31 December 2010

St. Sylvester's Day

I always like that New Year's Eve is St. Sylvester's. I used to have the cutest little budgie named Sylvester, blue with a yellow face...he used to sit on my knee and say "Birds can't talk"...I remember one time I was sick, I fixed him a little spot on my blanket, sitting on a Kleenex, and we both took a nap together. Every once in a while I would open one eye to check on him and I would see him open one eye to check on me back, and we took care of each other.

Ah, my last day off. I did some bathroom cleaning today, and then had to get something to the post office, so I threw on a jacket and went out. Wish I'd changed shirts, because by the time I was out an hour, it was getting really warm (it went up to 65°F today) and I would have loved to have taken it off. Since I was out anyway, I went to the Borders at Parkway Pointe and to my surprise, found the January issue of the British "Country Living." I've never seen one of those for the next month during the present month before (if you know what I mean).

Finding that made me think of finding the November "Best of British" a few weeks back. Could it be possible they might have gotten the next issue? Yeah, I got drawn into Buckhead. Went through Mt. Paran Road, happy to see that so many people have left up their Christmas decorations through the new year this year. Last year, so many folks seemed to rip everything down right after Christmas.

Alas, the Borders in Buckhead still had the November one. I still hope that means they might have a December one in future weeks. I miss "Best of British." I did find "Sully's" book for $4, though, and something for James for Valentines Day.

Came home through the freeway rather than surface streets because I feared ending up behind yet another SUV doing 20MPH. I wanted to get home in 2010, not 2011. :-)

I made a chicken salad sandwich and sat down to work on yesterday's blog entry while watching "The Little Christmas Tree" with Lassie and Corey Stuart, the wonderful film The Gathering with Edward Asner and Maureen Stapleton, and "The Ghost of Christmas Past" from The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. Then a surprise! James got out early! So he was able to come in and relax while I watched Rudolph's Shiny New Year, and as twilight came on we went out to supper at Ken's (pork chops, of course, and sliced tomatoes), then drove to Life University to see their "Lights of Life" display. We hadn't done that yet this season. They had a couple of new displays, including a "praying hands," and so many of their lights are now done in LED; the dragon looks particularly good with LED lighting.

For a New Year's treat we had ice cream at Bruster's. We were astonished to see that the IHOP was closed. Wow. I didn't think the IHOP ever closed!

And then we came home and did what everyone does on New Year's Eve...watched The Poseidon Adventure? What? You don't? We got into the habit when Fox Movie Channel used to show it back to back to back on New Year's Eve, one year the full screen alternating with the widescreen, another year the movie alternating with the movie with pop-up facts, one year with a documentary on Poseidon Adventure fans (and they say science fiction fans are odd!). They quit doing it the year of the tsunami.

Now we are watching the network festivities, listening to firecrackers going off outside, and holding a party on chat. Home with family and online with more family. good times.

Oh, oh! Happy New Year, everyone!

The House Without a Christmas Tree, Gail Rock
Another perennial favorite, this of course is based on the Christmas special of the same name. Rock's text fleshes out the characters even more: we learn more about Grandma's eccentricities, witness Carla Mae's home life that so appeals to Addie, and other details that add more to the story. The book tale is different in minor ways that don't detract from the television story and vice versa. A book to find if you were fond of the special and always wished for more of Addie.

30 December 2010

New Year's Eve Eve

A partially busy and partially relaxing day. I did some cleaning and stripped the bed. I also went to Borders and scored the new "Yankee" plus some bargain books, including The Best Mystery Stories of 2008, which has a story by Rupert Holmes in it. I then went over to Love Street to use my birthday coupon. I bought some vintage looking Christmas decorations and a gift for next year, and then strolled over to their sister store and bought a couple of gifts for next year.

In the afternoon I listened to Holiday Traditions and read for a while, then prepared for the evening. I put all the gifts I needed in a carry bag, got myself ready, put some sugarless cookies on a plate, made sure I had James' camera and the Flip, walked Willow and gave her supper, and then waited for Juanita to come pick me up. This way James could come to the Lawsons' house directly from work.

It is so cool to see Juanita driving again! Many, many years ago she shattered the heel of one foot, and it has been getting worse and worse. Last January she had surgery to correct the problem and has been in a cast most of this year because it wasn't healing properly. The doctor finally tried hyperbaric treatments and that seems to have worked.

So we had a combination game night/present-fest and it was a lot of fun. Beef stew was the main course, with several sides and snacks, and homemade cookies made by Alice and a cake made by Aubrey (age 17). We played Yahtzee Free for All and also Ready! Set! Sync Up! and also got some cool gifts. But we sure should have headed home earlier; when we got in it was a scramble to get Willow walked, remake the bed (since I can't put the fitted sheet on myself since the mattress is so heavy), get lunch ready, and get ready for bed. We didn't get to bed until after midnight.

A Williamsburg Christmas, The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation
This is a lovely, slim mostly pictorial book about the decorations and celebrations of Colonial Williamsburg at Christmastime. If you have never seen the colonial city in Yuletide garb, you'll have a treat in seeing for the first time the Della Robbia-like wreaths and garlands, the tables covered with colonial foods, the inhabitants in holiday garb, shining candlesticks and glowing candles, the Virginia countryside in the snow, and photos of celebratory activities. If you're a Christmas fan, you'll love this book.

The Solstice Evergreen, Sheryl Ann Karas
While researching the secular history of the Christmas tree, Karas discovered there were versions of evergreen legend in all cultures, from Japan to Native American to Russian. This volume traces that history along with the various ethnic stories that support the tree legends. I found the legends interesting but the narrative was a bit plodding.

A Wee Christmas Homicide, Kaitlyn Dunnett
This is the third in Dunnett's series of Scottish mysteries, set in the small town of Moosetookalook (don't you love that name?), Maine? Liss MacCrimmon, a former professional Scots dancer whose career was ended by a knee injury, now runs her aunt's Scottish Emporium. When a lack of snow before Christmas ruins the local businesses, Liss devises an idea to run a 12 Days of Christmas promotion involving "Tiny Teddies," a hot new toy out of stock in most of the Northeast, except in Moosetookalook. The promotion works, but with people fighting over the collectible toys, a more bizarre crime occurs: a Tiny Teddy in the window of a local toy store is shot—then followed by the shooting death of the acerbic, avaricious toy store owner.

I hadn't read the other books in the series, but it seemed pretty easy to catch up with the plots surrounding Liss, the two men vying for Liss' affection, Liss' aunt, the deputy sheriff, and the other regular residents and places of Moosetookalook. The mystery was fairly perplexing, and I liked the Maine setting, but the characters didn't particularly grab me enough to purchase the other two books. YMMV!

29 December 2010

Feast Day of St. Thomas á Becket

Ah, there's the alarm! I shut it off, lay in bed a few minutes, then got up and...

...wake up in bed? Oh, bother. I only dreamed I got up. It's not like I really overslept; it was only 8:18.

Did some vacuuming and washed two loads of clothes. Between drying one and washing another I went to BJs. I wanted to get ham for New Year's dinner, and I needed Prilosec, and we needed loretadine and Mandarin orange cups. There were two coupons, so I got some Nathan's "lil smokies" and mini egg rolls for the party, and also picked up toothbrushes and some baked chips for James' lunch. They didn't have any multipacks of black-eyed peas, which James must have for the New Year, so on the way home I stopped for them at Food Depot and also got some pineapple for the ham.

Spent the afternoon dubbing off the various Christmas things I wanted to keep: the gingerbread special, The Real Story of Christmas, the Santa special, and the Prep and Landing short. In the meantime, I cooked some pork ribs in the crock pot, with teriyaki, soy, and black sauces, sweetened with a little maple sugar and syrup. Later I dubbed off European Christmas Markets and the Keeping Up Appearances Christmas special.

Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop, edited by Otto Penzler
These mystery short stories were commissioned each year by Penzler as a gift given to his customers, now collected in this volume; each of the stories required to take place at Christmas and have part of the action take place at Penzler's famed Mysterious Bookshop. Some of the stories are straight mysteries, others involve just desserts; predictably, many of the mysteries involve books, book collectors, or book manuscripts. There's even one about revenge, and another from the point of view of a sociopath. I generally enjoyed the lot, although, sorry to say, my least favorite story was by S.J. Rozan, whose Lydia Chin mysteries I really enjoy. Other favorites were by Lawrence Block, Ed McBain (a very sad ending there!), Thomas H. Cook, Michael Malone, Mary Higgins Clark, and of course the merry wordplay of Rupert Holmes. A bonus for mystery and Christmas fans.

The Night the Stars Sang, by the publishers of Guideposts
This is a collection of anecdotes, stories, and poetry collected by the inspirational magazine "Guideposts," with Victorian "scraps" and photographs of Christmas decorations and snowy scenes for illustrations, and beautiful illuminated music sheets as chapter title illustrations. It is prettily done and features a novelty, a map of the road Mary and Joseph took to Bethlehem and what they would have seen along that road. In the final section there are some Christmas crafts for children as well as some traditional and non-traditional recipes. Plus it has a story I hadn't read in years, Grace Livingston Hill's "The Story of the Lost Star." My copy lacks the pretty cover, but it detracts only slightly from the delightful interior.

The Best of Christmas in My Heart: Volume 2, Joe Wheeler
Wheeler has been publishing these compilations of old Christmas stories and modern anecdotes and stories he has written himself for many years; I have the four Doubleday compilations and a few of the original volumes, so I was reluctant to buy either one of these "Best of" volumes for fear of getting repeats. The first one did contain mainly stories that I had, but to my surprise, there was only two repeats, "The Littlest Orphan and the Christ Baby" and "The Real Christmas Spirit." I prefer the old stories to the couple of inspirational "Chicken Soup for the Soul" type tales that have wandered in this volume, but anyone who places an Albert Payson Terhune story in a book already thick with the spirit of Christmas is fine with me.

28 December 2010

Holy Innocents Day (Childermas)

This is the day on which King Herod ordered all the male children of two years and younger to be murdered, in order to kill the Messiah. It is considered bad luck to start a project on this day, so I ended one instead.

In the past my bank has sent numerous additional check cards to our house, some in James' name, because his name is on my checking account. Mine is on his, too, for emergencies, but neither of us wants each other's cards. Just recently five, count 'em, five, new cards arrived, some bearing my name, some bearing James's, and then the cards were followed by letters saying they had to be activated by January 15. What the heck?

So I took the whole caboodle of them to the bank this morning and had the woman cancel ever single blessed one of them except one, which will serve as my new debit card (old debit card was supposedly good until 2012, but they are changing over debit card affiliations from Visa to Master Card, so we get a new one). She cut up all the cards and those are out of my hair.

I went by the library to turn in this year's book donations, and also to pick up one of my two (cross fingers) interlibrary loans. I have read eight of the ten "Camp Fire" novels that Hildegard Frey wrote online (they are out of copyright), and wanted to get the other two. I got Larks and Pranks today, number five, the volume which explains a lot of references in the remainder of the books, like where "the House of the Open Door" (their converted barn meeting-place) came from, how Katherine Adams joined the group, and just who the heck Veronica was, not to mention how they met the boys from "The Sandwich Group" and got their pet donkey, Sandhelo.

From there I went out to Wild Birds Unlimited to see if they had another Christmas mailbox wrap. Forlorn hope, I'm afraid. I did get a nice backyard bird book for half price and got a window feeder with a discount.

Then made the mistake of going to Borders. :-) Four bargain books later...three of them are British! One is Dawn French's memoir, and there is also a book of humorous anecdotes and an adventure novel, plus a novel called Flygirls, about an African-American young woman who is "passing" and joins the WASPS during World War II.

Stopped at Trader Joe's on the way home for a few goodies for the New Year, since we can't spend it celebrating with friends, and came home to watch a few old Christmas shows: the episode of The Famous Jett Jackson where Jett heals a rift between his great-grandmother and an old friend, So Weird where Fi finds herself going back in time, and "Yes, Punky [Brewster], There is a Santa Claus." Then I had a hankering to watch The House Without a Christmas Tree again, so I did.

By then James was home, and we had barbecue beef brisket with baguette on the side, and a few of Emma's cookies each for dessert, and are now watching an old Boston Pops concert I had found on one of my videotapes and converted to DVD. We miss seeing these so much! They used to air on A&E every year, with Jack Perkins and Mary Richardson as hosts, back when A&E had interesting stuff like Christmas Past and rebroadcasts of stories like Flambards instead of a mess of useless reality shows. Their broadcast of Pops Goes the Fourth was sure better than CBS's abortion that never shows the "1812 Overture" (since it's more important to show some overpriced celebrity "singer"). This Holiday at Pops featured Conan O'Brien doing "The Night Before Christmas."

27 December 2010

Feast of St. John

Otherwise after-Christmas shopping day. I have some business to transact this week at the bank and a donation to leave at the library, but I'll deal with it later. Today was crisp, cold, and just made for a ride up to Acworth. The sky was overcast when I started out, but by the time I arrived, the sky was breaking through the clouds and was a mesmerizing electric blue—just glorious!

I'd stopped by CVS, intending to buy their tinsel full price anyway, but they had put everything away except for the candy and the cards. So I headed up Macland Road to Lost Mountain. The first part of this route is past homes with some land around them, so all looked beautiful with the snow still frosting the grass.

There is a Kroger off Stilesboro Road, just before I get to Cobb Parkway, and I stopped there to see what Christmas things they had left over. I found two little spherical candle holders that look like mercury glass on half price, so bought them for winter decor. Then I crossed over to Walgreens, where they did have tinsel at half price. I bought five boxes, and also a nice rust-colored sweatshirt at $4. I have a turkey iron-on I would like to use on it to make a fall shirt.

Finally I arrived at Books-a-Million. Didn't find much Christmasy except for Kate DiCamillo's picture book Great Joy (the beautiful soft-focus pastel pictures are actually by Bagram Ibatoulline) half price. The illos are 1940s era, so I couldn't resist. Also found the newest Early American Life and also was seduced by a stuffed red panda. When I was very small, there was a story about an Asian boy and his pet red panda in one of our school readers. I don't remember the plot, but I've never forgotten the cute little red panda. There's also a red panda (often labeled as a cat) in the Toei film Panda and the Magic Serpent, which I remember being shown during the holidays on television.

(The "firefox" of the Firefox web browser, incidentally, is not a red fox; it's a red panda.)

Michaels, across the street from Books-a-Million, had pretty much been stripped of its Christmas finery and the pinky glow of Valentine decorations was rapidly appearing. (I didn't mind this so much as walking into Kroger and seeing Easter eggs!) I did find some silver pine cones in pine and holly leaves to fit into the two little "mercury glass" containers, a box for my jewelry-making bits, and more rechargeable AAA batteries for my wireless mouse (used the 50 percent off coupon on them). In front of Michaels was the only place I saw a lot of ice; it was like a skating rink right in front of the store. Anything left on the road had already melted by the time I headed south to the only Hallmark store I know that puts its ornaments half price instead of 40 percent off.

But they didn't have much left at all. I did get another bag of the miniature hooks, which are so useful, and a tiny little gift for Two People I Know Who Are To Be Married. :-) Then I cut through the back and went to Hobby Lobby and then to JoAnn. For once the magazines weren't on sale at JoAnn, so I could use my coupons on them: a "Cross Stitch Collection" with a Christmas robin design and the newest "New Stitches." All Christmas was 70 percent off, so I got plates for the Twelfth Night party as well.

From JoAnn I went home via Kennesaw National Battlefield Park and Kennesaw Avenue, where the big old houses are. Some of them were decorated with evergreen swags and red bows, and these looked lovely against what snow was left, which wasn't much!

Pearl S. Buck's Book of Christmas
I found this big fat book of Christmas tales at the library book sale. Although it has the requisite collection of Christmas classics, including the inevitable A Christmas Carol, "The Fir Tree," Washington Irving's "Old Christmas" entries, "A Kidnapped Santa Claus," "Gift of the Magi," etc. However, half the stories were new to me, including a trio by Frank R. Stockton, who wrote so many fairy tales for St. Nicholas, some European Christmas tales, a good helping of ghost stories, and others with a fillip of humor, like the opening tale, "Christmas at Thompson Hall" by Anthony Trollope. I found it amusing that, along with "The Little Match Girl" and several other stories about poor people freezing to death during the Christmas season, there is a story about a writer who pens such stories and who is haunted by the characters who have frozen to death! There's even a story that was almost in St. Nicholas, from its sister publication, Scribner's Magazine.

Of course this book is out of print, but if you see it at a used book store, I would recommend this book for anyone looking for a good Christmas anthology with some unusual and not always collected Christmas tales.

26 December 2010

On the Feast of Stephen

Despite the dire predictions on the weather, we woke to find only a breezy, chilly day; the wind crept under your coat and down your neck with iced fingers. The snow gave everything a nice frosty look, but even the side roads were dry and clear. We drove to Kroger in an off-and-on swirl of flurries that were leaving small, perfect flakes on windshield and car sides. Plus Radio Classics still had some Christmassy shows on, including a Bing Crosby variety program. We stopped at CVS on the way there, and Walgreen on the way back, looking for bargains, but just found a little china grocery to go under the library tree and two automatic candles—LEDs that you turn on at a certain hour, they burn for eight hours, and then turn off until that same hour the next day, and run until you shut them off. I suppose I need to go buy enough tinsel to replace what I used this year (about two and a half boxes) since you can't reuse it any longer.

We had a gathering to go to this evening, so we just had a light lunch and relaxed this afternoon. I thawed some of our turkey soup—there was a method to my madness, as we needed the space the soup was in for the little cups of ice cream we bought—and we had it with leftover rice. Watched More Crazy Christmas Lights, with folks decorating in Brooklyn, the Bronx, dairy country in California and also at Newport Beach; Lewis Black's special on surviving the holidays, peppered with comedians like Richard Beltzer, Rip Torn, etc., which covered from Thanksgiving to the New Year; plus the Christmas Keeping Up Appearances where Richard is supposed to get dressed as Father Christmas (but Emmett gets him snockered), and had the St. Thomas concert on when it was time to leave.

Well, it's a good thing I checked e-mail before we left, because there was one from this morning saying the gathering was canceled because of the ice on the road. We were a bit flabbergasted, because we didn't see a speck of ice anywhere this morning, and the wind and the dry air had evaporated even the little bits of ice that were on our front steps and in front of the garage. We were really disappointed, because we were so looking forward to getting together with everyone!

Anyway, there wasn't anything defrosted for dinner, so we ate out at Ken's, the Waffle House-like grill near our house. I had pork chops, as always, with just some tomato slices. Yum! Then we drove to Barnes & Noble to use our 25 percent off coupons.

When we arrived home I continued the DVR marathon. (Oh...yeah. Turned the DVR on this morning and the sound was working again. Yay and grrrr at the same time.) Watched Nonna, Tell Me a Story, which was Lidia from Lidia's Italian Kitchen telling stories about her childhood in Italy with little limited-action cartoons and baking sequences thrown in; European Christmas Markets, which went to Christkindl Markets in Germany, Austria, France, and Switzerland, and Christmas to the Extreme, with things like Bronner's in Frankenmuth, MI (huge Christmas store; I wanna go!), the fruitcake toss, extensive light displays, a Christmas hotel, etc.

25 December 2010

Christmas Ala Mode

We were up so late that we slept in this morning. Despite yesterday's wonderful news, I slept restlessly with disturbing dreams. I finally got up and, for a further Christmas gift for James, walked Willow and fed her.

I had looked for cinnamon waffles at the supermarket, but only found blueberry, etc., and had to get "cinnamon toast" Eggo waffles instead. These are thin and James found they worked best if you toasted them twice, like a biscotti. They were...okay; I wouldn't go out of my way to buy them again.

We spent the rest of the morning enjoying Christmas. Willow had some treats, and I gave Schuyler a slice of mandarin orange. In the afternoon James cooked his corn casserole.

Now, all week they had been predicting snow on Christmas day, and we had just shaken our heads: not gonna happen. It hasn't snowed in Atlanta on Christmas since 1882! Heck, even southern New England mostly has "green" Christmases. But early in the afternoon it started to rain, then snow. It snowed steadily, at first not sticking to anything, then to the soil and the deck rails, then finally to the grass and the tops of vehicles.

About 2:30 we headed to the Butlers through a winter wonderland. We listened to a Gunsmoke episode about a cranky farmer who complained about intruders in his barn: a man and his very pregnant wife, who is the farmer's estranged daughter. I think you can guess that the baby was a boy and brought peace. :-)

We had a great time. Folks brought appetizers—cheese and crackers, an olive tray, popcorn and other small munchies, a bean tip, brownie bites—and we talked and laughed until dinner was ready: beef roast, spiral-cut ham, mashed potatoes, the corn casserole, salad, another veggie I didn't avail myself of. The tables were full, so I sat in the living room with Lin and watched "Voyage of the Damned" on Doctor Who. Later we had gifts.

It continued snowing all afternoon, making a real Christmas card out of Ron and Lin's wooded subdivision. The boys kept dashing outside to slide in the snow and I kept wandering outside myself to take some film on the Flip; James took some photos with the new camera.

We left somewhat after seven and meandered home the long way to check out a few more lights and buy a paper. We arrived home ready to watch the new Doctor Who Christmas episode and discovered that we didn't have a signal on the Dish. So I put on The House Without a Christmas Tree and then messed with the box again. When I eventually got it to work again, I didn't have any sound. Not only that, but if I try to play stuff that we recorded on the DVR previously, when we did have sound, there's no sound either. It's not the television—if we play it via the antenna, the sound is fine. So I called up tech support and went through that for a while. We actually have to pay to have someone come look at the thing, or buy monthly maintenance coverage! If we owned the box, I wouldn't mind it so much, but we rent the stupid thing monthly; why should we pay to fix it? Anyway, James asked to speak to a supervisor and he got the charge waived.

Anyway, we were fretting about losing what was on the box when the technician came (because they haven't been able to fix a DVR box yet; this is our third one), so I tried different things to get it to play. I turned the sound down and attempted to use the receiver, but there was still no sound. But if we play the DVR through the DVD recorder and turn on the receiver, we do get the sound. Not sure if this is caused by the box or maybe an HDMI port. If it's the port on the TV, I can cancel the service call and call H.H. Gregg instead.

So, anyway, Christmas itself is almost over, but Christmastide rolls on. We have holiday things to do tomorrow and a birthday on Monday. Alas, New Year will be spent at home because James has to work New Year's Day.

24 December 2010

A Happy, Happy Christmas Eve

Well, not when the alarm went off, though. Ah, well. :-)

This year I had a list, so we had everything when we got in the truck at 9 a.m. At least everything after I looked at the list and ran back upstairs for the couple of things we had forgotten. We were off to Warner Robins to see James' mom and sister and niece, both very wary of the Christmas Eve shoppers, enough that we circumvented Cumberland Mall altogether—and then, surprisingly, saw little traffic on Cobb Parkway where it got near Best Buy.

We went through Macon this time so we could go into Warner Robins through the "front" (via route 247 in front of Robins Air Force Base) so we could stop at the cemetery first. I had bought James' dad a cute little poinsettia (this one was really cute; I am absolutely immune to plants and this one was trying to talk me into keeping it) which we left on the gravestone.

We had a nice afternoon with Mom, Candy, and Nicki. We exchanged gifts first—actually, James got to open his gift first, because I got him a small camera that he can take to model shows and air shows and it will fit in his pocket. He in return got me a Flip video camera. Wow! James got The Pacific as well as some World War II DVDs, and I got five stuffed birds, each which sings its own particular song: a goldfinch, robin, chickadee, bluebird, and cardinal, and some cutouts for crafting. We filled James' mom up with DVDs and some books, and gave Candy an Eeyore nightgown and a little purse, and Nicki some lotions and other pretties in a storage box; each also got a belated birthday gift: a heart-shaped glass box with a necklace inside, and Mom had belated birthday and Mother's Day gifts as well, since we have not been down there since last Christmas!

For lunch we had fried chicken with sides and the corn casserole James made. This is a new recipe, more like a savory custard, with eggs, onions, butter, etc.

We also met Mom's new dog. Her name is Jenny, and is part some type of terrier and part Maltese, a little thing about Willow's size who is a pretty cream color with long hair, floppy ears, and a simply long, long tail! She's shy, but friendly, and very sweet.

We left just as the sun was setting. Traffic was remarkably light! We stopped about halfway to "use the facilities" and I drove the rest of the way home, propped on my pillow (I can't drive the truck without it; if I pulled the seat up as far as I needed, James would have his knees tucked under his chin).

Willow greeted us happily (certainly partially because she needed to go out...LOL), and then we put things up, I sat down at the computer, downloaded e-mail, and got one that struck like a thunderbolt...a good thunderbolt, but, oh, my ears and whiskers! What news; what happy, splendid, joyful news! It was enough to send me dancing figuratively and literally for the rest of the night. I don't think I've been quite so happy in a long time, and can say honestly: Best Christmas gift ever! Of course it's not fair not to say what it is, but all the particulars are not known to certain people who need to know before others, so right now I'm happily keeping mum—although it's hard not to shout it from the housetops!

Watched The Homecoming tonight, as always on Christmas Eve, and also The Small One (which always reduces me to tears) and Mickey's Christmas Carol, then finished watching the news—they're still saying we might have a dusting of snow for Christmas!—and then Midnight Mass from the Vatican. After midnight we had gifts, and I feel quite spoiled, although I think James bought almost everything on Borders Bucks and Really Good Coupons and club discounts: Christmas 1945, Theodore Rex, Something Old Something New, and the collection of Harry Dresden short stories, Side Jobs, plus an autographed Owly print, and a T-shirt that says "Bibliovore," plus the Webkinz Signature fox (which I am tempted to name "Mulder"). I'd put my budget mostly in the camera (and the memory card), but I also gave James the DVD of Animal House and some World War II B-movies, plus the Webkinz ice dragon. Wil chomped on bacon-flavored dog snacks and I will give Schuyler a special something tomorrow: some mandarin orange, perhaps, or apple.

Will go to bed smiling tonight...

"A Visit from St. Nicholas"

An animated presentation about how Clement C. Moore came to write the famous poem.

The Night Before Christmas (1968) Pt 1

The Night Before Christmas (1968) Pt 2

The Night Before Christmas (1968) Pt 3

23 December 2010

2 Days Before Christmas

Best-laid plans: I had intended to get up early this morning and go to Trader Joe's, and maybe stop at Harry's for some last-minute Christmas cheer. Unfortunately, I was still suffering from yesterday's burger and was still ambivalent about how I was feeling until late morning.

So I went to Kroger right before noon instead, wandering around their bakery and holiday decor area. Found something easy for supper, some treats for Christmas, and even a cute little poinsettia to place on James' dad's grave. I'm not usually charmed by plants, but this guy was cute. I have to stop it from persuading me to keep it; my nose is already stuffy.

I felt marginally good enough to stop at Love Street, the little gift shop, and its clothing annex, Heart and Soul, next door. Saw an adorable bottle brush tree and some nice vintage Santas, but was just window shopping.

It was a bright (really bright) blue day, just nippy enough to feel Christmasy, with a nice little breeze, making for a comfortable trudge between stores.

Came home and settled in with my Christmas magazines and had a light lunch along with Santa Claus is Comin' to Town. Fun as always, but would still like to know why they changed the name of the penguin from "Waddles" to "Topper," though! Followed that with The Little Drummer Boy and then Perry Como's Christmas Around the World, which is a compilation of six of the television specials he did for years in the late 1960s and 1970s. It starts in Williamsburg, where Perry sings special lyrics to "The 12 Days of Christmas," then performs "Little Drummer Boy" with colonial drummer boy, visits the Wythe house and all around the town (with more special verses to "Home for the Holidays" and a sing-along in the Raleigh Tavern), and trades quips with John Wayne, then sings "I Saw Three Ships"/"We Wish You a Merry Christmas," and takes part in a candlelight procession to carols and ends with "Ave Maria." Then to Paris, where he sings "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Forever," we see Paris scenery and "Can-Can" number, float up the Seine to "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" and other songs, and finally end with carols at Sacre Coeur.

In French-Canada, Perry sings "Do You See What I See" from the heights of Quebec overlooking the St. Lawrence, there is an exhibition of skating, and he concludes with "O Holy Night." Next to Mexico, where kids join Perry in "Happy Holiday"/"Sing," we see a Los Posadas ceremony, Perry sings "Silent Night" with Vikki Carr and the Captain and Tennille followed by the pinata and a flamenco routine, and finally "Ave Maria" in an elaborately-decorated, beautiful church.

The final two segments feature Austria, both countryside and stately buildings where a waltz ball is taking place, and we take a carriage ride as Perry sings "O Tannenbaum," then later joins the Vienna Boys Choir, and finally visits Oberndorf, the home of "Silent Night," and then the Holy Land, Perry visiting the Holy Sepulchre, Gethsemane and other Biblical locations, and singing "O Come All Ye Faithful" and "Our Father," ending with a re-inactment of the Nativity.

We always looked forward to these specials. They were low-key but fun and went to the best places. I really loved the scene of Perry singing from the Citadel in Quebec, overlooking the St. Lawrence, because we had been there once. Mom loved Perry Como and we always had his records at our house. One of my earliest Christmas gifts was a 45RPM record of Perry singing "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus."

By this time it was time to walk Willow and get the mail, and next thing I knew James was home. We had some Hormel pot roast for supper with rice and watched the news. I particularly enjoyed a story about a USO volunteer who hugs all the service men and women who come through the Atlanta airport, because of Jen's stories about the nice USO services.

Now I am watching "Christmas television"; just finished The Waltons "The Best Christmas," and have put on the British special Christmas Past, which features a great deal of newsreel footage, Victorian film, and reminisces from older people recalling Christmas in the early 1900s, including the 6th Marquess of Bath. (I wish I could find an uncut version of this; apparently what A&E showed was missing at least five minutes; you can see at least two strong cuts at commercial breaks, including during a sequence about the 1914 Christmas Truce.) Not sure if I will follow this up with "Merry Christmas, Bogg" (Voyagers!) or "Santa Claustrophobia" (Hill Street Blues). [Later: We watched "Santa Claustrophobia," otherwise noted for the "It's Christmas Eve and I'm gonna be shot dead in a moose suit" comment from Officer Renko.]

The Cottage Holiday, Jo Mendel
This has been a favorite since I was in grade school, part of the "Tuckers" series published by Whitman. "Jo Mendel" was a house name for several people; most notes on this series say that Gladys Baker Bond was the person behind "Jo" in this outing. This is different from the rest of the series as it has a serious side: seven-year-old Penny's effort to find her place in the scheme of things in her lively family of two older sisters and one older and one younger brother—a somewhat sickly child, she wants to be more than someone who "sits still and takes pills." She conceives an idea to spend the Christmas holiday at the family's summer cottage, where the kids play in the snow with some nearby farm friends and even get involved in the mystery of a missing woman.

This is just such a warm, wonderful story, with family love (and occasional conflict) mixed with Christmas rituals, outdoor fun, and even a suspenseful subplot involving a cougar stalking local farmers' stock. Penny's search for self is something everyone, adult or child, can identify with, and Christmas just adds irresistible icing to the cake.

22 December 2010

3 Days Before Christmas

Goodness, it was warm when I got up this morning; I thought I had been suddenly transported to Florida during the night (now there's a nightmare for you). When I looked at the temperature it said it was 60°F!

After breakfast, it was time to get to work. I put on Holiday Pops, lit the "Christmas Wreath" Yankee Candle, and did my chores; washed a load of towels and a load of clothes, vacuumed upstairs and the stairs, swept the foyer and downstairs, finished tidying the spare room, cleaned off the dining room table, and put "sliders" on the dining room chairs, something badly needed because they still had the "furry" ones on from the old house, where the table was on vinyl flooring. Needless to say, they didn't slide very well on carpet with all that friction!

By the time I finished it was one o'clock and I was feeling the need for some fresh air and action that didn't involve a balky vacuum cleaner, so I went out. I didn't take my jacket, but it was definitely cooler than it had been this morning. Stopped at CVS to wander the gift/decoration aisle to get a dose of Christmas, and also went to BJs to scope out stuff for the party. Got some samples: a Red Baron pizza that was surprisingly good, hummus, pita chips, and half a sugar cookie. On the way home I stopped at Borders and ran into our friend Phyllis.

Back at home I folded the towels and sorted the clothes, then sat down to watch Rick Steves' European Christmas. James brought home Wendy's for me, a plain burger and a baked potato. The burger definitely did not agree with me; I was feeling off the rest of the night. Did get to watch "Christmas at Plum Creek," and help James put together a gift for a friend.

The biggest surprise was on the news—they are tentatively predicting some snow for Christmas! Probably mostly in the North Georgia mountains, but depending on how it moves, perhaps a dusting here. We'll see...

21 December 2010

4 Days Before Christmas

Since James worked on Saturday, today was his compensatory day off. We slept late because we stayed up last night hoping to see the lunar eclipse. This one was notable because it was taking place at the same time as the winter solstice. By the time it started, I was walking around with my eyes half-open, but nevertheless went out on the deck with a camera to try my luck, luck because light clouds were scudding in ahead of the potentially rainy weather.

As the eclipse began, we had some good glimpses of the moon being "eaten" by a shadow, but my aim was shaky because I had to hold the camera overhead, so I went back inside for my tripod. Of course, now that I had the camera secure the clouds thickened and gaps between them became further and further apart. I did get a few pics, which I posted on Facebook later on, but we never did see the full eclipse. We got into bed about three and fell into deep sleep until 10:13.

After breakfast, we headed out to the hobby shop because James hadn't visited there Saturday, and he wanted to wish Rusty a merry Christmas. James Corley (owner of the store) had his little dog with him, a Lhasa Apso named Leela. What a little cutie, with big brown eyes. He had her behind a baby gate, but when I saw the big eyes I said, "Oh, what a cute little puppy!" and she got on her hind legs and wagged her tail and did cute to perfection.

After we left the hobby shop we went to the Borders at Merchant's Walk to buy the very last of our Christmas gifts, armed with coupons. The store was packed; I've never seen a bookstore that crowded except during a signing or the release of a book like Harry Potter—the line snaked past several aisles of the store!

I also ran into Michaels to get something with my 50 percent off coupon, and then we cut through the back to get to Town Center. We had Barnes & Noble coupons and wandered about happily amongst the other shoppers for a bit before heading to Golden Corral. Neither of us had eaten lunch and by now it was after four, so we had our supper. I was very pleased to find a whole turkey on the buffet so you could get dark meat! Also had some pot roast and a bit of steak, plus some cantaloupe and a small slice of chocolate cake.

James gets small gifts for a few co-workers every year, so he stopped at Hobbytown to pick them up, and then we headed home. I wrapped the rest of the gifts and finally cleaned up the spare bedroom, which has spent time since December 5 looking like the shipping room at Amazon.com, since I was wrapping a few gifts a day. James got his dough out of the refrigerator and baked the Splenda and spice cookies as well as chocolate ones.

And later we watched A Christmas Story.

20 December 2010

5 Days Before Christmas

Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without an emergency run to the grocery store for forgotten baking supplies.

But that happened later, after I woke up with a "broken motivator." :-)

Trouble is, there were about three things I wanted to do, all of them important. Since one should always start at the beginning, I started with breakfast. :-) Then I finally did something about those wretched coupons that are scattered all over the coffee table. The restaurant ones were hung in the foyer, the grocery ones in the coupon book, the craft ones up front to grab for a trip to Michaels or JoAnn. A couple of trips up and down the stairs worked wonders.

I had never put up the little tree in our bedroom, so next I fixed that up (replaced ornaments fallen off, and re-swagged the gold-star garland), then worked on some Christmas gifts and wrapped them up. Just need to pick up a couple of gift cards now.

By this time I was hungry as a wolf and was spoiling for a headache. I ate the turkey sandwich I made yesterday and read the last of the three small Getty Images books I got a few months back for $2 each, The 1930s (the other two were the 1900s and the 1910s). These are black-and-white photos in different categories (work, leisure, have and have nots, etc.) for each of the decades), chiefly from Europe, but also from the U.S. and a few from Asia.

The headache didn't let up, so I attacked it with some ibuprofin, then fetched the mail, happy to see my Amazon order had come. I now have a nice professional copy of Mercy Mission: The Rescue of Flight 771, and also the DVD "Merry Sitcom," which is a collection of television Christmas episodes from the 1950s and the 1960s (and also a bargain copy of Christietown, the fourth Cece Caruso mystery, which never showed up in any of the local bookstores—I just looked them up; it appears there is a fifth one. I've never seen that one either).

So I didn't start on baking wine biscuits until after three. I listened to Rick Steves talk about European countries getting ready for Christmas as I mixed the dough and shaped the cookies and put them in the oven. So funny: I used the same everything for two batches of cookies, even the same bottle of wine in the same proportions. The first batch of dough was beige, and the second had the pale purple glow. Odd. And the dough smelled odd to me, although it tastes perfect.

I was almost finished with the second batch when James got home. He had some leftover steak to finish, so I hadn't take out anything for dinner. While he finished the steak, I had chicken soup with rice. We watched Mercy Mission; fab as always, and nice to see the great picture rather than my recorded-off-NBC washed-out copy, and to finally see the credits instead of the Little House on the Prairie nostalgic clip stuck there at the end of the NBC broadcast to promote Melissa Gilbert's lawyer series way back when. We also watched "Silly, But It's Fun...", the Good Life Christmas special.

James started baking cookies and discovered we didn't have any vanilla, so we had to make a quick run to Publix before he could continue. It was a lovely, cold, crisp night, so this wasn't a chore at all. Unfortunately, we won't be able to see the lunar eclipse tonight, as it's cloudy.

He was able to do only one batch tonight, some Splenda chocolate chip cookies (with sugarless chips), as the dough for the Splenda-and-spice cookies needs to chill before baking. While he was thus engaged, I watched some of the shows off the "Merry Sitcom" DVD: "The Christmas Story" from Father Knows Best (the Andersons are stranded in a mountain cabin on Christmas Eve), "A Very Merry Christmas" from The Donna Reed Show (Donna helps make Christmas merry in the children's ward at the hospital), and "Wailing in a Winter Wonderland" from The Flying Nun (Sister Bertrille makes it snow in Puerto Rico as a gift to an elderly Norwegian nun, and ruins the tourist trade). The episodes left are for McHale's Navy, Bewitched, That Girl and Window on Main Street.

After James tidied up, we watched "Merry Gentlemen," the Christmas episode of All Creatures Great and Small. It always makes me feel "kringly." But then it was a totally kringly day. :-)

19 December 2010

6 Days Before Christmas

Yesterday was a bit busy. I went out to the post office, and then stopped at the library to put in two interlibrary loan requests. I hope they can get the books. I have read eight of the ten "Camp Fire" series by Hildegard Frey and would like to read the remaining ones. One tells how Katherine joined the group and the other is a Christmas story. Stopped at Sam's Club as well, and bought gasoline there.

Spent the rest of the afternoon dubbing off Castle episodes and watching the Bewitched Christmas episode with Bill Mumy, "Visions of Sugarplums." I tried to find North Station on the instant play on Netflix and it's unavailable this year. Oh, well.

I ordered a pizza and James picked it up on the way home from work. He said he had three calls today, including one he did just because he wanted something to do. Later we went out to the Parkway Pointe Borders to walk around. James had some Borders bucks to spend by the end of the week and since he saw nothing for himself he bought Lynn Johnston's new Something Old, Something New for me for Christmas. After the coupon and the bucks it cost him $5! ($26 MSRP.)

We were up late because Jen is home, so we chatted until almost two o'clock and then I had to finish watching "The Children's Carol" (two-hour Waltons Christmas story taking place in 1940). So we slept in this morning, went grocery shopping (some great twofers at Publix!), and then "snuck in" to Buckhead the back way (so we wouldn't have to endure the traffic between Lenox and Phipps Plaza, two malls which are catty-corner from each other. Found a gift for someone and then...utterly gobsmacked here!...found the November 2010 issue of "Best of British," which I used to buy regularly until the Borders here quit carrying it in early 2005 (or maybe it was late 2004). The last issue I found was at the Borders at Garden City Shopping Center in Cranston the summer my mom died (2005). I always look, but it's never been there...until today! I grabbed it up quick!

It was four by the time we got home, so James warmed up our leftover turkey legs and we had those for supper while watching an episode of R5Sons Alaska, one of those crazy specials about people who put up jillions of Christmas lights, and the two most recent Hawaii Five-O episodes, the second of which was a Christmas episode that revealed that this iteration, too, has a Wo-Fat.

Am now on chat. We always get together every year and watch "Christmas in the Airwaves" (Remember WENN) with each other.

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Some Christmas history:

Festive features from "BBC History Magazine."

Bob Hope's Vietnam Christmas Tours

17 December 2010

8 Days Before Christmas

Will you tell me why people are such all-fired rude snots when they are out Christmas shopping? I intended just to take a usual trip up to Town Center to check if the Barnes & Noble had that Christmas "BBC History Magazine" (not only didn't they have it, but they still had the November issue—phooey).

I actually went to JoAnn first, since I was also looking for the new issue of Mary Hickmott's "New Stitches," which was easy, but after that I got embroiled in holiday shopping traffic. I didn't mind the slowness as much as people just driving without any regard for anyone else. At Barnes & Noble, a woman in an SUV trying to get around an SUV was blabbing on her cell phone and steering with one hand in the narrow lane between cars. I was heading out of JoAnn and decided I did not want to make the left turn as the traffic going toward the mall was so bad, so I was trying to change lanes. I had my blinker on and a dozen cars just zipped past me without giving me any consideration. Had the light been green, I might have understood, but they were passing me without letting me in, just to stop at the light a few yards ahead. After I left Borders, I went out the back to avoid Barrett Parkway. I was going straight past the LifeWay store. To my right, three cars were lined up waiting for parking places. Instead of letting me and the person behind me go through until the three cars moved on, a person coming in the opposite direction turned left to queue behind the three cars, completely blocking the road.

Oh, and when I was coming out of Barnes & Noble, I did so via Bells Ferry Road. There are two lanes at that point, one a dedicated left turn, the other a combined straight/right turn. I was going straight, so I did not have my turn signal on, but this didn't keep the woman behind him from beeping her horn at me several times, motioning me to turn right!

It absolutely flabbergasts me the shopping frenzy people get into before Christmas. Hello! Christmas IS NOT ABOUT GIFTS!!! Gifts are nice. It is wonderful to know someone cares about you enough to buy a gift. I like buying gifts for my friends and family; it makes me feel good. But the frenzy drives me nuts. Christmas is about fun, fellowship, friends, family...gifts are not the main objective! Give it a rest, folks!

Sleigh Bells for Windy Foot, Frances Frost
I first read this book back in Stadium School in the early 1960s, and it never fails to please—in fact it makes you want to chuck it all for an old-fashioned dairy farm in Vermont in the late 1940s. Kids today would probably gape at how self-sufficient kids back then were allowed to be: 12-year-olds out skiing alone or taking their 9-year-old sisters on snowshoes out in the woods with no sign of GPS or cell phones for parents to keep track of them; instead of texting or playing video games, the kids actually interact with their parents and don't act like they're embarrassed by them, popping corn in front of the fire, going carol singing and Christmas shopping. Little girls still enjoy their childhood: play with dolls and enjoy a good book for Christmas and tramp out into the woods to gather evergreens rather than swoon over pubescent boy singers and try on makeup.

This book will make you feel warm and happy. Okay, the little brother who makes up rhymes does get a bit much occasionally. But then younger siblings do!

16 December 2010

9 Days Before Christmas

My last day of work before a nice break until January 3!

Listened to the two new Revels albums that James bought me for my birthday. "Christmas Through the Years" by the Portland Revels was mostly medieval holy music. "Welcome Yule!" is the anniversary album, with familiar favorites like "Lord of the Dance" as well as new offerings. Later I listened to some Rick Steves' Christmas podcasts, but most of them were repeats of shows I'd already heard. Also listened to a "BBC History Magazine" Christmas podcast which was an A-Z historical quiz. Supposedly there is a Christmas issue out; I need to go look for it!

The one fly in the ointment was not being able to finish some small modifications. One wouldn't complete and for the other I didn't have the correct information.

Tonight when James came home we stopped by Wendy's for supper-on-the-fly and drove into Buckhead to the Atlanta History Center to attend one of the two Candlelight Nights. We skipped Tuesday's figuring the weather would be better tonight; boy, talk about a miscalculation. It was just foggy when we left home, but as we threaded our way down West Paces Ferry Road it began to drizzle, then rain. And it rained off and on all night, so the nice candlelit paths were mostly extinguished. :-(

When we got there we listened to an a capella do-wop group, ten older men singing Christmas carols, including "The Twelve Days of Christmas" intertwined with "Carol of the Bells," a lively do-wop "Jingle Bells," and even "In the Still of the Night." Then we wandered toward the back where a group of one man and several women were playing traditional instruments like dulcimers and autoharps. The sound of one single dulcimer playing a plaintive song like "Silent Night" can be one of the most haunting sounds in the world.

They had some little snacks downstairs, cookies, pecan tartlets, and brownie bites, so we had a couple of those and then emerged to a foggy, damp world. We walked down the hill, crossing the little brook that runs through the property, but sorely missing the doused candles, on the way to the Swan House, which was the home of the Inmans from the 1920s. (One lone candle, sheltered under some vines, remained burning outside the house.) Outside it looked like a fog-shrouded London night; inside it was warm and welcoming, minimally and tastefully decorated with small red packages in pyramids or red irises, and one tree at the foot of the circular main staircase and another in the upper hall, the latter in silver and gold and decorated with glass swans.

From the Swan House we walked to the Tullie-Smith farmhouse, which is from the 1800s. They had docents dressed in period clothing, a gentleman in the dining room talking about the family, a woman in hoop skirts, and two younger women, one making tea cloths on a loom, and one spinning on a large spinning wheel. They could only have electric candles, so the rooms were quite dark.

Then we walked out to the separate kitchen (kitchens were a separate building back in those days, due to the heat in summer and the threat of fire) where they had been baking a pie and gingerbread in cast-iron spiders with hot coals on top (the gingerbread looked delicious, but they were not allowed to give samples), and then to the blacksmith shop, where someone was still at work at the forge, and finally back to the history center for some hot cocoa. As we sipped the cocoa we listened to the folk instrument group play "Jingle Bells."

And then it was almost time for them to close down, so we left and came home through the residential streets of Buckhead and also those nearer home to check out Christmas light displays.

Watched the last two days worth of Ellen and then a segment on Jimmy Fallon's show where Ben Stiller and Jimmy played charades against Ben's parents, one of my favorite comedy acts, Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara. Between the latter, Jimmy nearly hit the floor laughing. He always looks like he's having such fun.

15 December 2010

Christmas Photo Nostalgia

Weird yellow streaks in one photo and some purplish cast on any others were caused by the scanner.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Mom and Dad at Papà's house in 1952. Mom was evidently feeding Dad well back then! Check out the suspenders!

Mom and Dad in 1952

My first Christmas, 1955, with Dad holding me in front of the tree. I'm about two weeks old here. Dig the 50s wallpaper, the print curtains, and that big metal radiator behind the table the tree is on. Any windows not over those radiators had frost on them during the winter.

Dad holding me, about two weeks old

Here I am with my first doll at age 1; it had odd, soft skin. And the beloved "Skotch" cooler, that accompanied us on so many trips to the beach!

Me with my first doll.

Just turned two, here I am with Mom. I see a tea set and a toy telephone. I also got a doll carriage that year.

With Mom at age 2.

My grandmother died in 1958, so we had a small tree and did not put it in the window and only lit it on Christmas Eve. There's my tin stove! The stuffed dog was named "Little Lassie." Guess which show I could stay up to watch!

Age 3 with

No Christmas tree here, It's 1959 and I am at the right of my cousin Eileen, who is reading the Christmas story, with my cousin Kathy at her left. I think we were acting it out in "the cellar" of Papà's house. Note the neat built-in china cabinet and the beadboard. The cellar also contained a treadle sewing machine, and, off left of the china cabinet, an old icebox.

Age four with Cousins Eileen and Kathy.

At age six, I was a bit embarrassed being kissed before the camera by Dad. That was one of two dresses I had with a velveteen top. I loved velveteen. That was my second phonograph; my dad gave my grandpa my old one to play in his garden shed and bought me a new one. Grandpa used to burn out the tubes in the phonograph by leaving it on overnight one too many times.

BTW, I'm pretty sure I still have all those 45s. I just looked and I know I have the Frosty and the Perry Como that's lying on the floor. I think one of the others is the Alvin and the Chipmunks' "Christmas Don't Be Late," which I still have.

I've noticed some folks comment about the "odd looking" Christmas trees back then. That's because back then they just let them grow naturally. Today they "strip" (prune) them multiple times during the growth process so they are full. Sometimes you had to be creative because a tree had a big empty spot on one side; you either turned it toward the wall or put the entire tree in a corner where it wouldn't show.

Dad embarrasses me by kissing me on camera.

Here I am in 1962, or perhaps '63; not sure. In the new stroller is Matilda, the doll my Papà brought me back from Italy. Of more interest is the pink poodle (Pepe) and the grey poodle (Fifi), and my children's Bible sitting next to Fifi. After 1961 because the wallpaper is gone. I remember when they steamed all that wallpaper (it was in the bedrooms, too) off the wall. What a mess.

Me, Matilda, Pepe and Fifi

Frisky and I under the tree, 1968. This is the last time you'll see me with hair this short; when I went into junior high Mom said I didn't have to keep it short anymore. Notice the baseboard heat; the radiators were gone by then.

Frisky and I under the tree.

1969. I can tell, because there's my first cassette recorder, "Reese," keeping company with Frisky. And a Breyer horse.

Frisky and Reese, and me.

Definitely 1970, because there's my typewriter, a Smith-Corona Galaxie Deluxe manual. Dad wouldn't buy me a typewriter until I learned to type, which would have been Miss Rossi's class in ninth grade at Hugh B. Bain. Look! New carpet!

My first typewriter.

This is 1972, and horribly blurry—just wanted you to note the maxi-skirt. Had two. Loved 'em.

Note the maxi skirt.

1977: note the new paint scheme. Mom hated it, but we were tired of "everlasting beige" all over the house (their room was gold and mine was blue). After Dad died Mom had the bedrooms and the living room painted beige again. The other point of interest is on the right, in the white pot. This was the mimosa tree I was trying to raise. I called her "Fluffy" (for the big fluffy pink flowers mimosa trees have).

Oh, check out the Glass Wax stencils on the front window (also in the next photo). I used to do this all by myself. Loved it all except getting on the stepladder to do that top pane...


Corey, the big stuffed collie, under the tree in 1978, a gift I bought for myself after I went to work. You'd be surprised how many people came in the room and jumped when they saw him, or said "I didn't know you had a dog," before noticing he was stuffed.

Corey under the tree.

The last of the set. It's 1979, and I'm very happy in my fuzzy bathrobe with Corey by my side and a John Denver album ("J.D.") on my lap.

A John Denver gift.

10 Days Before Christmas

The Christmas Book, edited by Harry Ballam and Phyllis Digby Morton
This is one of my finds from last March's library book sale; it was one I took out almost every year. A 1990 reproduction by Omni publishers of a 1947 British volume, this is a collection of half essays/half stories with liberal illustration and even some photographs in black-and-white of Christmas from a British perspective. There's an essay about that particularly British institution, the pantomime and also the kissing bunch, and in the occasional original essay written for the book, post-war rationing is referred to several times, especially in a small portion of the book that concentrates on Christmas food.

Traditionally, the "skin" between this world and the next was very thin at Christmastide, and sometimes otherworldly creatures crept through, hence the spirits in A Christmas Carol. Therefore three ghost stories are included in this volume, including a creepy offering about a student renting a house by Bram Stoker of Dracula fame and Charlotte Gilman's "The Yellow Wall-paper." Plus there is a section of Christmas games and riddles, and even word from the Christmas cynics. A great alternative Christmas read, especially for Anglophiles and history fans.

Christmas After All, Kathryn Lasky
One of the books I read every Christmas, one in the "Dear America" series. Although the ending is a bit too "happily ever after," the story of the Swift family's struggle against the Depression and their unselfish adoption of an orphaned cousin, a refugee from the Texas Dust Bowl, is lively and sobering by turns. Creative, thoughtful Minnie narrates, but the two most memorable characters are Willie Faye, the little girl from Heart's Bend, Texas, and Minnie's precocious younger brother Ozzie, an electronics genius. A memorable Christmas story for all ages.

14 December 2010

11 Days Before Christmas

We had a Christmas luncheon at work today. In the past, we have gone out to eat "somewhere nice," but this year we decided to have folks bring food and people could donate what they would have spent on lunch and it would be given to a charity. I liked that idea very much—I'd rather give to someone who needs it than stuff myself. The main course was ham, and there was also jerk chicken and oxtail, rice, potatoes, beans, a macaroni salad done with bowtie pasta, and other goodies, plus desserts (including the gingerbread I baked last night). (And I got three orders done today, too, and distributed another two. Yay.)

Spent the evening watching specials about people who go all out with Christmas lights. I love these displays, but would not do it for the world. I can't imagine being out there night after night testing and positioning lights, going up on the roof, adding circuits to my house, and paying $500 electric bills!

Speaking of Christmas lights, I'm sure most people know that before there were electric lights on Christmas trees, there were candles, but did you know there were also fairy lights? These looked a bit like votive containers, but with hangers, and they were considered to be safer than candles. They were also used to illuminate outdoors—the 1980s television special Christmas Past notes that many British people used them to light the path to the privy!—in a similar way to our putting out light strings today.

Here in the United States they were more often known as Victorian Christmas Lights.

In the past I have talked about George Nelson's great Antique Christmas Lights website here. Well, apparently it has disappeared (although there is a placeholder saying an "Antique Christmas Lights Museum" will appear in early 2011) and fans of the page have attempted to reconstruct it.

Here's the site link for George's brother Bill Nelson's Antique Christmas Lights and the reconstruction of George's site Old Christmas Tree Lights. George's site also contains some vintage holiday recordings from Edison cylinders, Christmas memories, and more.

12 December 2010

Third Sunday of Advent

Read some classic and copyright-free Christmas stories: Christmas (Bookshelf) - Gutenberg

10 December 2010

15 Days Before Christmas

And I finally have the Christmas tree up!

I started at ten and finished at four, and even pushed the tree into the corner, which James usually does. (And I'm paying for it now, being all achy...) But I wanted to finish vacuuming—the floor was a wreck, with artificial needles and tinsel everywhere—and put the manger set up, and that couldn't be done until the tree was in place.

So I put on Christmas specials and just went at it: Christmas Is and The City That Forgot About Christmas, and all of The Christmas That Almost Wasn't (which I find works best if you watch it as a panto like they have in England), and finally How the Grinch Stole Christmas. During the end of the latter I ate some leftovers for lunch and cast a critical eye at the tree and moved some ornaments here and there.

We had one problem: we have a small collection of Hallmark ornaments—an Explorer One, a Lunar Rover, a Freedom 7, and a Defiant from Star Trek—that plug into the light sets and make sounds. Well, no more. The plugs don't fit into the new light strings. The only Hallmark ornament like that that does is the jukebox (not sure why the plugs are different). Bother. I put them under lights so they showed up.

Once lunch was finished, I put Lassie and Timmy Christmas episodes on and went to tinseling the tree. I start from the bottom and layer up, and fight the static electricity every step of the way. The old mylar was bad enough; this super thin stuff is attracted by the slightest bit of a charge. It's really spooky to see it moving toward you. On the other hand, the slightest draft moves the tinsel, so it looks like the tree is alive.

I remember a long line of tinseled trees. Mom always used the icicles and so did most of my relatives. I remember creeping upstairs in my Grandpa's house to go into the dining room where the Christmas tree was at the front window in the dark, the multicolor lights the only illumination in the room and the tinsel reflecting all the colors into shattered prismatic light. The tinsel links me with Mom and all those relatives and neighbors.

After I was done I took a hot shower and three ibuprofin, then lay down for a half hour, and then sat under the tree and put the manger up: the Holy Family in the stable "with ox and ass," and a sheep and an indeterminate animal which I think may be a dog. Then the Three Kings, their camels, and the camel driver on one side, a man offering eggs, a piper boy, two shepherds, a half dozen sheep, a goat and the sheepdog.

And the truck was finished this morning, so they came and picked me up, and I drove it home and now that's done.

James arranged to have a birthday dinner for me tonight with some of our friends. This was great fun. We went to Old Ephraims on Marietta Square. There were pressies—Alice gave me a cool piece of artwork she did of Gregory House—but the company was even better. And in the mail today we received a card from Jen with her official Naval photo! Plus we went out for ice cream afterwards and hunted out Christmas lights on the way home.

08 December 2010

17 Days Before Christmas

It was a fairly busy day while I made certain some things were caught up, and finished an order.

Nevertheless, there was lunch and after work to get things done.

I managed to get about thirteen gifts wrapped. It's a mixed bag, one gift for one person in one family, two in another family, and all of James' as well, until I ran out of time.

I also took the little "peppermint tree," which is a small tree in a Santa boot that is about eight inches high and decorated with candy canes and red-and-white striped balls, and put it on one of the shelves in the kitchen. I then quickly cleaned the accumulated dust off the refrigerator. We have a bunch of what could be useful stuff on top of the fridge—plastic drinks jugs, mugs, and water bottles—that we're just not using right now. James or I could put them in those useless half-cupboards that are over the refrigerator, but neither of us can reach into them. Instead, I used the "Gopher," one of those "grabby things" with the long handle, to transfer them into the cupboard. Now the only thing up there are the two extra tea pitchers, the small food processor, and the food scale.

This gave me enough room to put a little Christmas decoration at the top, a Santa mug with Christmas picks and candy canes in it. I've always wanted to do that, and never had the room.

While I was working I listened to an episode of "Travels With Rick Steves" which was half about Christmas in Wales and half about sheep raising and sheepdogs in Wales. Rick's guest sang "Deck the Halls" in Welsh (at least the music from "Deck the Halls"—the Welsh words were different) and talked about Welsh customs like the Mari Llwd. Later the shepherd was demonstrating the whistles he used to control the sheepdogs. Schuyler was going crazy at the whistles, hopping from perch to perch and chirping back.

This evening, since I did not have a chance to do it last night, I watched The Waltons episode "Day of Infamy," which I always do on Pearl Harbor day. It's funny; I wasn't even there, I just heard my mom's stories, but when they announce the attack and then play all the news bulletins, the hair on my arms rises up and I get goosepimples.

Immovable Feast: A Paris Christmas, John Baxterjavascript:void(0)
John Baxter was born in Australia into a era when that country was known for its unimaginative, blah food. Australian vineyards had barely been heard from, and all they were known for foodwise was the "Pavlova," a sugary fruit dessert, and Peach Melba. As he began to travel he also learned the rudiments of better cooking, but it wasn't until he fell in love with a French woman and moved to France that he learned to appreciate fine dining and drinking.

This is the story of Baxter's acceptance of a challenge: to feed his wife's family at their annual Christmas dinner. Baxter's preparations begin months before, as he conceives a menu and then slowly begins gathering the items for the feast: oysters, bought months ahead of time and kept in a tank; the order of a suckling pig that he plans to cook in Cajun fashion, and more. This is a delightful, often humorous book, not just talking of French cooking, but of the French attitude to life, holidays, and, of course, food.

I bought this on a whim off the bargain table and am glad I did. Highly recommended if you love international travel or are a "foodie."

06 December 2010

19 Days Before Christmas

Work of one sort during the day, a short interruption for a doctor's appointment and getting the car inspected, and then it was to "work" I like better. In short order I had the library tree decorated and in its place. The library looks swell with the glider rocker. Right now you can sit in the rocker and read by the light of the Christmas tree.

After supper I ironed all the cover cloths: the holly cloth for the folding table, the glitter blue cloth for the plant table where the airplane tree would go, and the weathered gingham for under the woodland Santa and tree. I decorated the woodland tree and set up the rest of the woodland things, and then fluffed up the airplane tree and decorated that. This year I gave it a bit more thought and put the darker planes where they would be bathed in the white lights of the tree. The white, red and yellow marked airplanes don't need a light to make them bright!

And then it was upstairs to watch Martha Stewart make Christmas cookies. She made a Polish cookie that was almost indistinguishable from an Italian wandi.

Midnight and Jeremiah, Sterling North
If you have ever seen Disney's charming 1948 film So Dear to My Heart, about a country boy and his mischievous black lamb, you are familiar with this story, which is the source material. The black lamb brings Jeremiah love, companionship, and finally success. This is a lovely children's book about the pleasures of simple country life at the turn of the last century, with illustrations by well-known children's book artist Kurt Wiese. When a crisis strikes just as the Kincaids find happiness, it will take a Christmas miracle to make them whole.

A Holiday Treat in NYC

A Subway Trip Back in Time

With a tip of the hat to the Facebook page of "Richard Castle."

Happy St. Nicholas Day!

A vintage (19th century) account of St. Nicholas Day in Germany.

Short article from Long Island Press.

Blog entry about St. Nicholas Day in Holland.

Observing St. Nicholas Day in a New York town.

A memory of St. Nicholas Day on USCatholic.com.

And it has nothing to do with St. Nicholas Day besides the fact it was named after the children's saint, but I can't resist putting in a plug for St. Nicholas Magazine.

04 December 2010

21 Days Before Christmas

Oh, goodness! I hated that alarm clock this morning! We didn't go to bed until two. But I tiptoed out of bed and got dressed and started wrapping gifts that needed to be mailed out. I was going at such a clip I could hear the background music from Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol when Scrooge and Dick are cleaning out Fezziwig's counting house going in my head. (I was also checking out the Scotch tape hand dispenser I got to review from Amazon Vine. It works out splendidly!) I wrapped gifts for four people (there were five packages) and then put them in padded envelopes (all they needed, except for one that needed a box), then got dressed (I had hastily gulped down some oatmeal and milk between packages) and we scooted out to the Marietta post office. It was remarkably empty for a Saturday in December—only about ten people in line! (You have to see it on weekdays; the line is usually out the door, with secretaries in there with piles of envelopes from the lawyers who work at the courthouse.)

So the packages are off, the Christmas cards are mailed, and my one international card will be winging its way soon—and it wasn't even noon yet.

We ended up going to the hobby shop via Sam's Club. Walked around Sam's and found some gifts to put away. James has been asking for Christmas ideas, so I asked if he would buy Theodore Rex while I bought The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. I started reading the latter while we were at the hobby shop. I love the narrative already and I haven't even gotten past the introduction.

On the way home we stopped at Bernhard's Bakery and got a half dozen treats for the next three days' desserts.

Once home, it was a-bustle again. James pulled out the outside lights and proceeded to start putting them up, while I assembled the new rocker. Allen wrenches. I hate Allen wrenches. :-) But it is all put together and settled with a Christmas fleece throw and a holly-patterned pillow (and I had to vacuum and vacuum later on to get all the crumbs of that darned styrofoam from the box off the rug).

James had the tall lights up when I got out there, and I helped him do the railings and then the bushes (I just scatter the lights over the tops, so it looks like blue stars fell on them). We were continually threatened by spatters of rain, but it held back while we were out there. Now we have blue lights (with white stars and white snowflakes).

After that both of us were too tuckered to go out to eat anywhere. We had pizza and watched the news, and now I have Christmas specials on: John Denver and the Muppets, The Bestest Present and The Christmas Angel, It's a Wonderful Tiny Toons Christmas Special, and now A Very Merry Cricket.

(Okay, Chester and Company is over. James has gone down to the man cave and I'm putting Ask the Manager Christmas eps on. Time for Joe (and Dan) and Dana!)

03 December 2010

22 Days Before Christmas

Thursday was mostly devoted to work, and I was quite happy to get two orders done on the new Virtual Desktop. We couldn't do it previously because macros were not enabled in Word. I was told by IT to enable all macros because it was a secure environment; previously we had been forbidden to do so due to viruses. So, yay!

During lunch I got the foyer decorated; at least the lights on the miniatures tree worked this year! Later on I was able to decorate the divider that separates the upper story from the foyer.

Just before we went to bed, James brought up the board that goes over the mantel shelf and I brought up the box with the village. That was for today, but it was done very late in the afternoon.

I started out by trying to print the labels for the Christmas card envelopes. This was a terrible mess. The cartridge in my printer was shot, so I tried to print them on James' printer. James' printer has never been the same since he tried to print some decals and got the paper wrapped around the drum and we had to peel it off. They eventually did print, but half of them were bad.

I did, however, finally get the yearly newsletter printed out neatly.

About eleven I left for the Apple Annie Craft Show at St. Anne's Church off Roswell Road. On the way there I stopped at Publix for cash and the post awful for stamps.

The show was fun, although the vendors I wanted to be there weren't (the woman who makes the bottle straps and the person who sold the dog soap). I got only three small things, two of them gifts.

On the way back I stopped at Borders. Found some neat little photo-history books like this, the 1900s, 1910s, and 1930s, for only $2 each. Also bought a "Period Living" and a book (which it turned out we had—I thought we only had the DVD).

On the way out I saw a new hardback called Christmas 1945. Wow! Looks great!

Stopped at Trader Joe's for some bread for lunch and also some proscuitto, but I didn't look at the label carefully enough. It's smoked. Ugh. But I was hungry, so ate it anyway.

Then stopped at Target to buy the glider rocker I have picked out to replace the papasan chair. It turned out the box was too big for the back of my car, so I told them we would come back tonight. I did get a new toner cartridge for my printer before coming home. I got the Samsung original (the price merely made me scream silently) instead of the Office Depot refurb, which is what I got last time. It made nice black copies for a short while and then scattered toner all over the inside of the printer and has given me nothing but pale grey copies for months.

It was only after I'd nursed a sinus headache and taken the dog out that I got to work on the village. Luckily I put everything in the same place each year, so it was easy to place the seven buildings and then arrange the now-well known figures around them: the returning soldier greeting his girl, the nuns singing to the family while Father O'Malley reads his scripture out back, the kid with his tongue stuck to the flagpole, the boy with the plane model, the shoppers exiting Woolworth's, and the policemen just having left "the Buttery" (which is downstairs from radio station WENN, of course).

We had supper at Ken's Grill again, then went back to Target to fetch the rocker and to Borders to return the book (I found its sequel and got that instead). James got me the Christmas 1945 book for Christmas! On the way home we spotted Christmas lights at every quarter, including the house that has a big trumpeting angel on each gatepost of their house.

We received our first Christmas card today, which was enough incentive for me to sit down and finish all the signatures, stick the missives in certain envelopes and label them, and then sticker and stamp them, which I finished up during Tonight.

01 December 2010

24 Days Before Christmas

I'd like to say "decorating is going apace," but work takes priority; still, there is lunchtime and after work hours. I started with the kitchen and the dining room, but ran into a snag immediately: the top shelf of the ceppo had come unglued—no idea how. So I had to fix that up and start something else. So both rooms are done, feather trees, sparkly bits, reindeer, and lots and lots of gingerbread, despite having to wrangle with the bead garlands on those feather trees. I think a bit of the reason that we don't have a Christmas tree with garlands—besides the fact that I love tinsel icicles so—is that hanging the fool things to me are like wrestling with Spanish inquisitors.

After supper I also got the Rudolph tree up, and placed decorations in the guest room, and Schuyler also has her decorations (they all play music, natch).

During lunch I also played one of Rick Steves' Christmas-oriented "Travels" podcasts. Since I've just discovered them, there is a backlog of about four years' worth. I'm trying to ration them to last through the season. Since the downloads aren't dated, I'm not certain which year I listened to, but it was Rick chatting with friends about Christmas in Spain, Hungary, the Netherlands, Sicily, Australia, and Paris. The chat about Hungary reminded me of the marvelous chapter about "Mikulas" in The Good Master. In the Dutch segment, the young woman sang and translated the little song the Dutch girl sings in Miracle on 34th Street; the words basically ask "Sinter Klaas" to drop a gift into her shoes. I had to laugh at the Sicilian portion, when the men were talking about being "mama's boys" and wives competing with their mothers-in-law! They mentioned a fascinating old Sicilian custom: children didn't get toys at Christmas, they used to get them on All Saints Day! Now that is something I never knew.

Sirius turned on XM Holiday Pops today, so I had that for background music most of the time.


Christmas Forever, edited by David G. Hartwell
This is the second (I think) in Hartwell's string of Christmas sci-fi/fantasy short stories. As always in anthologies, there are some you like, some you don't—and with fantasy, sometimes a couple you don't understand.

In general, I liked this book. The first story, about a youngster who wants to make a Christmas on an alien planet, sets the stage for the remainder of the stories well. I particularly enjoyed "My Favorite Christmas," about a teenager spending Christmas with a legendary uncle; "Prince of the Powers of This World," about a child waiting for a Christmas birth; "The Cockatrice Boys," about a fight against monsters who have invaded Earth; the sentimental "Pal O'Mine," "A Present for Santa," set in a future where the Government decides whether you live or die; the humorous "We Three Kings," featuring three Christmas monsters; "Christmas Wingding," even a very odd story where Scrooge becomes the film noir gumshoe in a Maltese Falcon world. Several were...very strange. "A Present for Hanna" was just plain creepy.

The story that most affected me was "And When They Appear." It was a very imaginative story of a poor society revolting against the rich from the POV of a small boy who lives in a house designed to protect him. But the last two pages were just so terribly creepy I cannot get the story out of my mind, and I wish it would go away.

Recommended if you don't have problems with stories staying with you (otherwise just skip that one).

28 November 2010

"We Gather Together"

I am always on the lookout for new Thanksgiving books.

Your typical Thanksgiving book for adults is a cookbook, whether of traditional foods or new twists, like using other ethnic foods for "spice." The book may also have tips on decorating: "tablescaping" and other ideas of how to set a pretty table.

However, very few adult books ever talk about the holiday itself. Those are mostly reserved for children, and run the gamut from the old "Pilgrims and the Indians" story to stories about being generous and giving thanks.

This year I bought two new (to me) Thanksgiving books that are concerned with the latter rather than the former.

One is indeed a children's book and has been out for a while. 1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving is a publication of National Geographic and Catherine O'Neill Grace and Margaret M. Bruchac of Plimouth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Although we have learned for years now that most of our stories about "the first Thanksgiving" are myths created after the fact, many people still think that Pilgrims wore black and had hats and boots with buckles, that the feast they celebrated in 1621 was a "Thanksgiving," and other myths. More importantly, the book devotes much of its pages to the Native Americans who already inhabited the area we now call "Plymouth," and why some celebrate a "National Day of Mourning" to commemorate the loss of their culture.

This slim volume is liberally illustrated and even contains a couple of recipes, but not your ordinary ones.

James W. Baker has written the very readable Thanksgiving: The Biography of an American Holiday. This works very well as a companion piece to Diana Appelbaum's Thanksgiving, but is an easier read without being simplistic. It also touches more on things like images, writings, and films about Thanksgiving, changes in menus in the intervening years, and parades and football games. The one thing that this book makes very clear is that the "iconic" Thanksgiving imagery of Pilgrims and Indians only became emphasized at the very end of the 19th century and during the early decades of the 20th, back when the United States became flooded with non-English speaking immigrants whom the schools wished to impress upon some idea of the country's heritage. Previous to that it was just a New England holiday which spread as New England residents moved westward, and involved reunions with family and friends. Even stories about Thanksgiving mostly emphasized reunions between estranged or long-parted relatives; Pilgrims and Indians were not mentioned.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to read more about the history of the Thanksgiving holiday and its changing face over four centuries.

First Sunday of Advent

Some classic religious Christmas cartoons:

"The Candlemaker" (1957)

"The Christmas Visitor"

"The Little Lamb"

27 November 2010

28 Days Until Christmas

The Mischief of the Mistletoe, Lauren Willig
While this is the seventh of Willig's "Pink Carnation" novels, it actually takes place concurrently with part of the fifth book, Temptation of the Night Jasmine. Poor but proud Arabella Dempsey (childhood friends with the great Jane Austen), the daughter of an impoverished vicar, takes a position as a junior instructor at a school for wealthy girls. She hasn't been there long before she bumps (literally) into lovable but clumsy Reginald "Turnip" Fitzhugh, personal friend of English spies "the Purple Gentian" and "the Pink Carnation," who's delivering a hamper to his sister. When Arabella tries to return a Christmas pudding to Fitzhugh, she is accosted by a man who wishes to take it from her and is rescued by Turnip.

It turns out the pudding is wrapped in a message, but even though the practical Arabella pooh-poohs the notion of spies, odd things just keep happening to her—things that keep tossing her in the path of the hapless but gallant Turnip.

This is the usual "Pink Carnation" mix of romance, Napoleonic England, and mild adventure, with more than its share of humor and Christmas cheer. Fans of the Carnation will certainly enjoy—but fair warning: Willig just introduced three new characters!

(Incidentally, there's a delicious inside joke as Turnip visits his sister Sally's school, Miss Climpson's Select Seminary for Young Ladies; Sally and her friends are all talking at once with great emphasis, and Turnip wonders why they must constantly use italics. If you've read Dorothy Sayers, it's a true laugh-aloud moment.)