12-23-2015 Pfeffernusse Day

DSC02260I just saw a meme telling the weather to go “home, you’re drunk” since it’s in the 50s in NH today. It’s also been raining, but sadly I haven’t been going out much, and don’t really care. Actually, when I check the weather on the computer, the first suggestion that comes up is in the UK because I have been following another history nut’s posts of his pilgrimage on his facebook page, and since he’s been in nasty weather for the last couple of days I’ve been worrying about him. Steven Payne, a former physics teacher is recreating a 700-year-old pilgrim’s journey, and has set off from Southampton’s Mayflower Park to Canterbury on foot. He’s only stopping in 14th c. (and earlier) places, and eating medieval food. I think he’s going cross country, although he does have to cross highways. It’s fascinating to follow.
He’s not the only one I’m watching on facebook. Mostly my friends are people I actually know, and there have been a depressing number of deaths in the family, hospitalizations, and other disasters. I send RúnValdr healing, and hope it helps (in my experience, sometimes it seems to, sometimes it doesn’t, I figure, it won’t hurt), but I feel so very lucky! No fevers, no operations, no kidney stones, no suicide watch, no car crashes! We may not have as much as we’d like, but we have friends and plenty to eat and a good house over our heads!

DSC02262This week has been spent with those friends, and that makes me feel so grateful! Last week we were still cleaning- you can’t fit as many people into the house if it’s not clean, so we were trying to get it as clear as possible. We will never be “house beautiful”, but we can aspire to house comfortable! By dint of ganging up on it, we got the kitchen, dining room and living-room done. I was so excited I wanted to start on the library, and we did fill all the available empty boxes- using the technique I’d learned at marks of sorting mixed piles of books into labeled boxes: healing, history, pagan, divination, fiction, etc. Those have been sent to the great hall, and I will, at some point, finish emptying the library, then reload it with selected books.
The sad truth is, that when I got all fired up to start on the library, I discovered that I’d sent books in there without going far too often, and it was simply impassable. First the table was covered, then we added stacks, then the floorspace was back-filled with bins of books. Oh dear. I had to accept that I have sadly neglected my beautiful library, and will have to continue the project after the holidays.

DSC02263The dining room looks good. We put the leaf in the table and the chest of divination supplies is disguised as a coffee table for the nonce. We moved Willow’s sewing machine into the dining room; so it’s now dual purpose. It makes sense, because we always use the dining room table for cutting on, now the book case behind the woodstove is holding the cloth for current projects, and the sewing machines are in there, so all the sewing stuff is together. The only thing I think it needs is more light- electricity was not a thing in 1852 when the house was built, and there are still no wall or ceiling lights, and only two outlets (per room). So we’ve got a floor lamp in each corner. Sewing when we need to, & when we need to eat- it’s a dining room.
DSC02264The stockings are hung on the chinning bar- although next year I think we plan to put them up on December 1st so people can tuck stuff in everyone else’s stocking all month long. As it’s been warm, we haven’t had an issue with the (gorgeous) floor being really cold yet, but I am wondering if we should get a rug to insulate it when it does hit. Meanwhile, it’s just so lovely looking, I hate to cover it up!     We did get John to re-glue some of the joints of the chairs because some had come loose. I think Liz warned me about that when I brought them down from Dad’s.
DSC02265The kitchen is as crowded and chaotic as usual. I have been making cookies over on the rolling board, and have set up a folding table for the cookie sheets to put the cookies on before sending them into the oven. We still are short on counter space, and having put the “cookie tree” up, doesn’t help with that. While cleaning I put our original Christmas Pyramid aside for fixing. I know that we made new parts and had it going after the fire in `95, painting over the scorch marks, but I’ve misplaced the blades. I am sure it’s in the attic somewhere, but meanwhile I found a replacement one for “only” $20, and now I can’t find the box with the old pyramid! Did I send it back to the attic? Out to the great hall with the books? I don’t know! I will find it and get it going at some point!
DSC02266The living room/computer room is cozy. O am not thrilled with the look of the clear carpet protectors under our computer chairs, but better than wrecking the lovely carpet. It’s also a bit hard for me to squeeze behind the gold chair to get at the movies, but Peri is absolutely thrilled with having the space on the windowsill behind the tree as “her” area. She’s hidden and can see outside. So far we’ve been lucky and none of our cats seems to have decided that the trees are for climbing. Peri has even left the poinsettia alone, and she’s usually feline death for house plants.
Willow and Kat scored me another little tree so we could have both the one for the cookies and one for the home-made ornaments, and a stand for it. On consideration, after putting it up this year and having had to leave some in the box (after properly cooing over them!), we’re thinking a slightly bigger one next year. It is hard to find nice field grown trees- everything is pruned and dense, which makes it hard for the dangly ornaments to have space to hang.
Other than cleaning, we had a lovely surprise last Thursday. Amy and Rick dropped by with a gift of Chevon (a leg and some ribs) from Auntie Shema up at a Sacred Place. It has been WAY too long since I’ve had a taste of goat, and I’m very excited. Since the girls had just come in with a turkey, a ham, a pork loin, a beef roast, and sausages for the open house), we put it in the freezer. Something to which to look forward!

I’d planned to spend Friday baking, but when I checked my email I saw that the Exhibition on the History of Corsets up at UNH (which has been there for four months) was coming down at 4 pm. Kat and I had been planning to go to that, and kept putting it off. Since it closed at 4, and just being a single exhibit, we decided to do a lighting run through. I usually figure about 90 minutes to the coast, but hoped that maybe this wouldn’t take quite that long, but it did. We actually didn’t get there until about quarter of four, but luckily found convenient parking. The display was one large room, with a nice selection of gowns (showing changing silhouettes) and included hoops, panniers and bustles, as well. There were some lovely corsets- including one for someone my size! There was even a small display of ones you could touch and try on- although Kat was more interested in the construction of the panniers. They also had a lovely collection of cartoons making fun of corsets, and photographs of women wearing corsets while mountain climbing, biking, playing tennis, working, and doing all sorts of stuff people these days wouldn’t imagine doing in a corset. And of course, they were made to be pretty, but washable- as they were UNDERWEAR. Wonderful display.  I am very glad we actually made it, although I wish we’d gotten to it sooner.
… and earlier. I thought since sunset wasn’t until 4:20, and we’d be out by four I could at least get back to the highway by sunset, but we did stop at McDonalds, and I was reminded that I really shouldn’t drive after dark. It takes WAY too long for my eyes to recover after getting headlights shone in them.
When we got home we put in the Beef and I made popovers, but this year no one came on Friday. Megan and Dennis had thought of coming over after going to the first showing of Star Wars, but when they got to the theatre- even though it had 12 (or did they say 16?) screens, they were sold out. Not simply sold out, but when arranging to pre-purchase the earliest possible seats, the best they could get was Tuesday! I thought lines were bad in `77! (I guess the fans are multiplying.) When I messaged that I might be late because of going to the museum, they opted to come later.
DSC02267We’ve been getting cards, and packages from Amazon, but I also got the copy of my latest book cover: Jane’s new book on Scandianvian Folk Medicine: The Way of the Wise (which will be on sale at Birka). Typical of Artists, I’m not entirely thrilled with the way it came out, but it’s not bad, and at this point, I like my little section of books that I’ve done the covers for…!  I am such a show off! I even wonder whether I’m just showing off or if I really like feeding people. I think, I hope, it’s the latter. It is at least partially true.  We invited 156 people this year (knowing a good quarter of those were too distant, but figured we could remind them that we would love to have them if they were in range), and I think about 27 came- so that’s not inconsistent with other years. of about 1 comes from every 5 or 6 invited (with a RSVP rate of about a third). So if we want 20 people next year, maybe we should only invite a hundred. Not that I couldn’t have fed a lot more, but still, it would be nice to know in advance how many to expect and when.
Since no one came Friday, I was a bit concerned about Saturday, but by the time I had the bread rising, Lee dropped off Joanie and Raye, Cody and Jake (and went off to visit her brother. Jake had come up from New Jersey to see these folk with whom he games most Wednesday nights.) Not too long after that Doug and Mackenzie arrived. They were the “young people”. (in their 20s, but as someone said- “if they are of an age that they could have been born from my loins, that makes them kids!”)  Oskgar and More/Josée came down from Maine, and brought their black lab Morag with them. Since Raye doesn’t do dogs, we put a gate up between the dining room (where the “kids” were) and the rest of the house, and that kept them fine. Ruadh and Heidi came, bearing gingerbread, which was welcomed (especially as I hadn’t baked all my dough yet). I was pleased to see Heidi immediately go for a wishing star. It’s nice to have one’s silliness remembered! Brian came in, still in garb after a fencing event. Cassandra brought Amy/Gwyendd, and she brought me a magical snow-globe. Claus actually showed up (brought an ornament for the tree). Megan was apparently unable to make it. Lee brought me a couple of mugs of similar design to the one I got Willow that requests peace and quiet for the holidays. Mine say “Oh What Fun!” and “Merry Whatever!”
We had people in the dining room, people in the living room and people in the kitchen, counted (to bring out plates) and found we had 19! That’s more than we’ve had in recent years, and I felt a little like I was neglecting the folks in the next room since clearly they’d come to see ME. (as you can see, I don’t do parties much.) Willow nearly ran out of her “door prize” packages! So eightish,The turkey came out, and we also brought out the beef from the previous night (the roast had been intended to feed a crowd and so we’d only made a dent in it), along with mashed potatoes, and carrots and parsnips with honey. I choked back my insecurity about having enough food as I’d wanted to lay out sausages and pork pies, and… and… and… but I think everyone got enough. I am reminded that it’s often a bad idea to announce the menu, because what they don’t know they can’t miss. Sadly, shortly after supper Lee came back from visiting her brother, and collected the Zodiac crew, Cassandra started having an allergic reaction to some unknown problem: mold, dust? Claus left too, not wanting to leave Megan home alone (look what Kevin McCallister managed when they left him too long). I’d been looking forward to foolishness and hilarity and the crowd was thinning.
IMG_1635Were we going to lose everyone before I could get them to do party games? We herded them into the dining room into an “almost” ring, and did a quick round of the    Minister’s Cat (from Scrooge). Then, before anyone else could escape, I pulled out the plum pudding. After steaming them for 7 hours then feeding them brandy for weeks, you have to re-steam them for another two hours before serving. Fearing that more people would escape, after extricating the steaming “bowling ball” from its mold, I decided to forgo the flaming brandy (which I’d have to heat), and simply got a sprig of holly to stick in the top. Alas! when I got back with the holly, the pudding had split open! It was still steaming, so I poked the holly in and brought it into the dining room with the hard sauce. Most people were brave enough to take a taste. (Rhuade got the lucky coin.) I tasted it- actually it wasn’t as bad as I’d feared. It was better than I expected. I’m not saying I’d go out of my way to get it, but it was ok. More told us how her grandmother used to make 12 every year and “drown” them in brandy once a month. That would certainly make them more liable to catch fire! I now wish I had taken the time to heat the brandy and attempt it- the show is part of the plum pudding experience, and how often are you going to get the opportunity? (I have learned that plum pudding aka figgy pudding is a Victorian development. Before that period they ate “plum pottage” a sort of soup- with roughly the same ingredients- at Christmas, as the soup, not the dessert (or “pudding”). The ingredients of the mincemeat are similar as well, and both resemble the ingredients of fruit cake (which I didn’t even plan to attempt).  The mince pies were all ready to assemble, but I hadn’t gotten to it (thanks to going to the museum).
While they were out the girls had also found a jar of Clotted Cream, which we figured would go well with our Victorian Christmas theme this year- except that we forgot to bring it out! They had searched to find enough crackers to give 24 guests- and we forgot to bring those out too! That’s so frustrating! I think I was distracted with cooking and talking! I sure hope people weren’t looking forward to the cool stuff we’d planned and forgot! I’d planned to make a boars head (and “servir canteco!”), but I didn’t get to it either.  Mince Pies were a very big thing for Victorian Christmas, although I’m not sure whether they had gotten individual at that point. (Mince pies were originally large, and made to resemble a “babe in swaddling clothes”, but at some point the custom became that you should eat 12 mince pies during the 12 days of Christmas, and they became individual sized tarts.  I discovered in a book called Folklore of Sussex that I found while loading the boxes from the library that when the war came, people started getting each cook to make a batch of mince pies, and then they’d collect 12 mince pies to send overseas to the young men fighting, so they’d get their full share of luck. Each pie is supposed to give you a month of luck, and when you hand someone the mince pies, you say “Have a lucky month!” I think that this is a cool thing. Clearly a community building exercise, since you have to go to neighbor’s houses to get the full dozen assorted pies over the 12 days. I also forgot to bring out the peppermint brownies, the mushroom couliabec, serve the mead (although it really was too young, and will be better at New Year).  We had just enough cookies to send home bags with those who wanted them, then I baked again each subsequent morning.
DSC02268I also got lucky, as More was familar with plum pudding, she actually likes it, so I was able to send one of the extras home with her. And I mailed one to Arwen who was foolish enough to not duck fast enough.   (Did I mention that More is Oskgar’s lady?)

We DID get at least the younger folk to make new ornaments for the tree this year- I’d been collecting stickers, doilies, stick-on jewels, ribbons, paper, glue, scissors, and that sort of thing in a box, and they went to town! Cody made a lovely quilled ornament, although I think I spooked him when I showed him how it had started with nuns trying to make an affordable alternative to gold filigree). Mostly I made the paper cornucopias that they’d put candies and peppernuts in.  I also went back to the internet and re-learned how to make the Moravian stars that Charlotte had sent us once- traditionally made of white paper (tissue?) then dipped in paraffin for sturdiness and lightly sprinkled with glitter. The hardest part I find is making the strips even. I can make them with ribbon (the quilling paper is too narrow), but I’m not good at cutting even strips.
I guess we’re getting old because everyone left by about 11:30, a reasonable time to end a party, if you aren’t used to having it last all night long. We’re old enough to leave the dishes until morning.
And we were still working on them Sunday (I’d like to say morning, but will be honest and say) afternoon, when the next merry folk arrived! Avi, who’d been afraid that she might have caught something contagious from her kids, decided  she was safe and came over.  Evil had a day off- even though I think she was “on call” to her store. (it’s a game store, I’m not sure what kind of emergency it would require to invoke that requirement). She’s called “evil” from a user name “evil author” because she makes horrible things happen to her characters. She’s actually named Jennifer, which I probably only remember because Niffer (another Jennifer) and George came over too. They brought nutty brownies. Judy and Benjamin also came over with their youngest Adele. We brought down some toys, but mostly she wanted to stay near her parents. I did put in a ham, but most of them had to leave before it came out. Even Avi, who thus missed the bacon puffs and baked Brie that Willow made. I told Willow that she can do it again if we can get them back for the New Years “Feast of small foods”. Evil did stay and we played Cards Against Humanity. Rather than have Rando we drew cards for Avi, and she did very well. We also remembered the Rice pudding, another Victorian tradition. I am left with the conclusion that if plum pudding, mince pies and rice pudding were treats you only had once a year, I feel very sorry for you.

DSC02261I feel that this Open House has been exactly what it was meant to be. I may not have finished the mince pies, but we had people from at least 12 different households, and we “shared cakes” with them. With my awareness of how these things work, I feel that I have initiated something by this act, opened a door as it were, and will need to follow through with more interaction to solidify the magick of this activity in order to get the blessing it is designed to provide. I really love seeing everyone and being in touch. I love feeding people and showing off, and having enough mouths to eat the things that come in large recipes. (We had the mushroom couliabec for supper yesterday.)
I need to get my sleep schedule back to normal- Late as the sun is rising (7:15) I’ve still been sleeping past that, and need to start going to bed by 10 so as not to waste daylight, and I’m nodding off as I write now.
Monday I slept in, and really felt hungover even though I hadn’t been drinking (just sleep deprived and over sugared). As I understand it, the headache and grogginess comes from dehydration, so I drank a great deal of water, and felt better. Then, as a pleasant surprise, Corwyn/Kevin and Felicia dropped by, because they hadn’t been able to make it over the weekend. Another lovely chat, although they had to leave before we could feed them more than cookies. After that I ran out to mail a couple of packages and got back at about 4:10, in time to light the Solstice Candle at 4:15. Figuring it was the night before the Solstice, I did my Mother Night devotions, which pretty much consist of making Krumkakes, and listening to inspiring music. (This year I also lighted a Mary candle.) Having spent the weekend staying up late, we made no attempt to stay up for the whole long night, although I was up until 11:49 which was the “official” time of the solstice. I was rather confused because while the Solstice fell on Monday here in New Hampshire, at the official Greenwich time, Solstice was on the 22nd. I even woke up just before “sunrise”, but I did go back to sleep after 7:15, and it was so cloudy I couldn’t really tell. Oh well. It’s not like it’s Newgrange.
Tuesday we continued to clean, but Ben dropped by in the evening, and we played Zombie Fluxx after supper. The “open house” continues. I am actually thinking I prefer having folks come a handful at a time, so I can get a chance to talk to them. Next year maybe we’ll have the invitations ask people to “sign up” for a particular night and cap each at 6-8 people. (Next year, as the Solstice is mid-week again, we are thinking of having Saturnalia as the theme. Io Saturnalia!)

What else? Willow finished painting a huge stack of cards- this year she did some gorgeous landscapes and was playing with washes. I think she mailed them out, but she also scanned them and posted them on her facebook page if you want to see some. Kat finished the gathered skirt for me, and the spats she was commissioned in her Etsy store. I don’t know if she’s done two Billy and Zoe stories this year yet, but I know she’s posted one up on her Deviant art. Infuriatingly, she changed her name from Eating Words with Kittywitch to eating cake with Kittywitch (I think), and some freaking bot came and took the domain name, and now she can’t get it back, and it’s on her business cards and mail, and we’re pretty sure it’s a bot because no one answers if you try to contact her address now, and people are looking for her. Why would people grab names they aren’t going to use?!DSC02269

Having decided to not send cards this year, we have still gotten a goodly amount from kith and kin. This year glitter seems to be the unifying theme this year. SO much Glitter! Every time we open an envelope, glitter gets all over our sweaters! It’s really pretty, but surprising at how many people have opted for it this year! I also am tempted to try hanging the cards on a string next year, as they do in England, but I’m not quite sure where and how. besides, putting them on the back of the front door is traditional for us now.                                                                                                           I am really very thrilled with the Lynn and Rowan’s new CD Sing the Sun’s Return, it’s got lots of Wassailing and some songs about Odin and the Wild Hunt and the Mothers. I played it while making Krumkakes (I think Pizzelles are sturdier), and it’s really lovely.
This week I watched Ant man, the next in the Marvel Comics Universe films. It was fun- not special the way the Avengers was, but quite satisfying. I also watched (or had in the background while I was working) various “Christmas” films like Lethal Weapon, Holiday, Hogfather, & Love Actually. When I’m working I prefer movies I know so well that I don’t have to see them to know what’s going on. I took Defending your Life out of the library again. Remember last month I was watching every movie I could find about the afterlife? I had vague recollections of this one and not liking it- so I figured I’d watch it again and see if I still felt the same. I really do. I feel that the afterlife should be better- not the same. They couched it as “we’re trying to give you what’s familiar so you’ll feel comfortable, but that’s the sort of BS that Death threw over in the Hogfather, when they tried to explain to him why poor people had to get cheap stuff, while rich people got the good stuff from the Hogfather. It wasn’t fair, and there didn’t seem to be any character development in any of the characters, and I freaking hated that it was supposed to be a good thing that a mother would run into a burning house after a cat, which could potentially leave her children orphaned and emotionally scarred. I thought it was pretty freaking irresponsible, but everyone seemed to like it. Feh!
Monday, after our Victorian themed party, the used book I’d sent for Victorian Christmas arrived, and it’s very cool- at least it’s got a lot of cool pictures. (I like going through and reading all the picture captions before reading the book.) I finished the  Victorian Christmas Cottage, which like the Victorian Christmas Tea was charming, romantic and pap. But when one is exhausted, a little something simple and fun is called for- not great literature. A second load of Christmas in Many Lands books came in from the library and I’m reading through them. Christmas in Britain, in France, in Today’s Germany, in Italy, in Greece, in Mexico, , I (having already read Scotland, Denmark, Poland, Switzerland, Finland, Russia, & Ukraine, & I’m still going through the Christmas Encyclopedia, this time since I own the copy, marking off the entries I’ve read.) Another book I found (turn of the century) while excavating the library was Christmas in Ritual and Traditions and I’m skimming that- having read it before. Wonderful book!
IMG_1629I fear that the cats have not gotten rid of the rats yet. One weird thing was discovering a pile of shredded apple peels in a bag. Apparently the rats prefer not to eat the peels (or cores) and just eat the flesh of the apple, leaving the peels behind. Brats! Mouse has been visiting more often (I wish he’s stay and kill them.) Peripegelium is playful as all getout. I expect she’ll be happy when we pick up the kitten (next week if we can get in touch with them).

As I said, I’m beginning to nod off, so I think that’s enough for this week. Have a Happy Merry everything. (Did I tell you that one of my Christmas books informs me that the original meaning of the word merry is very close to “comfortable”- I rather like that!) Anyway, have exactly the kind of holiday you want- exciting, calm, whatever. And good health and luck to you!

Upcoming Excuses to Celebrate:
23 Pfeffernusse Day, Festivus
24 Egg Nog Day (Christmas Eve)
25 Pumpkin Pie Day (Christmas) also Full Cold Moon
26 Candy Cane Day (Official Godawful Tie Day)
27 Fruitcake Day
28 National Cart Playing Day (and Chocolate Day)
29 Tick Tock Day (and another Chocolate Day)
30 Bicarbonate of Soda Day and Bacon Day

Post script: If you’re on fb, you can still get to the event page for the Solstice Open House, where I posted a lot of cookie recipes.

Christmas is a necessity. There has to be at least one day of the year to remind us that we’re here for something else besides ourselves. ~Eric SevareidIMG_1625