25 January 2011

Rudolph Day, January 2011

"Rudolph Day" is a way of keeping the Christmas spirit alive all year long. You can read a Christmas book, work on a Christmas craft project, listen to Christmas music or watch a Christmas movie.

Our January web entry is Christmas Village Houses, History of Putzing and Toy Train Layouts; wander about the site looking at these traditional village homes, but definitely check out these pages:

A Christmas Visit to the 1920s

A Christmas Visit to the 1930s

(I don't know what the store is, but the third Providence, RI, photo, the one taken from inside the store, is from a store on Weybosset Street. I remember going in The Market Basket with my mom.)

A Christmas Visit to World War II

17 January 2011

Echoes of Christmas

Last week's "snow event" was an advantage in disguise. The Christmas decorations it had taken me three weeks to laboriously spread across the house came down in two days, although Wednesday's outing was a bit long for my liking. Work was spookily quiet, so this was possible. On Thursday I discovered that the easiest decorations to put away, the five pieces and the decorative soap in the hall bathroom, were still up. Ah well, those were easily tucked away and the house went back to normal in some places (the mantelpiece) and was decorated for winter in others (the porch, foyer, and areas of the dining room). Half the Christmas gifts are still dotted across the living room.

Today there were still dribs and drabs of snow still about, despite the temperature going up to nearly 50°F. I hadn't driven my car in so long that I had to warm it up for some minutes. I had some JoAnn coupons, so went there first. Found some Christmas discounts to re-purpose for next year, and bought a cross-stitch magazine, "Country Woman," some magnets, and two more corner shelves. I nipped in "next door" to Hobby Lobby, but only scored a snowy Christmas garland to replace the snow decor on the porch. It was 69 cents.

Stopped at Borders for a few moments, then went on to Michaels to find there the one thing I was looking for at JoAnn, a small shelf to paint to use in the hall bath for the clock. I also stopped at Barnes & Noble and finally found that Christmas issue of "BBC History Magazine" that I was looking for last month. They had a small Christmas book at half price (see below), which I thought was fair; at full price it wasn't worth it. From there I came home, listened to episodes 2 and 3 of Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club on BBC Radio 7, and later cooked some drumsticks and potatoes for dinner.

A Century of Christmas Memories 1900-1999, by the Editors of Peter Pauper Press
A cute little gift book that is best bought remaindered, as full price is a bit rich for this item. However, there are some fascinating photos in the earliest part of the book: black-and-white Christmas photographs, early magazine covers, vintage toys and advertisements, even political posters (how about Santa Claus promoting votes for women?). The rest of the volume contains little facts about the holidays: did you know the very first electrically-lighted Christmas trees cost $300 ($2,000)? That's because in addition to the specially-made strings of lights, you had to hire a "wireman" (electrician) and purchase a generator, since most homes in 1900 didn't have electricity. I would have stuck with candles for that, too. :-)

12 January 2011

Good Night, Sweet Prince

Christmas has gone to sleep till next year, all carefully closeted. Sleep well.

09 January 2011

Down and Up

I had done most of our regular shopping yesterday, running into the mob that I hoped I might miss: nope, everyone was stocking up in case it snowed Sunday night. So when we went to Publix today it was only for incidentals: K cereal since it was on twofer, "spots" Bandaids because I haven't yet found a pair of glasses that doesn't hurt my nose, our favorite trail mix we keep in the vehicles, and a few other things. Then we crossed Macland Road so James could get gasoline at Kroger (I had filled up at BJs when they still had gas) and I ran in to get a paper and more birdseed since it was on sale.

A funny: we brought our reusable bags in with us, but at the Publix checkout counter I told the guy I wanted plastic. Why? Well, because while James wears ankle-high boots to support his ankles all the time, all I have are leather Reeboks. No boots. However, plastic grocery bags over shoes will do in a pinch.

We also stopped at Lowes. I had no illusion that we could find an actual snow shovel; they don't sell them regularly around here, and if there were any, they disappeared yesterday. However, we did find a flat-edged shovel rather than the spade we had. Again, will do in a pinch. Also got two sale bags of bows.

Back at home, I went out on the porch to take any cloth or wood Christmas decorations down. Otherwise they would get wet in the snow/freezing rain and take days to dry. But James followed me out, so we ended up taking down everything, the lights, the wreath, the Moravian star, etc., and putting it all away. Then he got the winter boxes down, so by three o'clock the porch was redecorated for winter: snowmen, snowflakes, a mini-sled and -shovel, and a pine wreath with silvery leaves and a blue-silver bow. I also pulled the candoliers from the front windows and replaced them with hospitality candles.

Then we finished the cleanup from the Twelfth Night party last night: James loaded the dishwasher and wiped down the counters and put the boards away, and I cleared off and wiped the table down and moved it back into place, and vacuumed the upstairs again, and cleared off the coffee table. I also sorted the bows: I save the gold, red, and green ones for Christmas and use the other colors on birthday/other gifts.

By the time this was finished (we had squeezed a short lunch in there), it was nearly time for dinner. I sat and read a couple of mystery short stories, then went out to refill the bird feeders (one was nearly emptied after being refilled at 1 p.m. this afternoon—the birds were definitely stocking up on food against the cold!), and James started dinner going (plain rice and a Hormel dinner).

06 January 2011

The Feast of Epiphany

Well, officially Christmas is over. It is the Feast of the Epiphany, when it is said that the Magi/Wise Men (not the three Wise Men, since the Bible never specifies how many there were; three has become traditional due to the three gifts named, gold, frankincense, and myrrh—some cultures say there were twelve Wise Men) reached the child Jesus to present gifts to him. (Again, the Bible does not state the Wise Men arrived at the stable in Bethlehem. In fact, it mentions that they found the child, not necessarily still a baby, in a house.)

Since we got the bad news about BJs yesterday, I was there first thing this morning—in fact, even before they opened, gathered with a bunch of people mourning the store—to make sure that I did get things for the party. I had been told, and so did some of the others waiting at the door, that the merchandise would be on discount. That didn't happen, but I did get the party stuff, and also some extra items, like tea and mushrooms, then came home.

So I've been tidying up for the event, mostly washing the floors upstairs and in the foyer, and also sweeping downstairs. Before Christmas, I used the vacuum cleaner, which is supposed to be rated for both floors and carpet, on the foyer to get it as clean as possible. The wretched wheels left streaks on the foyer floor, and I was hoping scrubbing it again would help. It didn't. I am really annoyed.

This afternoon I sat down to watch a film called The Perfect Gift. Apparently this is one of a string of Christian films about a stranger who helps lead people back to God. In this one, a spoiled girl, Max, obsessed with the fact that no one remembers her birthday because it's on Christmas, and her overstressed executive mother, are expecting a sad holiday: earlier in the year Dad walked off with some chippie from his health club and they have had to sell Max's horse and move into a small apartment away from her school. Max and her mom live next door to Tony, who is a minister at a small church where the head pastor has lost his way. Tony is trying to rebuild the church's nativity stable when an itinerant man (who bears a remarkable resemblance to Jesus) offers to help him with it.

I think you can guess what happens next, but I rather enjoyed the whole thing. These small Christian films are sometimes very didactic, or, even worse, sanctimonious. Sometimes they even resemble elementary school plays, with stilted lines and unbelieveable characters. This was all very natural. The little girl and her mom didn't go through clichè histrionic revelations, and the handyman spoke in a soft, but ordinary voice and didn't have a figurative halo over his head. (Okay, they did make him glow a little at the end, which I thought was overkill. We get it.)

After that, I watched A Wind at My Back Christmas, a sequel to the Canadian series which is running on the Inspirational Channel. I know about this series from my late friend Dana, who used to talk about it all the time. The series is the Depression-era story of Honey Bailey and her three children, who return to her late husband's home town after his death because she can't care for them on her own. Unfortunately her mother-in-law hates her, mostly because she's Catholic, and has the two older boys live with her and the little sister fostered by a childless couple to spite Honey. However, things work out: Honey marries a teacher and gets her children back, and the series follows their adventures in the small mining town of New Bedford, Ontario.

In the Christmas movie the oldest boy, Hubert "Hub," is attending college where he has become involved with Anna Schiller, a refugee girl from Austria whom he helps with anti-fascist meetings. He takes Anna home with him for Christmas when he discovers she is Jewish and has come into Canada illegally (Canada did not accept Jewish immigrants), and is being hunted by the Mounties. His mercurial younger brother Henry ("Fat"), who wants to become a Mountie despite his family not taking him seriously, assumes antagonism the moment Hub gets home, and his old pal Maisie, who has a crush on him despite the fact she knows he wants to go into the priesthood, of course is dismayed to see Anna in his company. In the meantime his mother is urging her husband to get back to his writing. When the RCMP comes to New Bedford looking for Anna, Hub knows what he has to do. This was a great period piece taking place in 1938, and I enjoyed all the character interactions despite not having seen all the backstories.

05 January 2011

"On the Twelfth Day of Christmas..."

...my good friends brought to me,
all their good wishes,
gifts for one and all,
some mistletoe,
a guardian angel,
gold and silver tinsel,
candles a-glowing,
little silver bells,
a shining star...
four colored lights,
three boughs of holly,
two candy canes,
and a song for the Christmas tree.

These are the gifts as enumerated in the Andy Williams alternative to the song. I quite enjoy this version, and the arrangement.

It has been a nice year for Christmas music. I replaced my original Mannheim Steamroller tapes with CDs, got the two newest Revels CDs, and managed to make some finds on my own, including "New England Christmastide #1" (I've had #2 for years) and the sequel to both of them, "Christmas in Tuscany" (more nice instrumentals)—"Christmas in Tuscany" and "New England Yuletide" were purchased at the Christmas store in Weston, Vermont—and Windham Hill's Christmas guitar collection.

By far the most surprising find was "A Very Merry Christmas," which I discovered in Borders whilst spending a birthday gift card courtesy the Butlers. It's a Canadian-produced album, and while "The Huron Carol" didn't show up on it, it's a nice assortment of instrumentals/vocals with several French songs, and an absolutely wonderful piece called "When the Winter Comes"—more of a solstice song than a Christmas one—sung by a strong-voiced baritone. My two least favorite tracks were the first and last, sung by Zoë Bentley, whose "A Very Merry Christmas" was "the surprise hit of the holiday season in Canada," according to the album cover. Ms. Bentley has an excellent voice, but she sings in that breathy, warbling style that seems to be popular today, so I wasn't quite enamored of her style.

Many of the tracks on this album are by the Canadian Brass, alone or with organ. Sometimes folks as what songs that make you feel Christmas, and Canadian Brass' arrangement of "The Sussex Carol" is just that. It's so spritely, but still mellow with the brasses. I want to jump into it and be cushioned and made happy by it.

I wanted to send a shout-out to Dish Network, which did something different with their own music this year; usually there is just one Christmas music station, but they gave us about six: a country, a Christian, a "mix" that was sometimes truly bizarre, a couple of others, and an instrumental channel that was all light jazz versions of Christmas songs and carols. I can contentedly wave farewell to the other channels, but I really miss that last one. It was so good for sitting and reading by the Christmas tree!

04 January 2011

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas There Were Books

Great Joy, Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
This is a sweet picture book about a young girl named Frances who worries about an Italian organ grinder and his monkey whom she sees nightly sleeping on the street. Her mother tells her he's probably fine, but Frances remains concerned about him. Besides the story's theme of care for others, the 40s-era (there are subtle hints that this takes place during World War II) illustrations are absolutely gorgeous (pastels? I don't know, but they almost glow). Ibatoulline evidently loves old movies, because Frances looks very like Karolyn Grimes, who played Zuzu in It's a Wonderful Life and Debby in The Bishop's Wife, the photo of her serviceman father looks a lot like John Wayne, and, especially in the last illustration, Mom is the spitting image of Maureen O'Hara from Miracle on 34th Street!

Christmas Customs Around the World, Herbert H. Wernecke
This is a book from 1959; the title is explanatory of the contents—the author first talks about Christmas symbols such as the poinsettia, holly, Christmas trees, candles, etc., then turns his attention to international Christmas customs. This was published by a Christian publishing company by a former seminarian, so there are many 1940s accounts of Christmas at Christian missions in Africa and Asia, and of course, a scattering of comments about "superstitious pagan customs," that would have been common at the time. One of the interesting things about this book is noting how Christmas customs have changed just in the fifty years since it was published. For instance, Wernecke talks about the Swiss gift giver being the Christkindli, but modern books about Christmas, including Rick Steves' European Christmas, identifies this character as "Samichlaus," who is a Santa figure rather than an angel figure. One wonders how many other of these customs have changed!

Star Bright!, Andrew M. Greeley
This is a small novella about Jack Flanigan, a cynical young man from Chicago, who is attending classes in Cambridge, MA, and who meets a beautiful, enigmatic Russian girl in Harvard Square. She has lived a hard life, but still holds onto her faith. Slowly, Jack begins to fall in love with her, although he is trying to hold himself back. But will a trip home at Christmas to meet Jack's contentious Irish family make or break the relationship?

I started this one with a cynical shake of my head, but as "Odessa" charms Jack, she also charms the reader. She reminded me of Molly, the little angel in the telefilm The Little Match Girl, who created a bit of magic wherever she went. I eventually closed the book with a smile, but your tolerance for the plot depends on your tolerance for Christmas sentiment (although it isn't piled up with sugar as it might be in other books).

01 January 2011

A Somber New Year

I can't say it's been the most auspicious New Year's Day ever. Frankly depressing in parts, to be honest. James had to be up early and go to work. I didn't sleep well last night because it was so warm, even with two fans on me, so I woke later a bit headachy. Outside it was a bleak grey. I took Willow outside, then had the usual oatmeal and yogurt breakfast, then wandered around the house replacing calendars...or actually tossing out the old ones, as I had put the new ones up behind the old ones ages ago. In my craft room I have a Boston calendar of vintage photos, done by the Arcadia Publishing ("Images of America") people, which I bought in the Borders in Burlington, MA. The guest room has the little Vermont calendar James bought me at Quechee Gorge. Downstairs is the small Anne of Green Gables calendar I found in the downtown Boston Borders Books. (Still drooling thinking about that store!)

I also put the new whiteboard calendar up on the fridge (the old one is almost impossible to erase neatly any longer) and changed the perpetual calendar in the dining room.

The sky became darker and it started to pour, of course right at the beginning of the Tournament of Roses Parade. This meant there were some dropouts in what I recorded for James, not to mention it just made the day miserable. Heck, the sky might have physically sat down on my sinuses for all the pain it was causing. Nevertheless, it was a great parade, with the usual bright, clever, and lovely floats, and absolutely gorgeous horses: Arabians, saddlebreds, palominos (with Marines in dress uniforms as the riders), pintos, black Freisians, and of course, the Clydesdales. One float was even still playing Christmas music—that's rare these days. I remember when I was a kid a lot more of the bands would still be playing something Christmassy.

After the parade I warmed up some of the pork ribs we had the other night with a few tablespoons full of flavored noodles, and put on the first BluRay disk we have used in the new player, The Sound of Music. Rodney joked last night about high-def grass; well, he wasn't kidding! The movie looked lovelier than ever; I wonder if it looked that good at the Warwick Cinema back in 1966! :-)

By now the headache was overwhelming, so I took three ibuprofin and retreated into the dark for a half hour. That made me feel better, and I took Willow outside, and then realized it was time to start supper! I cooked some box potatoes, and started the ham warming up. James had black-eyed peas, too, for good luck, but I just can't bear the taste of them. Then I replayed the parade for him.

I've gotten on chat. Maybe later another BluRay? [Later: We eventually watched Hunt for Red October. Wow, you can actually see the subs underwater, rather than black blobs.]

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Barbara Robinson
This book has been a favorite, of myself as well as thousands of readers, since 1972. It is the simple story of the Herdman kids, six scruffy, undisciplined brats from the wrong side of the tracks who turn up at the local church's Sunday School hoping for free treats and end up being cast as all the principals in the annual Christmas pageant. The kids know nothing about the Christmas story, and their eventual interpretation brings a new meaning to the Nativity. Besides the deeper spiritual meaning, this is just a funny story: the Herdmans' kids misadventures as well as the other children's and adults' reactions to them. It all adds up to one Truth: "Hey! Unto us a child is born!"