12-26-2006 It’s about Time Week

Fond Greetings: December 26, 2006
The Holidays are survived, and the week of seeing those who couldn’t fit in a visit before Solstice extends the enjoyment. As this week starts, again I find myself caught in the pull between the modern “Christmas decorations go up November first and come down the day after Christmas”, and my historical awareness that Christmas celebrations used to start Christmas Eve, and the celebrations were during the twelve days following. The “cold-turkey” ending of the holidays bothers me, but I ignore it, and I know others do to, as we gear up for New Years. This is the week we use to look back at what happened this year.
Off the top of my head, the big thing I remember this year was the Democrats taking power from the Republicans- but even that wasn’t too dramatic. No big disasters I can remember- but that’s good. I am not eager for “the Big One” to hit California or any other type of disaster either. Sadly, the good things in the world seem to be small- people having babies, getting or keeping jobs, etc. I guess when it comes down to it, all the good and bad in the world really does take place on a personal level.

As is not surprising to anyone, the stuff we did that was interesting enough to mention this week was holiday related.
Tuesday was the day we wrapped. I’m always surprised at how long it takes. I didn’t go to bed until 2:30 because I decided I wasn’t going to go to bed until it was done! Of course wrapping also includes searching for the presents which have been hidden around the house. I got Willow a hand blown glass mug from Anastasia’s at the war this year, snuck it from my garb chest into my dresser drawer, and not only did I manage to keep it hidden, I also managed to remember to find it and bring it out. There was also the crinoline hidden in the cedar closet, and other things elsewhere (this morning I found a stocking stuffer for Kat in my bedside table drawer). It’s not until we wrap that we find out just how much we’ve gotten. Wrapping day is always followed by one shopping day, picking up a few more gifts for who ever is short- in this case it was Star. Willow and Kat, bless their hearts, braved the malls and allowed me to stay home, bake and knit.
(Grendel just threw up- I wonder if he got into something he shouldn’t have. I am hoping it was a mouse that didn’t agree with him- I’ve heard what might be cats or might be mice running in the attic over my head at night, and found evidence of them in the pantry. Why do we keep cats if not to keep the mice down?)
Other than that we cleaned- I was appalled and dismayed, but not surprised,to discover that my loom was dusty. Well, there was dust everywhere. I guess I don’t vacuum enough. I found a ton of stuff I hadn’t seen for a long time. I tell you there is no better way to convince someone that there is no need to give gifts than a thorough cleaning! Between the stuff of mine I’ve found- unfinished projects, unread books, etc. and the stuff of the kids I found (proving that I was spending money on things they didn’t want), I was even more convinced that I need NOTHING more to try to find room for in this house. In theory this week I’ll be trying to sort the papers I stuck under the table (behind a long tablecloth) and file them properly, tossing the ones that don’t need to be kept. After that we have a near infinite pile of unfinished projects to get to! Projects that we want to do- intend to do, but have slid down the priority list. Bless my sisters, almost everything they got me was consumable! (You could even say that the calendar Dana made of his photos gets “used up”- it just takes a year.)

Thursday was the winter Solstice, and at sunset we lit the Solstice Candle- as we have almost every year since 1973, and hoped for guests. Olaf was available to come by, to my surprise with his new business, but I was able to give him the cookie stamps I’d made for his shop. Raven and Josh came up from Cauldron Farm (Bella was working), and Allysa Pomer came. Morgan had hoped to come (but Rachel pointed out that since they’d be driving 12 hours the next day, adding 3 hours that night was not a good idea), so I hope to lure them up when they’ve recovered from the trip to Pittsburgh.
Friday night Raven came up again, with Bella who swept the chimney (Josh was off to his family in NJ), and Steve Raskind came up with Cate. Saturday Little Willow came over- although I missed much of it because I was off to Lyrion’s Lantern walk.
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Lyrion came up with the Lantern Walk as a Solstice activity for kids of local pagans and the theme was the Return of Light. After making lanterns, they went to various stations around the coven-stead where they met various characters- under the arbor was a “Rabbi” who lit a menorah and explained about Hanukah, they witnessed the battle between the Oak King and the Holly King (the rulers of Summer and Winter), at my station, I, as Mother Holle, explained the turning of the wheel of the year- symbolized by a wooden wheel set up on an axle in their fire circle (where the ground is safely sand), which was, in theory, soaked all week in accelerant, but it wouldn’t catch fire- despite frequent reapplications of some fire making gel by Lyrion while I talked. On the other hand, the kids did love my spinning flax, and letting them shake the feather pillow (in lieu of a feather bed) in which we had made holes so that the feathers would come out to “make it snow on earth”. I hated watching a perfectly good down pillow get destroyed, but I suppose it was good theater. That was followed up with a visit of Hagrid the Elder (played by Stone Riley) carrying in a Yule Tree, which they decked with golden balls, and there was singing, and refreshments. There were only about a dozen kids, but I thought that was pretty impressive since it had been planned to be cancelled if it rained, and apparently it was raining everywhere but Wilton, and we heard from several people who’d planned to come, but didn’t because of the rain or car problems. I expect more will come next year as Lyrion plans to make it an annual event. (I should have gotten a picture of me in my Mother Holle costume.)
When I got back home, I got to see Little Willow (and another girl the kids ages who I recognized from subbing whose name I forget), for a while before they had to go. A few people at a time makes it easy to get to talk to people, but I would love to have had more people come- I love seeing friends. Some will come this week, I hope. We had a turkey Thursday, meatballs Friday, and a roast Saturday. We had many many cookies available of course, and more food standing by in case more people came, but sadly we didn’t need it. Little Willow totally fell in love with Xander.

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Sunday was Christmas Eve, and the whole family invaded Liz’s house for the usual Richards gathering, but first we went down to Porter Square and saw Dan and Dabunny’s new condo. It’s a great place- the first floor of a residential house, with a back yard, and parking, and it’s really close to the subway, and stores. (I felt quite jealous of the cool stores we saw as we drove there.) The back yard is up against the commuter rail. We were surprised by the bare kitchen and in awe of the huge TV. (They are SUCH bachelors!) They have a room dedicated to just games- a table in the middle and shelves full of games around the edge! Dabunny is into games. We’ve spent several years looking for a copy of Bazaar to give him, but Discovery Toys isn’t making it anymore, and it isn’t even available on e-bay, so we copied the rules and all the card pieces, put together a bag of the jewels from our stock, and Willow found a blank die to paint to make a copy of the one in the game. It is really worth it- it’s one of the most playable games I’ve ever played. I found out, which I hadn’t known before, that Dabunny is a rocket scientist- that’s what he got his masters in. Cool. I asked him what he says when he is telling people that something isn’t hard, and he says whatever it is “isn’t brain surgery”- which he points out is what Dan is studying (not surgery, but the mind stuff).

So then we went to Liz’s, where Liz had her usual great pot of meatballs and garlic bread, and also a lovely lasagna, as well as much snackage (more shrimp than easily conceivable). Dad was there, and us Taylors- Dan and Dabunny, Willow, Star, Kat and I; Liz and her girls- Allison, Megan, Erin, and Jill (Liz showed us a great slideshow on the computer of Megan’s school trip to Hawaii and Asia), Kate came with her boyfriend- she’s expecting in March, so next Christmas will be fun, but Jay didn’t. Trish and Dana were there, and Kitty; I think I’ve remembered everyone- but you know me and names! Anyway, we sat around and ate and drank, and teased each other. After everyone had gathered we did the usual readings. We start out singing Rudolf the Rednosed Reindeer (but you have to use hand signs for nose and Reindeer, and everyone gets to laugh at anyone who forgets and says it out loud. Then there’s the recitation of Clement Moore, and the reading of “King John was not a good Man”, and finally Dad reading the Christmas Story from the Bible.

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This year we were out of order- the A.A. Milne was after the Bible (King John after King James), and that was good, because Trish read it with an Irish Brogh (and interjections) which left us gasping and wiping away tears, (I’m not sure you can tell from the pictures) but this time it wasn’t because of poor pathetic Johannes R not getting his rubber ball.

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We also took the opportunity to get a picture of the whole clan. Willow says she ducked behind me on purpose- and Kat says that she intentionally looked directly into the flash in all pictures taken in order to get those demonic red eyes (so don’t fix them).
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I suppose that at her age if I’d known how to arrange it, I’d have done it too. And here’s one of just our immediate family too. Kat does have the Wednesday Adams smile down.
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We had to finish up early because of getting home for milking (and Dan had to get home to medicate his cat, Rumblefish- he took some flak for THAT!). We gave the rabbits and goats carrots to celebrate. Actually, reflecting our mixed heritage, they got treats both on Solstice and Christmas Eve. We are “slaves” to tradition!
In the morning we slept in-thanks to the youngest being nineteen, and had the traditional Christmas schedule: breakfast featuring a whole pound of bacon and a plate of fresh fried Rabbit Ears (and scrambled eggs, OJ, and cocoa).

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You can see the little tree with the homemade ornaments on it behind the table. The box of home-made ornaments was lot for several years and it was heart breaking for me because over the years they are contributed by people coming to the Solstice feast, and I have some going back to 1973. I have an angel made by Algernon Hartesmond from a bit of rope fluffed out, and a peppermint candy, and one from Gillian of the Greenwood- back when she was a kid- and various ones made by my own kids when they were younger- and dead friends like Lisa.

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So you can see why I was so happy to find the missing box. It’s the kind of thing that if there’s one thing to grab in a fire you’d grab.
After breakfast is the “greed fest”, which was much better this year since we were putting in such an effort to be frugal. Some of the best gifts were the robe Kat made me from the pattern of Willow’s “white mage” robe, and the hat’s and arm warmers Willow made cat from polar fleece, and the mitts I made the girls to wear at the computer. (I’m wearing mine now). Sadly, Willow’s (the ones with the roses) didn’t fit, because the pattern makes them not as stretchy as when there are only two colors.

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I’ll have to make her another pair. Star was impossible- he was feeling so broke he wouldn’t tell anyone what he wanted, so he got a few manga books and that’s about it. I was/am planning on knitting him a hat, but am having some problems with the pattern. Over the years I have learned to rip out and do over when I screw up- so my stuff looks better, but takes longer. I’m also working on a “traditional” Richards 40’s shlock design stocking for Xander- the mini-version I made Molly. After that we goofed off until dinner, traditional roast beef, and rather than yorkshire pudding I’ve switched to popovers because when the drippings go into the pudding, you can’t make gravy. These days it’s so hard to make beef gravy because all the roasts are trimmed with almost no fat!
Not much else went on- the kids don’t want guests on Christmas, so I spent most of the day putting music into the computer from the Folk Music set I got as a promo from donating to Public TV.

This week we mostly got holiday films from Netflix- Elf was as lame as I thought it would be from the ads, but Surviving Christmas was pretty good. I liked the way the outcome was that you can’t buy a happy Christmas, it has to come from real sentiment. (And I was amused by the opening scene indicating that while most Americans think that Christmas is about family, they also feel that one has to consume as much liquor as humanly possible to deal with said family!) I am still thrown off by the concept of people you see in movies having as much money as Ben Affleck’s character seemed to have. Yes, intellectually I am aware that people make ridiculously large amounts of money- they have to to even motivate companies to advertise that one could give a car or expensive jewelry for Christmas. Most of the people I know cut back this year, and conversations with friends indicate that it was a bad year for stores. But someone has to buy the stuff occasionally, or people couldn’t afford to make it and they wouldn’t advertise it. The one movie we watched that wasn’t holiday oriented was the DaVinci Code. While the book was a page turner, the movie was not as good. It’s one of those that makes me glad Netflix exists. But remember Joyeux Noel, the movie I mentioned last week? During last minute shopping (I dared the book store and grocery store) I found a book of Christmas in the Trenches written by the fellow who wrote the song, and it even included a CD of the song, and it was signed by the author. Our local bookstore, Toadstool, rocks! It even has a used book section. I don’t shop much but I really like the places I go.
I didn’t mention that Liz has started to make jewelry- it’s very nice, sadly we can’t carry it for her as Willow’s doesn’t sell that well, but I do plan to take her over to Blake Brothers so she can get sterling silver findings to use. I’m sure she can get her stuff into shops- since she’s a business whiz.
Now that the holidays are winding down, I guess I’ll be able to start reading again, and next week you can expect some ruminating about some of the recap shows I’m sure I’ll be watching and listening too this week. I caught an interview with the great grandson of Charles Dickens who performs A Christmas Carol, and it was very cool to hear how he developed his show. Turns out the accent they used for hobbits in Jackson’s LOTR was a Devonshire accent. He used it for the Crachetts, and his Ghost of Christmas Present was Northumbrian, and his Scrooge was upper class London. I think that’s neat, although I suppose some wouldn’t care.

I’m going to finish with the recipe for the Finnish Butter Cookies and Lisa’s Cinnamon Horns because we’ve gone through three batches of the one and four of the other. So these are the popular ones- and two of the easiest. (It’s been a bitch doing the baking this year- I think the thermostat on the stove is broken- I often have to light it with a lighted skewer.)

1/2 cup (one stick) butter 2 cups flour
1 egg yolk
3/4 cup sour cream
Form two balls, chill, roll out to about a 9-10″ round, cut into 12 wedges (I use a pizza wheel), and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, roll up, bake. temp: 350º time: 30 min yield: 24

Mix : 5 sticks of butter

1 cup of sugar

5 cups of flour

It’s going to be grainy, but presses together when you work with it. I’ve tried rubbing the butter into the flour shortbread fashion first, then adding the sugar, or creaming the sugar into the butter, then adding the flour- they seem equally good. Three cheers for power mixers!
Roll into finger diameter snakes about as long as your pans. Make a dent along each band of dough, I use a chopstick. Bake, and heat
1 jar raspberry fruit preserves in a pyrex cup in the microwave for about 30 seconds, stir until evenly softened, and pour into the band in the bars. Bake another 10 minutes. Cut in bite sized pieces at an angle. Bake 20 minutes plus 10 min at 350º
You can, of course, divide the dough- perhaps into 3 or 4 smaller batches, and make variations with this fairly large batch- adding chopped almonds and a bit of almond extract to one, putting another through a cookie press, or adding lemon, peppermint, cardamom, or dipping some in chocolate. Or you could use a different flavor of jam- strawberry or apricot. But this is the one people go for around here.

1 cup powdered sugar 2 1/2 cups flour
1 cup butter pinch salt
1 egg red food coloring paste or powder is better
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp peppermint extract or 1/2 tsp. peppermint oil 1 tbsp. creme de menthe
mix all but the food coloring together, divide in two, add food coloring to half- and add a bit more flour to make sure the two balls of dough are the same consistency. Cut each into 16 or 32 pieces, and roll into “snakes”. Twist the two colors together then roll lightly to make them into a single rod, curl into a cane shape.
time: 8-10 min temp.: 375º yield: 32 3″, 16 6″
“Hell, there are no rules here–we’re trying to accomplish something.”

Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931)

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