30 December 2005

Creeping Pink

Yes, the Valentine stuff is taking over: JoAnn had hearts scattered everywhere and even has their garden things out. CVS is hung with pink hearts and so is Michael's.

I always tend to slide into depression after Christmas; the pink only makes it worse. I hate pink...

28 December 2005

On the Fourth Day of Christmas...

...the sobering events of Herod's paranoia is told at Feast of the Holy Innocents (Childermas). A priest's vestments will be purple today in memory of the infants who died.

Because of the massacre of the children, Childermas is considered an ill-omened day. No new projects should be started on Childermas day, lest they also meet with a bad end.

"Voices of Christmas Past"

I've been listening here this afternoon to this novel CD of old Christmas recordings—and I do mean old, since the newest song here is from 1922; the oldest is from 1898. It begins with Santa Claus addressing children and telling them he is hiding in the phonograph (1922). In an era when an Edison phonograph or a "Victrola" and records in the house was still high technology, imagine the faces of the small children of the house when they played this offering!

This is not the only spoken word selection in this collection. Recordings of comedy bits and scenes from plays were common in those days, and rural and ethnic humor was very popular. Two of the selections are about a country town called "Pumpkin Center" and loquacious old "Uncle Josh" narrates the stories, and another is an Irish dialect schtick. There is also a recitation of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" and an interesting piece from 1917 about British soldiers around the campfire during the "Great War," telling jokes and singing.

Others are instrumental pieces, and some have the jazzy ragtime beat that was the rage in that era, and there are standard carols as well, one sung by the leading tenor of the "teens," John McCormack. One is an unabashed love song "Come and Spend Christmas With Me," also sung by a lush tenor, which was the fashion.

Two of the spoken pieces are duplicated on this page of .mp3s, which contain other songs not on the album. (One of the songs is from 1944 and the other from 1938, but the latter is done in the style of the older recordings.)

It is interesting listening to the voices of the singers and noting how the sound of people talking or singing has changed. The group singing sounds much like what we would call today "barbershop quartet" style. There is also an interesting accent in the voices which reminds me of Jerry Colonna when he was on stage (but it is not a "funny" effect like Colonna). I can only term it as kind of a warble. The spoken pieces are also what we might consider stagy today; it was the typical recitation voice of the time and even children, learning "pieces" for school, were trained to present their offerings thus.

This is a wonderful album to listen to if you are interested in history in general or in the history of sound recordings. The selections take you back to the time when our great-grands wound up the gramophone and enjoyed the "hits" of the day, scratchy record surface and all!

27 December 2005

Let's Keep Christmas

The American Heritage Dictionary defines "Christmastime" or "Christmastide" as "A festival observed from December 24, Christmas Eve, to January 5, the eve of Epiphany." Other sources include January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany, in the count. Scandinavians celebrate until January 13, St. Knut's Day, and depending on the reference, Christmas greenery can be kept up until Candlemas Day, February 2, but must be removed by then.

It's Christmastide, folks! Why are folks so all-fired quick to tear down their Christmas things the moment December 25 is over? It's Christmastide: go out and enjoy it! Some folks have spent weeks shopping, decorating, and baking. Now is the time to sit and enjoy it; make Christmas visits (after work, since we must) and still drink the eggnog and munch on a treat or two. Granted, the folks who've had their Christmas decorations up since before Veteran's Day may have pretty dusty ornaments by now. Why do folks put 'em up so early anyway when there's Thanksgiving to enjoy in November?

Even if you don't want to do the entire "twelve days of Christmas" routine, it would be nice not to see trees discarded in the trash at least until the day after New Year's. We always had the tradition that the Christmas lights stayed on all night both Christmas—to guide the Holy Family to your house and New Year's—to see the new year in. Why not keep the winter doldrums at bay a little while longer with the beautiful welcoming lights and adornments and music?

Those Thank You Notes!

The classic story "Down Pens" by Saki (H.H. Munro).

26 December 2005

Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho, It's Shopping We Go

Thank God most of the places we went did not have excessive traffic. The ramp to Gwinnett Mall wasn't even backed up, which was surprising. We didn't go to the mall {ugh}—we had to go to Fry's. I wanted one more set of dual DVD cases and another of triples to finish the video-to-DVD project. The videotapes need to be gone by the time we move.

James ended up getting a new motherboard and processor because his new computer has gone from locking up repeatedly only when it was cold (you had to leave it on or it locked up and had to be rebooted a dozen or more times before it warmed up) to locking up all the time. I replaced my "taped off Mystery" copy of Oliver's Travels with the UK-release version DVD (Mystery edited 15 minutes out of the first two parts) and also found a blast from the past at a discount price: a collection of Wild Kingdom shows that include programs with Marlin Perkins. Wild Kingdom was a Sunday night ritual at our house in the 1960s; Mom and Dad were thrilled that I loved watching educational programs and not just cartoons.

We also went to Media Play to see if there was anything worth buying and spending our last replay coupons. We bought mostly bargain books, but I found a Christmas book I'd never heard of before, European Christmas by Rick Steves and I did get a used copy of Sirens and also Bullwhip Griffin.

Our last stop was Borders at "the Avenue at East Cobb" (ohhhh...lah-dee-dah). The place is full of clothing stores like the Gap and Talbots and was packed, but we finally found a spot. Some friends (thanks Ron and Lin!) gave us some Borders gift cards for Christmas and that finally "pushed us over the edge." We took the two cards and the sixteen $5 Borders credit card rewards coupons I had been hoarding since after Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince came out and bought The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, which Borders had finally marked down from 20 percent off to 30 percent off a few weeks ago. (I got a big kick out of reading my comics this morning and noting the subject of today's "Fox Trot." LOL! It's true!)


Got up early (well, 7:15 is early on a non-work day) and zipped to the nearest Hallmark store where I got my cards for next year. I couldn't decide between the chickadees and the English robins, both which I adore, so I got both; now I have cards for two years. I also got an English robin candle holder (which is sort of silly since I don't do candles, but I do have battery candles; those could work), a "tin" reindeer ornament, and another reindeer ornament. On the way out I noticed they were putting these "perpetual calendars" on sale, the type that has two blocks with numbers on all sides for the date and smaller blocks with the months on them. One was a "Nature's Sketchbook" calendar, like the English robin candleholder and cards (but it had a rabbit on it rather than one of the birds). I've always wanted one; when she went to ring it up it turned out it was a dollar! Too cool.

Boxing Day...

...dates from the Middle Ages when the contents of the church alms boxes, especially put out for the purpose at this time, were distributed amongst the needy. Apprentices also traditionally received small amounts of money from their employers and customers over the year. This would be collected in small earthenware money boxes that would be broken open with anticipation on Boxing Day. In [Edwardian] days, it was those who offered a regular service, such as the postman, who would be rewarded, along with farm labourers and needy cottagers living the estate of a kindly benefactor." Often the "box" included a meal or an assortment of food, and perhaps even some wood or coal for fuel, along with the money.
                                                   . . . . Sarah Hollis, Country Diary Christmas Book

25 December 2005

"Merry Christmas!"

Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas!
Sing a song for the glorious season.
Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas!
Sing a song for a happy new year.

Sing merrily, merrily, loud and strong,
Welcome the wintry season.
Just follow along with the holiday song.
Santa is here again, yes!

Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas!
Sing a song for the glorious season.
Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas!
Sing a song for a happy new year.

The reindeer fly, if you need any proof.
It's merely a matter of reason.
Just listen, you'll hear when they land on the roof.
Santa is here again, yes!

Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas!
Sing a song for the glorious season.
Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas!
Sing a song for a happy new year.

Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas!
Sing a song for the glorious season.
Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas!
Its a magical, miracle, annual, lyrical,
sing-along now, sing a song for a happy new year!
                                         John Williams, Home Alone

24 December 2005

Christmas Fun Fact

Before you start watching endless runs of A Christmas Story, here's the answer to the question "Are Peter Billingsly and Barbara Billingsly [of Leave It to Beaver fame] related?" The answer, from the askingman:
"The two Billingsleys are related, but very remotely.

"It begins with Sherman Billingsley, who ran New York City’s famous Stork Club nightspot during the 1940s and ‘50s. Barbara Billingsley was married for a time to Sherman Billingsley’s nephew, Glenn. They were long divorced before Peter came along. Peter Billingsley, meanwhile, is the son to another of Sherman Billingsley’s nephews.

"So that would make Barbara Peter’s ex-aunt, thrice removed from a previous marriage. Or something weird like that."

23 December 2005

An Elfin Look

The idea that Santa has elfin helpers is probably related to ancient Northern European folklore. Scandinavians have long believed in small, magical men called tomten or julenisser...In order to ensure a prosperous year, farmers offered food to the elves to keep them happy. Later...the julenisser became bearers of holiday gifts in the popular imagination. These days they are believed to do helpful things like cleaning up the kitchen, making a batch of cookies, bringing in wood from the barn and keeping the fire going in the fireplace. If the family is good to the elves, leaving them a bowl of rice pudding or other dessert on Christmas Eve, the elves do even more important things like reminding the family to unplug the iron before leaving for a party, to blow out a candle, or put the screen in front of the fireplace before going to bed.....
                                                         . . . . . . . . . . . Annette Spence, Christmas

"The Mistletoe Bough"

Ghost stories at Christmastime, acknowledged in the present by a line in the popular Andy Williams-sung "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year," were quite popular in Victorian times (not to mention earlier). Another popular "thrilling tale," which was also adapted as a song, was this poem which to modern ears sounds a bit morbid for the season. It was, nevertheless, apparently a favorite holiday recitation piece among young unmarried ladies who found the whole situation romantic.

"The Mistletoe Bough"

The Story of "The Huron Carol"

This First Nations page has the story of the Canadian Christmas carol, "The Huron Carol." This is a song I haven't heard played for years on any radio station, although I remember hearing and learning about it in school. It may be because in New England we were closer to the Canadian border. I seem to remember it being in one of our singing books in elementary school.

I've managed to find two different Christmas albums that have the "Twas in the Moon of Wintertime" translation on it. I'm not sure I've ever heard it in the original Huron.

"An Atlanta Christmas"

If you're somewhere in the range of a Georgia Public Broadcasting radio station this afternoon at 3 p.m. (or somewhere where you can listen to it online—Oooh, look, there's an announcement on the web page), they're presenting a short form version of the Atlanta Radio Theatre Company's "An Atlanta Christmas." This version has a variety of the more humorous sketches from the presentation:

Old Atlanta Christmas (song)
Mr. Currier, Mr. Ives, and all that Snow
The Santa Claus Blues
USO Christmas
The Ultimate Christmas Pageant
The Legend of the Poinsettia
The Zen Santa Claus
The Experts
Bumpers Crossroads: Rose's Fruitcake

It repeats again at 10 a.m. Christmas morning.

22 December 2005

NORAD Tracks Santa 50th Anniversary

NORAD's been tracking the big guy since just after I was born.

Here they tell you how it started and then how they do it. I didn't know Rudolph's nose gave off an infrared signature. Too cool!

Here are the test announcements from earlier this year when Santa participated in the famous Hollywood Santa Claus Lane parade.

Stay tuned.

21 December 2005

In a Pickle

I don't know how old I was when I first heard the story about the Christmas pickle, but it was well into adulthood.

This site explains where the custom of the pickle came from.

And here are two sales sites, Catholic Supply and Christmas Decorations & Gifts, that also tell the story of the legendary Christmas pickle.

I thought it was a charming custom, and several years ago, while wandering in a gift shop in Helen, GA, James and I found a small pickle ornament. We have no children, but I hide the ornament on the tree nevertheless and when we have our Twelfth Night party, I allow the children attending the party to search for it and give a small gift to whomever finds it.

But is the Christmas pickle really a German tradition? About.com's section on German myths says it ain't so!

And here's a discussion about "the controversial Christmas pickle."

Looks like that old German tradition may not be so old or so German after all.

It's still a fun treat in a fun season.

19 December 2005

Christmas Specials

Just finished watching Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol; I have watched this since it premiered on television in 1962. Even as a small child I loved the songs. Today it still holds up well—despite being abridged (nephew Fred is nowhere to be seen), whole passages of dialog are directly from the Dickens text and the music is excellent: it was written by Jules Styne and Bob Merrill, two Broadway veterans. Interestingly enough, the story is mounted as a play being presented on Broadway, with Magoo starring as Ebenezer Scrooge. The usual nearsighted Magoo jokes are woven within the Dickens dialog and sound completely natural (since Dickens at several times mentions Scrooge not seeing properly; it works well).

Broadway veteran Jack Cassidy is the voice of Bob Cratchit and lends his mellow tenor to several songs, including the inspirational "The Lord's Bright Blessing."

The backgrounds are typical sketchy UPA-animation art, but of a period flavor that works well. As an inside joke, UPA cartoon character Gerald McBoing-Boing (who, in his own stories, speaks only in sound effects) plays Tiny Tim and has a voice (and gets to sing about the infamous "razzleberry dressing").

Other Christmas-y stories watched lately: "Christmas at Plum Creek," the first and best of several Christmas stories done on Little House on the Prairie. The series' 70s links are even more obvious now and several anachronisms abound (the Ingalls have a Christmas tree, for example, when the family never saw one until Laura was much older and it was at church; the real Laura and her sisters received only small gifts, delivered in stockings—you can also tell the tree is artificial!), but it's a sweet little story about the family finding ingenious ways to give each other Christmas surprises. Laura's gift is an ultimate heartbreaker.

John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together—always fun: someone commented in a newsgroup that it was appropriate, because John at that time did look a bit like a Muppet. He certainly fits in in this combination of comedy and variety, with some serious overtones including the reading of the Bible story and singing "Silent Night." Miss Piggy, of course, causes most of the laughter, whether it's jazzing up her part in "The 12 Days of Christmas" to singing a round to sucking up to John Denver to get a larger role.

Hill Street Blues: "Santa Claustrophobia"—it's just business as usual at Hill Street station: a series of brutal shootings shakes up the neighborhood, Neil is consumed with guilt over an accidental shooting, Faye is upset (again) over Frank Jr spending Christmas with his dad, and a cynical kid has put the kibosh on Belker's stakeout. Add a hospital Christmas show for sick kids and Renko's infamous "Oh, Lordy God, it's Christmas Eve and I'm gonna be shot dead in a moose suit," and you've got an engaging hour of television.

The Waltons: "The Best Christmas"—the best of the three Christmas stories done on the series. The family plans to make the Christmas of 1937 extra-special for Olivia, then all are separated on Christmas Eve after Mary Ellen and John-Boy help after a car accident, Grandma and Grandpa are stranded after making a hospital visit, and John and Jason help ready the church for the Christmas service after a tree falls through the roof. I know this was filmed on a hot soundstage in August, but the wintry feeling is so well done that you wince and shiver when John-Boy and Harley Foster plunge into the icy pond to rescue a woman and her niece.

Our Ceppo

You might call this an "Italian Christmas tree." Most ceppos are pyramid shaped, but this is an alternate style. The largest level usually has a Nativity scene, and other levels contain food gifts and other little Christmas keepsakes.

The little tree at the top has all our Hallmark minis (and some miniature ornaments I bought at Thall's drugstore in Cranston before they closed). The little Nativity was something Hallmark put out once upon a time. I built the stable from balsa wood and the angel is one of the Thall's ornaments. We'll put our gifts under that. In the candy dish on the right are the few old glass ornaments left over from my mom's tree that I did not incorporate into apothocary jars as gifts for my cousins who cared for her so much. (If you can make it out, behind the ornaments is our partridge—Shirley, of course.) I didn't feel like digging in the bins for the winter flowers, so I put a garland and bow in the container hung on the wall. Next year I can put flowers in it.

ceppo with nativity and Christmas tree

18 December 2005

Remember Glass Wax Stencils?

We all remember Glass Wax, don't we? It was a liquid solution with a pinkish white cast that came in a bright pink metal container. You shook it up, then applied it to your windows and let it dry. It dried to a white hardness, then you polished it off. (I always thought it was made by Johnson's Wax, but it wasn't. The company was Gold Seal.)

Some bright person realized that this whiteness could be used for another purpose and voila, Glass Wax stencils were born. These were made of waxed paper in all sorts of Christmasy motifs: Santa in his sleigh and also coming down the chimney, reindeer, bells, angels, snowflakes, a nativity scene complete with a shepherd and Wise Men with camels. You applied the Glass Wax with a dry sponge and presto, your windows were festive. Then when Christmas was over, you wiped off the stenciling and the windows were also clean. It was a decoration any mother would love. If you were really ambitious, you could add a few drops of food coloring to the liquid Glass Wax and have multicolor festiveness.

We had a big glass window in the living room, horizontally sectioned into four long panes. I used to decorate the entire window every Christmas. The third level would be the Nativity scene. I would reuse the Wise Man and camel motif carefully three times so there were three, not one; and make one pair of reindeer into eight (in fact I would then dab the sponge on only one of the reindeer and make Rudolph at the front, using the edge of the sponge to make "beams" of light from his nose. Santa and the deer were on the second pane down; the top pane had the star and banks of angels on either side, ringing bells or playing trumpets (the angels only came with bells; instead I improvised the trumpets from the edge of the sponge). The lowest level was reserved for the miscellaneous motifs: bells, holly, Santa in the chimney. It was a lot of fun.

15 December 2005

An Old-Fashioned Christmas

Ten days to go...

"Old Christmas" by Washington Irving

14 December 2005

RIP John Langstaff

John Langstaff, the founder of Revels, Inc., died today at the age of 84.

I've always loved the Revels Christmas albums because they are different from the usual repetitive albums featuring a well-known singer and the same familiar songs or carols. The Revels albums feature some of the old standards, plus relics from medieval times and songs popular in regional areas of the US, England, and Europe. Some of the songs are old-fashioned rounds, shape-note music, or rhymes for children.

The live performances have a different theme each year, but all stress joy and audience participation. I hope to see a performance one day.

More about John Langstaff.

His obituary, quoted from the Boston Globe.

10 December 2005

Trim Up the Towns

We took a ride to Helen, Georgia, today. There is a gristmill, Nora Mills, dating back to the early 1800s, just as you approach the town and James likes their country gravy mix. (They also have a wonderful multi-grain "pioneer porridge" that is great on cold mornings.) Plus, since Helen has a Bavarian motif, they "do" up a lot for Christmas.

The clouds were scudding across the sky all day, so we never knew quite what the weather was going to be up to. First it was high cirrus clouds, then it became overcast, and by the time we left not a cloud was left. It was in the high 40s, maybe up into low 50s by midafternoon, and quite nice for walking around.

We bought Willow some "gourmet dog treats" for Christmas and wandered in and out of different shops: quilts, the glassblower's store, a Christmas store (the old store is gone, darnit), and others. The streets was roped with garland and ornaments, and on corners and in front of shops were colorful "lollipops" made with bright cellophane coverings.

When Hurricane Katrina made landfall a few months ago, it brewed storms that swept through Georgia, including up in the north Georgia mountains where Helen is located. A tornado ran roughshod through the southern part of town as well as destroying many trees around the Nora Mills area. We had seen the report on the news, but like all things, it was quite different seeing it in person. They had fixed the Econolodge, which had its top story sheared off, but the area that had once been outlet stores was badly damaged, and sadly, the beautiful expanse of trees behind the outlet mall area, which had been a picnic area along the Chattahoochee River, and a hill of thick trees beyond that, were ravaged. The hill looked as if someone had begun clearing it for a development and then left it to rot: broken, bent trees and lots of mud.

After we left Helen, we headed back for home, but made a side trip to Dahlonega (site of the first US gold rush, back in the 1830s). This is a pretty old-fashioned town with older buildings around a town square that contains the old courthouse; I had seen photos of it decorated for Christmas in the latest Points North magazine and had wanted to stop by. Amazingly, we found a parking space right on the square and were able to walk around and window shop at the old stores, now mostly occupied by antique stores and gift shops, as well as go in the used bookstore and in the general store. There was a large decorated tree before the courthouse and an even larger, real fir tree between 15-20 feet high next to a wooden sleigh and reindeer affair that James figured was where children came to visit Santa Claus. The storefronts were wound with garland and lights and there were candles and wreaths on the windows of the old courthouse as well as in many of the shop windows.

We hadn't eaten lunch and, surprisingly, couldn't find anywhere where we could just have an inexpensive sandwich it was either a big dinner at four available restarants, or sweets, nothing else. So we had to leave without making an inspection of the antique stores nearby because James' blood sugar was showing as low.

Happy Holidays!

Surfing the Sirius channels and came upon Mike Church ranting about the phrase "Happy Holidays" again.

Granted, I think some of the PC stuff going on these days is silly. Calling a Christmas tree a "holiday tree" is as absurd as calling a hanukkiah a "holiday menorah." But ranting about "Happy Holidays" and "Season's Greetings" is equally ridiculous.

For one thing, this is a nation of many beliefs. Since you may have no idea if the person you are greeting is Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Pagan or of no religious affiliation at all, "Happy Holidays" is a friendly greeting that encompasses all the varied December holidays. "Season's Greetings" performs a similar function, but is rather formal and more for signage than for conversations.

I do chuckle at the complaints because the folks that are complaining act like "Happy Holidays" as an all-encompassing December celebration term is a new thing. It's not only been around for a good long time this century, but goes back to the 19th as well. A book I purchased last year, Christmas in the Old West, features newspaper and magazine ads from the Lewis and Clark era to the "closing" of the frontier and "Happy Holidays" is noticably used in many different types of advertising. This is because Christmas celebrations were latecomers to many parts of the United States—while the South and the Mid-Atlantic states and the new Western territories celebrated the holiday, New England families and Quakers and Shakers either didn't celebrate at all, or the celebration was strictly religious. As late as 1870, many New Englanders worked on Christmas Day and stores were open.

The Scots, whether those of Scottish descent in the US or in their native land, also did not celebrate Christmas. Their holiday was Hogmanay, New Year's Eve. Christmas wasn't a national holiday in Scotland until 1957.

So a significant population of the United States gave out gifts and/or celebrated on the New Year. One of the earliest Santa Claus references had him distributing gifts on New Year's Eve and apparently there were some editions of "A Visit From St. Nicholas" that had the first and final line changed to "New Year" for those who celebrated gift-giving on New Year's Day.

"Happy Holidays" covered all those who celebrated on either day, and is just as useful today. I don't see what the problem is.

06 December 2005

"...And That's What Christmas Is All About"

Tonight is the 40th anniversary broadcast of A Charlie Brown Christmas. While it's traditional today, it was really quite novel when it premiered in 1965: Children did the voices of the characters instead of voice artists and Schultz touched on some of the real feelings about Christmas rather than going for slapstick humor and wildly exaggerated characters.

And of course there is the famous Bible passage that unnerved the executives at CBS.

The Vince Guaraldi score was inspired; it made the story timeless and is as much a part of it as the characters and the situation. Can you imagine the story done to a Hanna-Barbera-—or worse yet, Filmation-—type score?

Did you know you can buy a "Charlie Brown tree" this year? I saw it in last Sunday's newspaper. You get a scrawny, bent-over pine tree and a single red ornament. Here's the link at Urban Outfitters. (They seem to be sold out.)

You know, I've always wanted a sound clip of Violet saying "Oh, no, we're doomed." What a great comment to accompany opening Windows every morning! (Or at least Microslop Word—or even worse, Microslop Access...)

A Short History of St. Nicholas/Santa Claus

From St. Nicholas Center and linked at the bottom, from The Christmas Archives.

In fact, check out the entire site of The Christmas Archives.

05 December 2005

Did Clement C. Moore Really Write "A Visit from St. Nicholas"?

In Common-Place.org, a publication of the American Antiquarian Society, Stephen Nissenbaum (author of one of my favorite Christmas histories, The Battle for Christmas), discusses the claim that Moore was not the author of the famous Christmas verse in the essay "There Arose Such a Clatter; Who Really Wrote "The Night before Christmas"? (And Why Does It Matter?).

For many years now it has been the claim of the Livingston family of New York that an ancestor, Henry Livingston, wrote the now-celebrated story of a visit from Santa Claus, not Clement Clarke Moore.

04 December 2005

St. Barbara's Day

St. Barbara was a young woman who converted to Christianity and then was tortured for her beliefs; she was turned in to the authorities by her own father, who originally had her locked in a tower. Despite this rather morbid history, Barbara is the source of a beautiful European tradition that involves cutting small branches of flowering trees such as cherry or plum trees and taking them inside; with applications of warm water, care, and warmth, the idea is to have them bloom for the Christmas holidays.

St. Barbara is the patron saint of a number of occupations, including mariners (George Von Trapp of the famous Trapp Family Singers was particularly fond of St. Barbara), unexpected death (her father died suddenly after betraying her) and, oddly, gunners.

More about St. Barbara at Catholic Culture—Liturgical Year : December 04.

And here is G.K. Chesterton's poem "The Ballad of Saint Barbara."

03 December 2005

O Christmas Tree! (O Christmas Treats!)

We found a new tree today. After looking again at Hobby Lobby and Michael's, we stopped at Seasonal Concepts on the way to JoAnn. (SC is very close to a tree lot and I'm having live tree envy this year. But I don't want to spend the Christmas holidays with bronchitis. Damn allergies!) Amazingly, they had more than two unlighted Christmas trees! Most of these trees, lighted and unlighted, were quite expensive—there was a 15-foot Douglas fir with white lights that was $1500!—and unfortunately the ones we liked the best, with very realistic spruce needles, were too tall, pre-lighted, and really expensive.

But amazingly we found a 6 1/2 foot tree with fairly realistic needles that was not too green like the other tree we had considered at Hobby Lobby. It basically looks like the tree we have now, but taller. It's also a slim tree because the place we have decided to put the tree in the new house will only be about 40 inches wide (but it's not one of those really anorexic-looking slim trees, either). This is very full; I'm already wondering if we're going to have trouble with our Hallmark spaceship ornaments!

James also fell in love with a neat-looking string of lights that look like little Christmas trees in five colors (no orange, unfortunately). They were half price so we bought two strings for an extra fillip.

They had many nice things: if I was really crazy like the folks on one mailing list I am on, I could have bought much of this wonderful stuff and decorated up a storm (at least next year; I still don't feel much like decorating this year, and it's not just being sick).

It was a nice find to a very gloomy day: when we left the house it was 39°F and drizzling ("But at least it wasn't snow!" Bosh!) I am still coughing but we had shopping to do (a pork loin coupon at B.J.'s that ran out today especially).

Earlier we had supper watching A Christmas Story and Ralphie's eternal quest for a Red Ryder BB gun. James had stopped by Costco to get gasoline and I ran inside to get some of their Asagio fresh-baked bread, with a crispy crust and a puffy inside so we could "zoop" the bread in the juice of the pork loin and apple and carrot stew we were cooking in the crock pot. We had run out of sugar-free ice cream bars and had nothing for dessert, so James dashed upstairs and baked a batch of Dromedary gingerbread. We watched Ralphie have "Chinese turkey" while enjoying warm gingerbread with Reddi Whip topping.

I'm presently watching a delicious (and I do mean delicious) special about Italian Christmas foods on the Food Network. Oh, what memories all that brings back! They have just finished talking about foods from Boston's North End, torrone and marzipan and they're doing panettone (a sweet cake with raisins). We always had torrone in the house and in relatives' homes at Christmas and Easter. You could get big slabs, but mostly my aunts and mom bought pieces in little rectangular boxes about two inches long and an inch wide. They had bright colorful paintings of Italian towns on the boxes.

I never could get into torrone; it was too sweet for me. But they were showing a dark chocolate torrone that I would definitely like to sample!

Later on I'm sure they will go to the main course of Christmas Eve fish. Traditionally you are supposed to have seven fishes on Christmas Eve (fish since you're fasting). My cousins Debbie and Richard still do the fish on Christmas Eve and since both of them are great cooks, this is quite a feast, I tell you. (It sure doesn't seem like fasting.)

01 December 2005

December Song

Sing a song
     of snowy nights,
     of neighbors stringing
     twinkling lights,
     of sugar cookies
     shaped like stars,
     and trees tied
     to the roof of cars.
Sing a song
     of spangled kings
     and angels wearing
     wire wings,
     of paper boxes,
     silver bows,
     and gifts hid under
     attic clothes.
Sing of warm
     against the cold,
     of simple, peace-filled
     stories told,
     of drums that thump
     and bells that chime.
     Sing a song
     of Christmastime.

. . . . . Eileen Spinelli, Ideals Christmas 2005

30 November 2005

St. Andrew's Day

St. Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland. His saint's day is one of the celebrations within Advent, at least within Scottish borders.

The City of Edinburgh's St. Andrew's Day Page

U.K. Traditions' St. Andrew's Day Page

Send a St. Andrew's Day card.

29 November 2005

Musical Disharmony

Last year, before satellite radio was even more than a glimmer in our minds, Dish Network picked up the Sirius music channels. When there was nothing else on television, we'd pop on the 60s channel instead, and at Christmastime I discovered they'd taken one of their regular channels (Easy Listening, I'm almost positive) and turned it into a holiday music channel. Now there were two, along with Dish's own Holiday Music Channel, each with a different playlist.

So now that I had satellite radio, I looked forward to having Christmas music when this time of the year rolled around.

I'm now really disappointed. This year the holiday channel is on Channel 2, StarTime or StarLight, whatever, and I think someone broke into their holiday music catalog and destroyed everything but about 36 hours of the same songs. Since Saturday (and I've only had the channel on for a total of about three hours) I've heard Bruce Springsteen yelling a Christmas song at least four times; I've also heard "The Christmas Song" by Nat King Cole upteen times and John Lennon's Christmas hit and many others too many times already. When they play Gene Autry, it is always "Here Comes Santa Claus." Perry Como is always "There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays." Etc. Plus they have really bad rock Christmas songs mixed in, like the Springsteen, and Macy Gray, who sounds like she's 100 years old with strep throat.

So I finally went back to the real radio and settled on 94.9. I have to listen to commercials, but anything's better than another Macy Gray rendition and yet another repeat of the last fifteen songs. My God, in my own personal collection I have at least three days worth of Christmas music, no two versions alike, and I don't have half of what's out there.

While tuning 94.9 back in I accidentally hit the preset for 104.whatever, and that terrible song "The Christmas Shoes" was on. For that I'd go back to Macy Gray. God, I despise that song. Oh, I loved the original story when it was a six paragraph story at the end of an article in Reader's Digest over 20 years ago; it was simple and touching and made you think. I didn't even mind the different embellished versions in those Chicken Soup for the Soul type books. But this wailing, lugibrious version of the tale is simply horrible.

Country Cards

Ahhh, now I remember. It's because I put them away in the card box that I bought a few years ago.

I chose a country theme for the Christmas cards: it's artwork of a wooden door with a sleigh leaned against it, a Christmas tree to the left with some gifts, snowmen to the right. Country without being cutesy.

28 November 2005

Time to Write the Christmas Cards

“In America, the printing of Christmas cards was introduced by the Boston lithographer Louis Prang, a native of Breslau, Germany. Prang offered them to the public for sale in 1875. Since the present popular designs of Christmas symbols were not yet known in [the United States], he adorned his cards with Killarney roses, daisies, geraniums, apple blossoms, and similar floral motives. These first American Christmas cards, like all other products of Prang’s lithographic art, are still famous among collectors because of their exquisite design and craftsmanship. A few years later he broadened his designs to include children playing in the snow, fir trees, fireplaces, and finally Santa himself. In 1890, when a flood of cheap and gaudy novelties in Christmas cards swamped the market (dried flowers, chenille, bits of colored glass, corks, and seaweed), Prang abruptly stopped the production of his beautiful cards to register his disgust and disappointment.”
                                            . . . . Francis X. Weiser, The Christmas Book
Louis Prang

More About Louis Prang

I'm embarrassed to admit that I don't remember what this year's Christmas cards look like! I picked out a design I loved last year just before Christmas, tucked them away in the closet, and haven't looked against since!

Are Gifts What Christmas is Made Of?

Handling the 'Gimme' Season

I understood from a very early age that (a) Santa Claus doesn't have everything and (b) Daddy works in a factory and we don't have a lot of money. It wasn't presented as anything horrible, but it was a fact of life. I remember several nice Christmas presents when I was small: Patty Ann, my walking doll; some great stuffed dogs; a baby carriage, but mostly I remember coloring books and a new box of crayons and small gifts. And then there were the bigger gifts as I got older: my 12-inch black and white TV (so Dad wouldn't have the fantods every time I wanted to watch Lost in Space—he loathed Dr. Smith), my first cassette recorder, and my wonderful manual typewriter (part of which I had to pay for myself, but I didn't care).

But my fond Christmas memories are about visiting the relatives and playing Po-ke-no in Papa's cellar and driving around to see the decorations and lights, and baking wine biscuits and molasses cookies and almond bars and butterballs with Mom, and lying under the Christmas tree to look up through the branches or writing stories by its lights, and finding just the right thing for my mom and dad or best friend, and going to Mass and the big creche scene near the altar. The gifts received were only incidental; the best part was the celebration with people you loved.

New "Felicity" Movie Premieres Tomorrow

Looks like the American Girl people are going to start doing one as a yearly holiday event right after Thanksgiving. Seems sensible with this one as the highlight is a Yule Ball at the Governor's Palace in Williamsburg, Virginia.

I'm glad they've chosen to do "Lissie." I was rather surprised at the Samantha choice last year. Of all the girls, Samantha has always seemed the least interesting.

Preview the movie.

27 November 2005

Making Someone's Day, Trapped in Holiday Traffic, and Other Holiday Stories

We wanted to make a trip down to the flea market south of Jonesboro before the Christmas rush got to be too much. The flea market used to be off this lonely road; now there is a big shopping center down there with a BJ's (this was the first BJ's in Atlanta) and a Books-a-Million and a Super Target and many others, and many times there are cars lined up at the exit.

First we stopped at Ikea and had lunch. :-) We didn't go there just for lunch: we were looking for a certain Christmas decoration they have, six strings of eight lights each that make a "curtain." We don't want it as a Christmas decoration: in the new house the living room opens on to the foyer. We were thinking if we could put these lights in the opening to make a "curtain," Pidge might not attempt to fly into the foyer. We plan to keep the light out and he usually won't go where it's dark, but this is Pidge, after all, the crazy one.

Well, they hadn't restocked the white ones we were planning to get. In fact, they had taken down the display string of the white ones, so I guess they are truly out. Another couple was there looking for a set of the gold ones; they had bought several sets but had miscalculated the space they were trying to cover. They wanted at least one more, if not two or three.

All they had left was red and we didn't want a Christmasy color for every day. Amazingly, in the big mass of red boxes, James found a box of the gold ones and suggested we get those. To me, the gold was just as Christmasy as the red.

As I watched the other couple searching in the pile for more gold ones, I shrugged. Red's a fall color, after all, and perhaps I can wind the strings with fall leaves. We have red cushions on the dining room chairs and I want to do red curtains in the dining room windows, too. So I picked up a box of the red ones and told James they would do, and he gave the gold ones to the other couple. Merry Christmas!

Anyway, we were trying to beat the Christmas crowd, but forgot about the Thanksgiving one! We were making good time on I-75 south until just before Southlake Mall, where traffic slowed down to a near crawl. It had nothing to do with accidents; there were just a lot of cars! It took us about a half hour to go eight miles. We were glad to get off; the traffic stretched south to Macon in a solid line.

We stopped at Books-a-Million because there isn't one near us (and to use the bathroom!). James bought me something but I don't know what it was. I did see a lovely book that I would love to have, but I will try to find it for a cheaper price (it's $35). It's called St. Nicholas: A Closer Look at Christmas and is co-written by Joe Wheeler, who does the Christmas in My Heart books. It's full of wonderful photos and drawings and stories.

Did find some magazines that are almost never at any of the stores in the Atlanta metro area: Country Extra with fall photos, and the Christmas issues of Country Woman and Reminisce Extra. Annoying to have to drive over an hour for something that should be in every bookstore.

We walked around the flea market, and if Willow wasn't so chary around other dogs (including those smaller than her), we probably would have come home with a Pomeranian puppy. I was in love with a fox-faced 4-month old red-and-white girl puppy at one breeder's stall, but James fell in love with a younger male puppy at another stall: he was mostly white with brown patches over each eye. He kept romping at James and chewing on his fingers; James wisely did not hold him, or puppykins would have been transported back to Marietta between us in the car.

On the way home we detoured to Stone Mountain to visit the M.C. Twinklin's Christmas store on Route 78. We found a very nice, unlighted tree—but it was nine feet tall! All the other trees were either pre-lighted or not of the needle type we wanted. Man, are we asking for the impossible?: trying to find an artificial Frasier fir type with no lights on it and six to seven feet tall? Sigh.

First Sunday of Advent

     Blow, blow thou winter wind—
     Thou art not so unkind
          As man's ingratitude!
     Thy tooth is not so keen,
     Because thou art not seen,
          Although thy breath be rude.
Heigh ho! sing heigh ho! unto the green holly:
Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly.
     Then heigh ho! the holly!
     This life is most jolly!
     Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky—
     Thou dost not bite so nigh
          As benefits forgot!
     Though thou the waters warp,
     Thy sting is not so sharp
          As friend remembered not.
Heigh ho! sing heigh ho! unto the green holly,
Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly.
     Then heigh ho, the holly!
     This life is most jolly!
                                            . . . . . . . . . . . William Shakespeare, "The Song of the Holly"

"Tradition bestowed a holy status on the holly long before the birth of Christ. It is said that it was a holly bush from which God spoke to Moses.

"Many legends speak of holly and its association with Jesus. One ancient story is that wherever Jesus walked, holly grew out of his footprints; witnessing this miraculous growth, the animals vowed never to disturb the holy plant."

November 27 is the earliest day that the first Sunday of Advent can fall upon. Early in the Christian calendar, Advent lasted 40 days, similar to Lent, and began on November 15, although some churches counted Martinmas (November 11) as the first day of Advent.

26 November 2005

A Christmasy Saturday

Well, between packing paperback books (I have seven XeroxTM boxes full from two bookcases, and still have a larger bookcase to go) and washing two loads of clothing and packing up two clear storage boxes, anyway.

Anyway, we went checking out Christmas trees again; there's a lovely one at Hobby Lobby, but it's pre-lighted. We have our own lights—and not only is it pre-lighted, but it's white lights. Sorry, no. I know the original Christmas trees had candles, technically "white" light, but I was brought up on multicolor and I like multicolor. If only we could find a plain tree that looked like that. The needles are very realistic.

We also went to JoAnn to use a 50 percent off coupon (I wanted some of the new DMC "light effects" floss and they had two different collections, pastel and jewel) and found the cutest Christmas deer. All the Christmas stuff is already 60 percent off, so it cost nearly nothing. It's about 15 inches tall and plaid with black button eyes, brown antlers with aged sleigh bells on them, and a "pine garland" marked with cones and berries around its neck.

It told me his name was "Rusty." :-) I didn't argue with him.

We watched our first two Christmas specials tonight: we had been quoting from "Silly But It's Fun," the Good Life (Good Neighbors) Christmas ep already, so we saw that and the All Creatures Great and Small episode "Merry Gentlemen." We both love the gentle humor.

25 November 2005

There is something about saying, "We always do this," which helps keep the years together. Time is such an elusive thing that if we keep on meaning to do something interesting, but never do it, year would follow year with no special thoughtfulness being expressed in making gifts, surprises, charming table settings, and familiar, favorite food. Tradition is a good gift intended to guard the best gifts.
                                                                         . . . . . . . . . . . Edith Schaeffer


I'm back. Ohboy. Mostly bought storage stuff (ended up at JoAnn twice because I was sleepy enough that I didn't realize that 50 percent off those large clear storage boxes with another 20 percent off was a Real Deal, so I only got 10 percent off extra on most of them). Bought strings of blue lights at Lowe's.

Was bad and bought Christmas books; one is funny and one is a collection of excerpts from Victorian magazines. I did look through a volume about Christmas in the South and was convulsed by the chapter where the author talked about how designing magazines published in the north talked about decorating your Christmas tree with candy canes, cookies, and other food goodies—since obviously they didn't live in the land of palmetto bugs and ants nearly all year round!

I didn't run into any really big crowds because I didn't go within even winking distance of a mall, or anyplace that sold clothes {shudder} or shoes {double shudder}. Just went to JoAnn, Lowe's, Media Play, Costco (for gas), Barnes & Noble, and Eckerd's.

I did buy one totally stupid thing: the November 28 issue of People.

But the picture of Hugh Laurie is soooooo nice. :-)

Well, I'm Off...

...which is probably what most people think I am after getting up at this hour. I'm off to JoAnn...or maybe just to Lowe's...

24 November 2005

Thanksgiving Mural

Create a mural with great expertise;
Paint scenes depicting Thanksgiving and Peace.

Start with a mountain, majestic and grand;
Drape it in mist like the palm of a hand.

Sketch in the bear, the eagle, the deer;
Wind little streamlets, icy and clear.

Plunge shaggy cliffs straight down as they go
Or drop a worn path toward the village below.

Show me a valley bursting its seams;
Paint in the harvest; lace it with streams.

Dapple with yellows; touch it with red;
Rustle the wings of wild geese overhead.

Find me a fence, split-rails asunder;
Nestle the crops from chill winds and thunder.

Dig me a well; construct a cool fountain;
Plant me some maples to color my mountain.

Place a stone seat by the mural and then
Teach me to share God's blessings with men.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Alice Leedy Mason

23 November 2005

Benjamin Franklin Speaks Out About Our National Bird

"For my part, I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen representative of our country; he is a bird of bad moral character...For in truth, the turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird withal, a true original native of America. Eagles have been found in all countries, but the turkey is peculiar to ours;...he is besides (thought a little vain and silly, it is true), a bird of courage, who would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British Guard who should presume to invade his farmyard with a red coat on."

Traditions Change

Monday night I taped a couple of Thanksgiving specials, one from the regular series on Food Network, Unwrapped, and the other The Secret Life of Thanksgiving. Both, but especially the first, talked about traditional Thanksgiving foods and what (and what not) would have been eaten by the Pilgrims in 1621 in Plymouth, Massachusetts. (For instance, they wouldn't have had applesauce—no apple trees yet—or traditional bread—no wheat (although they might have had corn pone, a recipe learned from the Native people)—nor many other crop foods that had not been planted yet.)

As they went through the list of "traditional foods," however, you noticed, especially if you were a reader of older books, even as recent as the 1940s, that there are traditional foods for Thanksgiving that are no longer being eaten.

For instance, in every older story about Thanksgiving, you can usually find mashed/creamed turnips. They, and other root vegetables, were a staple of many a fall and winter meal in New England and the Midwest. It wasn't until people started canning vegetables that people were able to have greens in the wintertime and only very recently that there were green vegetables all year round thanks to refrigeration and faster shipping methods. Produce you would have found in a grocery store at Thanksgiving time even post World War II is very different from what you find in the supermarket today.

Another very popular Thanksgiving food that doesn't seem to show up on the "traditional list" any longer are creamed onions. These also show up in meal menus from stories more than fifty years old. Gladys Taber mentions them, or the little pearl onions, in her Stillmeadow books and it is one of the vegetables served in Gail Rock's 1947-set The Thanksgiving Treasure.

Neither of the specials even mentioned butternut squash, although it still comes with Thanksgiving dinner at most New England restaurants. I wasn't surprised, given the disappearance of squash pie from the supermarkets up there last November, although mashed butternut squash does show up on many of the cooking specials in the winter with a new twist, as a soup.

The one Thanksgiving food tradition that has apparently been around for years but which I had never seen until I moved south was something called "green bean casserole." I'd read about such an animal, but had never seen them in evidence on a New England table. If you saw "string beans" on the Thanksgiving menu they were served straight.

Creamed Onion Recipe

Mashed Turnips

Here's a squash pie recipe; it has a little milder flavor than pumpkin.

St. Clement's Day

"Once reckoned the first day of winter in England. It marks apparently one of the stages in the progress of the winter feasts towards its present solstitial date...[i]n Staffordshire children used to go round to the village houses begging for gifts...[h]ere is one of the Staffordshire "clemencing" songs:—
'Clemany! Clemany! Clemany mine!
A good red apple and a pint of wine,
Some of your mutton and some of your veal,
If it is good, pray give me a deal;
If it is not, pray give me some salt.
Butler, butler, fill your bowl;
If thou fill'st it of the best,
The Lord'll send your soul to rest;
If thou fill'st it of the small,
Down goes butler, bowl and all.
Pray, good mistress, send to me
One for Peter, one for Paul,
One for Him who made us all;
Apple, pear, plum, or cherry,
Any good thing to make us merry;
A bouncing buck and a velvet chair,
Clement comes but once a year;
Off with the pot and on with the pan,
A good red apple and I'll be gone.'"
                    . . . . . Clement Miles, Christmas Customs and Traditions

20 November 2005

Stir-Up Sunday

Traditionally, the British plum pudding should be made on this date and then stored away until Christmas. The sobriquet came not only from stirring up the batter for the plum pudding that will then be steamed in a cloth bag—and everyone in the family must give the pudding a stir, and stir in the correct direction, or there will be bad luck!—but from the Collect (opening prayer) once traditionally used in the Anglican church.
A term often used for the day referred to as "the Sunday next before Advent" by a rubric in the 1662 BCP. This phrase was then used in the 1892 and 1928 American Prayer Books as a title for the day which had previously been designated simply as "The Twenty-fifth Sunday after Trinity," which was the last Sunday before the season of Advent. The term comes from the opening words of the collect of the day in the 1549 and later Prayer Books, "Stir-up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."
"The Christmas Pudding"
Into the basin
put the plums,
Stir-about, stir-about,

Next the good
white flour comes,
Stir-about, stir-about,

Sugar and peel
and eggs and spice,
Stir-about, stir-about,

Mix them and fix them
and cook them twice,
Stir-about, stir-about,

. . . . . from A Treasury of Christmas

Some Stir-Up Sunday links:

BBC's Food Website

Woodlands Junior School's Stir-Up Sunday page

15 November 2005

Old Advent

The original Advent season was 40 days long, like Lent, and involved fasting and prayer, and thus would have started today. It was Pope Gregory (he of the Gregorian Calendar) that shortened the period to four weeks. There's a nice overview of the season here:

Advent and Preparation for Christmas

13 November 2005

Christmas, Cloudy Days, and Other Wanderings

James had to work today, so I was on my own. I had to do the usual fetching-some-milk (and a newspaper) errand. I noticed that they have restocked the Christmas tree that we liked at BJ's. This is a seven-foot-high artificial Frasier fir (basically a larger version of the tree we have now). They were out last week, but they have more. It's a consideration...

It was what would have been a typical dreary November day, cloudy and with a bit of a breeze, in New England had it not had a Southern overtone and been so warm, about 20°F higher than your typical gloomy pre-Thanksgiving day, the kind that always makes me think of the exchange from Little Women:
"November is the most disagreeable month in the whole year," said Margaret, standing at the window one dull afternoon, looking out at the frost-bitten garden.

"That's the reason I was born in it," observed Jo, pensively, quite unconscious of the blot on her nose.

"If something very pleasant should happen now, we should think it a delightful month," said Beth, who took a hopeful view of everything, even November.
Beth's words about pleasant things were particular appropo since I cheered up a bit when I arrived at Town Center Mall (especially after I found a good parking space). I guess I'm like many women that going shopping is a happy activity (rather than an ordeal that fills men with gloom), although unlike many women I hate shopping for clothes or shoes. (Talk about something positively gloomy.) It was energizing to walk through the bright and lively movement, although avoiding the strollers made it a bit dodgy.

I went to Hallmark for their Holiday Open House; not much of a "do" except for having some treats out, but they had peppermint bark, which is too good for words: a layer of dark chocolate topped with a thin layer of white chocolate, studded with broken peppermint candy cane bits. Mint and chocolate and crunch all in a sweet mouthful. Then I strolled to Waldenbooks and back. Even though it is not Thanksgiving yet, Christmas shopping is already going full steam and kids are queued up to see Santa Claus. It still always surprises me that Santa arrives so early in the Georgia malls. To me he's out of place (or perhaps that's out of time).

Also went to Media Play since it was triple points day and hit a bonanza: I saw a book on sale that I had really loved reading last year and quickly snatched it up for my friend Sherrye. Plus while wandering about the used CDs I blinked: they had something called "Smooth Yule" (cool jazz arrangements by folks like Kitaro, Kevin Eubanks, and Kenny G) for only 50¢. Remainder perhaps, but I played it for the rest of the afternoon and it quite fit my mood, a bit mellow and a bit melancholy all at the same time. There had been a break in the clouds about that time, but it clouded up again, and although it was only 3:30, the world had a twilight feel. Cars had their headlights on and you could see lights in the windows of homes glowing as if it was going on toward sunset.

I headed down John Ward Road to pick up something for supper and was about to pass by one of the housing developments popping up everywhere; this one is the usual upscale version, Ellis Farms, starting at the mid-400s. I had spotted the style of the homes from the street and just had to turn in, and was further enchanted while driving around: had I money to be totally, insensibly insane with, here's where I would buy a house. They resemble those wonderful country homes you see in old English dramas, with a fieldstone front, rustic looking shutters, and double garage doors that look like the original ones that opened like stable doors. While they are not huge, they are sizable homes, and the air is so old-fashioned that I want to walk in one and make sure there is one dark-paneled room full of bookshelves stuffed with leather-spined volumes and furnish the place with solid old leather chairs, claw-footed tables, and hunting prints on the wall. (I didn't stop at the show home; I wanted to imagine that the theme continued inside, with solid mahogany-reproduction doors, transoms, china doorknobs and the like. Imagination is probably better in this case!)

Oh, and then I want to dress them out for Christmas, with lots of evergreens garlands and swags and red velvet bows, kissing balls and "mistletoes," cornucopias and kugels and Dresdens on the tree. In that dusky light, the houses looked so perfect for decorations of green wreaths and scarlet bows and single white candles in the windows that they could almost be a movie set, just waiting for the snow machine to begin, or even a misty dream like Brigadoon.

It was a cheering way to end a day out.

12 November 2005

Christmas at Lithia

A little disappointed...there were not as many vendors this year. The gymnasium is usually chock full.

And the "cow lady" wasn't there. I had just about convinced myself to buy the matching set of salt and pepper shakers.

But we did finish our Christmas shopping. All I have to do is get James something.

11 November 2005

From the Library of Congress

poppyToday in History: November 11

I remember school exercises each November 11, which was by then Veterans Day and had been since after World War II, but my parents still called it "Armistice Day." Each of the grades would present something, the younger children often singing all the service songs as well as "You're a Grand Old Flag," "God Bless America," and "America." One of the older children would always recite "In Flanders Fields," being careful to instruct them not to lapse into sing-song and thus separate "we throw" and "the torch" into two unnatural units, that sad verse being proclaimed in a childish treble. If you were performing you would come to school in your best clothing: suits on the boys, Sunday dresses on the girls. The rest of us sat in corderoys or heavy plaid skirts, long sleeved shirts and raglan-sleeved sweaters, trying not to wiggle in the hard auditorium chairs. The piano would be wheeled onstage and we would rise, the music teacher would play "The Star Spangled Banner" and then we would say the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag and the exercises would begin.
In Flanders Fields
By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army

IN FLANDERS FIELDS the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
I remember buying poppies when I was a child; poppy sellers appeared on the streets of downtown Providence, but I haven't seen a lot of them in years. A few years ago I saw a poppy seller and bought one, but haven't seen any since.

Christmas is Coming...Martinmas Day

Typically celebrated by eating a goose, which means the song would be apt:
"Christmas is coming
The goose is getting fat,
Please to put a penny in the old man's hat..."
In England many centuries back, Martinmas Day was considered a harbinger for Advent, which was 40 days in length originally and began on November 15.

For a great book about Christmas customs, Clement Miles' Christmas Customs and Traditions is worthwhile. This is a scholarly tome and may not be everyone's cup of tea. What makes the volume more fascinating is that any recent copy is a reprint of the original 1912 edition, so Miles' view of Christmas is back from when the Christmas tree in a majority of American homes was a new custom and the "jolly old saint" alternatively has his name spelt as Santa Klaus. Even better, different countries still held their old customs. Scots still "first footed" on Hogmanay, English farmers still wassailed their apple trees, Germans still considered St. Stephen's Day as devoted to horses, and [sadly] the cruel custom of killing the wren was still practiced.

Miles begins with the Christian practices of the holiday, beginning with sacred music and continuing through devotion and drama. However, mindful that most of our holiday customs derive from the pagan, he devotes the rest of the book, the majority, to those practices, covering pre-Christian customs and then continuing through the old feast calendar, from All-Hallows (All Saints) Day through Martinmas, the saints' days such as Andrew, Clement, and Catherine, and so to St. Nicholas Day, St. Lucia, and the Christmastide holidays themselves, not just Christmas Eve and Day, but those afterwards, through Epiphany and Candlemas.

10 November 2005

North Georgia Craft Lovers: Christmas at Lithia This Weekend

This is a wonderful crafts show: the vendors assemble in booths or setups in the school foyer, hallways, and cafeteria. Everything from dolls to special sauces and foods to wooden crafts to clothing can be found. You can purchase food in the snack area.

Lithia Springs High School is at 2520 E. County Line Road, Lithia Springs, Georgia 30122. You take exit 41, Lee Road, off Interstate 20. If you are coming on I-20 West, you turn left, I-20 East, right. Drive a little over a mile and turn right on E. County Line Road.

There are usually signs that say "craft show" or "Christmas at Lithia" on the exits that point the way.

If the folks from Pampered Chef are there, be sure to buy a sliced Granny Smith apple with caramel sauce on top. Ordinarily I'm not fond of caramel sauce, but it tastes super on the apples!

(By the way, it isn't just "Christmas shit" pardon my language. Yes, there are lots of "too cute for words" children's clothing and stuff like that, but there are also useful things for kitchens, baths, etc. If you're looking for a nice Christmas gift, this may be the place.)

(Which reminds me that I need to dig up my cute "Indian Corn" pin that I bought there last year out of my jewelry box.)

08 November 2005

The Lights of Life Return!

Life University, the chiropractic college, will resume their annual "Lights of Life" display on the campus after a one year hiatus. Here's the press release (it's a Microslop Word document).

Here's my Lights of Life photo tour.

06 November 2005

Christmas Shopping

We ended up going back to Ikea today. No, we weren't obsessed (although I had to admit it was a good workout; between Ikea and Borders I racked up 8400 steps on the pedometer). As I lay dozing in bed this morning, an idea formed. And when James woke up, I asked him, "Remember the [interesting object] we bought at Ikea yesterday? Do you think [person we buy a Christmas gift for] would like it?"

He thought a minute. "Yes!"

So between trips to Borders (30 percent off coupons ended today), we went back to Ikea and ended up buying several [interesting objects] for various people. James also bought me a stuffed dog that looks remarkably like Louie the yellow Lab in the comic strip "Overboard."

And now...gulp!...the big news! After fifteen years of marriage I seem to have worn James down. Not only did he buy a Christmas CD (Jethro Tull) last week, bringing his grand total of Christmas CDs up to five, but today he actually urged me to buy a pair of five-candle candoliers. They're actually quite nice: small and solid, with white "candles" and a red base.

He also wanted to look at some lights we had seen: white stars hung vertically in strands, six or eight strands to a unit. The new house will have a living room open to the foyer and they might be useful to keep Pigwidgeon the daredevil out of forbidden territory. Unfortunately all they had left in the strands were red lights. There were at least four other people looking for the same lights.

Between two trips to Borders and the trip to Ikea, we have pretty much finished our Christmas shopping. I even found something for myself, a copy of The Best of James Herriot on the remainder table. These are abridged (it's a Reader's Digest publication) selections from each of the five Herriot books (most of the selections from the pre-war stories). I have all the Herriot books, but the draw on this is that there are not only color inserts of photos of the real Herriot areas, but the stories are annotated explaining and showing bygone things like the medical instruments that vets in the 1930s used, and what the farm implements, housekeeping tools, and various farm animals looked like. I love annotated books; I love to learn new things.

02 November 2005

A British Autumn

Autumn Time at the BBC. Includes recipes and games.


Today is All Souls Day

It was the custom many centuries ago for people, especially children, to go from house to house on All Saints Day or All Souls Day singing "souling songs" and receiving for their efforts "soul cakes."

Reading of these customs makes it sound as if it was an old version of "trick or treating," and indeed many historians trace the origins of trick or treat back to children going a'souling.

It was also once a holy day of obligation, like All Saints Day before it.

01 November 2005

Showing Their Colors

The leaves here have been so slowly turning color that it's almost as if it wasn't happening. While the saplings and short young trees have been exploding in red, orange and yellow, the large trees haven't been in a hurry.

Today, driving home, however, I noticed that the larger trees seemed to be converting to fall color rapidly. Part of this may have been from the temps in the 30s we had a few nights ago, but I think it was more because it was overcast, the sky a high, light grey. I have noticed this even in New England with the trees at their "glowingest" of scarlet, melon, and gold—I remember the Columbus Day weekend we went to Lake George, and it rained and rained, but nevertheless the trees seemed to be alight from within. One maple tree at a rest area had the most breathtaking crimson leaves I had ever seen. They never seem so bright on sunny days.

Perhaps it's because the trees have to compete with the too-brilliant sunlight and the bright blue of a fall sky, for certainly the trees didn't appear yesterday as colorful as they did today with a monochrome backdrop. Each maple in the neighborhood had at least one side that was bright with red or yellow shading into orange.


There is an elusive quality about November sunlight. The Connecticut hills are beautiful with a special beauty. At night, little faraway houses, never seen in summer, suddenly pierce the dark with their lamps. Fields of winter wheat appear, visible now the leaves are down. All the browns, a thousand browns, come out. Rust-brown, sand-brown, topaz-brown, and the faded gold of harvest fields. The contour of the land is evident, folds and hills and valleys. The sky over all is soft and hazy, and there is a feeling in the air that winter is coming. The shadows look different, sloping across the pale grass. This is a peaceful, serene land, and never quite so peaceful as now, with the crops in, wood piled high, houses snugged down, brooks running slow with leaves. The days grow shorter. Dusk comes before we are finished with the day.
                                            . . . . . . . . . . . Gladys Taber, The Book of Stillmeadow

If you love the country, or dream about living in the country, there is no better person to read than Gladys Taber and it's worth your while to hunt up her Stillmeadow nonfiction, even those books not in print and obtained from independent dealers. Her writing is lyrical. (And, no mistake, this is not rose-colored country living: there are broken pipes, insect infestations, uneven floors, misbehaving furnaces and crises aplenty, but beauty shines through at unexpected bends.)

31 October 2005

Stories for the Day

"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"

Visit the real Sleepy Hollow.

"Rip Van Winkle"

"The Monkey's Paw"

"An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge"

"The Interlopers"

"A Spectral Collie" (not a great, but everyone knows I'm a Lassie fan...)

This is really suspense, not spooky, but it's my favorite short story along with "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty": "The Most Dangerous Game"

Incidentally, the site all these stories are on, Classic Reader.com, has a super selection of older short stories and books, including more stories by H.H. Munro ("Saki"), whom I love.

Padding in On Little Cat Feet

It was a perfect fall morning: actually some daylight out there now that Daylight Freakin' Savings Time is over. There was a light mist in low areas and as you approached the river, a great bank of mist overlaid its length with a ragged edge at the top as it interfaced with the air. As you approach it, it is white, but as you get closer and then go through, it turns a wispy grey and the air is definitely more chilled.

Wore my cat mask and white gloves into the building hoping to get a laugh out of the usual security guard, but she wasn't there. Last year half of everyone was in costume and now I'm the lone holdout here (and I don't usually get into this stuff). The folks in Facilities and Construction were more fun.

Oh, well, if I get sick of it, I can take the cat mask off and still be in costume: Famous Movie Title with the "N" Missing.

You know: Me in Black. :-)

Fun special on HGTV last night called Extreme Halloween about how people decorate their homes. One couple has a big old house with a permanent horror museum set up and then on Halloween they dress up and decorate the rooms differently and have a haunted house. Another lady does a display aimed at children from two through five: spooky but not scary. My favorite was the couple who carve a giant pumpkin into a Halloween display. It was pretty cool.

"An’ the Gobble-uns’ll Git You..."

Little Orphant Annie by James Whitcomb Riley.

Who was Little Orphant Annie? From Indiana University's James Whitcomb Riley site:
The poem we familiarly call "Little Orphant Annie" was first printed in the Indianapolis Journal on November 15, 1885 as "The Elf Child." It appeared under that title in Character Sketches The Boss Girl, a Christmas Story and other Sketches published by the Bowen-Merrill Company in 1886. Orphaned during the American Civil War, Annie, whose name was actually Mary Alice "Allie" Smith, came to stay with the Riley family in Greenfield during the winter of 1862. She performed household chores in exchange for her room and board. Allie enchanted the Riley children with tales, warning of the goblins below the stairs. When next published Riley altered the title to "Little Orphant Allie," but a typesetting error turned Allie into Annie. Riley contacted his publisher about a correction, but upon being informed that the edition was selling extremely well, he decided to leave the error intact. Allie grew up, married a fellow named Grey, and moved to the Indiana town of Philadelphia. When she was 74 she visited the Greenfield home. It was not until she was in her 70's that she knew that she was the heroine of Riley's poem.

30 October 2005

The Turnip King?

When you're watching your jack o'lantern glow on the porch or table this year, you might remember that the original "jack" was actually a turnip! The legend of the jack o'lantern comes from an old Irish story in which a man named Jack thrice tricked the Devil who had come to claim his soul. When Jack finally died the Devil got his due and sentenced Jack to wander the earth forever with a lantern made from a turnip. This is supposedly why you would often see eerie green light on a moon-dark night flickering in a swamp (it was actually caused by fungi which glow in the dark).

When the Irish came to America, the light in the jack o'lantern was transferred to the pumpkin. But in Great Britain turnips are still used and the classic scarecrow, like Worzel Gummidge of book and television fame, still has a head made from a large turnip.

28 October 2005

Christmas Music Year Round!

Ever just need some Christmas music? ("We need a little Christmas, right this very minute...")

Live365 Internet Radio - Thousands of Free Online Radio Stations

Plays on Real Player and, I suspect, Windows Media Player.

Just some of the stations:

Christmas Broadband

Christmas Notes

Christmas Radio.com

A Shiny New Christmas

Christmas at Planet Mike

Old-Time Radio Christmas (with Fibber McGee and Molly, My Favorite Husband, The Jack Benny Show, etc.)

Beautiful Christmas (Remember "beautiful music" stations with "the 36 Hours of Christmas?—this is supposed to duplicate it)

WinterScapes (emphasizes Celtic and New Age)

And since you might want music a little closer to the season we're in now <g>

Halloween Radio

27 October 2005

Stories, Music and More

This is a site I just found, SantaSearch. There's a big collection of Christmas stories under "Santa's Library."

22 October 2005

We Saw Our First Christmas Lights Tonight!

No, I'm not kidding, although I think it might be a case of they never took their Christmas lights down. But we did pass a house that had white lights and blinking colored lights on their bushes outside—and they weren't Hallowe'en lights, either.

We tried to go to M.C. Twinklins, a Christmas store, but the silly place closed at six. It didn't look very big, anyway, and I think we found, totally by accident, a new Christmas tree last night. It was at B.J.'s and made just the same way as "Sara," our present tree, except it's seven feet tall.

A Christmas newsgroup I'm on talks about a place called Bronners, but it's in Michigan. Now there's a Christmas store!

21 October 2005

Friday Five

Don't Fall For It

1. What do you like or dislike about autumn?

I love autumn. It's my favorite season. It's when the weather gets cool, but not cold, and I love the colors of the turning leaves. I love the scent of burning leaves as long as they're not too close. I love the beautiful blue skies and the wispy white cirrus clouds. I love the fall foods: gingerbread and hot chocolate and pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread. I love the fall holidays, even Hallowe'en, which has never been my favorite, but it's a fun dress-up day. I love honoring the brave men and women who have given of their lives to serve their country on Veterans Day. I love the reunion and cameraderie (and the turkey and butternut squash!) of Thanksgiving, I love reading about the customs of St. Nicholas Day and St. Lucy's Day even if we here don't observe them.

2. Have you raked leaves into a pile just to jump in them?

No. We never had enough leaves at our house to do that and I wouldn't jump in a pile of leaves from our yard; it probably has cat poop and mosquitoes in it.

3. Have you ever carved a pumpkin and how did it turn out?

No. My mom didn't make pumpkin pie and wouldn't have wanted to waste the innards of the pie. Besides, if you put a pumpkin out in our neighborhood, the stupid jerk kids would have it spattered all over the sidewalk in a couple of days.

4. Have you ever eaten anything made from pumpkins other than pie?

Yes, pumpkin bread and pumpkin muffins. The pumpkin bread at Bob Evans restaurant (they sell it in loaves, too) is superb!

5. Where is a good spot to see the leaves change color where you live?

Not around here, maybe, except in the park nearby. It's lovely up in Chattanooga and up at Helen in the North Georgia mountains, too; I hear it's nice at Brasstown Bald and in Blairsville, too.

20 October 2005

That Plastic World We [Have to] Live In

While searching for places that sell artificial Christmas trees in the area, I found a link to this story, "Real" Christmas Trees a Falling Trend , about Christmas tree growers' scorn for artificial ones and their purchasers.

I love real trees. I used to even love the wonderfully lopsided trees we got in the later 50's and early 60's, before they started to routinely "shave" firs and spruces to get them into that perfect cone shape. It was always a challenge to fit the worst bare spot up against the wall or in front of the window where it would be noticed less and artfully drape lesser bare spots with extra ornaments and a large quantity of silver icicles (forever known, as in many other homes, as "tinsel").

My folks quit getting a real tree when I was about eight or nine, citing the exorbitant prices of fresh ones at that time. What they didn't tell me was that it was also because of my allergy.

I realized this the one year we had a real tree, provided by some friends after we had a run of bad luck. It was a beautiful frasier fir and when James walked into the house he took a deep breath and sighed, "Now that smells like Christmas."

Three hours after the tree entered our apartment, my nose swelled up and remained that way for the next two and a half weeks. Eventually I started coughing and ended up with bronchitis.

So when the tree growers complain that artificial trees are "sucking the spirit out of Christmas" and dismiss all buyers of such with distaste, they ought to remember that it's better to have a fake tree than sit wheezing in the doctor's office waiting to be prescribed $$$ worth of medicine.

19 October 2005

Small Wishes

It's still been pretty warm; in fact they think we might break the record today and it could be 87°F. At least it's been pretty cool at night, although it was only in the high fifties last night as opposed to in the forties Sunday and Monday night. They're saying the real chill will come for the weekend.

I hope it gets cold again for Halloween. I really would like to wear my cat costume, but it has long sleeves and is too hot for a warm day.

18 October 2005

Well, That's Stating It a Bit Depressingly

You Are Changing Leaves

Pretty, but soon dead.

How about "You dress the tree with a blaze of color before it sleeps to awaken refreshed the next spring?"

Ho Ho Whole?

More interesting-looking Christmas books:

This one you apparently either love or you hate, as the author traces pagan practices that added to the legend of Santa Claus:

Santa Claus: Last of the Wild Men

Don't know the contents of this volume, but everyone seems to love it:

The Story of Santa Claus


Saint Nicholas

The Real St. Nicholas

Plus Jeff Guinn has done a sequel to his charming Autobiography of Santa Claus, starring Layla (Mrs. Claus) in Mrs. Claus Saves Christmas.

And I still heartily recommend Britney Ryan's wonderful modern-yet-old-fashioned The Legend of Holly Claus, which reads like an old Frank Stockton or L. Frank Baum story and is accompanied by the most beautiful pen-and-ink illustrations.

14 October 2005

A Long Time Coming

Looks like summer is holding on with her clenched teeth everywhere: I was skimming the fall foliage boards yesterday and it turns out the leaves haven’t yet peaked up in mid-Vermont and New Hampshire and the temps are still too warm. (At the moment they’re being drenched.) Most new Englanders and eastern New Yorkers take advantage of the Columbus Day long weekend to go up there for some “leaf peeping,” since this is when the color ordinarily peaks in that area. One person talked about going up Mount Washington—where the winter winds blow with blizzard force almost constantly and it’s been known to get to -60°F—looking forward to some really cool temperatures and it was 62°F . He was pretty hacked!

The weather report this morning talked about how unseasonable our weather here has been; that the temperature has barely dipped under 60°F and then only twice where the average for this time of year is 53°F. We still have our air conditioning on, which is unheard of and annoying, since the bill will drop to a quarter of what it is now when we finally shut down for the season.

Of course there’ll be no respite once the heat has to go on: they’re talking about a 50 percent rise in natural gas prices this year. Thank God it isn’t electric heat!

It was, at least, chilly this morning. I’m dying for some nice crisp fall air, the kind that makes you feel alive and puts the heart back into you.

12 October 2005

Upcoming Christmas Books That Sound Great

Given that I love history, One Christmas in Washington sounds excellent. I've never read any of Bercuson's other work, however. Maybe this will be at Sam's.

Now, Christmas on Television sounds right up my alley. I wonder if she will just cover modern shows or all of them, like Lassie and specials like Amahl and the Night Visitors? Diane Werts did some great articles about Remember WENN during the series' run. But, yow, look at the price!

And there's American Christmases as well.

10 October 2005

Fall Lanterns

I have been in love with Chinese lanterns since I was a small girl and could only refer to them as "those cute orange flowers that look like baby pumpkins." This is why I was so delighted when we went into the Michael's store in Warwick, RI, and found not only cattails but the beautiful orangy lanterns as well. I had never seen them in either Michael's or JoAnn in Georgia. We packed some other fall flowers that we bought, but carefully brought the cattails and Chinese lanterns home on the shelf at the back of the car. I finally found a lovely terra cotta vase for them a few weeks back, but the grouping still looked a bit empty.

While I was looking around JoAnn today, I came upon a floral stem that someone had left in the scrapbooking supplies: Chinese lanterns! Sure enough, this year they had a few scant stems. Theirs were colored a bit like a candle flame, reddish at the bottom shading to yellow at the tip, but still acceptable.

By the way, I never knew until a few years ago that cattails were Biblical. Those "bulrushes" that Moses was left in were cattails.

Here's more about Chinese lanterns—I didn't know they were perennials.