30 December 2012

A Weekend of Christmas and Toast

Despite the grey sky and the cold wind yesterday, it was a warm day: we drove down to Warner Robins to spend Christmas with the family. We grabbed breakfast from Chick-Fil-A—yay, oatmeal and fruit!—and had a uneventful ride. Traffic was brisk, but not backed-up; lots of Floridians heading home from Christmas festivities.

Had a great time at Mom's house. We sat and chatted, then went out to lunch at Cheddar's. We had a good time, but the server was rather sulky and I have to admit I didn't like the food. The "beef" I ate looked more like pork and was greasy; so were the tortilla chips. I was feeling queasy when we finished.

After lunch we exchanged gifts and then sat about having a nice chat until the sun started to lower in the sky. We literally did "ride off into the sunset." I tried to drive the whole way home, but had to give up by the time we got to the Tanger Outlets. Just after James took over, we ran into traffic. Gah. It was a "mystery jam," and cleared up completely just before the freeway split off into two parts.

We were home around nine o'clock, relieved at being off the freeway, as there was just as much traffic going north as south. Jen logged on to chat for a little while, but she had just gotten back to Norfolk and had duty the next day. Later Emma came on.

Despite wanting to be up early, we were both slugabeds this morning, I more than James. I was having low-level stomach cramps all morning and was pretty grumpy most of the day. We didn't go out until after noon. We were heading to Discover Mills to check out their annual calendar store.

Surprise! When we got there, we found out two things: the mall has been renamed Sugarloaf Mills (it's off Sugarloaf Parkway) and the Johnny Rockets we usually eat as is gone. (Has the chain gone out of business? All the others in the area are closed, too.) So we had to eat at one of the mall-quality restaurants. Eh.

The place has actually gotten dull. Just like the mall, lots more clothing and shoe places, fewer unique shops like the furniture places that used to be there. The Christian store is gone, too. We did go into Bass Pro Shops and get a few things, checked out the Lego store, bought a couple of things at the Disney Store, did find the calendar store only to find out they were out of the calendar James wanted (but I did cop the last small Susan Branch calendar) and finally ended up in Books-a-Million to check out the volumes and have a hot chocolate.

On the way home we stopped at Aldi for a few groceries, and Publix for a few more. We were planning to nosh for supper, but we found some chicken legs in Aldi and cooked them up, a nice easy meal. While the chicken was cooking, we made toast.

I have to explain: ever since I read A Discovery of Witches last year, I've been jonesing on toast. I swear the book bewitched me. Aldi had wheat bread really cheap. I bought a loaf and we had toast before our chicken legs. :-)

The Christmas episode of Call the Midwife aired on GPB tonight as part of another endless fundraising segment; however, they didn't  interrupt it. It was a sweet story about two women who had lost children, as well as Chummy's efforts to direct a Nativity pageant.

25 December 2012

Christmas After All

We had a very nice and quiet Christmas morning and early afternoon.

Since we'd been up late last night, we had a nice sleep-in, and then we had presents. I had given James some DVDs, a Jane and Michael Stern book, another book by Travis Taylor, and a cover for his Galaxy Tab. I had the CD "Colonial Christmas," three books (Farmer Boy Goes West, Hit by a Farm, and The Making of Call the Midwife), and the set of new Rick Steves episodes. Then James made biscuits and bacon for breakfast. I had mine with clotted cream, which is a British treat: like butter on steroids. We didn't have to be anywhere until after three, so we sat and relaxed, gave Schuyler some orange and Willow a giant dog biscuit, read a bit, and watched my other favorite Christmas movie The House Without a Christmas Tree, the story of young Addie Mills' effort to get her embittered father to buy her a tree. I love spunky Addie, who is the child of my heart: smart and proud, if a little bossy and opinionated. We also watched Rankin-Bass' classic The Little Drummer Boy, and the Cary Grant/Loretta Young/David Niven vehicle The Bishop's Wife, a neglected classic. I understand Grant hated the role, but he was perfect as an uncanny angel who teaches several people, including the titular bishop, about the important things in life.

It was clammy and raining all day, with damp that crept into your bones; while James made the final prep of the corn casserole and the green beans we were taking to the Christmas gathering at the Butlers, I retreated into the spare room to beat off a headache.

Then we went to dinner. Maybe it was sopping wet outside, but it was warm within, and full of light and laughter. We exchanged gifts, had a dandy dinner, and talked about divers things.

It was a good thing we had such a nice morning because when we got home it was raining so hard it knocked out the satellite signal. It hasn't done that in ages. This means we completely missed the Doctor Who Christmas special. Phooey.

Sleigh Bells for Windy Foot, Frances Frost
Series books about resourceful kids were a staple of libraries in the 1940s through the 1970s. This book was part of a limited series of four novels about Toby Clark, a 12-year-old boy growing up on a dairy farm in Vermont, and his dapple-grey pony Windy Foot. The books were written in the late 1940s and 1950s, and children and adults today might be startled at the independence and energy of rural children then: Toby shovels snow, helps with farm chores, rebuilds a sleigh, snowshoes and skis, gathers greens for Christmas with his little sister, and still has time—and energy!—left for artwork, supplying wood, sleighing with a special friend, Christmas shopping, and popping corn and cracking nuts, with little assistance from "helicopter parents." Indeed, it is Toby's courage that saves the farm animals from a threat on Christmas Eve.

While the pony is an integral part of the story, he's no wonder equine, just a beloved pet involved in the farm family's homely preparations for Christmas: decorating the house with greens and a hand-cut tree, baking treats, caroling and buying gifts in town. The farm chores continue even during the celebration and an unexpected birth provides a surprise. Yet Frost makes the workaday experiences and the small celebrations so joyful you will wish your work was as fulfilling and you could join the Clarks and friends at their annual Christmas night party.

"His Coursers They Flew..."

How Santa got his reindeer - CNN.com


24 December 2012

Then One Gloomy Christmas Eve...

James left for work at an ungodly hour, leaving me to snuggle back under the blankets. It was refreshing. I didn't get up until 8:30, which is a habit I could get into oh-so happily. :-)

I arose to a pewter grey sky and rain, with wet birds still making a rush at the feeder. I was toying with the idea of eating breakfast and going out to Michaels and World Market (I had coupons). But it was wet and damp and I've done so much shopping it's just become a bore.

I did decide to wash the towels, and cleaned out the bathroom a bit, later vacuumed some, but most of the day I was watching Christmas specials. James arrived home sometime after eleven—he said they were even less busy than they were on Friday—and pretty much disappeared into "the man cave" soon after, for a sortie with his airplanes. This suited me fine, since he doesn't like the first two specials I watched anyway: Christmas Is and The City That Forgot About Christmas. These were both produced by the Lutheran Church, featuring pre-teen Benji and his sheepdog Waldo. In the first story Benji chafes at his role of "second shepherd" until he goes back in time to an inn at Bethlehem. In the second, his grandfather tells him and a buddy the story of an unfeeling town that learns about the spirit of giving. Apparently the title song in the first special was so popular that it was featured on the radio.

Next I switched to some VHS tapes because DVDs just don't exist of this stuff. The Night Before Christmas is an animated cartoon from the early 1970s featuring the voice of Olan Soule, once a radio staple, as Professor Clement Clarke Moore. Before going to a conference, he promises his older daughter Charity "a book about Santa Claus" as a gift, but isn't able to find one. He arrives home to find her seriously ill and pleading for the story in her fever. So he sits down and writes it for her. The animation is limited, but it's notable for making a good attempt to portray the Moores' 1822 world: Gretchen the cook prepares food over a fireplace, Moore rides to the conference in a stagecoach and the characters all wear period clothing except for little Clement, who is shown in overalls, when a boy his age in 1822 would still be in skirts like a little girl. The songs are nice, and "A Visit from St. Nicholas" is the same Ken Darby arrangement used for years on the Fibber McGee and Molly radio show.

A change of pace was the animated special Simple Gifts, which aired on PBS in the 1970s. There is an introductory segment, plus six stories, each done in a different animated style. Some are funny, others are touching: a reminisce from Moss Hart, a comedic story of the "Toonerville Trolley," a short memory from 11-year-old Theodore Roosevelt, a retelling of the Christmas Truce of 1914, and finally R.O. Blechman's "No Room at the Inn," a satirical retelling of the first Christmas. The most remembered segment is a daintily animated version of a segment of Virginia Woolf's Orlando, where a young Englishman participating in a Frost Fair on the iced-over Thames River falls in love with a Russian girl.

My final VHS was Christmas Around the World, a compilation of Perry Como Christmas specials: Williamsburg, French Canada, Paris, Mexico, Vienna, and the Holy Land.

For supper we had the baked rigatoni dish we bought at the Farmer's Market, with a cucumber salad.

After the news we watched Mercy Mission, based on the true story of a small plane lost over the Pacific just before Christmas and the airline pilot who helped find him, and The Homecoming: A Christmas Story.

Christmas After All, Kathryn Lasky
This is my favorite of all the "Dear America" books I have read, because the characters seem so real to me, possibly because Lasky based them on her mother and aunts and uncle, and on the real house her grandparents lived in.

The Swift family is facing a grim Christmas. The Depression deepens weekly and Sam Swift is in danger of losing his job. The book's narrator, eleven-year-old Minnie, who idolizes Amelia Earhart, thinks that instead being of the time of plenty Christmas always is, the Christmas of 1933 will be a season of dwindling, with the family continually needing to close down rooms of their home to save on the coal bill and eating an endless succession of au gratin main courses and aspics to cover the fact that they can barely afford meat for the table.

The book opens with the arrival of a telegram that will change their lives: their orphan cousin Willie Faye Darling is being sent to them via train from a little town in Texas. Even though she is another mouth to feed and body to clothe, Sam and Belle Swift welcome Willie Faye into the family. Minnie finds her extraordinary: she's never seen a movie, doesn't know who Buck Rogers is, and owns only two pairs of underwear and a cat, which she explains to the astounded Swift family, that she had to suck the dust out if its nostrils three times a day to keep it from smothering in the Dust Bowl conditions of her home town. Willie Faye knows so little, Minnie thinks, that she will have a lot to learn from the Swifts. She doesn't realize that the family will learn some precious truths from this undersized refugee as the two girls cope with making Christmas gifts when they have no money, dealing with a tragedy that happens to a classmate, and finally facing a startling event in their own home.

I think this is a magical book. It reminds me of some of the stories my mom told about the Depression, and I love some of the offbeat characters, like Minnie's older sister Lady, a creative rebel who can work magic with fashions, and her genius brother Ozzie, who builds radio sets and helps his older sisters with their science homework. The only thing that mars the book is a bit of a fairy-tale epilogue. A worthy tale to add to any Christmas library.

23 December 2012

A Christmas Story Sunday

We did get up this morning and go to BJs. We didn't get there exactly when they opened, but there were still parking spaces up front—good enough! They still aren't carrying Brawny paper towels, but we did find the other items, and a nice container of Romano cheese, which we also needed, and James got Tom Clancy's newest book with a coupon. The Christmas air of the store is now greatly diminished and January magazines are already on the stands.

We packed all the things in the truck and then headed west, intending to go to the Books-a-Million in Acworth, as we had a 20 percent off total purchase coupon. I thought we might pick up a few future gifts. Instead of taking the freeway, we just continued on Highway 92; the businesses dwindled and soon we were in the country. Before we got to Lake Allatoona, we detoured and went through downtown Acworth, to emerge just south of the shopping center with Books-a-Million.

Sadly, I found only one item for someone else, and three books for me! (One was a bio of Judi Dench, plus there was Kenneth Davis' A Nation Rising, and also The Lexicon.) James also bought some gifts and only bought magazines for himself. By this time it was after noon, so we went across the parking lot and had lunch at Panera Bread.

Finally came home through a relatively-deserted Mars Hill Road, stopped at Kroger for milk and a newspaper, then went on home. Wow, a whole Sunday afternoon to relax—we don't know what to do with it.

Well, I had done something I'd been thinking about for a while, even though it cost me a few extra dollars. My Christmas DVD collection is getting a bit crowded, and I had noticed that someone has put almost all the Rankin-Bass Christmas specials (except for Little Drummer Boy, Book II, The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, and The Story of the First Christmas Snow) on two DVD collections along with a few other Christmas specials. If I bought these two collections, it would take up less space and I would get some additional specials. They were pretty cheap at BJs (one was on a coupon), so I took the plunge.

I hadn't yet watched Santa Claus is Coming to Town this season, so I watched that off the first disk of "The Original Christmas Classics." This has a lively soundtrack, and I have always loved the closing words S.D. Kruger gives about Santa Claus: "…but what would happen if we all tried to be like Santa and learn to give as only he can give, of ourselves, our talents, our love, and our hearts? Maybe if we could all learn Santa’s beautiful lesson...maybe there would finally be peace on earth and goodwill toward man."

Sadly, I know the version of Little Drummer Boy that goes on this disk—it is missing parts of the soundtrack—so I didn't play it. (The videotape is complete, so I'll play that instead.) And we had watched Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol the other night. So I went to the second disk and skipped Rudolph, which we'd already watched as well, and put Frosty the Snowman on. I haven't watched this in years. It's really not one of my favorites, although Jackie Vernon is cute as the snowman who says "Happy birthday!" every time he comes alive. The disk also has Frosty Returns and The Cricket on the Hearth.

The other collection is"Classic Christmas Favorites."  This has the remastered version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which I'd been wanting, since we have the version where the Grinch is yellow for half the show. This also included three Rankin-Bass specials I hadn't seen in years: The Leprechauns' Christmas Gold, Pinocchio's Christmas, and The Stingiest Man in Town. The leprechaun special is rather pedestrian, with a passel of stereotypical Irish types on an island full of leprechauns and a banshee. I can only surmise that Rankin-Bass were running out of ideas for Christmas specials by then. :-)

Pinocchio's Christmas is interesting because, in a Christmas wrapping, it tries to use situations from the original Collodi novel that Disney excised: Gepetto's wig, the origin of the log that became the puppet, Pinocchio selling his schoolbooks and burying the money at the Fox and the Cat's connivance, Master FireEater being the one who has the puppet show. It even shows Pinocchio being rude to the Cricket (who, of course, is not named Jiminy!) and throwing a book at him, although of course he is not killed as in the book. It appears to be a "midquel," as when the Blue Fairy shows up (in the carriage drawn by mice, just as in the book), she hints at Pinocchio's future being turned into a donkey and being swallowed by the whale.

The Stingiest Man in Town has an interesting history. It was a musical Christmas Carol originally written in the 1950s for an Alcoa Hour broadcast which was about 90 minutes long, and Basil Rathbone played Scrooge. This has been one of television's "Holy Grail" performances for years and this year a copy of the original special was resurrected for DVD. But in 1978, Rankin-Bass did a 52-minute version with Walter Matthau as Scrooge. It kept most of the celebrated songs, if it did add a stupid bug ("B.A.H. Humbug," voiced by Tom Bosley) as the narrator. The music is quite good, if the special itself is rushed to cram so much material in a smaller time slot, and Matthau is surprisingly effective as Scrooge.

(The other disks have: The Year Without a Santa Claus, Rudolph's Shiny New Year [which I will watch next Monday], and Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey; Frosty's Winter Wonderland and 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, the latter which I watched after Scrooge was redeemed yet again; and Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July [which is a dead bore and I would have preferred Life and Adventures of Santa Claus myself! but one can't have everything.])

Finally I put on A Christmas Story while we had supper: boneless pork ribs in a ginger sauce with rice. Ralphie and his family never fail to put a smile on my face.

A Very Magical Christmas!
Not really a book, but a magazine that I was delighted to find on the newsstand! It has "Norman Rockwell" emblazoned all over the cover, but is really a collection of many different artists' memorable "Saturday Evening Post" covers with commentary about each of them. Magical!

Surprise on Friday

Seventeen whole days of "weekend editions" start today. But first...some sleep!

My original idea was to bake cookies, but I also wanted to go to Richard's. Richard's Variety Store at Peachtree Battle shopping center is the closest place left to a five-and-ten left in the Atlanta area. The store goes back to the 1950s, and probably was a real five-and-ten way back when. It still has the old brown checked linoleum floor, and even has a 25 cent horse ride. You can't get clothes there any longer, but they have greeting cards (some rather naughty), books, toys, lots of stuffed animals. novelties, and even housewares where you can get bakeware and notions from mouse traps to light bulbs. They also have one whole aisle of seasonal stuff which, at this time of year, is Christmas.

I figured perhaps I could go when they opened and then get home in time to bake, but was disabused of that notion by a late breakfast and the traffic on West Paces Ferry Road (LOL...not to mention what happened on Saturday, but that's another story). I really shouldn't have gone down West Paces Ferry, as it is a main road into Buckhead and the shopping thereof, but I wanted to see the fine homes all dressed for Christmas: window wreaths and door wreaths in red and green or in gold and silver. Traffic was slow enough that I could see all the details!

Since I was late getting into town anyway, I stopped at the Buckhead Barnes & Noble, and this was a fortuitous thing: I had planned to get a certain book as a Christmas gift for Aubrey's friend Isabel, who wants to go into law enforcement and become a forensic pathologist, but I found an even better book about forensics there! Plus on the way out I found a cute kids' game. I bought both and then marched next door to Publix to put the game into the Toys for Tots collection box.

James called me just as I was about to get in line: they had let him out early. I told him I was on my way to Richard's and why not meet me there, and then we could go to lunch together (he had a discount coupon for Olive Garden that's been burning a hole in his pocket)? Well, the traffic was so bad he never made it to Richard's; he just went directly home, while I spent a nice half-hour wandering around the little store. They put in some extra "novelty" type gift books in this year, some of them quite rude! Plus lots of little gadgets like flashers for when you walk in the dark, USB lights, etc. The Christmas aisle had a bin of hand-blown glass, boxes of ornaments, garland, tinsel, and even boxes of large and small Christmas crackers, and of course lots of multicolor wrapping and bows.

Then I headed home, and together James and I went to lunch at Olive Garden. Truth to tell, we were a little disappointed. We haven't been to Olive Garden in a while, at least a year, maybe even two, preferring to eat at Giovanni's. We first noted the lunch menu was rather limited as compared to the past, and the lunch prices were more like we remembered at dinner! We had the gnocchi soup with the beef short ribs and mushrooms. The soup was only lukewarm, and each of us only had three gnocchi in the bowl. The beef came with tortelloni and it was all good, but there was remarkably little beef. For dessert we had one of the chocolate mousse dolcini dishes, small and chocolatey and just the right size. Everything was good, but not really outstanding—except our waitress. We had a good waitress and tipped accordingly.

On the way home we stopped at Publix to check out the twofers. They have Hallmark items two for one so we also wanted to stock up on some cards.

Came home to check the mail and feed and walk Willow, and then around five o'clock turned around, with the back seat of my car stuffed with gifts, and went to the "Apocalypse Game Night" and gift exchange at the Lawsons. It's about time all this idiot furor about the Mayan calendar predicting the end of the world came to an end!

It was a great night: we sent out for pizza and did gifts—Isabel did like hers!—and there was the greatest reaction out of Aubrey when she saw the two drawing pads and colored pencils that was our gift: "Look at this wondrous blank page! Do you not see the marvelous things that could be drawn here!" I was catapulted back to the days when I wandered the stationery aisles at Newberry's and at Thall's Drugs and at Douglas Drug looking at the composition books and imagining all the stories I could write in them! Later we did play some games: a game of Big Bang Theory Uno, a Big Bang trivia game, and a couple of games of Cranium, which ended up with Terry (a male friend of the girls) acting out all the charade cards. By the time we finished we were exhausted from laughing.

We were home very late and after giving Willow a last walk and a pat and kissing Schuyler, went off to bed to dream our Christmas dreams.

16 December 2012

A Kringly Weekend

Christmas is a comin'—which means extra mornings for sleeping late!

Hey! When you're my age, that's a gift.

I'd actually expected the lawn guys yesterday morning or this morning. Hmn. Whatever. The lawn hasn't grown an inch anyway. However, I did have to wait for UPS to pick up James' Amazon return; he ordered what was supposed to be a "complete" anime set, but what he got was only the first disk. While I was waiting, I started to dub off the Advent and Christmas episodes of Feasts and Seasons of the Church (and cleaning the bathrooms). This is a show hosted by Joanna Bogle, who is a conservative Catholic from England. This particular series has an episode from before Advent starts, all four Sundays of Advent, and then celebrating after Christmas through Epiphany. She talks about the various saints' days in the interim, practicing faith, and throws in a recipe each show. (There are also six shows for Lent and six shows for summer through Michaelmas in September.)

I had gotten through three of them when UPS arrived. I'd wanted to go up to JoAnn today, so I passed the package on, finished up with that episode, and then grabbed my coupons and went. The Michaels and JoAnn at Town Center are now only separated by a parking lot, so I hit Michaels first and bought some sale ribbon, then went to JoAnn. Had to make two circuits because three things I was going to use coupons on were already on sale. Luckily, I made that second circuit, because I found a perfect gift for two different people. I bought one for each of them. And at half price!

From there I was just headed for home, and it took me ten minutes just to find a way out. When I'd gotten to Town Center, traffic was just like any other Friday. An hour and a half later when I emerged, the crazy Christmas shoppers had come out of the woodwork. No matter which way I went I ran into a long line of cars heading either for another part of the shopping centers complex or turning left toward the mall. Finally, a dedicated right turn opened up where it had not been a few minutes earlier when an inconsiderate idiot getting into the left lane blocked the right lane with his car. I got out of there like a shot, had a nice drive home through the park, and, once there, finished dubbing off Feasts and Seasons.

Ate at home tonight and then headed out to the movies. Since it was opening weekend for The Hobbit, we figured we would have better luck trying to see Lincoln tonight and seeing The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey on the earliest show the theatre offered. Well, here we arrived at the movies, on a Friday night, and there were three people in line. We were flabbergasted. The Hobbit started in ten minutes, and we just walked in and found a seat; I don't think there were twenty other people in the theatre.

Anyway, we enjoyed the movie very much, although I thought they could have left out the Three Stooges trolls. Martin Freeman was adorable as always and I finally sorted through the dwarves, but my favorite part was Sylvester McCoy playing Radagast. No matter what role he plays, he never quite gets rid of that lovely Scots burr.

James had to work Saturday, so he left home about seven and I slept in until eight, then had breakfast. I was toying with going to Books-a-Million, but we have coupons there until the end of the year. So instead I went to the Avenue at West Cobb to see if I could find something to use one of two Barnes & Noble coupons on. Couldn't find anything I was looking for. I did drop in to the Yankee Candle for a minute and picked up a packet of their Balsam and Cedar scented icicles for the Christmas tree. Then I stopped by Hair Day for a few hours, just to see everyone. Brought Mel and Phyllis' Hanukkah gifts—Phyllis got a kick out of hers; a plaque that said "I'm still hot! It just comes in flashes"—and talked with Alex a while about finding a Charlie Brown tree and with Mel about Android apps.

I'd toyed with the idea of baking cookies this afternoon, but by the time I left Hair Day it was too late, especially since we had to leave the house posthaste when James got in. So I came home to finish a gift (sadly, it didn't turn out as nice as I wanted) and dub off Castle episodes. I got four of them done, which takes a little of the burden off the DVR. By then James was home, and Willow was walked, and we headed out for my belated birthday dinner, at the Colonnade, of course. It was a nice chilly night for a ride into town, and of course the restaurant was packed when we got there, but because there were only two of us, we had a seat in not too long. We had an excellent waitress and gave her a good tip!

Of course I had the turkey, and so did James! I had applesauce and cucumber salad to go with mine; their applesauce is outstanding and not overly sweetened. Unfortunately the vinegar in the salad dressing made me sick for the rest of the night.

From the Colonnade we went to the performance of An Atlanta Christmas at the Academy Theatre. This year ARTC was presenting all the humorous skits, including two new ones. I still think the pirate skit is dopey, but then I'm not a pirate fan. The Academy Theatre folks did two short plays, the funny A Cthulu Christmas and the touching Rosie the Retired Rockette about an elderly woman living in a rest home being visited by her daughter and two granddaughters at Christmas. I quite loved the latter.

Instead of going home through the freeway, we cut back through town and drove home as we used to so many years ago when the Phoenix Science Fiction Society met at the old Virginia-Highlands branch of the library on Saturday nights, up North Highland Road, and then turning down Morningside and going through "little" Lenox Road (as opposed to the larger end of Lenox Road with the mall and all the condos) back to Cheshire Bridge Road, to see all the pretty light displays in the old houses: mock Tudors and stone-fronted cottages and the occasional small apartment building. The guy on Morningside Drive still has his seven-foot spotlighted Grinch flat! (Sadly, the house next door wasn't lighted up to make it funnier.)

Home finally to the fids' relief.

Today was a bit quieter. It was a mucky day, dissolving into rain and chill, but we had Christmas carols on "Holiday Traditions" to keep us warm. We ran out to Kroger and got home just in time to make a run for the movie theatre one more time to catch Lincoln. There were, even on a rainy, bleak, clammy gray Sunday, even fewer people at the movies. This time there might have been half a dozen people in the theatre when we sat down.

This is a fabulous movie. It was costume drama done right, with homely scenes like Lincoln sitting in his bedroom with his stocking feet propped up talking to "Molly." Daniel Day-Lewis was an uncanny Lincoln and Sally Field captured the emotionally fragile Mary Todd to perfection. The film covers the last four months of Lincoln's life, mainly of his fight to pass the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and the wheeling-dealing that went on behind that. Tommy Lee Jones was quite notable as Thaddeus Stevens as well. I didn't believe that was Joseph Gordon Levitt playing Robert Lincoln; he's come a long way from Third Rock from the Sun! I loved such touches as the rooms being dark to simulate gaslight; only rooms with large windows on sunny days were really bright.

If this movie doesn't get some major Oscar note, I will be very disappointed.

When the movie was finished we headed up to Barnes & Noble to spend the coupons. I hadn't been able to find A Kosher Christmas (Jewish commentary on Christmas) at West Cobb, but I knew the Akers Mill store had it. We weren't here long, since James couldn't find anything, and bought the book and drove up to the Town Center store, where I had seen a book mentioned on "The Splendid Table," Consider the Fork. James ended up getting that one, as well as a new Eat This, Not That and a potluck book, while I bought Paris to the Past, a book of essays about visiting historical sites in France via train from Paris. I wish someone would do a book like this about England!

On the way to the Akers Mill store, we stopped at the RaceTrac gas station to buy a newspaper. There was a big sign outside that said "Free coffee, any size, from December 16 through December 22." This a Christmas customer appreciation promotion. Pity we don't drink coffee! However, they also had hot chocolate, so we treated ourselves—and they treated us, even though it wasn't coffee! That was quite nice.

We had an easy supper: Hormel Beef Tips and gravy over spaetzle, with a cucumber salad and no-sugar-added ice cream bars for dessert, watching Christmas videos on America's Funniest Home Videos, and then recorded versions of Rocket City Rednecks.

Spirits of Christmas, edited by Kathryn Cramer and David Hartwell
This is one of six volumes edited by Hartwell that compiles otherworldly Christmas stories. Some volumes are chiefly science-fiction or fantasy, but this one is definitely a "spirited" volume in which all the stories involve a ghost or hauntings of some kind. Some are by new writers and others are vintage, the lynchpin being Charles Dickens' "The Haunted Man," the last of his Christmas stories. Another vintage story is by Frank Stockton, another sentimental tale of an old couple regretting not having children is by Hildegarde Hawthorne, and yet a third tale involves several college boys, a haunted family estate, and a prank gone wrong. One of my favorites of the newer stories was "Snow Ghosts," about a 90-year-old man whose sojourn to a busy pub turns into a date from the past, and another is "O Come Little Children," in which a boy recognizes a disreputable-looking Santa Claus for who he really is. I found the final two stories rather anticlimactic, but, really, there isn't a bad story in the bunch, and a variety of themes for everyone. Worth checking out!

(Note: if otherworldly Christmases are "your bag," you might try checking out Christmas Stars, which not only contains the story "The Greatest Gift," which is the genesis for the film It's a Wonderful Life, but includes Arthur C. Clarke's famous short story about the origin of the Christmas star.)

13 December 2012

Working to Carols

And that's what I did today, did my work to Christmas carols. And ended up traveling in time.

A lot of my Christmas music is still on cassette, having been collected one by one, most of them not in print anymore and not on CD, from places that no longer exist: MediaPlay and Oxford Books. James has had, for many years, a dual tape deck which we have used to play cassettes in the living room. Several years ago the uptake spoke on the left-hand side quit working so since then I have been playing Christmas tapes on the right-hand deck. This morning the uptake spoke on the right deck quit working as well.

I could have played the tapes on the deck in my craft room, but instead I pulled out the Panasonic tape recorder I bought back in 1980 to copy off the episodes of Star Blazers that I was audio recording off WSBK TV-38 every morning (yeah, I really do like the series that much). I haven't played poor "Calvin"—it has lots of red buttons on the front; I thought immediately of Calvin O'Keefe in A Wrinkle in Time—in ages. I have to wiggle the volume button to get the sound to play properly, but it still runs pretty well. Just a bit of old-fashioned hiss in the background. Very nostalgic indeed.

St. Lucy's Day in the News

The History of Santa Lucia

Christmas - Santa Lucia Sweden - YouTube

Local Scandinavian Children’s Club to Present Santa Lucia Pageant

Holiday Traditions: Santa Lucia Lights Up Season for Swedes

The Feast of St. Lucy and Violence Against Women

12 December 2012

Tree Dreams

Getting the tree up yesterday was almost an anticlimax!

Monday night I got the glider rocker out of the way, moved James' end table over about three inches, and vacuumed the space. Why I'll never know, because once James toted the tree upstairs, there were artificial "needles" everywhere.

Yesterday was my birthday and I took the day off. After sleeping late until eight and having breakfast, Operation Tree commenced! I had been dismayed when I first plugged in the tree because, once again, part of a string of lights was out. However, as I ate breakfast, it came back on. Have no idea why.

Put on some of my Christmas cassettes and spent about an hour fluffing and refastening lights to branches. Then I unloaded the wooden box that used to be the stand for the tree when we had "Sara," who was a shorter tree. I put the boxed ornament sets on one side, the unique glass ornaments in the middle, and the plastic/cloth/resin ornaments (this includes the Hallmark and the Carleton ornaments) at the right. I started with the sets because most of them are the older ornaments. I put them to the back of the tree, facing the foyer. They glimmer as brightly, and it's hard to see from down there that they are faded. A few of the sets are new, like the four chickadee ornaments and the six bright silver holly balls, and those go at the front, along with the satin balls. Next I started putting on the larger glass ornaments, like the 1930s car with the wreath on it, the sailboat, the parrot, etc., then the medium-sized ones, like the pine cones. Each time I found a small one, I would put it aside as a filler ornament. Finally I placed the ones made of other materials than glass. Again, any small ones were set aside. The "wrapped gifts" were scattered mostly to one side, the pine cones one to either side, and others dotted around. Finally the small ornaments were fitted into small holes.

After about three cassettes I remembered that, hey, it is my birthday and I can break into the birthday gift I bought myself. On Black Friday, the Sullivan Entertainment site had the remastered, widescreen version of Anne of Green Gables and the remastered sequel on sale for half price (I wasn't interested in The Continuing Story, which Kevin Sullivan made up whole cloth—it was Anne and Gilbert's children who were young adults during World War I, not Anne and Gilbert!—nor the New Beginning, which turned Anne's backstory in the original book into a lie). Half of $30 each was certainly a good savings, although the postage nearly made my hair turn white. So I put Anne on and it was really splendid, especially the scenes of Prince Edward Island countryside! Cried in several places, stopped to eat, then girded my loins and began to tinsel. Once silver was spilling down the back of the tree, I pushed it inch by inch into the corner, then finished the front. It's like a lovely silver waterfall down the height of the tree.

I cleaned up as I went, so there was little to vacuum up, and then I set the manger down, lovingly piece by piece, between the V of branches I made at the bottom of the tree and lined with appropriate ornaments: the lion and the lamb, two different Hallmark shepherd boys, stable animals surrounding the baby, a lamb, and St. Nicholas. (St. Francis I left up near the bird ornaments.)

I was already hurting anyway, so before and after James coming home and eating supper, I finally vacuumed the rest of the main floor, since it wasn't worth vacuuming until James got the tree upstairs, and then those everlasting stairs. I also swept the downstairs hall, put the stools back in place, vacuumed out the "Christmas closet," and put the last few boxes put back, and vacuumed out the laundry room.

Before bed, to make sure Willow didn't go near the tree, I brought out all the presents and surrounded it.

Let's say my back wasn't happy when I finished, and, boy, when I had a chance for a nap today, despite it being in the 40s out, I fell asleep happily under my blanket until the alarm went off (heck, I went immediately into REM sleep, dreaming about a blackout at the house, and my rear-view mirror falling off).

07 December 2012

Kringle, Kringle, Kringle

Woke up with aching shoulders and arms from trying to keep warm last night without flipping the comforter over me. Couldn't stop for that nonsense; had things to do and places to go. Ate breakfast, then was off to the house of "the Prim Lady," who is retiring from the business and selling off everything this weekend. There was quite a little clot of ladies there, all telling her how much they will miss her. Her husband was outside talking to some of the customers and showing off their backyard, which overlooks the Indian Hills Country Club golf course. They have a swell house: the part where she sells out of is a covered, outdoor patio and a little downstairs room with a bath, and also the garage. She was also selling off some antique furniture. Nowhere to put it, and what I wanted most was the old icebox like my grandpa had in his cellar, but that wasn't for sale anyway.

I got a few things for me, and a few things for gifts, and told her I'd miss her and showed her the picture of the little tree I got out of her bargain bin a few years ago which I have decorated with pipe-cleaner wreaths and circles, and discount ornaments, and it looks really cute at work.

Next I needed to post my Christmas cards and half of my packages (the others weren't packaged yet), but I also needed a "pit stop." Cobb County public building across the street to the rescue! Gee, if I had to go to the tag office [license plates], I'd come here. There were two people in line, instead of the line out the door at the office on South Cobb Drive.

Got through the post office pretty painlessly, although it hacks me off that you can't buy stamps in any quantity less than twenty anymore. I wanted to buy just four Hanukkah stamps, but they wouldn't let me.

Checked out a [mumble] store for a gift, then stopped by Trader Joe's to replenish chicken salad and chicken sausage, and also bought a variety of Christmas treats for desserts that should last us through December. No more almond bark, though! And no pumpkin tarts! {Tried just one of the honey mints tonight; three ingredients: mint-flavored honey centers covered in dark chocolate. Oh...my! Very subtle mint taste at first, with no grainy sugary mint feel, and a nice mint aftertaste.)

Was going to stop at a hardware store or a Walmart on the way home for replacement Christmas light bulbs, but the roads were choked with Christmas shoppers, so I ended up just stopping at Walgreens and buying a new string. The library tree has at least seven lights out, most of them blue for some strange reason!

I got home and had a bit of something for lunch, then went downstairs. In just a little while I had the silver airplane tree up and decorated, placing the heavier, larger planes on the top of the bookcase next to the tree. Then I attacked the problem of the new tree. Yes, we have a new tree. It's four feet tall, black and prelighted with white bulbs and is what we are supposed to use for our new "space" tree (fiction and fact). Except there's no space for the space tree. I toyed with putting it in the spare room, but...no.

What I did think of was doing it as a wall tree (or espalier tree, whatever). So I decanted it and moved the all the branches to one side and...you know, I could do this. I took down the Ken Jenkins print in front of the laundry room and hoisted the black tree up using two sets of tinsel cord, using the mounts for the print. Then I decorated it with all our spacecraft and space-related ornaments, the larger ones like Freedom 7 and the moon buggy first, and then the smaller ones like Spock and Robby the Robot, and finally the small ones like the spaceship miniatures that used to be on the foyer tree. Then I added the silver star "drops" I bought at Garden Ridge, added the tinsel star that is usually hung over the airplane tree (replaced the star with the small wreath that was on the laundry room door, replacing that one with an even smaller red-and-green wreath I'd bought at Garden Ridge) at the top, and then took a wide strip of some gold wrapping paper and cut icicle-like triangles at the bottom edge. This I wound around the big plastic lump at the base of the tree where the tree-stand feet would have gone, to simulate flames. I finished just as James came home and told him to come in through the garage.

I think he likes it. And he got the "flames" right away, so I did it right. :-)

China Palace had stuck a delivery menu in our mailbox, so we tried them for supper. Rather bland, I thought.

Then, with determination and the new string of lights in hand, I went downstairs and denuded the library tree of lights and applied the new. Now, on my list of things I love to do, putting lights on a Christmas tree is right down there with watching baseball and scrubbing out the shower compartment. But this pretty much went on correctly the first time. By the time James came down to keep me company, I was on my way to overloading the poor tree with all our literary-related ornaments, from the specific Hallmark (and other) ornaments like Bonnie Blue and Rhett Butler and Dorothy Gale and Harry Potter to animals and people representing books taken from bins of figures at Michaels or Richard's Variety Store: Robin Hood and Long John Silver and Merlin and Black Beauty and Lassie and Pongo, and more. Even Hazel from Watership Down. :-) Last went on the bead garlands.

Then I vacuumed up the library and came upstairs. I'm going to put the woodland tree in the spare room.

But meantime I wrapped the other three gifts that needed to go out. I was remiss this year and forgot to save Amazon boxes, with the result that one of my gifts will need to be shipped in two parts. What fun. But that's all ready to go to the post awful tomorrow.

It wasn't until eleven o'clock that I sat down to do my annual December 7 viewing of The Waltons' Pearl Harbor episode, "Day of Infamy." When Grandma hears that first radio report about the attack, the hair on my arms still stands up.

06 December 2012

We Interrupt This Decorating...

I was at work all day yesterday, so nothing much Kringly happened during the day. However, James and I brought the box with the village  upstairs last night, and I had a good time placing the houses and businesses, and then the trees and little figures.

I have some new lights this year. Previously I had four single light strings tied together on one side, and three on the other. It made quite a wad of cord behind the houses, which is why I have so many trees, to cover the cords. This year, as I bought a replacement single cord from one of the fall houses I keep on the mantelpiece the rest of the year, I noticed they had strings of three lights and of six lights using one cord, and ordered them as well.

The clips don't work as well as the plastic ones that came with the houses; I had to fiddle with them to get them to stay in the light holes. But, oh, so much better having just one cord back there! I had also planned to replace the white bulbs with the yellow ones I had bought. But to my surprise, the "white" bulbs actually have a tinge of yellow in them, so when they light up they look just like incandescent light bulbs as they would have had in buildings of the 1940s. All-in-all, very satisfactory.

Today I teleworked and was pretty busy, finalizing plans for the vaccine storage order and starting four new orders. At lunch time I did open the box with the Rudolph tree and put up the little decorations that go on the CD bookshelf: Jim Shore angels, sheep, two "new house" ornaments from 2006, and other odds and ends ornaments. Cleaned off the secretary next to Schuyler's cage (when she eats fruit she tends to toss bits of it everywhere) and put up the musical ornaments.Also decanted the box with the stuffed Rudolph toys (CVS put out a dozen of them one year and my best friend bought them all for me), which go on the hearth, and joined the new Linus piece up with the "Peanuts" wireless band, which goes in front of the television. Also put decorations up in the spare room and our Italian and Scottish decorations in our bedroom.

Started to put up the Rudolph tree itself after supper, but instead had a prolonged bathroom sojourn. Did finally have a chance to put up the bathroom decorations, though.

Christmas Blasts from the Past

Some links in honor of the 48th anniversary of the original broadcast of Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Back in 1964, it was shown on a Sunday afternoon, replacing a broadcast of the General Electric panel game College Bowl, hosted by Allen Ludden (originally hosted by Robert Earle), as part of the "GE Fantasy Hour," which also presented other Rankin-Bass [then known as Videocraft] productions like The Ballad of Smokey the Bear.

Original "GE Fantasy Hour" introduction from Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and the commercials that were originally aired with the special (in black and white only), using the elves from the special. This includes a Christmas greeting from the cast, a commercial for GE College Bowl, which was pre-empted by the special, and a voiceover from Andy Williams advertising his upcoming show.

And here are the original Rudolph credits, which now only survive in black and white. Notice Billie Richards' (the voice of Rudolph) name is spelled properly on the packages (not toys) that the elf is dropping out of the sleigh.

And this isn't from the far past, but it's Verizon's hilarious take on the Island of Misfits from a few years back, as well as AFLAC's take on the characters.

St. Nicholas Day in the News

St. Nicholas Day: Who is St. Nicholas and why is he celebrated before Christmas?

St. Nicholas, Santa's Predecessor, Celebrated Worldwide Dec. 6

Advent Fact - December 6 is the Feast of St. Nicholas

The Real Father Christmas

Community Celebrates the Feast of St. Nicholas

Kringle, Tony Abbott
This was an appropriate book to finish in time for St. Nicholas Day!

Kringle has never known his parents. For the past twelve years he has been brought up in a hidden glen by an older woman named Morwen. His favorite tale is of the night he was born, when a fleeting sparrow dashing through Morwen's cabin caught the end of a special bell carried by Kringle's mother and the resulting sound gave Kringle his name. And it is in the midst of this story told once more that the fearsome goblins that stalk the Earth attack their home and send Kringle straight into a nightmare of adventures.

Abbott has woven an epic fantasy simple enough for children to read but grand enough for adults to enjoy in a story set in post-Roman Britain (or at a point where the Romans have almost abandoned the country), mixing pagan elements with the new religion of Christianity, and the lore of the northland (elves and goblins) with real-life historical events (the presence of rune stones, the Saxon invaders). Kringle's first thought is to help rescue Morwen, but it is clear he has been chosen for a larger journey: is it to live with the elves that save his life? rescue the runestones? Or is it to rescue the children enslaved by the goblins, who are plotting a terrifying future? Abbott also introduces items and characters that will later play a part in Christmas traditions.

My own minor quibble: Kringle talks to himself too much. (Granted, I do it myself. And I definitely wouldn't want to read about it!) Otherwise, a splendid fantasy tale with some full-page illustrations and sketched chapter headings, and, in the hardcover edition, a fabulous brightly-colored cover with Celtic overtones.

04 December 2012

On the Second Day of Decorating...

I'm taking a little break. I was up at 7:30, and the first thing I did was iron the runner for the dining room table and finish that. I decided to put what I call "the 1910 tree" in the middle of the table. This is dicey because, while the ornaments are secure, the bead garland falls off if you breathe funny. Will just need to be careful.

Have the divider items and "Schuyler's things" and the console table in the hall packed up, the console cleaned and ready for the Rudolph tree, and the divider decorated, with the snow garland and "Bandit's angels" and the stockings hung.

I'm taking the break because I took the entry carpet out and beat it, then washed the foyer floor after I started a load of towels. It's positively tropical out and at that point it was only 10:45. Wish Florida would keep its freepin' weather to itself!

I'm feeling headachy and groggy today because it was so warm last night I had trouble falling asleep. I finally had to pull the comforter back and use the light fleece instead, and then later I got cold, but just around my shoulders. I guess after the dreams I had Sunday night about the reorganization at work—I would have preferred dreams about killer zombies; it would have been less scary—I wasn't in a hurry to fall asleep.

While the floor dries I'll glean ideas for the Christmas letter to go in the cards. They're all written out. Knock on wood, when I go to the Prim Lady's sale on Friday, if I can get the letter written and printed, I can mail the cards. But there's still the packages... ::weeps::

Probably need to change into tank top and shorts to continue the decorating, though.

The Gift of Christmas, edited by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen & Amy Newmark
Yes, as you can tell from the editors' names, it's a "Chicken Soup for the Soul" book of brief, inspirational Christmas stories, the newest one.

I consider these perfect books for bedtime. You can read a story or two, or half a dozen to a dozen if you are so inclined, and fall asleep feeling good about people. Not every story has a happy ending—Mom or Dad die of cancer, life goes on with its inevitable conclusions, but people are still uplifted by faith and it's comforting. My favorite story in this volume is about the adorable little boy who wanted "soft sheets" like his Mom's; yes, his best Christmas gift that year was high-thread-count sheets! It really stood out among the children wanting more conventional gifts like dolls and trucks!

Humorous stories are mixed amongst the more sentimental fare, so the sweetness level is tempered.

If you're a "Chicken Soup" type person, you'll enjoy this.

(Later: Didn't get a whole lot more done. The library was very dusty and I would not put the shelf decorations up without dusting them first. Did get the foyer decorated and also put the lighthouse vignette up, put the lights and lighthouse in the bathroom, and ironed all the surface covers. I started to put up the library tree, but at least seven lights are out. I either need to break down and get a new set of lights or get replacement bulbs. The shelf for the village is upstairs, but it was suppertime by then and I was just too wiped out.)

03 December 2012

Decorating, Ho!

The first day of Christmas decorating always goes by slowly because before Christmas goes up, Thanksgiving has to come down. I guess I should have started earlier, but I really felt guilty starting before Advent.

Ticked because my alarm did not sound this morning. My timer app has quit working after working perfectly last week. And I really wanted to wake up, because I was having a horrible dream about the reorganization at work.

So, what I got done today:
     •• The ceppo is up (drat, doesn't fit on the new shelving, so don't know what I'm going to do with the little feather tree);
     •• Santas are up, so the new shelving is decorated;
     •• Kitchen is decorated;
     •• Console leading into the dining room is done;
     •• Mantel is cleared off;
     •• Decoration on landing is done;
     •• Porch is finished;
     •• Lights are in the windows downstairs.

All Thanksgiving is put away.

And the Christmas cards are written out. I just have to put together the newsletter.

[Later: Okay, I put up the prims on the pass-through and decorated the feather tree. I'd do the table but I need to pull out the iron to press the table runner. I'm not doing that at 8:30 at night!]

Listened to First Sunday of Advent choral Evensong on BBC Radio 3 today, from St. John's Chapel in Cambridge. So lovely!

Ruth & Skitch Henderson's Christmas in the Country, Judith Blahnick
I don't usually buy Christmas books with so many recipes in them, but this volume was picked up used and I couldn't resist the beautiful photos of the Hendersons' Hunt Hill Farm, which still exists as a trust. I remembered Henderson as Johnny Carson's bandleader; he worked with many Broadway stars and singers, a few of who are shown in photographs. But the best thing about this book are the glorious color photographs, some of the Hendersons' feasts, but most of the snowy farm in Connecticut where they founded a cooking school. There are commentaries for each Sunday of Advent and St. Nicholas Day, and even of the German customs that Ruth Henderson brought from her family, all the way through Epiphany. For the cooks in the crowd, a great variety of recipes, some from other countries, but mostly all-American treats. Most appealing to lovers of the country, cooking aficionados, and nostalgia freaks who remember The Tonight Show's orchestra leader.

02 December 2012

Light Bulb and Broom Stick

(With apologies to Mary Norton!)

I started out this morning as La Befana. Literally. After breakfast I was out on the front porch with my broom, having moved the chairs and the glass table out to the driveway, whisking away leaves, dirt, and bits from previous decorations. It's the first Sunday of Advent, time to start Christmas preparations and sweep all the old liturgical year away. Advent is a waiting time.

James soon popped down the stairs to decant the Christmas lights from the garage. While he was putting together the Moravian star and untangling the lights, I pulled out the pruning shears and trimmed the two bushes on either side of the St. Francis statue; you could barely see him because the bushes had put out so many shoots which I never had time to prune. You can see him now, at least from the front walk (the bushes in front of him are still too high). I then started to stretch out the blue lights to go on the tops of the bushes.

Putting up the lights takes some thinking because you have to make sure all the electrical plugs face in the proper direction. Last year James put up one of the light sets upside down and the male end of the plug was at the top rather than at the bottom where it needed to be. So for a while you are just like the "linemen" who, back in the days when electric Christmas lights were invented, had to come to your house to professionally install the lighting "outfits."

This year James bought some tree wraparounds for the columns instead of our having to wind the lights around. A good thing, too, because, along with the two strings of lights where half the lights were out, we had three other strings of lights that would not work! Bizarre because they worked all of December and the beginning of January last year! Luckily I had bought two more blue strings last year and another two this year.

We had all sorts of problems, the last which almost sent us fleeing to Lowes until James' trusty mototool solved it. The most miserable one was the wretched sun. We should have been up earlier; by the time we began the sun was already swinging around toward the front of the house and was in my eyes. Clapped on a baseball cap and plodded grimly on. Finally by 1 p.m. it was all up and we were starving. Did one more thing before we left: went back to being La Befana again and swept out the garage! Drove out to Folks at Hiram for lunch and popped in quickly to Five Below, then drove to Lowes anyway to get a shorter extension cord. I bought a new timer which can supposedly be set up many different ways, and a heavy-duty triple tap to use with the old timer in case it didn't work. Also stopped at Bed, Bath & Beyond to use coupons.

Miserably warm all afternoon, up to 74°F, and the sun felt like needles in my skin. Wretched weather anytime, but in December it is particularly heinous.

Oh, heavens, when we got home one of the net lights on a column had come free and was starting to fall down. James' stars, which he bought at Ikea, had also come unplugged. He had to climb up the ladder again to re-fasten them, and then I messed with the timer. I thought I set it up perfectly, but it kept turning itself off, so I finally just turned it on and will shut it off at bedtime and mess with it again tomorrow. Everything must always be complicated.

One change is definitely for the better: we always strung a set of blue lights between the columns, and they overwhelmed the lighter blue of the Moravian star. This year we set it up a bit differently, with the Ikea snowflakes (a pale white) strung between the columns. This shows up the Moravian star to better advantage. The colored columns brighten up the unrelieved blue.

Finally James got down all the Christmas boxes for me so I could at least put the candoliers in the two front windows, glowing a jolly blue.

Incidentally, so much for LED Christmas lights! Every single LED light set we had had a dozen or more light bulbs out!!! Bad enough the miniature lights are cheap Chinese crap, but the "long life LEDs" sure aren't! Not to mention that without the blue LEDs, the blue bulbs look ethereal again rather than radiation blue.

So Advent has begun, and with it Christmas preparations, when the house makes its long, long turnover from autumn to Yule.

30 November 2012

Postponed Joy

Well, snellfrocky. Today is usually the morning I go to the Apple Annie Craft Show, but I had our extra phone batteries/chargers scheduled to come today by FedEx and a signature was necessary. I knew FedEx Guy would not be early!

First thing I did was sleep in...until 8:40! What a luxury! I'd woken up cold last night and so snuggling was so very cozy. Then I got up and had breakfast and put Christmas carols on the television. I finished my book reviews for November (surreptitiously sneaking into the bathroom to finish up Quirky QWERTY, which I started last night—it wasn't a long book). Cleaned off the front of my desk. Went downstairs and shelved all the books that have been piling up down there since before September. Have filled a box with books. James and I figure that perhaps we can just keep the books—donating them is giving us no especially bargains at tax time—and then every so often take a ride up to McKay's to trade them in. God knows there were more books I could have bought yesterday.

Once that was done, I vacuumed the stairs and then finished indexing our vacation photos, and did a backup of the entire hard drive. By this time it was nearly 1:30...and the doorbell rang! It was FedEx! I decanted the batteries posthaste, stuck them in to charge, and dressed quickly to head out to Apple Annie, stopping at Publix on the way there to get money and paper towels.

I had a nice stroll amongst the craft booths. Some really pretty stained glass in one booth! Many things I couldn't afford, but loved, like the small themed Christmas trees and the beautiful Christmas quilts (a small foot-throw was $90, but I know all the work that goes into them). The papyrus lady recognized me. I bought a pretty print of The Seasons and a gift (plus a small extra gift). The prim lady was there for the last time; she is retiring. Even though she's having a going-out-of-business sale next week, I did buy a few things, including a cute gift. I was attracted by a blue, Nordic-design winter hat made by one of the mission countries (St. Ann's is a LaSalette church), so I bought one.

My favorite part of Apple Annie day is going in the Garden of Reconciliation. At this season it is somber, with brown leaves scattering the walks. There is a small statue of St. Francis at one end and one of the Virgin at the other, plus a cross. In the middle of the area is a small waterfall with a weeping figure beside the pond, and overhanging that area is a scarlet maple. The top of the tree was "blown," but the bottom was still a brilliant red, painting a lovely picture. I stayed for a while, and then was able to walk into the sanctuary of the church. It was dark and quiet, and I said some prayers and felt so peaceful.

Came home just before James did, so decided to take the fall/Thanksgiving items off the porch. Right now I can only replace it with the Christmas wreath and the St. Nicholas banner, but it's a start. :-)

27 November 2012

Spotlight on Holiday Classics: "Merry Gentlemen"

Year: 1978
Network: BBC
Stars: Christopher Timothy, Robert Hardy, Peter Davison, Carol Drinkwater

The BBC's well-loved adaptation of James Herriot's hit bestseller about his 1930s veterinary days, All Creatures Great and Small, was into its second season when this warm and loving little Christmas story was presented. Each episode usually presented at least three of Herriot's literary stories combined in a cohesive tale—and not necessarily taking place when Herriot set them. The three stories used in this episode, for instance, did not take place at Christmas (and a later episode featured a story that was set at Christmas in print, but not on television) and were slightly changed to fit the Christmas theme. In the first subplot, the vets try to save a donkey foal, the pet of a little gypsy girl, that has caught tetanus, and in the second, the pampered Pekinese dog "Tricki Woo" has come down with jaundice due to an inappropriate diet supplied by his doting owner, Mrs. Pumphrey.

Two humorous tales intertwining with the two animal dramas are Siegfried's tasting of Mrs. Hewison's Christmas cake and his efforts to keep brother Tristan from finding out what is kept in the long-locked dining room at Skeldale House, all connected by their efforts to have a "real Yorkshire Christmas with all the trimmings."

This episode just reeks nostalgia, from the Skeldale house set with its "homely" wallpapers and shabby furniture that so reminded me of some of my older relatives' homes, and an atmospheric scene with James and Tristan in the kitchen where the wind "wuthers" around the house along with an opening scene with carolers. Later the men of the household go out to the woods to gather holly and cut down a Christmas tree—not the shaved perfect trees of today, but a natural fir eventually decorated with the old-style Christmas bulbs, baubles, and tinsel. Robert Hardy is especially effective as the often manic Siegfried and James and Helen's romance always seems fresh and appealing. Donkeys, dogs, secret rooms and Christmas cake combine for a lovely Yuletide bauble of its own.

Spotlight on Holiday Classics: "Silly, But It's Fun"

Year: 1977
Network: BBC
Stars: Richard Briers, Felicity Kendal, Penelope Keith, Paul Eddington

In this Christmas edition of one of Britain's best-known comedy series, The Good Life, shown here "across the pond" as Good Neighbors, Tom and Barbara Good, who several years before scandalized their conformist suburban neighborhood—especially their social-climbing next door neighbor Margo Leadbetter and her executive husband Jerry (the Goods' best friends)—when Tom chucked his job and the two began to practice self-sufficiency in their sizable back garden, complete with a goat, pigs and chickens along with their vegetables. Plots revolved around the Goods' efforts to survive, whether growing veg for their larder or bartering for goods.

By the time this Christmas special aired, the Goods were well involved in their lifestyle, making simple holiday preparations like newspaper paper chains, a "bonsai Christmas tree" made of a discarded top of a larger tree, a Yule log centerpiece, and Tom's home-made Christmas crackers, wrought with newspaper and a framework of toilet paper rolls. Meanwhile, Margo gets in "high dudgeon" when the Christmas tree she orders is six and one-quarter inches too short and therefore sends back the van with her entire supply of festive supplies: tree, decorations, food and all. When the company won't deliver the correct order on Christmas Day, Margo and Jerry face a bleak day—until the Goods arrive.

Especially if you have seen the series and are invested in the characters, this is a funny and charming story of the two mismatched couples and their holiday preparations and celebration. There's a hilarious exchange with a deliveryman, the dispatching of Jerry's "political chickenpox," the party games (Felicity Kendal and Paul Eddington play so well off each other, as do Richard Briers and Penelope Keith), and the final scene is the perfect capper. The Goods illustrate handily what Christmas should be, not expensive doo-dads and perfunctory parties, but the sharing of good fellowship. A warm and cozy story wrapped up in homemade holiday glow.

Lift a glass of "peapod burgundy" and enjoy!

25 November 2012

"Stir Up" Your Sunday

With nothing to do with horses and stirrups!

In Great Britain, the final Sunday of the Liturgical year, the Sunday before Advent begins, is "Stir-Up Sunday," taken from the Collect for the day from the Book of Common Prayer:

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Since a good Christmas "pud" needs to rest for some weeks before Christmas, it was traditional to bake the pudding on Stir-Up Sunday and then put it in a cool dry place until the holiday.


Stir Up Sunday and Christmas Pudding Traditions

Stir-Up Sunday and Christmas Pudding

John Lewis: Stir-Up Sunday

23 November 2012

Over the River And Through the Woods (and the Stores)

It's been an eventful two days!

We usually spend Thanksgiving with our "friends who have become family," but this year my mother-in-law and sister-in-law invited us to have Thanksgiving dinner with them. Accordingly, we were up at eight o'clock to get dressed and walk and feed Willow. I shouldn't have done it, but I gave Schuyler a break on her medicine this morning. I figured she needed something to be thankful for, too. We left the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade on for her and commenced to traveling.

Before leaving, we stopped at the new Race Trac gas station on Spring Road. This is a huge gas station that has just been opened for a few months. It's not quite as big as the "travel stations" on the freeway and  has no showers, but it's got a huge selection of food. I was Bad with a Capital B: got a pack of Hostess chocolate cupcakes for breakfast. I haven't had them in, literally, years! Also got a big container of sliced Granny Smith apples to share with James, and both papers, the Atlanta and the Marietta, and perused the sales ads for tomorrow for about half the ride down to Warner Robins, when I took over driving.

We hit town about 11:30. Wow, the city limit is almost to the freeway now. The city already had their Christmas decorations up, and when we drove past the stores at the edge of town, we saw people camping out for Black Friday (and "Grey Thursday," as they are calling the Thanksgiving night openings) in front of Best Buy even there!

Finally got to bring Mom her birthday and Mother's Day gift, as we hadn't been there since last Christmas: James was either working over the weekend or something else came up or we were away or they were busy. I made this with grapevine wreath with yellow forsythia wound in it with a hint of purple flowers, with a purple ribbon and some purple butterflies for trim.

We had a nice relaxing afternoon. The end of the parade was just scrolling by and we watched the National Dog Show and then football. We had dinner about 2:30 or so. Sadly, Sabra and her fiance were unable to join us as she wasn't feeling well. And, like my dad before me, I dozed off on the sofa. :-) Later we had dessert, but my stupid digestion picked that time to be a brat, even though I ate only a very small portion of turkey breast, James' biscuit stuffing, and some more olives along with some milk. I could barely eat a sliver of pumpkin pie and apple pie.

With a beautiful sunset on the horizon, we left for home. Neither of us slept well, and James was getting so fatigued on the way up that I took over driving at Locust Grove. I had sorted out the sale papers when we got to the house, and now I cut out the things I wanted to look into today and placed the name of the store and the opening hour on them. I cut a couple of Wally World and Best Buy items, even though both stores were opening tonight and I didn't expect to find the items left over.

James was off today and when I first asked him if he wanted to go with me he demurred in favor of sleeping late; however, he was awake when my alarm rang and was close after me. I gulped down some yogurt as James walked the dog and then I grabbed two Atkins bars, one for each of us.

I was headed for Sam's Club, which had Brave on Blu-Ray for $10. (Almost thirty regular price!) We were early, so we stopped at Walmart, which also was selling the same Blu-Ray. We couldn't find it, but we did find Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows. It wasn't on sale anymore, though, but it was still pretty cheap for a Blu-Ray, so I bought it. It was a fortuitous stop, because James' One-Touch diabetes testing gadget was throwing error messages, and Walmart had one for $10.

BTW, this Walmart was nearly empty! Opening last night sure cut down on the crowd this morning. I don't think there were a dozen cars there.

So we got in line at Sam's, where people were turning back in droves because they were out of cell phones and large-screen televisions. We did get Brave and I picked up something else that I can't mention because it will hint at another gift. I also picked up James' Christmas gift.

Just for the heck of it, we did go down to Best Buy, and, again, because it opened last night, there was hardly anyone there at 7:30. To our surprise, they had season five of The Big Bang Theory still in stock, only for $9 (they wanted $30 at Sam's and $35 full price at Best Buy!), and I found Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows on Blu-Ray in a bargain bin for $4! So I bought it anyway and later took the Walmart copy back.

Meanwhile, we went across the street to Office Depot. James was looking into getting a new laser printer. His printer, the color one, messed up some time ago when he was trying to print out some decals. They stuck to the roller and made a god-awful stink and it hasn't printed well since, plus ink doesn't stick to labels (yes, laser labels!). I've dreamed of printing Christmas labels on it, but it just flakes off them. Then we discovered that by the time he bought color cartridges for it, he would have spent enough to buy a new printer. So he found a nice Brother, but it wasn't in stock; we're having it shipped to the store.

I got another gift, a spare wireless mouse, some Christmas labels, and a desk blotter for work.

By this time, we were ravenous and went to the IHOP for breakfast (another place that wasn't crowded). James can now eat off the senior menu, too, so he had the sampler and I had the senior French toast. The drinks (his cola, my milk, and the two orange juices) nearly cost as much as the meals! Played on the wifi while there.

Then we headed for Cost Plus World Market. This year they are giving away Life of Pi tiger ornaments—and more free movie tickets! Also got something to finish up a gift basket.

By now it was going on time to head for the hobby shop. Today and tomorrow are the last two days they will be open (ironically they're going out of business on Small Business Saturday). (On the way we stopped at MicroCenter and I was able to pick up another gift.) The shop was very crowded (gee, if the crowd had been this big when they were doing regular business, they wouldn't be going out of business) and I sat and read as always as James made his last purchases.

If you thought it was time to head for home, well, not quite yet. We went back to Sam's to check on something, and while we were there I got more Chex and James some chips for his lunchbox, and James got me a copy of Call the Midwife for Christmas, then we bought gasoline for the car, and returned the DVD to Walmart. On the way home we stopped at Publix to get some lunch and picked up some turkey wings for dinner (that's all they had in dark meat). Even after all that turkey yesterday, we were still in the mood for more today!

James wondered if I felt like going out again. You see, we've both been having problems with our cell phones. Mine has had trouble getting a GPS signal and the speakerphone is not working properly on James'. He had an interview a month or so ago that I think was negatively impacted by the fact that the speakerphone did not work properly. So we went to the Verizon store, casting covetous eyes on the new Galaxy S III. But those were $200 each, so we went instead with the Galaxy Nexus instead, which had a complete price rebate. Of course we had to give up our unlimited data plan to get new phones, but we rarely go much over 2GB a month, so we could get a very small plan. It took a while because their (Windows) computers were working improperly, but everything was eventually transferred over and we could come home.

So now it's just a matter of re-downloading everything.and setting things up. Fortunately, these units also come with changeable batteries! I was hoping not to have to get a phone without that feature, remembering all the people at DragonCon scurrying to plug their iPhones in at every meeting room I was in! And the 4G is mighty quick; in fact, it's faster than the T1 line at work!

Exhausted when we got home, but did cook up the turkey wings—really the "drumettes" from two turkey wings—which we had with gravy and James' leftover stuffing, and a thin slice of Entemann's chocolate loaf cake each for dessert. Watched the news and Jeopardy and the repeat of the dog show, and I finally put on a couple of Lassie Christmas episodes to relax to.

22 November 2012

21 November 2012

Spotlight on Holiday Classics: The Thanksgiving Treasure

Year: 1973
Network: CBS
Stars: Lisa Lucas, Jason Robards, Mildred Natwick, Barnard Hughes, Franny Michel

This was the first of three sequels to the Emmy Award winning The House Without a Christmas Tree, which first aired in 1972. The story is set in the fall of 1947 where young Addie Mills, now eleven years old, is "horse crazy," initially in ecstasy over an autographed photograph of Roy Rogers and Trigger ("Smartest horse in the movies!" declares the photo) she brings home from the post office. She hitches a ride with her dad when he embarks on errands and meets crabby Walter Rhenquist, a reclusive farmer who, in the past, asked her father to dig a pond on his property. When the pond didn't hold water, Rhenquist didn't finish paying James Mills, and the two men have been feuding ever since.

Addie cannot help but remember Rhenquist when her class has a lesson about Thanksgiving and making strangers into friends, so, when she can't talk her friend Cora Sue into inviting Rhenquist to her aunt's home for dinner, she devises a way to secrete food away and bring the old codger a Thanksgiving dinner. From this small beginning a friendship is born, set alight by a pinto horse named Treasure.

This is a "slice of life" nostalgic story on the level of Capote's A Christmas Memory. Filmed cheaply on videotape like other specials of the era, it nevertheless evokes strong memories of the past, from the radio play the schoolchildren put on to the traditional Thanksgiving mural at the back of the classroom, the old-fashioned Thanksgiving meal side dishes one rarely sees today (creamed onions, chestnut-flavored dressing) to the vintage clothing, and even the grimy, tattered interior of Rhenquist's house, which reflects his depression since the death of his wife, and the rural Canadian countryside that stands in for 1940s Nebraska so perfectly that you feel you are back in the postwar era. Indeed, one of these scenes features Addie and Cora Sue trading corny old riddles during a bike ride as real 1940s kids might have done.

The key word is "real." The nice thing about the protagonists is they do not dissolve into sloppy platitudes, even at the end of the story: Addie's gruff father shows his "softer side" only in tentative bits, a thawing Rhenquist fights his growing affection for Addie, Addie herself is neither a "girly girl" who overdoses on pink or a brainless idiot; a fine scholar, she's also an often prickly heroine who is bossy and who criticizes her best friend with words like "dodo." The one sweet character, Grandma Mills, still has the backbone to take the brunt of her son's exasperation with his daughter and is not a person who allows herself to be bullied. She is also tender but honest: in a moving scene, she talks to Addie about her husband's death and how she nearly gave in to despair, until someone read her the following passage: "When people leave on a boat, everybody says 'There they go,' but on the other side of the horizon, they're saying 'Here they come.'" She concludes, "I thought it must be something like that, and then I could let your grandpa go." Cora Sue is more shy and introverted than Addie, a perfect Diana Barry to Addie's Anne Shirley.

Only The House Without A Christmas Tree is available on DVD, but you can find this special on VHS tape under the title The Holiday Treasure (so that CBS could sell it with the Christmas videos). Both are well worth your time if you like thoughtful drama.

18 November 2012

Thanksgiving Video

•  Bewitched: "Samantha's Thanksgiving to Remember"

•  The Burns and Allen Show: "Thanksgiving" (from 1951)

•  A rarity: Calvin and the Colonel: "Thanksgiving" (this is an animated television series from 1962 that was created by Freeman Godsen and Charles Correll, the same folks that gave the radio and later the television world the famous but controversial Amos and Andy; this time the leads are a scheming fox and a dimwitted bear)

•  A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (this is considered a classic, but, personally, it aggravates me—Peppermint Patty is such a bully in this; Charlie Brown shows a real spirit of Thanksgiving for putting up with her, and his grandmother is very gracious!)

•  The History Channel's The Real Story of Thanksgiving

•  "The Pilgrims," a 1955 Educational Film

•  Hanna-Barbera'sThe Thanksgiving That Almost Wasn't

11 November 2012


November 11 is also the feast day of St. Martin of Tours. A soldier in the Roman army, Martin is most famous for his act of kindness to a half-clad beggar during a snowstorm. Despite the jeers from his fellow soldiers, Martin took his sword and cut his huge cloak into two pieces so that the man might have half. Later it was revealed that the beggar was Jesus Christ in disguise.

Martin took holy vows soon after, and became so well known for his piety that he was sought out to be a bishop. He did not want the honor and intended to hide from those seeking him. He finally hid himself inside a pen with a flock of geese. However, the geese made such noises of alarm at the human hiding in their pen that the men seeking to make Martin a bishop found him easily. Goose is a traditional dish for St. Martin's Day.

"According to old Czech weather lore, it is the first day on which we can expect snowfall because Martin may arrive on a white horse." In some Northern climes St. Martin's Day was considered the first day of winter.

Back when Advent was forty days in length, like Lent, four days after St. Martin's Day would be the beginning of Advent.

Celebrating St. Martin's Day in Germany

St. Martin's Day


05 November 2012

By the Light of the Bonfire

The folks in Great Britain now celebrate Hallowe'en in the manner of the United States, with costumes and trick-or-treating children. However, the older autumn celebration for the British has been Guy Fawkes Day. Fawkes, a member of a group which wished to restore a Catholic king to the throne of England by means of violence, was captured and convicted of treason. November 5, Guy Fawkes Day, commemmorates this thwarting of "The Gunpowder Plot."

The classic rhyme which accompanies this holiday is as follows:

Remember, remember!
The fifth of November, 
The Gunpowder treason and plot; 
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason 
Should ever be forgot! 
Guy Fawkes and his companions 
Did the scheme contrive,
To blow the King and Parliament
All up alive. 
Threescore barrels, laid below,
To prove old England's overthrow. 
But, by God's providence, him they catch, 
With a dark lantern, lighting a match! 
A stick and a stake 
For King James's sake!
If you won't give me one, 
I'll take two, 
The better for me, 
And the worse for you. 
A rope, a rope, to hang the Pope, 
A penn'orth of cheese to choke him, 
A pint of beer to wash it down, 
And a jolly good fire to burn him. 
Holloa, boys! holloa, boys! make the bells ring! 
Holloa, boys! holloa boys! God save the King! 
Hip, hip, hooor-r-r-ray!

A Brief History of Guy Fawkes Day

Guy Fawkes: A Biography

Those who read about the history of Christmas in the United States will know that Guy Fawkes Day was also celebrated in the British colonies, where it was known as Popes Day. As in England, effigies were paraded in the street, but these were effigies of the Pope, not of Guy Fawkes.

Today the British still celebrate "Bonfire Night" with fireworks and bonfires.

31 October 2012

Pumpkin Grinch

We didn't do trick or treat this year.

My initial reaction was like Dark Willow: "Bored now."

Really. Even in costume it's no fun sitting on the stairs for two hours waiting to give out candy while the rest of the household is in comfy chairs upstairs getting to watch a real television while I'm stuck with bits and pieces on a laptop. (The only place I'm comfy in costume is at science fiction conventions.) This delayed end of Daylight Wasting Time has made it even worse. On Eastern Standard Time it's dark by six o'clock, and you're done with everything by eight. Now it doesn't get dark until 6:45. Who was the wretched idiot in DC who thought up this nonsense? (Oh, wait. Wretched idiot. Washington, DC. That describes 98.2 percent of the population.)

I love seeing the little kids come by. They are always adorable. I love the ones who are too little or too awed to speak, especially at the lady with the spider in her hair (me, last year). I like even the larger ones, in costume. Too many "Scream" masks for my taste, but at least they make the effort.

What I don't like is what my mom used to call "the big horses," the older kids and teens who slouch around, no costume, with a grocery store bag for treats. If you want a treat, at least work a little for it, okay? Put on a leisure suit from granddad's closet or even a basic set of Groucho glasses. And, really, if you're six feet tall, trick or treating? Really?

What I don't like is when you run out of candy, shut the lights, and people continue to ring the doorbell. Last year we had kids pounding on the door at 9:30! Heck, some of our older neighbors go to bed at 9:30.

So this year I said the hell with it. I had things to do at work right until we left on vacation and no time to decorate for Hallowe'en at lunchtime (I didn't even take lunch the day before we left; I had a Microslop Word document that was scarier than any zombie out there). I wasn't going to decorate Sunday or Monday while coping with three loads of laundry and airing out suitcases. And by yesterday, who cared? Not to mention that I was unable to leave work early today like I wanted to—traffic is alway horrendous on Hallowe'en—and it took me nearly 90 minutes to get home.

I turned out every light at the front of the house when I got there, including Mom's horse lamp in the foyer, which is always on, and we had only one light on in the living room besides the television, and I never turned on the lights on the porch. Despite that, half a dozen doorbells rang, including one going off when I wasn't three mouthfuls into my supper.

To you who had big yard displays, dressed in costume, took your kids out door to door, I hope you had a blast! For the first time since 1995 I had a nice Hallowe'en: I spent the evening with my husband, our bird, and our dog. I didn't have to gulp my dinner and get indigestion afterwards. I sat happily watching Jeopardy and then It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown; the For Better or For Worse Hallowe'en special "The Good-for-Nothing," and the remarkably cheesy television movie from the 1970s, Midnight Offerings, with "sweet little Mary Ingalls of Little House on the Prairie," Melissa Sue Anderson, as a bitch of a teenage witch (her innocent counterpart was Mary Beth McDonough, Erin of The Waltons).

In the spirit of the evening, then, Happy Hallowe'en!