15 October 2019

"Forest Flame"

When Jack wakes in the morning,
     In these sweet autumn days,
He sees the sumac burning
     And the maples in a blaze,
And he rubs his eyes, bewildered,
     All in the golden haze.
Then: "No. They still are standing;
     They're not on fire at all"—
He softly says, when slowly
     He sees some crimson fall,
And yellow flakes comme floating
     Down from the oaks so tall.
And then he knows the spirit
     Of the sunset must have planned
The myriad bright surprises
     That deck the dying land,—
And he wonders if the sumac
     And the maples understand.

"St. Nicholas", November 1880

09 October 2019

It's a Real Thing!

I've always wondered what you call people who had the opposite of SAD, because that's me. And then, voila, there I am reading The Morville Year (sequel to the lovely The Morville Hours by Katherine Swift, about a British woman who restores a garden at a beautiful country home) and this pops up:

"I sometimes think that, like the peacock butterflies, I undergo a period of diapause in late summer—defined by my Collins Field Guide to Butterflies as 'a period of suspension of activity or development.' The more familiar form of diapause is hibernation (from the Latin word for winter). Midsummer diapause is called aestivation (from the Latin 'aestas,' meaning summer), and is defined as 'a state of torpor in summer heat or drought.' That's me, all right. People who suffer from SAD syndrome (Seasonal Affective Disorder) have the opposite problem: they experience a waning of vitality and lowered mood at the onset of winter, a condition linked by some doctors to an atavistic need to hibernate. Where as at the first nip of frost my spirits start to soar."

Aestivation. That's me, all right, too! So when I'm miserable in summer, it's a real thing. I'm aestivating.

06 October 2019

And, Finally, Relief...


Ninety-one days. Nine tens followed by a one. That's how many 90°F-plus days we have had in Atlanta this year. The latest one was Friday. We set records on October 2, 3, and 4 for highest temperature in October, and had lunch at O'Charley's with friends on a Friday so hot that the metal door handle was blistering and I had to wait for one of the O'Charley's folks to hold it open for James.

Then, with a click of a switch, it was over on Saturday morning. We rose to a Saturday morning cool and silky, with a little breeze, so that we drove to the Hallmark October ornament premiere with the windows of the truck down.

After all those mornings of having to chivvy myself from bed early to walk the dog before the sun topped the trees in the back yard (and not succeeding really well, as I have been feeling really terrible this summer), this morning was like heaven! It was 62° and cloudy, a nice grey high-perched cloud blanket overhead, with just the tiniest bit of a breeze. It's on these mornings that I feel like I could walk forever—alas, that gives out about halfway during the walk and my back lets me know it. Nevertheless, Tucker and I had a nice long walk, the whole street including the upper cul-de-sac, then out to Smyrna-Powder Springs Road and across the street to the little white Baptist Church and across the front, then back down the street all the way to the daycare center and then across the street again so we could walk down a sidewalk, all the way opposite the home we call "the guy with the pretentious fence" (it's an ordinary split level house, but they have a fence that looks like it belongs around a McMansion in Buckhead, painted steel blue and trimmed in gold no less). Also walked around the parking lot of the daycare center twice. Did 1.7 miles, and I only started to perspire on the inward leg. Excellent.

It's still going to be wavering around 80 during the next few days, but the mornings will be in the 60s, and anything is better than the scorching, blazing, sweltering, smelly 90s.

Crossing fingers and looking forward to the book sale on Friday.

01 October 2019

"October's Party"

by George Cooper

October gave a party;
The leaves by hundreds came—
The Chestnuts, Oaks, and Maples,
And leaves of every name.
The Sunshine spread a carpet,
And everything was grand,
Miss Weather led the dancing,
Professor Wind the band.

The Chestnuts came in yellow,
The Oaks in crimson dressed;
The lovely Misses Maple
In scarlet looked their best;
All balanced to their partners,
And gaily fluttered by;
The sight was like a rainbow
New fallen from the sky.

Then, in the rustic hollow,
At hide-and-seek they played,
The party closed at sundown,
And everybody stayed.
Professor Wind played louder;
They flew along the ground;
And then the party ended
In jolly "hands around."

25 September 2019

Rudolph Day, September 2019

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

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW
Silent Night, Deadly Night, Vicki Delany
Fourth in the year-round Christmas mystery.

It's almost Thanksgiving and Merry Wilkinson is looking forward to her favorite holiday, even though she lives in the year-round Christmas town of Rudolph, NY, which reinvented itself after industry moved out. Two of her three siblings will be home as well. Right now she's helping her mother Aline, a former opera singer, prepare her home for the visit of five old college friends, anticipating a happy reunion. Unfortunately, it's less than happy: the women are always quarreling with each other, one is a wealthy show off, one a high-powered lawyer, one a dipsomaniac, one not well off financially, one always complaining even though she and her husband have a thriving lumber business. And one of them, Merry has discovered, is a shoplifter, after a pricy necklace vanishes from her gift shop, Mrs. Claus's Treasures. Surely they'll be able to endure the backbiting for a few days?

And then Karla, the complainer with a deadly peanut allergy, goes into anaphylactic shock at the Wilkinson dinner table. Her Epi-Pen, which she carries with her everywhere, has vanished. Her death, then, can only be deliberate.

Once again Merry is faced with a mystery. I found this one a little hard to get through, not because it was bad, but because Aline's friends are just so toxic. Even after Karla dies they snipe at each other continuously. Plus, Sue-Anne, Noel Wilkinson's bete noire in the mayor's office, is making noises about Noel's annual role as Santa Claus again. A new man in town, Wayne Fitzroy, is angling for the job and talking about changing the town's image to have a more "adult" Christmas.

The mystery is easy to puzzle out if you pick up on the clues, and there's a relationship change in the story that I found quite appealing. I'm sorry not to have met Merry's siblings, however, and really want to see Chris and/or Carole and/or Eve show up in a future story. And oh, how I would like to visit a place like Rudolph some day! (And what more appropriate to be reading about a town named Rudolph on Rudolph Day?)

25 August 2019

Please Take My Sunshine Away

I tell myself each year, in the spring, that this year it's going to be different. Since there's nothing I can do about summer, I need to at least make up my mind that there will be no whining and complaining this year. If I can't really enjoy the season, perhaps I can just accept it as it is, even as I go dodging from air-conditioned home to air-conditioned car, setting the controls on "afterburner" so I can endure the ride, and then sprint across a parking lot to an air-conditioned store. Acceptance is the answer.

Acceptance to summer is not my speed. I can't help but after a few weeks of high 80s-lower 90s, to start the litany again: Summer sucks. Summer sucks so much it should be renamed "Hoover." (I've been told that that's very old-fashioned. Okay. Summer sucks so much it should be renamed "Roomba.") The sun gives me headaches, or a rash, or both. In rare cases it has given me heart palpitations, but always too long out in the sun I can hear my heart start to beat like the big bass drum in the circus parade: BOOM BOOM BOOM. It shakes me until I run inside and sit under a fan, waiting for it to return to the quiet lub-dub. I'm chivvied out of my bed early to walk the dog before the sidewalks turn into griddles, the asphalt stinks, the air smells of car exhaust. I can't see the appeal of sitting all day on a beach under a broiler whose fire makes my skin burn and prickle. So most of this summer, especially when temps climbed into the high 90s, I kept my head down and prayed for autumn.

Last night a wind blew down out of the north and we woke to mid-60s temperatures. It so invigorated me I walked the dog an extra quarter mile and, while we did keep a brisk enough pace for me to break a sweat, it wasn't the usual one where even my underwear became sopped. As soon as I was inside, I threw open a few windows and opened the door to the deck and turned on a couple of fans.

Out the living room window I saw this. The tulip trees, at least, are longing for autumn. Too, the scuppernongs growing wild out on the main road have grapes swollen to size, and now ripening and falling. The oaks are already host to browning leaves that are dropping. Other bushes have leaves turning yellow, or even drifting off every few seconds, like the down when Snowy moults.


Look at that tulip tree sporting its saffron spots. The plants know summer is waning—I wish the weather would figure it out! I long for cool temperatures and cool breezes, weather cold enough to snuggle in flannel and fleece, wearing a robe and fuzzy slippers, eating gingerbread and sipping peppermint-spiked hot chocolate. Weather where you feel comfortable, not attacked. A chill that keeps the mosquitoes (a big problem this year!) away. Wander off, O summer, where the odd ones want you: down to Florida and all those inexplicable lookalike Caribbean resorts that are giveaway prizes on Wheel of Fortune. Sail away...even better, jet away. Wish you could stay there for good, too.

21 April 2019


20 March 2019

Equinox-Time

"Instructions on Not Giving Up"
Ada Limón, 1976

More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.

19 March 2019

An Exceptional Father

Isn't this lovely? It reminds me of the little saints' cards and saints' books we used to get in the 1960s and 70s.


Once every month or so, we would take a ride to Fall River, MA, to go to Saint Anne's Church. In those days the church dominated the town; you could see it on your right as you drove south and east on I-195 and crossed the Braga Bridge over the Taunton River. We'd get off at the first exit and drive through a little warren of triple deckers and tenement houses, relics of the days when Fall River was a mill town, and turn on South Main Street, only to have the landscape open up with the park at our right and the big church on our left. In those days you could park right out front, across the street, and look at the magnificent structure; the original Catholics in Fall River were French, and the church was built in homage of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre in Quebec City. Upstairs the sanctuary looked like a little cathedral, with smaller chapels in the rear. Mother would patiently go from chapel to chapel and light a candle at each and pray for her family and Dad's family and anyone else who was ill. No matter what the season the church was always quiet, dark and so peaceful. The old wood in the church—the pews, the confessional booths, the other seats—were worn smooth, and it smelled of candle wax and incense.

Downstairs there was a second sanctuary which was eventually fixed up with pews, but originally had folding chairs. In the corner was a big pile of mostly wooden but some metal crutches, some of them ancient. These were the implements of dozens of people who had come to the church praying to be cured—and they were. Like the sick man who rose from his pallet, they walked unaided for the first time in years. It was awe-inspiring.

There was also a little antechamber downstairs where a priest was always seated in the office. Mom would go in to speak with him to have a Mass said for her parents or someone else, and I would look at the little booklets and tracts in metal racks outside his door. (The church used to have a little shop, but it closed back in the 60s.) Some of the little booklets were for children, and some were of the saints, called Miniature Stories of the Saints. I had four of them; there was a story about the saint on the left side and a picture of the saint on the right, and they would be similar to this. Even when the story of the saint was something horrible, like St. Sebastian being pierced with arrows or St. Andrew hung on a cross upside down or St. Catherine tied to her wheel, the picture could always make you believe that person went straight to sit by God when they were martyred. It was comforting.

St. Joseph had to be an exceptional man. Think about it, you are to be married and then discover your fiance is pregnant. You love her, and then you realize "Oh, she must have cheated on me!" How that must have hurt! And then she tells you this incredible story, about an angel! Preposterous! Angels don't come to speak to working people like us, they are for the high priests and the mighty. Of course he doubted her—until the angel found him as well. So he brought up this unusual boy like his own son, taught Him a craft, took Him to Jerusalem like a good parent of those days would. I wonder if Joseph was dismayed at twelve-year-old Jesus talking with the temple elders, his excuse being He was doing His Father's work. Aren't I his father? But from all indications Joseph understood.

He died before Jesus fulfilled his destiny.

Buona festa di San Guiseppe, and peace and long life to all exceptional fathers everywhere.

(I just found out Ste. Anne's closed last year. They celebrated their last Mass on the final Sunday of the liturgical year, November 25, 2018. Apparently the church was in disrepair and the diocese of Fall River has no money to fix it. I am very sad.)

04 March 2019

March Forth

Will you tell me how on earth it is March already? The days fly by since I've retired, even when all I'm doing is listening to podcasts while cleaning house. It's 3:30 already as I write this and I haven't even vacuumed yet.

February was a full month, thankfully without disasters. James did have one doctor's appointment and next week must have a skin cancer removed through a MOHS procedure. We are crossing our fingers about this. Mostly we have watched the weather get warmer and warmer (it was high 60s some days and a couple of low 70s, too) and the trees starting to bud, and the blossoms everywhere: the Bradford pear trees have already turned to white snowballs and are leafing out, and the flowering cherries and plums are bright pink and purple, and the yellow blaze of forsythia here and daffodils there is quite daunting. The purple and white magnolia tree up the street has not only bloomed but is already scattering petals to the strong wind. Ironically we are having another cold front this week—well, until the weekend, when it will go back to 60s, but then it will rain. It seems that it has done nothing but rain, and it always rains on the weekend. We had a cloudy but dry day on Saturday, but had to race a rainstorm home yesterday (and south of here the storms swarmed angrily and formed tornadoes). I'm not sure why everyone wants spring so badly when all it does is make us sneeze and brings alive the threat of tornado sirens heralding disaster.

I didn't even get a Rudolph Day post done for February (I was reading Emlyn Williams' Southern Christmas which is full of the flower blooms that are traditional of southern holiday decorations, perfect for the springing of spring, but I never finished it), it zipped by that quickly. It's almost time for this blog to go semi-dormant. Heck, next Sunday is the annual travesty of turning the clocks forward, which drives me bonkers. All winter when he's gone to work James has had to use the floodlights on the driveway to be able to see when he mounts the power chair on the truck. Now that it's finally light enough in the morning for him to see without the lights, we're going to push the dang clock forward an hour, meaning it will be pitch dark at seven in the morning again. The sun won't rise until almost eight, which is stupid.

I pray for a happy March.

14 February 2019

Valentine's Day

There are romantic things I like. I love long skirts, for example. The wonderful swish makes me feel so feminine, and to my absolute disgust, I grew up in the 60s with those dreadful sacklike miniskirts. I hated them. Me, I wanted to come through a door looking like Loretta Young at the beginning of her famous television anthology show, with her beautiful skirt swirling as she entered. But I'm not much into the traditional romantic things. Diamonds leave me cold. Colored stones are preferable, but I really think it's a waste of money spending it on jewelry. (They were advertising a $2000 "tennis bracelet" on television once and I turned to James and said, "If you ever buy me anything that costs $2000, it better be in a big box with 'Dell' on the side.") I have costume jewelry that's just as pretty, and it comes with wonderful associations, because it was made by Trifari, where my mom and dad met, where Dad spent his career, and where I worked for one summer and then full time three and a half years. I still miss the people I worked with.

I'm not much on romance books, either. I have the ones my friend Laura wrote, and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. Some of my cozy mysteries or fantasy books have romances in them; some I can take and leave. I'm tired of the whitebread gorgeous woman runs into the whitebread gorgeous guy trope. I'd really rather they not fall in love at all.

Ah, but I do have my media couples. That I will happily indulge in. Max and 99 from Get Smart were my first "'ship" ('ship as in "relationshipping," a fannish term). One of my favorite couples for almost 40 years has been Christina and Will from Flambards. And who didn't love Tom and Barbara from The Good Life (Good Neighbors)? Plus there was the 'ship that never got to port, thanks to those @$%!$! at AMC: Betty Roberts and Scott Sherwood of Remember WENN..

Our own Valentine's Day was much more traditional. James had to go into work, because it was not a rainy day (and thankfully he had no doctor's appointment). When he came home I had the shrimp prepped and we collaborated on a sauce, and for dinner we had shrimp scampi and a cucumber salad, with blueberry pie for dessert, and a new episode of The Orville to boot. It was a nice holiday.

01 February 2019

"Ceremonies for Candlemas Eve"

by Robert Herrick

Down with the rosemary and bays,
      Down with the misletoe ;
Instead of holly, now up-raise
      The greener box (for show).

The holly hitherto did sway ;
      Let box now domineer
Until the dancing Easter day,
      Or Easter's eve appear.

Then youthful box which now hath grace
      Your houses to renew;
Grown old, surrender must his place
      Unto the crisped yew.

When yew is out, then birch comes in,
      And many flowers beside;
Both of a fresh and fragrant kin
      To honour Whitsuntide.

Green rushes, then, and sweetest bents,
       With cooler oaken boughs,
Come in for comely ornaments
        To re-adorn the house.
Thus times do shift ; each thing his turn does hold;
New things succeed, as former things grow old.

31 January 2019

"Silence Profound"

by Coleen Shelver Keefe
(from "Victorian Homes," December 2006)

Quiet, soft and steady,
Not a sound can be heard,
Not a whisper of the wind,
Not a call of a bird.

A cold stormy night
Let a blanket of snow
And a silence as pure
As a carved cameo.

The snowy ground glistens,
The air smells of pine.
Trees webbed with hoarfrost
Leave a dreamy design.

Nothing compares,
To the beauty of snow,
To the sparkle of frost,
To the clouds hanging low…

Except for the quiet,
The stillness profound,
That floats on the air
And covers the ground.

25 January 2019

Rudolph Day, January 2019

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

I was actually listening to some Christmas music today as I read my very last Christmas magazine, "Early American Life's" Christmas issue. This is always the last one I read because I like to savor it. The articles this year were chiefly about vintage (18th century, early 19th) Christmas decorations and historical sites that feature them, like Historic Deerfield in Massachusetts. There were also photographs of hand-crafted primitive Christmas items like hooked rugs and hand-carved Santas (ones featuring the Santas I favor, the figures with a robe and hood). On the CD player was George Winston's "December" album. I love Winston's playing and compositions. I can't describe how he plays; it's as if you are hearing the whole song but also the pure, individual notes one at a time. I also played the Windham Hill album "Simple Gifts." This includes a lovely instrumental version of "In Bethlehem City."

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW
Christmas Past, Robert Brenner
Price guides are usually a snooze. Really, you just buy one of these volumes to determine if a certain item or items you have is worth money. There are photos of an item and prices for "fine," "good," and "fair."

Unless you get a Schiffer book, and this one is a prime example of one: oh, there are prices, but way in the back. The rest of the book is a history of whatever  you're pricing: in this case, vintage Christmas ornaments of all stripes (and one chapter on vintage Christmas lighting outfits and lamps), with lots of text and a variety of black and white/color photographs. Brenner covers everything, from the history of decorating trees to the specialty decorations: wax figures, gilded painted "Dresdens" (3D paper ornaments), glass balls and figurals, Czechoslovakian bead ornaments, wire, tinsel trims, "scrap" paper ornaments, cotton batting figures. There are also photographs of vintage Christmas trees and advertisements.

More than a "price book" for collectors, this is a history book. It is somewhat out of date (revised edition being 1992), so the prices won't be correct, but as a reference book it's still a delight to read. I had not read it since I purchased it in the mid-90s and discovered references to several things I had come to learn about since that time. In a later chapter Brenner discusses the opening of Christmas stores and mentions Bronner's CHRISTmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth, MI, a place we had the delight of visiting in 2012. It also mentions the old Christmas store that used to be in Helen, GA, that was, sadly, damaged by fire and closed. And finally, for knowledge of vintage Christmas ornaments, he directs people to the super group The Golden Glow of Christmas Past, an organization of people who collect and decorate with vintage Christmas ornaments, and who have a yearly convention where these ornaments are sold and panels about Christmas decor are given. I belong to their Facebook group and this is a super-nice collection of people who have the most astoundingly beautiful decorations.

If you still remember your grandmother's (or even great-grandmother's) vintage ornaments, or if beautiful old Christmas trees in vintage photographs delight you, or you're just interested in the history of Christmas decorating, this is a great source for information and the variety of ornaments from the past—realistic fruits, hot air balloons, Charlie Chaplin and Native American heads, hedgehogs, pigs, red-topped mushrooms, bunches of grapes, and more—will certainly please. Brenner has several other books about Christmas decorations, including a volume about the 1940s-1950s, one for the 1960s forward, and a big hardback called Christmas Through the Decades.

15 January 2019

"Winter-Time"

Robert Louis Stevenson

Late lies the wintry sun a-bed,  
A frosty, fiery sleepy-head;  
Blinks but an hour or two; and then,  
A blood-red orange, sets again.  
  
Before the stars have left the skies,
At morning in the dark I rise;  
And shivering in my nakedness,  
By the cold candle, bathe and dress.  
  
Close by the jolly fire I sit  
To warm my frozen bones a bit;
Or with a reindeer-sled, explore  
The colder countries round the door.  
  
When to go out, my nurse doth wrap  
Me in my comforter and cap;  
The cold wind burns my face, and blows
Its frosty pepper up my nose.  
  
Black are my steps on silver sod;  
Thick blows my frosty breath abroad;  
And tree and house, and hill and lake,  
Are frosted like a wedding-cake.

06 January 2019

"Farewell to Christmas"

Noël is leaving us,
Sad it is to tell,
But he will come again,
Adieu, Noël.

His wife and his children
Weep as they go.
On a gray horse,
They ride through the snow.

The kings ride away
In the snow and the rain,
After twelve months,
We shall see them again.


French Epiphany Carol, quoted in Celebrate the Wonder

05 January 2019

The Real Victorian Christmas

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW
A Victorian Christmas Treasury, edited by Moira Allen
Many people are fascinated by Victorian Christmas customs because so many of our modern customs derive from the Victorian time: the Christmas tree, turkey dinners, the Father Christmas/Santa Claus custom, the season being devoted to children (instead of wild partying and drinking as had been customary before that), etc. We chiefly get our ideas of a "real Victorian Christmas" from modern magazine articles that explore the origins of these customs, but it's quite different reading the material that was actually written at the time. Thus this book, which is a collection of 250 articles long and short (and a couple of short stories) from 1853-1898 mostly British magazines.

In one way it's not much different from modern magazines: every third article seems to be recipes for Christmas food, so there are a lot of recipes for plum pudding! However, if you are not used to reading Victorian-era prose, beware that it's wordy and effusive, and most of the time in teeny-tiny type, and illustrated not in color, but with black and white engravings. If that doesn't faze you, dive in and enjoy the customs that didn't make it to today: steamed puddings made of stale bread, "bran pies" with gifts in them, elaborate plays being staged for charades, the wandering mummers' parade about St. George, for just a few examples. There are accounts of Christmas celebrations in foreign lands (Italy, France, Germany, even a Canadian spending Christmas in England) and Christmas spent in unexpected places, like a hospital. There are accounts of how to make authentic Victorian decorations, like mottoes (glued together with flour paste) and greenery dipped in epsom salts and ground glass to simulate frost or snow, accounts of young people making money selling Christmas greens, accounts of Christmas past and the history of Christmas, a long and fascinating narrative of how a medieval Mystery play was produced and what it would be like, Victorian children's letters to Santa Claus, interviews with famous Christmas card verse writers (which produces the astonishing fact that back then religious cards were not very popular), articles on "sledging" and skating (and one on oranges), even a long story about a Christmas in Provence.

Even with the ever-present recipes, this is a fascinating sample of how Christmas was really celebrated, and the now-quaint vocabulary and unfamiliar words only adds to its mystique. Students of Christmas history should enjoy!



Anyway, I did something astonishing this year: I finished all my Christmas books! I usually pick up three or four during the year at used book sales, and pick up three or four new ones, but end up still having a tidy pile of around ten books at the end of the season. This year I read a "new" (to me) book every other Rudolph Day and re-read an old one down in the library, and still had enough books for the Christmas season with the three or four I usually re-read every year, and completed all of them, except the new book about Hanukkah I bought which I will save for December. This means I can do some happy re-reading this year.

"The Three Kings"

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Three Kings came riding from far away,
Melchior and Gaspar and Baltasar;
Three Wise Men out of the East were they,
And they travelled by night and they slept by day,
For their guide was a beautiful, wonderful star.


The star was so beautiful, large and clear,
That all the other stars of the sky
Became a white mist in the atmosphere,
And by this they knew that the coming was near
Of the Prince foretold in the prophecy.

Three caskets they bore on their saddle-bows,
Three caskets of gold with golden keys;
Their robes were of crimson silk with rows
Of bells and pomegranates and furbelows,
Their turbans like blossoming almond-trees.

And so the Three Kings rode into the West,
Through the dusk of the night, over hill and dell,
And sometimes they nodded with beard on breast,
And sometimes talked, as they paused to rest,
With the people they met at some wayside well.

“Of the child that is born,” said Baltasar,
“Good people, I pray you, tell us the news;
For we in the East have seen his star,
And have ridden fast, and have ridden far,
To find and worship the King of the Jews.”

And the people answered, “You ask in vain;
We know of no King but Herod the Great!”
They thought the Wise Men were men insane,
As they spurred their horses across the plain,
Like riders in haste, who cannot wait.

And when they came to Jerusalem,
Herod the Great, who had heard this thing,
Sent for the Wise Men and questioned them;
And said, “Go down unto Bethlehem,
And bring me tidings of this new king.”

So they rode away; and the star stood still,
The only one in the grey of morn;
Yes, it stopped—it stood still of its own free will,
Right over Bethlehem on the hill,
The city of David, where Christ was born.

And the Three Kings rode through the gate and the guard,
Through the silent street, till their horses turned
And neighed as they entered the great inn-yard;
But the windows were closed, and the doors were barred,
And only a light in the stable burned.

And cradled there in the scented hay,
In the air made sweet by the breath of kine,
The little child in the manger lay,
The child, that would be king one day
Of a kingdom not human, but divine.

His mother Mary of Nazareth
Sat watching beside his place of rest,
Watching the even flow of his breath,
For the joy of life and the terror of death
Were mingled together in her breast.

They laid their offerings at his feet:
The gold was their tribute to a King,
The frankincense, with its odor sweet,
Was for the Priest, the Paraclete,
The myrrh for the body’s burying.

And the mother wondered and bowed her head,
And sat as still as a statue of stone,
Her heart was troubled yet comforted,
Remembering what the Angel had said
Of an endless reign and of David’s throne.

Then the Kings rode out of the city gate,
With a clatter of hoofs in proud array;
But they went not back to Herod the Great,
For they knew his malice and feared his hate,
And returned to their homes by another way.

02 January 2019

Two Readings for Advent and Christmastide

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW
Goodness and Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, edited by Michael Leach, James Keane, and Doris Goodnough
Preparing My Heart for Advent, Ann Marie Stewart
When I saw these both at the same book sale, I figured it was fate. Here was something I could do for Advent and Christmastide, one reading a day until Christmas from each.

Alas, the spirit was willing, but the flesh was still juggling too many things. I skipped the books totally last year after starting the second one, and waded in with good intentions on November first. One would have ended on Sunday, the other on Monday, but since this weekend will be busy I just sat quietly today and finished the readings from Christmas Day onward. Perhaps next year.

Goodness and Light is a small book with one essay a day starting November 1 and finishing on St. Distaff's Day (January 7). These range from poetry to essays to a couple of short stories, one of which, Cheever's "Christmas is a Sad Time for the Poor," I didn't think was really representative of the rest of the theme. However, "Papa Panov's Special Christmas" was quite welcome. Some of the essays are by religious figures who were missionaries put into prison; some are totally unexpected, like one from Anne Rice who became a born-again Christian after writing her famous vampire books. There are some well-known names here: Maya Angelou, Pope Francis, Annie Dillard, even one by Ghandi, but it's the sometimes small ones that captured my attention, like "Holy Innocents" for the 28th of December, or "Salvation Army Santa Claus Rings His Bell."

Preparing My Heart for Advent is partially a Bible study and workbook. You begin on November 1 reading from the Bible and doing the daily exercises. These readings of the old and new Testaments explain the background behind the coming of the Messiah: the prophecies, the history, the primary and secondary figures in what we call "the Christmas story," hymns, etc. From December 1 through Epiphany there are daily devotions, each with a Bible verse, a Reflection and finally a Response (prayer).

If you are looking for a more spiritual experience at Christmas, both these books are recommended. If you wish to delve a little more into Biblical study, the second book would be an appropriate choice.

01 January 2019