12-21-2016 Glad Yule

dsc02700    We have had a large range of weather this week. It got cold enough that I finally decided to close my window (although I didn’t manage, it’s stuck, and my nice feather and fur nest is warm enough that I don’t need to. I’ll try again when the room is a trifle warmer.) After the cold there was snow- just in time for our open house, so we didn’t have many guests this year, and those who braved the weather were doubly welcome! After the snow came rain, and there isn’t as much now as there was before, but I expect more is coming. The sun is really low now- even mid-day it’s hard to shoot down the road because it’s so low. I put my hand up over the camera, as one does when shading one’s eyes. It barely clears the trees. While I was wrapping presents I was alternating being blinded by the sun coming in the south windows and there being white-out snowfall conditions!
The house looks good, as it does for the holidays. Speaking of which, this week’s holidays would start with today- the Winter Solstice (lots of holidays making short and dark jokes), it’s also called Blue Christmas, when a lot of churches have special services for those who are depressed during the holidays. I think that’s sweet. Tomorrow is Date Nut Bread Day, the 23rd is Pfeffernuesse Day and Festivus, the 24th is Christmas Eve also Egg Nog Day and Chocolate Day, the 25th is the first day of Christmas, of course, and Pumpkin Pie Day; the 26th, Boxing Day, is also called Thank You Note Day, Official God-awful-tie Day, and Candy Cane Day; the 27th is Fruitcake Day and 28th is Childermas- the unluckiest day of the year- Card Playing Day, and another Chocolate Day. So that should hold us.
Thursday morning Willow went out first thing and rented the hydraulic log splitter from the county store. It was very cool. You just roll the piece under the wedge, pull the handle, and down it comes and splits the wood. Some of the pieces we have this year are one and a half to two feet wide hardwood- very heavy and solid. John could move them, but I couldn’t. Bear and Hawk came over bear-and-splitterand helped run it, pull the heavy pieces around, stack the split wood in the shed. When it ran low on fuel, Lee (Bear’s wife) brought over some gas for it, and they kept going until after dark. They kept it up until the front came through taking the temperature from 30s to single numbers, which the hydraulics didn’t like, and the machine kept stopping, so we gave up. They’d planned to finish it all. We may need to rent it again for the rest. It is certainly impressive and makes a hard job fairly easy. If it hadn’t been too cold, we might have kept it Friday, but since it wouldn’t work anyway, Willow took it back- before school. Avi’s kids had a two hour delay because of the cold. bear-and-hawk-splittingThey don’t want them to get chilled waiting for the bus. Modern children!

Bear is a good friend who visited me in the hospital back 10 years ago. We gave them wool socks since they didn’t want to be paid.
Until we cleaned for the party, we had the dining room table as a wrapping station- now everything is tucked into the passage to the library, and we just deal with individual presents coming in late, as they arrive. We had a delay in putting the gifts under the tree as the Tree fell down after I’d put the ornaments on it. Luckily, we only lost two or three, and then tied the tree to the wall, so it shouldn’t fall again. But we had to wait for a few days for the rug to dry, because this tree stand holds about a gallon of water and it all spilled. Now it’s dry and we have presents to contemplate. As usual, now that they are “in our faces”, as it were, it seems like too big a pile. Someone recently asked “Why don’t we ask “What did you give for Christmas?” rather than “what did you get for Christmas?” as an indication that we are concentrating on the greedy aspects not the giving. I think you could ask it after Christmas and they’d be delighted to tell you. I do think most people are more excited about giving presents than getting them.
Bear, Lee and Hawk came back Friday night for the open house. We’d talked about it when they were working. They wanted to come on Saturday, but they had two other places to be, so we suggested Friday might work better. Even so, they had a friend, Maria, with them who had to be delivered back to Nashua, then they’d go back to Greenfield. Still, she was fun, and it’s how one meets new people. We had a huge quiche, and I made mini “pumpkin pies” from the leftover squash from the night before.
Saturday was the snowstorm- there were some pictures pretty impressive crashes shared on fb- Oskgar, Ekke and Sarah had been planning to come down from Maine, but were smarter than that. As I told people, I like feeding people, but I don’t think my cooking is to die for!  (ah the things we can share now that we all carry cameras in our phones!)  Still, Lee brought Joanie and Raye up from dusk until 9ish. Abby and Hunter came up from about 9 to Midnight.  McKensie and Doug showed up around 8, Abby and Hunter came up from about 9 to Midnight. The rotation was welcome as John had only managed to shovel out one extra parking spot. Luckily by evening the snow had stopped.  There was much eating and hilarity.  Raye made a gorgeous cake (dressed like an italian cookie, plus strawberries). We played Cards Against Humanity again, and Willow’s distribution of kazoos was well accepted, although clearly there is a learning curve. Most of us adults took a while to remember how to use a kazoo. “This is a politics free zone. Anyone speaking about politics will be kazooed!” The cookies were in short supply, but we had a lovely selection of cheeses and crudites and (my ego must admit) the cookies don’t seem to have been much missed.
While I have made SOME cookies, and the lucia buns and cinnamon buns, brownies, pizzelles, candy canes, cinnamon horns, ganesha’s treats, and anise peppernuts. there are several balls of dough sitting in the pantry, waiting for me to locate the appropriately shaped cookie cutter. I could use different shapes, but I know they’re around here somewhere, and it’s driving me nuts! I also made a silly mistake while making the candy cane cookie dough. I grabbed for the bottle of clear extract- (not vanilla) and quickly poured in a teaspoon, then started wondering why I wasn’t in a cloud of peppermint smell. I tasted, then looked at the bottle. I’d grabbed the almond extract (also clear, same sized bottle) beside the peppermint. Oops! No problem, they are essentially a flavored shortbread. I grabbed the lump of red food coloring paste from the unmixed (yet) bowl, and started another two bowls of the candy cane cookie recipe. (They are so popular, I just make a batch each of the red and white, rather than making one and splitting it to color.) To cover the tinge of color that had stuck to the butter, I added a scoop of chocolate powder, and now have a chocolate almond cookie. (I rolled them out, layered the white and brown, and rolled them up, chilled and sliced them.) So that was a flavor of cookie I hadn’t made before, and may make again.
Sunday, as last year, Steve came up for breakfast, and around lunch time Mark came over. He has some stories he’s enjoyed and has emailed me a few, but I haven’t had a chance to read them, so while I cooked, he read them out loud to us. It was very pleasant. then he stayed for dinner. So we didn’t have a lot of guests this year, but enough that I don’t feel cut off from the rest of the world. Sunday was when it rained, and we had to put bowls on the table where it mysteriously bypasses my room and leaks off the kitchen beams. Oh, my! did poor Hawk and Bear have trouble with my kitchen! I think they must have beaned their heads a dozen times between them on the frying pans, bowls and baskets I have hanging on the beams! They are WAY too tall (which in my house only means over six feet).
This year we have added a string of tiny lights around the windows in the dining room which makes it festive. The small tree with the home-made ornaments isn’t lighted. I suppose I could put candles on it, but the tree stand has almost no reservoir and I will probably have to take that tree down early. Also, I haven’t seen them in a couple of years. I also haven’t seen the Krampus and cheetah and other “large size” ornaments for the glittery tree. The attic REALLY needs reorganizing, but in the summer it’s too hot, in the winter it’s too cold, and I keep forgetting in between. It’s very convenient to have two trees- we put the presents leaving the house under the little tree, and the ones for each other under the big tree. kats-purple-quilted-outfit
Willow finished the tree skirt she was making- now we have a squirrel in the tree, and a serpent (on the tree skirt) around the bottom. It’s covered with presents now, so I’ll have to get a picture later. Kat finished the outfit she was working on- it’s a reversible skirt and vest- quilted, which makes it a real pain to do that, but it is adorable. She made everything in this picture she’s wearing except the shoes. You can’t see but under the skirt is a matching pair of flannel bloomers and petticoat with roses on them. Her stockings have been trimmed with lace too. She’s too cute for words!

I also wanted to share this image of the gorgeous shawl that Avi crocheted for Willow.shawl-avi-made-willow Mark also came over and read to me again. And I found out that the Richards Clan does still gather for Christmas Eve- over at Kate’s in Merrimack. It’s just that it didn’t occur to her to invite people once she’d declared an “open house”. Gosh, I hope that people haven’t missed our solstice feasts because I didn’t send out separate invitations (except through facebook). Etiquette is something we don’t teach anymore. In fact, we act as if the only thing we need to know is to turn off our phones when in a public place- honored more in the breach than the observance. Strong language seems acceptable. I have to admit that I fall down on thank-you notes. I think that while using black edged cards for mourning or worrying about dangling participles may be unnecessary, that good manners are not optional, and showing respect to people you work with is something without which we can not do.

We aren’t moving really fast this week. Willow goes to Avi’s on some scheduled days, and for school delays, and today, when Kalin was sick. Tuesday she was home and the girls took the laundry out, but discovered that one basket had gotten into the wrong car, so John and I took it over to them, and then went to the recycling center. We also went over to Monadnock to get some more water, and the battery died. Luckily, I could call Willow and she came over and gave me a jump (while the clothes dried). It’s possible that we don’t need to take the laundry out, but since the snow we haven’t felt like prying the lid off the cistern to check. Also, now the shower is dripping. I fear we may have another plumber visit in our future.
I get depressed about just about everything- I saw a Torrid catalogue and was distressed because Torrid is supposed to be the cool clothes that Hot Topic carries, only for fat people. Except that their models are all size 16- where I was when I got married. Not fat, hot! Really voluptuous, as opposed to skinny. If that’s what they think is fat, no wonder I spent my young attractive years thinking I was fat and ugly. This is so annoying! I also teared up when I passed a place where they’d taken down some equipment barns, and are putting in more storage lockers. More storage lockers to hold the stuff we can’t fit in our homes, because we buy too much stuff, we make too much stuff, even when we throw away stuff, there’s still too much. If there is a symbol for the fall of our culture, it’s the proliferation of storage lockers! But maybe I’m just depressed.
I was rather hoping that the electoral college would say, “no, this man doesn’t have the qualifications to be president”, and not let it happen. Sadly, the electors are pretty much put in by the parties, so they go with party plans, and many states have made laws saying that they can’t change their votes. Not that they tried. I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that a lot of people actually wanted Trump to win. I fear that they will find that when he says “I have lots of really smart friends” that that means as much as my saying “I have a lot of really smart friends.” It doesn’t make them qualified to run the government.  I guess the difference is, I wouldn’t try. We are now faced with having to take personal responsibility for checking out whether the media we read (or watch) is reliable or not. Shouldn’t the press always be reliable?
And technology has become such an integral part of our lives. The other day I checked my email and got three in a row saying “Your Amazon order has shipped”. Three orders. The same book I ordered once. Last week I had a problem with a silicon mold being duplicated three times. I was willing to believe that maybe it was my mistake. I KNOW that I didn’t order 3 copies of the same $30 book (on the same day a few minutes apart). I contacted them again, and thought I’d settled it, but the copy I got of the message that the Amazon person sent the bookseller said “the order hasn’t shipped yet”, and I’d repeatedly said that the order was already shipped, it was that notification that tipped me off. The seller wrote me and said that they had shipped and couldn’t do anything until the books were returned. In theory, they will refund my money and Amazon says they’ll pay for the return shipping. I hope so, but sadly I’ve seen a couple more duplications since then, and I’m being REALLY careful now. Is it computer or human error over there? Considering that since if they don’t refund the shipping, the cost of returning the product is often nearly as much as the cost, I am not sure they are very motivated to fix it because it means they “sell” more product. I think I made it clear that I won’t be dealing with them any more if they don’t fix this- and I have done a lot of business with them because of the convenience.

Tonight my podcast was an examination of the idea expressed so well in A Christmas Carol the “reliability” of divination. One of the questions Scrooge asks the third spirit is “Answer me one more question. Are these the shadows of things that *will* be, or are they the shadows of things that *may* be only?” (and the spirit only points to his gravestone). Interesting that the spirit of the future remains silent isn’t it? Dickens also gives us the answer in Scrooge’s line: “Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,” said Scrooge. “But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.” I was a bit thrown off because the studio wasn’t set up when I called in, and when it was set up, I only got a half hour. Then I was a bit surprised by a call from a man in Georgia who wanted a reading. I am not sure what in my description of either The New Normal or this show would indicate that I do readings, and my heart went out to the man, but that’s not my sort of psychic. He wanted hope and needed empowering, and I don’t think I did it. I was there for theory and philosophy. Ah well.

Having been up socializing a lot this week, I haven’t read much. I finished the Curse of Chalion, and really enjoyed it. Bujold has a wonderful ability to create realistic characters. I will admit that, as with the Vorkosigan saga, the unfamiliar names threw me off a bit. But I loved her take on dealing with spirits and gods. Certainly this alternate version of late medieval/ early renaissance Spain makes more sense with a strong polytheist church than it would with none at all. I do wish there had been a map. I look forward to starting Paladin of Souls, but Mark and Abby have suggested other books, and it may take me a while to get to it. I have entertained a New Year’s Resolution to finish the books on the head of my bed (although I rather think it’s a 5 year supply) and borrowing books from the library is going to slow that down further!

I did watch a couple of movies this week (while baking). K-PAX was a charming movie, although as a general rule I dislike movies that don’t establish whether they want you to think it was a delusion or something inexplicable. I rewatched Last Holiday. Someone had suggested it as a holiday movie, but it wasn’t, as far as I could tell. It was one of those movies that suggests stop living for later and enjoy now. I think my favorite line was from the conversation between Georgia and Chef Didier, when he told her that she new the secret of living: “The secret of life is butter.” It certainly is the secret of Cookies. and I have to agree that there has to be a balance between disciplined living and choosing to enjoy yourself. Georgia chose to be kind to people, whether she was “blowing” money or saving it. That’s something we all have power to do. John shared Kung Fu Panda 2 with me. The humor was slapstick, like the first movie, but I liked the philosophy. Po learned that it didn’t matter where he came from, “I am Po.” was his center. Of course, since the phrase “I am Groot” has been popularized, that makes it sound a bit odd. It was a sweet movie, it’s not like everything I watch has to be GREAT, “watch once-ers” have a place in the world.

Well, even though in some years we’ve stayed up for the whole night, I’ve been up late several nights this week and have got to go to bed soon. Hoping everyone gets what they need emotionally and spiritually this holiday, until next week,

“Events may be horrid or inescapable. Men have always a choice- if not whether, then how they may endure.”
Cazaril in the Curse of Chalion Lois McMaster Bujold