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


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


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


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


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


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. :-)