Wednesday, December 9, 2009

December Stories and Songs, Part 9

Continuing the Christmas tree theme, today’s story is The Tree that Didn’t Get Trimmed by Christopher Morley. It’s available in a couple of solo editions, which are out of print and quite expensive; but I also located it in A Christmas Treasury and The Home Book of Christmas, which should be easier to find. Like the tree in H. C. Andersen’s The Fir Tree, the tree which is the protagonist of this story wishes very much to be a Christmas tree; to enjoy the merriment and be decked with shiny baubles. But he languishes on the tree lot and there is a different fate in store for him – a far more cheerful one than that of Andersen’s tree!

Although I only chose two songs to accompany this tale originally, I’m giving you three today. I found a beautiful rendition of Sang til Juletræet by Christopher Pedersen. However, it appears (at least to my tin ear) to be sung to a classical setting by Edvard Grieg and not to the tune I am familiar with from Mike and Else Sevig’s A Norwegian Christmas. So here’s the Sang til Juletræet that I was able to find.


And to show how important the tree is to a Scandinavian Christmas, here’s another familiar song from our Danish Sangaften, Højt fra træets grønne top (High upon our Christmas tree).

And last but not least, a funny song by the late Erik Darling, which you can listen to here. You will need to download RealAudio (free and safe) before you can listen to Revenge of the Christmas Tree. Erik Darling, who died in 2008, had a long career in folk music. One of the first folk records I bought was Travellin’ on with the Weavers, on which Darling replaced Pete Seeger in the group.

December Stories and Songs, Part 8


Here’s a picture of me and Brother #1 at Christmas, I think 1952. Our Christmas tree this year will come from the same woods that this one probably did. We don’t have it yet – I’ll have to send Onkel Hankie Pants out into the snowy woods for it this weekend. But if you don’t have a tree yet, it’s probably time to start thinking about it. So the story and song today are both about Christmas trees. (I’m hoping to get caught up today….)

A Christmas Tree for Lydia A Christmas Tree for Lydia is a short story by Elizabeth Enright that I found in a little Scholastic paperback called Ten Tales of Christmas. Ten Tales of Christmas The paperback anthology is still available and not too expensive; it’s worth buying for that story alone. The story also appeared earlier as a picture book (see photo at left), but that one will now set you back $50.00 or more. You could ask your local librarian to track it down in either version, or check the Short Story Index to see if it’s anthologized elsewhere.

The story is set in New York City shortly after World War II, where a young war widow is struggling to raise two children – an elementary-age boy and Lydia, a preschooler. The theme is not an uncommon one for Christmas tales – love and ingenuity overcome poverty to make Christmas happen. It’s one of my favorites, and I hope you will be able to find a copy.

Wonderland Both the story and the song today are ones you may have to buy, unless you can find them at the library. The Tree is by Jim Henry, a folk singer/songwriter from Western Massachusetts. It appears on the CD Wonderland: A Winter’s Solstice Celebration, and as best I can tell, some of the royalties on this album still go to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. The CD is still one of my favorites several years after I bought it; it holds a great mix of music, from Bach to You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch, and several original songs, all performed by local artists. Henry’s song is full of childhood memories of the Christmas tree and how big it seemed, and how “it won’t be Christmas till we’ve got the tree.” By the way, if you get hold of the CD and can play music, here are the chords and lyrics to The Tree.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

December Stories and Songs, Part 7

There are just a few Christmas stories that have become iconic, and subject to endless retellings and re-imaginings. One is the Nativity story itself; another is Dickens’ A Christmas Carol; and a third is O. Henry’s classic short story, Gifts of the Magi. (According to the editors of A Christmas Treasury, from which I took my reading, this is the original title; it makes more sense to me than the usual The Gift of the Magi, but I have not been able to verify this.) Hardly a year goes by without some film or television special giving us a new version; in fact, one of the stories I blogged about last year, Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas, is essentially a retelling of the O. Henry tale. In any case, that’s the story for December 7. (Sorry about the late posting.)

O. Henry (William Sydney Porter) wrote several Christmas tales – The Cop and the Anthem and Whistling Dick’s Christmas Stocking come to mind. Many of his stories were first published in the New York World’s Sunday magazine, and Gifts of the Magi, said to have been written in Pete’s Tavern, (hence the photo above) was published in the World on December 10, 1905. Later it appeared in the short story collection The Four Million. gift of the magi Since it is now in the public domain, there are a number of illustrated versions available, and it appears in probably 9 out of 10 Christmas anthologies as well. However, you can also read it here if you like.

Illustrated books, films, musicals, and at least two operas (one in Finnish!) have been based on the story, and the Squirrel Nut Zippers have a song that recounts the story on their CD Christmas Caravan. Christmas Caravan And, through the magic of YouTube, here they are performing The Gift of the Magi:

Sunday, December 6, 2009

December Stories and Songs, Part 6

First, a photo I couldn't resist including: SonShineIn, 30 years ago, standing in front of the Little House in the Big Woods reconstruction near Pepin, Wisconsin.

Today’s reading almost needs no introduction. For St. Nicholas’ Day, I wanted a Santa Claus story, and one of our favorites has always been Mr. Edwards Meets Santa Claus, the Christmas chapter from Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Here’s a picture of the cover of the first edition, before the Garth Williams illustrations. I don’t have this, but I do have a battered copy of The Long Winter with the original pictures by Helen Sewell and Mildred Boyle. lens6751062_1251739697LittleHouseOnThePrairie

Some people, confused by the television show, think that the Little House on the Prairie was, like the Little Town on the Prairie, in South Dakota. Not so but far otherwise! It was in southeastern Kansas, near Independence. Winter there can often bring rain, sleet and ice storms more than snow, hence the problems Santa encountered in reaching the Ingalls girls, causing him to enlist Mr. Edwards’ help.

In some ways, Little House on the Prairie is the most problematic of the books, because of Ma’s distaste for Indians and the fact that their part of Kansas, near Oklahoma, was the place where the family had the most contact with them. For this reason, I think it’s important for parents to read the book aloud with their children so that they can discuss the reasons for Ma’s feelings and why our ideas today are different. (Of course, Onkel Hankie Pants has always felt that Laura’s relationship with her mother was quite conflicted and that this shows through in her description of many of Ma’s attitudes.) In the Christmas chapter, there are other springboards for discussion – I wouldn’t be too heavy-handed about it, I suspect most kids will catch on pretty fast to the difference between Laura and Mary’s joy at their few meager gifts, and their own feelings about all the plastic and electronic wishes we foster in our children today. Not to mention how appreciative Pa and Ma are of the sweet potatoes Mr. Edwards brings – we can get them for 99 cents a pound this week in the supermarket.

Surely you have a copy of Little House on the Prairie (and all the other books in the series) at home; but if you don’t, they are readily available at public libraries and bookstores everywhere. For a special Christmas book, try A Little House Christmas, which brings together Christmas chapters from several of the books in a nice format for reading aloud.A Little House Christmas

I don’t know why it’s so hard to find a recording of a solo fiddler playing Christmas songs. The nearest I could come in my collection was a CD by Vassar Clements, Norman and Nancy Blake, and some other folk and bluegrass musicians, called An Americana Christmas. An Americana Christmas From it I chose Cradle Hymn, better known as Away in a Manger; it’s the James R. Murray version which is best known to most Americans. Searching YouTube, I did find a couple of poorly recorded efforts by very young violinists, and was about to give up when I happened on this very nice violin-guitar duo which includes some fine pizzicato.

December Stories and Songs, Part 5

I was feeling punk today (maybe it was the Punk Rock Advent Calendar?) and then we went out to see a community theater production tonight, driving home through fast-falling snow. So this posting is a bit late, and will be short, but I highly recommend the story and the song.

a yuletide universe O Come, Little Children, by Chet Williamson, was apparently considered a ghost story by at least one publisher. I read it in A Yuletide Universe: Sixteen Fantastical Tales. I’ll leave it to you to decide – fantastical? Miraculous? It’s a story about a child who believes, but not really a story for children. You can read it here.

old sailor's christmas For a song to go with this story, I chose one from a recording I bought at a local craft fair from the artist. Jimmy Barnes is a Maine singer-songwriter in the “country-eastern” style and some of the songs on his Christmas album include “Grandma’s Woodstove,” “Ribbon Candy,” and “Lobstah for Santa.” But along with the nostalgia and humor there are a couple of serious songs on the album and one of them is “Would You Let Him In.” “…would you say “We’re busy – could you call again? If Jesus knocked on Christmas Eve, would you let him in?” It’s not an original idea for a song or tale, but Barnes does a good job with it. On his website, you can listen to small samples of the songs, and you can order this CD or his other non-seasonal ones, and support a Maine artist.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

December Stories and Songs, Part 4

if i may Because of the Friday Five and a dentist appointment, I’m quite late in posting this; and also I just realized that I switched yesterday and today, although there was no special reason for the dates on which the stories were read. So, today’s story is really an essay – or, as I just learned, actually only a portion of an essay, by A. A. Milne. It’s called “A Hint for Next Christmas,” and has been anthologized more than once, but it was not until I read it online here that I got a chance to read the whole thing. The part I recorded omits the whole section about Christmas cards as well as some of the introductory material, and concentrates on the house party Christmas gift-giving, and is quite funny in a quiet British way. It appears in its entirety in a book of essays by the author of Winnie the Pooh called If I May.

William, the young man in Milne’s essay, is attending a Christmas houseparty in a large country house, of the type familiar to readers of Anthony Trollope and Agatha Christie. One of the activities of the Christmas week guests would doubtless have been going to the local church for the carol service, so to go with this story I chose Cecil Frances Alexander’s Christmas hymn, Once in Royal David’s City, with music by Henry Gauntlett. It is the traditional opening to the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols at King’s College, Cambridge and to many other Lessons and Carols services elsewhere; in fact, in the absence of a willing boy soprano, Sisterfilms herself sang the opening verse at our church’s service for several years running. She had the advantage of prior warning; as is now fairly well-known, the chorister at King’s who is to sing the opening verse is not told until a moment or two before he is to sing. a child is born
I initially chose a recording of the hymn by the choir of another Cambridge college, Trinity, from a CD called A Child Is Born, because the first verse on my recording of the King’s College service was almost inaudible. festival of nine lessons

However, apparently in England they do a television broadcast and in the video below, the sound system was working very well and you can also see the young chorister in close-up, looking remarkably poised. I’ll be attending our town’s ecumenical Service of Lessons and Carols on Sunday afternoon; I hope you can find one in your neighborhood. And of course, on Christmas Eve morning, you can listen to this year’s service on most local NPR stations.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Friday Five: Do Nothing Edition

busy doing nothing

This photo of a calico cat, in memory of our cat Heidi, is from the photos of ‘Xena*best friend*” on Its title is “I’m busy... doing nothing;-).”

Sally in the UK says:

I am reading a wonderful little book for Advent; its title: "Do nothing Christmas is Coming!"
So this week’s Friday Five is simple.
List Five things you won't be doing to prepare for Christmas.
And while you are doing nothing play the bonus, put your feet up and listen to your favourite Advent Carol, and post it or a link to it...

1. Shopping much in malls or big box stores. As much as possible, shopping in local stores or church/craft fairs, or ordering handmade things online.

2. Traveling. I enjoyed our trip to City of Lakes last year, but it’s nice to be at home and expecting visits from our daughters and Onkel Hankie Pants’ sister and a new friend. Also not having to be in an airport….

3. I should be used to this by now, it’s the fifth year … but it still feels rather odd that no one in the family has any responsibilities for the Christmas Eve worship service. For so many years I read the children’s story and one or more other family members sang in the choir; church was at 5:30 and we had to be there around 4:45, with the big Christmas Eve dinner coming after church. It was hectic, but gave us a real feeling of being part of worship. Now our only responsibility is showing up – and church is so crowded that no one would notice if we didn’t. (And in case anyone from Big Taupe Church is reading this – ushering on Christmas Eve is definitely something I will not be doing!)

4. Buying things with a credit card. Not gonna do it.

5. Obsessing about perfection. Whether the food, decorations, presents, or whatever are perfect or not, they will be what they will be. Not that I won’t do my best, but then I will let it go.

Bonus: I didn’t get a chance to read through all the other responses yet, but so far no one has chosen this lovely hymn, Prepare the Way. I think the tune is one of those Swedish folk tunes which make such beautiful hymntunes. I’ve embedded one rendition by a good-sized choir and linked to another by a smaller one – both appear to be the same arrangement and each choir does a great job in its own way.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

December Stories and Songs, Part 3

old country pickup truck
Photo courtesy of Daisy's Little Cottage on There are many wonderful photos if you search "old pickup truck" but some had snow on I chose this one.

Today’s is a real grown-up’s story. Modern writers of literary fiction frequently set their stories at Christmastime (at least often enough to fill a number of anthologies), but precious few of them have seemed suitable to me for reading aloud. So often the stories are about dysfunctional families enduring the enforced togetherness of the holiday season. Although I don’t insist on complete sweetness and light, I do like there to be some hope of redemption at the end of any story, and especially a Christmas story. Deputy Sid’s Gift by Tim Gautreaux has that and more.

The story is told in the first person by a Louisiana man who works in a nursing home because his oilrig job disappeared. When an old “going to the dump” truck disappears from his property, his efforts to get it back involve him in the life of a black alcoholic neighbor. Deputy Sid, the local lawman (who is also black) and the narrator’s parish priest also play their parts. I like Gautreaux’s ear for language and the thoughtfulness of his characters. a very southern I found the story in A Very Southern Christmas, an anthology of tales by Southern writers; you can also get it in Gautreaux’s collection of short stories, Same Place, Same Things. The story was first published in Harper’s Magazine in November 1995, and if you are a subscriber you can read it here; or perhaps you can find it in your local library,

For a story taking place in Cajun country, there are a number of different songs with similar titles: “Christmas on the Bayou” or variations on that theme. I chose the one by Beausoleil from the excellent CD Alligator Stomp, Volume 4: Cajun Christmas.alligator stomp cajun

And lo! here it is on YouTube:

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

December Stories and Songs, Part 2

Green Gables “Green Gables,” Prince Edward Island

Some of my favorite Christmas stories are chapters from books that aren’t all about Christmas. Although I read all of the Anne of Green Gables books as a child, I had forgotten about this Christmas chapter from the first book until a couple of years ago. My local library acquired CHristmas with Anne Christmas with Anne and Other Holiday Stories by L. M. Montgomery. ”Matthew Insists on Puffed Sleeves” was the first selection (and in my opinion, the best of the bunch.) In this chapter, the orphan Anne Shirley has been with Matthew and Marilla, the aging bachelor and spinster, for some time, and they are beginning to be a family. Matthew, who’s very shy and unworldly, nevertheless notices, when a gaggle of girls come to practice for the Christmas concert, that Anne’s clothes are unfashionable. The struggles he goes through to obtain a fashionable dress as Anne’s Christmas present are both funny and charming. The opinionated, but good-hearted Rachel Lynde comes to his rescue, and even the starchy Marilla unbends a bit. You can read the story here if you don’t have a copy of Anne of Green Gables.

Lucy Maud (L. M.) Montgomery, 1874-1942, had an early life that in many respects mirrored that of her most famous character; her mother died when Maud was not yet 2 years old and she was principally reared by her grandparents. However, it appears that they were stricter than Matthew and Marilla. She also taught school and had early ambitions to be a writer; Anne of Green Gables was published in 1908, but she had published magazine and newspaper stories before that. She is much honored in Canada, having appeared on postage stamps and been remembered in more than one museum at sites where she lived.

I realize now that I was being anachronistic when I chose the song Ding! Dong! Merrily on High to go with this tale, for it was not published until 1924, although the tune dates back to the 16th century. George Ratcliffe Woodward (1858-1934) wrote the lyrics (as well as the verses for Past Three O’Clock) and published them in his The Cambridge Carol-Book. The exuberance of the tune reminds me of Anne Shirley’s personality; the consciously archaic words (“Let steeple bells be swungen,” forsooth!) probably would have appealed to Anne, who was not above a bit of affectation herself.

Bright Day Star The rendition I chose to include was an instrumental by the Baltimore Consort, whose album Bright Day Star is one of my favorite Christmas CDs. (It should probably be titled Branle l’Officiel as it’s only the tune and not Woodward’s words. According to the website Hymns and Carols of Christmas, the tune name should be translated something like “Brawl in the Servants’ Hall.) In my search for a video to post, I found this excellent little group singing it in a benefit concert one of the singers had arranged. As Anne Shirley wore her dress with the puffed sleeves to a concert meant to raise funds for a school flag, I thought this was an appropriate performance to share.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

December Stories and Songs, Part 1

Here begins my Advent Calendar of songs and stories for the season. These are the ones I recorded for Sisterfilms in 2007. I have on hand fewer stories than for last year, since in ‘07 she was able to join us earlier. But by the time I run out I will have figured out a solution to posting sufficient readings. In 2007, I also chose a few stories that were written for adults – fair warning, one of them even has some rough language!


Today’s story is Dancing Dan’s Christmas by Damon Runyon. It’s a tale of crime and romance with some humor thrown in. Runyon, a newspaperman and writer, was born in Kansas and raised in Colorado but became the supreme chronicler of a certain kind of New Yorker. He is best known for Guys and Dolls, the Frank Loesser musical (and later film) made from two of his short stories. Other films based on Runyon stories include The Lemon-Drop Kid, A Pocketful of Miracles, and Little Miss Marker. You can follow the link above to read the story online, and it’s also anthologized in several books including Murder for Christmas. If you don’t mind filling out a free registration, you can also listen to a dramatic reading with music here. (And really, if you really, really want to, you could let me know your snailmail address and I’ll send you my recording!)

The songs for today are not really Christmasy at all, but they were all that Dancing Dan and the narrator could come up with when they had imbibed their quota of Tom and Jerries and wanted to sing some celebratory songs. The words to Will You Love Me in December as You Do in May? were written by James J. Walker, who later became Mayor of New York. Bob Hope played him in the movie Beau James, which I saw with my brother at the Hainerberg Theater in Wiesbaden. Unfortunately it is not available on DVD. The music was by Ernest R. Ball, who also wrote When Irish Eyes Are Smiling. You can go here to hear a very early recording of the song by the Elysian Singers, or you can listen to Dan Linnell of They Might Be Giants. I bought an MP3 of the song as sung by Johnny O’Tolle and His Naughty Band from an album called Gay 90s. Gay 90s Watch out for this one – just reading about it had me going about the house inflicting my poor excuse for an Irish tenor on the long-suffering Rusty.

The song Dancing Dan himself sings in the story is My Dad’s Dinner Pail, which also brought to mind a favorite movie. The song was written by Edward (Ned) Harrigan (lyrics) and his father-in-law David Braham. Harrigan and his partner Tony Hart were the fathers of musical comedy with their shows in the 1880s. George M. Cohan wrote H-A-Double R-I-G-A-N Spells Harrigan in honor of Ned Harrigan, and it appeared in the James Cagney film Yankee Doodle Dandy, which must have been shown several times a year on New York television stations when we lived in Connecticut. McNally's Row of Flats In 2007, I had to buy a CD by Mick Moloney called McNally’s Row of Flats to get the song; it has a number of Harrigan and Braham’s songs of the Irish-American experience and was well worth it. Recently I found this rendition by Debra Cowan, who has a lovely voice that reminds me of Priscilla Herdman’s. The songs Dancing Dan and his friend sing are both highly sentimental, and serve to show that in spite of their obvious criminal bent, these guys have hearts of gold – which they also prove by their actions in the story.


If any of you want to try making a Tom and Jerry, here’s a recipe.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Advent Calendars Go Virtual

advent wreath Do you have an Advent calendar? Sisterfilms sent me an Advent calendar greeting card, which is waiting patiently on the mantelpiece until tomorrow, when I can start opening a window each day. But did you know that there are many online or “virtual” Advent calendars available? Some are religious, some secular in nature; some educational and some just silly fun. I’ve tested all the links below, so you can check them out and bookmark your favorites. (Warning: don’t try to visit all of them each day. You won’t get anything else done!) By the way, traditionally Advent calendars begin on December 1st and can be reused in any year. Some of the church-based ones below began on the first Sunday of Advent, which was November 29th this year.

Beliefnet’s 2009 Advent Calendar: Began with November 29th, which had a number of links to information about Advent and a quiz about how stressful your Advent might be. Day Two also has a quiz and some discussion of the Nativity story. Beliefnet’s Christianity section includes many different perspectives.

Episcopal Diocese of Washington, D.C.: This calendar, posted in 2007, features figures from the National Cathedral’s international collection of creches or Nativity scenes with pictures and descriptions. There are also links to a daily meditation and the Daily Office (Bible readings). Sadly, the Carol of the Day link is broken.

Musical Advent Calendar from the German Embassy to the UK, 2006: The more musically adventurous among you may enjoy this, which has techno and other alternative renderings of German Christmas carols. And there’s also this one, I think from 2007, with a snowman theme and some of the same musicians.

From a teacher and artist in Melbourne, Australia comes this Australian Advent calendar full of inspiration for art projects as well as meditations that are uniquely Australian. I know I have some friends and readers who would like this one.

Angels We Have Heard Are High, and the Cavalcade of Bad Nativities parts 1 and 2 which you can get to from the sidebar of Angels… are not exactly an Advent calendar, but fun to look at. Posted during Advents past by the blogger at Going Jesus, they are amazing examples of “Christian kitsch” that will either horrify you or make you laugh. Give ‘em a try. I don’t know whether she’s doing something similar this year, there’s a lot going on in her life right now.

If you have any Czech ancestry or just an interest in customs of other lands, try the Czech Advent Calendar with information for each day. It’s from Radio Prague.

In England, it appears to me, there is religious education in the public schools, and a website to help teachers with resources. It’s called REEP (Promoting Links between Religions and the Environment) and is just full of great things, including their Advent calendars with a different theme each year. There are quizzes, puzzles, riddles, and other interesting things that are fun for grownups as well as kids. Another educational site from the UK with an Advent calendar is this one from Woodlands Junior School in Tonbridge, Kent.

Castle Arcana’s Christmas site has not only an Advent calendar to “color,” but A Christmas Carol acted out by cartoon guinea pigs – how can you resist?

Nur auf deutsch: (only if you can read some German) is this very pretty Advent calendar which tells, in German, about Christmas customs in many lands.

The New York Carver website has a lovely Medieval Advent Calendar with information and links about medieval art, history and so on. The whole site looks like one it would be fun to visit, including a Virtual Cathedral.

Pagan or Wiccan and feeling a little left out? Or just want to see some lovely pictures of ancient British sites? Try the Yule/Solstice Advent Calendar. Stonehenge and other sites are featured.

The site at has a lot of German information, including, posted in 2007, an Advent Calendar which is low on graphics but high on information. For some Swiss flavor, try this calendar showing decorated windows in Swiss villages.

Lots of people home-school for a variety of reasons. Those who are doing it for religious reasons, or want to carry on some religious education at home, will enjoy TeachingMom’s Advent Calendar. I like that she points out that you can use the calendar year after year and will not be doing every activity every year! Just take what you can use and leave the rest.

Have a toddler or pre-schooler who’s getting fussy because Mom or Dad is on the computer? Take a break and show him/her one of these sites which feature a simple animated scene for each day: Greeneyesz, put up in 1999 and rather slow loading, but cute; Rooney Design is a little livelier and has music; – is this a cartoon character I don’t know about? and Billy Bear for Kids has games and such.

A couple more that I wasn’t able to preview because it’s not December 1st yet, but which look good though simple, are Greg’s Advent Calendar (he has a whole Christmas site of which this is part) and Dionaea’s Advent Calendar (NOT for children or the easily shocked) – if you try to click an upcoming date you get scolded! This calendar is another one that won’t open until tomorrow.

My old friend the Guardian newspaper in Britain has an Advent calendar that’s a little on the goofy side with animation.

I’m slightly hesitant to recommend this next because I had a little trouble loading it – some of the pictures showed up only as those annoying little Windows placeholders. However, you may have better luck or a newer computer or something, so don’t give up without trying this activity calendar from the UK.

For several years I’ve enjoyed the Advent calendars that tell a story about Tate the cat. Maybe you will too! If so, the older editions are still online as well as this year’s story.

We’ve seen medieval art, now for some Renaissance art. The useful and interesting Artcyclopedia site has an Advent Calendar with Renaissance representations of the Nativity and information about the paintings and artists.

As far as religious-themed Advent calendars go, nearly all I found that were denominational were either Catholic or Episcopalian/Anglican. Here are some: First a calendar from a site that doesn’t mention any specific denomination, but is OK with Phyllis Tickle and Marcus Borg so is not terribly conservative, Exploring Faith. Its Advent Calendar has a brief thought for each day; the site has many other resources for Advent as well. Some Roman Catholic sites: The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops – I disagree with them on so much, but they do seem to care about the poor; a calendar from the University of Dayton, focusing on Mary and other women of the Bible; a calendar from St. Margaret Mary Parish in Naperville, IL; a calendar from Trinity Church Wall Street in New York. Edited to add: LutheranChik recommended the beautiful Advent calendar from Mission St. Clare.

Whew! Have I left any out? If you run across an online Advent calendar I haven’t mentioned, please send me the link and tell me something about it. And have a blessed Advent!

(The photo of the unusual Advent wreath, which appears to function as an Advent calendar, is from amras_de, a contributor to Flickr.)

Since I needed to do a little editing anyway, I can't resist pointing out the Punk Rock Advent Calendar, which allows a free download of a Punk Rock Christmas song every day. Very unusual!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Triflin’, Part 2

The trifle was a success, but I would do it a little differently next time. If you get a chance to look at the recipe, you will see that it calls for a 9x13 pan of gingerbread and a mousse made with one can of pumpkin and a cup of whipped cream. I wound up with extra gingerbread, but a very skimpy amount of the pumpkin mousse. I would double the mousse next time. I'm also thinking that I could double the pumpkin, brown sugar and spices and use the same amount of whipped cream -- the pumpkin flavor would be stronger that way. Also, the recipe called for a two-quart bowl; I felt it would overfill either of the bowls I had so I divided it into two.

Here’s a photo of the trifle, but it’s not a very good one because I neglected to tell the photographer to scooch down and photograph the bowl from the side. There is candied ginger scattered on top of the whipped cream.

Trifle one

Other guests brought whoopie pies (homemade!), bars, and pumpkin and apple pies; and I also made the lime bars from the Betty Crocker Christmas Cookbook, which are always delicious but never look the way they are supposed to (and specifically, they are messy!) They are one of those bars where you mix butter, flour and sugar and press it into a pan, then bake that for 20 minutes before adding the filling and baking some more. It’s the first part I have trouble with; I suspect today it was because I softened the butter in the microwave. Also, I knew the clementines would be a hit, but I put the candy canes out more as decoration -- and many of them were eaten as well!

Can you tell that I really like the Betty Crocker Christmas Cookbook? It has lots of good recipes, somewhat on the Midwestern/Scandinavian side but not exclusively so, and many of which are good for any time of year. I highly recommend it. This is the one I have:

BC CHristmas cookbook and I think it’s from the early to mid-1980s. There have been several new editions since then, so I hope that it’s still got most of the same recipes.

Tomorrow I’ll be busy recording some more stories, and preparing for my Advent Calendar of Songs and Stories on the blog, which will begin December 1 – Tuesday! This year I’ll be highlighting the stories I recorded for Sisterfilms back in 2007, which included some that were more suitable for adults as well as some old children’s favorites.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


Well, my best intentions didn’t quite work out and I’ve missed a couple of days. I’m currently in the midst of preparing a Pumpkin Gingerbread Trifle from the very last issue of Gourmet magazine. (November) It’s not available online yet; they say their website will remain up for a little while, perhaps long enough to put up the November issue. If you perform a G**gle search for this, the first one that comes up is Paula Deen’s, which relies heavily on packaged things. Not for me. The recipe I’m using has homemade gingerbread, a simple pumpkin mousse, and real whipped cream.

I did have to amend it a bit since some of the eaters are vegetarians and would not appreciate being served something including gelatin from animal parts. So, I went to the natural food store at the end of the block for some vegan gelatin substitute. (No vegans coming, but the gel is OK for them.) The directions were so alarming that I almost decided to wing it and just whip the cream in the mousse really stiffly, because I was afraid of winding up with a mousse that had lumps of flavorless gel scattered through it. However, I was brave and followed directions and it seems to have worked. This is a really good thing because it also means I can make the Ris a l’Amande for Christmas Eve the way I’ve always done it (from the Betty Crocker Christmas Cookbook) – a couple of years ago I used a different, gelatinless method and wasn’t as pleased with the results.

The trifle will not be complete until tomorrow, and at that point I’ll take a picture and post it.

Since Thanksgiving is over, I can now play Christmas music. I am easing into it with a playlist of all instrumental – everything from Celtic to big band to Windham Hill to solo piano to bluegrass to classical pieces. With the shuffle feature, it’s a nice variety of sounds, familiar and unfamiliar. I put together a playlist for Advent but it’s sure going to be heavy on Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen and Veni, Veni Emmanuel! Now I need to retrieve the Christmas linens (especially tablecloths, guest towels and kitchen things) from the upstairs closet.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Real Maine Pumpkin Pie

Even though Libby is a fine old Maine name, I don’t think much of their pumpkin pie recipe – too pale and bland. I also like to buy local products when I can, so since we’ve moved to Maine I get One-Pie canned pumpkin (they also have canned squash), from West Paris, Maine. In Minnesota, we used Festal pumpkin from Owatonna, Minnesota. I like the recipe on the One-Pie pumpkin can, so here is my rewriting of it.

“One-Pie” Pumpkin Pie

1 Tbsp. Cornstarch
1 cup sugar
½ tsp. Cinnamon
½ tsp. Nutmeg
½ tsp. Ginger
scant ½ tsp. Salt
1 can One-Pie pumpkin (or your favorite local brand, or whatever)
2 eggs, beaten
1 ½ Tbsp. Butter, melted
2 Tbsp. Molasses (I like Crosby’s, which comes in a paper carton like milk, but other kinds would be fine too)
1 12-oz. Can evaporated milk, or 1/12 cups milk (I’m dubious about using regular milk, never have. However, you can use evaporated skim milk with no problem)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Sift dry ingredients together into a large bowl. Mix in the can of pumpkin (a wire whisk works fine). Add eggs, melted butter, molasses and mix together; add milk and mix until evenly mixed. Line a 9-inch pie plate with pie crust, pour in the pumpkin mixture, and bake 15 minutes. (You may want to cover the edges of the crust to prevent over-browning.) Turn oven down to 350 degrees and bake 50 more minutes, or until a knife inserted in the middle of the pie comes out clean.

And here’s a picture of the pie I made today:

Pumpkin Pie

For a nod to Minnesota, here’s the great recipe for Festal Pumpkin Bars. “Bars” are a fixture at almost every Minnesota social event and there are many delicious ones, but you can’t go wrong with these.

Festal Pumpkin Bars

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease and flour a 12 x 18 x 1 inch pan (jelly roll pan)

4 eggs
1 c. salad oil
2 c. sugar
1 15 oz. can pumpkin

Mix above ingredients in a large bowl. Sift the following and add to above, then stir:

2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 cups flour

Mix well and pour into pan. Bake 25-30 minutes.

Frost with:

1 6 oz pkg cream cheese (Neufchatel or low-fat cream cheese would be fine, but don’t bother with the fat-free stuff)
3/4 stick butter
1 tbsp. cream or milk
1 tsp vanilla
4 c. powdered sugar

Beat cheese, butter, vanilla and cream together until soft. Add powdered sugar until correct consistency to spread. Cut the bars into 2 x 3 inch bars. Makes 36. Can be frozen.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Six Nights Down, Eighteen to Go; and Other Thoughts

So far I've recorded four Christmas stories for Sisterfilms' Advent story discs. However, one of them is long and stretches over three nights. With some difficulty I've searched through about 5,000 possible songs to go with them and found some that were appropriate. Now I just have to write and record the introductions for each and then I'll have the first disc or two ready to mail along with the Advent box. Whew!

On Sunday, while eating something fairly innocuous, I seem to have cracked or broken a tooth. It hurts some, but not horribly, so I agreed to wait till a week from Friday to see a dentist about it. Still, this situation reminds me of something my college roommate used to say: "Your teeth should fall out the day before Thanksgiving!" (She didn't say it to me, of course. Well, not often, anyway.)

I'll be bringing homemade cranberry sauce, the sweet potatoes, and a pumpkin pie to Thanksgiving dinner. In Maine, Thanksgiving is all about the pie (at least in my family). So I believe there will also be apple pie, coconut cream pie, chocolate pie and butterscotch pie available. My aunt was baking a pecan pie for the Fire Department's pie sale; I wonder if that means I should make one of those too? Later this week I'm going to try a pumpkin gingerbread trifle recipe that was in the very last issue of Gourmet magazine. I got vegan gelatin substitute so that I can make the pumpkin mousse edible by my vegetarian relatives; it looks as though it takes more than a teaspoonful of brains to use that stuff.

Reading hasn't been going awfully fast unless I can count the things I've been reading aloud. I'm dipping into a romance novel (at least it's supposed to turn into one eventually) that I picked up at the church book fair. I did read a good bit of the Sunday Times and Portland Sunday Telegram and spent time on the phone with each of my daughters. And so to bed.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Reflections on the Table, 1: Setting the Table

I learned to set a table from a book called The Non-Com’s Guide. I almost thought I had imagined it but Google did come up with three hits, one a citation in a militaria forum (for collectors of military stuff) and two ratings in French for someone who sold a copy on eBay a while back. No listing in WorldCat or Bookfinder. As I recall the book was a paperback and surely fell apart or was discarded somewhere along the way.

Either of my parents could surely have showed me how to set the table, but I’m sure they already knew me well enough by the time I was 7 or 8 to know that learning things from books was my preferred method. It worked – to this day I feel compelled to rearrange the silverware at a restaurant or church supper if it’s not set out correctly.

It’s rather curious to me that The Non-Com’s Guide (a compendium of information thought to be useful to non-commissioned officers, i.e. sergeants, in the U. S. Army) felt it necessary and advisable to alert its readers on proper table setting. I’m actually not too surprised that there may have been plenty of sergeants who came from backgrounds where such niceties were not observed, but in the 1950s, I don’t think most men expected to be required to know how to set a table.

With what did I set the table? At some point I suppose Capri silverwe must have had stainless steel forks, knives and spoons, but I can’t remember any of them. What I do remember are the two sets of silverplate, still in the family, that we had when I was growing up. The first one, which was somewhat battered and missing pieces even when I started tablesetting, was this one, 1881 Rogers Bros. Capri. I did not know its name until several years ago and always thought the pattern was one of pine trees, but now I think it’s supposed to suggest waves. By making use of online auctions I was able to fill out the service for eight and give it to one of my nieces a few years ago.

The second set, which I still have, is called First Love, by 1847 Rogers Bros., and was their best-selling pattern for many years. Here’s a picture because I’m too lazy to get the camera and go photograph my own:

first love silver

This pattern had a nice heaviness to it. It is a bit more ornate than I would choose for myself, probably, but I cherish it because it was my mother’s and the silverware we used on many occasions.

I wish I could show you a picture of the everyday dishes we had growing up. They were Melmac – I think either Texasware or Boontonware. Before Corelle, Melmac was the miracle dishware for 50s families with children who might break other, more fragile dishes. It was virtually indestructible and for all I know one of my siblings may still have a cup or saucer from the set. The thing that stands out about my family dishes is the color scheme. Some Melmac was white or cream with a pattern such as roses or wheat, but ours was resolutely solid colored, half in a very dark green and half in a deep dusty rose. The green stood the test of time better than the rose, considering my parents’ love of coffee, which tended to stain the rose cups. I never asked about it, but I think this was a very modern choice for my mother to have made.

I could go on about table setting and probably will, but it’s late and I’m very tired after a day at the church fair selling books.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Recipe for Thanksgiving

As a make-up for missing yesterday’s blog, here’s a recipe I mentioned earlier today that some people asked for. It comes from, I think, the 1975 edition of the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, with a few alterations.


2 lbs. sweet potatoes (recipe says “2 medium,” whatever “medium” means)

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/3 cup broken cashews (a little more wouldn’t hurt, you’re just going to buy a can and use the rest for snacks, right?)

1/4 tsp. ground ginger

1 15-oz. can peach slices in juice (original recipe called for a smaller can which is now hard to find)

3 tablespoons butter

Cook the sweet potatoes (see below for instructions). Cool, remove skins, and cut crosswise into thick pieces. Combine the brown sugar, cashews, and ginger in a small bowl. Drain peaches well. In a 10x6x2 inch backing dish, layer half each of the sweet potatoes, peach slices, and brown sugar mixture. Repeat layers until done. (Since everything is already cooked, don’t worry about size of pan if you don’t have the exact one called for.)

Dot with butter. Bake, covered (aluminum foil is fine if your dish doesn’t have a cover) in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Uncover, bake 10 minutes longer. Spoon the brown sugar syrup that has formed over the potatoes and peaches before serving. Serves 6 to 8.

Cooking sweet potatoes: for some reason I’ve always boiled them for this recipe but this year I may try baking. Anyway, to boil, wash the sweet potatoes and cut off ends and any obvious woody parts. Boil in lightly salted water to cover, 25-35 minutes. If you want to bake instead, it’s 375 degrees for 40-45 minutes. In either case you’ll want to allow yourself enough time for the sweet potatoes to cool before you peel and slice them. This recipe is a fine one to prepare the day before Thanksgiving up to the point of putting it in the oven. When traveling to someone else’s house I’ve had good luck either bringing it fully baked and reheating in microwave or, if arriving just before dinner, just doing the last 10 minutes of baking at the destination.

For another sweet potato variation, I tried this recipe from the Penzey's Spices catalog recently. It was good, but it made a huge amount so you’d have to reduce the recipe unless you have a real crowd, I think. Here is the link:Orange Spice Mashed Sweet Potatoes.

Friday Five: Thanksgiving

Thanks to Jan at RevGalBlogPals for this Friday Five:

The Cure
Lying around all day
with some strange new deep blue
weekend funk, I'm not really asleep
when my sister calls
to say she's just hung up
from talking with Aunt Bertha
who is 89 and ill but managing
to take care of Uncle Frank
who is completely bed ridden.
Aunt Bert says
it's snowing there in Arkansas,
on Catfish Lane, and she hasn't been
able to walk out to their mailbox.
She's been suffering
from a bad case of the mulleygrubs.
The cure for the mulleygrubs,
she tells my sister,
is to get up and bake a cake.
If that doesn't do it, put on a red dress.
--Ginger Andrews (from Hurricane Sisters)

So this Friday before Thanksgiving, think about Aunt Bert and how she'll celebrate Thanksgiving! And how about YOU?

1. What is your cure for the "mulleygrubs"?

Baking something is a pretty good cure; also cleaning out cupboards, organizing things and general tidying up.

2. Where will you be for Thanksgiving?

We’re going to my aunt and uncle’s house, and their daughter and her two teenage sons will be there too. I expect much hilarity.

3. What foods will be served? Which are traditional for your family?

Turkey from a local farm, mashed potatoes, stuffing and gravy; I’ll probably contribute homemade cranberry sauce, and my sweet potatoes with peaches and cashews; probably one or two other vegetables at least; several different pies! My childhood Thanksgivings are memorable for the abundance of two things, vegetables and pies. We also had a turkey probably twice the size of the one we’ll be eating next week. In Minnesota we had that green bean casserole, but that is not traditional here (and I don’t really miss it, but my kids would.)

1942-11 Mary Billings in her kitchen My grandmother in a photo taken November 1942, very possibly preparing Thanksgiving dinner.

4. How do you feel about Thanksgiving as a holiday?

I think it’s a great holiday, and even people who aren’t especially religious seem to get the spirit of gratitude on this day. I recognize that some American Indians have trouble with the historical part of it, on the other hand they have taught us much about how to be thankful for the bounty of this land and how to use it respectfully.

5. In this season of Thanksgiving, what are you grateful for?

My family, my home, my dog, my friends, the Internet, my local public library, farmers’ markets (and farmers, and fisherfolk), hope for a partial solution to the healthcare mess…that will do for a start.

BONUS: Describe Aunt Bert's Thanksgiving.

After her usual morning chores and making sure Frank was comfortably settled, with the parade on TV, Bert started preparing Thanksgiving dinner. This year they would just have a nice fat chicken roasted; even a small turkey would be too much for the two of them. She remembered the days when Frank would go out to the woods and bring back a wild turkey for Thanksgiving; sometimes he’d have time to go duck hunting and there’d be two or more birds on the table. Taking out the pan of cornbread she had prepared the day before and frying up a bit of Joe Smith’s homemade sausage for flavoring, she began preparing the stuffing, then put it aside when she remembered that she needed to bake a couple of pies first. Luckily, although he couldn’t be up and around any longer, Frank still had all his teeth so he could enjoy his favorite pecan pie with nuts from their own trees. She recalled fondly how her nieces had visited earlier in the fall with their children, and all had helped with the tree-shaking. It’s good for kids to learn that food doesn’t just come from the grocery store. She’s looking forward to their visiting at Christmas time; she told them not to try coming down from Chicago for the short Thanksgiving holiday. Now that the pie was in the oven, she could start peeling potatoes and making the creamed onions. And she mustn’t forget Frank’s favorite, the fried okra. Good thing she had plenty of okra in the freezer.

At last everything was ready, and at just the right time, since it was half-time of the Lions-Packers game Frank was avidly watching. Ever since his brother Earl had moved to Detroit to work on the line at General Motors, Frank had followed the Detroit sports teams along with him. Earl had died a couple of years back, and maybe it was just as well, with all the trouble his old employer was having; but Frank still rooted for the Lions, Tigers and Pistons. But, being a country music fan from childhood, Frank wasn’t too interested in the big Motown salute during half-time, so Bert could get him to turn off the TV and say grace. After the prayer, they had always gone around the table saying what they were thankful for. Frank says he’s thankful for Bert and all her care of him. Bert says she’s thankful for Frank too because he’s still good company after all these years. Then they tuck in to their Thanksgiving dinner.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A few things I'm thankful for today....

I'm thankful for a clean house and a clean refrigerator.
I'm thankful for a beautiful November day, bright blue skies, and not having to turn the heat up until the sun went down.
I'm thankful for finally realizing that the alternative instructions for heating Hannaford's Garlic Bread result in a much tastier product.
I'm thankful that our car, which in the morning seemed about to need another major repair, merely needed a bit of thoughtful attention and a good battery connection.
I'm thankful that I got an inspiration for a good blogpost, wrote it, and then realized how I could make it better ... more on that tomorrow.
I'm thankful I don't have to fill a certain number of column inches, so I can stop blogging now and go to bed early.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


is one of my problem areas, and another is not getting distracted from one task by another. So I'm going to blog today about some of my upcoming tasks and maybe by writing them down so publicly I can prioritize or at least check them off. I used to visit a website called There were people, and probably still are, who would post daily to-do lists that started with "Get up. Shower. Brush teeth. Get dressed..." I'm not making fun of them. I have been, if not quite there, pretty darn close at times in the past. But there is something a little funny about stopping to post the list on the Internet....As there is with what I'm doing. But I have an ulterior motive, as I realized I hadn't blogged today and it's after 11.

So, before December 1st (and in some cases quite a bit before) here's what I want to accomplish:

Write, compile, and send out a Thanksgiving issue of Speedwell Stories, my (mother's side) family history newsletter. (I do it by email.)

Complete acquisition, wrapping and mailing of Advent presents for Cordeliaknits and Sisterfilms.

Choose and record Christmas stories on disc for SF and mail them.

Mail the 2006 stories on disc to my niece for her daughters.

Prepare December blogposts (about the stories from 2007) in advance.

Have a potluck dessert party for family on Advent 1.

Finish getting ready for the church Christmas fair this Saturday -- I'm co-chairing the book room.

Seriously begin Christmas shopping; organize namedraw for Christmas Eve festivities with the extended family.

Clean my office. Do laundry. Organize guest room so that it will be hospitable for Sisterfilms and The Traveller when they come for Christmas.

Finish the library books I have out, then go on a library fast for a few weeks and read books I already own, including more of the Guardian 1000 Novels.

Catch up with my movie reviewing on Queuing Up.

Keep a few other promises I've made to various people.

I guess I'd better get some rest so I can get busy tomorrow!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make It Do, or Do Without

That’s the old New England saying that I try to live by these days, with varying degrees of success. One thing we’ve certainly been better about most of the time is food wastage. I’ve fought a battle for about 40 years now with overly-optimistic buying, especially of fruits and vegetables. Since we came to Maine and live quite near the supermarket and farmers’ markets, it’s been a bit easier not to overbuy, but it still happens occasionally.

This occurred recently when pears were on sale at the supermarket – not just pears, but all varieties, so I bought a couple of each. However, they weren’t ripe, nor were the avocados I got at the same time. After a few days in our chilly kitchen had done nothing, I found a paper bag and put them in it with a slightly elderly apple. Unfortunately I’m one of those “out of sight, out of mind” people, and although I used some Comice pears in salads, some of the pears wound up unusable. At the same time a bag of apples was beginning to have the same problems. Today I decided it was time to take action, and I tinkered with a recipe for apple crisp and made this:


10 cups mixed pears and apples, peeled, cored and sliced (I had Cortland apples, and two each of Bosc and Red pears)
1 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 heaping teaspoon ground cinnamon (today, Penzey’s Indonesia Korintje cassia; cassia is what most of us think of as cinnamon)
1/2 cup water (could have done with a bit less as pears are very juicy when ripe)

1 cup quick-cooking oats (I just had “old-fashioned” oats, no problem)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup packed brown sugar (light brown)
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degree C).
Place the sliced fruit in a 9x13 inch pan. Mix the white sugar, 1 tablespoon flour and ground cinnamon together, and sprinkle over apples. Pour water evenly over all.
Combine the oats, 1 cup flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda and melted butter together. (I think it works better if you combine the dry things well first, while you’re melting the butter.) Crumble evenly over the fruit mixture.
Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for about 45 minutes.

This goes very well with your favorite locally-made vanilla ice cream. I’m thinking that another time, especially if I had more pears, I would experiment a little with the spices, since I think ginger goes well with pears and would add something.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Living on the Edge

During the many years that we lived in Land of 10,000 Lakes, we were more or less in the middle of the Central Time Zone. Now, however, we are close to the eastern edge of the Eastern Time Zone. This has several ramifications, most of which I experience without fully understanding them. In other words, I’m pretty much talking through my hat here.

However…. I hardly ever watch television any more. We just have “Limited Cable” – enough to keep from having to send Onkel Hankie Pants up on the roof, but that’s not the only reason. Chiefly, I have not been able to get used to the East Coast version of prime time, which doesn’t start till 8:00 pm. Things I used to watch at 9 are now on at 10, and the ten o’clock news comes on at eleven! Can’t be doing with that, so I just skip it.

Telephone conversations with my daughters in the Central and Pacific Time Zones can be problematic. I have finally internalized the fact that Pacific Time is 3 hours earlier than here, not later. It just seems counter-intuitive.

But of course the main thing is daylight, or at this season, the lack of it. Fortunately I do not suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or I’d really be in trouble. Postponing the end of Daylight Saving Time until November 1st seems to have made things worse, not better, because we’ve had less time to get used to the early darkness. Yesterday we got the tail-end of Ida rainstorm, and it was pitch dark outside at 4:15 pm. Rusty’s after-supper walk is always in the dark now (I hope for no pickup duties on this walk, since he seldom wishes to do his “bidniss” under a streetlight). Oddly, I find that the early darkness does not help me get to bed at a reasonable hour, rather it skews my perception of time so that I find myself staggering off to bed close to midnight.

I just checked, and according to the Weather Channel, we actually had 5 minutes more daylight here than Minneapolis (but 29 minutes less than Berkeley, CA). However, the sun rose and set about half an hour later in Minneapolis, giving the illusion of a longer day.

People in Downeast Maine (Eastport, for example), which is not only North but East of us, have it even worse. Many of them would like to see Maine adopt the Atlantic Time Zone, used by our cousins across the border in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, or just maintain Daylight Saving Time all year round. I have to admit that I also dislike the days in early spring after we “spring ahead,” because my preference would be always to get up with the sun, but sometimes I have to get up ahead of it, especially when DST has just begun. I suppose there is no solution that will please everybody. And now it’s time for bed.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

What’s Wrong with This Picture?

Walking the dog around our neighborhood is usually a pleasant experience, and is demonstrably good for my blood pressure. But last night and today, I came back from our walks more exercised in mind than in body. Here’s what I brought home – one of many I tore off telephone poles on our street and three of the side streets. (And I’m not one bit sorry I did!)

What's wrong with this picture

What’s wrong with this picture?

  • Whoever posted it has a staple gun and access to a copier (and probably the Internet for the picture), but is sadly lacking in cojones. No name, address, phone number, or even an organization name appears anywhere on the flier.
  • I don’t want to seem alarmist or paranoid, but posting a picture of our President, dressed like Che Guevara, with such a simple slogan invites the question, HOW? I doubt this person has impeachment, lawsuits, or elections in mind.
  • Socialism? Please. If President Obama really had us on the road to socialism, he wouldn’t be getting nearly as much flak from commentators on the left as he is from those on the right.

I think the anonymity of these fliers bothers me more than anything. If you or I write a letter to the editor, put up a lawn sign, affix a bumper sticker to our car, sign a petition, attend a rally or speak up at a meeting, we have the courage to stand behind our convictions. The positions we advocate can be argued with; or jobs, our associations and our reputations can be used by others to judge whether they believe or agree with us. But when I and my neighbors see this poster, we don’t even know whether the person who put it up lives in our neighborhood, our town, or our state. We have no way of knowing whether the person is a high school dropout with time on his hands, a college student conducting a sociology experiment, or a nut with a gun who might start targeting houses where the car in the driveway still sports an Obama sticker.

This is the second time similar fliers have appeared in our neighborhood; I never saw the first set, which were removed by other members of our neighborhood association who felt they were racist and created an atmosphere of fear that we do not want in our diverse small town neighborhood.

Our local police, contacted about the earlier posters, said there was nothing they could legally do. I plan to urge my Council member to introduce an ordinance stating that all signs, posters, or fliers put up on the public ways must have visible the name and address or phone number of the person posting them. Anonymous hate- and fear-mongering has no place in this or any community.

(Lest my readers think I’m marooned in a sea of right-wing nutcases, let me hasten to add that I live in one of the most liberal districts of one of the most liberal towns in Maine, judging from our last two elections; and I also believe that most of the Republicans in town are people of good will and good sense.)

I can thank Mr. Anonymous for one thing, though. I didn’t have to rack my brains for something to blog about today!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday Five: Friday the Thirteenth!

Friday 13th The very erudite Sophia at RevGalBlogPals (I think she can really read the Greek) tells us: “The fear of Friday the 13th is called paraskevidekatriaphobia, a word derived from the concatenation of the Greek words Paraskeví (Παρασκευή) (meaning Friday), and dekatreís (δεκατρείς) (meaning thirteen), attached to phobía (φοβία) (meaning fear). The term triskaidekaphobia derives from the Greek words "tris", meaning 'three', "kai", meaning 'and', and "deka", meaning 'ten'. the whole word means three and ten. The word was derived in 1911 and first appeared in a mainstream source in 1953. (Wikipedia)
With thanks to my dear spouse TechnoGuy for the great suggestion, it's a Friday the 13th Friday Five!”
1. How is this Friday the 13th looking for you?

Pretty peaceful. There’s a possibility Onkel Hankie Pants will be released early from work today, so we might do some errands in the afternoon. No special plans, though.
2. Have you ever had anything unlucky happen on Friday the 13th?

Not that I can recall. But then, I consider myself a very fortunate person.
3. Did your family of origin embrace or scorn superstitions?

Somewhere in the middle, I guess. Although, if we said “I wish it were Christmas, or my birthday, or next week…” my mother always said “Don’t wish your life away.”
4. Are there any unique or amusing ones from your family, region, or ethnic background?

My father had some that had to do with boats, although I’m not sure how seriously he took them. You mustn’t paint a boat blue; you mustn’t say “pig” on a boat; and whistling on board might whistle up a wind that you wouldn’t want.
5. Do you love or hate horror movies like "Friday the 13th"?

I guess I’d have to say hate, as I haven’t seen a horror movie of that type since Monster from the Black Lagoon over 50 years ago. I just find them boring, not scary.

Here’s hoping you all have a lucky Friday the 13th! Thanks to PixelPackingMama on Flickr for the photo! And thanks a lot to Sophia for giving me an easy way to fulfill my NaBloPoMo pledge today!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Trampling Out the Vintage

200px-JohnSteinbeck_TheGrapesOfWrath When I was in eighth grade, our English teacher, Mr. Robert McConville, chose a novel for each of us to read and report on. The one he chose for me was John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, and it was a wonderful choice for me. It had a very strong influence on my politics, and also became one of the novels I would remember always. (I did reread it a few years ago and felt just as strongly.) In 1991, the Steppenwolf Theater’s production of a play based on the novel was shown on PBS and I watched that, but for some reason I had never seen the John Ford film until this evening.

I’m not going to do an exhaustive review just now, but wanted to put down a few thoughts (and also get my daily blogpost in before bedtime!)

  • What actors do we have now who can convey sincere idealism as well as Henry Fonda and James Stewart did? Is this something that 21st century actors are even asked to do?
  • In the opening scene where Tom Joad (Fonda) hitches a ride to get home and insists on telling the driver he's been in prison, as he leaves the truck he tells the driver he was in the penitentiary for "homicide" which he pronounces "home-icide." Shortly afterwards he and Preacher Casey are told about the real "home-icide" by Muley -- the sharecroppers' homes being knocked down by tractors.
  • In the book, Weedpatch Camp (run by the USDA) is presented as an oasis in the middle of the Joad family’s journey. In the movie, it’s called Wheat Patch Camp, appears near the end of the film as almost the Promised Land (although the family leaves it for the promise of cotton-picking work in Fresno).
  • Throughout the film I kept hearing Woody Guthrie's Ballad of Tom Joad and Vigilante Man in my head.
  • The supporting actors in the film looked so realistic as starving migrants that I was surprised when I looked them up and discovered I’d seen them in other films. I do wonder about some of the extras, whether they were real “Okies and Arkies.”
  • Speaking of which, when OHP and I were in the Monterey Bay area of California (near Steinbeck’s hometown of Salinas), there was a local establishment called “Tressie’s Okie and Arkie Tavern.” I never went there, though. It sounded a little scary. But since I’m talking about 1971-72 here, someone much like Tom Joad could well have been the owner.
  • The term “Great Migration” means a lot of different things in U.S. history. The first was the Puritan migration to New England, which began in 1630 and about which much has been written. The Great Migration of African-Americans from the South to the northern industrial cities has been the subject of several books. I’m thinking that I would love to read a family/social history of some of the real people who, like the Joads, traveled Route 66 from Oklahoma, Arkansas and the rest of the Dust Bowl to California in the 1930s. I wonder how things turned out for them after all their suffering?
  • It’s probably a good thing that I didn’t see this film a long time ago, since it was only digitally restored in 2003, so a print seen earlier (according to the extra feature about the restoration) would have been of much lower picture quality.
    I would definitely recommend both the book and the film for understanding of an important period in our history, and also for their literary and cinematic artistry.