788 12/30/2009 CHRISTMAS EVE

Today, indeed, this week, I am indulging in Janus-like reflections, as I suspect that many others are- although they may not be quite as pedantic in describing it. I keep wondering, is 2010 the next decade or not? I think 2000 was the beginning of the new millennium, the beginning of the decade known as the aughts (not “oughts”, as “one ought to do something”, but as in “back in aught three”). I like the word- it can mean everything/all or nothing (as it does in aught-nine), or “anything at all”. But as we are leaving the “aughts”, we still will not reach the teens for three years, so what do we call the years two thousand ten, eleven and twelve? A time of improvement, I hope. Despite the many unusual things I do believe, I put no stock in the apocalyptic associations of the Mayan calendar- it like any other calendar, just starts another cycle. And I’ve never noticed that a calendar change-over really means much, although the ones that start in the spring come closer than those who start in the fall or other times of the year.
As a point of trivia, I learned this year, I think, that the reason our calendar has the new year starting on January first, is that Roman Law required that elections be held at the new year- but when that was at the logical Spring Equinox, it often took a couple of months for the newly elected generals to reach their troops in the far flung parts of the Empire (Spain or the Middle East), so rather than change THAT tradition, they changed the calendar (I’m sure it made sense to them at the time), so that there would be time for the newly elected consul to get to wherever they needed to kill people. This is, of course, why september, october, november, and december mean 7th. 8th, 9th, and 10th months- because they started in March.
At this time of year we look forward and backwards, like the Roman God Janus. (I wonder if he was added to the eleventh month when they changed the calendar from March to January?) Looking back this year seems to be one on which I worked on myself- I tried dieting again for the first time in decades (with the usual disastrous weight gain), started learning Japanese, with the intent to continue learning new languages, and listening to courses on disc. I suppose I used to take them out of the library, but this year I actually bought ones on the history subjects I enjoyed most. Next year I am planning on going back to school- at least in some way. I did finally make up my mind to concentrate my efforts on art, yet paradoxically, I am attempting to find business classes- which I dread, but am convinced I will need in order to make art a self supporting proposition.
Jonathan has actually begun inquiring after programs to help him get out of the house, and I’m very impressed at how much progress Kat’s constantly doing art commissions has improved her work- I think a more general program would probably result in progress in more areas, but eventually, we all learn whatever it is we need when we start doing it. All preparation has to be fairly general. Willow has not had a great year energy wise, but I think she has finally gotten to the point where she is free of the foolish idea that she is unlike-able that was drummed into her in school. That idea has always seemed ridiculous to those of us who do know and like her, but the outer world is always seen through our inner filters. I am certain that many of my beliefs are equally as false- the problem is to figure out which, and find the supporting evidence that will correct my misapprehensions. Perhaps next year. (At the same time, I believe that my openness to being wrong but correctable allows me to see many possibilities to which others are blind. I am hoping that some of my many talents and skills that seem to me to be unproductive can, in fact, be turned to making some money- if I can only figure out how!)It has settled into a solid pattern of winter weather- cold, often cloudy, occasional snow, although no great accumulation in the last week, thank goodness. Honour’s rabbit seems to have gotten out of his cage and is hopping about the goat yard. We’ve baited the have-a-heart trap with carrots, and expect to have him back inside without too much delay. If he were one of ours we’d just shoot and eat him, but I’m pretty certain ours aren’t that fuzzy.
The girls are out doing the errands (early, as tomorrow Willow wants to spend Christmas Eve with the Harts), and poor Star is curled up in the living room with a rare cold. I’ve got the poor guy watching comedies to stimulate the immune system, but all I can tell from here is that laughing stimulates his coughing. Aside from vitamins, I am flooding him with orange juice, chicken soup, and teas, and hoping no one else has also caught it. I assume one of the relatives we saw on Christmas Eve was just pre-symptomatic. We can hope for their sake that they weren’t actually sick on Christmas itself.
The family gathered at Nancy’s in Reading as has become usual. In the morning we got an oil delivery (I think the fuel company was just making sure that no one would run out on the holiday). My goodness! We took two hundred gallons, and I remember when we used to use only 800 a year. It has been in the 20s, but I’m looking around the house and trying to figure out where we can tack up plastic over windows, or do other things that could save energy.
The big adventure of the evening was that Willow’s wallet went missing. We’d stopped at Dunkin Donuts on the way as we’d been so busy with last minute projects that we hadn’t had much to eat before we left, and apparently when she put it back in her coat pocket it didn’t get all the way in. Several days later we discovered it in the trash-bag that we hang from the drivers seat armrest. Now I know that three of us had each separately checked that bag, but that’s just one of those things I believe that many other people don’t. There are lots of examples of times when things just slip out of this reality, and then slip back in later, so we find them somewhere we know we’ve looked and no one has moved them anywhere in between. We don’t have any scientific explanation for this, but personally, I can live without the explanation, and prefer to accept what I’ve observed and heard corroborated by others rather than try to come up with some theory that explains why several reasonably competent (and very motivated) people can look in a bag with a capacity of no more than a couple gallons and miss a fat wallet, or a book on a piano, a ring on a shelf out in the open, or many other examples of this happening. I find it appealing as the line goes in Pirates of Penzance to blame it on the actions of a “ill-natured fairy”. Since no other explanation makes any sense, I might as well go for something poetic.
We discovered it missing as we were leaving Reading, and stopped at a blessedly still-open drug store to pick up some medicine, as Willow had been ill a bit during the evening, and Nancy had nothing but some pepto-bismol on hand. While she made the initial search of the car and all pockets, I was able to pick some up, and then we moved on to a far more intense and extensive search of Nancy’s house and yard, with perhaps excessive drama. It was a great relief when it finally deigned to show up again. (I might add that I checked the car again myself the next morning when it was light.)
The rest of the evening was without much drama. Liz had brought Dad down, and Trish and Dana had come from Maine, as well as Mary and her friend (or husband, I didn’t ask) Carl. Kitty came up from Taunton, Liz’s girls gathered from their assorted locations, I’m not sure where Jay lives, but Kate and Connor live in the other half of the duplex- what better situation could any grandmother ask? Both proximity and separate quarters. They served two lasagnas- one with massive amounts of meat and a scrumptious one with spinach. Kat somehow managed to partake without getting any sauce on her cream colored dress, a feat I could never have achieved at that (or any) age. Her grandfather noted that she “needed to work on her tan”, and several cousins wondered if it was cosmetics or natural. Willow pointed out that she’s been assiduously avoiding the sun ever since that third degree sunburn in two thousand which actually cooked the meat in her shoulders and took months to heal. I’d forgotten that. But yes, her pallor is real and quite intentional. We who have supported her habit of parasols, long gloves and SPF 80 sun block know this.
The cousins were more interested in discovering that my girls have also learned to read Tarot and palms- I did a bit but begged off with the excuse that since it’s my “profession” that’s as much as I was going to do for free (ignoring that while I can and have gotten $50 for readings, I also can and have given free ones to my family). Such techniques can often provide only frustratingly vague information, but these days when we have to make major decisions with far too little information, even something vague and speculative is better than no information at all.
We tried VERY hard not to get big into the gifting aspect of the holiday, but I was pleased to have found a beautiful pendant I thought Liz would like, and Willow, who also makes jewelry, picked up some lovely complementary beads at our local shop which we think Liz will enjoy (perhaps with additions from her own stock) assembling for herself. Kitty has started collecting Hello Kitty stuff (gee, I wonder how?), her guestroom is completely done in that theme. The girls found her a Hello Kitty kitchen timer- that sort of thing we feel doesn’t overwhelm the more positive aspects of the season.
The traditional climax to the festivities is The Readings. Dad reads the nativity passage from Luke, We all say the Night Before Christmas in some attempt at unison. And someone reads A.A.Milnes King John was Not a Good Man, which used to result in the occasional silent tear, as we all can identify with the shattered hopes of not getting the gift you’d really hoped for. This is somewhat ameliorated recently as Trish suggests “the Loser!” every so often as the poem describes the kings how “no one comes to tea” or that the king has to send cards to himself because no one sends him any (these days he’d get them from his insurance and real estate agents). And then the mood is traditionally lifted by the singing of Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer- with hand motions and the kindergarten trick of not verbalizing the words Nose or Reindeer, and every so often someone slips and sings it and we all are relieved that it wasn’t us- this time. My father did actually give me the one gift I’d really hoped for- a new camera, and Willow used it to capture the song, and threatened to put it on YouTube (telling herself that if anyone asked nicely, she would forebear, but although there were threats and imprecations, no one asked nicely. On the other hand, I think the not-yet-fully-charged battery gave out and it didn’t get uploaded- yet.)
I’m sure other families have equally unique traditions for their holiday celebrations. Dan, for example, goes to Las Vegas. We were clever enough to both milk the goats and set out the filled stockings before we left, so we could collapse when we got home. On the other hand, I woke up at seven, so I just read until Kathryne came to get me. As usual, after opening the stockings, we had our traditional breakfast- bacon, scrambled eggs, cocoa, orange juice, and fattigman bakkels. This is followed by opening the presents. Star got mostly manga, Kat got mostly movies, Willow got video-games. I got books. Not many surprises, but also not many disappointments. When all were opened, we then put all the presents going out of the house (for friends who didn’t make it to the solstice party- you know who you are) under the tree, so it still looks pretty, and started playing with our stuff. Our official “toys” for this year- playmobil has offered some Egyptian sets. Last year they had Romans, I SO want the amphitheater, but it’s small enough I don’t think we could really race the chariots in it anyway. And I did get two chariots- one Roman, one Egyptian. (If I got two Roman chariots, we could end up with riots on our hands- if you don’t get that, go back and look at late Roman or Byzantine history again.) We also got a couple gladiators and a small Egyptian house. (When Jane called to let me know she’d gotten her wished-for book Lady with a Mead Cup- and will loan it to me, squee! I told her about the Roman toys, and she said to bring them to Mithracon to play with- and SHE got the chariot riots joke.)
As we’d had brunch so late, we had dinner late too- aimed at 5 and happened at 6. Again it was traditional, although this year we didn’t feel we could afford a standing rib roast, and the roast beef we did have didn’t generate enough fat to make gravy, oh well. I made the yorkshire pudding with butter, and it was good. Steve came up and Honour joined us, and a pleasant quiet evening was had.
Saturday we decided to do what it seems like the rest of America does the day after Christmas, and go to a movie, but we took so long discussing which movie, and who’d go and which theater that it took until Sunday to get to it. We saw Sherlock Holmes, which we really liked, although we’d been talking about Avatar which might really be improved by being seen on a large screen. I’ve gotten the stuff out to get back to painting, but have been distracted again. One thing that has taken more time than I’d have liked should be showing up in your mail soon. Way back when I started sending the weekly letter to my mother-in-law, it occurred to me that she might not know everyone I mentioned, especially as so many of my friends go by more than one name. (“You can’t tell the players without a program!”) And I thought I’d make it an annual tradition for the end of the year to do a brief description of the folk in the letters. Unfortunately, it seems that every time I start working on my “list of characters” it begins to seem like I’m pre-writing obituaries, or actual obituaries since I’ve lost more friends and family than I’d like to think about. But I have started again. The list is running at about two hundred people right now- Megan says that the average person has a virtual village of about 200 people they know in their heads, so I guess that’s about right. I figure that if I spend about five minutes per person, that’s about seventeen hours- and I know I spend more time than that because I keep getting side tracked because I want to share all the things I like about my friends, not just give the orienting information. Anyway, I’ve put several sessions in on it, and it’s probably more than half done. I’ve also figured I should post it on line because it’s getting kind of long rather than mail it out. I was thinking my website would be good, if I could figure out how to post, but I haven’t yet. One more thing to learn. (I also am determined to start the new year with a clean refrigerator!) Aside from that we are planning for Arisia, Birka, Wicked Fair, the Mensa RG, Lunacon, Ecumenicon, Mithracon, and anything else we can think to sell or speak at. Honour and I are planning on going to the Shire 12th night in Smoking Rocks this weekend (barring dangerous driving conditions) because it’s a specifically Anglo-Saxon event, and sounds wonderful. Because of Jon’s cold I think we shouldn’t plan any socializing for New Years.
I also think it’s not just me. As the year ends we are all reaching out to each other- Tom (James) is digitizing some of his old pictures and has sent them (along with asking if I recognize who’s in them- not enough. My friend Julia Passamonti (who I took pottery lessons with) has gotten mentioned in the papers because some of her amphorae are going to be used in an upcoming episode of the TV show 30 Rock. I am far more impressed that they called her and asked if she could have them ready for filming by Tuesday on the previous Friday, and she was able to get them thrown, dried, fired and shipped by Monday. THAT’s impressive to me. Vicki still continues to write about their adventures over in Lebanon- it surprises me that even though Steve is a Fulbright Scholar, the paperwork to allow them to stay over there is not expidited for them (of course, more funny is the stories about their haircuts and eating adventures, and getting to know the owners of local shops). Mark has gone over to California because his mother died. We didn’t know much about her except that once when he’d stayed with us after an operation she sent us a dried fruit basket that was really nice to thank us for being nice to him. I figure there’s nothing useful to say when someone has lost a loved one. This may be why most Americans try to ignore death, because we don’t know what to do when it happens. (Bring a casserole.)
I haven’t been paying much attention to the Netflix queue, so we had a bunch of really odd movies come through this week: The Year One, GI Joe, Cinderella 3, Underdog, and A Christmas Tale. Most of them are simple fluff- not bad to wash dishes to, but not worth commenting on. I’ll admit that I had a small pang of nostalgia when the underdog movie did something that reminded me of watching the cartoon as a kid. The Year One was really dumb, but I laughed anyway- and was embarrassed.
A Christmas Tale was a French film that starred a bunch of big stars like Catherine Deneuve, and was a typical film about how families interact. In this case, the mother had cancer and needed a bone marrow transplant, and the son who matched had been “banished” from the family by one of the daughters who didn’t like him. Another set of brothers had always liked the same girl and she discovered that they’d decided between themselves to let the shy one “have” her, and although she was happily married to him, she resented their having stolen the choice from her. The uptight daughter’s son had had a nervous breakdown, and then he turned out to match- and his daughter wanted the grandmother to chose him to have some sense of accomplishment. Perhaps I missed it, but it seems that the real tragedy was that the whole family had allowed themselves to be manipulated by that daughter to keep peace even though they knew it wasn’t fair. All of that makes it a really good film about family problems, but on top of it, I had to deal with the medical stuff. The family was analyzing 33% chance of graft verses host disease, x% chance of death from that, x% chance of death in so many years, etc. The family was playing with statistics and VOTING on whether the mother had the right to make her own choice about what therapy she was going to take depending on whether it was going to give her a statistical likelihood 1.4 or 2.7 years survival improvement. Her husband resented that she would consider not trying anything to survive as long as possible, and while they did mention the possibility that blood type could change, they didn’t deal at all with the fact that after the transplant she was looking at over three months in the sterile room they did have her in at the end. It reminded me of going through similar things with Ælfwine, and made me feel a bit better that I was there with him the whole time. The very idea of having them hook up the bone marrow and leaving the recipient alone in the room for however long it would take to drip in is so horrendously awful to me. The loneliness alone would kill me.
But, most of the reason I share my thoughts about the movies I see is so you can decide whether you are going to watch it yourself, and I don’t know how many of you are willing to sit through an entire movie in French. I was reassured- while I certainly couldn’t have gotten all the plot nuances without the subtitles, I was left feeling that if I went to France and was totally immersed, I could get along. (I’m not saying that I’d be fluent or that my accent or grammar wouldn’t suck, but I could get by.)

After finishing Kat’s black flannel nightie, I went back to recreational reading- finished The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet (by the author of the Thorn Birds). I’d call it really good fan fiction- someone reusing someone else’s world and characters. But it was a fun read. (I personally had had similar thoughts to the ones Miss Bennet had when she was bored by being restricted to dilettante level music and art and the other activities of upper class English women of the time period and wanted to do something useful!) After watching Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (which we’d gotten when it came out, but saved for Christmas), I reread that book. And I’m also having fun with Gregory of Tours’ History of the Franks and the Atlas of Anglo-Saxon England (also held off to go under the tree). I’ve been listening to the Teaching Company course on the Vikings, and he’d mentioned Gregory of Tours. Of course, the best thing about it was that he wrote at the end of the sixth century, so he would have been Arastorm’s contemporary. There’s some rollicking good stories in there, murder, mayhem, wars, treachery, all sorts of stuff. I’m having fun with it, even if they aren’t about Anglo-Saxon England. I’m also wishing there was more information on Scandinavia during the 7th and 8th centuries- the Vendal or Pre-Viking period. There seem to have been so many things that contributed to the Viking Age, but no distinct cause as such. Of course, there’s never a “Cause” as such for any large cultural development, and when people try to find one, the best they can do is confuse the issue by trying to over simplify it. I really like the Anglo-Saxon Atlas, the Historical Atlas of the Viking Age was somewhat of a disappointment- not enough maps. Context! I need more context! AND supporting details. Well, I think it’s fun.

That’s it (aside from the list of characters I hope to get out before the end of the decade) for this week.
He who has an imagination without learning, has wings but no feet–Joubert

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