29 November 2021

A Little Boy and a Lion

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW
Once Upon a Wardrobe, Patti Callahan
It's December 1950 in Worcestershire, England. Megs Devonshire is a young woman fascinated by mathematics and facts, with not a lot of room in her world for fancies, who attends Somerville College at Oxford University. The one thing she loves more than numbers and logic is her family, especially her eight-year-old brother George, who was born with a heart condition and spends most of his life in bed. His one consolation is reading, and as the story opens, his soul is on fire from a new book he finished, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. Megs sees it as just another storybook, but George requests that since she attends Oxford, where C.S. Lewis teaches at a different college, she must ask him "Is Narnia real?" And if it isn't, where did it come from?

Megs, reluctant to address Lewis on campus, follows him one day to "The Kilns," the home he shares with his brother, and she is found by "Warnie" Lewis, who introduces her to his brother, who prefers to be known as "Jack." But when she asks him about Narnia, instead he starts telling her the story of his life, and while George loves the stories she brings home about "young Jack," she is continually frustrated: why won't he tell her the one thing George wants to know? But even as she tells George the stories, it awakens his creativity and curiosity, and also, with the help of a redheaded fellow student named Padraig Cavender, opens Megs' mind to the unseen mysteries of the world, the ones that can't be explained by maths and facts. In fact, it is Padraig that eventually makes George's Christmas wish come true.

Callahan works a bewitching magic in this book; her vocabulary is pitch-perfect vintage English, and she describes Oxford, the Kilns, and even the Devonshires' cozy house with such warmth that it's like walking out of the wardrobe and arriving in Narnia. It has the same warm, familiar feeling as a Beatrix Potter drawing or the passages about Mole and Ratty in The Wind in the Willows. Douglas Gresham, C.S. Lewis' stepson, has given this book a big thumbs up, as do I. Enchanting.

28 November 2021

First Sunday of Advent


There's a rule here: no Christmas decorations before the First Sunday of Advent.

However, today all the gloves are off!

So I hit the ground running: walked the dog a mile, then put him on a leash on the grass while I took down the Thanksgiving items and put up the wreath on the door, the Santa Claus moon flag, the mailbox cover with the goofy moose on it, and the Christmas greens basket. At this point I let Tucker go inside and then started on the real work: the lights. I managed to get through this practically unscathed.

Decided I wanted to go back to the blue lights this year. Now Saturday at Lowe's I bought six strings of 100 blue lights on discount, but we still had blue lights, so I put those out instead. Thinking I should have put the Lowes lights on instead; some of these are badly faded and the blues don't even match. When I took a photo one string even looked green! Maybe I'll redo. Also put up the Christmas tree with the multicolor lights and the wreath, which has the multicolor seed lights on it. I could probably go out and get a new blue set for the tree, but I prefer the wreath in colors, and don't think I'll find them in blue anyway.

I didn't have a terrible time with the lights, but I do understand why my dad always swore while he did this!

Our neighbor Ashley came out while I was working on this, to take out little Diesel (he's some kind of Lhasa Apso or shih-tzu mix) and Nala, who's some type of Rottweiler cross, and we were chatting for a while. It was just her birthday and she'd been to Colorado as a birthday gift. They had snow and everything. She kept asking me if I needed help. Maybe I was just looking particularly decrepit this morning? I know I didn't feel decrepit; when I put up Christmas decorations I feel about fifteen (except my back didn't hurt this dang bad when I was fifteen).

A year or two ago James bought this set of four LED snowflakes that were on clearance for $7. I put them behind the three log deer as kind of a fun display. Didn't use any of the lighting effects, though; maybe will try them out later. You can twinkle and flash and make them chase, eight different effects in all.

Before dark I had also put all of the candoliers in the windows (blue lights as well; frosted for the upstairs and clear for the library downstairs), the multicolor changing bulb candle in the kitchen window, and the two flickering candles in James' "man cave." These eat up four AA batteries, but they will last through Epiphany, even though the flicker will be minimal by then!

My last step was to turn on the two flickering candles at 5:30 (they have timers and will keep them on for five hours) and put the batteries in the seed lights (this also has a timer that will turn on the same time every night and go off six hours later). And all is lit.

Also did my usual Sunday chores (towels washed, master bath cleaned, meds sorted for the week) and managed to sit and listen to some Christmas music and work on a story. It ended on a sniffle, so I think I achieved my goal. 😀

25 November 2021

Cattern Cakes for St. Catherine's Day

St. Catherine of Alexandria was a Christian martyr who was condemned to death on a torture device called "a breaking wheel." "Catherine wheel" fireworks are named after this event, and "cattern cakes" are made in the shape of a swirl or in a spiral shape to commemorate her. The day was once widely observed and the days before and after the holiday were known as Catterntide. In medieval times, Catterntide marked the beginning of Advent.
 
St. Catherine is the patron saint of spinners, weavers, and lacemakers, and the latter used to take their annual holiday on this day.

Here's a British recipe (from "The Simple Things") for Cattern cakes:

275g (9.7oz) self-raising flour
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
25g (.9oz) currants
50g (1.77oz) ground almonds
2 tsp caraway seeds
200g (7oz) caster ("superfine") sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
100g (3.5oz) butter, melted
1 medium egg, beaten

Sift flour and cinnamon into a large mixing bowl, then add currants, almonds, caraway seeds, and sugar.

Add the melted butter and beaten egg to form a soft dough.

Roll out on floured surface to about 2cm (3/4 inch) thick and cut out rounds with a biscuit cutter. Lay the rounds on a baking sheet lined with parchment.

Using a sharp knife, make swirls in each cake, then sprinkle on sugar.

Bake for about 10 minutes in an oven already preheated to 190C (375F) or until they are brown and slightly risen. Cool on a wire rack.

 
 

 
St. Catherine was known to be well-educated and a book lover. You can celebrate her feast by buying a book as well!

"A Thanksgiving Poem"

The sun hath shed its kindly light,
   Our harvesting is gladly o’er
Our fields have felt no killing blight,
   Our bins are filled with goodly store.

From pestilence, fire, flood, and sword
   We have been spared by thy decree,
And now with humble hearts, O Lord,
   We come to pay our thanks to thee.

We feel that had our merits been
   The measure of thy gifts to us,
We erring children, born of sin,
   Might not now be rejoicing thus.

No deed of our hath brought us grace;
   When thou were nigh our sight was dull,
We hid in trembling from thy face,
   But thou, O God, wert merciful.

Thy mighty hand o’er all the land
   Hath still been open to bestow
Those blessings which our wants demand
   From heaven, whence all blessings flow.

Thou hast, with ever watchful eye,
   Looked down on us with holy care,
And from thy storehouse in the sky
   Hast scattered plenty everywhere.

Then lift we up our songs of praise
   To thee, O Father, good and kind;
To thee we consecrate our days;
   Be thine the temple of each mind.

With incense sweet our thanks ascend;
   Before thy works our powers pall;
Though we should strive years without end,
   We could not thank thee for them all.

Paul Laurence Dunbar

24 November 2021

"The Thanksgivings" (translated from the Iroquois)

We who are here present thank the Great Spirit that we are here to praise Him.
We thank Him that He has created men and women, and ordered that these beings 
      shall always be living to multiply the earth.
We thank Him for making the earth and giving these beings its products to live on.
We thank Him for the water that comes out of the earth and runs for our lands.
We thank Him for all the animals on the earth.
We thank Him for certain timbers that grow and have fluids coming from them for
      us all.
We thank Him for the branches of the trees that grow shadows for our shelter.
We thank Him for the beings that come from the west, the thunder and lightning
      that water the earth.
We thank Him for the light which we call our oldest brother, the sun that works for
      our good.
We thank Him for all the fruits that grow on the trees and vines.
We thank Him for his goodness in making the forests, and thank all its trees.
We thank Him for the darkness that gives us rest, and for the kind Being of the
      darkness that gives us light, the moon.
We thank Him for the bright spots in the skies that give us signs, the stars.
We give Him thanks for our supporters, who had charge of our harvests.
We give thanks that the voice of the Great Spirit can still be heard through the
      words of Ga-ne-o-di-o.
We thank the Great Spirit that we have the privilege of this pleasant occasion.
We give thanks for the persons who can sing the Great Spirit's music, and hope
      they will be privileged to continue in his faith.
We thank the Great Spirit for all the persons who perform the ceremonies on this
      occasion.

Harriet Maxwell Converse

23 November 2021

"The Harvest Moon"

It is the Harvest Moon! On gilded vanes
  And roofs of villages, on woodland crests
  And their aerial neighborhoods of nests
  Deserted, on the curtained window-panes
Of rooms where children sleep, on country lanes
  And harvest-fields, its mystic splendor rests!
  Gone are the birds that were our summer guests,
  With the last sheaves return the laboring wains!
All things are symbols: the external shows
  Of Nature have their image in the mind,
  As flowers and fruits and falling of the leaves;
The song-birds leave us at the summer's close,
  Only the empty nests are left behind,
  And pipings of the quail among the sheaves.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

22 November 2021

"Thanksgiving"

Let us be thankful—not only because
   Since last our universal thanks were told
We have grown greater in the world’s applause,
   And fortune’s newer smiles surpass the old—

But thankful for all things that come as alms
   From out the open hand of Providence:—
The winter clouds and storms—the summer calms—
   The sleepless dread—the drowse of indolence.

Let us be thankful—thankful for the prayers
   Whose gracious answers were long, long delayed,
That they might fall upon us unawares,
   And bless us, as in greater need we prayed.

Let us be thankful for the loyal hand
   That love held out in welcome to our own,
When love and only love could understand
   The need of touches we had never known.

Let us be thankful for the longing eyes
   That gave their secret to us as they wept,
Yet in return found, with a sweet surprise,
   Love’s touch upon their lids, and, smiling, slept.

And let us, too, be thankful that the tears
   Of sorrow have not all been drained away,
That through them still, for all the coming years,
   We may look on the dead face of To-day.

James Whitcomb Riley

17 November 2021

Christmas is Coming...The Earliest Recorded Version of "Silent Night"


Everyone knows the story of "Silent Night": the priest who wrote some verses after heading home from a call on a sick parishioner and seeing the beauty of the night, the organ wasn't working because mice chewed on the bellows; priest asks the sexton to set the verses to music—and voila, in 1818 "Silent Night" is born.

Well, that's the legend, anyway, but more convoluted is how the song got from the small Austrian town of Obendorf to the world: most tales credit it to an internationally-known singing group, the Rainiers, who carried the song out of Europe.

This is the earliest recorded version of "Silent Night," by the Haydn Quartet, I believe recorded by the Edison company. You will notice the lyrics are appreciably different from what we sing today, and I wonder if these are closer to the lyrics are closer to what was written by Gruber. It's also interesting to notice the difference in song performance techniques in that era.

11 November 2021

The People of Christmas: St. Martin

St. Martin? Has he something to do with Christmas?
 
Well, peripherally!
 
St. Martin of Tours was originally a soldier, and it is ironic that his feast day falls on November 11, the anniversary of the Armistice that ended the first World War. Martin was a cavalryman, well mounted and well clad, but when he came upon a ragged man shivering for lack of clothing in the snow, he sliced his voluminous cloak in half and gave it to the man. That night he dreamed of Jesus wearing the half cloak and saying to a contingent of angels, "Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is now baptized; he has clothed me." Martin converted to Christianity and later became a bishop.
 
His association with Christmas is that the preparatory season of Advent used to be forty days, the same as old Christmastide and the same as Lent, and began on his feast day, Martinmas.
 
In European countries, Martinmas marks the end of the harvest season. Livestock that had multiplied during the summer and which could not be fed during the winter was butchered and preserved by salting or smoking, and farmers would provide cakes and ale for the harvesters. Now that farm work was over, the laborers would attend Martinmas hiring fares to find positions for the winter.
 
Waterfowl are also involved in Martinmas celebrations. As at Michaelmas, a goose is usually eaten as part of the feasting. This alludes to the part of Martin's story where he did almost everything to avoid becoming a bishop, prefering to spread the gospel his own way. Martin hid in a pen of geese as a last resort, but the geese raised such a racket that he was given away. Weather forecasting is associated with the holiday, as it is on Candlemas, or, as it's known in the US, Groundhog Day. According to folklore, if Martinmas is cold and icy, the winter that follows will be milder, all through Candlemas. This is alluded to in a poem:
 
"Ice before Martinmas,
Enough to bear a duck,
The rest of winter,
Is sure to be but muck."
 
In other words, if the water is frozen over so that a duck cannot break through the ice on Martinmas, the remainder of the winter will be mild.
 
Snow on St. Martin's day is greeted with the exclamation: "Here comes St. Martin on his white horse!"
 
 
 
 


01 November 2021

"Autumn"


Now, upon the brown earth’s breast
Fall the crimson leaves to rest;
Summer’s done—and laughing Spring—
What does gray-clad Autumn bring?
Autumn, like a gipsy bold
In her cap of red and gold!

Autumn, with her magic brush
Paints each wayside tree and bush;
Gilds the pumpkin at our feet
In the fields of yellow wheat;
Bids the wild duck homeward fly
Through the quiet, hazy sky;
Gaily through the orchard goes;
Tints the apple’s cheek with rose;
And with pleasant fruits and grain
Cheers the waiting world again.
There is loveliness sublime
In the earth at Autumn time—
Autumn, like a gipsy bold
In her cap of red and gold!

Edith D. Osborne, "St. Nicholas" magazine, October 1924

31 October 2021

The Hollisters at Hallowe'en

The Happy Hollisters and the Mystery of the Golden Witch, Jerry West
Finally! It's book 30 in the Hollisters series and the family is finally home in Shoreham! And it's October to boot. Pete (age 12), Pam, 10, seven-year-old Ricky, and Holly, age 6, plus 4-year-old Sue are off with their parents to the Johnson farm to buy pumpkins for their annual Hallowe'en party. They find Farmer Johnson stuck in the lane that leads to his pumpkin farm, his tractor broken. This means he won't be able to harvest his pumpkins and sell them at his farm stand. The warmhearted kids offer to help him harvest, tend the stand, and loan him their little burro, Domingo, and his cart until the crop's in, as well as offering their collie Zip as a watchdog for the burro. They also, while exploring the farm, discover a private graveyard and a riddle on an old headstone that hints there might be a treasure hidden on the farm! Plus Farmer Johnson has an old Model-T Ford in his barn, and the kids spot a strange young woman prowling near it. But it's when Pete and his friend Dave meet a man who offers them a reward if they find a weathervane in the shape of a witch that the mystery really starts.
 
We're taking a break from the travelogue stories of the last few books with a homegrown mystery involving the witch weathervane, why the mysterious "Curie-Us" is looking for it, the young lady who was found wandering near the barn, and even a woman entrepreneur, Aunt Nettie, who runs the local cider mill. Of course there's Joey Brill and Will Wilson to toss in a few mean pranks, and the Shoreham Hallowe'en festivities. An enjoyable entry in the series, with a couple of novel Hallowe'en items (like the RSVP for the party invitations) that I'd never heard of before.

25 October 2021

"Leaves"

by Elsie N. Brady

How silently they tumble down
And come to rest upon the ground
To lay a carpet, rich and rare,
Beneath the trees without a care,
Content to sleep, their work well done,
Colors gleaming in the sun.

At other times, they wildly fly
Until they nearly reach the sky.
Twisting, turning through the air
Till all the trees stand stark and bare.
Exhausted, drop to earth below
To wait, like children, for the snow.

04 October 2021

The People of Christmas: St. Francis of Assisi

Today is the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, who is perhaps most commonly known as a lover of animals and nature. It was said that he preached the word of God even to the birds, and was so gentle with them that they came to him when he called, and birds perched on his heads. In the 1970s he was proclaimed the patron saint of ecology. In many churches, a Blessing of the Animals occurs around this date in honor of St. Francis. The current Pope, formerly Jorge Mario Bergoglio, picked his name in honor of the saint of Assisi, Italy.

Francis was originally christened "Giovanni" (John) and was the high-living son of a wealthy silk merchant. Even when he was a rich young man about town, he was known to give alms to the poor. After a sojourn to France, he returned to Italy with a love of all things French, so his family began calling him "Francesco" ("Frenchman").

Francis began to change after enduring an illness so severe it was feared he would die. Slowly, and to the dismay of his wealthy family, he began rejecting money and fine clothes and devoted himself to the poor. He founded the Franciscan order of monks, and also a similar organization of women, the Poor Clares.

Francis' connection to Christmas is simple: he was the first to create what we call "the Christmas crib," "the Nativity scene," or simply "the manger." He feared that people had forgotten that Jesus was born in a stable of humble parents, surrounded by animals, and staged the first living Nativity scene with carved figures representing the Holy Family (because it was thought using real humans might be blasphemous) and living sheep, donkeys, oxen, and other creatures. Later figures of wood, clay, porcelain, and so many other materials re-enacted the classic scene most people see under their Christmas tree, on a special table during the holiday season, in churches and on other properties.

The next time you're arranging your Nativity scene, thank St. Francis for adding this beautiful custom to the Christmas celebration.

29 September 2021

Michaelmas

From the Historic UK website:
  • Feast of Michael and All Angels.
  • As it falls near the equinox, the day is associated with the beginning of autumn and the shortening of days.
  • In England, it is one of the “quarter days”. There are traditionally four “quarter days” in a year (Lady Day (25th March), Midsummer (24th June), Michaelmas (29th September) and Christmas (25th December)). They are spaced three months apart, on religious festivals, usually close to the solstices or equinoxes. They were the four dates on which servants were hired, rents due or leases begun.
  • St Michael is one of the principal angelic warriors, protector against the dark of the night and the Archangel who fought against Satan and his evil angels. As Michaelmas is the time that the darker nights and colder days begin – the edge into winter – the celebration of Michaelmas is associated with encouraging protection during these dark months.
  • A well fattened goose, fed on the stubble from the fields after the harvest, is eaten to protect against financial need in the family for the next year; and as the saying goes:

    “Eat a goose on Michaelmas Day,
    Want not for money all the year”. 

     

    More Michaelmas Links

    The Merry Foods of Michaelmas

    Richmond Waldorf School Michaelmas Page

    Michaelmas: Prayers, Food, and Flowers

    Project Britain: Michaelmas


22 September 2021

Autumnal Equinox

"Th[e] word, autumn, goes all the way back through Medieval English and Old French, autumpne and autompne, to the Latin autumnus, which is listed as "of uncertain origin." It simply means the third season of the year, that time between summer and winter, and apparently it always has. But my big dictionary adds, comfortingly, "the season known in America as Fall." Fall, of course, means many things—the fall of the leaves, the fall of temperature, the fall of man perhaps. Follow that word back and you come out at Old Dutch and Old German, vallen and fallen, meaning to go down, to descend, pretty much what we mean today when we use the word as a verb. It must have come to us as a season name through the Anglo-Saxon.

"Whatever you choose to call it, it is a beautiful time of the year, a comfortable and comforting time. It brings some of the most beautiful days, with clear, blue skies and mild winds and comfortable temperatures. It is adorned with color in the woodlands. It is the end of summer, but it also is a thoroughly pleasant interval between summer and winter."

. . . . . . . Hal Borland's Book of Days