25 January 2012

Rudolph Day, January 2012

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

Here's a few Christmas blogs to get you going:

Deck the Halls of Home With Joy

Karen's Christmas Cottage Blog

For music fans: A Christmas Yuleblog

I learned last fall that the Guideposts people had published their last "Ideals" edition at Christmas this year. The "Ideals" seasonal publications go back some years. If you find older editions you will note that, although the writing has remained warm and inspirational, the illustrations which accompanied them were often badly colored, overly chromatic, or just insipid. The newest issues have been beautifully illustrated with both sentimental paintings and gorgeous photography, and one of the joys of each fall was buying the defunct Thanksgiving edition for its stunning fall photography. Now the Christmas issue, too, is gone.

But Ideals left us with one last treat, a trade paper compilation called The Ideals Treasury of Christmas, which comprises two earlier volumes, Home for Christmas and The Greatest Gift. Both are crammed with homey reminisces, essays by noted writers such as Madeleine L'Engle and Faith Baldwin, nostalgic illustrations and warm photographs of cozy interiors, snowy scenes, bright decorations and nostalgic settings. Heartfelt verses, sheet music of loved Christmas carols, and recipes complete this crammed volume best read in a comfy chair with a hot drink beside you. Ever-so-recommended for setting a holiday mood.

16 January 2012

Beauty, Brightly Burning

I was still tidying up from this year's Christmas clean-up this morning. After breakfast I brought the vase with its vivid autumn leaves and flowers back upstairs to put in the hallway (where the Rudolph tree is at Christmas) and arranged the other little things around it: the little tray Andy Stokes brought me back from Italy on which I keep Mother's rosary, another little dish where I keep disposable batteries, a china sheep which holds fall picks, a little Norman Rockwell book, and a resin fall basket on which perches a chickadee. Then I brought up the box that has been holding the mantel items since late November: the fall angels in sepia tones, the Lord and Lady mugs James bought so long ago at the Ren Faire, a little autumn plaque I made and a maple leaf with a verse from the Bible, Mother's clock in the center, and on each side, a little fall house from Lemax's autumn collection, the Maple Sugar Shack, with boys raking and the dog popping its head from the leaf pile in front, and a deer lurking beside the well, under the autumn trees in the rear, and what I think is Pine Lodge (I can't find it on Lemax's page). I love it because you can look in the front window and see a fireplace and furnishings, and there's quilts hung outside on the rail and an owl on the roof. This one has a mailbox, dad raking, and son loading pumpkins into an old pickup, with a cardinal in the rear sitting on the axe near the woodpile. The basket of leaves is back in front of the fireplace as well, and Rusty the deer has his autumn collar back on. There is a winter basket on the opposite side, and winter decorations hanging from under the mantel, where it looks a little bare without the Christmas cards hung up.

When I got through I decided I wanted to check out the Blu-Ray version of Rick Steves' European Christmas that James got me for Christmas. I didn't think anything could be better than the widescreen DVD, but...wow. Deeper, richer, much more lovely. I put the television color on "dynamic" and just enjoyed the beautiful vistas, the lovely blue light of the twilight Austrian sleigh ride and the mountain return to Gimmelwald, the bright candles everywhere, and the multicolor decorations of all the cities.

14 January 2012

Putting the Christmas Tree to Bed

I've managed to take the other decorations down in the past week, during lunch or after work—it's really surprising what you can get done in fifteen minutes at the time, as it's so much easier taking down than putting up! I packed up the manger last night and there was nothing left but to tackle the Christmas tree this afternoon. James was at work, and would have been at his club meeting had he not been at work, so I put on some Christmas things, All Creatures Great and Small's "Merry Gentlemen" and The Good Life's "Silly, But It's Fun," and then the Christmas episode of To The Manor Born, starting up "Silly" again to finish up.

I start off by pulling the icicles off the tree and stuffing them into a disposable bag. I used to save the tinsel, using 80 percent of it again the following year, when it was the thicker mylar, but this is utterly impossible to get off the tree and re-hang on the cardboard insert that comes in the tinsel box. It's so prone to static electricity that before I had pulled it off a dozen branches I had strands clinging to my pants.

Once I "de-tinsel" the front, I start taking off all the ornaments in the front and as far on each side as I can reach. The sets of glass "baubles," as the British call them, go in their individual boxes, the individual ones are carefully packed in small boxes, and the plastic ones (all the Hallmarks and Carletons), get laid flat in gallon ziplock bags. (People who put their Hallmark ornaments back in the original box, or wrap their ornaments in newspaper or tissue would be horrified; we simply don't have the room.) Once I get the front finished I can take the tree by its "trunk" and duckwalk it forward out of the corner so I can repeat the procedure on the back. Then "Little Blaze" (the Woolworths star) comes off and goes back in its box, and the boxes and bags get laid or placed in the storage box like pieces in a puzzle. Every year it's like magic how it all fits back in there.

And the tree is ready for James to take downstairs. I can then clean the corner, put the winter decorations up on the divider, and then return the glider rocker to its proper place.

(This year I actually pulled certain ornaments from the tree and put them aside. On the way home last week, James had a "scathingly brilliant idea." Later in the year we'll keep you posted if the idea comes to fruition...)

So I sat down with Schuyler to watch the rest of "Silly, But It's Fun," and then "Merry Gentlemen" again. I love this episode, not just the lovely old-fashioned Christmas prep: James and Helen writing Christmas cards at the table near the fire with carolers singing outside, the men gathering holly in the woods and cutting their own tree, the C7 and C6 bulbs on the not-shaved Christmas tree, the little mince pies sitting in the kitchen (one of these little tarts should be eaten each day of the twelve days of Christmas for good luck). Or not just the funny bits with Siegfried frightening a snooping Tristan and Siegfried using the big trunk to subtly hint that a Christmas hamper is wanted, and the cake-tasting scene, although all those add to the charm.

It's the set I love, too, the beautiful Skeldale house set, with the dark woodwork, the dark panel doors, the vintage wallpaper, the electric lights in candolier wall sconces, and the solid, dark, carved furniture...it reminds me of my grandfather's house, especially at Christmas, when I would creep upstairs from the celebration in the basement to pad into the darkened dining room with its Edwardian furniture, faded wallpaper, wood floor, and glowing Christmas tree sitting before the front window, sparkling with old-fashioned lead tinsel over clear WWII vintage ornaments, plastic items from the 1950s, and Woolworths balls of more recent vintage, and the fat multicolor of the "big bulbs." It was always so magical. When I am at my lowest, I relive that image and wish I could step through some type of temporal door and be there again.

I'd even put up with algebra and eighth-grade bullying for the chance...

08 January 2012

Good Old-Fashioned Post-Christmas Depression

As they said on Remember WENN, "December without Christmas is like...January."

And it's certainly January: a humid, warmish, rainy, grey day combined with post-holiday depression. Which will be followed by Monday. Oh. Joy.

So we had the usual Sunday trip to the grocery stores: twofers at Publix and the rest at Kroger. The bananas were green in both places; I'll settle for applesauce. Really, what is the use in selling all green bananas? I can see some green bananas, so that you can buy some that will ripen at the end of the week, but have some ripe ones, too.

After we had the groceries put away, we decided to go out to cheer ourselves up while also getting gasoline for the car. We stopped at Barnes & Noble to check out the magazines—lovely! a new British Country Living already! Found some clearance items to put away.

On our way out of the shopping center we stopped at their Hallmark shop. All the Christmas items were 75 percent off, which made many of the expensive ornaments more affordable. James got the very last Indiana Jones ornament and the very last Spock ornament, the "Mirror, Mirror" ornament, another "Nautilus" because ours is broken, and the Romulan ship. I got Santa's bakery and the animals in the manger one, and all the peppermint bark they had left (three small packages). On the way home we were musing...we pretty much have enough ornaments, between real life and science fiction, to have a space tree (the "Enterprise," the GI Joe astronaut, Explorer I, etc.), and then James said "...and on a black tree"...maybe with a silver garland for the Milky Way and silver ornaments for moons...and white lights...

Oh, Lord...here we go again.

07 January 2012

All Partied Out

Sometimes the final part of the party prep is the hardest. We were up at nine to go to Costco for the chicken wings and more mini egg-rolls. From there we came home, James started the gravy for the meatballs and then put them in the crock pot to get warm (they were straight from the freezer). Then he went off to the hobby shop for about an hour since he won't get to go next week due to work. I spent the two hours he was away vacuuming, putting up the stuff on the coffee table, and putting the dining room table in place (we move it back so you can get more handily into the kitchen with a lot of people milling around).

Once James got home we had to get the "plastic silverware," plates and cups down from the closet, get down the serving plates and bowls, and then start warming up the empanadas, chicken wings, and egg rolls, plus dump the little smokies in barbecue sauce in the little crock pot and thaw the meat-and-cheese spirals.

We were actually finished before the first guest arrived! Sue was then treated to the obligatory "barking of the dog," and next thing we knew the guests were coming thick and fast.

We had the usual swell time: lots of talking, munching, gift swapping, the usual football game on the television, and to add to the tumult, thunder followed by rain. Alice, Sue, Phyllis, Aubrey, and Isabel went downstairs to play The Big Bang Theory game and Jessie and her friend went in the spare room to watch a movie (Aubrey and Isabel later joined them after the game was over). The Butlers had a previous engagement, but did stop over for a while on the way there, so we had eighteen up and down at one point.

The best news of the evening came from Juanita and David—they are engaged! Juanita has been a widow for over ten years, so we're thrilled that she's got a new, nice guy in her life. And David even likes this crazy bunch, so that's always positive.

The crowd was finally reduced to a few telling "stupid pet stories" and "what we used to do when we were young and stupid" tales before the last guest left for home. We got most of the disposables thrown out, I got the spare room set to rights and the chocolate spots off the carpet (LOL), and most of the kitchen table cleared off before we sat, exhausted, at the computer and talked to Jen and Emma for a while.

And then I went around the house and pulled all the timers for the Christmas lights (except the tree; it can stay lighted as long as it's up), and put the hospitality candles in place of the candoliers in the front window. Christmas is officially over.

Now all that remains is to take it down. Zowee...

06 January 2012


The Bible tells us two versions of the Christmas story. One is the familiar version from St. Luke, which almost everyone knows from its being quoted by Linus in A Charlie Brown Christmas. This contains the birth of Jesus, Mary's laying the Christ child in the manger, the angels and the shepherds.

It is from St. Matthew that the other familiar part of the story comes to pass. Here are the Wise Men (the "Magi," which in those days meant "magicians" or more probably astrologers who studied the stars) who follow the star, who are detoured by King Herod, who finally find the Christ child, and who "depart home in a different direction" without giving information to the king.

From these two pieces of scripture we get the image that is in every nativity set, and even in things like Rankin-Bass' Little Drummer Boy: the shepherds and the "Kings" all at the stable at once, the learned visitors offering gifts while sheep mill about. But the Bible doesn't even make mention of a stable, just a manger, no ox, no ass (these come from another Biblical passage) and there is no indication that the two different groups of worshipers met. Indeed, St. Matthew even mentions that the Magi have come to a house to meet the child. Nor does the Bible mention how many Wise Men—three are listed only because of the three symbolic gifts they bring: gold for kingship, frankincense for priesthood, and myrrh for death. And they are certainly not stated to be Kings.

Nevertheless, Epiphany commemorates the visit of the Wise Men to the young Jesus, and is one of the reasons gifts are given at Christmas. In some cultures, Christmas is strictly a religious observance, and gifts are given only at Epiphany, to commemorate the event, especially in Spanish-speaking countries. However, with the popularization of Christmas as a gift-giving holiday, there are often now two gift-giving days.

The Italians and the Russians have another character who figures in Epiphany gift giving. The story has several versions, but the basic one is that the Wise Men stop enroute to ask an old woman for directions, telling her of the great miracle. She is busy cleaning house and does not want to bother with them. In some versions she is quite brusque with them. Later, she feels badly about having treated them so shabbily, and is also curious about the Christ child. So she gathers gifts for the baby and follows the Magi. However, she never finds them, and goes from house to house, looking for the miraculous child. Not finding Him, she still leaves a gift behind for each child in the house.

In Italy this old woman, often referred to as a "strega" (witch), is called La Befana (Befana being a version of "Epiphania"). In Russia she is known as Baboushka.

Well, I've felt a bit like La Befana all day! I've been cleaning for our party, starting downstairs. The library had been vacuumed recently, but I gave it another going over, and then cleaned the bathroom. This is just in case the younger folks at the party get bored with us old geezers comparing how many days we have till retirement (or openly envying Anne and Betty, who have already retired) and wish to retire themselves, to play a game or just shoot the breeze. I also vacuumed the downstairs hall and the stairs to the foyer, then got the cheap little Cyberhome DVD we have in the spare room going with the television in case the girls want to watch a DVD. From there I cleaned the bedrooms, and also finished cleaning the hall bathroom, which is the company bathroom. Willow had her bath last night (a half-hour task that is more exhausting than vacuuming) and I had to collect the hair left around the drain screen and then tackle the potty. Later vacuumed the dining room and part of the living room, put the seat cover back on James' Laz-Y-Boy (Willow sleeps in it and it was well-furred), then took a deep breath and vacuumed the foyer (again) and the rest of the stairs. Still have to clean off the sofa and the coffee table, but that pretty much involves putting all the magazines in a crate and sticking them in the bedroom. :-)

05 January 2012

Twelfth Night

There's a bit of a controversy on which day Twelfth Night actually is. Some state that Christmas Day is the First Day of Christmas, and thus Twelfth Night is January 5, leaving Epiphany as its very own holiday. Other philosophies state that Christmas is its very own day, with the twelve days starting on St. Stephen's Day (Boxing Day), which makes Epiphany also Twelfth Night. I subscribe to the former philosophy.

I spent the day playing Christmas LP albums. In the morning I worked, and in the afternoon I started preparing the house for our Twelfth Night party on Saturday. This involves lots of vacuuming and cleaning of bathrooms, mostly, but today I washed all the floors upstairs as well as the foyer, plus cleaned off the cart in the kitchen and continued loading the dishwasher. The music was a great help and made me jollier than I was most of the Christmas season.

In medieval and Renaissance times, Twelfth Night was the night for games and feasting. Traditionally a cake was baked. Again, there are different thoughts on what goes into it. Originally it was a bean and a pea. The man who found the bean became the king of the revels and the woman who found the pea was the queen (how they assured a man found a bean and a woman a pea I'm not sure; perhaps there were two cakes). The French still celebrate with a "King Cake" on Twelfth Night.

Another idea has various (non-melting) fortune-telling charms which go into the cake. A ring means you will be married, a baby means you will have a child, a coin means you will have money, etc.

Robert Herrick

NOW, now the mirth comes
With the cake full of plums,
Where bean's the king of the sport here ;
Beside we must know,
The pea also
Must revel, as queen, in the court here.

Begin then to choose,
This night as ye use,
Who shall for the present delight here,
Be a king by the lot,
And who shall not
Be Twelfth-day queen for the night here.

Which known, let us make
Joy-sops with the cake ;
And let not a man then be seen here,
Who unurg'd will not drink
To the base from the brink
A health to the king and queen here.

Next crown a bowl full
With gentle lamb's wool :
Add sugar, nutmeg, and ginger,
With store of ale too ;
And thus ye must do
To make the wassail a swinger.

Give then to the king
And queen wassailing :
And though with ale ye be whet here,
Yet part from hence
As free from offence
As when ye innocent met here.

01 January 2012

Not Raining but No Parade

New Year's Day mornings on Sundays are always odd.

It's been a tradition since its inception that the Tournament of Roses Parade is transferred to Monday, January 2, when the New Year is on a Sunday. So it seems a particularly empty morning for the first day of January.

We'd planned to go to the movies this afternoon, but we had coupons at BJs that would run out on Tuesday, and several of the coupons were for things we wanted for our Twelfth Night party. So we drove up to Woodstock while listening to "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me," under a gradually lowering sky. (It rained while we were in BJs, but otherwise the predicted precipitation was a washout. [Yeah, that pun was intended.]) We stocked up on a few things (including some Q-Tips it turns out we didn't need) along with party supplies, then came home. We had a late lunch while watching a Shaun the Sheep DVD and then HGTV's RV Show 2012 (which was evidently filmed much earlier, as it was high summer in the Hershey, Pennsylvania, setting!). We also watched a Burt Wolf special about New Year's traditions—an unusual program, as you usually see specials at this time of year about Christmas traditions, but never about New Year.

I realized I hadn't watched one of my favorite Christmas stories this season, the Little House on the Prairie episode "Christmas at Plum Creek," so I put that on, followed by Rudolph's Shiny New Year. By then it was time for dinner. We had yummy pork roast with four-color rice on the side, and a pumpkin souffle for dessert. On the fly we decided to go to the movies anyhow...since we had free tickets, it didn't matter if we went to the matinee or more expensive evening performance. So we arrived in good time to get nice center seats for The Adventures of Tintin.

This yarn is pure roller coaster adventure. There's minimal character development and very little explanation, but super CGI and almost nonstop action from beginning to end. Tintin's little dog Snowy is both intelligent and super agile, but most of the time he just acts like a dog, providing several amusing scenes. There's no time to catch your breath until the last scene takes place (conveniently setting up a sequel) and while there's no real redeeming social value, it's also a brilliantly colored, seat-of-your-pants odyssey. Listen hard: there are several throwaway "adults only" jokes that will go completely over kids' heads.

Back home to relax. We discovered we have a necessary errand tomorrow: James has a headlight out. So we'll have to go to Wally World or an auto supply store to get a new one tomorrow.