Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Carol Tag

My sister-out-law, Shelley, tagged me weeks ago. I've been thinking about how to respond since, but haven't taken the time to put this down.

I really enjoy Christmas music. There's very little I don't like, so finding 5 favorites is difficult, but here's the top 5 (at least tonight).

5). Anything from Peggy Lee's Christmas Carousel album, but especially Don't Forget to Feed the Reindeer. This album was an integral part of Christmas in our house when I was a child. One of my favorite memories is my mother singing "The Tree" ("We're going to get a Christmas tree" is the first line) as we headed out to get our tree.
4). Do You Hear What I Hear - I think this was one my elementary school music teacher's favorites since we sang it every year.
3). Away in the Manger - the alternate version with tune by William J. Kilpatrick.
2). God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen - Bare Naked Ladies and Sarah MacLachlan
1). Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer - but only the version by Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians (otherwise this song is trite and overdone). What sets apart this version are the sound effects. As a kid I worked really hard at duplicating those sounds, and when I think of favorite Christmas songs this is the first that comes to mind.

Favorite Hanukkah Songs - Hanukkah Blessings by Bare Naked Ladies, and Light One Candle by Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary.

Little Drummer Boy makes my least favorite list, although I do get a smile when I remember that my alma mater gets a portion of the royalties - one of the authors was an alum.

A note about the picture above - this house is near the grocery store we shop at most often. There aren't many people who go all out in their decorating near us. Lights in the bushes in front of the house, greenery and wreathes, and a few with those blow up characters, but very few people go all out with their decorations. When we first bought our house the people whose yard is pictured above decorated the "gum drop" bushes just visible at the back of the photo. In the years since the display has grown. This year they have 5 or 6 animated items, as well as blinking lights in the "gum drop bushes" and, as I discovered when I stopped to take a picture earlier tonight, speakers playing Christmas music.

Kitchen Dance

I don't write much poetry, and haven't written a haiku since it was required in school. This jumped into my head tonight while I was finishing dessert and making cranberry sauce, and Amy was chopping veggies for the stuffing. I couldn't resist sharing it. Dessert tomorrow will be the bittersweet chocolate cake pictured here.

two cooks small kitchen
holiday preparations
dance without touching

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A Favorite Book Remembered

I've always been fascinated by the courage and tenacity of people who defy the laws of the land, and the expectations of those around them to help other people - whether it's those who rescued Jews from the Nazis, or who helped escaped slaves in the pre-Civil War US. I've been reading a book titled Bound for Canaan, which is a history of the Underground Railroad. This morning it brought to mind a book I haven't thought of in quite a while.

The book is Thee, Hannah by Marguerite de Angeli. It's the story of a Quaker girl in Philadelphia shortly before the Civil War. Hannah longs for material things she doesn't have and that her family doesn't believe are needed - frilly dresses, and fancy bonnets. The book came to mind because the section of Bound for Canaan I was reading was about Isaac Hopper, who was not born Quaker but who joined the Society of Friends later in life - adopting the modes of dress common to Quakers of the time including wearing a "broad-brimmed Quaker-style hat". That phrase, brought to mind this much loved book of my youth, and now I can't get it out of my head.

I remember the story of Hannah's desire for fancy clothes and I remember being fascinated by the language. The thees and thous which the family used seemed both quaint and fascinating. A childhood friend was Quaker, and I remember being surprised that her family didn't use thee and thou in their speech. Although they made up for that by calling their father "Father" instead of "Daddy" or "Dad".

I remember that the edition we had a hardcover which was covered in dark blue cloth. Inside were the most exquisite pictures (the picture above came from - the book is still in print). What I don't remember is the part of the story that deals with Hannah's family helping an escaped slave. I'm going to have to dig through the box of children's books I have at home and see if this book is there, so I can read it again. And then I will, probably have to share it with my nephews.

Goodbye Pumpkin

In a moment of optimism early in October I bought a pumpkin. I had gone apple picking with my college roommate, and having heard that pumpkins were going to be scarce this year, leapt at the opportunity to pick up a beauty at the orchard (not sure whether the folks who run the orchard grew them or if they came from some nearby farm).

Life being what it's been this fall (busy, busy, busy) I never did get around to turning that beautiful pumpkin into an eerie jack-o-lantern. The pumpkin sat in the garage for about a month, then took up residence in an empty spot in the perennial bed just outside the garage door. And there it sat while I was off traveling - first to Minnesota, then the roadtrip to Arkansas, and finally to New Jersey. I was quite startled to return home and find it still intact. Not a spec of rot, no tooth marks, nothing - just one happy little pumpkin sitting in the flower bed nestled up against the lavender. I'd expected the critters who inhabit the wet lands behind our house to make quick work of the pumpkin, but for almost a month they ignored it.

Until this weekend that is. Over the weekend the critters apparently discovered the appetizer in the flower bed. When I left to head into work Saturday morning (yes work on a Saturday) I noticed a fairly sizeable bite had been taken out of the pumpkin. After making a mental note to dispose of it I headed off to work. Sunday when I headed out to corral some of the leaves still littering the yard, I discovered that some messy eater had been at the pumpkin. Most of the pumpkin was still intact, but the bite near the top was considerably larger than it had been the day before. And even more startling the stem was gone. I may yet find the stem tucked under the lavender.

Given that we really don't want to attract critters to our house and yard (anyone know a foolproof way to discourage skunks?) it was time for the pumpkin to go. Since most of it was still intact, and I was dressed for yard work, I picked it up, carried it to the edge of the yard (small cliff into the wetlands) and gave a heave. The pumpkin sailed quite gracefully through the air before bounding down the hill. It split partway down leaving a trail as it continued to roll until it landed at the base of a small tree.

I haven't looked to see if it's still there, but I hope the critters enjoy it.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Auntie Time

While on the extended road trip I got to spend time with my youngest two nephews. N and I spent a morning together including a trip to the playground near my parents house. He was most interested in the sand box. He tested almost all of the toys - even trying to fix a couple of broken ones, and buried a couple.

He wasn't too interested in interacting with the other children who were there. He much preferred those spots which were empty. We had a great time, and Grammy provided pancakes for lunch - what could be better!

During the weekend between the two training classes in New Jersey, I spent the now traditional weekend at my sister's keeping D entertained while his Mom worked on the many batches of biscotti she makes for Christmas, and his Tama was busy in her office. I started doing this 3 years ago and it has become a favorite part of my year.

Because I was already in New Jersey I got to stop by and see S at work before heading toward their house. I joined D and S for a trip to the library and bakery Friday night. Saturday morning I ran errands while D was at wrestling practice. After he showed off his moves we headed out for lunch. Back at the house we worked on this year's secret project. The first trip I built shelves for the downstairs bathroom. Last year we made a serving tray - I precut the parts, D painted the bottom and we worked together to glue it together and coat it all with varnish. This year's project is well a secret - all wrapped up for Christmas. What I can say is that D pronounced this the "best project ever".

After our project work we headed to the hotel so D could show off his newly acquired swimming skills. We even incorporated a wrestling move he'd learned that morning (making yourself big) into swimming - allowing D to add floating to his swimming skills.

We finished up the weekend with a viewing of "Happy Feet" which D thoroughly enjoyed.

A great time was had by all.

Road Trip

Amy and I drove to Arkansas for Thanksgiving (yes Arkansas). We had a lovely visit with her Mom, and her sister and brother-in-law who are traveling the country in a pick-up and 5th wheeler (RV). Luckily the weather was mild during our trip - no snow, and only minor rain.

On the way we dropped off an early Christmas present at my parent's house (a replacement for the ancient computer they were using). We set up the new computer when we returned. Then Amy headed home while I headed to New Jersey for work related training.

It was hard being away from home for so long (nearly 3 weeks in all). Driving across the mid-west is, for the most part, boring although we got great gas mileage. We clocked just over 3200 miles on Amy's car, and another 500 on mine. I slept in 5 different hotels in 3 different states and 2 family homes during the trip, and spent time in 9 different states - New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, New Jersey and Connecticut in addition to Massachusetts.

Being home is great. I've got a really busy couple of weeks coming up, but at least I get to sleep in my own bed.