12/23/2009 solstice feast

December 23, 2009
Looks like it’s going to be a White Christmas at least here in the northeast. Over the last week the pond at the end of the street froze over, and while we don’t have the huge drifts of a couple of years ago, we have a pretty good snow cover. A few years ago I went out in the back yard and knocked down all the brown grass so that when the snow came we had a clear snow field- which was pretty, but I don’t have the energy to to it every year.  Now the garden and back yard is being overgrown with sumac and raspberries (and mint, of course). It’s kind of depressing, but I suppose if we got enough snow to cover it, that would be pretty awful for the people who have to get it off the streets. Enough to insulate and fertilize- that’s what we want. On the other hand, Zoloft and her large fluffy tale seem to go out trying to collect burdock to bring in, although she doesn’t like to have them removed (hey, does she want to try to do it herself?). That would be a good reason to take them down before it snowed.
The oil man just came by- having run dry once too often (once is too often), we’re now on a regular delivery, which I’d hoped would mean smaller regular bills. This one was 179 gallons (I think the tank’s 200, but I’m not sure), so that confirms that it’s been very cold already this year. I remember when our winter oil budget was $800, 4-500 gallons? Must have been a mild winter I’m remembering. God bless low ceilings and wood stoves. They sure make the place warm and cosy.

Thursday the girls went out on errands, and I spent the day wrapping presents. As usual, when I started digging at the back of the closet I found many I’d picked up over the year and forgotten. Willow has just put them out from where I stacked them in the dining room. We only got the tree decorated on Monday- after the Solstice Feast. The cats totally ignored the tree until it was decorated, but then decided that the ornaments are cat toys- we must watch them until they are trained. I’m a little worried about Mouse- he seems to be one of those tinsel-eating cats. We still haven’t found wherever we put our collection of Christmas videos, so we haven’t watched so many of those this year.
I’d kind of hoped that some of the Stormgard boys would help us put up the house lights, but since that didn’t happen, yesterday Kat ascended the ladder, and clipped the little clamps that they show clamping over wooden house edges. She discovered that while they can clip over the edge of shingles, they aren’t going to spread an inch- at least not at 20º Fahrenheit. I think we’ve discovered why so many people put their lights up right after Thanksgiving- it’s warmer and there’s probably less ice and snow to deal with!

So Thursday I wrapped presents and made more cookies and some bread- with golden raisins, cranberries and almonds, and Friday began the open house we had instead of a Solstice feast this year. Steve decided to avoid the crowds, and besides, as the traffic turns his theoretical 90 minute commute into a nearly three hour crawl through Boston he’d come up from our place directly. In theory that would only be a couple hours, instead of about 90 minutes to his place (really 150), and 85 minutes from there to here. So he left at 4:30, and got here at about 7:30. We should have figured that there’d be delays in this direction too. Honour came over too, and we had a lovely corned beef dinner, and then Steve had to head back home since he had been up since 5. Ben (one of our Stormgarde Young men) also came over- we’d hoped that Avi, Trevor and the kids, and Tom and Shannon might make it, but they didn’t. We’d heard that Tom and Shannon were going to her parents, but still were hopeful. When Ben went to pick Hannigan after he got off work at 11, his girlfriend had picked him up. Girlfriends- they want their boyfriends with them at the holidays- go fig! So Friday night was fairly low key.
The next morning I got up and started getting ready for who-ever might come. Only Ekke and Elinore had told us that they’d be coming; I think most people aren’t quite sure what their plans are going to be even when they try to plan. I heard from Dick Huntington- he wasn’t planning to come- he was having his own solstice celebration, but he was down in western Pennsylvania and had gotten hit by a foot of snow already, and had another foot coming. His guests couldn’t get through even had they wanted to, but he and his neighbors had decided to have a blizzard party when it stopped- help each other clear driveways then turn their attention to the collected party supplies. Our weather maps indicated that we’d only have a dusting- and they were fairly accurate. Apparently Boston was the hardest hit near us- six inches was expected. We found this out because Willow and Kat’s con friends, Joanie and Rae, were dropped off (what a mother to drive them up here, and drop them off, then come get them again Sunday). They’d heard about a skating party in Boston, I think, all in Cos-play, and talked about maybe all going to it, but they weren’t able to find out enough soon enough to call and tell Lee that Willow would be bringing them down, so that will have to wait for another time. Besides, if it was in a city, it was probably cancelled because of the snow warnings.
They played many games like Apples to Apples, and Fluxx, although we didn’t have enough numbers to play some of the games we’ve had at other solstice feasts like the Minister’s Cat. Apples to Apples is better with more people, and they discovered that the company also sells blank cards (and a program so that your computer can print your additions and they’ll look like the commercial cards) for about the same price it costs for sheets of business card blanks. What fun!  I think I told you that in Maine they’d invented the Nerdtini- Mikes Hard Lemonade with nerds dancing in the carbonation (rimmed with pixi-sticks sugar). They got all our bottles of various liquor that have been accumulated over the years and made a lovely display. Kat was so enchanted by the Saint Germain (Elderflower Liqueur) she got herself a bottle- the first liquor she ever bought. This time they invented another drink- although I don’t remember a name for it, by adding Sour Apple Pucker to Jones sugar-free Green Apple Soda. It was tart, but will probably never happen again because I’d bought the Jones because it is a vivid “re-animator green”, back at the Connecticut Renn Faire, and we may never see it again. Heck, we bought the Pucker at the war and I don’t know if they sell that up here.
To my surprise and delight, although I’d invited them, Rusty and Leslie showed up mid afternoon. Ben had remembered the rabbit we had a couple years ago, and Leslie hadn’t yet learned to clean rabbits, so mostly we bonded over rabbit guts, while Rusty talked to Jon and Mark who showed up a bit after them. Leslie and Rusty had to leave early to take Rusty’s father to an evening party, but Mark stayed for the Turkey. We also had roast pork and ham (serially, not all at the same time), sadly, I over-cooked the ham because I was doing too many things at once. We also attempted roasting potatoes in the wood-stove in the living room- we keep forgetting that fire roasted potatoes need to be double wrapped and turned every so often. We put those out with grated cheese, sour cream, bacon, scallions, and butter, – and of course, they are the ones Honour found that are over a pound apiece- each a meal in itself. I made a mushroom couliabec- the peasant mushroom dish full of mushrooms, sour cream, bacon, onions, and barley. The mushrooms had been on sale when Willow was picking them up and she got a huge amount- but as usual, when they cook down they shrink a lot. People either like mushrooms or they don’t, and for those who do, the couliabec (I think it’s french for “in a crust”) is so wonderful! We went kind of heavy on the pork products- although I never got around to making the pork pies I’d intended to- because we were doing it kind of Hogswatch themed this year.
Rusty and Leslie just missed Ekke and Elinor. They stayed all night- we brought in a futon for them, which we put by the woodstove in the living-room, and inflatable mattresses for Ray and Joannie in the dining room (which we didn’t actually put out until we noticed that it had gotten to be five am- usually when it’s the longest night of the year we intentionally stay up until dawn because that’s the way we celebrate, but we weren’t going to bother this time because it wasn’t the actual solstice- but almost did anyway). Ben came back, and Brian, who’d been supposed to miss the Solstice because he had to go down to New Jersey had been freed up because of the storm hitting them hard too. And Pie (another Stormgard Geoguϸ- {youth}) made it too (Pie got it right- he brought his girlfriend along with him). I actually didn’t get to see much of them- we’d kind of split up by approximate ages- I was in the kitchen- talking and pushing food (we had a honey tasting, and Brian wiped down my honey shelf), and toward the end of the evening, putting the food in the keeping room. The younger crowd played games around the dining room table- although when the hero-quest came out, the art-girls moved to the living room.
Oddly enough after getting to bed around six, we woke up between nine and ten. I’d roasted the rabbits (IMO that’s the only way to get a good flavor and gravy) and was able to give some to Ben, but most of it went into the pie which we had for breakfast. First you roast, then you chop up the meat and boil all the bones to get the stock for the gravy, and you do actually have to stew the meat a little in that broth to soften it up again, while cooking the potatoes, onions and carrots (I cheat, I use frozen pearl onions). Then you put it all in a suet crust and make the gravy and pour it over all. That is so good! Better even than roast rabbit. Ekke and Elinore had to leave in the early afternoon, and so did Willow’s friends, but the party wasn’t over.
In the late afternoon, Gwen, with her two girls Amanda and Megan (I have no idea how old they are), and Ruadh and Heidi came over. We heated leftovers (despite having been warned, I forgot and offered Heidi who keeps pet rabbits, the bunny pie). Goodness those girls were cat crazy- or it may just have been one of them. I think we gave them one of a previous litter last year or the year before, so she was Oh-so-hopeful (and each time one cat squirmed away, glommed onto another one- actually, they put up with it better than I would have expected); but Gwen was being firm, and I tried to be supportive. Actually, the runt, who Jon has called Wisteria, seems to have gotten very fond of Elianor- but they were headed on to visit her folk, so they couldn’t take her, although I’d love to have her placed with such good people. They tell me that it was only 20 degrees in their house this morning- a good 40º above outside (as it is here, but it’s not so cold here). I thought we were hardy stuff! Brian often goes up to play with them on their boat so they were able to regale us with stories- apparently they are building a new one. One of the other guests- although I can’t remember who, said that he’d get the house insulated and heated better before he’d build anther boat. Some people wouldn’t put up with how cold we keep our place, and yet can seem to live without the number of books I feel necessary. People are so varied- that’s what makes them so interesting. I forget whether it was Megan or Amanda who made the peanut butter fudge- there were two kinds, one more peanut buttery than the other- I’ve never made it and was intrigued, and when I found out they’d never seen the microwave fudge you make by melting a bag of chocolate chips into a can of sweetened condensed milk (and a splash of vanilla at the end), I showed them how. Now, sadly, we have a pile of fudge and cookies left over to get rid of (although we have been eating our way through the leftovers since the weekend). I do think I’ll see Brian again pretty soon- he left his lyre behind!
I got a chance to play the Monty Python Fluxx game with my friends, which was especially fun because Ruadh, Heidi and Gwyn are all in Robin’s Minstrels (the Stonemarche musicians). As much as I’d enjoyed the people I was with the night before, I had missed the games and we had a great time. Of course, having only had three or four hours of sleep each of the previous nights, I wasn’t too broken up when they had to leave. I have to say that as much as I have enjoyed having a large crowd before, having a few people at a time worked really, really well. And it’s not necessary for it to be the same every year.
Monday was the actual Solstice and we did light the solstice candle I’ve been burning all night on solstices since the seventies. This year Honour had come over and got to join us for the official lighting (I was finally getting the ornaments on the tree) and she took a candle home lighted from ours to light one of her own. When I melted down the shell of the original Solstice candle, I didn’t use a big enough wick and it kept getting overwhelmed by the melted wax. Honour explained that different sizes of candles need different sizes of wick. I thought I’d braided together several, but apparently not- but I remembered picking up a coil of large wick at a yard sale (held by someone who’d worked at Alene candles) and after ours guttered a few times, Jonathan managed to force a piece of bigger wick at least most of the way down- so it made it through the night. We’ll have to put in another piece after it burns down to where this one ends, but I think we’ve got a couple of years, unless we find a good tool for burning a hole through 8 inches of wax.

Today, aside from writing the letter, I’m making the last gift- a black flannel nightgown for Kat (expect a picture later when she’s had a chance to wear it).
My eye is finally all better- I’m wearing both contacts, thank goodness, it was very hard to use the computer while I had one eye- I wear two different contacts each  bifocal and aimed at different distances, and the right one is for driving and looking at people who I’m painting or drawing I think- reading and computer stuff is on the left. Maybe. I’m not sure. All I know is that I couldn’t see much and was effectively stupid while on only one. I was amazed at how much longer it took me to think anything out while I was one-eyed. I think there may be a component of intelligence linked to your sensory input, just as there is some that’s linked to muscles. I got lots of sympathy, and heard some horror stories about other people with scratched corneas. I waited until I was totally sure it was fine before putting the contact in again. What a joy to be able to see again!

I’ve heard from Kerensa again- he’s changed his major from nursing (he destroyed his health trying to work and keep perfect grades and run the house- and they moved this year, and the new place requires replacement of roof, floor, and walls (what’s left?) More significantly, he’s convinced me that if I have decided to be an artist, I really do have to go out and take some business courses. He told me how when he took his, (after having been an artist for years) he learned so many things that would have helped him (at least one point about contracts,  which would have saved him $30,000 when a gallery he had stuff in went bankrupt). I know other people have suggested the same thing many times over the years, but this time I spent about an hour crying over it, so I think that that means that this time I’m only resisting it, not denying it, and will finally do it. I’ve started looking at the closest community colleges to find out which is the most convenient and affordable. I do hope that I get a professor as helpful as his seems to have been.

Obviously with all the late nights I haven’t read much. Before I drop off I’m still listening to the Viking course, but I’ve had to re-listen several times when I fall asleep before it’s done. I got a copy of the Viking Atlas which helps. It’s very hard to follow historical discussions if you have no idea which island is Gotland and which is Bornholm. While doing dishes and cooking and such, I’ve watched Fantasy Island- because the various holiday films on my Netflix queue are “long wait”. I always liked Fantasy Island, but my favorites were in later seasons when they developed Rourke’s character farther. In the first season they were all about being mysterious.  I did get to see The Bishop’s Wife (1940), with Cary Grant as the angel and David Niven as the bishop- I can’t decide whether I liked it better than the Preacher’s Wife (1997) with Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington. They each had their good bits. It may just be style, but I could pick up more cues in the more recent one that the angel was falling for the wife, which was not a good thing for an angel to do. Jonathan got Gremlins a New batch, which was fun, although it had nothing to do with Christmas. I was a bit dubious, but it became clear almost immediately that they were not taking themselves seriously- when Phoebe Cates started going on about Lincoln’s birthday, I knew they were goofing it intentionally- and Christopher Lee had a lot of fun with his mad scientist role. There was another small movie, probably made for TV, called The Christmas Wife. Jason Robards plays an older man who hires an older woman to spend Christmas with him after his wife dies rather than fly out to California and spend the day with his son’s family. It’s kind of melancholy and explores how the holidays hit us. I could respect his choice to continue to have his holiday be what he wanted it to be, but laying out $500 for a companion for 2 days isn’t something many of us can do, and it did make the point that this woman needed that money enough to give up her own Christmas to get it. Money does make a huge difference in how each of us sees the world.

But if I’m going to get that night gown made, I’m going to end it here. Have as wonderful holidays as you can. See or call whoever you want to talk to, do what you want to do. And remember that traditionally, Advent (pre-Christmas) was a time of quiet reflection, but the partying was during the 12 days after Christmas. I don’t care if American Business has decided that we start buying on Black Friday and stop on Christmas Eve- for more than a millennium, it’s been the time between December 25th and January 6th that people have celebrated. So space it out so that you can actually enjoy it, and take your time. I’m actually looking forward to the “shire” 12th night down in Smoking Rocks on January 2nd (although we’ve gotten into Arisia, and are even in a room next to Arwen’s on the same day as Kingdom 12th night, so we can’t go even though it’s in Panthervale- right next door). The one in Smoking Rocks is time specific event- England 1075. Although Arastorm would have been dead for 450 years by then, I feel I must go and support the Saxons against those evil Normans.

Love to all- Tchipakkan
“To show a child what once delighted you, to find the child’s delight added to your own -this is happiness”
–J.B.Priestly

P.S.  we’ll have pictures on the flickr of Kat on the roof, and other things, but I forgot D**** doesn’t like his picture and name posted on the internet, so I took it down, alaong with the picture of me playing the new game.   http://www.flickr.com/photos/22256634@N08/

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