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.)

The Holiday Whirl

It was a busy Thanksgiving-before-and-after and it's good to be able to sit down and write about it.

Wednesday involved Willow's type of "hunting," for food, that is! I was off to get elements of the feast.

Note to self: Food Depot does not sell Oven Fry (needed for the top of James' corn casserole), nor newspapers any longer. So i wouldn't try there tomorrow. I did find Oven Fry and some useful twofers at Publix.

Next came a pleasant interlude at Harry's Farmer's Market. I love going here between Thanksgiving and Christmas! The place is full of holiday specialties: pannettone, nuts, cookies of all sorts, clementines, and more, spotted with decorations, and filled with rushing shoppers (some of them rushing too much; I was bumped into and cut off several times), plus Christmas trees and wreaths. I stocked up on cashews and white wine for cooking, bought some supper for tonight (ginger teriyaki chicken thighs), and some chicken noodle soup for lunch. I was looking for an apple pie, but the ones Harry's had were drowned in sugar. Ugh.

It was a long while before I got to eat the soup. I went out to Trader Joe's and did find a more sensible pie, and some other items for dinners and dessert, and also stopped at Borders, since there was a 50 percent off coupon for today only. They had the only copy of The Crocodile's Last Embrace in the area. While I was wandering around I noticed there was a new collection of Valdemar short stories out. (Ah, that's Borders; I checked to see if it was out at another store, and it told me it wasn't released yet.) There were also three additional Christmas-themed magazines out!

I did finally get home to eat the luscious soup, and watch The Thanksgiving Treasure, because I just couldn't wait anymore. I was teary-eyed listening to Grandma talk about getting past the death of her husband. I love the ship analogy. After that, I watched more of Ellery Queen until James got home. The chicken was delicious, but tasted more smoked than ginger teriyaki. For dessert we each had a chocolate mousse tartlet that I had picked up at the bakery at Harry's. Then James wanted to take advantage of the 50 off coupon himself, so we went to the Borders at Town Center since we hadn't been there in a bit. Came home through the park, glimpsing homes with early Christmas decorations.

Thanksgiving morning I was up at 8:30 in a not-so-frustrating search for a paper; the second place I went had one. I sat and watched the Macy's Parade while reading the stories proper and giving the ads the once-over. I'm mainly looking for some thumb drives to replace the ones I seem to have lost. Trying to pick up a Christmas gift as well.

Halfway through the morning James put together the corn casserole and also assembled the key lime pie. It was made from a key lime cheeseball mix, with juice, pulp, and zest of a lime and some lemon-lime syrup added. We left the house a little after one with an apple pie, the key lime pie, the corn casserole, and thai ginger carrots to add to the feast at the Lucyshyns along with the Butlers, the Kiernans, and the Boroses.

Not much to say about the afternoon: we chatted, ate a great dinner (two turkeys and some roast beef, "with all the trimmings"), watched some of Neil's videos, talked some more, saw a spectacular sunset, just enjoyed being "family by choice." We were there past dark, collected our turkey carcass for soup, and drove home, stopping only to check out the extraordinary light display in the development across the street from Alex and Pat's neighborhood. Good God. There were trees, Santas, reindeer, candy canes, a manger, light strings...it can probably be seen from orbit.

We got home to relax, but couldn't stay up late, as I was going out shopping the next day and James had to go to work. Still, we were up too late for my tastes, wanting to get up at six! So I got about six hours sleep, creeping out of the house about 6:30.

For some stupid reason I went to the Brookwood Office Max instead of the Parkway Pointe. They had the best price on thumb drives, brand name ones to boot—and wasn't opening until seven. So I joined the line, casting a speculative eye up to the cloudy sky (it was supposed to start raining at 3 a.m.), and walked in almost directly at seven, going right to the back where the thumb drives were. There was one guy there (everyone else was surrounding the cameras and the phones) looking at the wall with disbelief; all they had were 4GB thumb drives (8's and 16's were on sale, too; I wanted one of each). I got a 4GB, and the clerk told me the others were at customer service, but the customer service lady said no. I paid for the 4, but by that time I was fuming, kicked Twilight into gear, and drove to Parkway Pointe. They still had 8GB drives left out, and 16GB drives in the back.

At Bed, Bath and Beyond, bought James a zester. A bit late, since we needed it yesterday, but we have it now. :-)

Then I drove up to East Cobb (again). There had been a 50 percent off Borders coupon in the paper and I wanted the Valdemar book I saw on Wednesday. I was also starving, since I'd only had a cup of yogurt and a little bag of trail mix since six o'clock and it was past nine by the time I got there. I had a coupon for a free coffee, but they let me substitute a Cocoa Trio, so I sat at Borders for a bit sipping it gingerly (it was very hot) and reading some of the book.

By the time I left Borders, it was raining in earnest. I put up my hood and went on to the Bed, Bath and Beyond at the end of the parking lot. I'd decided to get the micro-cloth memory foam bath mats that I have been looking at. We have been using towel bath mats for years, and they just slip on the floors. These are softer, more stable, but still machine-washable.

Next I stopped at Michaels (25 percent off on everything including sale items), since I needed a new silver garland for the winter decorations for the porch. Got a few minor other things to complete some Christmas gifts.

At this point I think I was a bit punch-drunk and thought I might see if a couple of things I'd seen in the Target flyer were still there. This was sheer folly since Target had been open since 4 a.m. Sure enough, neither were there, but I did have a nice bowl of chicken noodle soup at their cafè, then went on to Town Center. Stopped at Barnes & Noble and found a collection of steampunk short stories, then decided to see if I could get to the Yankee Candle store.

Now last year I went to Town Center Mall on Black Friday. It sounded crazy, but there was plenty of parking in the back where the Yankee Candle store is.

Not this year; it was full to the very edge of the parking lot. They were "parking in the galleries" as I always describe it. It was even full near Sears. So I hope all this shopping is stimulating the economy.

I really was running out of gas by this time, so I just went on to BJs, picked up a couple of things, and bought a Christmas gift, and the first season of The Flying Nun (for only $10). As I trudged the length of the store and back, my legs felt like they weighed a ton. It was time to get home.

It was after two when I got in, intending to eat and take a nap. But after I put a few things up, I couldn't settle, so I had the rest of the demi-baguette and watched The Thanksgiving Treasure again. I finally ended up napping just before James got home.

I was ravenous by this time and got so disappointed. James stopped at Wendys and ordered me my usual, a plain junior hamburger and a baked potato, butter only. When I opened it, it turned out to be a junior cheeseburger (ugh) and the baked potato had been drenched in cheese! What is so difficult to understand about "junior hamburger plain" and "baked potato, butter only"? "Cheese" doesn't even sound like "butter." Bleah. So Willow ate the burger, I grimaced through the potato, and ate the rest of my leftover fried rice.

We finished up the evening watching something called 30 Funniest Holiday Television Moments, sponsored by the Paley Center (the old Museum of Television and Radio, I believe). No offense, but most of it sucked. Half of the "funniest" moments were merely stupid. And since they did include Thanksgiving moments amongst the holiday designation, where the dickens was the turkey drop from WKRP in Cincinnati???? That was funny, not this craptacular junk from Two and a Half Men or Curb Your Enthusiasm. Yuck. Surprisingly, the Thanksgiving "tofurkey" clip from Everybody Loves Raymond was actually funny. I usually find Raymond deadly—everyone does not love him. :-)

24 November 2010

31 Days Until Christmas

The Man Who Invented Christmas, Les Standiford
In 1843, Charles Dickens was in difficult financial straits. While his first few books had been hits, his latest was selling slowly and bills were due. As he worried over this truncated income, he was one of a group of men who appeared at one of the poorest of the free schools and was appalled by the hunger and poverty he saw, hunger not only physical but emotional and spiritual.

He wanted to not only increase his income, but provide some recognition for the poor. Years earlier he has written a short story about a parsimonious church deacon who is visited by ghosts. Perhaps he could rework that idea...and when the idea struck him, it struck hard: thus A Christmas Carol was born.

This little book is a good accounting of Dickens' life at the time of its publication, of the state of London's poor, and of the little regard given to Christmas in that era, since it had been quenched by Oliver Cromwell two centuries earlier. Dickens, of course, did not "invent" Christmas, but he invented a new way of looking at it: not high revelry in rich courts as it had been before the commonwealth, but a family-centered, charity-centered celebration. If you are interested in how Christmas got its start being a family holiday rather than an excuse for drunkenness, you should enjoy Standiford's volume. However, I don't think it's worth the list price placed upon it; this is a good book to buy used or at remainder prices.

22 November 2010

33 Days Until Christmas

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas Magic, edited by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, and Amy Newmark
Little needs to be said about the contents of this volume unless you've been sequestered for the last umpety-umph years and have never seen a "Chicken Soup for the Soul" book of inspirational anecdotes. This is the newest Yuletide collection with a nice mixture of sobering, sentimental, and even humorous stories and cartoons. My favorite piece is "I've Got a Secret," probably the funniest "Chicken Soup" story I've ever read, and the cartoons are cute.

Let's face it; if you like inspirational stories or are a fan of this series, you will enjoy this book—I did. Otherwise, cynics beware!

21 November 2010

36 Days Until Christmas

Today was the first of my use-or-lose Fridays and I made the most of it by getting a bit of extra sleep. I toyed with going out, but instead worked on some holiday crafts.

So here I was on the Friday before Thanksgiving playing Christmas music while gussying up Hallowe'en decorations. :-) Playing actual records, too: my copy of the Cranston High School East A Capella Choir LP, "The Partridge Family Christmas Album," and "The Waltons Christmas Album," all nostalgic. My best friend Sherrye was in the A Capella Choir and on one song she has a duet with another soprano. I can always pick out her voice.

The Hallowe'en ornaments weren't much. They are small baubles—I hate saying "balls"; it has such a negative connotation these days!—less than an inch in diameter, in matte black and dark orange. I had a sample collection of "Hallowe'en glitter," so I took six black baubles, coated them in Elmer's glue, and then on three sprinkled bright orange glitter and on three bright green glitter. I used black and purple glitter on the orange ones, drawing bats with glue on three (black glitter) and ghosts (purple). Well, they're supposed to be ghosts and bats, anyway. LOL. Some may see them as shapeless blobs.

Next I painted the supposedly "white" little stool I'd bought on sale at Michael's. The little red stool is already doing duty in holding a stuffed turkey down in the foyer; it will also be employed for Christmas and Valentine's Day, and, with proper decoration, Independence Day. The white stool was actually more dirty cream-colored, and "distressed." Frankly, it looked more annoyed. :-) I painted it a matte pale "winter blue," and it will be used in the winter and for Easter. I didn't bother "distressing" it.

I started working on a Christmas project, but got tired of that, cleared off the rocker, and, to Schuyler's displeasure, sat listening to podcasts while cross-stitching. If Skye had her way, she'd watch television every minute. Listened to one "History of the World in 100 Objects," and a "Travel With Rick Steves" about Belgium and Belize. Did you know it's shorter to get to Tikal (in Guatemala) from Belize? Also lots of talk about "French" fries (invented in Belgium and eaten there with mayonnaise) and Flemish now being the primary language over French.

I am working on this.

13 November 2010

43 Days Until Christmas

Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Jingle Bell Christmas
Leave it in the bathroom during the Yuletide season for quick reading during periods of "unavoidable delay." There are jokes, facts, trivia, quizzes, historical stories, and various other tidbits. Not much else to say—it's perfect for the job "at hand." :-)

11 November 2010

45 Days Until Christmas

The Christmas Chronicles: The Legend of Santa Claus, Tim Stover
Our narrator is in the woods gathering pine boughs for Christmas when his car becomes stuck in the snow. There he comes into possession of a green book which purports to be the true history of the man we know as Santa Claus. This little book about the origin of Santa Claus is no relation to Jeff Guinn's Christmas trilogy also known as "The Christmas Chronicles" (I find the choice of title actually a bit bland and wish Stover or his publisher had found something more unique). Klaus is an orphan raised by carpenters who becomes the ultimate woodcarver, and who falls in love with Anna, who loves to race in a sleigh pulled by the reindeer Dasher. As the tale proceeds, all aspects of the legend are pulled into the story, a bit like Rankin-Bass' Santa Claus is Comin' to Town, but written for an older audience. And that's the rub. Had I not been brought up on this Christmas special, or read various other tales of the Santa Claus myth, including L. Frank Baum's The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, the aforementioned Guinn books, and Britney Ryan's wonderful Legend of Holly Claus, this might have seemed fresh and unique to me. Although it sets up some original ideas, like the hidden road that Santa follows, the total seemed a rather tame effort to make some magic from aspects of the Santa legend, like why "Mrs. Claus" doesn't travel on Christmas Eve. Even Rudolph, here known as "Ranulf," is dragged into the story. If you have not read any other takes on the Santa Claus story, this one may please you, but I found it lacking given its predecessors.

03 November 2010

52 Days Until Christmas

A cloudy, chilly November day, just as it should be. I am working, and burning a cinnamon stick Yankee Candle, having almost finished a load of laundry and putting away the Hallowe'en decorations. (I was taking down Hallowe'en decorations to replace with Thanksgiving decorations to the tune of Christmas music. Love it!)

Someone on one of my Christmas groups noted that not only did Dish Network start their Christmas music, but they have six different channels this year; in the past they have only had one. One is country, one is Christian, one is a very odd "Remix" channel that wasn't half bad, one is instrumental, one is classical, and one is jazz. Listened to the instrumental channel for a while, then put on the CD I bought in Ellijay on Monday, Christmas music done on hammered dulcimer, which I can't resist. I then put on "Voices of Christmas Past," which is a collection of old recordings from 1898 to 1924. Love listening to the voices of the men singing in those days, a completely different style of singing; lots of tremolo in it, like old songs you might hear by Irish tenors, with much more emphasis than we would use in a song today. This is the type of album I love to collect, either quiet instrumentals or unusual music, not the new album by the latest singer.

This album also has several "spoken only" pieces, like "Uncle Josh" talking about Christmas at "Punkin Creek" (typical small-town humor) and a piece with an "Oirish" family having Christmas (at least the stereotype isn't insulting), and another that is supposedly a group of British "Tommies" around the fire during the Great War.

Now I am listening to a two-CD set called "A Vintage Christmas Cracker," music from 1914-1949. The "gimmick" is that this is a British album, so, although there are bits of hit American songs on it, like Bing Crosby's "White Christmas," and British bands playing American hits like "Little Brown Jug," the majority of the songs are British, like "The Fairy on the Christmas Tree," and even the King's Christmas message to the Empire.