Friday, December 31, 2010

Friday Five: Here Comes 2011!


Singing Owl at RevGalBlogPals says today: “I'm not a big fan of New Year's resolutions, but it does seem a good time for some reflection and planning. For the last few days I keep thinking of Psalm 90:12 So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Among other things, that seems to say that reflection is in order if we want to learn and grow.

For some of us, this has been an incredibly difficult year; for others it has been a year of many joys. For all of us, there have been challenges and questions and there have been blessings and--maybe even an answer or two! As we say our goodbyes to 2010 and look towards 2011, share with us five blessings from 2010 along with five hopes or dreams for 2011.”

Hmm, Singing Owl, that sounds like a Friday Ten to me! But I’ll play anyway.

First the blessings:

1. Being part of my daughter’s ordination this past October. I might say with the Grateful Dead, “What a long, strange trip it’s been.” I’ve heard ministers say that they felt their call very early in life; I don’t think this was the case with Cordeliaknits, but I do know that spiritual matters have always been a concern of hers from earliest childhood. I’m grateful that after exploring other ways, she returned to the path we raised her in for her ministry, but I know she would have served God and her fellow humans one way or another.

2. Celebrating the centennial of the church we belonged to for nearly 30 years. This was a wonderful mixture of old and new. It was great to see old friends and past ministers, but it was also heartening to see the changes in the five years since we left for Maine: a beautifully renovated sanctuary, a new young minister settling into his pastorate, and best of all, active new members. Of course, the highlight of the celebration service for me was the premiere of an anthem and hymn composed by a friend with text by Onkel Hankie Pants, and the warm reception it got.

3. Now for something more mundane: seven months of work with the Decennial Census, in the office in Portland. Not only did it help pay for the travel to #s 1, 2, and 4, but we met a lot of interesting people and enjoyed listening to audiobooks during our daily commute. It did cut into the blogging and reading time, though.

4. A yearly blessing that I hope will continue for years to come was my week at the beach with my oldest friends in May. Sun, shrimp, strawberries and good talk; watching the sun rise while listening to birdsong; and a week with a very UN-full agenda – priceless.

5. So many more I can’t count them! My family and friends; the town I live in, with all its troubles, yet filled with hope for the future; my town’s great public library, in walking distance; year-round farmers’ markets, a great local meat market, fresh seafood; the theatre of seasons; the rich cultural life of Midcoast Maine, including the chance to see OHP in a few productions every year; public suppers and good restaurants when we don’t feel like cooking; yes, even the dog.

Hopes and dreams:

1. That our younger daughter Sisterfilms, who’s moving in with us next week, will find both paying work and her creative voice here, and not get too exasperated with her aging parents and their unruly dog. (And that her 16-year-old cat will find some accommodation with said dog.)

2. That I live life more intentionally each day. This doesn’t necessarily mean a daily to-do list, but I would like to end each day feeling I’ve accomplished something. For me this would include some blogging, some reading and reflecting on what I’ve read, some genealogy research and, more important, sharing that research with my family. I’m not planning on checking out any time soon, but I’d like to leave something behind when I do go.

3. Health. This is one of the things I really need to be intentional about: checking blood pressure, remembering to take my medicine, exercising, more careful eating, making doctor, dentist and vision appointments, etc. I’ve got a lot yet to accomplish and need good health to do it.

4. Divesting and simplifying is an ongoing process with which we’ve had some success before, during and after the move from Minnesota to Maine. We’re not completely there yet, though, and I know Sisterfilms is going to help us with this.

5. Rudolph Day! I’d like to spend at least a day each month preparing for Advent and Christmas. Recording stories, picking up or making little presents, organizing, just so I can concentrate more on the spiritual aspects of Advent and still enjoy and share the traditions of Christmas in 2011.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday Five: Christmas Past

“Tell us about five Christmas memories you have,” says Jan at RevGalBlogPals, who must be just as frazzled as I am by now. One of the reasons I’m feeling as though it will never all get done in time is just that – since I’ve been trying to blog Christmas memories as well as post readings of Christmas stories, and I’m three and two days behind, respectively. I’ll share some briefly, and you can read my “Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories” posts for more.


1. Waking up on Christmas morning 26 years ago. Not just waking up, but realizing that labor was beginning and the doctors had been right – our third child would be a Christmas baby. I woke my husband and the older children (not unusual, I’m always the first one up that day), we had stockings and then brought them, still in their new pajamas, to their grandparents’ house and went to the hospital. At 1:30 pm we got our best Christmas present. 1984 12 25 Cordelia and Bedstemor meet Elinor for the first time, she is 6 hours old Big sister and Bedstemor meet her for the first time in this photo. Note the stocking in which she was presented, which became her birthday stocking.

2. The skating Santa. A week or two before the above events, I was feeling a bit nervous about the upcoming addition to our family and how we would all deal with it – financially and otherwise. I worked downtown then, in a job-sharing situation where I worked all day, every other day. One day I was riding the bus home and as we passed Peavey Plaza, near Orchestra Hall, where there was a skating rink, I saw Santa Claus walk up to the rink, remove his boots and put on ice skates, and begin skating. It was such a lovely sight that it made me feel everything would be all right, and it was.

3. A starring role. Our first child and only son was a June baby, so on his first Christmas he was the perfect age to portray the infant Jesus in our church Christmas pageant. As we then lived in a farming community, the manger was handmade and filled with real hay. SonShineIn did a great job – no crying he made, but waved his hands and feet charmingly. I just hope that hay wasn’t what gave him hay fever!

4. Christmas Eve church. Specifically, the 5:30 pm service during the years when we had many responsibilities both at home and in church – after my in-laws moved to Wisconsin and we began hosting the Christmas Eve dinner, and while spouse and daughters sang in the choirs and I read the children’s story. It was always a rush to get there on time for choir warmups, while making sure the dinner preparations were well underway; snow and cold often complicated things. The beginning of the service would find me still jittery, but once I had read my story I was filled with a sense of peace and contentment. I could enjoy the beautiful music, the candles and poinsettias, the lighted tree and pews crowded with festively-dressed friends and their visiting families, and best of all that moment when our minister read the words: “In the beginning was the Word….”

5. A special gift. In 1964, my father was transferred to Stuttgart, Germany by the Army and we, of course, went with him. We arrived in August and by Christmas, although I was making some new friends, I was missing the friends I’d left behind a lot. My friend The Boss sent me a Christmas present which was probably the start of my large and still-growing collection of Christmas literature. It was the beautiful little paperback edition of Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales. I’m not sure I was even aware of that piece before then, although I did know of Dylan Thomas. It seems that each year, there is one gift received or given that stands out in the memory, and for that year, this is the one. child's christmas in wales

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Auntie Knickers’ Advent Storytime: Day 15

Tonight we have a couple of poems which are more serious. One is short, one longer; one written by a late Victorian (Thomas Hardy, ) and the other by a twentieth-century British poet (John Betjeman, 1906-1984). One commentator in Wikipedia noted that “Unlike Thomas Hardy, who disbelieved in the truth of the Christmas story, while hoping it might be so, Betjeman affirms his belief even while fearing it might be false.” (The commentator was obviously comparing these two poems.)

oxen kneeling The first poem is Thomas Hardy’s “The Oxen.” Written in 1915, in the second year of the Great War, and when Hardy himself was in his 70s and seeing change all around him, the poem aches with loss. There’s a very good essay on it here. In the last stanza there are a couple of words from Dorset dialect, “barton” – usually meaning a farmyard, but in Dorset also referring to outbuildings on a farm – and “coombe,” a narrow valley between two steep hills. farm in valley Just yesterday I found a musical setting of this poem performed by the Swingle Singers; the setting is by one of the singers, Jonathan Rathbone (Before Straight No Chaser, before Manhattan Transfer, there were the Swingle Singers, and they continue today.)

John Betjeman (1906-1984) flunked out of Oxford (his tutor, whom he detested ever after, was C. S. Lewis) but ended his days as England’s Poet Laureate. He described himself as a “poet and hack” in Who’s Who. His poem “Christmas” is beloved by many and widely anthologized. I found a beautifully calligraphed and illuminated version in Images of Christmas, which also contains “Oxen” and some of the other poems I’ll be reading. A used copy can be found for as little as 73 cents (plus shipping) and would be well worth seeking out. A few of Betjeman’s allusions may be unfamiliar to American readers/listeners, so I looked them up.

A tortoise stove tortoise stove is a small coal-burning stove, suitable for heating a hall or a single room; the name probably comes from the round/cylindrical form. Crimson Lake and Hooker’s Green are Betjeman having a little fun; of course both are colors:crimson lake

hookers green although he seems to suggest that they are locations. Crimson Lake was the color used on certain railroad cars in London, and Hooker’s Green is said to be the color of English foliage.

Yew, with which I associated death because of its frequent occurrence in English murder mysteries, is used for Christmas decorating too and this picture shows why: yew

And the Dorchester Hotel remains to this day a residence for “shining ones”; the least expensive room available for Christmas Eve through Boxing Day this year, if purchased as part of a “Festive Shopping Package” will run you 255 British pounds a night.dorchester

Amazingly, the Swingle Singers also recorded “And Is It True?”, the last three stanzas of Betjeman’s poem, to music by Ben Parry.

If you’re looking for a children’s story, in 2007 I recorded A Letter from Santa Claus, by Eleanor Estes, from one of her stories about the Moffat family. Since it’s set during World War I, John McCutcheon’s “Christmas in the Trenches” seemed an appropriate choice to go with it.

Individual Files for Mac Users

Introduction Dec 15 2010 The Oxen Surprise 1 Christmas Surprise 2

Introduction Dec 15 2007 Surprise A Letter from Santa Claus

Self-Extracting Zip Files for the Rest of Us

December 15 2007 December 15 2010

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Updates, Fruitcake, and Technical Tips

I don’t think I’m going to get the Auntie Knickers’ Advent Storytime: Day 15 posted this evening, as it’s already quite close to old Auntie’s bedtime. I’m two days behind on my Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories. The prompt for yesterday, December 14, was “Fruitcake: Friend or Foe?” I really can take it or leave it; fruitcake doesn’t stir any particular emotions in me, nor do I have any family memories about it. I tend to like the “ethnic” fruitcake varieties which usually seem to have more cake and less fruit, such as the Italian Panettone panettone,

the German Stollen, stollen

or the Norwegian Julekage. julekage

I did want to update a couple of prior posts with new information. On December 7, I shared a story in verse, The Year without a Santa Claus by Phyllis McGinley, and I said it had nothing to do with the television special. Just a day or two later, Sisterfilms was watching that very special while decorating cookies, and called to tell me that it actually was based on the book, which I would have known had I only checked iMDB. The screenwriter, William Keenan, added the characters of Snow Miser and Heat Miser, which is why I didn’t think the two works were related.year without a santa

Speaking of Santa Claus, I have some more information relating to my December 6 post in the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories. My uncle Carl tells me that it was probably either my uncle Ellis or his brother Hank who came to the window as Santa Claus, as Ellis had had a Santa Claus suit several years before when Carl was small and used to dress up in it for him and Ellis’s own son. Here’s a picture of Ellis. He and my grandmother are the ones1964 perhaps,  Ellis Moore who are responsible for my love of mystery stories; the story was that he would read all but the last few pages of a mystery so he could read it again and still have the suspense. I also talked to my brother and he says that, although he only has the image of the Santa face in the window in his memory, he remembers our mother telling him that he was the one who wasn’t afraid of Santa. Just as I feared.

One technical tip for anyone who hasn’t learned by trial and error: to connect to the link, left-click on the blue words of your choice. That will take you to the download site, where a button will await you. The individual files will download individually; the Self-Extracting Zip Files will have everything for that day in one folder. Some browsers (Google Chrome for example) will give you a scary message because of the Self-Extracting Zip Files which include a small .exe file. You do not need to be afraid of these. They are produced by WinZip, a very reputable company, and I use an anti-virus program daily to make sure I don’t spread anything bad.

Auntie Knickers’ Advent Storytime: Day 14

(Yes, I’m still a day behind. I hope to get the Day 15 post up tonight; I have the recordings done, but it’s the research and writing that take more time.)

For a change of pace, tonight, and for a couple of nights more, I’ll be sharing some favorite Christmas poems. The first two are story poems, somewhat (but not entirely) humorous.

milne and christopher robin ”King John’s Christmas” was written by A. A. Milne (1882-1956) and appears in his collection Now We Are Six. Milne, as you all know, was also the author of the Winnie the Pooh books (Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner), as well as another book of children’s verse, When We Were Very Young. He did not confine himself to children’s books and indeed was rather miffed that those were what he was best known for. He wrote many plays, essays, and even a murder mystery. King John himself, the only one of that name to wear the Crown of England, was indeed rather a bad man, as those of us who are familiar with the Robin Hood stories know. To go with this poem, which has King John writing a letter to Father Christmas, we have “When Santa Claus Gets Your Letter,” from the prolific Christmas songwriter Johnny Marks. (“Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Run Run Rudolph,” and “Rockin’ around the Christmas Tree” are but three of his other songs.) This song is sung by “Cactus Jim and the Wranglers,” a 50s studio band.

nash stamp Ogden Nash (1902-1971), a mid-20th-century American poet, wrote primarily light humorous verse and was known for his skillful wordplay. (Notice his rhyming of “kittens” with “Admittance” for example.) His cautionary tale, “The Boy Who Laughed at Santa Claus,” is accompanied by a fine example of doo-wop, “I Don’t Believe in Santa Claus,” by The Boulevards. But don’t worry – both these poems prove that Santa Claus really does exist!

Up to this year I had only recorded a couple of other poems for Christmas. One of them forms part of tonight’s alternate reading. “Jest ‘Fore Christmas,” by Eugene Field, is a poem I first encountered in the Book of Knowledge, a wonderful children’s encyclopedia/anthology I had as a child. And I still have it, except for one volume which mysteriously disappeared. For more about “Jest ‘Fore Christmas” and its accompanying story and song, go here.

Individual Files for Mac Users

Intro Dec 14 2010 Surprise 1 King John's Christmas Surprise 2 The Boy Who Laughed at Santa Claus Intro Dec 6 2006 Surprise 1

Jest 'Fore Christmas Christmas on an Island

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December 14 2010 December 6 2006

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

From Atlantic to Pacific, Gee, the Traffic is Terrific

(I’m concentrating this post, which deals with Holiday Travel, the writing prompt for December 13, on one particular Christmas. I can’t warrant that everything took place in the order stated or even that it took place on that particular Christmas, but it’s all true one way or another.)

Holiday travel for my family in 1957 covered a lot of ground, sea and air and started early. By Thanksgiving, our apartment on Mississippistrasse in the Hainerberg housing area of Wiesbaden, Germany was denuded of all but the most necessary items and the furniture provided by the Army. We even ate Thanksgiving dinner in the mess hall of my father’s unit. (This was the infamous raw-shrimp-cocktail Thanksgiving, about which I think I’ve written previously.) We had all had our shots updated and been tested to make sure we hadn’t contracted tuberculosis from injudiciously eating ice cream on the street. For a few days, after moving out of our quarters, we stayed in a once-magnificent spa hotel downtown, where I think there was a fountain of dreadful-smelling mineral water in the lobby. At last our port call came, and we made our way to nearby Frankfurt and Rhein-Main Airport. We were fortunate to be flying, as my mother and brother were prone to seasickness.

The flight home was not without incident. I’m not sure why, but we had a layover in Montreal that I’m pretty sure was unscheduled. We were put up in a motel, and when we tried to get something to eat in the restaurant, we were met with “So sorry m’sieu, the kitchen, she is in the fire!” I think that night ended with our first experience of take-out fried chicken.

We did eventually reach McGuire AFB and neighboring Fort Dix, and after the usual Army “processing,” we were ready for the next leg of our journey. We children were excited to learn that this would be in a new (to us) car. And not just any car – it was a two-tone, blue and cream, 1956 Ford Fairlane Victoria in the hardtop convertible style. It wasn’t really convertible, but it looked as cool as one. V-8 engine, just enough chrome, and take a look at those cool headlights! I couldn’t limit myself to just one picture. enhanced 56 fordor Victoria Here’s an old advertisement I got from Uncle Phil; ours, however, was a two-door model, we think. I seem to remember the car as having a lighter blue in the blue parts, like one of the photos below; but I may be confusing it with the Edsel that replaced it.


This one could use a little restoration. You may think this a small car for a family of seven, but none of us were very big at that time, ranging in age from 7 to 3 1/2.


Take a look at those cool headlights! Thanks to Uncles Phil and Carl for helping me figure out the make and model of this car.

Since I don’t remember the exact dates of any of this, I’m not sure exactly what happened next. I think we drove to Bridgeport or New Haven where my father would be working as a National Guard Advisor, and he reported in. Then we looked for a house to rent. They found a dark green duplex, two-story, with one very large bedroom in the front that could be divided into a boys’ side and a girls’ side, a couple of blocks from the beach and our school could be seen from the back door. I think they probably went to a used furniture store for beds and such. AND, because Brother #1 was sick (not seriously, but he was pretty miserable, poor little fella) Daddy brought home a color television! Since we had basically had no television for two years (very little was broadcast in Germany then and of course, it was all in German) this was a very exciting development for all of us. I think we stayed in Milford, our new home, long enough to get a bit settled and for my parents to enroll four of us in school (the twins had turned 5 in October so they hadn’t started kindergarten in Germany, but the principal of Point Beach School decided they could begin in January). Then we headed for Maine and Christmas.

There was no I-95 then as far as I know; we started out on the Wilbur Cross Parkway 220px-CrossParkwayExit59NB and continued on various turnpikes, parkways, and US and state routes. Some of the more outstanding advertising structures (a giant Indian, a giant steer, and so on) would become familiar landmarks over the next seven years, but they were all new to us then and to be pointed out and exclaimed over. At last, we paid our dime and crossed over the Piscataqua River, and we were in Maine.

There’s one family story I must tell that we think took place on this trip. We were only about 30 miles from Bowdoinham, near Exit 9 on the Maine Turnpike at Falmouth, when we saw a lone airman in uniform hitchhiking north. My parents briefly considered picking him up, but decided our car was really too crowded with kids, luggage, and Christmas presents. Not long after we arrived at my grandparents’ house, there was another homecoming – my uncle Carl, who was then an airman stationed at Pease AFB in Portsmouth, NH. Ayuh. He was the hitchhiker we had passed by. My mother always said, “If we had known it was you, we would have made room!” But he hasn’t held it against us.

Ah, Christmas in Maine at Grammie and Grampie’s house! My memory is that we actually stayed there, though we had our own little house up the road. In addition to Carl, my aunt Kate was still at home since she was still in high school, and my bachelor (at the time) Uncle Dick lived there as well. There were still two large bedrooms free upstairs, and since the house boasted no central heating, crowding in together could help keep you warm. The kitchen stove, living room stove, and a small one in my grandparents’ room were the only woodstoves in the house as far as I know. Bricks and old flatirons were heated on the stove in the evening, wrapped in newspaper, and used to warm the beds and our chilly feet; we huddled under mounds of Grammie’s homemade quilts until we got warm enough to sleep. Aunt Kate had a pair of ski pajamas, or that’s how I remembered them; she assures me that they were really red flannel with white snowflakes, made by my grandmother, in place of the kind you could buy in stores which cost $3.77 in the Sears catalog.

But what of cold? It was Christmas! I don’t remember any of the presents I got that year, though I’m sure I enjoyed them at the time. I recall a few we gave – the cuckoo clock brought from Germany that played “The Last Rose of Summer” on the hour in Grammie’s living room for many years; and the smoked dried German sausage my parents had smuggled in. I think perhaps we had Christmas dinner at my aunt Celia’s farmhouse on the Ridge. I know it was great to be there, to hear the grownups talking and telling stories, to see the cousins (all older or younger than I was), and most of all for me, to have such a wide choice of reading material! I had been sadly deprived during those weeks of moving and travel, and now it was all here – the children’s books from my mother’s childhood, (this may have been when I first read Little Women), the green-bound set of Dickens in the hall bookcase (I never got beyond the first few scary pages of Great Expectations until I was in my 20s!), Grampie’s Life magazine and Westerns, Uncle Dick’s Argosy, True, and Field and Stream. I dipped into them all.


We didn’t talk a lot about homesickness in my family. Our parents took the line that wherever we were together was home, and avoided complaining about any place we lived, at least where we could hear them. But I know it was a special Christmas for all of us, to be at home in Maine again with all our loved ones nearby.

Auntie Knickers’ Advent Storytime: Day 13

(A busy couple of days past means I’m a day behind, but hope to be caught up by the end of the night.)

One of my blogging friends, LutheranChik, has just returned safely home to Michigan after a trip to California. LutheranChik is a great champion of Michigan, its food, crafts, and tourism, so I’m dedicating this post to her and her beloved state. Patricia Polacco, author and illustrator of many excellent children’s books, is a native of Union City, Michigan (a Michigander!) who has returned there after many years away. Her author website makes good reading and so does this Christmas story from her family history, An Orange for Frankie. orange for frankie Get the book if you can, for as you can see the illustrations are beautiful.

I chose two very different songs for this story: “Christmas Train” is a rockin’ good number from Carey Bell, featured on Alligator Records Genuine Houserockin’ Christmas compilation; “This Old World” is a more reflective song by the group of folksingers gathered as the Golden Ring Singers.

houserockin christmas golden ring

Since the 13th of December is St. Lucia’s day in Sweden and Swedish-American communities, back in 2008 I recorded a section from Vilhelm Moberg’s The Emigrants, telling of Karl Oscar and Kristina’s “Christmas in the New Land” near Taylors’ Falls, Minnesota. For some unfathomable reason, the films made from these books by Jan Troell are not available on DVDs that will play in most US players. (For a lot of money, you can get Region 2 copies, which you might be able to play on your computer or if you have a multi-region player.) However, you can still read the books. For many years we’ve been driving through (and sometimes stopping in) Lindstrom, Minnesota, which has a water tower shaped like a Swedish coffee pot Lindstrom coffee pot, a statue of Karl Oscar and Kristina, a Swedish bakery, and whose yearly festival is called “Karl Oscar Days.”

karl oscar kristina Here are Karl Oscar and Kristina, with American and Swedish flags. Kristina is looking back to Sweden.

One of Sisterfilms’ great experiences during high school was performing in the Christmas Revels in what proved, sadly, to be its last year in Minnesota. The theme that year was Scandinavian and she sang several Swedish and Finnish songs. I can’t recall if they used “Julafton,” recorded by the Revels Chorus of Houston on a combined Russian/Scandinavian recording, To Drive the Dark Away. revels Another version of the same song is done by the Lund Cathedral Boys’ Choir and called “Goder Afton.” swedish christmas

Individual Files for Mac Users

Intro Dec 13 2010 Surprise 1 Surprise 2 An Orange for Frankie

Intro Dec 13 2008 Surprise 1 Surprise 2 Christmas in a New Land

Self-Extracting Zip Files for the Rest of Us

December 13 2010 December 13 2008

Monday, December 13, 2010

Ye Who Now Will Bless the Poor….

(Today’s writing prompt is Volunteer/Charitable Work. I’m focussing on one activity that was very important to our family for many years.)

wreath of love On the first Sunday in Advent in the early 1980s, you would probably find our family making an emergency stop at Snyder’s Drug Store on the way to church, to buy a package of ornament hooks. In the early years of the Wreath of Love program in the TRUST Church Group, the organization supplied a plain wreath to each church, which was to be decorated with small construction-paper cards. On the green cards, the outline of a tree waa on the front with someone’s first name written on it. On the red cards, a stocking with a name. Inside, three Christmas ball shapes with the description of a gift written on each – the green cards might have a wish for a sweatsuit, a comforter, a radio, or a pair of Velcro-fastened sneakers; the red ones might be wishes for candy, cookies, cologne,or even a stuffed animal. These were all wishes from residents of two local nursing homes. These homes, unlike many in the Twin Cities, were not affiliated with any of the major denominations, and TRUST helped provide a chaplain for them. The residents, some of whom had no close relatives and most of whom were on Medicaid, had some simple wishes they could not fulfill on the $40 a month left to them for necessities and small luxuries. So each year the TRUST churches would distribute these cards among their members and gifts would come rolling in. I was the coordinator of this program at my church for many years – until we left town. It was one of the most satisfying parts of Christmas for me and my family, and for many other church members.

The program did not always exist in that way. As editor of the church newsletter, I’d spent several years putting in the yearly article requesting a variety of generic gifts for the two homes’ residents, and always wondered a little – what if, for instance, all the people who brought in gifts brought slips and eau de toilette, and there were elderly men getting nothing? Someone else must have considered this and come up with a brilliant solution. images The chaplain and social worker would go to each resident and develop a wish list of three large and three small gifts (staff members would choose gift ideas for those who were unable to communicate any wishes) and the church members would be asked to buy one from the “Tree” card and one from the “Stocking” card for each resident, wrap and address the package, and bring it to church for pickup in time for the nursing home Christmas party.

The increased personalization of the giving process made all the difference – from the very beginning, all I had to do was announce that the cards had arrived, and I’d have to hightail it out of the sanctuary to beat the stampede of members and their children eager to get a card. My responsibility (besides hanging the cards on a wreath, which custom disappeared within a few years) was to note who had taken which card, make sure all were distributed, and make sure all the gifts came in safely and on time. There was never a serious problem with any of it. In fact, when other churches couldn’t get rid of all their cards or when new residents arrived at the last moment, we could always be called upon to take a few extra cards. (To be fair to the other churches – being a United Church of Christ congregation, we did not have any denominationally-run homes as most of the other churches did, and which they supported in similar ways.) Well, our one problem was that sometimes people would not be able to stand getting just one gift and would buy all three items the person had asked for. Not a bad problem to have.

It was always interesting to see how people made the choice of “their” resident to buy for. Sometimes it was just the name – if the resident shared your name, or the name of a favorite relative, of course you’d want to pick that one. Other people looked at the inside of the cards to see what gifts were asked for, sometimes with a view to getting a bargain (“Comforters are on sale at Penney’s this week, I can get a nice one there….”) and sometimes because it would be fun to look for the item, or the wish list suggested a kindred spirit. One friend, a historian, was quite tickled one year to be able to purchase a subscription to a Civil War history magazine for “his” resident. There was great competition for the stocking cards (these gifts were to be approximately $5 and under) among the children of the church, and great pains were taken in selecting and wrapping these gifts. The adults, too, delivered beautifully wrapped presents, which piled up in the minister’s office over the next couple of weeks until he could hardly reach his desk. They too took great care to find the right gift. I recall one dear friend, now gone, who looked all over town for a pair of blue Velcro tennis velcro sneaks After finally being successful, she somehow found out that the person who wished for blue tennis shoes was blind and unable to communicate, and the social worker who made up the list just thought “Blue would be nice.” (This did not discourage my friend, who continued to be a loyal giver to the Wreath of Love.)

We moved away five years ago, and I handed the Wreath of Love to a friend who is still coordinating it today. She’s probably checking her list right now to make sure all the gifts are in. Over the years, one or perhaps both of those small nursing homes closed; the relationship now is with a larger home which also has a small daycare, so in addition to presents for older people, we now have some cards for children – for each child, someone chooses a book. It’s one of the best-functioning little programs I know and I hope it goes on a long time. Indeed, we ourselves found blessing.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Auntie Knickers’ Advent Storytime: Day 12

Tonight, in honor of my Minnesota connections who are dealing with the aftermath of a big snowstorm, one more Minnesota memoir, of a somewhat more recent vintage. In fact, it tells about Christmas of 1984, a day I remember quite well (see yesterday’s Memories post for the reason.) Colleen Kruse is a Minnesota radio personality and stand-up comic who is very funny, but has her serious side too. And indeed as she says, Mickey’s Diner is still there: here’s a picture. I have to admit I’ve never been.

Mickeys Diner

It’s all too easy to forget the people – some well-paid, most not – who work on Christmas to deliver babies, plow snow, drive buses and taxis, and keep the convenience stores and diners open, and provide many other amenities that make our lives better. Dave Carter’s song “American Noel” won’t let us forget. It’s one of my favorites, which I first heard on the album Wonderland (issued to benefit a Western Massachusetts foodshelf program). I recently bought Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer’s album American Noel which also contains more great original songs as well as some lovely and unusual versions of more familiar carols. Either would be a great addition to your Christmas music library.

For a more child-friendly story, try Merry Christmas, Strega Nona by Tomie de Paola from my 2006 stories. The song that goes with it is “’Twas on a Night Like This,” (sometimes known as the Star Carol; the tune is the Carol of the Italian Bagpipers mentioned in the story.) You can go here for more information.

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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Auntie Knickers’ Advent Storytime: Day 11

Tonight’s story, a memoir, also has a little bit of family history connected with it as well as some interesting political aspects. It is an excerpt from “The Victorian City in the Midwest,” by Harrison Salisbury, first published in Growing Up in Minnesota (University of Minnesota Press, 1976) and reprinted in Christmas in Minnesota (Minnesota Historical Society, 2005).

Salisbury Harrison Salisbury (1908-1973) was born and grew up in North Minneapolis in a now-disappeared neighborhood of nice homes called Oak Lake. Its heyday was 20 years or so before his birth. By the time Harrison was born, the wealthy had moved south, and his father, a bookkeeper for a bag factory, could afford to live there with his wife, two children, a boarder and a servant (as of the 1910 census). The Salisburys lived at 107 Royalston Avenue. I was surprised to find that this street still exists, although 107 seems to be a parking lot; the area is completely given over to industrial and warehouse/commercial buildings now, and is just north of Glenwood Avenue near a conglomeration of freeways. (You can see for yourself if you type the address into Google Maps.)

In the memoir, Salisbury and his sister are taken to Holtzermann’s department store – the official name was Holtzermann’s Chicago Store Company. (Chicago seems to have been added for glamour.) Forty or so years after Salisbury’s World War I-era experiences there, Onkel Hankie Pants and his sister (oddly enough, as close in age as were Salisbury and his younger sister Mary) were taken to Holtzermann’s by their father at Christmastime also. Post-World War II, the store offerings seem to have recovered some of their magic, or at least that’s the way my husband and his sister remember it. My sister-in-law still treasures a large and beautiful ornament that she wheedled her father into buying for her at Holtzermann’s (and he was not a man given to impulse purchases.)

While looking for more information on Holtzermann’s, I discovered many interesting facts about Jacob D. Holtzermann – both the elder and the younger. The elder Holtzermann, born in 1869 in Piqua, Ohio, held the patent on Holtzermann’s Patent Stomach Bitters, a preparation intended to aid digestion (and which may have contained alcohol) but which is now mostly known for the collectibility of the bottles it came in. He and his brother Louis came to Minneapolis in 1887 and opened the store. It’s not clear whether Jacob died young, but he does not appear in the most recent censuses available; instead there is a younger Jacob D. Holtzermann, born in 1902, who is either the son or nephew of the first Jacob D. It is this Jacob D. Holtzermann who owned the store when my husband was a child. He graduated from the University of Minnesota, studied in Geneva and Munich, and received a master’s in International Law from Harvard – and then came back and ran the store. He made numerous trips to Europe on buying expeditions – I’ve never seen someone who showed up so often in the New York Passenger Lists on – and remember, this was all on ships.

Whether because or in spite of his cosmopolitan outlook, Holtzermann was a staunch isolationist in the years leading up to World War II, and one of some influence, since he owned a local isolationist paper, The Beacon. But unlike some America Firsters, he was not an anti-Semite. A Lutheran, he belonged to a local organization called the Roundtable of Christians and Jews (and this meant something, because Minneapolis was a very anti-Semitic city in those days). When Charles Lindbergh was making speeches which might have been open to interpretation as anti-Semitic, he wrote to the aviator urging him to repudiate such statements. Lindbergh did not. And, when Soviet Russia invaded Finland, he was at the forefront of a campaign to raise money to help the Finns; $150,000 was raised in a statewide drive (in addition to money that the Finnish-American community raised.)

In later years Holtzermann was active in Republican politics and attempted to gain the nomination for Senator in 1966; he died in 1969. The store closed a few years later (I don’t think it was there any longer when I came to Minneapolis.) The building still stands and apartments in it are advertised as being in the “Historic Holtzermann Building.” There are also numerous businesses, many of them connected to the Somali community. In Salisbury’s time, Holtzermann’s was on “Snoose Boulevard”, the center of a Scandinavian immigrant community.

I just want to mention, though it has nothing to do with Christmas, that Salisbury’s book, The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad is one of the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read. It was totally riveting and I still remember it years after reading it; I highly recommend it. If the remaining 28 books of Salisbury’s oeuvre are even half as good they are worth reading as well.

Since Minneapolis is experiencing a big snowstorm today, and because of the German connection, I chose the song “Leise Rieselt der Schnee” (Softly Falls the Snow), sung by the Bielefelder Kinderchor sometime in the 1950s.

For something a little more child-friendly, try the December 11, 2006 reading, Cat in the Manger by Michael Foreman; you can find more information here.

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Nu har vi jul igen!

(I’m pretty sure I’ve covered most of the traditions from my family of origin in the other posts, so this is going to be all about one tradition I married into.)

Nu har vi jul igen,
og nu har vi jul igen,
og julen varer ved til påske.
Nu har vi jul igen,
og nu har vi jul igen,
og julen varer ved til påske.

Now it is Christmas time, and now it is Christmas time, and Christmas lasts till Easter.

It’s Christmas Eve and the pork roast and ris à l’amande have been eaten, leftovers put away and at least the dishwasher is loaded. Now it’s time! We move the tree from its normal spot (currently in front of the picture window) into the middle of the room, being careful that the angel doesn’t get knocked off by the ceiling fan. Of course the presents must be moved too, some under the tree and some moved into another room for the time being. A braided rug made by my great-aunt Lida covers the cord from the tree lights to forestall accidents. After some explanation for anyone who is new to this ritual, we all hold hands and circle the tree. The bravest among us starts a Christmas carol and we walk around the tree; after one verse another song is begun and we reverse direction. We sing a mixture of religious and secular Christmas songs (“Up on the Housetop” seems to make an appearance every year) until somehow an unspoken consensus is reached – it’s really time now! We begin singing “Nu har vi jul igen”, going faster and faster, until we can’t go any faster and are all out of breath. Then, and only then, can we sit down and begin opening presents.

You may have seen this Scandinavian custom in Ingmar Bergman’s film Fanny and Alexander. If memory serves, the Swedes in their palatial home did a sort of conga line all through the house or at least the ground floor. We call it “dancing around the Christmas tree” even though it is more like walking and jogging. A few years ago my niece’s husband videotaped the event:

A couple of years ago, after we had introduced this custom to our Maine relatives, we went to City of Lakes for Christmas. We heard afterwards that our nephew and his girlfriend had made up their own version, the words to which went something like “I love you again and you love me again and you and I eat lots of pasta.” This custom came with Onkel Hankie Pants’ grandparents and great-grandparents from Denmark in the 1870s and 1880s when they came to America. I’m sure it will continue in our family for a long time.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Only Thing I Want for Christmas (Is Just to Keep the Things That I’ve Got)

Eddie Cantor sang this during the Depression, and this is one of the years I feel the same way. Oh, I like getting presents and I’m sure my loved ones will find some things to delight me. But what I’m most looking forward to this Christmas is to be celebrating with family, in our own warm home, thinking of our daughter at her first Christmas Eve services as an ordained minister (she’s got three of them!); and the cards and calls from relatives and friends far away.

Millay Road Christmas Stephen Petroff and a child

My brother and his son, I think, 20+ years ago.

My parents “yust went nuts” at Christmas. They always seemed to figure out which of the things we asked for were really what we most wanted, and then they always came up with something we didn’t know we wanted. The year I was 10 I got a clock radio for Christmas. This meant not only that I was old enough to get myself up in the morning, but also allowed me to listen to the DJs and radio programs I wanted – Murray the K on WINS, Oscar Brand and Make-Believe Ballroom on WCBS. (We were only about 70 miles from NYC so we had a wide choice of media.)

One year we all got US Army mess kits.mess kit

I’m sure my siblings each have at least one special present they can remember.

When we became parents, we fell into all the usual traps, such as having to put things together at the last minute and buying too many advertised toys that were soon forgotten. But there were many happy moments on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. Observe:

1982 or 83 Just after Christmas

Cordeliaknits and SonShineIn with some of their presents; the hats came from South America, brought by their aunt.1984 12 25 Niels holding Elinor

Our best Christmas present ever, Sisterfilms, Christmas Day 1984.

1988 Christmastime at Bedstemor's Elinor with play food

The play food was a big hit!

Auntie Knickers’ Advent Storytime: Day 10

harveyslum I am short on time today, as I’m going to a play tonight, and not just any play. It is It’s a Wonderful Life, at the Chocolate Church in City of Ships, and starring (at least I think so) Onkel Hankie Pants as Clarence Oddbody, AS2. So, I chose a picture book which I bought last year for a buck or so at the Christmas Tree Shop. It’s called Harvey Slumfenburger's Christmas Present. John Burningham, born in England in 1936, both wrote and illustrated the book.

I’ve loved the song that goes with it ever since I first heard it on the late lamented Minnesota Public Radio Morning Show. It’s “Jogging Along with My Reindeer” by Seamus Kennedy from Goodwill to Men.

For a slightly longer story, you can go to December 10, 2008, for Appalachian writer Rebecca Caudill’s A Certain Small Shepherd. One Appalachian carol (written by John Jacob Niles, based on a tune fragment he heard in the mountains), one African-American carol, and one American carol whose provenance I’m not sure of are songs to go with the story.

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Friday Five: Who or What Lifts You Up?

brenda lee

Mary Beth at RevGalBlogPals tells us: “My colleague, an Italian, just walked by my door singing, "Jingle Bell Rock." At the end of each line, he punctuated it with a clap!

"Jingle bell, Jingle bell, Jingle Bell rock (*clap!*)"

I'm not sure he knows any more of the song than that, but he sure does sound happy. :)

Another colleague and friend, who has been away from our workplace for several months, has returned on a part-time basis. She danced into my room this morning with a big, "HEEEEY!" and hugged me.

I love having people and things in my life that lift me up. This morning started out with icky things running through my head: I've been sick, I feel like a zombie; my husband's been sick; all the world's news seems to be bad, Christmas is coming and my proverbial goose is not nearly fat! and work deadlines are looming. And yet, and yet.

These two friends have brought a smile to my face today. My spirits are lifted.

So, for today's Friday Five: What lifts you up when you are low or troubled? Who helps you remember that you are not alone, it's getting better all the time, etc.?

Your five responses can be people you know, people you DON'T know, music, places, foods, scripture, surprises, something you do for someone else. It could be a pair of slippers. It could be a glass of water.

Bonus: Do you like the song "Jingle Bell Rock?" If you do, who do you prefer to hear sing it? Bobby Helms, Brenda Lee, Mean Girls, Stephanie Smith, Chubby Checker, Billy Gilman, Brian Setzer, Hilary Duff, Thousand Foot Krutch (I am not making this up), oh, there are so many more! I am currently partial to my friend Marco.”

1. My almost-daily phone calls from Sisterfilms. Even on the days she’s ranting about some minor crisis, it makes me happy that I’m the one she chooses to share it with. Of course, it will be even better when she is here in person at Christmas – and after!

2. The goofy faces, constant attempts to communicate, and unconditional love of our dog Rusty. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s so pretty and we get so many compliments on our walks.IMG_1210

3. Christmas cards! I’ve got to get busy and send some out, since we have now received the first four real cards (not ones from people we pay for something like the dentist and the paper carriers). I love the little notes, the printed Christmas letters, the photographs, all of it – not to mention how interesting it is to see what people choose. Today, from our train-buff friends, we got the Sunset Limited, and from a cousin who’s moved to the Southwest, a beautiful card of an adobe church with luminarias.

4. Special for today: looking forward to seeing Onkel Hankie Pants as Clarence the Angel in It’s a Wonderful Life. I will know most of his lines by heart since we’ve been running them over the last few weeks in the brief time he’s at home between work and rehearsal. On these occasions I bask in reflected glory.

5. Getting back to blogging. I’ll be doing three blogposts today – this one, Auntie Knickers’ Advent Storytime, and the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories. It keeps me busy and although the quality varies, the writing practice is good too. The Memories one is especially good for eliciting memories from some of my relatives who read them.

Bonus: Sure do, almost any version, and I have about 80 of them. (The number 87 comes up, but some of those are Jingle Bells where the album title has Rock in it). Although the original version brings back memories, my favorite is Ozzie Kotani’s instrumental version from Hawaiian Slack Key Christmas.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Auntie Knickers’ Advent Storytime: Day 9

betsy tacy

Tonight I rectify a great injustice. Yes, I must confess it: I have never before read a Betsy-Tacy story. It follows that I never read them to my children either. And yet, I lived for three years just 25 miles from Mankato, the “Deep Valley” of the Betsy-Tacy books, and many more years in Minnesota, home of Maud Hart Lovelace. I found this story in Christmas in Minnesota, published in 2005 by the Minnesota Historical Society.xmas minn The story is cited as coming from Down Town: A Betsy-Tacy Story, published in 1943. I’m not sure if this is the same as the book Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown, published the same year. There is a Betsy-Tacy Society which has restored the homes of Maud Hart Lovelace and her best friend, on whom the stories are based. Above is a picture of the first Betsy-Tacy book with the original cover illustrations by Lois Lenski (she wrote as well as illustrated and I may be reading one of her stories later on.)

There aren’t many good songs about Christmas shopping; “Pretty Paper” and “Shake Me, I Rattle” are a bit maudlin for my taste, and there is a new song called “I Broke My Arm Christmas Shopping at the Mall” which does not fit the spirit of our story. So we turn to the classic “Silver Bells,” in its first recorded version by Bing Crosby and Carol Richards.

For those who want something a little more substantial, in 2006 I read In Clean Hay by Eric P. Kelly; a good song to go with it is “Wsród nocnej ciszy (Amid the Silence)”, a Polish carol sung by a Polish choir. You can read more about them here.

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This Time of the Year Is Spent in Good Cheer

(From “Drive the Cold Winter Away,” as sung by the Baltimore Consort, among others.)

It will probably give anyone who doesn’t know me in real life a false impression to say that most holiday gatherings I’ve attended with pleasure centered on family or church. Onkel Hankie Pants’ parents and his uncle and aunt alternated for many years hosting a New Year’s Eve gathering which centered on a festive soup with dumplings (could not locate a recipe or picture) and was more fun than almost any New Year’s Eve party I’ve attended, except perhaps the Y2K party we had at church at the end of the millennium. Another yearly event I looked forward to was the Caroling Party – we would meet at church and divide into two or three groups to go caroling to our shut-ins, reconvening for a potluck supper. In early years the entrée of Sloppy Joes was furnished, and I still add a little bit of brown sugar to my Sloppy Joes as the church lady who made them taught me.

When we joined our church in City of Lakes, there was a core group of “church ladies” who were about the age I am now. They were very welcoming to us younger women who were beginning to join, and I especially remember my first Christmas Tea – an annual event which at that time was held in one of the nicer homes nearer the lake. It featured musical entertainment, delicious treats, a silver tea service (and coffee too of course), and beautiful decorations, and was held on a weekday afternoon. I was able to attend because I was going to night school at the U and OHP was temporarily unemployed. Over the years the tea was simplified and began to be held in the church lounge. Then came the Christmas that the “church ladies” realized that, in their late 70s and 80s, they really didn’t have the energy to do this any more. A few years before, I had begun reading a story as part of the tea entertainment, and I didn’t like to see it go. A few friends and I decided to continue the tradition, with a few changes – it became an Epiphany tea held on the Sunday afternoon nearest Epiphany. One friend with a Martha Stewart eye decorated the tables, and for as long as she could, a long-time member who was nearly a recluse the rest of the year came and played the piano for our carol singing – her playing was much better than our singing even though the singing wasn’t bad. Later my sister-in-law took over the piano. I always enjoyed the tea, but it describes my personality pretty well to say that my favorite part was the day before, when two or three friends and I would gather to make the cream-cheese frosted sandwich loaf which was the traditional main dish for the tea. (Here’s a photo of one that looks a lot like ours: sandwich loaf

(Since my grandnephew, an expert garnisher at age 10, was nowhere near, we did not have the radish roses, which I have to say look a little Hallowe’eny to me; and we had only three layers, one of egg salad, one of tuna salad, and one of cream cheese mixed with cucumbers.) After our labors we enjoyed the leftovers and scraps along with whatever other goodies were available, and tea out of a Peter Rabbit teaset like this;peter rabbit

Three or four good friends is a fine party in my opinion.

You Can Put Some Rømmegrøt * and Rosettes on Your List


(This rather obscure line was the only one I could think of about Christmas cookies. It’s from “I’ll Be Home for Lefse” by Leroy Larson and the Minnesota Scandinavian Ensemble – get it from the UffDa Shop, where else?)

Fancy cookies like rosettes (pictured above, about which more later) were not a part of my childhood, although I do recall my mother making pinwheel cookies, which always seemed like a lot of work to me. I mostly remember the sugar cookies which were slightly different from the year-round variety and were cut in shapes and iced or sprinkled with colored sugar. sugar cookies

Mama also made year-round a filled cookie with a soft sugar cookie dough; at Christmas time she was apt to fill these with mincemeat. I remember also my grandmother’s soft molasses cookies (and though not a cookie, the popcorn balls she made for the grandchildren each year – she had 27 of them, and since my eldest cousin is, I think, 12 years older than I, several great-grandchildren too. Those popcorn balls were the tastiest I’ve ever had.) One of my aunts used to make and distribute around the family some of the no-bake cookies that featured cereal, coconut or maybe chow mein noodles nobake I bought some at a cookie walk a few weeks ago and was instantly transported back to childhood.

Rosettes are a deep-fried cookie requiring special equipment and made by nearly everyone in Minnesota. I well remember my first sight of them, at a Christmas concert at one of the Lutheran churches in the small town where Onkel Hankie Pants and I lived when I first came to Minnesota. I had seen klejner (the Norwegians call them fattigmand or “beggarmen”)


and brune kager brune kager (these don’t look quite right, my mother-in-law’s were larger and diamond-shaped) the previous Christmas, when my new mother-in-law had sent them to Berlin for our first Christmas. But rosettes don’t travel well. So I was amazed and delighted to see them on the cookie plate at the after-concert reception. Even though it’s been many years, and I’ve even made some myself, these fragile beauties still amaze and delight me.

I love to eat cookies, but I’m not so fond of making them. It seems that once one has prepared the dough, that should be enough – but then there’s the rolling, shaping, dropping, and the multiple cookie sheets, the short baking time…it’s a good thing that Sisterfilms loves baking cookies and will be here soon to take charge. It’s much more fun baking with her than alone. Before then, I might make some cookies to take to my niece’s caroling and cookies birthday party; probably these, which I’ve been making ever since early in our marriage when I had a chilly kitchen and no electric mixer, because they use melted butter and can be stirred by hand. cardamom cookies two

Cardamom Cookies (Kardemomme Kager)

1 egg
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup melted butter
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon crushed cardamom seeds or ground cardamom
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup flour
Mix ingredients in order given. Refrigerate dough one hour or more. Roll into balls and flatten down to the size of a fifty-cent piece.
Bake on a greased and floured cookie sheet in a preheated 350 degree oven until lightly browned on the edges. (Not very long! Try six minutes and see how it goes depending on your oven. However, I have overbaked these and as long as they aren’t burnt they will still taste good.) To me, the taste of cardamom is especially Christmasy. The recipe came from a book called Wonderful, Wonderful Danish Cooking by Ingeborg Dahl Jensen.

*Rømmegrøt: is a Norwegian dish which contains no rum. For that you want Rombudding, which I’ve had once. I’ve never tasted Rømmegrøt, which is basically cream – sour or sweet – cooked a long time with a bit of flour. You can find one recipe here, or Google to take your choice. Not for the lactose-intolerant!