31 December 2011

Happy Sylvester!

In reading Joanna Bogle's A Book of Feasts and Seasons, she mentions being in Germany on New Year's Eve and hearing no mention of that term. Instead, they greeted each other with "Happy Sylvester!"

Sylvester was a Pope, and later became a Saint, and his Saint's day is December 31. Since I had a little budgie named Sylvester many years ago, I like the mention of the name.

James and I have both been a bit under the weather today: I was up during the night and he's had problems today. Nothing contagious, thankfully.

About noon we dragged ourselves out of the house, first to Goodwill to bring a box of donations, and then the library to do the same. The check-out area was filled with delightful old-fashioned decorations like paper chains of reindeer heads (embellished with glitter, the antlers excellently done) and snowflakes, and also red-and-green circle paper chains like you see in vintage photographs. There were also chenille snowflakes and three-dimensional paper ones. It was all very simple but pretty. So that got done (and, oh, yeah, later on I did get the new stickers on the car license plates—legal for 2012).

Then we went to the hobby shop for about an hour. I finished Christmas is Murder, a very lackluster mystery set in a British bread-and-breakfast, the chief sleuth being a Scottish barrister. Very flat characters.

We wished all a Happy New Year, then drove two miles to Eastlake Shopping Center to have a late lunch at the Panera Bread. I filled up on soup and a grilled cheese sandwich, and had an apple left over. They have an area near the front that is like a "snug," with upholstered chairs and a loveseat near a gas fireplace open on both sides, and we sat in front of the fire to eat. It was very warm out, in the low 60s, and I was glad the fire was turned down low!

I realized this morning we didn't have anything for New Year's dinner, so I suggested to James that we go in the nearby Kroger to find some ham. Well, since we were there anyway we did the weekend shopping and also scored: not only the beef vegetable soup James liked so well at the Johnson Ferry Kroger, but a pork roast! We find these only intermittently at the Whitlock Road Kroger and grab them when we can. Ham? Who needs a ham if you can have yummy pork roast? James bought black-eyed peas, of course, and I also got some cucumbers for a salad and some French bread.

I have football on the television this afternoon. I can't say I'm watching it, but I like the sound of football around New Year and on Thanksgiving. It reminds me of long-ago holidays when part of the afternoon's visiting might be tiptoeing upstairs in my Grandpa's house, a place where time had stopped: a fifties stove the newest thing in the kitchen, a scrupulously pressed checkered tablecloth seen year after year, a dining room with stately old furniture from the turn of the last century, and in the living room, which still had its aged, cigarette-smoke stained surface and light sconces that looked like candles, an uncle or two would be sitting watching a football game on an aged television in a wooden console. (Well, they said they were watching, anyway. Usually we would find them, heads tilted back on vintage antimacassars, sound asleep.) Or later the guys gathered around the television at my cousins Eileen and Buddy's house. Warm fuzzy memories making me want to follow the uncles' example. Heck, Schuyler is already asleep!

30 December 2011

"...Fast Away the Old Year Passes..."

Goodness! How two weeks has flown by!

In the past two days I've been absorbing as much Christmas as possible, to armor myself against the constant horror of the coming summer. It's been cold and brisk, although a bit warmer today, alternately sunny and overcast. With Christmas music in the background, I've amused myself by listening to BBC radio—oh, such a blessing as the Internet to give me the gift of the BBC without having to buy a costly shortwave radio and listen to at odd hours and miss all the best things! They had a special featuring James Galway and his wife on BBC Radio Ulster, and all sorts of good things, like treats crammed into a stocking, better than all the Kardashians and rap singers and BieberGaga clones put together.

Today I have been watching Christmassy things saved to DVD: a Lassie episode, "The Little Christmas Tree"; Christmas: Behind the Traditions; The City Mouse and the Country Mouse, The Best of the Andy Williams Christmas Shows, The Little Match Girl with Keshia Knight-Pulliam, and now A Pops Holiday Special. I didn't even see a broadcast of this year's Boston Pops concert—was there one? (If there was, GPB and WPBA probably didn't pick it up in favor of showing the fourteen thousandth showing of Suze Orman and Wayne Dyer.

I've also been able to help James set up his new computer some. We've had some tough sledging against Windows 7's peculiarities. For instance, we loaded Eudora e-mail after copying his mailbox files and their tables of contents. By loading these old files and "toc" files into the Eudora folder, he would just pick up where he left off.

Except Win7 doesn't load the mailbox folders into the Eudora folder. Instead it creates them in a special user "roaming" folder...which is a hidden file. So first we had to find the folders, then find how to access the hidden files, while all the time Windows argued with James about that being an administrator job. You git, he is the administrator. Really, Microsoft's reasoning just gets stupider with each version.

Work has been slow, so I've also had the gift of James for the last two afternoons. He wasn't feeling well yesterday and contented himself with some chicken soup and working on the computer. Today he's figuring out how to get some music files off the old computer.

[Later: We had a twofer coupon for my birthday at Fresh2Order, so we went there for supper. I had the chicken vegetable; delicious and filling as always. We stopped briefly at MicroCenter to price some hardware, then took this year's drive through Life University for their annual "Lights of Life" display. Nearly all of their lights seem to have been replaced by LEDs; the effect is brilliant on particular characters, like the Santa-hat wearing dragon in the middle of the pond and "Santa's Flying School" (the reindeer climb a ramp and then parachute down), but the nativity and some of the Victorian figures really need a softer light. Perhaps they can make LEDs like that someday.]

27 December 2011

Looking for Bargains on the Third Day of Christmas

Wish I could figure out what makes my phone turn on at night! It's a rude awakening indeed. Of course, I apparently missed the thunder.

When I got up it was still drippy and grey outside, but the rain was clearing away nicely, leaving a chill, cloudy day in the 40s with a brisk wind. I dubbed off a couple of Christmas specials (the new Prep & Landing, the Ice Age story, and The Real Story of Christmas), then got dressed and went out bargain hunting. Found a gift for next year at Barnes & Noble, then went to Bed, Bath & Beyond to use a couple of coupons about to run out. Got two very nice rolls of Christmas paper for a dollar each, plus some gift bags, and replaced something I had bought for James, then gave away; also some string, some Plinks, and a final Misto for the canola oil.

Next I hit Michaels. Bought another gift, a bag of bows, a winter basket, and all they had left of the small, square Christmas ornament cross-stitch kits (like the angel I made last month). I don't particularly like the designs, but the square frames are hard to find. I have books of small patterns (not even particularly Christmas patterns) that I can use with the frames, Aida cloth, and backing instead.

Then I went across the parking lot to Cost Plus World Market. I found Pumpkin Spice Scone mix for 50 cents each, and Peppermint Chocolate Chip Scone Mix for half price.

My last stop was Family Dollar, but just junk there.

The mail had run by the time I got home, and discovered two more Christmas cards, and yet another one returned! I am trying to record a few Christmas things off the BBC, but with James' old computer not accessible and the new one not properly set up yet, I am resorting to my own computer. I have no idea how these will sound, although the sound coming from the BBC is fine to listen to. Not only are there drop-outs in the recording sometimes, but when I play them back, the sound always sounds funny...at least the music. It appears to be muffled sometimes, and even drags like the batteries are running out on a cassette player. Can't imagine why.

26 December 2011

A Late Gift for Boxing Day

James had today off, half of which we wasted by sleeping late. (We're just storing up sleep for the next day we have to work. ) Then we went over to MicroCenter. James has been toying with the idea of a new computer, and we had looked at some after Thanksgiving. He is rapidly running out of room on his hard drive, even though we have cleaned it off numerous times. The computer is also very slow, and he hopes, if he needs to have surgery on his foot (that has yet to be determined), that he could work here at home. Unfortunately, when we went back a couple of weeks later, the two we looked at were gone.

Today all the units they had were more expensive than those we had looked at, but the salesman told us about a sale on a Gateway: James could get a Windows 7 professional upgrade, a graphics card, and 6GB of memory with this particular computer and have it come out less than the least expensive one we looked at. But he hadn't wanted to spend quite that much. So we got the clerk's card and went on to Fry's, which was having a one-day sale. But all their desktops were much more expensive.

So we left Fry's and made a brief stop at a nearby Hallmark store to see what they had at 40 percent off. I bought hooks and adapters, and a pretty little angel with birds figurine, some Hanukkah cards, and a roll of wrapping paper. We also stopped at Trader Joe's for sausage, chicken salad, and sandwich meats. I was bad and bought some popcorn. I'll have to eat it sparingly as it makes me ill.

Then we stopped back at MicroCenter and bought the computer. James has been setting it up ever since. He first put in the graphics card and memory, then upgraded to Win7 Professional and loaded Firefox. We had to get Win7Pro because this is a 64-bit machine and we needed an emulator to run our 32-bit programs. So we didn't watch the Christmas Doctor Who tonight, but a couple of Feasts and Seasons, the special Italian Christmas, and two episodes of Lassie.

25 December 2011

Santa Rings His Christmas Bells

The House Without a Christmas Tree ended just after midnight. By then I was about to burst.

You see, I had wangled a special gift for James. When the Nook Color readers came out, there was particular interest from the Android community because the units can be hacked. (The salespeople in Barnes & Noble will even talk about it right out.) You could either root the unit itself to turn it into an Android tablet, or get a bootable miniSD card which would start the unit as a tablet. A friend of ours' brother-in-law had chosen the latter option, and we were rather intrigued, one of the reasons we bought a Nook in the first place, but we hadn't done anything about it.

Since the Nook tablet came out, we have been both casting covetous looks at it, but it's a totally unnecessary expense. So I went back to e-Bay and hunted around for people selling miniSD Android boot cards. One person had a flawless rating and his prices were very reasonable (he didn't charge much more for a formatted card than the card costs by itself). So I ordered two, and they finally came on Tuesday. I wanted to try mine out that afternoon, but James came home early, and then he was off on Wednesday. So I didn't get to try out the gadget until Thursday, but the directions were very clear and I got everything up and working within an hour, and I even tested it out on Friday going out to Panera Bread. By then I was reduced to giggling to myself and tossing out veiled references on Facebook, including an obscure post about sampling some gingerbread (the operating system on the card is referred to as "Gingerbread," as the Android developers name their different versions after desserts—we have "Froyo" [frozen yogurt] on our phones and the newest tablet software is "Honeycomb," to be followed by "Ice Cream Sandwich").

So once it was after midnight, we had gifts. James got through his in turn: a wireless mouse with some shortbread, a book 50 Battles That Changed the World, a new cover for his Nook, the Flying Wild Alaska DVD set, and the Blu-Ray of World War II in HD, and finally the card, which was taped to the back of a Scottish door sign.

(I had a lovely group of gifts from him as well: the Scrabble "Book Lovers" edition, a Rick Steves gift set of Blu-Ray of European Christmas and the companion book and CD, plus a "Travel Tips" DVD, a compass, and a microfiber travel towel, Ken Jennings' book Maphead (about geography geeks), the newest Revels Christmas CD, and a nostalgia book called Christmas Wishes, crammed with old advertising and other Christmas media.)

Well, we ended up being up until three a.m. because James ran into a minor snag. Oh, the card worked for him perfectly, but to have access to the Android market he needs to sign into the tablet operating system with his Google I.D. that was set up for the cell phones. Except he hasn't used the Google account since we bought the phones two years ago, so he has no idea what the password is, even though he has several convoluted ones he usually uses and he tried them all. We finally asked Google to help us, and they have an even more convoluted password retrieval system. James had to fill out a long form, and this morning they asked for 30 cents to confirm that the request was coming from a real person who wasn't being frivolous. [eyes roll]

So I ended up only getting about six hours sleep, which included waking up being cold because my fan was on medium instead of being on low, and the fleece over the comforter had slipped off. So my eyes have been rather sore today. I was up at 9:40, and walked the dog out in the pouring rain—last year we had snow, this year it was cold rain, hardly a fair trade, but at least it wasn't warm! James didn't get up until eleven, and then I went out to get a newspaper, and later he made more brownies for Christmas dinner as well as a corn pudding. Eventually I had to take some ibuprofin and give my head a rest before we got dressed, gathered the food and the gifts, and headed out to the Butlers' house about 3:30.

It was a nice little gathering: us, the Lucyshyns at the last minute, as Alex had emergency surgery last week, Charles, the Kiernans, the Boroses, and all four Butlers plus Colin's college friend Jessica. All the food was yummy: a ham, some turkey breast and a pot roast, two kinds of potatoes, sweet potato souffle, rolls and biscuits, stuffing, and the corn pudding, plus three pies, the brownies, a cake, and some mint fudge for dessert. When we'd eaten our fill we had gifts: I got a pretty mug filled with chocolates and the animal book Unlikely Friendships and James got Tom Clancy's new book and a book about war dogs. A very nice day with friends which ended about nine, when we headed home to give Willow a walk and then watch A Christmas Story and "The Best Christmas" episode of The Waltons. Willow got a special treat, too, her very first taste of the dog ice cream "Frosty Paws."

24 December 2011

Over the River and Through the Woods

We did go to Grandmother's house (well, Schuyler and Willow's grandmother), but our sleigh looked more like a PT Cruiser. Felt like it, too. :-)

We were up at nine, James walked Willow, we packed up the desserts we were taking, I gave Schuyler some millet and Willow some cookies to find. Ordinarily we take the truck down to Warner Robins, but since we had a big box of gifts we didn't want them rattling in the bed of the truck, even if we covered it up with a trash bag. So the gifts went into the back, the desserts in the back seat, and off we went, listening to Christmas carols via my Droid.

Traffic was light except for a mystery jam just north of the I-475 cutoff. We arrived about 12:15 and went out to eat at Olive Garden a few minutes later. There was James' mom, his sister Candy, her daughter Nicki down from New Jersey for the holiday, his youngest sister Sabra, and her fella Lee. We had a great lunch, with a very overworked waiter, and then returned to the house to talk more, open gifts, have the dessert we brought with us (two pies and some Mexican brownies), watch the football games (since apparently the network changed horses in the middle of a stream), and chuckle over the dogs, except for poor Trouble, whose rear legs are now badly askew from arthritis. And he's a few months younger than Willow.

We left just about sunset. I had downloaded a Christmas episode of "The Splendid Table" and of "Travel With Rick Steves," and we listened to those on the way home. We were both tired by then, and it was a long, dark drive with not a ton of traffic, but more than we expected, but thankfully uneventful. Unfortunately it wasn't uneventful for someone headed southbound just as I-85 joined the downtown connector; there was an accident there that blocked the entire six lanes. I hope no one was seriously hurt.

We came home and had something to eat (soup in my case, sandwich in James'), gathered the critters around us, and watched Mercy Mission with Scott Bakula and Robert Loggia. The film, about the pilot of a small plane lost over the Pacific and helped by the captain and crew of an Air New Zealand flight, takes place on Christmas Eve and we usually watch it before Christmas. Now I am enjoying one of my two favorite Christmas movies, The House Without a Christmas Tree. I love this story—if not the DVD release (they tried to ramp up the color and there are faint reddish streaks over many of the scenes). It all seems so real, and the background reminds me of relatives' homes from my childhood. I do notice one anachronism, though: the drugstore Christmas tree has miniature bulbs, which weren't introduced into the US until the 1950s and this takes place in 1946. (I do like the way they subtly indicate that Gloria Cott is a "poor kid," in three days of school scenes, Addie and her classmates have three changes of clothing, and Gloria wears the same outfit all three days.)

"A Visit from St. Nicholas" By...Who?

Well, of course you know who wrote what is commonly known as "The Night Before Christmas"! It was Clement C. Moore. After all, it's on all the books!

But was it? Descendants of Henry Livingston Jr., who frequently wrote verse in the meter of the "visit," claim it was Livingston who wrote the poem. They cite the fact that Moore was a humorless theologian, and that he did not claim the poem as his until years later.

Some links about the controversy:

All About "A Visit from St. Nicholas" - Collaborative Essays and Articles

Who Wrote "'Twas the Night Before Christmas'?"

A Recent Poughkeepsie Journal Article About the Debate

Boston Globe Article About New Publication of the Story

The Claims for Henry Livingston Jr as the Author

The Authorship of The Night Before Christmas

23 December 2011

Out Lookin' for Christmas

I decided this morning I'd been cooped up in the house all week and I'd go out for a while. I usually go downtown one day before Christmas, but I was a little low about my favorite antique store being closed. Perhaps they'll still have decorations up next week. I like the way they do it: a little bottle brush tree here, vintage ornaments in a bowl there, bits of greenery or tinsel garland tucked in cupboards.

We didn't do much spending on Small Business Saturday, so I went to Love Street and bought a stocking stuffer for James and the cutest little winter bird figurine. There were several men there finishing up their Christmas shopping!

Then I went out to Barnes & Noble for a little while, came back by the bank to cash a small settlement check (I mean small...$18...LOL...something about a currency conversion lawsuit; I assume this was from past purchases from AmazonUK), and then had lunch at Panera Bread (chicken soup with a baguette, of course).

On the way home I stopped at the Book Stop, a little used bookstore on Atlanta Road. I was quite lucky and found four books, all nearly brand new. Jacobs' The Know-It-All, Closest Companion (FDR and his cousin Daisy), Mark Kurlansky's The Food of a Younger Land (American historical food), and the only Sherlock Holmes/Mary Russell book I didn't have, A Letter of Mary.

And even though I really wanted to get home, I went to Lowe's via the covered bridge to get more birdseed so that Schuyler's cousins could have a good Christmas as well. I overpaid for it, but it was either that or go to Walmart. Walmart two days before Christmas. I'd rather be boiled in my own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through my heart.

I wasn't home all that long when James called. He was finished with his appointment at the orthotic shoe place and was coming home past Bernhard's Bakery. He arrived home with Florentines and gingerbread, and also some Publix pies for Christmas Eve, and we refilled the seed bucket and the bird feeders.

Later we went to Ken's Hometown Grill for supper, and tried to go to Lights of Life, but traffic was backed up from the entrance all the way to the south loop (not a mile, but pretty long!). Instead we went out to Mount Paran Road to see "Mr. Inflatable" and the display of others in his neighborhood, and the big white house a little further on. We came back through Northside Drive, and saw one cute thing: folks with a big Christmas tree in their front window. On the roof right over the tree, they had a small tree, lighted with the same white lights, so it looked like the tree in the living room went right through the roof! Also saw several homes with snowflake lights; very "in" this year.

Pretty much it was a disappointing ride, though, until we got back into Smyrna and went down the road in that new development of craftsman homes behind the community center, and also the Spring Road cutoff with the craftsman homes and also the big old brick house near the Bell South building. The house must have 12-foot high ceilings and their tree is always huge; I also like their big living room with the oxblood walls. Back in our own neighborhood, three colorful homes in a row.

It always strikes me how these huge, wealthy homes have very plain white lights (sometimes even spotlights on wreaths alone) and the middle-class to poorer homes are the ones that have a riot of multicolor lights everywhere.

22 December 2011

Poetry for the Winter Solstice

WINTER SOLSTICE

Journeying around the sun,
at Yule, she turns furthest from the light.
Here In the dark of the long night she is veiled,
and here she comes to the fullness of her union with creation.
To enter is to hold Death closest to our hearts.
And as we do, Death has her sensuous way.

Slowly, we come to a clearing, and the solstice.
And in deep stillness, we enter.
Our journey from the sun has come to its full,
and we wait in a rare quality of quietness.
Time is no more.

Here in this place, we gently slip into the emptiness, and depth of the void,
and bathe in the energies of creation.
when we are cleansed, and fully drunken from the cup,
she continues on her journey around, and we edge back closer to the light.
slipping out through her veils in birth, we are new, and journeying to the sun.

--Martin Jones


A LEAF FROM THE TREE OF SONGS

When harpers once in wooden hall
A shining chord would strike
Their songs like arrows pierced the soul
Of great and low alike

Aglow by hearth and candleflame
From burning branch ot ember
The mist of all their music sang
As if to ask in wonder

Is there a moment quite as keen
Or memory as bright
As light and fire and music (sweet)
To warm the winter's night?

--Adam Christianson


AN OLD MAN'S WINTER NIGHT

All out of doors looked darkly in at him
Through the thin frost, almost in separate stars,
That gathers on the pane in empty rooms.
What kept his eyes from giving back the gaze
Was the lamp tilted near them in his hand.
What kept him from remembering what it was
That brought him to that creaking room was age.
He stood with barrels round him -- at a loss.
And having scared the cellar under him
In clomping there, he scared it once again
In clomping off; -- and scared the outer night,
Which has its sounds, familiar, like the roar
Of trees and crack of branches, common things,
But nothing so like beating on a box.
A light he was to no one but himself
Where now he sat, concerned with he knew what,
A quiet light, and then not even that.
He consigned to the moon, such as she was,
So late-arising, to the broken moon
As better than the sun in any case
For such a charge, his snow upon the roof,
His icicles along the wall to keep;
And slept. The log that shifted with a jolt
Once in the stove, disturbed him and he shifted,
And eased his heavy breathing, but still slept.
One aged man -- one man -- can't keep a house,
A farm, a countryside, or if he can,
It's thus he does it of a winter night.

--Robert Frost


DECEMBER MOON

Before going to bed
After a fall of snow
I look out on the field
Shining there in the moonlight
So calm, untouched and white
Snow silence fills my head
After I leave the window.

Hours later near dawn
When I look down again
The whole landscape has changed
The perfect surface gone
Criss-crossed and written on
Where the wild creatures ranged
While the moon rose and shone.

Why did my dog not bark?
Why did I hear no sound
There on the snow-locked ground
In the tumultuous dark?

How much can come, how much can go
When the December moon is bright,
What worlds of play we'll never know
Sleeping away the cold white night
After a fall of snow.

--May Sarton


THE SHORTEST DAY

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

--Susan Cooper

20 December 2011

The Cookies of Christmas

Having been thwarted in my plan to bake cookies yesterday, I did so today. It was cloudy and chilly, and then rainy and almost warmish, so it was a perfect day for it.

In the spirit of multitasking, I also washed two loads of clothes, played Christmas carols, and [mumble]. This rather affected my output, as I made a bit of a mistake with the first batch of cookies. They still taste fine, but they look a bit different.

I decided not to bake any almond bars this year and concentrate solely on the wine biscuits. This is a classic Italian cookie my mom baked before I was even born. The recipe was actually from an aunt, but Mom cut back the sugar in hers. The resulting cookie is a bit more solid and not as crumbly, and definitely not as sweet, which is a big factor for me.

Here's the basic recipe:

4 cups of flour
3/4 cup of sugar
3 teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt

1 cup strongest burgundy wine you can find (Hearty burgundy is best.)
2/3 cup of oil

Finding hearty burgundy in Georgia is a bit like finding hen's teeth, but it can be done. Trouble is, even the "hearty burgundy" isn't all that hearty anymore. No hearty? Get the deepest color red wine you can find. Nothing in the world will live up to Papà's homemade wine, which rivaled garnets for color, and the dough then had a purplish tinge.

So you start with the dry ingredients:



And then add the wine and the oil, which does look a bit weird:



You then start mixing it together with a spoon as much as you can, but eventually you will get to the point where it's no longer any use. (This batch was very wet; the resulting spoon mix is usually more raggy-looking, with lots of flour splotches.)



It's at this point you have to give it a hand. Well, two hands, actually. :-) This is when you discover if you have a too wet mix or a too dry one. For too dry add wine a bit at the time; you don't want it sticky. For too wet, add flour a bit at the time; you don't want it doughy.

Eventually, what you will get is this:



As you can tell, it's still a little light, even with me using hearty burgundy. The very last batch looked a lot better. At this point, though, I was at the bottom of the wine bottle (to the point that I had to strain it so I didn't get the mother or other leavings, plus add a little of the cabernet souvignon that James uses for cooking to make the rest of the cup).



Then you make the little "ropes" of dough that you then cut and form into the doughnut shapes:



As you can see, I make all sizes. But once they are lined up on the cookie sheets, I'm not quite done. You beat an egg with a spoon, and then use the egg for a glaze on the top of each. Mom did it with a pastry brush; I just dip the spoon into the egg and brush that over the cookie. The "glaze" isn't that evident in the finished photo which follows.





Just a few of the second batch:



In the meantime, the tree is overseeing the gifts. Two left to get!

19 December 2011

Kringly With a Chance of Song

Whew! The weekend whizzed past so quickly there was hardly time to take a breath, let alone a blog. I'm supposed to be baking cookies, but I've gotten a late start because of some unexpected chores, and am wondering if I should put it off until tomorrow. Unfortunately it's supposed to be an unseasonable 60s this week, so I don't want to bake late in the day when it's too warm. And so much is left to be done (but on the other hand I can't wrap some gifts until UPS delivers 'em, and that will be later in the day).

But on to more festive affairs!

Sadly, one wasn't festive: James had to work on Saturday. Not only work, but a swing shift from noon to nine. We'd planned to go to the second Christmas concert at Ragamuffin and...but that's later in the story.

First came Hair Day, with all the happy tumult that brings. Juanita brought me a belated birthday gift (a "Harvest" scent Yankee candle that will prove nice in those dog days of summer). James got his hair cut and then was able to sit and talk until about 10:30 when he had to leave for work. I stayed for lunch (Alex's homemade lasagna and Lin's Asian salad), then skedaddled out to finish a bit of Christmas shopping for James. I came home hoping to wrap a few gifts, have a nap, and eat something before I left for Roswell, but the nap got nixed because the Christmas boxes are still sitting on the futon. I don't nap on the bed, and the sofa was strewn with Christmas magazines. I did wrap about an hour's worth of gifts, then had my leftover steak from Longhorn for supper.

(Digression: after our day of physician ennui on Friday, we drove out to Acworth with our 25 percent off total purchase coupons for Books-a-Million. This was a quarter off the price of everything, even sale books and already discounted items. Worked out okay; got a couple of gifts. We ate at Longhorn and had to wait there, too, but then I expected that on a Friday night!)

So I went to the Ragamuffin concert without James. It was nice but wasn't half as much fun. In this concert they didn't stick to a strictly Christmas theme, but also did some other songs, including a three-song Beatles set, and Louis Robinson sang Perry Como's "And I Love You So," which reduced me to tears thinking about my mom. They gave out crocky little door prizes picked out at Goodwill—I got a New Orleans Santa, complete with Mardi Gras beads and a purple sack!

Drove home to a cozy house, a hopping budgie, a barking dog, and a reading hubby.

Sunday morning we hurried to Costco before it became too crowded, since we had some good coupons just about to expire. Had breakfast at home, and, sadly, despite my shopping on Friday, had to go to Kroger for James' new prescriptions. Only then were we able to go out and have a little fun: we wanted to see what Christmas decorations they had at Ikea. It was a so-so trip, as the Christmas stuff was minimal and the store looked like raving hyenas had been at it. I've never seen Ikea look so untidy. Plus they don't have the little nesting baskets any longer. Phooey.

I did find the pepparkakor, the Swedish ginger cookies shaped like hearts which Swedes traditionally use to decorate their tree (you don't dare do that in Georgia; you might as well hang a placard on the door stating "Welcome, Ant Families!"). No big boxes like a couple of years ago, but I got enough to fill the cookie jar and enough to fill it again. At two cookies every couple of day they should last for months.

In the evening we had our annual "WENNmas" party [Remember WENN fans]. We chat for a while about Christmas, and then watch "Christmas in the Airwaves" together. By the time we're done I'm all awash again.

18 December 2011

"Simple Gifts"

This was a unique Christmas special presented on PBS in 1977 and repeated for a few years afterward, then it disappeared. I found a videotape copy on e-Bay a couple of years ago. Together are stitched six animated segments and an introduction, all in different styles: limited animation, stills combined with animation, etc. Colleen Dewhurst introduces the program.

  • The Introduction
  • From Moss Hart's book Act One
  • "Lost and Found" (done in the style of the old "Toonerville Trolley" animated silent cartoons)
  • "The Great Frost" from Virginia Woolf's Orlando (This is probably the most remembered sequence of this program; many people think it was a separated animated piece)
  • An excerpt from the diary of young Theodore Roosevelt
  • A narrative of the 1914 Christmas Truce
  • And lastly the "No Room at the Inn," by R. O. Blechman
  • 13 December 2011

    Santa Lucia Day

    Santa Lucia

    Christmas in Sweden

    How to Celebrate St. Lucia Day

    Happy Santa Lucia Day (the image here is from one of the saints' books I had as a child)

    09 December 2011

    I Need a Little Christmas

    I've been feeling a little blue lately.

    When I woke up this morning I was eager to decorate the Christmas tree, but feeling a bit down at the same time. I'm not sure what it is. I got dressed—and because I knew I'd be moving around a lot, despite the fact it was in the 30s out, I put on a t-shirt and shorts!—then I had breakfast, then got set up. I cleared off the coffee table, pushed it back against the couch, and put the two tray tables next to the table. Then I took all of the bags and boxes of ornaments out of the ornament box (which used to be the tree stand when we had a smaller tree) and laid them out on the coffee table, tray tables, and sofa. This lets me see all that I have, so I don't forget anything. Before I started, I remembered to go downstairs to get the ornaments we got at Bronner's, and there were two other ornaments on the secretary, Tintin and Snowy and the reindeer with the pull-cord (it moves his legs).

    First I fluffed the tree, and, because it is pushed in a corner in the closet the rest of the year, this takes a while: the portion of the tree in the corner is always flat! Plus when James brings it upstairs at least a dozen lights get pulled off the branches, if not more, so I have to refit those.

    Once that was over, it was time to start. I put on the two Benji and Waldo specials, Christmas Is and The City That Forgot About Christmas. These are from the 1970s, with limited animation, but I like the sentiment. Then I switched to black and white Lassie Christmas episodes, from the 1958 "Christmas Story" where Lassie is hit by a car to the 1963 "Lassie's Gift of Love," where Timmy and Lassie, unknowingly, meet Santa Claus (or, as he puts it, "one of his helpers"). I love these things—they make it all soft and warm and cozy. Home. Felt better immediately, even if my back was already aching.

    James got home a bit early and made me a sandwich, as I had not eaten any lunch except for some grapes. I didn't want to eat too much, since it was almost dinner time. I finished watching "Lassie's Gift of Love" and then started on the tinsel. Someone asked me how I tinsel...well, it's a lot more difficult since I was a kid, let me tell you, not just because of my creaky knees, but because tinsel is cut so damn fine now. It used to be twice as wide, the same size as the old lead-foil tinsel they used to use until it was banned. The new tinsel is made of mylar, and cut very fine as it is, static electricity makes it cling to everything, including my clothes, the wall, the table next to the tree...toss in the fact that my hands are sweaty...gah.

    But it's not a real Christmas tree without the tinsel. I have garlands on the smaller trees, bead garlands on the smallest ones, and I hate 'em. They never drape properly for me—as far as I'm concerned, garland is on the same ring of Hell that the Christmas lights are.

    So, the tinsel. You take it out of the box and grab it around "the middle." Now this newfangled tinsel isn't even cut at either end; it's more like one big long piece with perforations. And you know, "perforations make the paper stronger." Not quite as bad with mylar, but you have to run your fingers through it like you run it through your hair to try to at least break part of them. Then you use thumb and forefinger to grab about five or six strands—no, I don't put it on one strand at a time as James jokes—to put them on the branch. I start at the back, at the bottom of the tree, working back and forth so that each set of strands drapes properly over the strands under it. You put a lot on the bottom branches so that it makes a "skirt" that drapes to the floor. When it's done it looks like there is ice spilling down the tree from top to toe.

    The nice thing about the mylar icicles versus the lead-foil ones pre-1960s is the same thing that some people say they don't like about them: they move. You can't really have a modern-tinseled tree near an open window: any good breeze and they blow and tangle. However, we have a little clear plastic "scoop" diverter over the heat vent, so little hard airflow reaches the tree. Instead, little currents of air stir the tinsel minimally so it flutters in millimeters, and the tree looks like it's breathing.

    I kept cleaning after myself with the vacuum cleaner throughout the process, so there were few fallen "needles" and tinsel remains that needed cleaning up when I was finished (a process interrupted by supper—yum, pizza!). Then comes the hard part. I can't decorate the back of the tree with it backed into the corner, so it's pulled out enough for me to get behind. But once it's done, it has to go into the corner—and I can't put my hand into the tree and push it back that way once it's fully decorated and tinseled. Previously James got down on the floor and pushed it inch by inch into the corner by the three feet at the bottom of the trunk, but I found last year I could do it myself: just lie on my tummy and push a bit at the time. Always scares me, but the tree is pretty stable.

    And then the finishing touch: unwrapping and placing out, figure by figure, the manger scene, which was my parents and mine growing up. Some of these little plaster figurines go back to the 1950s—Mary has a scrawled "15" (as in cents) under her. A little older shepherd says "35." You used to get them from bins in Woolworths and Grants...a shepherd here, a new Virgin Mary there. The oldest figures are either some type of plaster or hollow rubber; all the camels and one sheep and one sheepdog are rubber, with old newspaper bits stuffed inside them to keep them upright. A couple of the final figures we bought (the camel driver, a new sheepdog, the goat) are plastic. We also have a figure of a man showing the Christ child eggs, and a man playing the pipes. Last year I got lucky and found another figure of a similar vintage to add to the scene, but that store has closed. :-( When I was a kid Mom would put down a foil "floor" for the set, but I just place them on the carpet (having ditched the tree skirt two years ago; I never really liked it, and I haven't found one I liked since). The stable building is lit with the type of light you use in a Christmas village building; much better than the gadget my mom used to light it: a single candle lamp with the top broken off!

    06 December 2011

    Happy St. Nicholas Day


    Depending on where you live, St. Nicholas comes on a horse or with a donkey, and with a companion. In Holland, this is Black Peter, his Moorish assistant; in other countries it might be Krampus or Pelznichol.

    Here are some news stories about St. Nicholas Day:

    Europeans celebrate St. Nicholas Day Activities

    Around the World With Kris Kringle

    Memories of St. Nicholas Day

    Kicking Off the Christmas Season

    The Real Santa Claus is a "Frame of Mind"

    Here's a colorful page about how to Celebrate St. Nicholas Day

    Not to mention Lou Monte's song "Santa Nicola," which isn't much about wooden shoes and candy. :-)

    And finally a great St. Nicholas magazine cover:

    04 December 2011

    A Weekend Just for Christmas

    On the weeks leading up to Christmas, we usually try to find something Christmassy to do each weekend. Since James admitted to me just recently that he actually hates going on the Marietta Tour of Homes, that was out, unless I wanted to go alone. Then I looked at the weather report and it was supposed to be sunny and going up to the mid-60s. The last thing I wanted to be doing on a Saturday was walking around when it was warm and with the sun in my eyes.

    The one thing James wanted after last weekend's early rising to get Tintin ornaments was to sleep late. So that's what we did Saturday morning...we haven't gotten up that late in years. We also went to Sam's Club to look for Breathe Right strips (the clear ones). Costco has stopped carrying them, instead only having the Extra and Advanced. James uses the regular clear ones to augment the C-PAP machine. I can use the Advanced ones, but the Extra ones will tear the skin off my nose. Well, we ran into a very effusive lady also looking for the same thing, for the same reason. I felt bad for the Sam's clerk she accosted, because he really has no control over what they order.

    Also made a stop at the hobby shop.

    When we got home I finished putting up the library tree. Noticed that not only do I have three bulbs out on the string of lights, but the tree isn't doing well itself; some of the branches are breaking. Looks like I will have to look for another next year, perhaps a pre-lit one.

    For the evening we went to Ragamuffin Music Hall for "Christmas With Ashley Harris and Friends," which included Ashley's husband, and their son and daughter were in the audience; her daughter participated in one of the songs by reading a passage from the Bible during "I Need a Silent Night." This was a nice mixture of secular and sacred, although James expressed a desire for some "more peppy" selections. Danica Alexander also performed three selections (she apologized "I seem to pick downer Christmas music"): "Where Are You Christmas?" "My Grown-Up Christmas List" and finally "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree." They had some giveaways in a "Name That Tune" format, and I won Ashley's Christmas CD by correctly identifying "Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabella." At the end of the concert we had a carol sing, which was lovely.

    Up late having a nice chat with Jen and Emma, and then back up at 9:30 this morning. We didn't go grocery shopping until 11:30, then came home, where I finished cleaning up the library and put all the boxes away, while James decorated the airplane tree. The little clear acrylic airplanes we got at Bronner's look very pretty under the white lights of the silver tree.

    Had round steak and ramen noodles liberally sprinkled with vegetable flakes for supper and then have pretty much been...well, flaking!

    Don't You Just Hate...

    ...those slimy creeps who just post comments in your holiday blog just to link to their polluting factory sites in China or their site selling useless gifts for Christmas (like Lexus cars)?

    You Can't Have Christmas...

    In the 1960s and 1970s the Lutheran Church made several animated or "Claymation" type stories for children to illustrate Christian concepts. The most famous of these were the Davey and Goliath series (and its well-remembered Christmas episode, Christmas Lost and Found), but in the late 1960s-early 1970s kids were also treated to a brief cartoon series about Benji, an elementary-school age boy, and his lolloping sheepdog Waldo. There was an Easter special called Easter Is and an Independence Day special, Freedom Is, but the two most well known are the following.

    In Christmas Is, Benji protests having to play a shepherd once again in the school play, and learns how important the shepherds were to the Christmas story:

    Christmas Is, Part 1

    Christmas Is, Part 2

    Christmas Is, Part 3

    In The City That Forgot About Christmas, Benji and his buddy flee Christmas preparations to the quiet of his Grandpa's workshop, where his grandfather tells him a story of the influence a strange traveler had on a small town:

    The City That Forgot About Christmas, Part 1

    The City That Forgot About Christmas, Part 2

    The City That Forgot About Christmas, Part 3

    Oh, if you like these stories, you might consider buying them on DVD! They're sold on one DVD, along with the live-action The Stableboy's Christmas, called "Three Christmas Classics."

    02 December 2011

    Operation Christmas, Part 3

    Well, the idea was to get a bit of Christmas decorating done during lunch hour while I was teleworking. Maybe I could even get up early and unpack a few things before starting.

    No dice. I had five new orders when I logged on Wednesday morning, and my Guam order was still ongoing because I can't even contact the hotel's events management people until 6 p.m. due to the time difference. My team lead ended up talking with them via e-mail until 10 p.m.

    But finally it worked out, and I got some things advertised—but I never did get much done during lunch because I didn't take one either day, except for the fifteen minutes when I put up the ceppo on the etagere on Wednesday.

    But things have proceeded:

    •  Dining room and kitchen fully decorated.

    •  Village up on the mantel.

    •  Rudolph tree up.

    •  Christmassy nicknacks on the bookcase.

    •  Decorations up in the spare room for any Christmas visitor.

    •  Woodland tree up.

    •  Airplane tree out of the box and table prepared.

    •  Santa and wire tree up in the library, as well as the lighthouse "vignette." The library tree is still in the box, waiting for me to get the table out.

    •  The little tree and its Scottish and Italian trim are up in the bedroom.

    •  I have put the "Peanuts" band from Hallmark in front of the television, with a cute foldup "Ho-ho-ho" in front of it.

    I didn't get much done, except for the Rudolph tree, the village, and the woodland tree and getting the other stuff out because today was the annual "Apple Annie" craft fair at St. Ann's Church in Marietta. Knowing I wouldn't get a parking space if I went early, I chose to sleep late, listen to a Sherlock Holmes radio show on BBC4X, eat breakfast, and then finally go out about 10:30.

    First I went by Sibley to return Acceptable Loss. The Sibley Library is no longer open on Fridays due to budget cuts, so I had to put it into the book dump. Then, since I needed money, I stopped at Publix, which has branches of my bank. I also checked out the twofers and got juice, diced tomatoes, chocolate chips, some crackers for the Twelfth Night party and some for James, and a couple of other things. I also bought a contribution for the Food Bank, so I got a free reusable bag in a Christmas theme. I bought their other two designs, so now I have a set of Christmassy shopping bags.

    Finally I headed out to East Cobb. Despite the fact it was Friday and I usually have a quiet ride, the traffic was terrible. A bunch of people must be taking Fridays off to shop. I stopped at the Mount Bethel post office to send something off and get stamps for Christmas cards, then went on to Betsy's Hallmark. The parking lot around the shop was packed; there must be a good sale either at Stein Mart or Kohls. I had to drive around twice before there was a parking space closer than five rows down. I didn't mind the walk, but it was stupid since I was going in the store only to pick up the last of the "Peanuts" band (Snoopy) and a card for my sister-in-law, whose birthday is the day before mine.

    Once done at Hallmark, I went on to Apple Annie. By this time it was 12:30 and there were parking spaces in front of the church rather than on Roswell Road. I had a nice time. Most of the stuff is jewelry or cutesy kids' clothing, but I did buy some gingerbread-themed stuff and a sheep—I can't resist sheep—from the "prim lady" and some notecards and the "Prayer of St. Francis" in calligraphy from the "papyrus lady." I also got two cute cards to frame, a Woodland Santa, and "American Cowthic," two Holsteins doing the "American Gothic" pose. They sell baked goods for charity, so I bought eight brownies on a cute Christmas plate for $6.

    Before I leave, I always go into the little courtyard between the church proper and the parish rooms. (Sadly, I couldn't peek into the church proper as a funeral was going on.) This is a triangular area with rose bushes, a Japanese maple, and some statuary, including the Virgin Mary, a cross, a weeping figure, and a statue of St. Francis. It's very peaceful and lovely, although the water feature was covered up with wire. This was covered with scarlet maple leaves. The rose bushes near St. Francis still had a few brave blossoms despite the heavy frost earlier. I sat on one of the benches and enjoyed it for a few minutes.

    On the way back I stopped at Bed, Bath & Beyond, but didn't see anything I wanted to wait in line for. I did stop at the little used bookstore in the same shopping center as Hancock Fabrics. It wasn't overflowing with romance books like most used bookstores, but there wasn't anything I was looking for.

    I decided to stop at Abecedarius on the way home as I hadn't been there in ages. I think it's the only cross-stitch store left in Atlanta, so I'd better appreciate it. I found three small patterns including a cute "Quaker" Thanksgiving design. This pleasure was completely blunted by the annoyance of driving down Roswell Road, which, like everything else, was clotted with traffic and people doing absurd things, like cutting across lanes without looking. At one point, I was stopped in traffic waiting for a light across from a gas station. There was a left turn lane next to me, and the westbound lanes are separated from the eastbound lanes by a narrow concrete divider higher than a curb. This didn't prevent some jerk in a jeep from just cutting his wheels when he came opposite the entrance to the gas station and bouncing right over the divider rather than going a few car lengths further on and making a legal left turn.

    When I got home it was four o'clock and I was tired, but I did put up the Rudolph tree. When James got home we went to Giovanni's for supper (we were headed for Stevi B's pizza, but when we got there it was gone). Wow, the place was nearly full—first time I've ever seen that many people there. Once home I unpacked the box with the library, airplane, and woodland tree, and put the woodland tree up.

    Then I asked James to bring the white board upstairs, and put up the village while watching Christmas Past. We also watched Flying Wild Alaska, which had enough snow to last Atlanta for a couple of winters. :-)

    29 November 2011

    Operation Christmas, Part 2

    I slept a bit later (8 a.m.), then had a busy day, taking about 20 minutes to have some goat cheese with crackers for lunch, and another half hour break doing some hotel reviews for TripAdvisor. During the day I listened to Christmas CDs: Leroy Anderson, the King's College Choir, Perry Como, and finally the Partridge Family.

    I swept and then decorated the porch, including one string of lights so that I could hang the little greetings on the railings, and also put the mailbox cover on.

    Then I decorated the foyer, most of the time which was taken up by putting up the miniatures tree, and placed the decorations on the landing. (And got rid of one more timer with pins in it.) I also finished packing up the Thanksgiving decorations, but I need James to help me put the box up. (I brought the Rudolph tree box—which also has some other decorations in it—upstairs and I wish I hadn't. Shoulder. Ouch.)

    I also cleaned off the mantel, and packed up the rest of the "ordinary" fall decorations (the ones that stay up all year round) for storage in the laundry room—it gets crowded in there in December and early January!—along with the two tall vases and the "leaf basket" from the hearth. The mantel is now ready for the board to be laid upon it, so I can set up the 1940s Christmas village. I love blank pallets, but everything now looks very bare!

    I had a surprise today! Yesterday I ordered the book Harry Potter: Page to Screen, which I have been coveting for weeks and which I found on Amazon for half off.

    It was delivered today! What a distraction while trying to decorate!

    It was as gloomy outside as it was sunny inside: chill, rainy (up north in Blue Ridge in the north Georgia mountains, they had snow), and grey. A perfect day to decorate, actually, with no temptations to go outside.

    Sort of like summer. :-)

    28 November 2011

    Operation Christmas, Part 1

    In the past I have taken Thanksgiving week off, which has been nice. However, this year I thought I would get a leg up on the Christmas decorating by taking off Wednesday through Friday of Thanksgiving week and then today and tomorrow.

    It was a busy, busy day. I was up at 7:30, had breakfast, and was listening to BBC Radio 4X for the remainder of the day. I put away all the Thanksgiving items from inside; unfortunately I couldn't put the box away because it has been raining all evening and several of the items on the porch were still wet. I went out during a break in the harder rain to take in the banner, the mailbox cover, and the wet things from the porch and put them into the garage to dry. Then I cleaned off all the surfaces in the dining room in prep for decoration; got the table in the hall as well, and cleaned out the foyer until it was a blank slate, down to polishing Mom's tier table and the horse lamp.

    I did put up the wreath on the door and the Christmas banner, put up all the window candles and the wreaths on the interior doors, placed the bird wreath on the door out to the deck, and, because I already had the rocker and the Laz-Y-Boy pulled out to clean the divider, put up the decorations on that portion of the room.

    The weather has been interesting today. It was warm enough this weekend to wear short sleeves, and was 61°F this morning when I woke up, but a cold front was coming our way. Around noon I had a sandwich and got dressed and went out to Lowes to buy more blue bulbs for the candles. I keep all the Christmas lights on timers, and have been frustrated in the past few years by the older timers I have that are worked with removable pins that tend to get lost. Lowes, I remembered, had smaller timers with pull out clips instead of pins. So I bought three to replace the pin timers.

    On the way home, I decided to stop at Home Depot to see what type of Christmas items they had this year. As I walked in the door, I was surprised to see two packs of timers. Not only were these two-packs less expensive than one timer at Lowes, the timers themselves were even smaller. I bought two two-packs and put them on the window candles; they appear to work fine. I have put all the pin-operated timers into the donation bin.

    Anyway, in the little over an hour I was out the temperature dropped ten degrees, from 60 to 50, and just as I got in the door, it ticked down to 49. With the wind having picked up, it was a bit "airish" out—I loved it! The house was still so warm from yesterday's weather that I didn't have to change out of sleeveless working clothes until after supper.

    James took some chicken strips we had left over (there weren't enough for salad) and combined them with some Classico pasta sauce and sausage tortellini from Costa's Pasta. It was quite good if it did come up on me all night.

    My gosh, now they are talking about snow flurries tomorrow morning!

    27 November 2011

    The First Sunday of Advent

    Here's a good primer on the Season of Advent in the Western church: The Season of Advent: Anticipation and Hope. There are links at the right for devotionals, including an Advent calendar in the shape of a Christmas tree with daily readings. Check out the essay about the word "Xmas," which infuriates some people.

    Advent is also the beginning of the Liturgical Year.

    If you have an Advent wreath it is customary to light the first candle tonight. Traditionally that is a purple candle, although some churches now use blue.

    Incidentally, I was so busy I forgot to note Martinmas this year. Here's a nice Wikipedia primer on St. Martin's Day.

    Here's a nice piece on the First Sunday of Advent from the Archdiocese of Washington.

    Word on Fire's Sermon for November 27.

    The Original Christmas Villages

    Christmas Village Houses, History of Putzing and Toy Train Layouts

    26 November 2011

    25 November 2011

    Black Friday Fun

    Well, there's one good thing about Black Friday being almost half over: we won't have to listen to that loathsome earworm of a jingle that goes to the Kohl's commercial. Barf-o-matic.

    I was awakened this morning by my favorite alarm, "Miss Gladys Stevens, age 67, who lives in Omaha, and who makes her living recording voice reminder systems." (It's a sound clip from The Andromeda Strain.) I had all my clothes laid out in the bathroom, so washed my face and dressed quickly, grabbed my phone and Nook out of their chargers, took my coupons from the back of the sofa, tiptoed downstairs to grab my jacket (even though it was 38°F when I left the house, I never used it; too busy going in and out of buildings), and Twilight and I set out on our journey.

    It was still like black velvet outside, few cars on the road, mall reports (at 6:45 a.m. they were 70 percent full) instead of traffic reports. I had a little chocolate wafer to munch on, then was eating yogurt at stop lights thereafter—the one at South Cobb Drive is so long you can pretty much consume half a container. Since I had departed home a bit late, I arrived at Office Max about 6:05, but there was nothing to worry about: there were only about seven cars there. I was in and out in less than fifteen minutes, having bought several USB thumb drives in various capacities, including one for James.

    If I had any pause this morning, it was feeling as if I was going to be mugged in the Office Depot parking lot. This was my next destination, straight down Cobb Parkway from Office Max, and the lot was in almost Stygian darkness. Heck, they didn't even have the store sign on. However inside the store it was quite lively (about twenty cars outside). I bought what I came there for...sorry! [in my best River Song voice] spoilers!...plus a little flashlight for my car and—hurrah!—2012 desk blotters for only $6. I like to have them for work and they aren't supplied anymore; when I tried to buy one at Christmas last year they were $13.99! Aieeeee! Luckily, by the end of January they were down to $5, so I got one then.

    And thus ended my "must have" purchases.

    I was in a hurry, because it was 6:30 by then and Cost Plus World Market opened at seven. I expected a line, but there was nobody there yet. A bit surprised—well, maybe not surprised, since the "crowd" at Heritage Pointe was almost non-existent and not even Ross had a lot of cars parked in front—I dashed into Anna's Linen, only to find out with all that bedding they don't carry flannel sheets, and then went into Michaels with my 25 percent off total purchase coupon. I got some trees and a snowman for the Christmas village and a couple of things from the dollar bins.

    This barely got me to 6:50, when I crossed the parking lot back to World Market, intending to read my Nook, but people were going in. The employees were looking at each other, puzzled, because neither of them had unlocked the door! But I got what I came there for, the free Tintin and Snowy ornament that was accompanied by a free movie ticket!

    Then shopped about a bit, buying some stocking stuffers and baking supplies, and actually finding some baker's twine.

    Now up to Town Center via I-75 and US 41. I was headed for Bed, Bath & Beyond to spend a couple of coupons, but by then the one container of yogurt and the one wafer of chocolate and one gulp of milk had worn quite off and I wandered around the store feeling a bit light-headed. So I left—the coupons are good through Monday—and went on to JoAnn, eating a bag of Planters trail mix on the way. This revived me for a walk around the store, where I had one 50 percent off coupon and a lovely 25 percent off everything (including sale items!) to spend. So mostly what I bought were sale items: some bushes for the village, a light for the bookstore village piece I bought last week, some replacement bulbs, a piece of material to cover the "pantry bookcase" I set up downstairs (it's the same red gingham as the shirt Timmy used to wear on Lassie), some cording, some charms, and three magazines. Got some evenweave cloth for cross-stitching with the 50 percenter.

    My best buy was a Cropper Hopper Rolling Organizer. This is regularly $90 and they had it on sale for $35...plus I had the 25 percent off coupon! It will help me clear up the clutter in my craft room although it will take up space; at least I can move it when I need to.

    I stopped at Michaels next door before I realized the coupon I have started at noon and by then I intended to be home. However, I did buy a couple of berried picks to act as "antlers" for one of the wooden deer that we have in the front yard at Christmas. It originally had fresh holly for antlers, but that has faded, and I don't know where to get more of it. Hence the berries and pine to act as antlers for "Holly."

    Then I came home, stopping only briefly for gasoline (it was 3.099).

    And now instead of napping I have had some oatmeal, assembled my rolling organizer, and am listening to a three-hour BBC radio special on Sherlock Holmes.

    I really, really need more sleep. LOL...

    How You Know It's Christmas

    The television commercials change!

    A classic: Hershey's Kisses "Bells"

    Kraft "Different Snack for Santa"

    Coca-Cola "Snow Globes" 2010 (warning: this is a bit loud)

    Coca-Cola Christmas "Trucks"

    (How did Coca-Cola get hooked to Santa Claus? No, it wasn't because Coke red and Santa suit red were the same color. Coca-Cola was once considered only a refreshing cold summer drink. They wanted folks to drink it all year round. What better way than to show Santa Claus having a refreshing drink of Coca-Cola after his run?)

    A true Christmas commercial classic: Coca-Cola "Hilltop"

    Folgers Coffee: "Peter" (the original!)

    Publix "Working on Christmas"

    Check out the face of the baby! Publix "Conspiracy"

    24 November 2011

    A Happy Thanksgiving Day

    I skinned out of bed at quarter to nine to get a paper. While it struck me as slightly silly, as I could look through all the Black Friday ads online, I always like to get physical reference.

    As I looked through the paper I watched the Macy's Thanksgiving parade. Much fun as always, and a great bit from the Broadway musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying starring Daniel Radcliffe and John Larroquette. The parade had a good variety of acts, including Neil Diamond singing "Coming to America." Didn't think much of the Tim Burton balloon, but then I'm not a Burton fan.

    Following was the National Dog Show—a wire-haired fox terrier won; a mostly white one. Is it the year of Snowy? :-)

    Then we gathered up the trash to put it out before taking our contributions—a sweet potato pie and corn casserole—to the Lucyshyns for Thanksgiving dinner. There was a full house of people, and we ate, chatted, watched football and skating, looked at Daniel's new Nook Tablet, and finally had dessert. We left a little after seven and wandered our long dark way home while listening to a Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me from a few weeks ago. When we went in the bedroom to change, I could hear music playing because I had left NPR on. It was Beethoven's Sixth...and just hearing that made me want to play The White Seal, which uses that lovely piece to such good effect. So I did...and A Cricket in Times Square, too.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    Thought I'd try something a bit different in "Thanksgiving" poetry with a little Gerard Manley Hopkins:


    "Hurrahing in Harvest"

    SUMMER ends now; now, barbarous in beauty, the stooks arise
       Around; up above, what wind-walks! what lovely behaviour
       Of silk-sack clouds! has wilder, wilful-wavier
    Meal-drift moulded ever and melted across skies?

    I walk, I lift up, I lift up heart, eyes,
       Down all that glory in the heavens to glean our Saviour;
       And, éyes, heárt, what looks, what lips yet gave you a
    Rapturous love’s greeting of realer, of rounder replies?

    And the azurous hung hills are his world-wielding shoulder
       Majestic—as a stallion stalwart, very-violet-sweet!—
    These things, these things were here and but the beholder
       Wanting; which two when they once meet,
    The heart rears wings bold and bolder
       And hurls for him, O half hurls earth for him off under his feet.


    "Pied Beauty"

    GLORY be to God for dappled things—
       For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
          For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
    Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
       Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and lough;
          And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

    All things counter, original, spare, strange;
       Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
          With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, im;
    He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                  Praise him.

    22 November 2011

    An Autumn Sojourn

    It wasn't a willing one, but at least part of it was pleasant!

    I took my Thanksgiving leave a little bit differently this year, so that I was at work today. In hindsight, this may have been a mistake, as many people take Wednesday off and leave early on Tuesday. The roads were already a wreck by two o'clock and by quitting time the traffic map online was turning colors not seen in nature. (Who knew there was a redder red for hopelessly snarled traffic? I didn't want to see it turn purple!) So naturally I had to come home via surface streets.

    The weather had been unpleasantly warm and still at lunchtime when I emerged from the building (thankfully the sun was mostly obscured by clouds or it would have been much warmer than the mid 70s), but a breeze was building up by the time lunch was over, tossing pine straw and the odd acorn from the trees. The breeze was still playing about the fading leaves as I left work.

    This surface-street route takes a while, but is generally rewarding. The first part of the route takes me through Dresden Drive, which is now a mix of older homes and new development. The streets were already outlined with rows of brittle, brown leaves, with a broken line of crushed leaves in the center of the road.

    Once having crossed Peachtree Road, I am in my favorite portion of the ride, driving through the Brookhaven neighborhood. Again, this is an old neighborhood where older homes are gradually being remodeled or struck down for newer homes. The designs are varied, from low ranch homes to one French plantation reproduction, to saltbox or Georgian-fronted edifices. My favorite are the stone and brick houses that look to me like English hunting lodges. I have one in particular I'm very fond of, in a warm, dark brown stone, and it looks like it's finally been purchased. Oh, how I would love to decorate it, especially at Christmas, imagining it in holly swags and wreaths with bright red ribbons! I love my home, but I've never gotten over my "English hunting lodge" envy (or my Craftsman home envy, either). Here again, the gutters were overflowing with thick ribbons of browning leaves, as I left Brookhaven and drove along Windsor Road and finally into Chastain Park.

    By now the sky was grey and lowering. The autumn color has definitely faded everywhere, and Chastain Park was merely an obstacle course of speed bumps and cars jockeying for parking spaces for an after-work walk. The final pleasant part of the ride was down Mount Paran Road, where a few more "English hunting lodges" were passed—including the one with the waterfall out front! "Mr. Inflatable," our name for the guy on the corner of the pretentious neighborhood near the end of Mount Paran, appeared not to have his decorations out yet, and had nothing for Thanksgiving! However, one big white house was already decked out with thousands of white lights and snowflake-shaped light ornaments, which shone out brightly as it became darker.

    Then it started to rain and the rest of the sojourn was more like a miserable trudge for the car, while I roasted inside (since I had to close the windows) until I finally surrendered and put the air conditioner on.

    15 November 2011

    Old Advent

    Did you know that at one time the season of Advent was as long as Lent?

    Where Lent was a preparation period for Easter, so Advent was for Christmas. For forty days, starting on November 15, you were to meditate on the idea of the son of God coming to earth as an ordinary baby, to grow as all men did. Not an omnipotent God from on high, but a regular man who needed physical sustenance to survive, a mother's love, a father's guidance, friends to play with, as well as the awareness of his own purpose. The long days of Advent are there for us to ponder that miracle and that of our own existence.

    More than likely many have been preparing for Christmas already, from the first time the hint of a Christmas commercial—the Glade Christmas candle ads began in mid-October!—started a frantic routine of buying gifts, getting a jump on holiday menus, decorating the home. But is that what Christmas is really all about? I for one love buying or making gifts for those I love. I have friends whose very delight is to deck every house corner with Chritmas color and glow and glitter. Others I know take pleasure in baking days to provide a lovely spread on their dining table. And there it is all well and good, have you the funds and the energy to do so.

    But so much of Christmas appears to be an obligatory one if one is to believe not only the advertising rammed at you from every corner but the yearly complaints from every quarter...you MUST buy this gift to show love, you MUST make this cake and those cookies decorated just so to be the perfect hostess, your decorations must be of a certain caliber.

    Whether or not you also celebrate Christmas as the birth of a Savior or just as a secular feast, Christmas is about LOVE. Not the quantity of the gifts or the food, but about the love shown by sharing, whether food, gifts, or yourself. Let Advent be your time to prepare for a Christmas that you love, then enjoy Christmastide itself, not just December 25, but the rest of the holiday as well. Think, plan, consider, read, meditate, pray if you so choose...but enjoy!

    07 November 2011

    You Know That Old Myth About Suicides and the Holidays?

    It's just that, a myth.

    From Health.com: "Most people think the winter holidays are a risky time, but suicides are lowest in December and peak in the spring."

    31 October 2011

    "Ghosts"

    Fannie Stearns Davis

    I am almost afraid of the wind out there.
    The dead leaves skip on the porches bare,
    The windows clatter and whine.
    I sit here in the quiet house. low-lit.
    With the clock that ticks and the books that stand.
    Wise and silent, on every hand.

    I am almost afraid; though I know the night
    Lets no ghosts walk in the warm lamplight.
    Yet ghosts there are; and they blow, they blow,
    Out in the wind and the scattering snow.-
    When I open the windows and go to bed,
    Will the ghosts come In and stand at my head?

    Last night I dreamed they came back again.
    I heard them talking; I saw them plain.
    They hugged me and held me and loved me; spoke
    Of happy doings and friendly folk.
    They seemed to have journeyed a week away,
    but now they were ready and glad to stay.

    But, oh, if they came on the wind to-night
    Could I bear their faces, their garments white
    Blown in the dark around my lonely bed?
    Oh, could I forgive them for being dead?
    I am almost afraid of the wind. My shame!
    That I would not be glad if my dear ones came!

    11 October 2011

    Turn by Turn by Turning

    It rained today, mostly a drizzle which left everything damp and grey. The interstate traffic maps were a horror of warning colors, so I took surface streets home.

    The upside to this was that I wandered hither and yon through tree-filled neighborhoods and got a preview of peak color (or at least as peak as Georgia gets; we don't ordinarily get bright colors here—more muted tones). This area of the state has a high percentage of pine trees, and also trees that stay green pretty much until the leaves fall off, so the bits of color are more isolated glimpses than an all-over palette change.

    As I noticed on Sunday, even further north in Ellijay, the maples have the brightest color this year, but have only a branch or two turning at the time, sometimes even the tips of the leaves only. The predominant color is yellow, except for the dogwood trees, which are in various stages of turning a rusty red color that looks like it's bleeding and puddling into the green. Occasionally, however, a collection of underbrush, like in the neighborhoods around Chastain Park, will beam brightly in the fall triumvirate of yellow, orange, and red, and a tree—again the maples—bursting with gold, russet, and scarlet, like the one standing guard outside the IBM complex off Cobb Parkway, occasionally coming into view to be greeted by choicest ooohs and ahhhs.

    What some trees are blooming with most are Hallowe'en decorations: bats, ghosts, mummies, witches bashed into tree trunks. "Mr. Inflatable" on Mt. Paran Road is SRO on his front lawn: spooks, haunts, necromancers, and what looks like the Headless Horseman and I believe an inflatable hearse. The entire atmosphere was spooky on the way home anyway, low grey clouds, the occasional patter of raindrops, the creaking windshield wipers, the previously fallen leaves ground into a moist brownish-yellow paste at the roadside.

    Let There Be Christmas Lights!

    Thank you to the folks at Family Christmas Online for rescuing this website:

    Antique Christmas Lights

    Wonderful photos and information on the first electric light "outfits" for Christmas trees (replacing the so-flammable candles—except, as the site points out, some of the lights burned so hot that they were just as dangerous as candles), plus a page on vintage Christmas music taken from Edison cylinders, and even Christmas memories from readers of the web site.

    29 September 2011

    25 September 2011

    Rudolph Day, September 2011

    CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW
    Tis the Season TV by Joanna Wilson

    This is a first, an exhaustive effort to chronicle every television special, movie, animated feature, and series episode from the advent of television to the present that has to do with December holidays (Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, etc.) and Christmastide. If you are a lover of these specials and series episodes, this is the volume for you, although the recommendation comes with several caveats.

    First, it's not complete. Now, there are so many Yuletide media efforts it would have been more miraculous if Ms. Wilson had not skipped any of them. Nevertheless, she did skip at least one television film, the Keshia Knight-Pulliam vehicle The Little Match Girl, nor did I see Rick Steves' European Christmas and PBS's annual Christmas at St. Olaf and Christmas at King's College, although other PBS specials and cable channel specials are represented. There may be others missing; these are only the ones I saw.

    Second, not all Christmas series episodes are described, and mistakes and misspellings appear in descriptions. For example, three Lassie Christmas episodes are not described, there is no description for the Knot's Landing Christmas episode, etc. Some of the description mistakes are very amusing if you are familiar with the series: for instance, in the description of The Waltons episode "The Children's Carol," Verdie is referred to as "Burdie"! There are other goofs like this.

    Also, occasionally Wilson's descriptions are very stilted.

    Still, I am impressed. This was a huge body of information to research, and it's very difficult to describe yet the twelfth or thirteenth Lawrence Welk Show Christmas episode or what happens in several decades of Bing Crosby or Bob Hope specials! It's my hope Ms. Wilson will get leave to do a second edition of this book and fix all the errors. A complete version of this work would be stunning.

    As a nice, basic reference, this book cannot be beat.

    20 September 2011

    Fall Creeps in On Little Cat Feet

    Unfortunately for me, my favorite season arrives just as our busiest season at work is winding down. Sometimes it seems that there's little time for me to lift my eyes from my monitor or from the myriad of things I must do on weekends to note the seasons slowly shifting gear.

    We could hardly credit it, but it seems Tropical Storm Lee, for all the damage it did other places, here "broke the back" of summer. We'd had 89 days of sizzling 90s during the summer (one more did turn up to break the record) and there seemed no end of it until Lee flipped the switch. Oh, this didn't mean it automatically made it cool. Temps are still, on average, hovering in the low 80s, which is common here in September. However, there have been odd days where the clouds have triumphed and it's been in the 70s, with a nice cool breeze coming from the north or northeast, and one golden day where it never got out of the high 60s.

    In the end, the body knows when you need to slow down and it's given me a bit of a whack today: stuffed nose, lightheadedness, feeling as if I didn't sleep even when I did. So instead of at a desk, I am wrapped in a blanket on the sofa, heeding the brake imposed upon me.

    Outside I can see what's been happening while my mind's been elsewhere: one of the trees in the yard is dotted with yellow leaves. There are other, crackled brown, strayed on the deck, and some bright red leaves on a tree in the yard next door. When we went shopping on Sunday, I marveled at how the trees lining the parking lot had changed: the tips of the maple leaves—indeed some of the whole leaves—have turned scarlet. Everywhere the dogwoods, which are the last to bloom and the first to turn, sport reddish leaves. In the parking lot at work, the roof of my car has been regularly thumped with falling acorns, which lie brown (and occasionally squashed) in clusters on the tarmac.

    The last of the baby birds have fledged and gone their way, except for one young cardinal who sits on the feeder (and even occasionally feeds) and clings to his childhood, begging his mother or father to feed him (they oblige, with resignation it appears). Very soon the bluebirds will return to provide a piece of the sky on earth.

    And, oh, the sky!—after a summer of insipid pale blue overlaid with a thin yellowish coating of smog and pollen, the sky is once again bright blue, painted with a feathery brush of ghost-white cirrus clouds. It's a preview of cool autumn days to come.

    25 August 2011

    Rudolph Day, August 2011

    Part of the delight of preparing for Christmas is the wonderful autumn season that precedes Christmastide. It is a blessing to know that the intense heat of summer will fade into the pleasant temperatures of autumn, and then one day a frost will tip the grass and leaves with silver-white in preparation for winter.

    We call autumn our "social season." It starts before the simmering summer is over, during Labor Day weekend, when we partake of fannish fun at DragonCon. For four days we wander about a fantasy world filled with wizards, space pilots, pirates, alternative history "steampunk" characters, superheroes, actors, writers, artists, and more. The following weekend, usually warm, kicks off "fall": the Yellow Daisy Festival at Stone Mountain Park. This huge craft festival carries everything from cutesy kids' clothing to lawn furniture, foods to musical instruments, decorations made of everything from clay and glass to metal and wood, plus has performances and booths of dozens of kinds of food. We arrive at the opening hour and by the time it gets hideously hot, we are ready to leave, but usually have a grilled corn on the cob before we depart.

    In October comes another craft festival, a recent discovery, the Georgia Apple Festival in Ellijay, GA, part of Georgia's apple country. While there are occasionally Yellow Daisy repeats, most of the vendors are completely different, and we come home with a peck of freshly-picked Granny Smith apples, delightfully tart to make your mouth pucker.

    It is in the lovely weather in October and November in which we usually take our vacation. While temps may crawl into the unwelcome 70s during the height of the day, the evenings are cool and crisp, the perfect time for explorations outdoors.

    It's also the time of year when we start up having game nights again. End of fiscal year is over with and we can relax. The house is swathed in fall decorations and looks inviting instead of burned out, ready to welcome friends. The "Mistletoe Mart" is held at the Cobb County Civic Center (too early, if you ask me) in October as well.

    In November comes our wedding anniversary, and then one of my favorite holidays, Thanksgiving. I know folks who start decorating their homes for Christmas before Thanksgiving, simply because of the number of decorations they put up, but I simply can't do it. I love the idea of Thanksgiving—not all the "Pilgrims and Indians" tales, but the idea of sharing food and conversation with friends, the savory food and drink, the scents of cinnamon and apples and warm spice in the background. If it's cool enough, we might even have a fire in the fireplace.

    But once Thanksgiving weekend is over, it's Christmas decorating in earnest! Plus there are more delights to come: the Apple Annie Craft Show at St. Ann's Church, the Atlanta Radio Theatre Company Christmas performance, and other holiday fun before Christmas even arrives, twelve days of visiting, a New Year's Eve party, and, to close out the season, our Twelfth Night party.