12-18-2000 Happy Holidays from Stormgard

Dear Folks-                                         December 18, 2000
Happy assorted Holidays- The Roman Festival of Saturnalia started on
December 17th and runs through the 25th, Odinist Mother Night is on the
20th, the Solstice and Hannucka on the 21st, and of course, the Feast of
Christmas is next monday (I doubt I’ll be writing to you quite on time
next week- hopefully not until after Boxing Day, the 26th).

Sadly, our Lucia buns did not rise this year- I think the kitchen was
too cold for them. So I made more saffron bread and buns the next day-
and they were wonderful. The kids didn’t get up to bring us cocoa in bed
either. But that’s OK, because the battery was dead in our electric
Santa Lucia crown. Aelfwine made it out of one of those “multi-candle”
window display electric lights, built into a wreath of fake
ever-greenery. I guess it’s become a relic now. On the other hand, one
of my books on Scandinavian cooking says that they believed that the
13th was the darkest day of the year, and the idea was that it was lucky
to break your fast before dawn. I figure that means that for luck we
should eat before sun-up on the Solstice. Since that isn’t until 7:15
that should be a piece of cake. (Or saffron bun.) Of course, I think
that the Swedes have an even greater advantage on that count than we do-
they could probably have brunch and the sun wouldn’t be up yet!
Star asked last night when was the night to put out his shoes to be
filled, and was disturbed when I told him that St. Nicholas Eve was 12
days before. He might keep track of it next year. Of course, at this
point he’s wearing men’s size 11 boots- could be difficult to fill!
We had a snow day on Thursday- the weather continued cold until then,
and then we got the leftovers of Chicago’s storm- not much only about
six inches. Star shoveled until the shovel broke in two. But it was
pretty. WLC first planned a two hour delay, then decided to cancel.
Mescenic canceled right away- BOY! was Star angry! I have never seen a
kid who hates school cancellations as much as he does. While I usually
do errands on Thursdays, I put it off for a day this week- except giving
blood. They always run low around the holidays, so we figured by two
that the roads would be clear enough, chipped the ice off the car
windows, and went straight there and back. Despite them taking us
straight through, it took four hours! There were so few people there
this time that when Aelfwine got there on his way home from work, there
was still pizza left!
Anyway, the scenery was lovely for a couple of days- and I figured that
if the weather stayed as cold as it has been, we’d have a white
Christmas. But a bizarre front came through on Sunday- hot air (well, 50
degrees seems hot after teens and twenties for a couple of weeks) with a
lot of fog, then rain- washed it all away. Then the cold came back and
froze the last of the rain into a thin skin of ice over everything. Now
it’s just cold again.
More impressive than the temperatures was the wind- it was so windy on
Tuesday that it blew the ramp off the front steps! It’s windy today too-
perhaps not quite as windy, but close- lots of power outages around
Aelfwine took advantage of the relative warmth this weekend to clean
the rabbit cages- all month the trays that catch the rabbit droppings
have been frozen into their tracks, and the pellets had piled up in
their cages. We tried to console ourselves that the composting action
might be providing more warmth for the poor things. But it did go
against the grain to let them live in a dirty environment.
Mari has been doing much better. She goes in and out now by herself,
although she’s still limping. I think it will be a good long while
before she’ll run, or even want to go for a walk- but she does like to
go outside (even at 25 degrees!) and sit and sniff and bark to the other
dogs in the area. We got out a kiddiegate and mostly keep her in the
living room where the woodstove is going most of the time. I admit that
I am not anxious to have her in the library with the tree unless someone
is there to keep an eye on her- less active or not, she’s still a puppy,
and we have a LOT of glass ornaments. (We broke the parrot this year.)
The new ones this year are a cornucopia, a peacock and a lemon.
Aelfwine put the tree up on Monday, then on Tuesday Dan called. Monday
and Tuesday she was doing lighting for an office party (a really BIG
office party) but it turned out to be “cakelike” so she was able to come
down from Manchester for a couple of hours, so we had the Feast of
Brothers and Sisters. We had supper, the kids exchanged gifts, and we
decorated the tree. We still haven’t found the box of handmade ornaments
(that went missing last year). I can’t imagine that it could have been
thrown away, so it must be in an inappropriate pile of boxes in the
attic- but it’s been two years now and we haven’t seen it. Way back when
I started doing the solstice feast I had people bring and make ornaments
for the tree- some are cardboard, some eggs, some papier-mache; some are
gorgeous, and some would be embarrassing to put up they are so ugly, if
we didn’t love the memories they engender. I hope we find it before next
It was very good to see Dan again, and to have a nice quiet time
together. I wish I could get my sibs to get together- just us, no spice
(plural of spouse, with apologies to Ben Franklin) or children and enjoy
each other’s company, but without Hallmark on my side, this holiday is
going to probably going to have to spread slowly- my kids will have it
for their kids, who’ll tell their kids, and so on…
It’s looking like we are going to miss Boxing Day at the Taylors. And
it looks like Dan won’t be able to make it either. Spending St. Stevens
down at Steve and Vicki’s farm was so very low key and pleasant- Kat was
really looking forward to skating again. A lot like our Brothers and
Sisters, except that it’s multi-generational.
It occurs to me that one of the big problems with Christmas, (and maybe
other holidays- but especially this long season one) is that
traditionally, it was the joyous culmination of a season of fasting.
While we still have feasts, we don’t have fasts. I think it is this
imbalance that is creating the disturbance in our holidays. You need the
one to be able to deal with the other. Even on the most simple terms-
physically- the closest thing we come to it is women who try to diet to
get into their festive outfits. In one of Bob Aspirin’s Mythadventures
books, Guido (I think it was) describes a technique for convincing
people that they want to do what you want them to do. You grab their
shoulder and squeeze, then you explain what it is you want and squeeze,
then repeat this several times. But the trick is, that you don’t release
at the end of the squeeze, you hold it at the same level, then when you
squeeze, it’s tighter- then hold, tighter- hold there- tighter still,
etc. That’s essentially what we are doing with this string of holiday
celebrations- squeeze, squeeze, squeeze with no let-up in between. We
need to institute fast days so we can survive all our holidays.
This sounds a bit funny coming from a person who’s always suggested
that I’ll celebrate anyone’s holiday. But when one looks at feasts and
celebrations in the historical perspective, they are always balanced by
fasts. Or at very least, by a level of plain living that we do not
experience in America today. Well, some people may- some by design, and
some by privation; but by and large, our cultural cycles are not well
designed. Once again I’m thinking of returning my plan to spend a couple
of weeks out of every six eating vegetarian fare. (It’s much harder in
the winter than in the summer.)
Still, we’re going to have the Solstice feast this weekend- if anyone
shows up. At least we’ll put out cookies and whoever does show up can
play similes and The Minister’s Cat and other games. Gary was up this
weekend, he’s going to be too busy to visit until next year, and I found
that he is another fan of Trivial Pursuits. (I saw they have a new one
out- Millennial Trivial Pursuits, I’ve been hinting for it.) When the
craze was first on, they had Trivial Pursuits tournaments at the
library, but I won so often that other people stopped coming because
they didn’t have a chance. Of course, any time I got a sports question,
and a LOT of the entertainment ones, I was stymied- so I don’t see why
they won’t play with me.

Of course, I haven’t gotten around to MAKING any cookies yet. For
example, one day I was going to clear the counters to make room for
cookie sheets etc. I washed a lot of dishes, and woodwork, and the
apothecary jars and mortars and pestles on the counters, and the
shelves, and dusted the ceiling and rearranged the pantry in order to
fit in the things that had been on the counter because they didn’t have
room in the pantry to be put away… Or the day I was going to finish up
the skirts I’d cut out, and went to clear the sewing table, and decided
to wrap the presents that were on it, so they could just go under the
tree, and that ended up with me cleaning the china cupboard (which is
where we keep the wrapping paper and ribbons) and got no sewing done…
Or how putting away some summer clothes turned into a closet cleaning…
Other housewives understand this phenomenon. I do wonder how people who
work outside jobs manage to get these things done, since they don’t have
the days it seems to take me to do these things. When I see their
houses, they always look cleaner than mine.
Still, I am hoping to get to it today as soon as I am done with the
letter. The counters are clean now, and the dishes caught up. Of course,
the counters are covered with four cookie sheets bearing the component
parts of Kat’s gingerbread church. (perhaps that’s part of my counter
problem- it seems to me that there should be more counter than one could
cover with four cookie sheets!) Saturday we mixed up the requisite dough

from an old German recipe (which included 16 cups of flour and spices

measured in tablespoons, and the honey, sugar and butter cooked together
to soft ball stage, as well as lots of fresh ground lemon rind and
juice.) Yesterday we made the templates and figured out how to adapt the
pattern to make it closer to what Kat envisioned. I was able to
contribute my experience with making gingerbread houses- I’m afraid my
mother was not much help to me on that count. I have had many many
gingerbread structures crumble into unrecognizable heaps when I had
expected them to be marvelous creations! One year I recall, the only
thing I was able to salvage from my attempt was one small gingerbread
outhouse (with a crescent window), but even on that I hadn’t been able
to do the seat with two holes inside that I’d intended. Structural
gingerbread is a very different animal than the soft wonderful stuff one
wants for cookies. I think it was Larousse Gastronomique that said that
cooking was once considered a sub specialty of architecture. Or was it
the other way around? When Kat gets home from school today, we will
start assembling it. We would have started last night, but when I
checked, she’d made a lovely batch of butter cream frosting- not royal
icing which sets up like cement, and is what we need for this project.
Well, we’ll tint the buttercream for sugar cookies.
Kat also started sewing her stuffed cat kit that she didn’t finish in
Home Economics. It’s a VERY complicated pattern. No wonder Star’s
stuffed dog came out so well. My father tried to fax me the pattern for
our traditional Christmas stockings so I can make a scaled down one for
Molly, but our fax battery was low and he mailed it instead. I am nearly
to the heel, so I needed it. Pattern knitting I can do by eye, but
fitting- no way! I also have gotten very good at darning. When one buys
socks at $1.50 a pair in batches of a half dozen, if you wear a hole in
the heal or toe, you can toss it out without thinking twice- and simply
wear the whole one with any of it’s identical other 75 cent fellows. If,
however, you have spent eight to twelve dollars for a pair of stockings,
and each pair is unique, you pull out your needle and thread and darning
egg, and start stitching- carefully so that you can’t feel a lump when
you are walking on it. I expect that one would be even more hesitant to
throw them away if one had knit the pair of stockings by hand. (And I
noticed that the weather has gotten cold enough that Kat has taken to
wearing the leg warmers I made her last year on days she’s wearing
skirts- even if the trip to school is only twelve minutes long!)
Willow is having a rather bad week- I think she may be attempting too
much. She went shopping for me again this weekend. Travis and Ernie (who
is still without a car) wanted to go to the mall to do their shopping,
and since I loathe the mall, I let her go for me and take them (although
I felt a bit guilty about it). When we took Amanda back down to Maynard,
I drove, because I didn’t think Willow was up to it. (Amanda re-tinted
her hair again- a lovely berry red- she was talking about putting in
green stripes on either side of her face for the holidays. If her mother
doesn’t let us borrow her for a while, I guess I’ll know why… Of
course, she told us about the time her father went up on the roof to
tint the icicles that were forming with food coloring. (The rest of THAT
story is that she threw a snowball at him and he fell off the roof-
luckily into a deep enough snowdrift!)
I was thinking about Amanda’s health problems- multiple and beyond my
meager abilities, although the Essiac has certainly helped her. I think
that she has your basic American problem: While she’s willing to do some
things, she doesn’t want to make a life style change. I came up with
what I thought was a brilliant analogy (I think I’m my own biggest
fan!). You don’t drive your car until it runs out of gas, then put gas
in it. Why not? Because, completely aside from the incredible
inconvenience of having to restart the car, and maybe being out of range
of a gas station, it’s not good for the car. You don’t wait to put oil
into your car until it starts clunking and clanking because it has run
out- everyone knows that by that point, you have broken something in the
car, and even if you put oil in at that point, you are going to have to
fix the things that not putting oil in broke. So we should treat our
bodies as well as we treat our cars- for the same reason, to get the
best and longest possible work out of them and to avoid personal
inconvenience. Anyway, I THOUGHT it was brilliant. But when I told Wolf
and Fitz, they pointed out that there are a lot of people out there who
DON’T know enough to maintain their cars either. Oh, well, another piece
of brilliance turns dull in the light of facts.
While we were at Amanda’s there was a downed tree in front of their
house, so we took some branches from it. We are weaving bits of
evergreen into the bittersweet wreath on the front door, rather than
putting up a whole new Yule wreath.
Oh- and to be honest- I noticed that my cough drops were not quite hard
enough, and they have all slumped together into a hard mass at the
bottom of the jar- it’s going be a real challenge to get them out!
I’ve gotten some of my cards out- there are still more partially
addressed on the desk. I find it hard to believe that I like too many
people, or that letting them know is inappropriate. Still, I think it’s
good to stick to cards that if they arrive AFTER December 25th won’t
look too silly. One year my favorite card was from Rusty- it was Santa,
and he mailed it to arrive the day after Christmas (oh, the
organizational skill!) it said “I wanted to apologize for what Comet and
Blitzen left on your roof last night.” Good one!
Dennis told me a great story this week- he and Megan have decided to
get one of those beds that adjusts the feet and back and such up and
down, so he had to take out the bunk beds that they have been sleeping
in in their loft. The only way to do it was he crawled under the bed and
sawed off all the legs- while he was under it. That sounds dangerous,
but apparently wasn’t really. He had to get a neighbor to come in and
hold it up while they simultaneously kicked the feet out from under, to
remove it. And of course, the cats decided that that was a good time to
hide under the beds. Talk about a WRONG place to hide if you are scared!

We have temporarily moved our cat feeding area upstairs. When Mari got
well enough to walk around, she started eating their cat food again, so
since she can’t get up the stairs, we are feeding her in the kitchen,
and the cats have to go to the upstairs bathroom. They were in the
kitchen this morning at the usual place, when I sent Kat up to put out
food for them. The first sound of kibble hitting bowl caused every
feline ear to go straight up; at the sound of the second scoop, the cats
looked at each other (I think they were trying to convince each other to
distain the new feeding place and force us to bring it down to them);
then at the third clatter, one cat moved, and as one, all the cats
pelted up the stairs, each unwilling to let the others get to the food
first. It was great to watch!

Oh, and the Wilton hardware store has ordered me a lid lifter for the
wood stove. I LOVE small towns. I also got six home-made candy canes

from Nelsons. Kat is selling raffle tickets to benefit the Unique Dance

Team for one of their HUGE ones, if you have any urge for a three or
more foot long candy cane- feel free to call and we’ll front a chance
for you.

With my remembering my childhood project, I’ve been trying to remember
presents I got as a kid- and I can’t. (Except for the dollhouse I didn’t
get when I asked Santa for it- now how trite is that?) and the Jon Gnagy
art set. I was SO proud to get grown up art supplies! And there was the
wooden USA puzzle- we never found Tennessee after Christmas, and always
figured it must have gotten burned with the wrapping paper. When you
think about the amount of emotional weight that kids put into what they
are hoping for each year, and the amount of effort parents put in to get
them what they want- I know MY parents did- it seems like a pity NOT to
remember them. I remember decorations, and lots of activities, but not
the presents themselves. Let THAT be a lesson to us all.
I have been thinking about how we saw Mother reaching up into the
fireplace where we’d stuck our lists- maybe three or four times we
caught her at it- but it never occurred to us to doubt that she was, as
she said “just checking to see if they were gone yet”. It wasn’t until I
thought about it as an adult that I realized she must have been
collecting them. How we must have been watching that chimney like little
hawks to have caught her at it so often! And she would point up to the
corners and say she’d seen Santa’s elves watching us to see if we were
being good- and we’d think we caught just a bit of them as they sped
into hiding. I was sure I’d really seen one. Ah the power of suggestion!

Well, let me suggest that I see you having a WONDERFUL holiday, getting
just enough of what you were hoping for to feel pleasantly satisfied at
the end of the day, but retaining some things to keep hoping for so that
you will always have a good supply of things to which you may look
forward… Bright Blessings!

(40 presidential quotes)
“I only know two tunes, one is `Yankee Doodle’, the other ain’t.” –
Andrew Jackson (7)