Friday, December 31, 2021

Seven Swans a Swimming

On to the 7th Day of Christmas which is represented by 7 Swans A-swimming. This was seen as the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick, Matrimony, and Holy Orders. In Medieval times, owning swans signaled nobility. To serve a swan at a feast was the mark of elevated social status, a prestigious item on the banqueting tables of medieval England. Charles Darwin commented it was like venison mixed with wild duck.

Whatever. Today that means that Christmas is in the books. The year has come to an end. Thinking back on this day last year, we all had hopes that the awful pandemic was on the way out. Certainly by Christmas of 2021 we would be back to normal. After all the new vaccine to prevent the virus had been introduced earlier that month in 2020. We all breathed a sigh of relief. It was only a matter of time before most Americans would be vaccinated and at worse this virus would become another "flu" among us. Just one more malady we could prevent with annual shot.

Little did we know that so many would resist the vaccine. But I will not go down that rabbit hole. It is what it is and we are where we are. Just 13 months ago I was familiar with the term "Epidemic" but was not quite sure just what the term "pandemic" implied. Now those 2 words along with "endemic" are part of our everyday lexicon. I pray before we cross the Rubicon and we find ourselves in a time a when Covid19 is seen as endemic. 

All that aside, I am optimistic for the coming year. Perhaps I will be able to lose the pounds I gained over the holidays. Maybe I will get my closets cleaned out. Could this be the year I simplify my life? Probably not, given I have had these on my list of "resolutions" for the past dozen or so years. 

I could be ambitious and add "Learn a new Language" to my list of intentions. But given I am still trying to manage English, that may be a bit much.  There are always those 2 books I promised myself I would finish - 2 years ago. And my kitchen cabinets that need to be organized. Given my age, a steady exercise regimen would be helpful. 

No, this year I will be pragmatic, reasonable, practical, sensible, realistic. Perhaps it is time to be honest. As good as my intentions have been over the many years, I know there will be no diet, no exercise, and little organization. At my age, shouldn't I live in the moment? Why should I be shackled by a list of good intentions? 

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Six Geese A-laying

We move on to the 6th Day of Christmas and "Six Geese A-Laying". Six referring to the days of creation before God's rest on the seventh day.  The eggs represent creation itself, new life.

All this is cloak and dagger about the lyrics of the song and the hidden meanings. Roman Catholics were not allowed to worship in public until 1829. So, what did the Catholic Church do? They wrote a carol in a secret code about birds, maids, lords, and a tree as a type of catechism to educate young Catholics about God and the Bible. Let's assume those children were very much the wiser.  I dare say there are few of us educated adults who understood that the carol was truly about the four gospels, the Pentateuch, creation, etc.  But, I digress.

Onto the matter at hand. The past 10 days have been ones of celebration. There have been dinner tables filled with dishes, casseroles, and platters of roast beast and parties where we grazed among friends. Don't forget baskets of baked goods from the well wishing co-workers and neighbors. And, all sorts of chocolates and chocolates and more chocolates.

Now we must face the scales that have inched up, the zippers that no longer zip, and the pants that no longer fit. It is time for moderation, exercise, and diets. Yet, I have boxes and bags of these delights calling from the kitchen counter . . . "Come hither, enjoy!".  I feel my only choice is to consume all these confectioneries, so I will no longer be tempted.  

Perhaps we are missing the last gift, 13 Waltzing Wood Ducks, code for 13 Days of guilt. 

And By the Fifth It Was Over

I can now take a deep breath and relax. Well, that is before I begin the onerous task of taking down the tree, changing the wreath on the front door (only if I can find my winter wreath to replace it), and ridding the coffee table of carolers. Yes on paper I am an Episcopalian and all this should stay put until the magi arrive. But the madness has ended and I need to cleanse my house. Wise men aside, I cannot wait until the 12th day for a holiday cleanse.

Our four "Christmases" are over. The Fifth Day of Christmas has arrived but not my Five Rings. I wasn't sure I was looking for golden pieces of jewelry or elegant game birds. Either way they must be lost in transit. Trust me, I am not mourning.

I have great expectations for the day. My list is long and ambitious. There are visions in my head of a clean den, an uncluttered kitchen, and fresh linens neatly folded and in their proper place. But then Mama always said I had a vivid imagination.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Five Golden Rings

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me 5 Golden Rings. First of all, the "Rings" are not jewelry one wears on their hand, rather it refers to the yellow bands around the necks of Gold Finches. Then there are some who speculate the "gold rings" refer to the rings around the necks of  pheasants. Whatever, they are not 14 karat.

Contrary to what we all were brought up to believe, it is not fowl nor jewelry, rather the Pentateuchthe - the first five books of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  These are also seen as the history of the man's fall from grace.

All that aside, now that we have a partridge, a pear tree, turtle doves, hens, collie birds, and gold finches (or pheasants), the references have taken a dark turn.  So much for the joyous carol about holiday dancers, swans, and dairy maidens. So now we have gone from caroling about Faith, Hope and Charity to references to the fall of man

In reality, I doubt many of us, on the fifth day, even the Catholics, Anglicans, and Episcopalians, are truly worried about the references to books in the Bible and man's fall from grace. There are more pressing things. Where did Aunt Matilda find that purple vase with the etchings of fighting bulls on it? In all fairness, I could not re-gift that to my worst enemy. There is also the ultimate quandary - do we smugly eat all the rich chocolate we received or give it away to save ourselves from the guilt of doing so. On a more serious note, I was sorely disappointed that I awoke on Boxing Day to find that the fairies did not take down my Christmas Tree and, alas, the task is left to me. 

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Four Calling Birds

More fowl? Seriously? Yes, but we have been wrong all these years. It is not a "Calling" bird, rather it is a "Collie" or "Colly" bird. This refers to a black bird. In Theological terms the "4" refers to the Four gospels (and Apostles), Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

On a secular level Blackbirds are messengers that may haunt the soul, or a curiosity into the mystical elements of the animal and spirit realms. As Poe historically wrote about  the Raven (another black bird). "Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, . . "  But I digress.

The query at hand is when do the decorations come down? This is the time when we question our sanity in having to decorate every room in the house.  Just because there were so many choices on Pinterest did we really need a wreath on every outside door?

Are you the traditionalist with plans to remove it all before New Years. Or do you fall into the faithful category, waiting until the kings reached the Christ Child with their gifts on Epiphany. 

Who's idea was it to place globes of glass ornaments on so many pieces of furniture? And to double the number of lights on the tree? Did we really need to replace all the hand towels in the bathrooms and tea towels in the kitchen with holiday themed linens? Thankfully I no longer display the large detailed Christmas village with it's animated ice rink, lit snow covered streets, and miniature porcelain carolers. 

As a side note I remember my mother's table displays complete with angel hair (aka spun glass), not the best choice to use with children in the house given it looked just like cotton candy. And the tree lights the size of your thumb that would heat a large size living room, not to mention the dangerous thinly covered electric wires running around and through a live tree that is in the process of drying out.

As I struggle to get the lights off the tree and all the ornaments back into their boxes with minimal damage, I promise to myself that I will simplify my life. 

"Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

Monday, December 27, 2021

Three French Hens

I await my French Hens (it being the third day of Christmas).  Research says that the "Three" represents Faith, Hope, and Love".  But I digress.

However, no one ever stated in the song whether they were dressed and ready to be frozen or baked. Or, whether they were alive and kicking. Please, God, let they be the former. I do not need any more livestock. There was a reason I never got around to taking a class in slaughtering and dressing out a live bird.

In the song they never commented whether the hens were moving about or in a dish. Funny, references to some of the other fowl was more explicit. The Geese were laying. Those very expensive Swans were swimming. And that Partridge was always in the Pear Tree. Come to think of it, out of the 74 gifts, 23 are fowl (well actually 28 if you count the Five Golden Rings as Ring-neck Gold Finches which was the original intent.)

I guess I best not hold my breath since neither the Partridge, the Pear, nor the Turtle Doves have showed up yet. Perhaps I should not count my French Hens before they arrive - alive, baked, broiled, or fried.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Two Turtles Doves and All the Mess Left Over

Well, it's all over, Christmas Day that is. The Elf on the shelf has returned to the North Pole for 11 months. (Lots of help is.)  The 'fridge is full of leftovers - which is an issue, given most of us have sworn to start a serious diet immediately. Well, at least starting January 1. All the exquisite dark chocolate candy that calls to you like a siren saying "Enjoy it ALL now because the reality of calories is coming quickly".

The den is littered with discarded ribbons and paper, unless you were anal and collected paper as it was torn from packages in the excitement of Christmas morning. There is the stack of boxes on the side table of gifts that did not make the cut:  the pants that are too tight (thank you Aunt Mary for thinking I wore a smaller size), the sweater in that God Awful green (that your cousin Jan explained was going to be "the" green for the spring), and that "As Seen on TV" gadget that supposedly organizes the dashboard of your car. And, of course, there is that bottle of perfume someone, you cannot remember who, gave you. 

There is also the piece of the puzzle that was lost in the excitement of Christmas morning, that you hope did not get thrown out with the paper. Under the tree are the 2 sad looking presents you have yet get to their recipients. 

All in all another one is in the books. Now there are 5 days or so of Christmas purgatory. You wonder what possessed you to put up all these damn decorations. Note to self: next year remember minimalism is much better. And the ever present decision: when does the tree come down? You are torn between "immediately" and "How long can I wait before tackling that project". The thought crosses your mind, "What would happen if I just threw the whole thing out, lights, tinsel, glass balls, and all?" It is very tempting.

A belated Joyeux Noël to all. 

Friday, December 24, 2021

The Trials of the Yule Log

Einstein once said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. That said I am certifiably insane, with the crown, the sash, and the apron (in this case.) 

Most people who know me are aware that I love to cook. I am very  fearless in the kitchen. Many years ago I decided that I was going to be a bit adventuresome and bake a fairly complicated Lemon Doberge cake - for a family reunion no less. The recipe consisted of 3 pages of directions and 14 ingredients. It required one to make a lemon custard, a fluffy moist white cake, and delicate lemon frosting. 5 hours later when finished one would have a delicious 7 layer cake with deep yellow lemon custard between each layer, covered in a white frosting with bits of lemon zest. One would also find one's self seeking long term counseling.

Fast forward, I, in some moment of total dementia, decided this year to make a Chocolate Yule Log. I'd never made one before. I had seen them in magazines and tasted wonderful ones made by professional bakers. It is a chocolate cake that looks like a log. How hard could it be?

I did my research into recipes and found 3 I liked. After reading through the 3 I saw that I preferred the cake by the Pioneer Woman's recipe, the filling by Bon Appetite, and the chocolate ganache from Delish's site. I prepared a shopping list, procured the necessary ingredients, and assembled the various pots, pans, and dishes I thought I would need. My Chromebook was relocated to the kitchen counter with all 3 web sites open. 

The first part was to make the cake. I measured out all of my ingredients and commenced. I whipped the 6 egg whites in one bowl. While doing so I combined the dry ingredients - the flour, cocoa, the sugar, and baking powder into a 2nd bowl and added the vanilla. Next, according to the screen, I added the egg yokes to a 3rd bowl and started the mixer. I checked the recipe, "Once the mixer starts with the egg yokes, slowly add the sugar and vanilla, before the flour mixture ...." At that point I looked in horror at the bowl containing the combined dry ingredients with the sugar, cocoa, etc . I panicked. Was this the correct cake recipe? 

Checking, yes, this was the correct one. However I realized that I had incorrectly read the instructions for the Bon Appetite cake recipe in preparing the ingredients, and was now reading the correct recipe of the Pioneer Woman to mix the ingredients. 

Back to the mess at hand. In vane, I tried to scoop the sugar off the top of the cocoa mix. Somehow I managed to get a 1/4 cup of sugar contaminated by a bit of cocoa into the egg yokes. How badly did I really want to make this cake after all? The thrill of the experience was long gone. But somehow I got all the ingredients into the mixer, (not necessarily in the correct order), prepared the batter, and got it into the pan. Looking at it as I slid it into the oven, I noticed it was a light brown color, not the rich dark color shown in the lovely photographs. Oh well.

On to the next step. Scanning down the page . . . "Cake", "Filling" , "Meringue Mushrooms"." Meringues? What bloody meringues?  Who knew mushrooms were part of the yule log?

Back and forth I flipped between the 3 recipes. In getting ready to the prepare the filling, I started gathering the ingredients:  "Whipping cream, Sugar, Cream Cheese, Sour Cream . . . " Wait, there was no sour cream or cream cheese in the recipe. I shortly realized I was reading the recipe for Delish's filling, not Bon Appetite's. This cake was slowly developing a multiple personality issue. 

I was able to to get the filling put together, sans cream cheese and sour cream. I'll spare you the remaining sordid details. 2 Dishwasher loads of pots, pans, and in-sundry utensils I had managed to bake the cake, add the filling, and get it into the 'fridge to chill for several hours before icing it. I had also managed to bake a batch of meringue mushroom pieces to be assembled in accordance to paragraphs 10-12 of the recipe. I delayed assembling those until the morning.

Wait, paragraphs 13-14 refer to "Sugared Cranberries". Great, if I read further no doubt I'll find the "Marshmallow Bunnies" that certainly live on the log with the mushrooms and the cranberries. No doubt a plain Chocolate Roll without the woodland features would taste just as good. A little late now.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Of Many One, Yet Each to Their Own

 There are some times I just want to yell, "Stop the Weihnachtspyramide (aka Christmas carousel), I want to get off." This is one time of year I feel that way. Christmas Day is fast approaching.

We can count on some political difference that will arise just as we sit down to eat along with some disagreement over football predictions. There are the in-laws, the out-laws, the folks being introduced to the family for the first time (God help them), and thank goodness, the neighbors who will keep us all fairly civilized less we embarrass ourselves in front of God and everybody. But all in all it is family, our family, gnarly tree and all, with its dysfunction, warts, and skeletons. I wouldn't trade it for anything. 

This season is where I start to have an issue. Our society has changed. As we have moved into this century and our population has become more diverse, the number of religions practiced in these united states has increased. At the same time, like it not, we have become more secular. This is not to say we have all become devil worshipers or joined a Wicca cult. Life is just more complicated. 

I am tired of hearing "Keep the Christ in Christmas" just as I am weary of protests against the creche on the town square. Yes, the Christmas season was orginally the time to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the son of God and leader of the Christian faith. But Christianity is just one of many religions among us. In trying to keep Peace on Earth (or at least at home) and Goodwill Toward Men, perhaps we should look around and accept that we are a nation of many. With the exception of the Native Americans, we all arrived here from foreign soil bringing our many faiths and beliefs with us. My father's family came from Scotland only 4 generations ago. My mother's family was orginally from Wales and Scotland. 

Some people say, I just wish Christmas was like it was in the ol' days. You know, like one sees in the works by Norman Rockwell or Courier and Ives. Well, it pretty much is - those paintings are of families gathering, festive outdoor scenes, sleighs in the snow - all the nostalgia we hold so dear. It is everyone's right to celebrate the holiday as they wish or not. It should also be everyone's place to respect those who do not share your values or norms. We have moved on, like it or not. 

No one is taking away the celebration of Christ's birth, the churches will still have their services. Albeit practicing social distancing as we all come together. (Only in these days does this make sense.) Yes, the commercial side is here to stay, thanks to Coca Cola's iconic picture of Santa Claus in 1931 and Francis Pharcellus Church's answer to little Virginia O'Hallon's letter to the editor in 1897. Fighting among us to define the modern Christmas season is about as effective as asking 5 blind men to describe an elephant - everyone has their own personal take on it.

Rather fight for turf and declare what Christmas SHOULD be, perhaps in this busy world when we never spend as much time as we should with one another and never have as much time together to build memories for the future as we did years ago, let's be thankful for the holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Years. Whether you are a devout Christian celebrating the birth of Christ, a member of the Jewish faith celebrating Hanukkah, an African American sharing Kwanza with your family, a Buddist honoring Rohatsu, a Pagan worshiping the Solstice, or just someone who wants to take the time to stop and celebrate life and the joy of those around us - this is the one time we can. 

I was reminded of this just this morning when I was reading about Starbucks taking the "Merry Christmas" and other Christmas motifs off their red coffee cups for the season for fear of offending some. The malls no longer put up "Christmas Trees" - they are now "Holiday Trees". And it is hard to find "Christmas Cards" in the Hallmark store. Shouldn't we drop the political correctness and embrace each other. I am not offended by the menorah that I may see displayed or holiday lights in blue white of the Jewish faith. Kwanza decorations do not threaten me. Instead this all reminds me that of many we are one. We should embrace all beliefs and move forward.

A horrid correlation could be to the Third Reich in Germany as they ascended to power, Germans found everything for the people homogenized - just as the Fuhrer wanted. We don't want it all the same, we don't need any one group fussing that they "were first", it is "their holiday", no more than we want laws that say it is all just a "Holiday" versus what it is to you. As far as I'm concerned, you should be able to enjoy the holidays, celebrate them as you wish, and call them what you want to. Have we become a nation of wimps with tender feelings hurt by the threat of change and diversity? 

Yes, there is a reason for the season - to celebrate life, love, and family. To carry on whatever traditions you may have, crazy as they may be. But more than that, it is a time for us to respect our neighbors as they celebrate as they wish, call it what they may, and perhaps we can learn something along the way. 

As for Starbucks and their red cups. I know still what they stand for. I would like to see "Merry Christmas" and the traditional motifs return but that is their decision. After all it is not what is on the cup - it what is in it. As for the holidays - its not what they are called but how we choose to celebrate them and more importantly that we do have the right and freedom to choose as we wish.

As Toby Kieth said;

"Red solo cup you're more than just plastic
You're more than amazing you're more than fantastic
And believe me that I'm not the least bit sarcastic
When I look at you and say [ ] you're not just a cup."

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Mix and Match Venues, Characters, and Plots

Randomly, I came upon a list of the top "50" Hallmark Christmas Movies. Whoever wrote the snippets for this list does the best job ever of capturing the camp of these movie plots.

To be fair there are only 5 or 6 plots recycled - over and over and over. Only the names and a few minor details are changed. Characters can be single moms, single dads, widowed or divorced. They can be famous country music stars or doctors or shop owners. There is always a "best friend" involved somewhere. Whatever, the plot is still some iteration of boy meets girl, boy likes girl, there is a tender touch (usually wiping off a bit off food from the other's face or removing a stray eye lash), an interrupted kiss, a misunderstanding, a reconciliation at the very end, and everyone lives happily ever after. Cue the lights and credits.

The venues often include an inn, a farm, a winery, a small town, or a ski lodge as locations. Standard characters usually include a jilted girl, a damaged boy, a prince, (rarely a princess), a doctor, or a handy man. You can count on the story ending with a ball, a gala, a Christmas pageant, a fund raiser, or a wedding. Pick one from each column and voila, a Hallmark Christmas movie is born.

Of the 50 chosen movies on the list, the best description by far was the following:

The Nine Lives of Christmas (2014)

Hallmark officially lost its damn mind with this movie about a vet and fireman who bond over a stray cat. I can’t promise that no felines were emotionally damaged in the process of making this film.

At least some one around can still give an honest review and also have a sense of humor. A stray cat? Seriously? 

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Back into Lock Down We Go

 Damn! We are facing another lock down. Just for the record I have had both of my vaccinations and my booster (more than a month ago). I am very confident should I get the dreaded Omicron variant, the symptoms will be mild and I will avoid hospitalization. As Americans, we are extremely lucky to have had access to very effective vaccines since last spring, as well as boosters. 

Personally, citizens who fail or refuse to get vaccinations are being irresponsible to themselves, their family, and co-workers, as well as the public in general. And, for many it is too late. Yes, there are still vaccines and boosters available, although it takes weeks for them to establish protection after one is inoculated. They may be too late to protect those who chose not to protect themselves. 

There are so many people, like lemmings off the cliff, who have followed the false advice of anti-vaccine pundits. This begs the question: are your politics worth your life? After all one cannot vote after they have assumed room temperature. We hear many stories of un-vaccinated people begging for the vaccine as they were being intubated.  Or, pleas from former anti-vaccine advocates who contracted the virus and suffered severe symptoms, to those who may have followed their advice, not to make same mistake. They finally have found religion and regret their decision to not take advantage of the vaccines.

As Americans, anyone desiring protection or not, have had the opportunity, since this past spring to get vaccinated. To avoid the taunts of their anti-vaccine friends and coworkers, who yell and scream about the conspiracy of the shots, anyone could easily have gone out of town and secretly gotten the vaccine. Keeping their decision secret, they could avoid the worse of the symptoms or death. 

Nothing irritates me more than being vaccinated yet still having to wear a mask to protect those who chose not to be vaccinated and often also choose not to wear a mask. I am taking measures to protect their health when they are not willing to do so themselves. (Yes, I realize there are those who are compromised - organ recipients, the infirm elderly, diabetics and such. Their situation is precarious at best when often even the vaccines cannot prevent the virus.) I am not only responsible enough to get the available protection, I try to follow the CDC guidelines that could have saved so many deaths had everyone done so. 

True, I chose to travel to New York this past week. I was heartened to find that in the city to enter all restaurants, Broadway shows, and many shops, patrons had to show proof of vaccination and matching ID. The city had a mask mandate in all other indoor facilities for those vaccinated or not.  The federal government has reinstated the mask mandate for all airports and on airplanes. There were no exceptions here, even for those non-believers.

Once again, I stand on my soap box and plea for my doubting friends and colleagues to get vaccinated, whether they listen to anti-vaccine conspirators or not. Over 805,000 of our fellow Americans have succumbed to this deadly pandemic. How many more need to lose their lives before those who doubt the safety of the vaccine take the responsible decision to get vaccinated.

For the record that number of deaths (as of today) is more than the population of states such as New Jersey, Delaware, Vermont, Wyoming, and Guam. More than the populations of such Cities as Indianapolis, San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, Boston, Nashville, Las Vegas, Detroit, or Baltimore to name a few. Imagine the entire population of one of these states or cities just being wiped off the map. Pretty much puts it in perspective.

If I have offended anyone, I am only trying to save suffering and lives. I offer no apologies. Like most Americans, I pine for the return of our normal lives. I can only follow the advice and guidance of the experts who speak from science, rather than those who promote "the conspiracy". Yet many of these are these themselves are vaccinated. I’m not sure what’s worse, a person who speaks from ignorance or a hypocritical pundit. 

Unlike a lemming off a cliff, often I feel like a voice crying in the wilderness.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

War of the Fruitcakes

Like many families ours has a fruitcake recipe that has been passed down over the years. Every family has that "Great Aunt Penelope's Fruitcake" recipe that is supposed to produce the only tasty edible fruitcake known to man. According to Great Aunt Penelope, unlike the opinion of other family members, this is the cake that the family has enjoyed at every Christmas dinner.

In truth, to save hurting the cook's feelings many a dog has been fed the god awful cake under the table. After all everyone has to accept a piece when it is served. Taking one for the team, so to speak. It also fits  nicely into a pocket or purse, whatever is handy at the meal, for later disposal.

One side of our family swears by a yellow batter cake with some fruits and nuts sprinkled about. In my opinion it is dry with very little flavor. Personally it doesn't resemble a fruitcake. But, there are those in the family who enjoy it . . . or so they say.

The other side of the family has a creation with so many fruits and nuts in it that the dark moist "cake" part is sparse - just enough to hold it all together. The cake is wrapped in a brandy soaked cheese cloth and kept in an old Courier and Ives decorated tin. I think the tin was assigned to hold fruitcake sometime in the early years of the Victorian Era and has done so since. All that said, it is a tasty holiday treat - in my opinion. But, in full disclosure I don't think the cake has made it past the holidays, much less until the following year or eternity.

Monday, December 13, 2021

More on the Fruit Cake

Contined from yesterday:

    Though true fruitcake aficionados argue over exactly how long you should be marinating your fruitcake in the fridge, The Spruce says that “it's generally recommended that soaked fruitcake should be consumed within two years.” Which isn't to say that the cake couldn’t last longer, as our century-old Antarctic fruitcake proves. Honestly, it would probably taste OK if you let it sit in brandy for a few days and have several servings of brandy yourself.

    Like the family's old ceramic cake plate that is passed down through generations, with some argument over who is the designated recipient with each passing, so could the family fruitcake. That said, I would argue that perhaps the cake may not be "enjoyed" by a few of those generations. No doubt there have been families who have exhumed a loved one's grave (for some ungodly reason) only to find the corpse in poor condition clutching the family fruitcake that is still edible.

     So, if you still have that fruitcake left from last Christmas,  perhaps you can re-gift it this holiday season. Not only will you be sharing in the holiday spirit, you are gifting that certain someone a relic. How better to tell someone you care. Talk about the gift that keeps on giving!!

Sunday, December 12, 2021

How Long can a Fruit Cake Last

Ah the lowly fruitcake- the butt of many jokes It is seen as the Christmas gift one only gives to someone they either care nothing about or can think of no other appropriate gift.

  All that said, the Fruitcake is a shelf-stable food unlike any other. A must for the supplies of Amy survivalist. One Ohio Family has kept the same fruitcake uneaten (except for periodic taste tests) since it was baked in 1878. In Antarctica, a century-old fruitcake discovered in artifacts left by explorer Robert Falcon Scott’s 1910 expedition remains “almost edible,” according to the researchers who found it. So what is it that makes fruitcake so freakishly hardy?

    It comes down to the ingredients. Fruitcake is notoriously dense. Unlike almost any other cake, it’s packed chock-full of already-preserved foods, like dried and candied nuts and fruit. All those dry ingredients don’t give microorganisms enough moisture to reproduce, as Ben Chapman, a food safety specialist at North Carolina State University, explained in 2014. That keeps bacteria from developing on the cake.

    Oh, and the booze helps. A good fruitcake involves plenty of alcohol to help it stay shelf-stable for years on end. Immediately after a fruitcake cools, most bakers will wrap it in a cheesecloth soaked in liquor and store it in an airtight container. This keeps mold and yeast from developing on the surface. It also keeps the cake deliciously moist.

    In fact, fruitcakes aren’t just capable of surviving unspoiled for months on end; some people contend they’re better that way. Fruitcake fans swear by the aging process, letting their cakes sit for months or even years at a stretch. Like what happens to a wine with age, this allows the tannins in the fruit to mellow, according to the Wisconsin bakery Swiss Colony, which has been selling fruitcakes since the 1960s. As it ages, it becomes even more flavorful bringing out complex notes that a young fruitcake (or wine) lacks.

    If you want your fruitcake to age gracefully, you’ll have to give it a little more hooch every once in a while. If you’re keeping it on the counter in advance of a holiday feast a few weeks away, the King Arthur Flour Company recommends unwrapping it and brushing it with whatever alcohol you’ve chosen (brandy and rum are popular choices) every few days. This is called “feeding” the cake, and should happen every week or so.

    The aging process is built into our traditions around fruitcakes. In Great Britain, one wedding tradition calls for the bride and groom to save the top tier of a three-tier fruitcake to eat until the christening of the couple’s first child—presumably at least a year later, if not more.

To be contiued....


Friday, December 10, 2021

Are We Having Fun Yet

 The holidays are here and Christmas is right around the corner. If the past week is a sign of what's to come between now and the 25th, it doesn't look good for the home team. So far I

  • purchased gifts that I found were not what I had in mind, then learned they could not be returned
  • realized that there are not enough lights for the tree
  • cannot, for the life of me, find where I put the nice gift tags I bought last year
  • have yet to wrap all my gifts
  • have managed to soak many of those gifts I have wrapped while attempting to water the tree
  • am still waiting for a very important present to arrive that I fear is lost
  • still have 2 folks I cannot find an appropriate gift for
  • just recalled a friend I left off my list
  • don't have a clue if and when I will have time to bake for friends and family
  • found note from my Elf (on the Shelf) that he didn't have time for me this year
  • am just one crisis away from declaring Bah Humbug and moving to Aruba to scale fish for a living
Other than that, my life is stress free. Yes, it is beginning to look like Christmas.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

My Past in Faded Kodachrome

 A week or so ago I came upon an old album containing photos of my beloved High Acres. Some of the pictures date as far back as 1974 - hard to believe that is 47 years ago. They recount a few things that date even further back, such as pictures of my brother and me with our first ponies. 

Even with the album's age, the photographs are in less than perfect condition, taken with a simple camera, and by a less than talented photographer, it is a record of an important part of my youth. It is much like I remembered. 

Probably some of the most interesting ones are those of the house at the farm under construction. In truth it was "under construction" until the day Mama sold the farm 30 or so years later. But these particular photos capture the initial raising of the walls. 

There are images of the house and its wonderful views.

There are also pictures of many of Daddy's horses over the years, his Angus cattle, his sheep, the infamous trail rides with all our house guests, and photos of the farm itself.

Some of the people I do not recognize and there are others I have not thought of in many years.  While the photos have faded, my memories are still in glorious color.  In a way these 100 or so photographs justify those memories. 

(As an aside, and a sign of our times, in writing this post every time I penned the word "Kodachrome", spell check changed it to "Chromebook'.)

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

A World Away on My Morning Walk

 Each morning I awake at 5:30. Shortly there after the pups and are out on our constitutional. It is always dark and these days can be quite chilly. The temperatures can vary from 32 to the mid 50's. Usually I throw on a pair of sweat pants, shirt and a sweat shirt. My hair is a mess. After all it is dark and rarely, if ever, do we see anyone. 

Usually I listen to the news, a podcast, or a movie on my phone while we walk. I find it gives me more patience with pups while they want to stop and smell every bush and telephone pole along the way. A 5 minute walk becomes a 20 minute expedition. God forbid a homeless cat has found refuge under a parked car or a confused squirrel is up and about. At that point all bets are off.

This morning I realized the juxtaposition of life. My choice of entertainment on my phone was a documentary, "7 Days Out". The particular episode was on the Channel Show at Paris Fashion week. It is a particularly interesting look into a life extremely foreign to me.  While I walk the pups, often trying to get them to move on past some marked plant, avoid the stray cat, or bag their poop, I am listening to the days running up to Paris Fashion Week.

There are interviews with Karl Lagerfeld describing the brand and what is entailed in preparing for the show. There is much discussion about couture gowns, elegant models, and the rich and famous who are invited to enjoy the runway from the front row. 

Lagerfeld also goes into the details of the inspiration for his elegant designs. Some how, I doubt a woman of my age, dressed in sweat pants, with unkempt hair, and 2 unruly terriers chasing feral cats comes close to any inspiration Mr. Lagerfeld may have. In fact, I doubt such a scene has ever entered his mind.  

Monday, December 6, 2021

Elvis Spotted Working as Cashier at Local Stop 'n Shop

 The most I have ever read gossip magazines were the covers of the National Enquirer while checking out at the grocer. That was years ago. Now days gossip and scandal are every where on the internet. Even when not seeking it, I find I am bombarded with details.

I'm not sure how this happened, but for some reason I keep getting emails and notifications with news about the British Royal family. I have always been a supporter of the Queen and her kin, of course the most I  know about the clan I learned watching the series"The Crown". And, like almost everyone on the planet with a television at the time, I watched the wedding of the Prince of Wales and Lady Dianna Spencer.

But back to these unsolicited missives I keep receiving. Over the past weeks I have learned the following: Princess Eugenie was seen leaving a family do in tears (no explanation of why), the throne may skip the long suffering Charles and be passed directly to William, the Queen does not approve of Kate's wardrobe, Prince Harry and Megan really moved to California to join a cabal (few if any details are available), Dianna had an illegitimate child prior to her marriage to Charles (so much for her being the virgin bride) . . .

And on and on it goes. Thinking about it, I could write such explosive copy. No doubt I am in possession of as many of the facts as these creative journalists feel they are. They have just figured out a way to monetize it. 

Personally I found the headlines from years ago much more entertaining -  "Adam and Eve were Astronauts", "Fat Tourist Destroys Tower of Pisa", "Hillary Clinton Adopts Alien Baby", "Abraham Lincoln was a Woman", and my all time favorite: "Snake with Human Head Found in Arkansas".  With such mind blowing tales, who cares about the throne, the cabal, or the wardrobe!

Sunday, December 5, 2021

To Protect and Preserve

 A watermark is a double edge sword, a necessary evil. It is one of those obnoxious semi-transparent words ones sees on an image. It is also embedded in the meta data, so some dastardly digital savvy bloke cannot remove it. The mark itself has to be over a significant part of the image to protect it. All an artist or photographer has to prevent one's work from being stolen and freely used by anyone is this mark. Although my camera embeds my copyright information into the each photo taken, that information is hidden within the metadata of the image. 

Some sites offer a setting that prevents one from double clicking and copying an image, which is very effective. Instagram is popular with artists because one cannot copy and save an image from a posting. Facebook (ironically in this case renamed Meta) offers no such protection.

I realized that my work was being pilfered from online postings when I came across one of my photographs used by someone else I had never heard of. Stealing one's work off the web these days is much easier than the grand Gardener Art Museum heist of 1990 and just as deleterious to the artist. So I have been forced to add a watermark to all my work. 


I thought long and hard about doing this, but felt it was necessary. The art of watermarking is making it  effective while allowing someone to still see the image. Too dark and one cannot really see and appreciate the image, too transparent and a simple increase of contrast will remove its effect. So now when you come across my work online you will see these unpalatable marks. It pains me to do so. But in these days of the wild west of the world wide web, I feel I have no choice.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

A Divine Premonition of the Fates

I was watching the news last night. Well, I say watching, I was painting with my back to the TV.  However, my interest was peaked - enough to turn around and look - when I heard this young woman say, "She knows my energy source and can always steer me in the right way."

The narrator continued,"She can read my aura and advise me when my planets are aligned." The picture on the commercial showed a blithe young lady walking on the beach, the wind blowing her loose fitting dress. "Whenever I am scared or have a major decision to make, she is the first one I turn to." The narrator pauses, as the camera turns to the face of the lady on the beach who is looking up at the sky, as if waiting for a celestial choir of angels to sing.

"She brings calm to my soul and peace to my ethos." The narrator paused again as the young woman turned and continued down the beach, as the light faded into a fog.

By now my interest was piqued. Was this a commercial for the Oprah Show or Ellen? Then all was revealed when the another voice continued the narration. "Advice is just a phone call away. And, best of all, your first 4 minutes are free. You, too, can have a consultation with your very own spiritual advisor. Just think how much fuller your life will be if you had a professional to guide you." There was a close up of the smiling face of the young woman.

"This is your chance to seek peace and tranquility, to know yourself. No one should be making a decision without knowing the wishes of the spirits, the essence of your aura, the divine being of your soul." As the narrator spoke these words the young lady disappeared down the beach out of sight. There was some light new age music and then "magically" a 1-800 number flashed at the bottom of the screen. The narrator continued, "Call this number now and give your life meaning. You will be connected to your very own  psychic advisor. Finally you will truly understand the depths of your soul and how the fates can guide your future."

Taking all this in, I wondered how much simpler my life could be should I have my own "advisor". Could knowing the mood of my aura give me confidence? Could being aware of the alignment of the planets in my sign give me clarity? Do I need to be one with my essence for true happiness?

If so, perhaps I can order a glass ball from Amazon. If instructions are not included I could go to Youtube to learn how to use it to interpret my energy source and the essence of my aura. Of course, I doubt this will bring about misty walks on the beach or the sounds of a heavenly choir. 

Friday, December 3, 2021

The List

 In order to stay organized and know how far behind I am, I am a chronic list maker. In full disclosure, in making a list I will add things that have already been done. Getting to check them off when I first review the list gives me a feeling of accomplishment. This morning I was going over my (ever present) list. Of course around the holidays, the list gets longer and more expensive.

Just after Thanksgiving the list is exciting - getting the tree, putting the tree up, pulling out wrapping paper and ribbons, finding the wreath, hanging the wreath, making a gift list (yes, sub lists are part of the madness). Each morning, I review the running list, checking off what has been done and adding new chores. Every day or two I redo the list, if nothing else just to clean it up and see exactly where I stand.

By this week (the first week in December) the list becomes a bit more onerous. I am into finishing the shopping - for those impossible to buy for, trying to find the box of ornaments I bought last year on sale after Christmas (naturally they were not put with the other ornaments), ingredients for my Christmas baking. . . 

Needless to say, the list, once a highlight, now becomes my nemesis.  Suddenly, instead of keeping me organized, I find it a drudge. I start questioning my ambitions. Will the neighbors really appreciate homemade treats or will things from the bakery do? After all it is the thought that counts. Maybe the buffet doesn't need to have the traditional decorations, surely a simple bowl of glass balls will do. And the back door does not need a wreath. 

Is this the beginning of the "Rat Race"? Are my days built around checking off the list or enjoying friends and family? As I read over the "To Do's", the list doesn't stop. The more I read, the farther behind I get. How does Santa do this? Of course, he does have elves. Perhaps I need elves. (No doubt I can find them the same place the Housekeeping Fairy is hiding.)

This is when I decide to shed the list and live in the moment. It is a feeling of freedom, relief from the stress. That is until I realize that I haven't found that gift for my nephew. I'm at the grocery store and cannot, for the life of me, remember what I need for the iced oatmeal cookies. I realize that not only have I not boxed the gifts I need to mail, the gifts are not wrapped and I cannot find a box large enough.

How can everything in the Courier and Ives prints look so ideal, festive, and fun?  There is not a list in sight.  Why should I be encumbered by words on a piece of paper? Out, Out, Damn List. I'll just add 1 last item - "Scratch List". After all, Christmas is going to be here, list or no list. It may not be perfect, some things may not happen, and, no doubt, I will be less organized. But, who wants a perfect, beautiful, delightful, happy, organized holiday anyway?

Monday, November 29, 2021

My Life Should Rate Better than G

 At my age, I hope I have not fallen into a life of mediocrity - a boring one with no excitement or intrigue. This was all brought to my attention when I noticed the warning flashed on the TV screen with the opening credits of a movie. It read: "This film is rated TV14 due to its Suggestive Dialogue, Smoking, Foul Language, Violence, and Sexual Situations." Does this beg that I live a G Rated life? I hope I do not live in the Wonderful World of Disney, Father Knows Best, or The Brady Bunch. My world is not made up of a Pollyanna ideal or the innocence of Tammy. These references alone betray my age. But, I digress.

The issues listed above, with the exception of violence, don't concern me. That said, a film with a plot based around car chases and multiple crashes does not interest me. Nor does one with a lot of gratuitous violence. Interest and mystery, yes, but not with a plot line of gun fights and or fisticuffs.

All this brings to mind - a fear. Is my life now mundane, boring, one without excitement? Does it not even merit a TV14 rating? Have I sunk into a life of G?  I wish to live a life more daring than a romantic comedy. I hope there is "adult content" in there some where. That said, I do not care for pornography, whatever that is these days. In that case, the words of Justice Potter Stewart in 1964 are still timely and define it well, (paraphrased) - I cannot define pornography, but I know it when I see it.

Now that this state of reality has been brought to my attention, what can I do about it? It may sound trite but it all comes back to my mantra of "always grab the brass ring". Perhaps in dealing with everyday life I have overlooked the fun and excitement of the world around me. The rating of my life is within my control. Certainly I can attain better that a plain vanilla "G".

Sunday, November 28, 2021

As They Say, 'Tis the Season

As they say in the well known carol 'Deck the Halls', " 'Tis the season". Season for what? Frustration, angst, exhaustion? Aren't we supposed to be having fun? If so, I haven't reached that point yet.

But, I haven't reached the Bah Humbug stage yet either. I can still tolerate the Laying Geese, Calling Birds, French Hens, and Turtle Doves. I was able to rearrange the furniture and move a piece or two upstairs to make room for the tree, which is up and decorated. So far (fingers crossed) none of the glass ornaments on the decked evergreen have fell victim to the raucous play of the pups. Few needles have fallen off and it is taking up water daily. To be honest the fresh pine scent (alone) that greets me every morning when I come downstairs is worth the trouble to put up the tree.

My shopping list is down to those last "What the Hell do you get them's" and I swear I am not going the gift card route - yet. I am at that point when half the gifts I already have are wrapped and the remaining ones are scattered about awaiting my attention. I actually have enough paper, ribbon, tags, and tape to finish the job - miracles do happen. Naturally there is that "perfect" gift I bought this past spring, the location of which now alludes me. A gift I purchased for one of our great nephews is going to have to go into a larger box. The way it is packaged now, it was never intended to be wrapped - seriously - unless it involved some type of ballistic paper. 

My Christmas cards have been finished and put into the mail. God only knows when (and if) they will be delivered. So far, no names I mistakenly omitted have come to mind. No doubt they will, hopefully before Christmas Day.

I think I best stick to making a list of baked goods (and ingredients) I want to make and give to friends sometime before Christmas day. Many say it is the spirit of the season. I would say it is more like the devil in the details. Whatever. Isn't this the time when we are supposed to be enjoying family and friends? After all the dictionary defines "Holiday" as "a day of festivity or recreation when no work is done"  Personally, at this moment it is the swimming swans, milking maids, leaping lords, and that damn partridge someone left in a frigging pear tree that have me in an Ebeneezer frame of mind.

But to quote the great Roman stoic philosopher and statesman, Seneca, 'this too shall pass'.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

61 Christmases

 As I celebrate my 61st Christmas I think back on the past ones (that I can remember) and, not to be morbid, wonder how many more I will have.

Christmases when I was little, ages 2 or 3 until 13 or so, were always the same. Daddy had his Christmas Eve Drop in (and fall out) at the drug store. Christmas morning, my brother and I would go down stairs at the crack of dawn and open our stockings by ourselves but we knew not to "touch" what Santa had brought us until Mama and Daddy joined us.

Our Santa practiced the unwrapped delivery method. My brother and I each had an assigned wing chair. On Christmas morning all our loot would be distributed in the correct chair. We would stand and stare with wonder and joy at what the jolly ol' elf had left in those chairs. Finally, after what seemed like 2 days, Mama and Daddy would descend.

Daddy would have his fancy movie camera with its 2 foot long light bar mounted atop, ready to film. So we had to go back up to the stairs and make another entrance, so he could film our "initial" surprise when we saw what Santa had brought.We were very good at showing total joy. Looking at the camera was impossible unless you had sunglasses on. The three flood lamp size bulbs would blind you. And should something go wrong, either technically or poor acting on our parts - the gifts would be returned to their places and we would have take two. (Now these home movies are priceless. I would not take anything for having these memories saved on celluloid.)

Opening our gifts under the tree was always a surprise - in many ways. It was not unusual for gifts to be without tags, or worse yet, to have the incorrect name on them. This was in the years of Mama's proclivity for the bottle. I distinctly remember one year being a little puzzled when I opened a gift with my name on it only to find a pellet gun. Of course not as surprised as my brother when his gift was a Raggedy Ann doll. Such was life around our house.

But we had no time to dawdle. We had to get dressed, select one gift, and get in the car. We had our agenda. First stop was Aunt Kat and Granny's home (my father's family) in Wagram. NC (pop 418). It was a good 3 to 4 hour drive. We would arrive there just in time to help Aunt Kat put the finishing touches on her Christmas supper. My great aunt and uncle, Auntie and Make, would join us for supper then presents, which usually equaled or topped Santa.

We would spend the night and the next afternoon it was  back in the car off to Blenheim, SC (yes, where they make the world famous ginger ale). Actually Granddaddy's farm was somewhere between Blenheim and Bennettsville,  Here we would be at my Mama's home with my grandparents, Aunt J'Nelle, Uncle Jimmy, and his children.

Unlike our Christmas at Aunt Kat and Granny's where the two of us as the only grandchildren were fawned over and granted our every wish, at Grandmama's there were 5 grandchildren. But it was great fun to play with the cousins we usually only saw once a year. And Grandmother and Granddaddy did not mind the havoc we all created as we turned their home into a palace, a fort, or a set for some secret mission. Of course there was another Christmas supper and another round of gifts.

Three or four days later we would return home to find the gifts we originally received Christmas morning waiting for us. I can remember those whirlwind trips like they were yesterday. The funny thing is I can remember so many details about Christmases at my Grandparents, but not so much about those at home. But then, we were only home on Christmas morning for a few hours.

In my early teens, my Grandparents were older and not up to the visits and we were spending more and more time at High Acres, the family farm in North Carolina. There would be the Christmas trips but often they were scheduled the week before Christmas - a bit calmer with much less ado.

Our new "norm" was to get to High Acres as soon after Christmas as possible and stay through the New Year. That started a new tradition that was a 'hole new ball game. In addition to our family there was the usual house full of friends. It was a raucous fun time with the usual quirks of the house. By now, frequent holiday guests were prepared for cold showers (if there was water), drafty rooms, and little sleep. 

Of course those times were followed by new traditions with our family. Christmas is so magical with young children. And, it is even better with Grandchildren. So I feel as if I have gone full circle from visiting my grandparents to enjoying our grandchildren. 

Friday, November 26, 2021

Ah, The Christmas Cards

I am in the process of sending out my Christmas Cards. Late is such a complicated word and often misused in our language. Yes, the year my Yuletide cards were delivered around Valentines Day - they were late. Getting them out before Thanksgiving only means one of two things: you either have too much time on your hands or you are OCD.  Either way you need help.

This year it took me awhile, but I finally found some cards I cared for. They are not fancy nor in foil envelopes. They are not large with an extended verse inside. They are rather simple, and I will spare my family and friends trite words of warm wishes and joy. 

I had my list of names and addresses from last year. By this time I tried to update the list, making sure I dropped the names from my list of folks I had not heard from in a while and probably would never again and those no longer with us. At my age you realize you are not going see all the folks you once knew before the end.

Getting Christmas stamps was another issue. Several years ago I found that by the time I made it to the Post Office there were no more Holiday stamps available. Some how using stamps with the flag on them was not festive.  Last year, I thought I would be smart and order my Holiday stamps online. Surely that would ensure that I actually got Christmas stamps.  And I did. However, the holiday stamps arrived several days before Christmas, a week or so after I posted my cards. Once again my cards were sent with a patriotic flare. 

Naturally I was lazy this year. Instead of buying regular stamps to use throughout the year, saving my holiday stamps for this year's cards, everything I have sent out so far in 2021 has had a holiday stamp on it. Having depleted my supply of festive stamps, this year I went to the post office 2 weeks before Thanksgiving and successfully found lovely Christmas stamps.

As I prepared my cards, I realized that there were more names on my list than cards I had bought this year. Luckily, I had cards left over from last year. As I finished addressing the envelopes, a feeling on mild panic came upon me. Last year I sent several different kinds of cards. I had no idea who got which card. What if I sent the same card I sent last year to some unsuspecting name on my list? What would they think? Then I realized I was being a bit arrogant to assume someone would remember what card I sent . 

When I finished I still had a few cards left over. There are always names I forgot about and new friends I did not have an address for. Worse yet, those I receive a card from who were not on my list.  My cards are addressed, stamped and ready to mail. I will wait until after Thanksgiving to post them. 

Oh, and if you are reading this and do not receive a Christmas Card from me, fear not. That indicates that you are on the list of those so special you do not need a card. I would not want anyone to think they were being overlooked.

PS - Last year, I would have saved myself angst, had I just checked with my friendly UPS store!

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Memories, Like the Fragrances of My Life

And while we are on the subject of fragrances, I still reminiscence about my Daddy, Auntie, and Hoyt's Cologne.  Those two had a running joke every Christmas - one of them was going to give the other a bottle of it - a very cheap toiletry found on the bottom shelf of any drugstore.  I was much too young to understand, I just knew there was much laughter when the gift was opened. Aunty always said it smelled "God Awful". I never thought it was that bad, although I stuck my nose up about it like everyone else, since that seemed like the party line at the time.

I have since learned that Hoyt's Cologne dates back to 1868 and was worn by gamblers, thought to bring them luck. It had notes of citrus and floral which are the scents I prefer. Guess it was best I kept my preferences to myself when I was five. Lord knows my Aunt Kat would have feared I was destined for a life on the wrong side of town, my Granny would have pulled out the Presbyterian Catechism, while Auntie would have been proud of me.

Of course my Aunt Kat wore Emeraude up until the day she died. My Aunt J'Nelle preferred Channel No. 5. I never asked, but no doubt if I had, my Auntie would have told me she preferred "Some type of toilet water." I just remember her smelling like the Salem cigarette she always had hanging out of the side of her mouth.

Then there were the "perfumes" Daddy sold in his drugstore in the 70's - Jean Nate, Faberge's StrawHat. Tigress, and Woodhue, Windsong, Cache and Shalimar. And, the men had their own with Old Spice, Brut, English, and Stetson.  I can't seem to forget you.  For the life of me I doubt I could tell any one those colognes apart. However, a few men's fragrances bring back memories of some of the men of my far distant past. Especially Polo. Ah, Polo . . . and that British Racing Green Austin Healey.  And, Royal Spyce and those blue eyes . . . but we will not go there.

Ahem. Anyway as I was saying, Daddy and Auntie always exchanged Hoyt's Cologne at Christmas. That was my introduction to colognes, needless to say it up from there. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

The Strength of Smell

 Of all the senses, smell is supposed to bring back more memories. I cannot speak for everyone, but this is very true in my case. The smells of the holidays always bring back memories of Christmases long past. Sometimes it only takes a light scent to bring a warm memory to mind. There are times a smell is very familiar and I know there is some tie to my past, but for the love of me, I cannot place it.

The smell of clove brings back memories of the orange we would cover with cloves to create a sachet as a gift for our mothers. In my case, Aunt Kat always seemed more appreciative of this gift than Mama. Cinnamon brings back memories of the Orange Bigelow Tea my Aunt J'Nelle served to teach me how to properly drink hot tea and appreciate it. A slice of orange reminds me of the ambrosia we enjoyed at both my Granny's and my Grandmother's house at Christmas. (Totally different recipes.) An oranges take me back to Christmas morning as a child, when Santa always left 1 or 2 our stockings along with whole walnuts - go figure!!

Cinnamon and Clove together bring back memories of Russian Tea, that concoction of Tang, cinnamon, cloves, and lemon flavored tea. I cannot count the number of jars of this "Tea" I made and gave as gifts, as well as received. It was one of the few hot beverages I ever cared for. (Until I grew up and discovered Espresso and Cappuccino.)

A whiff of Vicks Vaporub brings back those nights as a child when I was sick with a bad cold. My Mama would put a dab of Vaporub in the old hot air humidifier, filling my room with a warm mist of mentholatum.  

Citronella reminds me of outdoor summer suppers with my family. The brick patio would be surrounded with citronella candles to ward off the pesky mosquitoes. 

The smell of Camellias and Sasanquas bring back memories of the bowls of Camellias we would have in the entrance hall from November through January. My Daddy was a serious gardener. One of his passions was breeding and grafting Camellias. So we always had bowls of fresh Camellias from our yard.

The perfume "Charlemagne", takes me back to my bedroom, one night in December of 1975 when I was getting dressed for a very special date. 

One of the downsides of a lovely Leyland Cypress Christmas tree is the lack of scent. But, that could be handled with a can of "Fresh Royal Fir" by Claire Birke. Both the smell of a fresh Frazier Fir and a spritz of "Fresh Royal Fir" brings to mind Christmas trees of the past. A can of spray scent may seem a bit like cheating. However, it doesn't matter. Real or not, it is the smell that invokes the memory. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Why I Believe

As I have stated before, I am a true believer in the big man in red. I learned my lesson early. When I was five or six, thinking logically, I started calculating the number of hours in a night, the number of houses in the world, and the amount of time it would take someone to jump out a sleigh and come down every chimney. Funny, I believed that there was a chance the reindeer flew, he had an accurate list, and he lived forever. The idea of elves was questionable. Anyway, putting the package together, as Mr. Spock would say, "This is totally illogical". When I posed my theory to my father, in his wise way, he took it in stride, and said,"Well, you have thought this through and you have some good points." His answer really bothered me. I expected some argument.

As Christmas got closer, I tried to co-op my younger brother into my theory. He wasn't buying it though. He was holding out for that large yellow Tonka Dump Truck to go with the Tonka Road Scraper he got for his birthday. He had the page marked in the Sears & Roebuck Wish Book. 

Remember that wonderful red catalog that would come in the mail a month or so before Christmas? My brother and I would fight over possession of it for weeks. Each of us clearly marking the items we wanted from the incredible selection of toys in the back of the book. But I digress.

Every year, Santa would make one short visit to our small town and hold court at the local Sears store located on the town square. That particular year, my father suggested I go with him to take my brother. As we walked up to the store, there was a crowd of excited children with their parents expectantly waiting to see the big man. (I still had my doubts. After all, how did he have time to visit every town.) My father led us through the crowd.

As we walked through the door, a loud voice boomed from the back of the store. And, what followed changed my life forever. Santa called my name - loudly. The line waiting to see him parted and there he was sitting in his big chair. "Someone told me you no longer believe in me," he said in a questioning voice. "Come hear. Let's talk." Somehow I made it down the aisle. As I approached him, he looked down at me and smiled. 

"Oh, I believe," I quickly said. 

"I thought you did. Now let's discuss that Chatty Cathy on page 105 of the Wish Book. I think that was on your list." If I ever had a doubt, that night I drank the Koolaide.

As Daddy took us home, I just couldn't stop talking about how nice Santa was and how hard his job must be. Daddy just smiled. "Santa" was the local radio announcer, Mr. Guy Kirby, a good friend of my father's. Needless to say, Mr. Kirby had some inside information and was prepared for me. When I was older and learned the truth about my "Miracle on Russell Street" I was in awe of what a father would do to make sure his little girl did not lose the magic of Christmas.

Monday, November 22, 2021

The Christmas Tree

 'Tis the Season - Right? The Season for family, friends, frolicking, and, most importantly, the pièce de ré·sis·tance - the Christmas Tree. Whether live and fresh or synthetic and artificial, it is the symbol of holiday hearth and home. There are many interpretations of this festive conifer. In the 60's there was the silver (aluminum) tree with the multi color light wheel projecting a parade of colors on the tree. These days, artificial trees come in a myriad of colors (without the light wheel) pink, blue, purple. There has been the tree that hangs upside down from the ceiling. I had a friend who would decorate a tree then burn it. (If nothing else, this made a statement). There are the "designer" trees where someone pays a small fortune for someone else to decorate their tree. Personally, I think this defeats the purpose.

There is "a tree in the Grand Hotel, one in the park as well, It's the sturdy kind that doesn't mind the snow". The largest tree I've ever seen is the one at Rockefeller Center. And, of course, the simple sad looking tree Charlie Brown had.

Whatever the type, most of us grew up with childhood memories of our family tree. As a child I cannot remember exactly when we got our tree. I do remember where - a tree lot off the St Matthew's Rd. You know, the traditional area outlined by white light bulbs strung from pole to pole. It was a Frazier Fir, if I recall correctly. It is was not from such a lot, it was from the Piggly Wiggly. After all, the first site of the Christmas trees lined up outside the grocery store announced the official beginning of the holiday season. Like many homes back then, we had the traditional tree lights of the time, the ones the size of your thumb when an entire string could easily heat a room. At High Acres, we had a simple Virginia pine that we cut down on the farm.

When our children were young, we selected and cut down our tree on a tree farm. Usually it was a Leyland Cypress. And, we always got it the Friday after Thanksgiving.

When the Christmas Tree farm we frequently used closed, we found another one, about an hour away. In addition to Leylands, they had several different varieties we tried over the years. There was the Noble Fir, supposed to be the "King " of trees. A truly beautiful tree that unfortunately lost much of its needles before Christmas day. There was also the Blue Spruce- a lovely tree with a blue Hue. Unfortunately, the branches were so prickly that by the time the tree was trimmed, our arms looked as if we had been in a cat fight, and the cat had won.

When our family joined the episcopal church, I was surprised to learn that the tree was not to be  until Christmas Eve and stayed up until Epiphany, through the 12 days of Christmas. (Turtle Doves and all). Even as members of the church, we continued to put our tree up the Friday after Thanksgiving (and take it down before New Year's Eve). It was blasphemy but in the church's benevolence we must have been forgiven as we were never excommunicated.

Talking with friends, I find there are many traditions (and theories) about when is the right time to buy the tree. But, to each their own. Personally, given the amount of effort, time, and money, if the tree is not put up 4 weeks before Christmas, it is not worth the investment. So for me it is some time Thanksgiving week.

That being the case, this upcoming week is "The" week. Furniture must be rearranged, boxes and totes filled with lights, balls, and garlands brought out, a holiday playlist selected, and the "perfect" tree brought home. There will be the frustrating issue of getting the tree straight in the stand, rotating it to see the best side, untangling the lights, and then getting them straight on the tree. Too many lights on the top and we may run short at the bottom or vice a versa. At that point the process can slow to an enjoyable pace. I may take a day or 2 to carefully place each ornament on the best place. 

I think we often fail to realize the joy of pulling each ornament from its box. For each individual ball, toy, or whatever has a story. I cannot speak for everyone, but I find myself cherishing each memory as I hang the ornament. It may be a ball with a glass opening that shows a miniature scene inside. In one case, it is Charlie Brown and Lucy ice skating. This was a special Hallmark ornament from the 70's I got as a child from Daddy's store. (Hard to believe that 50 years ago.) There are the ornaments collected from places traveled. The ones that were gifts from special friends. And, always the precious ones made of Popsicle sticks, glue, and pipe cleaners.

There are the glass balls I found on sale when we trimmed our first tree. I never thought of the expense of trimming a tree until the Christmas of 1982 when got our first tree. It was only then I realized that it would take patience and time to collect enough ornaments to properly decorate our tree. From this lesson I started a tradition of giving our granddaughters ornaments each year for Christmas so they will at least be a bit more prepared for their first tree than we were.

So each year's tree is a labor of love, a family tradition, a trip down memory lane, as well as the ultimate decoration that is the center of the home's holiday tradition. Then like something akin to a castle on the beach that awaits its fate by the change of the tide, in a manner of weeks, the process will be reversed, and everything will be put back up, moved back out, and the tree retired to the rubbish or recycle bin. We will be as glad to see it go, as we were thrilled when it was first put up. 

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Julian Fellows Continues the Saga

 I recently learned that Julian Fellows has come through again. It has been announced that there will be another Downtown Abbey movie to be released in March 2022 -  Downton Abbey - A New Era. Based in the 1930's, it continues the saga of the Crowley family. 

But there are questions:

Who are the newly weds shown briefly in the trailer - perhaps Tom and Lucy who met when the King and Queen visited Downton? 

Just who was this mystery man of the Dowager Countess Violet's past? Were there more men in her life than the Earl of Grantham and Prince Kuragen? Is this who she visited when she disappeared to the south of France to get over being offed the Hospital Board?

What are George, Caroline, Sybil, Marigold, and Edith's second child up to?

Does Micheal Gregson reappear having been lost in Germany with amnesia since before the Great War, and complicate Edith's life? Or does Bertie tire of her and move onto another lady? Perhaps the Duchess of Kent? (Poor Edith)

Does the great house become way too expensive to manage and the family sell it to the Catholic church to be run as a home for wayward women (with Lady Isabel Merton - nee Crowley running the show)?

Do Daisy and Andy marry and turn Mr. Mason's tenancy into an organic jam operation?

Do Mr. Mason and Miss Patmore find true love?

Who is the glamorous blond who appears briefly in the trailer entering the Abby?

What becomes of Thomas's relationship with the King's Valet?

Do Violet and Maude make pretty and move to the South of France?

And who owns the yacht? Perhaps Harold?

Oh, so many questions. A lot can happen in the years between the mid 20's and mid 30's. 

Here is the trailer: Downton Abbey - A New Era

Saturday, November 20, 2021

A Muff or Not

 Most of you know I was brought up in South Carolina, a state where "winter" weather is limited to 6 weeks in February and March. Maybe every 4 or 5 years snow will fall, generally just enough to cover the ground and cause mass pandemonium. 

All that said, my mother had certain ideas in her head of things that were proper. Not necessarily practical but proper.

There was a piece of "Winter" apparel Mama thought I needed to have and use. Beyond a scarf and gloves which were rarely used, Mama decided I needed a muff, a full white rabbit hare muff.

For those of you not familiar, a muff is defined as "a tube made of fur or other warm material into which the hands are placed for warmth". Such as this one as seen in the 1880's, in Europe where there is a true cold winter 4 months of the year. Memories of the snowy sleigh scenes in Dr. Zhivago come to mind, not the "chilly" winter days in South Carolina where the temperatures rarely drop below 40.

This is definitely not the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of South Carolina. 

So in December, I would be dressed for church in my short sleeve velvet dress, black patent leather shoes, short white socks, and a muff. If it were cold enough I may have had on a sweater or a coat. But this begs the question - if it is not cold enough to wear tights or a coat, what in Sam Hell's name does one do with a muff? Well, in my case, thankfully (or maybe not), it came with a lanyard that went around my neck, preventing me from losing the blasted thing. Just for the record it is a very efficient hand warmer.

This all comes to mind the other night when I was watching a movie (the story line being in Europe) and one of the ladies had a brown fur muff. In that instance, it looked appropriate. Of course the story line was based in the Victorian Era and it was the winter season. (As in snow on the ground and temperatures in the low 20's).

I spared my daughters of this ridiculousness. I'm not sure they even know what a muff is. 

Don't get me wrong, in the right weather  (very cold), and the right situation (one that includes a lot of snow and a sleigh), a muff would be an appropriate piece of apparel. And next time, I find myself in that situation, I will no doubt be unprepared without a muff.

Perhaps, I should thank Mama. If nothing else, she prepared me for the $500 question on Jeopardy,  under the category of "Obsolete Victorian Winter Accessories" -  the clue being "The fur tube Victorian women used to keep their hands warm." Ding, Ding, Ding - "What is a muff?"