27 November 2016

What We're Thankful For

One Thanksgiving-oriented activity I have been reading about for years is the concept called a "Thanks Jar." You take an empty jar, decorate it if you like, and leave it somewhere where the family can access it, along with a pen and some paper, on November 1. The idea is for everyone in the family to write down things they are thankful for, whether profound or everyday. Ideally, every family member should write something everyday, but 100 percent participation 100 percent of the period isn't the point: it's about thinking about being thankful for what you have rather than thinking about what you want. I'd actually read the idea for this several years ago, but I either didn't have a jar or I forgot until the week before Thanksgiving or I thought "There's only two of us; is this worth doing?"

After my frustrating allergic reaction to the shingles vaccine and James' heart attack, I figured if any year called for a Thanks Jar, 2016 was it.

Plus this year I remembered to save a spaghetti sauce jar. The instructions for the project said you could paint the jar, or even engrave it. I went for the simple approach, the deep purple Advent-color ribbon I had in one cupboard and a clearance kids' craft project (make an autumn necklace). The little slips of paper were just copier paper I scored and cut into eighths. And one freebie pen.

We decanted the jar this weekend. I'll leave you to guess who wrote what (some will be apparent) and there were some duplicates. Some of them required extra thanks. :-)

  • milk
  • iced tea
  • Christmas music
  • the woman who has put up with me for 26 years
  • chocolate
  • Snowy songs when I come home
  • cold nights to snuggle under blankets
  • beat the "widowmaker"
  • 4-day weekend with my sweetie!
  • my job
  • gingerbread
  • sunrises
  • Thanksgiving (for reminding us what's important)
  • a warm puppy
  • all our friends
  • sunsets
  • James being better
  • Tucker
  • Books!
  • Snowy
  • Lassie
  • good friends
  • FALL!
  • for surviving "the widowmaker"
  • Christmas!
  • sunrises
  • dark chocolate
  • sunrises
  • a place to live, a job, good food to eat and lots of fresh water
  • sunsets
  • Eastern Standard Time!
  • budgie song!
  • wispy cirrus clouds against bright blue autumn skies
  • James' cooking
  • brisk breezes
  • all the men and women who serve/have served in the Armed Forces
  • our home
  • did I mention books?
 I enjoyed this. I want to do it again next year.

First Sunday of Advent

This year the season of Advent is the longest period it can be, because Christmas Day is on a Sunday. If you are a Christian, it is a season akin to Lent, in which you prepare yourself spiritually for the holiday. It's also time for more secular pursuits: baking cookies, shopping, attending Christmas plays or presentations, taking in a concert, and enjoying yourself with friends. I have a craft show that takes place on the first weekend of December, and we always attend the annual performance of the Atlanta Radio Theatre Company's Atlanta Christmas.

I also like to go to downtown Marietta right before Christmas to see the stores dressed up in their Christmas finery.

What is your favorite Advent activity?

What is Advent? | The United Methodist Church

The Voice: The Season of Advent

The Liturgical Season of Advent

Vox: Advent Explained

Where Did the Season of Advent Come From?

24 November 2016

By the time the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade began (well, with a few minutes' help from the DVR), I had walked Tucker, had breakfast, and had time to get royally frustrated: I could not find my Christmas cards. They finally turned up in the spare room, where I'd had them in my hand while putting away something else. I've become such a textbook example of what Pam Young and Peggy Jones used to call sidetracked. So that's what I did while watching the Muppets open the parade and all the Broadway acts dance by and finally the parade and the bands and the balloons stream by. Seeing Felix the Cat come along (a faithful reproduction of the original giant balloon) and hearing the theme song play was an exercise in nostalgia all in itself. Tony Bennett and the Parade are both 90 years old this year, but poor Tony was looking a bit seedy when he sang with Miss Piggy.

Watched most of the dog show while wrestling with registering with Office Depot so I could pick up some Black Friday specials today and just pick them up tomorrow, ditto with Staples. Needless to say, it didn't work well and I was suddenly racing to get dressed to take our goodies over to the Lucyshyns for Thanksgiving dinner. James had made glazed, roasted carrots; a corn casserole; and a cucumber and tomato salad. The GPS took us on an inexplicable ride through lesser streets when we could have just gone through Sugarloaf Parkway, but it was no matter, as it was a beautiful, clear day if somewhat warm.

It was so warm half the crowd was sitting outside and playing fetch with Cole, the dog. I spent a little time outside listening to Juanita talk about her berserk boss and other things, and some inside, where I said hi to Jake (Nancy was too ill to come) and met Kristine's sister Dorothy, and noshed on appetizers (relish tray, vegetables and dip, pita and some type of potato dip).

We had a huge spread: three kinds of turkey (baked, Cajun, and smoked), pot roast, glazed ham, mashed potatoes (all of which was eaten up tooth and toenail), the corn and carrots and salad we brought, crab louis, two kinds of stuffing, cranberry sauce, rolls, sweet potatos with marshmallows, green beans, creamed corn, and other things I've just plain forgotten, and then after dinner we sat down and chatted with Phyllis and Leigh and Clair.

By the time we left it was dark enough to see burgeoning Christmas trees and lights popping up everywhere. There was a good deal of traffic, but none delayed, and we were able to come home and relax a bit before going to bed early.

Today I am thankful for...
  • James making it out of the hospital in one piece
  • Tucker, who makes us laugh
  • Snowy, who gives us the gift of music
  • Our friends and family both here and far away
  • Our home and all its hygge
  • The books that keep us dreaming
  • The work that buys us books
  • Summer finally being gone, gone, gone
  • And for all those who serve: military, firefighters, police, doctors, nurses, social workers, and so many more—you do so much for so little and fewer thanks

23 November 2016

Twas the Day Before Thanksgiving...

It has been a busy, busy morning here. JoAnn decided to start their Black Friday sale on Wednesday, so I had gotten up not soon after James, dressed, had a little milk and grabbed a packet of peanuts, and headed to Kennesaw. A fluorescent light James used in his modeling had died, so we recycled the old one last Saturday and I picked up a new Ottlight for him as a Christmas gift, and bought myself a watercolor pad with a coupon. I would like to come back on Friday, though.

Since it was still before nine, I stopped at the nearby Office Max to see what might be interesting there tomorrow and bought a desk calendar for work, since apparently no one sent me a message that they were ordering calendars this year. I got a very interesting coupon on the receipt: 30 percent off a chairmat, which we both really need.

What I needed now was breakfast. Alas, Chick-Fil-A has discontinued my favorite breakfast, the #8, oatmeal and a fruit cup. Thanks...the only low-cal entry they had and they killed it. So I went to Panera and had "power almond quinoa oatmeal," which was okay, but a little too sweet for me. I also didn't think much of the "power." I was hungry again by 10:30.

Stopped by Barnes & Noble to see if there were any new books out (nada for now and didn't buy anything because there's a coupon for the weekend and all the magazines are 30 percent off), then stopped at the post office to get Christmas stamps before heading to Publix to pick up lunch. They had a James favorite, chicken and wild rice soup, so I got two for supper and picked up a baguette to make a sandwich when I got home. A quick stop at Staples to see if there's anything of interest for Friday, and then I made one final stop at Office Max, since I couldn't find a mailing tube at the post office. And now I have another coupon for another chair mat to boot.

It wasn't lunchtime quite yet, though, because I'd gotten a call from James saying he had forgotten his insulin this morning. I stopped at home quick enough to refrigerate the soup and played Mercury with the insulin.

I had some preserves and baguette for lunch with a milk chaser and spent the afternoon watching Lassie episodes on YouTube.

Incidentally, one of the things I found at Publix was the Thanksgiving newspaper. Now I don't have to go to the QT before the Macy's Parade tomorrow. Something else to give thanks for.

(Later on: supper, a special on the 90th anniversary of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, and then some pre-recorded specials, including The Thanksgiving Treasure.)

In the meantime, I've had a good read with this new book:
Thanksgiving: The Holiday at the Heart of the American Experience, Melanie Kirkpatrick
It's always nice to find a Thanksgiving book for adults out that is not a cookbook. This one is a history of the holiday written after the author visited a high school where most of the students are immigrants. She wanted to examine all the aspects of the holiday, not just the tired Pilgrim-and-Indians story that's trotted out every year (and believe it or not, a story that no one outside of Plymouth, MA, knew about until the mid 1800s). That is a part of the holiday, but not all of it; for a long time it was the holiday that substituted for Christmas in New England, since the strict Puritans and their successors did not celebrate it.

Kirkpatrick touches on all aspects of Thanksgiving, including an entire chapter on football, which has been a Thanksgiving tradition for almost 150 years (and it's possible a form of football might even been played at that classic "first Thanksgiving"). She also delves into the unique Plymouth holiday Forefather's Day, and the Native American Day of Mourning—and of course the 1930s controversy over "Franksgiving," when FDR dared to move the holiday up one week to improve Christmas sales in the Depression.

The final third of the book are different Thanksgiving readings from authors from George Washington to Laura Ingalls Wilder, Abraham Lincoln to Billy Graham, and then some vintage recipes from Thanksgivings gone by. I wish they'd included a Marlborough pie recipe as they kept mentioning this vintage dessert throughout the book. (Recipe from "New England Today.") Possibly one of the best things about this volume are the little watercolor-and-ink spot drawings as chapter headers and between sections of chapters which are also used on the endpapers. It lends a special touch to this neat little volume.

Three Reads for Thanksgiving Eve

Quick, simple, yet heartfelt:

Molly's Pilgrim, Barbara Cohen
This almost-a-picture book is about Molly, whose family recently immigrated from Eastern Europe. The girls at school—the popular ones—make fun of her unfashionable clothing and her bad English, and Molly is also self-conscious of what her strict but fashionable teacher would think of her, or even worse, of her mother, who wears clothing from "the old country." Things come to a head when the children are asked to dress a clothespin as a Pilgrim for Thanksgiving. Fresh in her knowledge of the story, Molly is fearful when her mother says she will dress the clothespin—and her worst fears come true.

What is a Pilgrim? As Molly's mother so eloquently proves, it is not just a starched black-and-white separatist used as a decoration, a gentle lesson that should not be soon forgotten. Get the new edition with the Daniel Duffy illustrations!

A Pioneer Thanksgiving: A Story of Harvest Celebrations in 1841, Barbara Greenwood
This is Greenwood's followup to A Pioneer Story, a combination story and activity book which followed a year in the life of the pioneering Robertson family. Now the Scots-descent Robertsons, along with their German and First Nations neighbors (the setting is Canadian) harvest their crops and get ready for a harvest celebration/Thanksgiving as impulsive Sarah worries about her elderly Grandmother and in the process of trying to make her feel better, nearly gets her little sister Lizzie hurt. The story alternates chapters with things to do—making a corn dolly and a weathervane, mixing up some cranberry sauce, playing "conkers" with chestnuts, and more—and the native celebrations are touched upon as well. Illustrated with lovely pencil drawings. The original book (also called A Pioneer Sampler) is worth getting as well as a great look into pioneer days.

The Thanksgiving Treasure, Gail Rock
This is the novelization of the television special of the same name, a sequel to The House Without a Christmas Tree. Addie Mills is intrigued when her teacher Miss Thompson says during a  lesson that we should try to make friends of our enemies, since recently she and her dad ran into nasty old Mr. Rhenquist, who shorted James Mills a payment for digging out a pond for him. When Addie and her best friend Carla Mae go out collecting autumn plants for floral bouquet gifts, she scopes out his place and discovers he owns the one special thing Addie has always wanted: a horse. So Addie collects items from her own Thanksgiving dinner and takes them to the "cranky old goat." Rhenquist resents it at first, but then slowly begins to thaw.

 This is a lively and often funny and sometimes sentimental novel about the power of friendship. It differs from the television special in small ways (for instance Addie's best friend in the special is Cora Sue), but the story is pretty much the same with more details—about Addie's unconventional bicycle, her school friends, the bleak November Nebraska landscape, the period bits like the kids' Thanksgiving radio play and long underwear—with fabulous illustrations by Charles Gehm (the very last one is "nifty," as Addie might say). If you loved the special, the book will be just your cup of tea.

20 November 2016

Stir Up! Sunday

"Stir up, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people, that they plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded.”

Traditionally, this collect is read at services on this last Sunday in Ordinary Time (also known as the Feast of Christ the King). In Great Britain, it was the signal that it was time to make your Christmas puddings. Toss away your visions of Jello pudding; this is a spicy, dense cake filled with raisins, citron, and nuts which is steamed rather than baked. In days when dessert was few and far between unless you were fairly well-to-do or wealthy, even poor families would scrape together the few extra pennies and shillings it might take to have their Christmas pudding. Since after it is steamed it is soaked in brandy, and the brandy needs some weeks in a cool location to "set" into the mixture, it was made several weeks before Christmas and then warmed up to serve with some hard sauce for the topping.

To thoroughly follow traditions, each person in the household should be allowed to stir the pudding and it should be stirred from "east to west" in honor of the journey of the Magi.

Christmas 2016: Stir Up Sunday – What It Is and How to Celebrate It

Pudding Recipe for Stir Up Sunday

Good To Know: Stir Up Sunday

The Story of Santa Klaus, William S. Walsh
In 1961, Omnigraphics reprinted this charming little Christmas volume from 1909 in which author Walsh takes the threads from many cultures to explain how thin, ascetic Saint Nicholas became the children's friend, chubby and jolly Santa Klaus [sic] and how other legends inspired the modern traditions of items like the Christmas tree and gift giving. He takes us to the ancient Turkey where he discusses all the legends surrounding Nicholas of Potara, later Bishop of Myra, who became St. Nicholas, patron saint of children, pawnbrokers, sailors, Russians, and a good dozen other things. Christmas celebrations go back to the Church's effort to overlay the pagan celebrations of Saturnalia with a layer of Christian respectability and giving old traditions new meaning. While the Christmas tree has certain legends surrounding it—St. Winfred chopping down the oak tree to reveal an evergreen, Martin Luther decorating a small fir in imitation of the beauty he saw walking home one winter's night—Walsh goes even further back to the Scandinavian sacred tree Yggdrasil. Also discussed in charming Edwardian prose is the journey of the Magi, the Christmas tree's journey from the Germanic countries to Great Britain and the United States, the French custom of Twelfth Cake, and the story of La Befana/Baboushka.

This book is well worth finding at a used book store or book sale for its old-fashioned history of Christmas through the "modern times" of 1909. There are many black and white illustrations of famous artwork having to do with the Nativity and newspaper clippings, however, the former are rather muddy. Luckily this is 2016 and you can look up any one of them online to be seen in detail.

15 November 2016

Old Advent

Originally both Advent and Lent were of the same length, forty days, and a time of fasting and prayer in preparation for the great holiday ahead.
"The word 'Advent' is from the Latin 'Adventus,' which means 'coming.' Advent is the beginning of a new liturgical year (in the Western churches), and encompasses the span of time from the fourth Sunday before Christmas, until the Nativity of Our Lord is celebrated. The first Sunday of Advent is the Sunday nearest the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle (which is November 30th), and so it will always fall somewhere between November 27th at the earliest and December 3rd at the latest. The liturgical color for this season is purple (Usually a deep purple as opposed to the lighter, red-violet shade of purple associated with Lent).
Like Lent, Advent is a preparatory season. It has significance because it is a season of looking forward and waiting for something greater; both for the annual celebration of the event of Christ's birth, and for the time when Christ will come again." *
Today, of course, Advent is simply a great rush of shopping to get "the best" gift ever for someone.

This year the Advent season is at its longest since Christmas is on a Sunday, and in a few days it will be "Stir-Up Sunday," the day you are supposed to bake and then put away your Christmas puddings "in the larder" for the upcoming holiday.

In the meantime, a take on classic Victorian Christmas literature for the first day of Old Advent:

Away in a Manger, Rhys Bowen
Former "female detective" Molly Murphy—now Molly Murphy Sullivan with a toddler son—is doing some early Christmas shopping with her young ward Bridie when they come upon a tiny blonde girl singing Christmas carols with the voice of an angel. Bridie is intrigued by the girl, and in the process of being kind to the child, they meet her brother, find out the children must earn money under the tyrannical rule of their "Aunt Hettie," and notice that both of the youngsters speak with cultured British accents. Molly can't understand for the life of her how these two ended up on the streets—but if you are familiar with the Molly Murphy mystery series you know she won't leave the situation alone, even though her husband Daniel, a newly-minted, unbribable police captain, warns her that they may be part of a confidence ring.

While the usual Molly regulars appear, including Daniel's imperious mother and Molly's loving but eccentric neighbors Sid and Gus, Bowen has done this one one better by writing it in the plot fashion of a Victorian Christmas melodrama, with the primary characters, two well-bred children of evident aristocratic heritage, immediately in place. So don't be surprised when some of the villains of the piece appear Dickensian or sound like they come from a 1900 novel (this means you can pick out one of the bad guys just by how that person is described), all wrapped up in modern sensibility. Just sit back and enjoy the Victorian machinations and the evocative descriptions of Christmas in New York at the turn of the last century: slippery sidewalks, crossing sweepers, the new technology of mechanical figures in store Christmas display windows, mistletoe, buying a fresh Christmas tree from a streetcorner vendor, hot chestnuts, cold sleet, home-baked Christmas goodies (even from Sid and Gus!), charity, and a character losing hope...

And of course there's the usual massive coincidence as well. Never mind: it's all about family and finding a home and making happiness out of the small things. This one has jingle bells upon it.

* from aquinasandmore.com

11 November 2016

St. Martin's Day

St. Martin's Day, also known as "Martinmas" or "Martinstag," is a celebration based around St. Martin of Tours, a soldier who later became a saint. He is best known for having given half his cloak to a beggar who was thinly clad on a freezing day. He later left the military and devoted his life to helping the poor. In Europe the holiday is celebrated with lanterns and roast goose.

Back when the season of Advent, like Lent, was forty days and involved fasting, Martinmas was a last feast before November 15. In some parts of Germany, "Here comes St. Martin on his white horse," means it's about to snow.

More about Martinmas:

About St. Martin of Tours

St. Martin's Day Traditions in Bavaria


Fish Eaters: Martinmas

St. Martin's Day in Ireland

St. Martin's Day (mouse over the photos to see the full images)

And appropriate for a Martinmas Day:

Christmas 1914: The First World War at Home and Abroad, John Hudson
I found this book in a discount book catalog and ordered it thinking it might be another book about the Christmas Truce, judging by the soldiers on the cover, and was pleasantly surprised to find it addressed Christmas in Great Britain (specifically in England) in all its aspects, including the Christmas Truce and also about the famous Princess Mary box, a gift that was sent to all of the soldiers serving (I was surprised on finding out after all these years how truly tiny it was!). In the process, it covered aspects of World War I that I had never heard of before, including zeppelin raids on the famous British beach Scarborough and other North Sea sites. Chapters are devoted to members of football/cricket clubs and military schools who joined up together only to have their ranks decimated by the war, the efforts of British women and girls (and even elderly men and invalided males) to knit items to keep their "boys" warm in the trenches (this includes a discussion of "trench foot" that would have horrified females of that day), Christmas fĂȘtes given for the soldiers, Belgian refugees on British soil, meeting Germans who had once been employed in England, and other memories wistful (families celebrating without a son or slon-in-law or father) or terrifying (early, uncensored reports of the carnage). Vintage postcards and photographs fill out this unique little book. As a history buff I enjoyed this.