Hello from the frozen mid-north (I’ve been reading about Elinor’s adventures in Northern Vermont, and don’t feel quite as northerly as I usually do, snow or no snow).
Almanac- or, things to celebrate! Of course, Hanukah started last night and goes for the next week.
December 5th, Wednesday, St. Nicholas Eve, Tinsel Day, Sacher Torte Day
December 6th, Thursday, St. Nicholas Day (Thor’s Day), Gazpacho Day, Pawnbroker’s Day
December 7th, Friday, Pearl Harbor Day, Cotton Candy Day, and
Christmas Putzing (from the German word putzen- to decorate) begins
December 8th, Saturday, Brownie Day, Winter flowers Day
December 9th, Sunday, Pastry Day, and Midwinter horn blowing in the Netherlands <http://aeiou.iicm.tugraz.at/aeiou.film.data.film/o189a.mpg>
December 10th, Monday, Letter Writing Day, Human Rights Day, Lager Day, Nobel Prize Day
December 11th, Tuesday, Mountain Day, Noodle Ring Day
December 12th, Wednesday, Gingerbread House Day, Ambrosia Day
St. Nicholas Eve is the day we traditionally allowed the Christmas season to begin in our house. Of course this was also effected by the day the town lighted the town tree, and Santa came (on a firetruck). But I instituted it because it’s always so frustrating to get a present of some piece of Christmas fluffery (clothes, hair decorations or an album etc.) on Christmas because the season’s over by then. This allowed me to give the girls red and green hair ties, and get music myself before the 25th. Also, it’s a old tradition, and I wanted to give the kids awareness of other ways of celebrating. So we’d put out shoes, (and carrots for St. Nicholas’ horse), and in the morning there’d be whatever the small gifts were, along with a candy cane, and when the kids were young, I used to mold chocolate St. Nicks for them- had to be the old fashioned Bishop style ones, not the santa claus ones. If Ælfwine was still around we’d probably do the horn blowing thing. Do check out that clip of the Perchta procession- it’s so cool! Oh, and a putz is a word for an elaborate nativity scene. In some parts of Pennsylvania they will turn an entire room over to them and expand them each year. Putzing is going from house to house to see each other’s putzes. I only mention this because Dan didn’t believe me the first time I used the term with him. The town had their Santa celebration this Sunday- and this year had a fund-raising ham and beans supper for the new library which I wanted to attend, but the kids were dubious about it, and Steve came up, so we just threw a steak on the grill.
Yes, it’s winter and the wood stove is going, so we are doing steaks (and sausage, and other grilling) on our clever grill for the stove. It’s nice. It was especially nice over the weekend because we ran out of propane, and I’m too cheap to be willing to pay for a special delivery, so we cooked on the wood-stove until today. (Because of the snow, they didn’t deliver Monday, and while they did deliver oil yesterday, the propane didn’t come until today.)
OK, we used the electric pizza oven Dad gave us on Saturday. Saturday was the wake for Chris Egan, Michelle’s father, who died during the Thanksgiving holidays. He’d expressed a wish to just be propped up in his chair for his wake, but since he died sitting in his chair, and they found out he’d died by trying to wake him up, it would have been kind of creepy. (I also found out Barry Greene, who’d been on the school board with me, and who was the one who did our taxes died. I’m getting sick of cancer. And sick of politicians using people with cancer as a justification for universal health care. It costs a quarter or a half million dollars to treat a patient with chemo, and generally only buys them a few years at best. Until the system is re-worked to allow less toxic and less expensive methods, the last thing taxpayers should want is to underwrite every disease so that the medical community can make maximum money. Sorry, but if you were here you’d probably still catch an earful of my attitude about that. I just deleted a long paragraph of it to preserve your holiday cheer.) Anyway, we picked up some raising crust pizzas on the way home and popped them in Dad’s pizza oven. They were good even though they were the Market Basket store brand, which is usually pretty mediocre.
We got about 8″ of snow Sunday night/Monday (it’s always hard to tell with the wind blowing it around). But the weather has been bitchy cold. I got curious and got a new hi-low recording thermometer, but this one was mercury in glass as opposed to the last one, and it broke the first night- I think maybe because it went from inside (around 70) to outside (around 10) too fast. I was so annoyed, but obviously it was my own doing, so it’s not like I could return it. I’m not going to buy another mercury one- I’ll wait until I can find another one without. I don’t like putting it in the landfill and don’t know what else to do with it. (In case you’re wondering and want to compare your prices with ours, our current propane cost is $4.07 a gallon, heating oil $3.19 and for the car we’ve found about $2.99 a gallon most often recently.) Everyone is talking about the oil prices- the news suggested last night that the average family would be spending an extra thousand dollars on fuel this winter, so to save money they should wrap up their pipes and water heater, insulate anything that wasn’t insulated, get their furnace tuned, and several other “economies” to reduce how much they use. This is a good idea, except that the people who don’t have the projected thousand dollars for fuel, how are they supposed to afford the things to reduce fuel use? It’s like saying we all should drive hybrids. I want a hybrid, I just can’t afford a new car! oops, venting again. Sorry.
We are dealing with mice just now, which makes me cross with the cats- why aren’t they getting them? I have heard them in the attic (although not recently), and put poison up there; and since last year I discovered that they come into the oven (when it’s not on) which means I can’t use the time bake function. (phooey!) Sadly, while we got rid of them last year I couldn’t find the traps I got then, and had to get new ones, but they do work well. I put in two and then empty them in the morning. Mice must be stupid because I can’t imagine going up to get the peanut butter on the other trap when your litter mate is lying dead in the other one. Last night I dropped a piece of cheese on the floor, so I put that on the traps and it was all gone this morning. That convinces me that after the traps were sprung, other mice came and ate the cheese from under the noses of their dead fellows. Ick. And one day one of the dead mice was kind of shredded, which makes me suspect cannibalism. We went through what I assume was a litter of field mice, then the coloring switched, and now we are going through dormice (which are actually quite pretty- not grey, but brown and white, with big eyes- although that could be them popping out from having the bar come down on their heads).
(You do realize that I write just as I would speak to you if you were here, only with a letter I can’t see you beginning to look uncomfortable when I start to get graphic.)
This week we’ve been “resting up” (which actually translates to “catching up”). Not that restful for Star, who is in charge of physical maintenance. When we heard the snow was coming he had to bring in all the wood that we’d cut up out in back of the barn before it could be covered. Kat helped him, but was surprised that she was so out of shape that her arm was very painful the next day from carrying the wood. I went out and got windows to replace the ones that had fallen out during the summer. Plexiglas for the goat side because they do tend to butt them (bozos!). The woodshed is only one third full, and I expect we should go out and cut more wood. The back yard looks horrible. I never like the way weeds sticking out from snow look. Maybe in a few snowfalls it will be knocked over and covered, but right now I have a white and sepia tone view. Oh, well.
We also put up organizing racks in the back hall. A place to hang brooms and mops so they aren’t in the way of the wood in the wood closet which has been doing double duty as a broom closet. Not bad during the summer, but really annoying in the winter. We also put up a pegboard with a special holder for the electric drill which has NEVER had a place to live. The more I have places to put things, the easier cleaning is. We put up a little shelf over my computer that holds one of the speakers for the computer and my hands free phone, and has hooks where we can hang up the head sets. Organization. Wow. (Steve told me my desk is too small- and here I want to get a scanner- I suppose it would replace the printer.)
We are trying to clean. People have started saying that they are planning on trying to get to the Solstice feast (Friday and Saturday the 21st and 22nd, and yes planning on trying doesn’t really commit anyone does it?) Still, we’ve got three gallons of mead brewing, and are cleaning as best we can. (And it’s amazing the things one finds while cleaning! Like my old belly dancing wig, or Jame’s Baronial scroll!) I’m thinking that if we put the snack table in the “dining room” (with the piano) and a couple of chairs, maybe people may bring a guitar and sing there. The living room has been declared the area for Karaoke and Dance Dance Revolution. I’m hoping to make room in the library on the table for gaming, but I have no idea where I’ll put the books that I haven’t shelves for. We are starting to make cookies up ahead, (Kat’s making the Finnish Butter Cookies as I write, but they never last. You know, the ones that start with five sticks of butter I sent the recipe for last year?) and watch the holiday movies. We’ve told people to bring pot luck food, and mathoms* (I’m making an assumption here, let me know if you don’t know what a mathom is) or really inexpensive gifts to exchange. What else? Willow took the kids gift shopping as a special present for me since she knows I hate malls. I’ve been doing most of my gift shopping over the internet- it makes it easy to never leave the house. Everyone has updated his or her wish-lists. It’s rather hard. Mostly we have everything we want that we can afford. Now that the season is actually here we’ve put away our harvest leaves dishes and taken out the holly dishes, and brought down the holiday CDs. (VERY firm rule around here that that never happens until December!).
I understand that people are booked for the holidays already- tomorrow Steve’s coming up for latkes, and we’ve got a Yule fair to sell at this weekend (so we won’t make the Stonemarche Yule), Dan’s coming up on the 11th for the “Feast of Brothers and Sisters” (our current version of St. Nicholas- convenient as Dan likes to spend Christmas in Vegas), followed by St. Lucia Day, and Sunday after the solstice I’m doing Mother Holle again at Lyrions, then Monday is Christmas Eve at Liz’s, and Christmas here. The last week of the year is when we inventory all our stock (a nightmare). We’re trying to get into 12th night and line up selling gigs for the upcoming season. It’s nerve wracking. I don’t know how other people who sell deal with it. There are probably lots of tricks we don’t know.
Star’s spending any extra time he has writing, and while I haven’t paid a lot of attention, I have caught him doing research (mostly on Wikipedia) on the settings he’s using (most recently I think Monte Carlo), and I’ve seen him using role playing systems to create characters. This seems odd to me, because I see each character as being necessary to the plot, but I suppose it injects a certain level of randomness that might be a bit more realistic. And Kat and Willow continue to do their web comics.
Back during the Connecticut Renn Faire we bought a venus fly trap, and wonder of wonders! it’s still alive! I’m not generally good with house plants, but Fly Traps in particular seem to die immediately when I bring them home and this one hasn’t. This may be because we have flies available. I mostly notice the spiders because I can’t keep up with the webs in the corners, but they must be eating something (as the flytrap must).
In terms of time spent, I think mostly I watched the TV show Supernatural this week because we found the first and second season at the library, and I got as far as the beginning of the second season. From Netflix we got Dream Girls which was a fair musical. I was a bit thrown off by the very thin disguise for the Supremes and the Jackson Five, which led me to believe that most of the other characters were take offs on well known R&B singers, but I just didn’t recognize them. I hate when I feel ignorant. The music was good though. And it’s always kind of depressing to be reminded just how insidious racial discrimination used to be. I suppose later people may remember how insidious it is now.
It reminded me of an online discussions about criminalizing spanking and mandatory vaccinations I’ve been participating in this weekend. Some people insist that spanking is insidious, and will inevitably lead to (or is intrinsically) child abuse. The end of the discussion seems to be that most people want to be able to make their own decisions, but the government wants the right to take those choices from us. There’s a difference between a parent who’s spanking because in her experience it gets the best results, and one who’s hitting because they are angry and can’t help from hitting. Except in unusual cases, it’s the fear of one’s parent that’s scarring, not the physical part. My concern is that outlawing spanking is based on the idea that it’s easy to document if someone has struck a child, while it’s hard to document whether they did so in anger or not, so they are going for the easy to check, not the real potentially dangerous situation. I think we saw with Prohibition that if you create a situation where you’ve criminalized something that is only potentially dangerous (and the same, I think could be argued about marijuana) that you set up a situation that supports the potential becoming realized, as well as giving greater power to those willing to abuse the situation. Most importantly, in the case of disciplining children, kids need to know their limits, and aren’t emotionally healthy when they don’t. If we remove the ability of parents to create those limits safely because giving them the freedom to exercise their judgement about what will safely work with their own child (replacing it with a one size fits all- and is easy to administrate system) we’ll end up with kids who’s parents (and schools, we diverted into the area of kids out of control in schools) are not able to set limits for them. And we can see that happening. No one can spank because it’s wrong to beat, no one can hug because it’s wrong to rape, just like no one could have a drink because some people can’t drink moderately. What’s next? Outlawing eggs because some people have cholesterol problems? We have to focus on those who are actually doing wrong, and not spend our time and energy on those who are not. I’ve done it again…
Back to what I’ve been watching. We took out a double bill: Die Monster, Die! and The Dunwich Horror which are horror movies based on the Lovecraft mythos (which I always liked and Kat currently adores) made in the sixties (one has Boris Karloff), but they were so archaic I couldn’t bring myself to do more than the video equivalent of skim them. I usually have a higher tolerance than that. We also tried to watch Atomic Cafe which was described as a “cult classic”. It turned out to be a collection of clips of films from forties and fifties news films- delivering the bomb to Hiroshima, how to “duck and cover”, and that sort of thing. (talk about insidious!) We saw the movie 1408 which is a horror movie. One of Willow’s friends recommended it. I didn’t even realize it was a Steven King. It was average at best. We saw The Woman in White by Wilke Collins, which was a really well crafted story- this version we saw was made for TV, and I think I’m going to have to go look for the novel. I didn’t used to like Victorian fiction- but I’ve come to appreciate it. Star took out Superman Returns, and The Terminator, which I encourage for cultural literacy (although I didn’t care much for the Superman Returns back when I saw it the first time. Why remake something if you aren’t going to be doing something different?)
On TV last night I actually watched the Victoria’s Secret special last night. I hadn’t meant to, but when it came on I was amused by the costumes; they look like the things I designed when I was a teenager. I kept thinking “how do they make those work?” because they had lots of wings and strange things sticking out about them. We also caught the greatest moments from the grammies. I think I have been watching too much TV. So much, in fact, that I’ve been going straight to sleep when I go upstairs instead of reading. Of course, it’s so nice in my bed that I do read in the morning (recently about palmistry, depression and body language).
Another thing I tried this week was the Aspie- Quiz. Seems to me like Aspergers is mostly a physically explained situation of being totally socially inept. I have to remember it took Star so many years to get diagnosed because I couldn’t tell that he’s not socially correct because none of my kids are, and I’m not. The quiz does have me as definitely Aspergers, all though not ADD (and I would have thought that our whole family was ADD). If you want to try it, here’s the address.
Another thing I was thinking about is minimum wage and “protecting the borders”. If you got minimum wage, that would be $230 or $11,500 before taxes (IF you didn’t get forced into a situation where you had only 35-38 hours a week to avoid paying benefits). Even if you are combining two minimum wages, I don’t think you could afford to raise a family on that. I don’t think you’d be able to live on it even if they kick it up, as they are talking about. People say that Americans don’t want menial jobs. I think they are wrong about that. Americans don’t want jobs that will use up all the time they have and still not pay the bills. At least that’s why I’m afraid of taking a job at Walmart or some place like that. I could spend a couple of years there, destroy my back and arches, get nothing worth while accomplished, and still lose the house. I expect that’s what the deal is. The candidates are pushing “protecting our borders” (as a matter of fact, the Egans were talking about it at the wake.) But when Megan got back from her cross country trip she talked about seeing whole towns practically shut down because they had actually gotten rid of all their illegal immigrants. Apparently without the illegals, businesses can’t afford to hire anyone. Restaurants can’t afford wait-staff, hotels can’t get people who will clean, all sorts of businesses closed. So how do illegal immigrants live on what these jobs pay? Their expectations are lower. Rob saw illegals when he was living in Rochester- living 20 to a room, and taking shifts in the beds, which allowed them to send money back to places where living conditions were even worse. It’s when they have lived here a while and come to understand what’s considered a “given” that they want what “everyone else” has. Over the history of the world, and in non-developed countries, people accept that you don’t need lights and central heating and canned entertainment to live. Sure, these things are fantastic. I like them. I want them! But we don’t need them. Our demand for cheap “stuff” is filled by corporations taking “American jobs” to countries where they can produce this “stuff” cheaper by people who are willing to accept a lower standard of living. We need to change our world view to one in which we accept the true value of things like food, shelter, entertainment, and also health, family and community, and are willing to allocate what we earn on them, rather than just accepting what we are told we need and what it’s reasonable to spend on it. We have to be willing to buy less and spend more.
I guess what it comes down to is that people are demanding the low prices (and low quality although they don’t think about that) that having cheap service requires, and assuming that we can all afford a standard of living (two weeks of vacation, retirement, ipods, eating out, cars) that we imagine is “normal”. But we are so far divorced from producing what we consume that we don’t value it for what it’s worth. We don’t know what it costs to grow an apple or produce a quart of milk, or a piece of furniture, or a meal out. If because we can get a fast food meal for $6 that this is what we should spend for a meal (even though the food is not good quality, and the workers are not paid a living wage). When people produced their own stuff, they knew how incredible a loaf of bread was, or how much work went into making a quilt. We don’t now. All we know is that our bosses require that we wear new looking clothing to “present” correctly, which means we throw away the old ones because they are slightly stained or out of style. We throw away and yet we don’t appreciate the value of what we have. This is especially noticeable at this time of year when we attempt to generate lists of things we want so that people can give us stuff. Why? When gift giving originated, the gifts were either small (the Romans gave fruit, flowers, candles and the like at Saturnalia), or something you’d made because you knew the people really wanted them. If you gave someone a pair of mittens you’d knit, the chances are it was because they had cold hands, not that they didn’t have any that matched their fifth coat. Woe to the retailers if people don’t spend enough between Thanksgiving and Christmas to bring up the GNP. I have problems with this, and I suppose you’ve noticed I’ve been griping about it for years.
The election brings it into focus because the promises the candidates make are reinforcing the “we can have it all” theory at the same time as we are dealing with the Christmas issue. We don’t want a president, we want Santa. We all DESERVE wonderful lives, so someone should GIVE it to us. Once you have the concepts of “entitlements”, that people should (and can) have something because they deserve it, you’ve lost track of reality. If people are entitled to anything, forget ipods, or computer access, or phones and think even food, heat, medical care, then SOMEONE has to pay for it. Kerensa and I were talking about it, and I think the situation fails at the premise that our country can afford whatever it would take to take care of those who can’t pay for themselves. But while, yes, there is plenty of money in the system, we can’t get at it. The rich have the ability to duck taxes, so it’s those in the middle class that end up paying, and they don’t have the excess that’s required to support those we feel are entitled. I can’t think of any way of making it impossible for the rich to have that ability, so I’d just set that idea aside as unworkable.
Well, see what happens when I don’t have any big things to write about? I write anyway. At length. Just when you thought it was safe to go to the computer.
Go put out your shoes, and make some cookies. It would be great if you could come by for Solstice, although I know you are probably busy and too far away.
If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need. – Marcus Tullius Cicero
*n. hobbitish. A birthday present, esp. one whose use has been forgotten.
“Hobbits give presents to other people on their own birthdays. Not very expensive ones, as a rule, and not so lavishly as on this occasion; but it was not a bad system.”– The Fellowship of the Ring, pp. 50-51.
“It was a tendency of hobbit-holes to get cluttered up; for which the custom of giving so many birthday-presents was largely responsible. Not, of course, that the birthday-presents were always new; there were one or two old mathoms of forgotten uses that had circulated all around the district.”