australian brand of wine called "Hardy's"! I had to write down "hearty burgundy" for him ("hearty"—"hearty"; it's an adjective that means "strong"), and he went to ask the manager, who knew exactly what I was talking about. And there he found the nice bottle of Gallo and I went home, only an hour behind.

I had the SiriusXM Holiday Pops channel on all afternoon, and they were playing nice choral carols, like something you might have heard on the radio in the 1930s. I made two batches of wine biscuits (about 75; I lost count when I was putting them in the bowl). I make them now in mom's big green and patterned mixing bowl; it's a sweet tie to the past. By the time the second batch was ready to go in the oven, the first batch was ready to come out.

I had almost forgotten to eat and then all I had was a sandwich bun and some leftover turkey broth from a mug. So by the time I got the second batch I was exceedingly lightheaded and I went downstairs twice looking for the old cigar box Mom kept her recipes in when it was sitting right smack in back of the loveseat in my craft room under my nose.

I decided to try Mom's almond bars again. I made some last year and the batter was very sticky and I used almond extract, which was too strong. This year I used the Splenda baking mix sweetener and was expecting the dough to be very sticky again. Instead it was dry. I added a tiny bit more oil to it, then gave up and added, like I did last year, the rest of the egg mixture that I used to glaze the top of the wine biscuits. And before I shaped the dough I spread some canola oil on my hands so it wouldn't stick!

The little dough loaves shaped perfectly this time and baked nicely.

So now the table is set with Christmas cheer and Christmas food. And the house smells like cookies, smells like memories—smells like Christmas.

(Followed by soup for supper and then by a doubleheader of Dickens: Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol and Mickey's Christmas Carol, and now The Small One...braced for tears...)

British Christmas Films

"Santa Claus" from 1898

"Scrooge, or Marley's Ghost" from 1901

"Dreams of Toyland" from 1908

"Making Christmas Crackers" from 1910

"Christmas Under Fire" from 1941

"Christmas 1946" theatre greeting

"Christmas is Coming," a short film in silhouettes from 1951

Lagninappe (not Christmas, but fascinating just the same): "Old London Street Scenes" from 1903

Lots more old British films here.

17 December 2009

Christmas Music 12-17-2009

More from the CD collection:

• "A Leroy Anderson Christmas," Leroy Anderson and His Orchestra (except for "Sleigh Ride," done by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops)
Great collection of Christmas music arranged by Leroy Anderson, who is most famous for his arrangement of "Sleigh Ride," which became a Boston Pops signature Christmas tune. Along with "Sleigh Ride" and another Pops perennial, the medley "Christmas Festival," there are medley arrangements for brass, strings, and woodwinds. Great background music for work or party.

• "Perry Como's Greatest Christmas Songs"
Ahhh, Mr. Relaxed himself. After Bing Crosby, Perry Como was my mom's favorite singer, so we heard a lot of Mr. C around our house. This is a nice collection of sacred and secular, all sung in Perry's mellow style, including the two songs that were standards at our house, "I Saw Mommy Kissin' Santa Claus" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Hubby says he grew up on Gene Autry's "Rudolph," but it was Perry's version which held sway in our home.

• "A Christmas Collection", Volumes 1 and 2, Greg Miner
These are two interesting CDs I bought at Daedelus Books in Maryland several years back: Christmas music played on rare or interesting instruments. Along with the usual guitars and lovely things like dulcimers and harps, there are bluegrass-with-banjo arrangements and even some sitar versions of secular and sacred Christmas music. Well worth seeking out if you like unusual Christmas music.

• "Christmas in an Irish Castle," The California Revels
The Revels folks invite you to imagine an old-fashioned Christmas in Ireland: waits, Wren boys, feasting and of course whisky flowing freely! Toe-tapping dance music mixed with more thoughtful sacred melodies and even Irish narrative to help you envision an Irish feast. Sláinte!

• "Christmas Live!", Mannheim Steamroller
Live Christmas concert, with all my favorites (check out a previous post), including "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" and the haunting "Silent Night." Oh, yes. Wish the newest album hadn't featured vocalists. All good vocalists, you understand, but I don't buy Mannheim Steamroller to hear vocals.

• "Christmas Favorites by the Hollyridge Strings"
60s favorites finally released on CD: Christmas instrumentals in a bright, bouncy lounge style. These pieces of music were used as background themes for ages; if you're old enough, you probably remember them on local ads and television commercials. Their version of "Santa's Got a Brand New Bag" is particularly recognizable. Time travel to another era with these smooth Christmas tunes.

16 December 2009

Santa Claus is a Woman Because-

• The vast majorities of men don't even think about selecting gifts until Christmas Eve and only go for a last-minute shopping spree.
• For a he-Santa, there would be no reindeer because they would all be dead, gutted and strapped on to the rear bumper of the sleigh.
• Even if the male Santa did have reindeer, he would inevitably get lost up there in the snow and clouds and then refuse to stop and ask for directions.
• For a Santa man, there would be unavoidable delays in the chimney, where the Bob Vila-like Santa would stop to inspect and repaint bricks in the flue.
• He would also need to check for carbon monoxide fumes in every gas fireplace, and get under every Christmas tree that is crooked to straighten it to a perfectly upright 90-degree angle.
• Men can't pack a bag.
• Men would rather be dead than caught wearing red velvet.
• Men would feel their masculinity is threatened...having to be seen with all those elves.
• Men don't answer their mail.
• Men would refuse to allow their physique to be described even in jest as anything remotely resembling a "bowlful of jelly."
• Men aren't interested in stockings unless somebody's wearing them.
• Having to do the 'Ho Ho Ho' thing would seriously inhibit their ability to pick up women.
• Finally, being responsible for Christmas would require a commitment.

A tip of the hat to April on "Christmas to the Max."

14 December 2009


by Wally Lamb

The subtitle, "A Christmas Story," is a bit of a misnomer, but the last half of the story does take place at Christmas, so...close enough for this humorous memoir about Felix Funicello, whose only "claim to fame" so far in his ten years has been that he's distant cousins with former Mouseketeer/singer/movie star Annette Funicello. But in October of 1964, life changes for Felix: his fifth-grade parochial school teacher, Sister Dymphna, suffers a nervous breakdown and his class gets a lay teacher, a French-Canadian woman with a decidedly Gallic outlook on life (and the curriculum, since they now have French lessons); his mom gets in the Pillsbury Bake-Off semifinals; Felix himself and his pals will be in a future audience of the local Ranger Andy television show; and an outrageous Russian student joins their class. Into this heady mix stir the usual class teacher's pet, Felix's growing awareness of the opposite sex (partially stimulated by his slightly older best friend), and the approaching class Nativity pageant.

It all turns out to be a very funny, very true portrait of a 1960s Italian family in southern Connecticut, a "slice-of-life" story that reaches its hilarious conclusion at the Nativity pageant. If I have any complaint with this book, it's that Lamb almost throws in TOO many 1960s references...hair scrunchies, references to TV and radio personalities, references to the newfangled idea of "subscription television," etc. in an effort to portray the era. But for me it didn't overwhelm the sheer fun of the story--and it even ends with an American Graffiti-like "whatever happened to" epilog which provides the tale with a perfect capper. Enjoyable, especially for nostalgia buffs and those who, like me, remember the early 1960s.

13 December 2009

A Day of Lights and the Glitter of Tinsel

Oh, it's been a busy weekend preparing for Christmas.

Usually I put up the tree on my birthday, which was Friday, but James hadn't brought the tree upstairs yet, and I still had the Rudolph tree to put up. So I did so, and had to fix a couple of other things. Then I cleared off the coffee table so it would be ready for me to sort out ornaments.

I felt myself starting to obsess about this and had to slow myself down.

We had to get up early for Hair Day on Saturday, as our hairdresser, Sheri, was going to a Christmas party. We brought cornbread to go with the main dish, different kinds of chili (Alex made three! a white turkey chili, a regular chili with pork, and Cincinnati chili), and gingerbread (unlike Sook, it's not "fruitcake weather" for me, but "gingerbread weather"). Before we went to the hobby shop, we stopped at Kroger for milk and things. No worries about the milk staying in the truck; it was colder than the refrigerator outside, a chill day with temps in the thirties.

While we were at the hobby shop I took the opportunity to go to the hardware store across the parking lot and buy a space heater for our bathroom. With that big picture window in it, it's never warm enough in there in the winter. (Saturday night it was about 57°F in there; in 16 minutes it had raised the temp 10 degrees.) The owner was exceedingly grumpy that I used a coupon and that I paid with my credit card.

We were keeping an eye on the weather. We were supposed to drive out to Birmingham tonight to our friend Shari's Christmas party, but they had been predicting a hard rain since Thursday. Now, as the forecast settled out, it looked like the periods of rain were supposed to be worst at 5 p.m. (when we would be driving out there) and 1 a.m., when we would be coming home. Plus, last year we went to Hair Day and Shari's party on the same day, too. Between Ron and Lin's cats and Shari's cats, I ended up riding home from Birmingham with a burgeoning allergy attack.

So we reluctantly decided not to go, and instead stopped at BJs on the way home for something we'd forgotten, then came home. We had one of those Hormel packaged meat dinners, beef with bourbon sauce, with some white rice. Pretty good. Then we moved the rocking chair into our bedroom and James brought the tree up, and the box with the ornaments, and I commenced to decorate, since we wanted something Christmasy.

I just took my time. I didn't start until after eight, and we had to fluff the tree and, ::sigh::...get the lights working...parts of two strings were out...we just pressed at them; the bulbs must have been loose, because that did the trick. And refasten the lights to the branches, as taking the tree up that narrow staircase isn't conducive to tight lights. LOL. I was even on chat for a while as I put the last set or two of ornaments on the tree. You see, James found a chat program for the Droids. He set his up, then helped me set mine up. Yep, I can chat on the phone now!

I just decided to wait until today to put on the tinsel. James said last night, "You know, you don't have to put on tinsel." Well, yeah, I do. Our trees always had tinsel. [By "tinsel," I mean silver icicles, of course.] My grandparents' and relatives' trees always had tinsel. Garland is okay for the smaller trees, but it's not really a Christmas tree to me unless there's tinsel. It makes the tree live, and breathe.

(We were talking about tinsel last night on chat. Jen said she had only ever know the light, mylar stuff. Pretty much so did I. Lead tinsel was banned by the time I was growing up. I had relatives who still had it, because as a prudent, non-wasteful person, you removed it from the tree and returned it to its holder till next year. In fact, we did the same with the mylar, unless it got too wrinkled. And I did so when I moved out on my own. But the tinsel they're making today is thinner than the mylar tinsel from back then. It's like that fluffy "angel hair" that was once popular for trees. It's so thin and frangible that I have to remove it after Christmas and toss it. Makes me feel wasteful.)

Didn't get to bed until two, and had a nice sleep in, then went to Costco for lunch...cough...we were actually looking for a gift, but they didn't have it. Lots of nice samples for Christmas: chocolates, crab cakes, lobster spread, salsa, meatballs, cocoa and biscotti, potstickers, chicken nuggets, cheesecake, garlic chicken pasta, gouda cheese...

Found the gift in Best Buy, so we're all done. One may need augmenting. I'll see when I wrap.

Anyway, spent the rest of the afternoon tinseling the tree. When you're starting at the back, on the first branch, you wonder if it's worth it.

When you're halfway through and your back is hurting, you wonder if it's worth it.

When your hands are cold and the static electricity is making the tinsel stick to the carpet, you, the end table next to the tree, and the fireplace hearth, you wonder if it's worth it.

When it's finished, and James pushes the tree inch by inch back into the corner (because it can't be decorated in the corner, as there's no way to get to the back) on the unstable carpet, and all the lights are plugged into the timer and it turns on...yeah, it's worth it. Every single aching muscle.

And then, although I had said I would do it later, I vacuumed because I couldn't stand it anymore. And then I sat in front of the tree and put the manger set up, figure by figure, the one bought piece by piece by my mother from the bins at Woolworths and W.T. Grants and Newberrys...the Holy Family, the angel, three kings, three camels and the camel driver, the ox and ass, the man offering eggs, the boy playing the flute, the shepherd, and a flock of sheep and one goat and the sheepdog, all in or around the wooden stable. I bought one of those lights for it, the ones that go in village houses, and it has a yellow light bulb, of course, so the Baby Jesus is softly illuminated with heavenly Light.

Somewhere in the middle of all of that we had some thin steaks for supper with ramen noodles, and I finally got to sit and watch Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

And now we are having our annual Remember WENN Christmas chat party. We gather in the chat room and watch the episode "Christmas in the Airwaves" together. Always great fun!


by Patricia MacLachlan

Siblings Lily and Liam look forward all year to Christmas on their grandparents' farm, where they will help Grandpa with the chores, take snowy walks, withdraw books from "the lilac library," and shop in the small village nearby for Christmas gifts. But this year Liam is worried; their favorite farm animal, "White Cow," is now alone and seems unhappy. And if it takes everything he has, Liam will make sure White Cow is no longer sad.

It's hard to put a finger on an era for this book. It reads as old-fashioned, almost 1940s, with no television, computers, videogames—the kids are actually voracious readers!—or even radio in sight. On the other hand, MacLachlan refers to "chapter books" and a volume about "the emotional lives of cows," which no one in the 1940s would have cared about. Not pinning the time down is probably deliberate, to make the story seem timeless, and in the end it does. It's a good-natured, sweet book about two kids who do a good deed, something you might read aloud on Christmas Eve by the light of the Christmas tree to younger children. Older kids might find it "corny."

I loved the beautifully detailed black-and-white illustrations as well.

Blast from the Past: Christmas 1974

This was produced by Bill Melendez, which is why the animation looks vaguely like the "Peanuts" stories. Jimmy Osmond rather yowls the title tune, but otherwise this is pretty sweet.

Yes, Virginia, There is Santa Claus, Part 1

Yes, Virginia, There is Santa Claus, Part 2

Yes, Virginia, There is Santa Claus, Part 3

12 December 2009

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW: Christmas Miscellany

by Jonathan Green

Call it "Christmas 101 Lite." This charming, gift-book size volume, first published in Great Britain, answers the questions about our most cherished Christmas customs—like: What's myrrh? Why do we send Christmas cards? What's a figgy pudding?—with a British slant (Christmas crackers, plum pudding, etc. are included). The particular charm of this little volume are the illustrations, which are taken from Victorian magazines, "scraps" of 19th century illustrations, old Christmas postcards, and a few recent things, like a 1963 postage stamp. The light tone of the author and the colorful illustrations combine for a fun-to-read book that could be left out on a coffee table or in a spare room for guests to peruse. A worthy addition to a Christmas library.

11 December 2009

Linda's Top 10 Christmas Songs

Per Ivan's informal challenge...but, sorry, in no particular order (it being understood that these will probably change...maybe by tomorrow...LOL!):

Nat King Cole, "The Christmas Song" — So many versions, but this one just says "Christmas" to me.

Mannheim Steamroller, "Silent Night" — What an arrangement; nearly breaks my heart.

The Carpenters, "It's Christmas Time/Sleep Well, Little Children" — I love to sing along with the first half of this one and try to keep up; the second half makes me feel soft and warm and safe.

Andy Williams, "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" — Gets all those happy Christmas juices going! (Trying to figure out which other of the songs on the first side of Andy Williams "red album" I would pick, as I love 'em all; probably "Kay Thompson's Jingle Bells." Talk about a song that gets your pulse pounding!)

Bing Crosby, "White Christmas" — Another "safe and warm" song, and reminds me of my mom; but I have to admit, "Do You Hear What I Hear?" would come in a close second.

James Galway, "Shepherd's Pipe Carol" — Almost impossible to pick one from Galway's Christmas album, but I think this one edges out the rest...the sense of joy is tangible.

Johnny Mathis, "I'll Be Home for Christmas"? — always makes me cry.

The Singers Unlimited, "Bright, Bright, the Holly Berries" — One of the standards on Providence's old "beautiful music" station WLKW

From the Charlie Brown Christmas album, "Christmastime is Here" — Probably the most perfect of the post-1960 carols.

Bruce Mitchell, "Joy to the World" — Great, great instrumental arrangement from the Narada Christmas album.

With honorable mentions to:

John Denver, "Aspenglow"

Nancy Wilson, "The Christmas Waltz"

Oh, yeah, and the album version of John Denver and the Muppets "We Wish You a Merry Christmas": "Figgy pudding! Figgy! It's made with figs!" "Oh!" "And bacon!"

09 December 2009

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW: Christmas Traditions

by Helen Szymanski

Like Szymanski's previous collections, these are short pieces in a "Chicken Soup for the Soul" type of vein. There are some sweet stories that even contain some ideas for new Christmas traditions, like placing love notes on a Christmas tree or sledding in the moonlight, but several of the stories sound rather commonplace rather than being extraordinary. Some good ethnic and vintage pieces, though; all in all a mixed bag of nostalgia. In short, if you like these types of stories, you will enjoy this book.

Christmas Music 12-9-2009

More cassettes:

♥ "Christmas," Mannheim Steamroller
The original! I remember listening to this in 2004, driving from Plymouth to Quincy—we'd keep finding stations playing Rush Limbaugh; when one would fade out another would come up, and all he was playing was this album. From a funky "Deck the Halls" to a jazzy "Good King Wenceslas" to the slow-building "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen," and an arrangement of "Silent Night" that will break your heart.

♥ "Wassail! Wassail! Early American Christmas Music," The Revels
This is one of only two albums I have with "Twas in the Moon of Wintertime" ("The Huron Carol") which I recall learning in school. A Canadian priest translated the story of Jesus to the Huron people in terms they could understand: Jesus is the son of the Great Manitou and is wrapped in rabbit skins rather than swaddling clothes. Between the songs are a folksy narrative telling the Christmas story and Jean Ritchie's Appalachian memories.

♥ "A Gift of Song," Mason Williams
Mr. Classical Gas himself. Guitar, of course, plus other woodwinds and percussion. Very pleasant "Seventies Sound."

♥ "A Music Box Christmas," Columbia Records
Love this one—sounds like authentic music boxes. I have some Porter "music box" albums that sound like they are actually synthesized music box sound (actually, some of them must be as the songs are modern ones). On this you can hear the twang of the metal along with the tinkling of the tunes.

♥ "Christmas," the Singers Unlimited
Mixed choral heavily featuring women. A staple of beautiful music stations at Christmastime some thirty years ago; I remember most of them being played on WLKW out of Providence.

06 December 2009

Remember "The Raccoons"?

Here's their Christmas outing, with Rita Coolidge as the voice of Melissa and Rupert Holmes as Dan the forest ranger.

The Christmas Raccoons, Part 1

The Christmas Raccoons, Part 2

The Christmas Raccoons, Part 3

03 December 2009

"Holiday Gifts" 1900

Expensive ones, too. This is the first article in the December 1900 edition of House Beautiful (yes, the magazine's been around that long)!

Do note the use of "holiday," proving that its use today is not simply a politically-corrected modernism.

02 December 2009

Christmas Music 12-2-2009

This time from the CD collection:

• "Holiday Pops" with Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops.
One of my very favorites! Contains "Tomorrow is My Dancing Day" which makes me want to dance! Also a toe-tappin' swing version of "Good King Wenceslas," the classic "Christmastime is Here" from A Charlie Brown Christmas, and one of my recent favorites, the triumphant "Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas!" from Home Alone 2 which brings in Christmas with ringing voices. "Yes!"

• "Narada: The Christmas Collection" (various)
Contains one of my all-time favorite arrangements of "Joy to the World," done by Bruce Mitchell and a lilting version of "I Saw Three Ships" by David Arkenstone. Nice quiet New Age arrangements of traditional carols—chill-out music.

• "A Traditional Christmas" (various artists)
A more traditional album, with well-known singers. Stirring version of "O Holy Night" by Bing Crosby; what lovely pipes the man had. Andy Williams' "A Song and a Christmas Tree" (a takeoff of "12 Days of Christmas") is a favorite. Peggy Lee, Lena Horne, Al Martino, and more...and of course the incomparable Nat "King" Cole singing "The Christmas Song." Would it be Christmas without it?

• "Piano Winterlude" (David Huntsinger)
I found Huntsinger's "Autumn in New England" many years ago and fell in love with it, then much later got his "New England by Piano," but didn't know about this one, which once upon a time was for sale at Michaels with other instrumentals and I didn't buy it, until a few years ago. Hunted up a copy posthaste...don't regret the search. Huntsinger's style is closer to Tim Janis than to George Winston, but more subtle.

• "A Victorian Christmas Revels" (the Revels)
The Revels organization started out doing recreations of medieval Christmas revels in the Cambridge, MA, area. Now there are different Revels groups across the US and they also have springtime, summer, and other shows, but the most famous of these is still their Christmas Revels, which, each year, highlight a different culture or time period, with period music and costume. This outing recreates Victorian England, with traditional carols as well as a visit to the great Victorian equalizer, the music hall, where such ditties as "Down at the Old Bull and Buch" and the humorous "Don't Have Any More, Mrs. Moore" add to the entertainment of the day. Much fun.

• "Simple Gifts: A Windham Hill Collection" (various)
More New Age, perfect for a rainy day such as today. Lovely melancholic pieces like "New Trees at Knockaun" and "Snow Shadows," plus more traditional fare like "Adeste Fideles" and "O Holy Night." George Winston does "Greensleeves," there's the lilting "In Bethlehem City," and it finishes up with an instrumental version of How The Grinch Stole Christmas's "Welcome Christmas."

• "James Galway's Christmas Carol" (James Galway, of course, and chorus)
Flute music with chorale accompaniment as sweet as Christmas candy and less fattening. This is one of those albums that just says (sings?) "Christmas" to me: the delightful lilt of "Shepherd's Pipe Carol," "Fantasia on 'I Saw Three Ships'" which makes me want to do an Irish jig, the lyrical "Past Three O'Clock," and the achingly beautifully sweet "Sheep May Safely Graze"—and twelve more lovely pieces. Should be in everyone's Christmas library.

01 December 2009

Vintage Christmas Recordings

What did Christmas music sound like at the turn of the last century? Recorded sound was still a novelty in the 19th century and the early 20th century recordings sound much different (even discounting crackle and pop of old records) than today. Check out these free MP3 downloads from archive.org...you can play them on the web or download the whole album or the individual tracks.

Some of the tracks, like "Christmas Time at Pumpkin Center" and "Uncle Josh Plays Santa Claus" are humorous recitations. In "Come and Spend Christmas With Me," you will hear the singing style of the time. "Santa Claus Hides in the Phonograph" had Santa speaking directly to children, a novelty back in 1922!

Internet Archive—Free Download: Voices of Christmas Past - 1898 to 1922