30 December 2013

A Whole Greater Than the Parts

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW
Happy Christmas, compiled by William Kean Seymour and John Smith
I gave this book a rather half-hearted review a few years ago when I borrowed it from the library, but that didn't keep me from buying a copy since it was only a dollar at the library book sale. This volume was published in England and contains an assortment of British fiction, diary and journal entries, historical excerpts, sheet music, and poetry. There are selections from Thomas Hardy, Dylan Thomas, Kenneth Grahame, Charles Dickens, Samuel Pepys, and more, verse from Christina Rosetti and T.S. Elliot, etc. The line drawings are by Beryl Sanders.

My chief complaint with the book is that the excerpts are abridged; poor Beatrix Potter's "Tailor of Gloucester," for example, is reduced to one page about the cat, which renders the story incomprehensible. Only "The Mountains of Papa Morelli" appears to be intact. And some of the pieces seem to have been included if they just mention Christmas, even if it actually has nothing to do with the holiday. However, it's a nice variety of pieces, perfect for reading before bedtime, and a nice spread of historical excerpts. If  you can find it at an inexpensive price, it's worthwhile for those reasons.

29 December 2013

Christmas Around the World With World Book

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW
Christmas in Colonial and Early America/Christmas in America in the 1700s and 1800s; Christmas in New England; Christmas in Washington, DC
I was a World Book Encyclopedia kid from the time I was seven years old, and for years my encyclopedic sun has risen and set on the World Book. A new set was one of the first things I bought when I had a job, and my mother bought me a newer set as a housewarming gift when we bought our first house in 1995.

The World Book has had numerous other publications, including the younger children's Childcraft set, and this is one of them, an annual release of "Christmas Around the World" books that run about eighty pages, with full color illustrations and with some crafts and recipes at the end. The original books also came with Advent calendars, recipe cards, and other goodies. I managed to pick up a good many of these over the last couple of years at library book sales, but hadn't had a chance to crack into them until now.

These are the four American books that I found; the first two are really the same book with some minor alterations of the text, and some different illustrations in the second book. It's a good overview of the shunning of Christmas in the northern colonies as compared with the enthusiastic celebrations of the Middle Colonies and the South. The New England book is, by my thought, even as a New Englander, highly romanticized, but the introduction is lovely, and the text highly nostalgic (the 1980s photographs, however, are just funny); and the Washington, DC, book is pretty to look at and has an interesting bit of text about how the White House is decorated, which is quite different from the lavish decor you see today on the yearly HGTV specials. It also makes it very, very, very clear that Christmas in Washington, DC, is for everyone. :-)

If you are a Christmas fan and can pick up nice copies at a good price, these are definitely worth your time! Next I need to dig into the volumes about the other countries. First up will be Australia, the land of Snowy the budgie's ancestors.

27 December 2013

An Annual Event

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW
"Christmas"—An American Annual of Christmas Literature and Art by Augsberg Publishing House
I became aware of these publications some years ago when three of them, for successive years in the 1980s, were available on a bargain shelf at Barnes & Noble. These oversized (as past nomenclature would have it, "the size of a Life magazine") annuals were published by a Minneapolis publishing house from 1931-1997.

Each annual had a standard format. The first part would always be a retelling of the Christmas story from the Bible in about a half dozen pages, accompanied by different art each year. One year it might be Baroque painters, another year it might be done in stained glass window style, another as a medieval manuscript. One year it was even done, amazingly, in batik! Other standard features would be several pages of Christmas carol sheet music, done in calligraphy, several pages about how Christmas is celebrated in other countries, and a "picture story," done until the 1970s by Lee Mero, which was a nostalgic feature: old-fashioned Christmases vs. new ones, country vs. city, etc. Mero must have retired or passed away, and it looks like his place was taken by "Memories of a Former Kid" artist Bob Astey, who also cartoons for Reminisce.

I happened to pick up half-dozen of these at the library book sale for a song ($1 each), and they were nice reading over Christmas. I found a 1958 and 1959 issue each, a 1970, 1973, 1973, and finally 1986. I found fabulous articles about the history of Christmas seals: Salzburg, Austria; how Christmas has been portrayed over the years in music, painting, films; George Frederick Handel; Christmas carols written in the United States; Biblical musical instruments; the various types of evergreen trees used at Christmas; Nurnburg, Germany; Michaelangelo; church organs; and the history of "The Nutcracker," and I've just scratched the surface. These are well-worth picking up if you find affordable copies!

26 December 2013

Shivers and Shivs for Christmas

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW
Murder for Christmas, edited by Thomas Godfrey
This one has been turning up on remainder tables for years, but when it was finally offered at $2 I finally broke down and bought it. It collects some classic mystery stories like Christie's "Adventure of the Christmas Pudding" (with Hercule Poirot), the standard Sherlock Holmes "Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle," the Lord Peter Wimsey country house story "The Necklace of Pearls," even an O. Henry crime story "A Chaparral Christmas Gift." As a collection of classic mysteries set at Christmas, it pretty much achieves the goal, although some of the mysteries have nothing to do with Christmas—some of them are just set during snow storms or have Christmas as a periphery reference. The Woody Allen story, "Mr. Big," I thought, was dumb, but then I've never been a Woody Allen fan. Damon Runyon has never much been a big favorite of mine, either, but your mileage may vary and you may enjoy "Dancing Dan's Christmas," which takes place in his universe of petty crooks. I had never read either Ngaio Marsh or Georges Simeon, and quite enjoyed both the Roderick Allyn tale and the Maigret story, the latter which involved a little girl with less-than-savory family, a topic still in the news today.

As a bargain book, I think it is worth it.

Just to note, mystery readers, this edition was originally published in the 1980s and re-released in 2007. This year a new book, The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries was released. You may wonder if it's worth bothering with this one. Well, actually, yes, only a dozen, more or less, of the stories in this book appear in The Big Book, and this book has stories not in that newer book, too. Who knows, you just may be a Woody Allen fan!

25 December 2013

21 December 2013

The Shortest Day

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

                                            -- Susan Cooper

8 Enlightening Facts About the Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice 2013

Shortest Day

Yule: Winter Solstice

Stonehenge Winter Solstice Tour

December Solstice Traditions and Customs

20 December 2013

Looking for Christmas

It's been a rather sobering Advent this year with the death of Juanita's mom and then Willow getting sick. Every day has become an emotional struggle, and I woke up this morning feeling very down. But there were things to do.

After breakfast I dressed so I could finally take Nicki's gift to the post office to mail. I've had to delay mailing it because I had not finished a little something I wanted to include in the package. I had finished that last night and wrapped and addressed the parcel. I also got an airmail stamp to send what will be a very belated Christmas card. I wanted to bake cookies when I got back, and I didn't think we had enough flour or sugar, so I stopped at Food Depot to pick them up, then "fed" the car.

On my way home I thought I'd stop by Lowes to see if they had any more solar lights. The direct route was through the "Covered Bridge" neighborhood which includes a 19th century mill site and, of course, the titular covered bridge. The bridge has to have an I-beam barrier on each approach because, despite numerous signs saying that the clearance for the bridge is only seven feet high, big delivery trucks continue to drive up to and smash into the I-beam. Sure enough, as I was exiting the bridge, here came another idiot truck driver without the sense God gave a goat, heading for the bridge.

Anyway, the solar lights were all gone; oh, well. I was in a pretty morose mood at the time and looked wistfully at the abandoned Borders store across the parking lot, wishing I could just walk through those doors and back in time. The weather wasn't helping; it was overcast and getting warmer by the minute. Tomorrow, the day of the winter solstice, it's supposed to be a horrible 70°F. Ugh.

When I got home I remembered James saying he didn't feel like putting up any more Christmas lights, but I suggested we might want to just put up the Moravian star. I wanted to do something to cheer him up, and we all need a star to see by, so I dragged out the ladder—this was the hardest part because I am acrophobic and can't go over the second step—and hung up the star, plugged it into the extension cords, and set up the timer. I also stripped the old blue LED light set (tell me again how LED lights are long-lasting; every string of LED lights we've bought either have at least a dozen lights out, or half the string is out) off the little tree on the porch and put on another set, so when we came home tonight the Moravian star was softly glowing blue and the tree was doing the electric blue slide. (The poor solar lights, though, were looking very puny due to the cloud cover all day.) I also put out the greens basket (which partially covers up the big timer and the extension cords), and hung the Christmas decorations on the porch railings. They should have gone up after we put up the lights, but then we didn't do lights.

Once in the house, I did a last-ditch effort to get the lights on the airplane tree to work. I replaced what looked like two burned-out bulbs (but there are at least two more) and tried to replace the fuse, but I couldn't get either out. Needless to say, it didn't work, and this is why I didn't start baking the wine biscuits until 2:30. Besides the fact that I had to dispose of what flour was already in the canister, the baking went flawlessly. I made two batches of wine biscuits which were almost done when James arrived home—by the time I changed clothes and printed out coupons, they were finished.

We had supper at Giovanni's, which tasted really good since I never did have lunch. I splurged and had lobster ravioli. We then braved the stores around Barrett Parkway to go to REI and finish a gift. I'm thinking this is the last one. I won't know until I start wrapping. Oy.

We also stopped at Barnes & Noble with 25 percent off coupons. James found a new Harry Turtledove novel and I bought a collection of Christmas mysteries. Also found a new "Best of British" and picked up a cross-stitch magazine.

13 December 2013

Snowy's First Christmas Tree

I feel like I've been running for weeks with no letup. All of the Christmas decorations aren't up yet, and it was already time to put up the tree. The real tree, not the theme trees, which I enjoy, but the real Christmas tree, with all the ornaments we've bought together and the PharMor ornaments and the McCrory ornaments and the Woolworth star "Little Blaze," and waterfalls of tinsel, the one I love.

This year was a bit of a twist because half of a string of lights was out. However, I had two strings of the same number, if not the same type, of lights that I had bought a couple of years back at Hobby Lobby because I liked the way the covers were two-colored. They pretty much fit exactly into the bare space left by the errant light string, but it seemed like ages to set them in place and fluff the tree, which spends the rest of the year crammed into a corner of a closet. (It's not done it any good, either; it looks like we need a new one, as there is at least one bent branch.) I spent a bunch of time replacing faded blue bulbs on the strings still on the tree from the string I took off, as it appears the bulbs are still good, it's just half the string that's off.

I started at ten and finished just as James walked in the door sometime after five, having layered a waterfall of tinsel all over the tree and just placed each manger figure carefully in its place in the stable under the tree. About half these manger figures are probably older than I am, carefully bought one and two at the time from the bins of nativity figures in the basement store of W.T. Grant and perhaps Woolworth's and Newberry's. The sheepdog or the goat are the newest figures, and those were bought in the 1960s. The only figure not original to the set was a similar figure that fit with the set that I found in an antique shop in downtown Marietta.

Watched several Christmas things while putting up the tree—Christmas Is and The City That Forgot About Christmas (the two Lutheran Church specials with Benji and his sheepdog Waldo), and then all four Lassie Christmas stories with Timmy—and then put on Holiday Traditions on Dish. Tonight we ordered Chinese in and watched a bunch of Christmasy things: Charlie Brown Christmas, the Grinch, Twas the Night Before Christmas, A Very Merry Cricket, Mickey's Christmas Carol, and finally The Small One.

12 December 2013

Memories of Christmas

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW

Chicken Soup for the Soul: It's Christmas!, edited by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, and Amy Newmark
Well, it's a "Chicken Soup for the Soul" book, so you know it's going to be full of heartwarming stories about children, pets, and unselfish people. If this is your bag, revel in it. My favorite story? The one about the grandmother taking her grandchildren to see The Nutcracker, and how one of her grandsons interpreted the title. [giggle]

The Big Book of Christmas Plays, edited by Sylvia F. Kamerman
I picked this up at the fall book sale with memories of the play magazines. Remember those? Schools used to subscribe to them and they'd come monthly during the school year, with five or six appropriate plays for each month: Thanksgiving and perhaps Veterans Day in November, Hallowe'en in October, Valentines Day in February, etc. Of course the December issue was taken up mostly with Christmas plays. In sixth grade I got the chance to pick out the sixth grade play out of one of these books, and I did pick a play with a good role for my best friend.

This book is a compilation of later plays (from 1988; there's even a play with a pseudo-Apple computer in it). Surprisingly, they were still writing some really cute school plays back then. The first, for example, involves estranged friends reunited by their children. Another is about a Man Who Came To Dinner type who ends up writing a play for children with the nudging of his secretary. One is a very funny farce about a couple who are supposed to appear on television as a typical couple; instead of decorating with the usual tree and baubles, the wife wants to stage something unique and starts to collect all the items in the twelve days of Christmas song instead. There's also a sentimental offering about an elderly couple who run a variety store who are graced with a star with something extra. Later Santa Claus competes with a computer and Ebenezer Scrooge takes up with Snow White and the seven dwarves.

This was a lot of fun to read and brought back some great schoolday memories.

08 December 2013

More Christmas Stories

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW

The Home Book of Christmas, edited by May Lamberton Becker
I had almost given up on Christmas anthologies last year because they always contained the same stories: always A Christmas Carol, "Christmas Day in the Morning" by Pearl Buck, "A Young Girl's Gift" by Norman Vincent Peale, Taylor Caldwell's Christmas tale, etc. However, last year I found several older anthologies that had earlier stories in them, and rediscovered tales like "A Candle in the Forest." This volume, edited by the woman who took over the reins of "St. Nicholas" magazine after the death of Mary Mapes Dodge, was published in 1941, presumably before the attack on Pearl Harbor, and contains many stories and poems I'd never read. I especially enjoyed Christopher Morley's "Old Thoughts for Christmas," which, although written over seventy years ago, was still pertinent today. A funny story about boys' pranks at Christmas was "Plupy Goes to Sunday School," with a serves-them-right ending that is just perfect.

Oh, some stock pieces are here: A Christmas Carol, of course, and Christmas with the March sisters, Bret Harte and Washington Irving, and a couple are those tiresome "happy days on the plantation before slavery ended" fictions. But mostly I enjoyed this collection, especially the later pieces written on "the edge of" World War II. There are even some "futuristic" pieces at the end, including an ominous entry where civilization has gone underground to protect itself from bombing.

Well worth finding in a used book store.

06 December 2013



Today is the feast day of St. Nicholas. Besides forming the basis for the American "Santa Claus," a corruption of the Dutch "Sinter Klaas," he is the patron saint of children, sailors, pawnbrokers, and Russia. In the Netherlands he arrives on a boat said to come from Spain, accompanied by his Moorish assistant Peter, and he still wears his bishops' robes and carries his crozier (staff), and rides a white horse. In other countries the good Saint rides a donkey, and he has various assistants—most of whom are in charge of taking naughty children away in a big sack!

St. Nicholas at Catholic Online

I was reading an article about a billboard asking "What if St. Nicholas was black? Would you allow him in your home?" pointing out prejudices. It is ironic because St. Nicholas was born in Turkey and was most certainly not pale-skinned.

Happy St. Nicholas Day 2013

"A Modern Heir to St. Nicholas"

Germany Today: St. Nicholas

03 December 2013

Holiday Special Review: Rick Steves' European Christmas

For more than one hundred episodes, travel writer Rick Steves has traveled about Europe (and occasionally western Asia) illuminating our view of its historical and social past. In this delightful Christmas edition of his show, Rick shows us how various European countries celebrate Christmas as well as some special days in December and January, such as St. Lucia's day in Norway, St. Nicholas Day, and the visit of La Befana in Italy on January 6. Each of the countries come with its own version of Santa Claus—from Father Christmas in Great Britain to PerĂ© Noel in France to the Juletomten in Norway—and special customs like mince pies for the twelve days of Christmas, rice pudding with an almond in it, living Nativities, and Christmas angels. This is a brightly done, festive confection that features some splendid musical performances and all the trimmings of sensory overload, so vivid that you can smell the treats cooking and the warm waxy scent of candles in church and hot chestnuts from a street vendor, feel the cold and crunch of the snow, hear the snick of the skates and the skis, and immerse yourself in the bright colors of Christmas markets.

Probably the part that will make everyone smile the most is the idyllic Swiss Christmas, in which Steves and his family accompany friends up a mountain to cut a Christmas tree and return at dusk, sliding down the mountain on sleds and lighting their way with torchlights, in Rick's favorite town, Gimmelwald. They also go on a twilight sleigh ride in Austria. It's like a Christmas dream come true.

Carols, sleigh rides, yummy food, colorful markets, a feast for the eyes and ears—just the thing for a cold December night (or a warm one, at that) to get you in the holiday mood!

Countries traveled: England, Norway, France, Germany, Austria, Italy, and Switzerland. Smiles generated: an entire hour's worth. Merry Christmas!

Taking a Break Since My Back is Breaking

Have put up the library tree this morning, and the decorations in the library. For a while it seemed insurmountable because there was so much clutter, which drives me mad. And the poor library tree is getting so limp, but I'm so reluctant to replace it. We've had it since we've had the house, you see, and I'm rather sentimental.

The only rule with the library tree is anything on it must have been in a book first. You can't put a St. Bernard on the tree and say it's Beethoven, because that was a movie first, even if it were novelized later. (You could put a St. Bernard on the tree and say it's the famous Barry, of the Great St. Bernard Hospice, because that was a book. I don't have a St. Bernard, though. I do have My Friend Flicka, Misty of Chincoteague, and My Dog Skip, among others.) Less than half of the ornaments were actually made as book related, and those are Hallmark ornaments: The Cat in the Hat, Where the Wild Things Are, Thomas the tank engine, etc. The rest are figures from Hobbytown or from Richard's Variety Store which represent books. A black horse is Black Beauty, a white baby seal is Kotick the white seal from The Jungle Book, a fawn is Bambi, a West Highland White terrier is McDuff, a one-legged pirate is Long John Silver. I have Merlin the magician and Robin Hood and Zorro and a girl with a horse brush who's supposed to be Dinah in The Horsemasters (or could be February Callendar, I suppose, rubbing down her pony Gorse), a rabbit that is Hazel from Watership Down and a fox which is Cinnabar the One O'Clock Fox, and even Elsa the lioness from Born Free.

Sometimes you have to "go with the flow." My Dorothy from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is the film Dorothy, with ruby slippers. The real Dorothy of the book had silver slippers. I have a sable-and-white collie for Lassie Come-Home, and really, that's how anyone today thinks of Lassie, but the seminal Lassie, the one created by Eric Knight, was a tricolor collie.

I did get the library tidier, put the Christmasy things on shelves, and put up the lighthouse. When we were at the old house, we didn't have room for a Christmas village, so I made a Christmas vignette, with a whole story behind it. I bought one of the LeMax lighthouses and then painted a big rectangular board to look like a lighthouse island with the sea around it. Bought a bag of pebbles to represent rocks at sea and on the jetties, bought some pilings with seagulls on them, and the "sea" has raised whitecaps made with dried glue ridges. The lighthouse is run by old Cap'n Andy, who in his day was a famous ship's captain. Now he keeps the light, with the help of his granddaughter Bess and his grandson Daniel, whose parents died in a typhoid epidemic. They've just come back from the mainland and Daniel is bringing in their little Christmas tree when they see someone in the dusk rowing out to the lighthouse. It is the family's old friend Edward Simpson, who is bringing the family some Christmas gifts in his dory. Cap'n Andy and Bess wait at the headland with a lantern to welcome Ed and invite him for a bite of supper.

Came upstairs to have a few peanut butter crackers. Everything was such a mess downstairs I soothed myself by tucking some Christmas "greens" into the china cabinet and then decorating the ceppo with its manger scene on the top and a woodland scene with St. Nicholas on the bottom. That made me feel good enough to go back downstairs and wrestle physically and psychologically with the containers, which got put back in the closet. Everything needs vacuuming, but it's a lot neater.

Sorted out the porch decorations from the divider decorations; took the latter upstairs on a box lid and installed the former where they belonged, so the porch looks a mite perkier, then had some milk and some chocolate and read a few pages of the November/December "Landlove," a British nature magazine.

[Later: Things didn't go as well this afternoon. Wanted to put up the airplane tree, which is a pre-lit unit. Plugged it in and it's dead. Worked perfectly for several years now, but no juice. Sighing, I went on to do the foyer tree which holds all our miniature ornaments. Guess what—the light string was dead! I don't understand. The string worked for a month, through January sixth, and was working fine when I took everything down. How it "breaks down" without being used flummoxes me. Anyway, I did want to finish decorating the foyer, so I tossed some clothes on. Stopped at Home Depot, but all they had were LEDs. I don't like their color and every string of LEDs we've bought now have at least half the lights off. So I went to Lowes and picked up a string of fifty lights.

I liked the set of thirty-five better, as it was made for single use. Now I've had to hide the plug that enables the string to be added to another light string. Modern Christmas lights are dreadful; it's so hard to fasten them to the tree. The old miniature strings had a ball you slid along the wire to clamp the light to the branch. The poor tree is all wires now. Nevertheless, it "cleaned up" pretty well, although it was a painful task. My hands get so dry from washing in the winter that the skin on the tips of my thumbs crack, and every time I put an ornament on the tree I was prickled with plastic needles or metal hooks. I hate leaving blood on a Christmas tree.

Done with that just in time for supper.]

02 December 2013

Farewell, Thanksgiving, Hellooooo, Nurse...Uh, Christmas!

So, I've got two days here to start my Christmas decorating.

Well, it actually started yesterday, when James got the first two boxes down out of the closet for me. I always put up the window candles on the first Sunday of Advent. This means I used the two new five-candle candoliers I ordered from the Vermont Country Store a few weeks ago, carefully picking through my clear blue C7 bulbs to get the least faded ones. The two windows in the dining room get the color-changing candles, the pair of three-light candoliers go in the library windows downstairs with frosted blue bulbs, and I have three battery-operated flickering-light candles for James' "man cave" and the window of the living room that does not have the Christmas tree in it. On this day, too, each of the inside doors gets a "wreath" (most of them are actually candle rings) and there is a garland around the archway to the hall, one around the door to the deck, and one around the door to the library..

Today mostly what I did was tear down. This is more difficult than it sounds because I have to sort the Thanksgiving decorations from the general fall decorations that go up in the fall from the fall decorations that stay up all year long (except at Christmas). I don't know how things "expanded," as I haven't bought any new Thanksgiving decorations except for a tiny Blossom Bucket "Happy Thanksgiving" set of blocks, but I can't fit all the fall decorations back at the top of the Hallowe'en and Thanksgiving storage boxes, which is where they were back in September! Did my scarecrows gain weight? :-) Will have to cogitate on the problem.

But I cleared the dining room and put up the Country Pickin's Christmas shadow box in the kitchen, cleared the mantel and almost all the living room (have to bring the big bouquet of fall flowers and the bucket of autumn branches downstairs to be completely done with that), cleared near the bird cage and in the hall, cleared the divider, cleared the foyer, cleared the tchochkes out of the library—pretty much have a blank canvas now. I might have even started decorating today had I not tried to also work on the packages that need to be mailed out this week. I started with the easy ones first which meant I was doing the two most difficult ones before supper. But they're all done but one now, and that one isn't finished.

Of course I couldn't mail Christmas packages without including Christmas cards, and at least one package couldn't be sent out without a Christmas letter, so I sat about an hour working on that and getting one printed out, before going back to the clearing process.

After supper James got the rest of the high boxes down for me, and we brought the village box upstairs together. I can hardly wait to put my little 1940s Christmas village up!

Old Cities and Old Saints

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW

Christmas in Williamsburg, K.M. Kostyal and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation
This is a slim volume with glossy paper and lovely photos of Colonial Williamsburg at Christmas, including a few homemade crafts. It's simple enough to be read by a child, so what text there is is about feasting, how decorating for Christmas has changed in the city, and how they would celebrate, depending on social rank and, sadly, race. If you're a Williamsburg fan like me, you'll love the volume, but really, buy this used. It's really pricey.

Postcards from Santa Claus, Robert C. Hoffmann
This is a wonderful little volume chronicling the history of Santa Claus via postcards sent from the beginning of the Golden age of Postcards, 1880, through the publication of the book in 2002. Even back in 1880, the Victorian Santa was a spokesman for all sorts of products, but back then he was still an elfin figure, or even had some of the attributes of his forebear, St. Nicholas. There are postcards from both the U.S. and from Europe, and cards made and sent during World Wars I and II, so you meet not only Santa, but his "foreign relations," Father Christmas and PerĂ© Noel and St. Nicholas, plus Santas in aircraft and those "newfangled motorcars" and even using an early wireless set. Between the illustrations Hoffmann offers small bits of information about the good Saint.

I found this book by accident, but am glad I did. The old postcards are fascinating and one of the messages will definitely give you a laugh.

28 November 2013


27 November 2013

Holiday Special Review: The Thanksgiving Treasure

Everyone of a certain age remembers the 1972 "little special that could," the low-key The House Without a Christmas Tree. It remains a fond Christmas memory along with the other Yuletide offerings of the 1970s, especially The Homecoming: A Christmas Story (which ended up being the pilot film for The Waltons), and was even parodied on a Saturday Night Live skit. Fewer people, however, remember that there were three sequels, set at Thanksgiving, Easter, and Valentine's Day, respectively.

The most memorable of these was probably the first sequel, The Thanksgiving Treasure, originally broadcast in 1973. It is now eleven months since the events of House Without a Christmas Tree, and on a excursion with her father, eleven-year-old Addie Mills meets her father's bete noire, a cranky elderly farmer named Walter Rhenquist. Earlier, Addie's father had dug a pond for Rhenquist, although James Mills advised him the pond was not in the right place. When the pond leaked, Rhenquist didn't pay James the remainder of his fee.  The two have been feuding ever since, and they have a lively quarrel at the gas station where Mills has stopped for fuel and Addie for air for her bike tires. Later, on an expedition with her best friend Cora Sue to find plants for a winter bouquet, Addie checks out Rhenquist's farm and discovers the old fellow owns a pinto mare. Addie is horse-crazy—the story opens with her ecstatic upon receiving a picture from Hollywood of Roy Rogers and Trigger—and immediately befriends the horse. But how can she visit it again if Rhenquist hates her family so much?

On the next day of school, the children are studying about Thanksgiving, and Addie takes to heart a lesson her teacher gives about making friends of ones' enemies (and of course, she can visit the horse to boot)! Since she can't get her father to invite his old enemy to dinner, she talks Cora Sue into helping her take leftovers from the Mills' Thanksgiving dinner out to Rhenquist.

This is a delightful and touching special in so many ways. People find it (as they did in the earlier special) disconcerting that the story was filmed on videotape and has that "soap opera" look. On the other hand, the fact that it was filmed in that manner almost makes it look as if you were watching a reality series and peeking into a window at 1947. The period look is so well done: the shabby but homey Mills house, with its faded wallpaper, linoleum floor, painted kitchen table and chairs, quaint parlor furniture; the school with its wooden desks and big wall of windows; the radio play that the children put on, which is so packed with the rote facts children were told then, with the children hamming it up as turkeys at the end; the sere fields of a farm town in Canada standing in for 1947 Nebraska, with Rhenquist's lonely farmhouse and an old-fashioned general store and gas pumps.

I've always loved that Addie herself is not one of those cute little moppets that so frequently appeared on television in that era (and still appear today), with cute faces, freckles, and precocious smart remarks. She is a prickly, imperfect heroine who can be unsympathetic to her best friend—"dodo" is a familiar criticism—but who underneath is a good-hearted, intelligent child whose slightly deceptive reason for befriending Rhenquist (to then befriend his horse) blossoms into a near-granddaughter relationship with the crusty codger, played with curmudgeonly perfection by character actor Barnard Hughes. There are also humorous situations, but they're not deliberately cutesy; instead it flows from the personalities of the characters (in one sequence, for instance, when Addie states to her dad that her teacher Miss Thompson has said they should make friends of their enemies, James snaps back, "Well, tell Miss Thompson to have him for dinner—boiled!" which is such a classic James Mills line, not to mention the devil's bargain Addie has to make with her pesty cousin Henry and its so-right conclusion.

Gentle stories like these don't seem to hold the attention of modern audiences much, except for a few favorites like A Charlie Brown Christmas, and it's a pity this is not a television tradition (as well as its predecessor) alongside perennial favorites like the Grinch and Rudolph. There's a videotape of this story sold under the title The Holiday Treasure, and if you happen upon one, do pick it up. If you like slice-of-life stories that can be sentimental without being sloppy, this little gem is definitely for you.

News for Thanksgiving...and Thanksgivukkah

Not only is the first full day of Hanukkah on Thanksgiving Day for the first time since 1888, but it's the sesquicentennial of Thanksgiving being a national holiday.

Thanksgiving Sesquicentennial

Menorah Lighting Planned for Plymouth Rock

Give Thanks for Old Plymouth Rock (or Plymouth "pebble")

Five Myths About the Pilgrims

Will The Balloons Fly This Year?

10 Thanksgiving Day Facts

 The True Meaning of Thanksgiving Day (and it's not shopping)

A Recipe for Thanksgivukkah

Thanksgivukkah Spawning Menurkeys

May the Light of Peace Be With You


Happy Hanukkah to all those who celebrate!

11 November 2013



Happy Remembrance Day to all in Canada and the United Kingdom.

"Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few." ... Winston Churchill

Martinmas

St. Martin of Tours is most famous for the story of his cloak: seeing a shivering beggar in the cold, he used his sword to split his riding cloak in half so the poor man might have some relief. Only afterwards did he find out that the man was Jesus in disguise. Later Martin converted to Christianity and became a monk.

The St. Martin Song

There are several symbols of Martinmas besides the cloak: St. Martin's white horse (if it snows during Martinmas it is said that his white horse is riding through), lanterns (paper lanterns are a traditional decoration, or one can make them out of glass jar, and geese, which are a traditional dinner entree on St. Martin's Day.

A Martinmas Circle - Seasons of Joy

Advent, like Lent, was once a 40-day period of fasting and prayer (Sundays were excluded), and it began on Martinmas.

Wikipedia St. Martin's Day Entry

Fish Eaters.com: St. Martin's Day

Photos of St. Martin's Day Lanterns

Celebrating St. Martin's Day in Germany

01 November 2013

What's All Saints Day...

...and what does it have to do with Hallowe'en?



All Saints Day - Solemnity of All Saints Day

01 September 2013

Autumn At Last!

Isn't that September 22, you ask?

It's the first day of meterological fall, and I can't take summer one more minute, even if it was relatively cool.

This is New Hampshire. I would trade every single day of summer for one day here:

22 July 2013

"There's a Place for Each Small One..."

I was guest blogger today on Christmas TV History's "Animation Celebration" for Christmas in July:

The Small One

13 July 2013

Happy Christmas in July!

I still can't believe it was time for the Hallmark ornament premiere already...the days go by so slowly, but the weeks go by so quickly.

We arrived at the store just after they opened; a man and woman were just exiting the store with a big bag, and the guy said to James, "You're late!" No, we were very, very early, as this is probably the first Hallmark ornament premiere ever that James was more eager to get to than me! The airplane this year was a GeeBee, of the color markings that Cliff "The Rocketeer" Secord flies at the beginning of the movie, and they also had an ornament of Santa Claus testing out a rocket launching kit. He also bought the Kelvin from the Star Trek reboot and the little airplane "Dusty" from Disney's upcoming sequel to Cars (called Planes, of course). And Marvin the Martian...just because. But the store was completely out of the cute little "Captain Nello's ray gun," a darling item with fins that made all sorts of retro ray gun sounds. Since we were the second people in the store, we figure the guy and the gal coming out of the store as we came in had copped every one of them.

I only bought four ornaments, but two of them were big: I got the "Steamboat Springs" "ornament" (in quotes because, really, it's too big for the tree) that plays a country version of "Good King Wenceslas" as a little train circles a mountain on one side and a steamboat paddles about in a lake on the other, and the Mickey Mouse "Band Concert." I'm not a Mickey collector, but it was a zoetrope, and I'm crazy about old motion picture machine toys. I also bought the "French hen" ornament and the Rudolph ornament. They also had a big rack of previous years' ornaments marked way down; I got a set of six miniature "International children" (although if I add any more ornaments to the miniature tree, it's probably going to collapse), the Where the Wild Things Are ornament for the library tree, and, since it was buy two half price and get the third off, another ornament as a gift.

(Maybe it was because it was early, but this was really a rather lackluster ornament premiere on the store's part. Usually they have several goodies and big pitchers of drinks or punch. Today was a cookie "cake" and two small containers of tea and lemonade.)

This wasn't getting James a ray gun, though, so after we finished at Trader Joe's, we took the most direct route to the Hallmark store at Town Center. There were lots of ray guns there, and James also decided to get a "KITT" from Knight Rider, especially as it does have William Daniels' voice. I didn't buy any more ornaments, but did get hooks and adapters, so perhaps this year our space ornaments will make sounds again (they don't work with our present string of lights), and found Hanukkah cards on discount.

Matched with an overcast sky and a breeze, it was probably the nicest July ornament premiere in years.

24 June 2013

Midsummer's Day


I'm in my usual hibernation for the summer, but still a word about Midsummer's Day.

Despite the name, Midsummer's Day is celebrated a few days after the summer solstice. It's especially popular in northern countries that experience long winters. Shakespeare's play A Midsummer's Night Dream references the celebratory practices of Midsummer Eve and Day.

Midsummer Day in Sweden

Midsummer's Day

Midsummer Day in Lithuania

Midsummer Day and the Summer Solstice

Midsummer Day Images

Midsummer Day takes place on the Feast of John the Baptist.

The history of St. John.

NewAdvent.org history of St. John.

Best of all, tomorrow makes six months until Christmas. I could never understand why they have "Christmas in July" when the end of June is the halfway mark. :-)

07 June 2013

Christmas Carol Redux


A couple of weeks ago I went to Barnes & Noble at Town Center, and, as I usually do, slipped into CD Warehouse to see what they had in used DVDs...not that we need anymore. I came upon the Blu-Ray version of Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol. Now, I already have a copy of this on DVD, plus I bought the collected version of Christmas specials which also contains this story. But I've been in love with MMCC since its first broadcast (I don't actually remember the first broadcast; what I remember is the repeat the next year—I can clearly remember sitting on the burgundy plush sofa we had then, watching the clock, swinging my legs back and forth, and chanting "It's almost time for Mr. Magoo!" I was eight at the time.) and by the time of that second broadcast I practically had the songs memorized. (BTW, Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, not Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or A Charlie Brown Christmas, as people think, was the very first made-for-television animated special.)

Besides, it was only $10 and came with all the extras: a little commemorative booklet and an "autographed" still.

It's been sitting at the back of the sofa rather taunting me since then, and, although I really should be doing other things today, I couldn't resist putting it on. Last night I volunteered to write something for Joanna Wilson's Christmas in July 2013, and although I offered to do Mr. Magoo, it was already taken (I'm doing The Small One instead), and the combination of the two were irresistible.

The restoration is...wow. There are still a few bits of dirt on the print, but it's 99 percent pristine and the color is brilliant; in fact I had to turn the television from standard picture brightness to cinema because the colors are just so pure and bright. One of the things I've always loved about it is that, except for the framing sequence and the songs, the dialog is pretty much 98 percent directly from Dickens, and I always find myself chanting along with the best lines, including Scrooge's damning "If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population," and Marley's “Oh! captive, bound, and double-ironed!" I watched it with the commentary and they talked to several of the animators and the voice artists, including Marie Matthews (who sings Young Scrooge's lovely "Alone in the World"), Jane Kean (Belle's singing voice), and Laura Olsher (Mrs. Cratchit).

(Aside: as a kid I considered "Alone in the World" "my" song. I was an only child and raised by older parents—Mom and Dad were 38 and 41 when I was born—and I never did like things my classmates did: I was more into Perry Como and Bing Crosby and Big Band than I was to contemporary music from the Beatles and Herman's Hermits; 60s fashions were anathema to me since what I really wanted was a skirt that swirled just like Loretta Young's. Miniskirts. Yuck! I felt myself not in synch with my generation a lot and "All Alone in the World" pretty much defined that loneliness.)

Sadly, there are very few extras besides the cool commentary: a couple of storyboard sequences against the final print, and Jule Styne and Bob Merrill singing the demo of "Ringle, Ringle" in accompaniment to the animation sequence, but the last is a peach, "From Pencil to Paint," showing the conception drawings and then the final cell, because it's accompanied by the lost overture music, which is absolutely fabulous. Styne and Merrill were seasoned Broadway composers (they later did Funny Girl) and each song is a gem: the opening night excitement of "Back on Broadway," the aching sadness of "Alone in the World," the menacing humor of "We're Despicable," the bright hope of "The Lord's Bright Blessing," the strong rhythm and rhyme of "Ringle, Ringle," and the plaintive song of lost love, "Winter was Warm." Even the incidentally music, often minor-key versions of the songs, is memorable. The creepy music accompaniment to the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is as chilling in 2013 as it was in 1963.

Serendipity is defined as "the art of happy accident" and this Blu-Ray version has been the best kind of serendipitous find.

02 April 2013

It's That Time Again!

Since it's less than nine months until Christmas, could this have been far behind?

2013 Dream Book | Keepsake Ornament Club | Hallmark Cards

31 March 2013



19 March 2013



17 March 2013

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

We think of it here as Willow's birthday*, so there isn't much "wearin' o' the green," especially since James is mostly Scottish and I'm Italian. :-) Been watching clips of St. Paddy's Day parades this morning, and reading Facebook posts, including nostalgic photos from the Providence Journal.

I've never been much on St. Patrick's Day as an adult, though, due to the emphasis on drinking to excess, but do remember with much nostalgia the programs at school, where we danced Irish jigs and cut out shamrocks to decorate the classroom, and, in junior high school, bought and wore green carnations. And, of course, you always wore green, even if it was just a pin or an armband. Surprisingly, the Atlanta PBS stations, which were overflowing with Irish specials last year, are devoid of anything similar this year except for an upteenth Celtic Thunder rerun and a series on Catholicism. (Yo! When do we get series two of Call the Midwife?)

Kinda blank in here since Epiphany, but frankly I haven't felt much like celebrating. Been going through an emotionally difficult time at work due to the reorganization, and, tiresomely, caught the flu over Valentine's Day week, so no celebration, no decorations, and no Valentine posts. Sleeping late seems to be the chief amusement desired here.

* We actually don't know when Willow was whelped. We got her on the last week of May, and they told us she was ten weeks old, so I counted back to a date I could remember. :-)  Schuyler has the same deal: she was just a new baby when I bought her on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, so I counted back a month and picked out another date I could remember (April 23, St. George's Day and Shakespeare's birthday).

06 January 2013

As the Lights Dim and Flicker

We are ending up the Christmas season where we started, watching "Merry Gentlemen" and "Silly, But It's Fun..."


CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW
Christmas at Historic Houses, Patricia Hart McMillan & Katharine Kaye McMillan
I saw this at the Colonial Williamsburg gift shop, but the price of this, a Schiffer book, with those beautiful sleek, thick pages and glorious color photographs, gave me pause. I waited until I could buy it with credit points.

If  you love historical places and love Christmas, and equally love both together, this is a tremendous, lovely book addressing historic homes and the way the curators go about decorating them at Christmastime. Twenty-seven specific homes are addressed, from the simple greens at Monticello and Colonial Williamsburg to the high-Victorian artistry Blithewold and Biltmore House. The decorations, especially in the Victorian homes, are so complicated that I could really wish for larger photos to see the details, but that would make the book heavy and cumbersome.

I was a little irritated by the text—not that it wasn't informative; far from it. But in a book of this scholarship, the typos were startling: apostrophes included when they weren't needed and not included when they were, plus misspellings.

Still, the stunning photos and the contents of the text will please most. Opening chapters address the styles of decorating based on the era, decorating colors and materials, the changing style of the decorations at Williamsburg, Christmas wreaths, and lighting methods. Every page a gem.

A Surrey Christmas, compiled by John Hudson
Britain's Budding Books did a collection of these volumes for what looks like almost every shire in England, not to mention for historical eras (A Victorian Christmas, An Elizabethan Christmas, A Regency Christmas, etc.). I picked up A Worcestershire Christmas several years back and picked up this one last year at the library book sale. The selections are a bit weaker in this one, as there are a couple of entries that only briefly relate to Christmas, but once again it's a mixed bag of excerpts from diaries, newspapers, and novels, with 1989 next to first World War memoirs and 1960 cozying up to the 1930s, children's memories of Father Christmas cheek by jowl with critiques of the workhouse, accounts of blizzards, reports from the trenches, liberally sprinkled here and there with the traditional Christmas ghost story. There's even a fillip of poetry and a recipe or two from Mrs. Beeton. Plus there's a lovely cover showing "the waits." These books are worth picking up when found for a reasonable price.

* * * * *

I must comment about the other Christmas reading this year: the usual Christmas magazines! I left "Early American Life Christmas" for last, a jolly read, and also "Victorian Home," which wasn't as magical this year, although I can't tell why. One of my nicest finds I only picked up after Christmas: a British magazine called "LandScape," which is a nature/countryside magazine. I had picked up the November/December issue along with a nice December-y companion magazine, "LandLove," but didn't realize there was a Christmas issue until I wandered into Barnes & Noble last week. This was just oozing with holiday nature: robins (in England robins are Christmas symbols rather than the American robin which is a spring symbol), reindeer, mistletoe, holly, mince pies, Christmas markets and tree farms, even recipes for windowpane cookies, how to build a sled and make a brussels sprouts wreath, and stories about a woman who makes driftwood into Christmas trees and a man who knits nativity figures. Lots of lovely photographs. Glad I wandered in B&N that day.


Sigh. And now I think it's time for me to pull the lights. :-(

Epiphany Surprises

First up—sleeping for eight whole hours! Won't get to do this again until next Sunday.

And a final Christmas treat, toast with clotted cream.

Now it was time to get back to the routine, so we were off to Kroger to buy supplies for work lunches and ordinary supplies. On the way out we spotted what was left of the Christmas things: bags of bows and rolls of wrapping paper. I hadn't intended to buy any more of either, but these bows were different: there weren't any golds and silvers, and more other colors than red and green: blues, purples, magentas, plus white. I grabbed three bags at $1.20 each.

There's a type of chocolate milk James is able to drink at Walmart, so we stopped there to get it and came out with all sorts of other things: handheld breakfasts for him, meat ravioli (you don't usually see meat ravioli), an extension cord I needed, etc., and in a big bin of marked-down Blu-Rays we found Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. So that's what I watched this afternoon after getting my bag ready for work and putting up the groceries while James retreated to the "man cave" for a bit. Looks scrumdiddlyumptious in Blu-Ray, and, I found, even slightly appropriate for Epiphany, because Veruca sings about wanting "a bean feast," which, it is believed, derives from the bean that is put into the Twelfth Night cake!

And now I'm watching The House Without A Christmas Tree again, just because (and because the music has been going through my head for ages).

Oh, look, here's an article from 2011 that talks about the film and interviews Lisa Lucas.

Twelfth Night

So I did a little bit of cleaning each day, and in the end that worked out fine. Downstairs was easiest, of course, even though I washed the floors. Finally there was a place for everything, even in the refrigerator, and that led us to Friday night. We had supper at Ken's Grill, then went to Costco for party food: barbecue chicken wings, meatballs, mini egg rolls, and meat-and-cheese spirals. Glad we went Friday night, as I think I spent all day today vacuuming. :-) (And I'd already started the vacuuming earlier in the week.)

At one point James went out to get some sodas. I kept cleaning. But I was done by 2:30, having finally "done the frog" (vacuuming the stairs), and took a shower. Then it was time to put stuff out! We finished just as Anne and Clay arrived.

Had a great night, even if the Costco meatballs were a big disappointment (very highly spiced). Anne and Clay brought a delicious ham and John and Betty brought fruit and there were cupcakes. We had chatter and chow, and the Georgia football game for a while. Charles had not been here before, so he got the nickel tour. Willow finally quit barking and started schmoozing, only to disgrace herself on the carpet and get locked in her crate for a while. Schuyler didn't seem to be happy about having a "flock" tonight, so I took her to the spare room and put on the television, but she started with the calling chirp, which meant she wanted to go back to her place. So I took her back.

We were able to get everything cleared up, vacuumed (again...LOL), and tidied in time to relax and watch some HGTV. (Really, there was nothing else good on. 500 stations and still nothing to watch.)

And so another Twelfth Night party is over.

04 January 2013

Other Christmas Books Read This Year

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW
One was a "repeat," A Christmas Secret by Anne Perry, previously borrowed from the library, but I found an inexpensive copy at the library book sale. Domenic Corde and his new wife, Clarice, are assigned to a country parish during the Christmas holidays, to substitute for the vacationing cleric. Of course, a murder occurs. I have reviewed this previously.

Another was one of my annual Christmas reads, the Tuckers series book The Cottage Holiday. The Tuckers were a boisterous quintet of children, sixth grader Tina, fifth graders Terry and Merry (twins), second grader Penny, and kindergartener Tom, who lived in a big house in a town called Yorkville, with a stay-at-home mom and a dad who ran a variety store with his father. The kids play, quarrel, invent projects, and occasionally solve minor mysteries, as other juveniles from 1960s children's series in most of the books, but this one has a different slant: little Penny, the frail one of the family, is basically looking for her place in the scheme of things. She knows she's not as strong as the others, but she doesn't want to be forever sitting still and being careful. She comes up with the idea of the family spending Christmas at their lake cottage, where the kids prepare for the festivities, help some farm friends, and even participate in the adventure of an abandoned baby. But all through the story Penny also searches for her own strengths. It's warm, happy, and familiar, all perfect as a Christmas read.

Others:
• Decked With Folly, Kate Kingsbury
This is part of the Pennyfoot Hotel mysteries featuring hotel owner Cecily Baxter. Mysteries seem to find her, and this one hits particularly close to home: a man is found drowned in their duck pond. Except not only has the man in actuality been murdered, but he's known to the hotel staff as a rogue who married their head housemaid some time before without bothering to tell her he was already married. Gertie the maid thus becomes the police's prime suspect.

This book series seems to be well beloved for its British Edwardian setting and its Christmas and New Year's-themed special editions. Perhaps if I'd read them from the beginning I would have enjoyed the story more, although enough was explained about the characters that I was never mystified by their pasts. But no one ever quite came to life for me and Cecily and her husband seemed to be almost too good to be true as employers. The mystery was fine; I just would have preferred more depth to the characters.

Four Centuries of Virginia Christmas, Mary Miley Theobald and Libbey Hodges Oliver
This was a book I picked up at the Colonial Williamsburg gift shop, a simple but enjoyable read about the history of Christmas celebrations in Virginia, beginning with the stark holiday at the starving colony in Jamestown to the more festive celebrations as the colony found its footing. Theobald and Oliver chronicle the Christmas customs, food, and decorations over the years as they change or are amended to fit new eras or times of want like the Civil War. (A running theme is how the decorations at Colonial Williamsburg have changed, from greens to the "Della Robbia" period—the authors are quite pointed when they mention that in colonial times no citrus or tropical fruit would have been used as a door decoration; they were too expensive!—to the simpler modern wreaths and garlands featuring apples and greens only.) There are color and black-and-white illustrations, and many diary excerpts used, and the authors do not shy away from addressing "Christmas in the Quarters" (among the enslaved), although IMHO it was a bit glossed over.

The Dreaded Feast, edited by Michael Clarke and Taylor Plimpton
Another buy from the Colonial Williamsburg gift shop, a collection of writers "on enduring the holidays." Again, some of these essays appear to have been written because people feel they have to conform to holiday "standards": buy the best gifts, set the best table, etc. (George Plimpton's essay was particularly tied to this syndrome, buying useless gifts for rich people who don't need them.) That isn't what Christmas is all about; it's what society has made us think Christmas is all about. Sadly, there are certain people who force others (their children especially) to conform to these standards, and for them Christmas is miserable, overspending, forced to spend time with people they dislike, with selfishness welling all around them. No one should be forced into Christmas. So I didn't mind the wry commentaries about Christmas, like Calvin Trillin talking about fruitcake, or Corey Ford's essay about the office party (do these drunken Bacchanalia still exist with today's DUI laws?), others were just sad and painful, like Augusten Burroughs and Charles Buckowski and Hunter Thompson. One question: what on earth was Mark Twain's "Susie's Letter from Santa Claus" doing in here? Anyway, glad this one was half price.

A Kosher Christmas: Tis the Season to Be Jewish, Joshua Eli Plaut
Not only was this the most interesting book I read this Christmas, but it was one of my favorite books of the year, a discussion of the Jewish experience with the Christmas season in the United States. I was quite intrigued by the opening chapter about Jewish immigrants' experience with the pervasive holiday in the late 19th and early 20th century. Apparently German Jews celebrated the secular trappings of Christmas (trees, parties, gifts) as it was part of the society they came from; the more persecuted Eastern European Jews wanted nothing to do with the holiday, as any member of their congregation who stepped out on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day in Europe was likely to be beaten up and possibly even killed by revengeful revelers who still blamed them for the death of Christ. Once here, many Jews picked up those secular customs to fit in, while others eschewed them. Another chapter addressed the "Chinese food on Christmas" trope. The most involving chapter is about how the minor festival of Hanukkah was remade to cope with Christmas: I knew that earlier it had been a minor festival only, but I didn't realize how extensively it had been "made over." Apparently the original gift-giving time at Purim was transferred to Hanukkah so that Jewish children would not feel left out when their Christian friends talked about Christmas gifts. The final chapters talk about Jewish people doing mitzvahs (good deeds) by helping out their Christian counterparts during the holiday season, and how "mixed holidays" like "Christmukkah" and secular holidays such as "Festivus" are appealing to modern interfaith and non-Christian families. Well-written with a lot of food for thought.

03 January 2013

Left-Over Christmas

I did get some party prep done today by cleaning out the hall bathroom, tidying up more things, and giving Willow a bath. I really need to apply myself to this, but it's a bunch of tiny little bits that need cleaning up rather than just one big thing (well, except for the kitchen, and that's James' job). I was also slightly handicapped by waking up with terrible pain in my middle and ring finger of my right hand. I have no idea why, as when I went to bed the hand was fine; I woke up with it this way. I can barely bend the middle finger past a 90 degree angle. I can type relatively painlessly, but the finger feels odd and swollen. James says I was talking loudly in my sleep last night, but as far as he knew I wasn't thrashing around in a manner in which I would have hit it. I took three ibuprofin and went back to bed for a half hour, and that didn't help.

After breakfast and some tidying, I decided to go out for a little while. I wanted to check out the clearance at the Barnes & Noble at the Avenue at West Cobb. This store usually has the best clearance items, but the pickin's were slim today. I did find the Christmas issue of a British magazine called "LandScape," which I probably won't buy in spring because gardening bores me silly, but I did want this issue because it was all about Christmas plants and animals: reindeer, mistletoe, robins...and it also had articles about sledding and change ringing (as in Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey mystery The Nine Tailors). It will be my last Christmas magazine unless I can find the December issue of "The Oldie," which is a British commentary/nostalgia magazine.

On the way back I stopped at Lowes, looking for an organizer I want to buy for the closet. Unfortunately it was too heavy for me to lift. I did get a new triple-tap for the plug behind James' recliner.

When I got home I should have been cleaning more, and, later, I did scrub the bath and then the dog, and got her bedding and towels washed. But I was scanning the DVR contents and came upon The March Sisters at Christmas, which I had recorded a month ago. This television movie, a modern-day take on Little Women, had garnered some virulent criticism, and I was almost afraid to watch it, but a Louisa May Alcott blog I read said it was not bad, so I turned it on.

Surprisingly, it was pretty good. This was a Lifetime movie, so the male casting was weak: Laurie, here known as Teddy, was a good-natured but sort of nondescript jock instead of the sensitive musician of the book, and John Brooke was a nebbish (but no worse than the Eric Stoltz version in the 1994 film). The actor playing Bhaer (here named Marcus and a book editor rather than a teacher) fared better and John Shea was an entertaining Mr. Lawrence (here Teddy's custodial uncle, not his grandfather).

The sisters were updated in the spirit of the 21st century: Meg, a law student, and John (her college classmate) were not chaste; Jo ghostwrites celebrity twitter feeds rather than penning blood-and-thunder tales; Beth is a superlative pianist who is shy of the goals her family wants her to achieve; and Amy is an updated version of the brat she is in the book, a girl who is familiar with partying and using a fake ID.

The pivot around which the story revolves is that their parents plan to sell the family home (called Orchard House like the real Alcott homestead, which is seen briefly at the beginning of the film) after Mr. March, a war correspondent, is hurt, and they cannot afford to have the decrepit home remodeled. The sisters decide to do the work themselves while their mother is off helping with the father's recovery, and Teddy and John endeavor to help them. Basic Little Women plot points are touched on: Amy does something stupid in revenge for Jo's criticism and she and Jo quarrel, Jo tells Teddy they are best friends and nothing more, Marcus tells Jo her real writing (she accidentally e-mails him her generational novel instead of a prospectus to ghostwrite a young singer's "autobiography") is better than the crap that is earning her money, etc. The only thing that doesn't happen is that Beth does not meet the same fate as in the book. So the prospect of Laurie being a hunk or Meg and John having sex might horrify you, but it is pretty well translated to 2012. I enjoyed it.

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW
An Old-Fashioned Christmas, Rochelle and Nicholas Pennington
This is the "nostalgic book" I bought at Bronner's last year, a picture and text remembrance of Christmases past, from 1930 through 1960. Black-and-while photographs and color and black-and-white ads and other illustrations (including the inevitable Norman Rockwell) illustrate the warm memories of home-cooked meals, home-baked cookies, hard times softened by love, gatherings, and Christmas celebrations, going to church, assemblies at school, playing in the snow, listening to radio programs. A whole bunch of cozy wrapped up in hardcover. Comes with a CD of the "Billie the Brownie" radio program from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

01 January 2013

And A Phone-y New Year...

"Fast away the old year passes....hail the new year lads and lasses..."

James did it all Sunday night: prepared his lunch for work, made his tea, got his clothes out. (I whiled away the end of the night watching the beginning of Jurassic Park: The Lost World, which was just as stupid as I remember. Yes, take the bleeding baby T-Rex back to base camp, so the parents can track you down and destroy everything. Then continue wearing a shirt with the baby T-Rex's blood spattered on it so the parents can continue to track you. And these are supposedly the smart people!)

The one thing he forgot was to turn the alarm clock back on.

So he woke with a start at 7:15 a.m. (his day starts at 7:30, but he needs fifteen minutes just to log on the computer), gave an almighty shout, and grabbed his phone to call in to tell his supervisor he'd be late. Well, they've been sending people home early because there's barely any work at Christmas, so his boss said he could come in, or he was free to take the day off.

So we went back to sleep.

Serendipity anyway, since we had some errands to run: he had prescriptions waiting at both Kaiser and Kroger.

And finally we were fed up enough to take our new phones back to Verizon and tell them they had to do something. James' phone was still rebooting pretty much every time he plugged it into the charger and has been rebooting in the middle of phone calls and when he tries to answer the phone or hang up. Mine locked up most of the time when plugged into the car charger (like when I was using the GPS, but once I had it plugged in, just charging, and it kept rebooting). Plus my nap timer had quit "alarming" and I couldn't use the stock clock alarm because it would ring all right, but the pop up to dismiss/snooze wouldn't come up, so you'd have to reboot the phone to get it to shut up. A lot of times the phones would get so messed up we would have to pull the battery.

Well, Verizon was sympathetic, but did mention that if they sent us replacements they might be used. We suspected our phones had come from a batch with connector problems; what if we got "new" ones with the same problem? The salesman told us we might have better luck if we called Customer Care directly. So we came home and chatted online with one rep, and then called another. The second rep said that since we bought the phones on Black Friday, we had a different guarantee; through January 15 we could return them for new units, and she would annotate our file to state so.

So back we went to Verizon and they tried again to get us a complete return. They finally had to do something complicated with refunds to get it to go through. However, we finally got home with replacement new phones just in time to fix a little something for a small dinner. We didn't want to eat a lot because we knew we'd be grazing at the party. I should have just left the phone in its present state—that it actually made phone calls—but I messed with it so long that I barely had time to take a few Ibuprofin to combat the headache that the oncoming storm was pushing my way and lie down if only for few minutes.

So we packed up our goodies about 8:30 and headed off to the party. We had a great time! Had conversations about meeting celebrities, this year's crop of movies, etc. Finally met the youngest member of the Baskin clan, little John, who was clad in knit trousers with a TARDIS on one leg and a Dalek on his backside. Sampled a little of each of the dishes, which included shrimp potstickers, sandwich fixings, baked ziti, sweet potatoes, and lots of different desserts. Peeked into the media room, where they were showing "The Snowmen" (moved on because we haven't seen it yet). At about 11:50 I snagged two cups of cranapple juice and met James in a doorway and we kissed in the new year together.

Stayed for over another hour and finally wended our way home. The streets were dark and quiet save for a few bars still celebrating the new year. Lots of Christmas lights still up and still on, so we could enjoy those. Wasn't tired when we left Bill and Caran's house, but was getting heavy-eyed by the time we walked back into the house. Nevertheless, started talking with Schuyler and messing with the phone, with the result that we didn't go to bed until about 3:30. Neither of us can take this sort of thing anymore. We woke up this morning at ten feeling hung over—and neither of us had anything alcoholic! So we made our apologies to Juanita and David—we'd been invited over to watch the Georgia game—and went back to bed for an hour or more. Thankfully, I had programmed the Tournament of Roses Parade into the DVR and the light rain had not smothered the satellite signal. James and I both got up feeling headachy and shellshocked.

Lots of gimmicks in the parade this year, most of them sweet. A couple got married on a float. Some teenybopper named Coco finished off the parade with a song. The HGTV float not only had a model of the new "Dream House" on it, but contained two penguins.

The capper was the Pedigree-sponsored float, which had a model of the monument that is to be built in Washington, DC, dedicated to war dogs. A soldier on the float was supposedly still in Afghanistan, and his wife and four-year-old son had been told they won a contest to come to the parade. They didn't know he was on the float, so when the wife and son came forward to get the "award," they were really surprised! The little boy charged forward and was tossed up in Dad's arms. ::sniffle::

Oh, and Jane Goodall was the Grand Marshal!

Afterwards put on Rudolph's Shiny New Year, and then the first episode of the 1975 Ellery Queen series, which takes place on New Year's Eve 1946. This was a great show, with Jim Hutton as an adorable, tousel-haired, absent-minded but sharp Ellery, and David Wayne as an acerbic and often grumpy Inspector Queen, with a super period setting. And, yeah, messed around more with the phone. It seems to be working better than the previous one. We'll see. I'm loading podcasts back on it. Again.

[Later: James went down to the "man cave" for a bit and I rewatched Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol. For supper we had some of our homemade turkey soup with whole-wheat gnocchi. And then it was time for our yearly New Year's Day viewing of Galaxy Quest. We have pretty much watched it every year since we saw it at the movies on New Year's Day 2000.]

Best Wishes for 2013!