A little Christmas cheer

by Lorin Michel Sunday, December 6, 2015 7:37 PM

Yesterday, I officially began decorating for Christmas. I’ve been wanting to do it for a while, but I don’t like to do it until Thanksgiving weekend, and last weekend we were away. So yesterday, I pulled out the two boxes that held our new, as-yet-unseen Christmas tree and started spreading the cheer.

For years, we’ve had an artificial tree. I bought it when Justin was in high school and worked at a place called Do It Center. It’s a smaller, more civilized version of Home Depot, much like Ace Hardware but not as complete. I got a discount because my kid worked there and they had a pretty decent selection of Christmas trees. We always had real trees. Both Kevin and I grew up when getting the Christmas tree was an annual family pilgrimage. We didn’t traipse off into the forest like they did on The Waltons. We went to a Christmas tree farm. They have Christmas tree farms in California, too. It’s a little strange the first time you visit one if you’ve grown up in the Midwest or North East. Searching for and cutting down a tree in shorts and a tee-shirt? Who knew that pine needles could be so itchy.

The year I bought the artificial tree was the year Kevin was doing his best Ebenezer Scrooge impersonation. I have no idea what set him off but he was grumpy “as all get out” (a phrase he loves to use) and wouldn’t go with me to get a real tree. I wanted to start Christmas. I love Christmas. So I said “fine,” the kiss-my-ass kind of fine, and off I went to Do It Center where I picked out a very nice six-foot unlit tree. It came in one box. I brought it home, and proceeded to set it up. Artificial trees are actually very easy to set up and look pretty real. The biggest issue was fluffing out the branches, especially the first time one sets up a tree out of a box. The branches are all mashed; all stuck together. They have to be unfurled in order to make the tree look full.

We had vaulted ceilings in the Oak Park house so Mr. Scrooge eventually built me a platform so that we could raise the tree up about two feet. It also gave us more floor space since the house wasn’t very big. It was a good system and worked for years, including last year.

But this year, in the new house, we have 18-foot ceilings through out. The house is an open floor plan. Even on a two-foot platform, the Do It Center tree would be dwarfed. It would look like a shrub. So last year, right after Christmas, I went online and started researching taller trees. I figured it was a good time to get a good deal and I was right. 

I did a bunch of research. I wanted one that was tall, but not all the way to the ceiling. I didn’t want one that was too fat – normally the taller the tree, the wider it becomes – but I didn’t want it to take over the room. I wanted it to have presence without being the only presence. I chose what was labeled a narrow fir. It’s about 12’ high. Fits perfectly into the corner of the great room, nestled between two walls of glass. I put it up last night. It took hours. There are six parts, from two boxes, that needed to be connected, from the base to the top. Then all of the branches needed to be unfurled. The tree is so tall the base is on wheels. 

Christmas decorating has officially begun now in earnest. The tree is up, with lights. I have to find the ornaments. My beautiful Karen Didion Santa that Kevin bought years ago is on the hearth, my much smaller Fabriché Santa is on the couch table, and the big Santa that my mom and sister got me years ago, who is the height of a small child, is standing near the tree. 

Tonight, the Byers Choice Carolers come out. Christmas has come to the hill and I’m cheering it out loud.

At the corner of Stockton and O’Farrell

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, February 17, 2015 8:57 PM

The city of San Francisco is built on a hill so that it often appears to be rising out of the fog. Its streets are steep and treacherous, its people all seeming to still have a bit of the Haight inside. The Haight is Haight-Ashbury, the notorious drug scene at the intersection of the 1960s and 70s. It’s a liberal bastion, this city, but also historical and stunning. Situated on the Bay across from its nastier cousin Oakland, San Francisco is home to high finance and technology, rich cultures of art and food, and the fog. The north shore of the city, in Pacific Heights, is where the famed Fisherman’s Wharf is. Fresh seafood comes in daily and it is exquisite. Off the coast and to the east is Treasure Island, to the west is the famed Alcatraz prison, now a tourist spot. Further still to the west is the arching Golden Gate, crossing the entrance to the Pacific.

In the middle, tucked between highways 80 and 101, on the Bay side, is Union Square, one of the world’s premier shopping districts with a huge collection of retail stores, boutiques, art galleries, restaurants, and salons. And in the middle of Union Square, near where the cable cars run, at the corner of Stockton and O’Farrell is a Macy’s Department Store. To most, it’s a typical Macy’s, with numerous floors filled with fairly nice merchandise for women, men and children. There are shoes and jewelry and perfume counters. There is makeup and skin care. It’s a nice store, and it definitely occupies prime real estate in the area that first came to be known because of the pro-Union rallies held before and during the Civil War.

At Christmas time, it is decorated like all department stores. Santa has a North Pole office where he sees children. And it has the most glorious window displays in the country, at least to me.

Now I realize there are still 310 days until Christmas, according to the Christmas clock but I’m already counting and here’s why: dogs and cats, puppies and kittens.

For the past 28 years (this will be the 29th annual), the Macy’s holiday windows for the Christmas season feature homeless animals who need to be adopted. Each year, for nearly three decades, the Union Square Macy’s teams up with the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) to feature dogs, puppies, cats and kittens at play and taking well-deserved naps in holiday-themed windows. Each year the theme changes, but the windows always incorporate animals. The spaces are temperature controlled and safe, and give plenty of opportunity for window watchers to watch. SPCA volunteers are also on hand to answer any questions, and to monitor the hopeful pets. They’re also rotated frequently. Any animal not adopted during the day goes back to their bed at the no-kill shelter for the night.

The tradition began in 1986 when Gump’s Department Store was the first to offer pet adoptions at the holidays. Soon after Macy’s – the flagship store of Macy’s West and in San Francisco since 1866 – and the SPCA began teaming up for the holidays. To date, they’ve adopted more than 4,000 animals, 343 last year alone. They also raised over $100,000 in donations. The long-term goal is to generate enough support and education to help end animal abandonment in the city by 2020.

I didn’t know any of this until today when I stumbled on the story. I love San Francisco – it’s one of my top two cities in the country, along with Chicago – but when Kevin and I go, we don’t tend to do a lot of shopping. Instead, we walk and we go to galleries and great restaurants. Knowing this about Macy’s makes me want to shop there. The fact that it’s one of my favorite places in the country is also a plus. Maybe next year at Christmas, you’ll find us at the corner of Stockton and O’Farrell. Maybe we should book our trip now. After all, there are only 310 days left.

Only 358 days until Christmas

by Lorin Michel Thursday, January 1, 2015 7:59 PM

It is the first day of a brand spanking new year, one that is all shiny and filled with possibility and light. As such, it is the perfect day to say “out with the old, in with the new.” Old ways of thinking and new ways of changing. Old downers and new uppers, if you will. It is also my annual de-Christmasing, something I actually look forward to.

I am, as regular readers know, a bit of a Christmas nut. I love the music, I love the movies, I love the decorations, the festivity and the cheer. I even love the shopping as long as I don’t have to leave the house. Each year, on Thanksgiving weekend, I begin the decorating process. I make my husband hang lights outside. I put up the tree and decorate. I put up any other inside decorations I want to put up, including my Byers Choice Carolers. I put Christmas music on the stereo. I am a happy little Christmas clam.

As the month of December roars along, I purchase and wrap presents. Some go under the tree; others get shipped. I enjoy the season, I welcome the cold. I even do Christmas cards.

Then Christmas day arrives and it’s wonderful. The day after Christmas we go wine tasting. And then the week sort of meanders toward New Year’s Eve. By the time that rolls around, I’m done with all the celebrating, if not the joy. Don’t get me wrong. I remain filled with fa-la-la-la-la and all that jazz throughout the year. I am, as Ebenezer Scrooge finally decided, filled with the Christmas spirit.

Sort of. Except when I’m pissed at traffic, or clients, or the world in general.

On New Year’s Day, therefore, I de-Christmas. It’s a tradition and a process. I start by bringing all of the decorations I need to put away into one central location, like the eat-at bar in the kitchen. I take the lights off the tree, as well as any ornaments (which I haven’t actually hung in years so that helps). I go to the storage area and retrieve the myriad of boxes that I need in order to put everything away. I box my big display Santa, a gift from my mom and sister years ago. He’s the size of a small child and stands in the corner. I box my Karen Didion wine Santa, a gift from my husband several years ago. I take the other smaller wine Santa off the table, and the one from the top of the tree (no angels in this wine-soaked house), and put them away. I take the wreath off the front door as well as any lights that have been strung outside.

One by one, things get boxed and put away. Sometimes, like this morning, I do all of this while listening, for the last time, to Christmas music. It’s like the last hurrah.

The season has come to end. We celebrated the beginning of the end last night when snow started to fall around 10:30. It was the perfect way for the Christmas season to finish. We had hot chocolate today and toast, just like I used to have when I was a kid and we had a snow day. As I looked around my de-Christmased house, which always seems oddly empty for the first few hours after everything is put away, I was struck by two things: There are only 358 days until Christmas, and 332 days until re-Christmasing.


Memories of Christmas

by Lorin Michel Thursday, December 25, 2014 10:04 PM

I remember going to my grandmother’s when I was little, my dad’s mom. She lived in a very small house in a very small town. It was the house my dad had grown up in. My grandmother’s bedroom was off the kitchen; the attic had been converted to two small bedrooms. One was my dad’s; one his sister’s. When we’d visit, I have no recollection of where everyone slept. I think my dad slept on the couch. I think all of the children slept upstairs. Maybe my mother and grandmother shared the bed in the bedroom? If that’s the case, I can’t imagine my mother was very happy about it. She and my grandmother didn’t get along particularly well.

There was one bathroom, also off the kitchen in the back of the house. I remember coming downstairs to go to the bathroom one Christmas Eve. My dad was still watching TV. As soon as I appeared at the top of the stairs he jumped up to find out what I was doing, what I needed. He ushered me to the bathroom, trying to shield me from seeing what “Santa” had already delivered. But I saw anyway. A Baby Tenderlove, a doll I had asked for.

I remember my mom and sister coming out to California for Christmas and staying with Tim and I in our new house. He and I did not have a good marriage and they got to see it in all of its nastiness. I do remember that I got my first Byer’s Choice Caroler that year, a choir conductor in Dickensian garb. My mom and sister got me a Byer’s Choice lamp. My collection officially began that year even as my marriage was ending. I now have at least 50 if not more.

I remember my first Christmas with Kevin. His two sisters came to California to stay for a week. They flew from Chicago, through Utah, to pick up Justin. For some reason, I felt like a third wheel. It was stupid, and entirely me. No one else made me feel that way. Justin was 4. My sister got engaged that year and it made me very depressed because I was so far away.

I remember waiting one year until Christmas Eve to get a tree. That’s because Justin didn’t fly in until that day, and we wanted to do the tree with him. He was still little. Maybe 7 or 8. The tree lot had trees that were 3 feet tall or 13 feet tall; nothing in between. As we had vaulted ceilings in the Oak Park house, we opted for the 13 footer. We got it home, somehow, and into the tree stand. We strung it with lights. We decorated. The next morning, at about 5:30, we heard a panicked little voice from the doorway. Mom! Dad! The tree fell over! We had neglected to secure the top of the tree and the weight of it in a tiny little stand was enough to send it toppling. Very little broke. Most of the ornaments even stayed on. We re-righted it, tied the top to the air vent and had Christmas as normal. I still remember my mother laughing and saying “you got a 13 foot tree and didn’t secure the top?” The subtext: I’m sure I taught you better than that!

I remember the first Christmas we didn’t have Justin. He was working in New York and had decided to go to his girlfriend’s house as it was easier and closer. We skyped with him when we were at Roy and Bobbi’s for dinner.

I remember so much of Christmas’s past. This year, we’re making new memories. Roy and Bobbi are with us for the first time. We went out last night. Today, we all slept in, then started opening presents around 11 o’clock. I think we finished somewhere close to 2. We had mimosas. We had coffee cake. We laughed and shared and made merry.

Tonight we’ll watch the George C. Scott version of A Christmas Carol, a gift from my husband. We’ll pour wine into Kevin’s new wine decanter. We’ll have homemade manicotti and garlic bread. I’ll toss a salad in my new salad bowl. We’ll continue making merry and making memories because that’s what Christmas is all about.

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a celebratory night.

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live out loud

Happy Christmas Eve

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, December 24, 2014 8:38 PM

It’s a beautiful day in the desert as I write this, 55º with a slight breeze. It seems both impossible and completely plausible that today is Christmas Eve and tomorrow is Christmas. Such is life in the desert southwest. I have become used to it and yet I always hope that there will at least be clouds. Perhaps it’s my upbringing, but Christmas always seems more Christmasy when there is weather.

Today is filled with a lot of nothingness. Luckily all of the shopping has been done, the presents are wrapped. Even the shopping for food has been done. I will make a big pan of manicotti, Kevin’s favorite, then put it in the refrigerator for tomorrow. It’s always better if it has a day to sit. Tomorrow I’ll simply put it in the oven; I’ll make garlic bread and a salad.

Tonight at the Arizona Inn

This afternoon we’ll go for a walk, then do a bit of wine tasting. Tonight we’ll go to the Arizona Inn and sit in the library. It’s so terribly civilized, cultured. Each year they do a gorgeous Christmas tree with thousands of lights and ornaments. We’ll sit in front of the fire and sip a glass of fine red wine as music plays softly in the background. Afterward, maybe we’ll stop at Pastiche, one of our favorite restaurants. There isn’t much open tonight, but they are… until 9.

When we return to the house, we’ll have more wine. Some stuffed mushrooms, some additional munchies. We’ll listen to music; put a movie in with no sound. We’ll enjoy the season.

It’s Christmas Eve. Tomorrow is Christmas. We’ll be leisurely and open presents. We may have mimosas. It’s the only time of year we do that, and it makes the day that much more special. It’s supposed to be cloudy and perhaps rain. Rain and cold makes it, somehow, more festive though not more joyous. The joy comes regardless. It’s the joy of giving, of sharing, of laughter and the season. I’m a sucker for this season and all that it brings. The music, the gifts, the decorations, the movies. This year it also brings our good friends Roy and Bobbi. It’s the first year we haven’t had Justin, but we’re making a new tradition and spending it with friends instead. Next year, we’ll be in the new house. It will be another special year.

This Christmas Eve, we’re celebrating a beautiful day, and a fun evening to follow. We’re going wine tasting. We’re cooking. We’re enjoying. We’re watching and listening.

And we’re wishing everyone a Happy Christmas Eve.

25 days

by Lorin Michel Saturday, November 1, 2014 8:45 PM

Once upon a time, the countdown to how many shopping days until Christmas started around the first part of December and progressed at a frenetic level until it became like a countdown for a rocket launch: Uh oh, 5. No, 4. OMG, 3. You are so screwed 2. And fuggedaboutit 1. Now along comes Overstock, a website that I’ve been frequenting lately because I’ve been able to find some amazing things for the house at equally amazing prices. They have a Countdown to Black Friday 2014 clock. As of right now it says:

26 days : 14 hours : 33 minutes

I love this time of year and can I just pause right now to be among the first to wish you, dear readers, happy holidays. I’ve written before about my love of the season, how I adore the music (as long as it’s more along the jazzy side) and the movies. I love the weather; I even love shopping, something I don’t love at any other time during the year.

But a countdown clock to Black Friday? Come. On.

This is why many get disgusted. The commercialization of Christmas and the holidays in general gets more and more out of control every year. The build up becomes such that you almost can’t help but be let down when Christmas day rolls around and everything is over by 2 pm.

Years ago, my mother used to get very into Christmas. She would spend so much time preparing for the holidays. Shopping, baking cookies. She even used to do her own Christmas cards. She loved to decorate the house, and especially loved to decorate once we moved to New England where more traditional exterior lights are not just the norm, but dictated by town ordnance. In New England, and especially in Amherst where my mother lives, everyone puts white candle lights in their windows. Rarely do you see lights strung along the rafters, but if you do, it’s done in good taste. Those lights are often white as well. Wreaths made from the fallen bows of pines and wired with pine cones that have also fallen adorn the doors. It’s very Normal Rockwell. You half expect to see a horse drawn sleigh going through downtown.

What you actually see are Volvos and Range Rovers, with lots of horses under the hood.

By the time Christmas afternoon appeared, she would start to get down. By evening, she’d be depressed. The Christmas’ never quite lived up to Rockwell’s imagination. She finally came to the realization that no one lives like a Rockwell painting, and from then on, she’s been fine.

We have long set our own traditions. Living out west, we’re rarely with family so we’ve made our own west coast family and it’s populated with our closest friends. Justin has always been home, and we always have a lovely Christmas morning, and then usually go to Roy and Bobbi’s for dinner. The next day we go wine tasting. It’s a way to extend the holiday.

This year, Roy and Bobbi are coming to spend it with us. We’re so excited. It will be a new tradition; one we hope to continue.

And at Thanksgiving, all of us are going to Paso Robles to go wine tasting. This is a new adventure, too. For years, we always had Thanksgiving at our house, where all the “stray dogs” – people who didn’t have family, or who had family they didn’t care to be with – would come. This year, we leave on Thanksgiving morning to drive to the Central Coast of California. Have a makeshift Thanksgiving dinner, and start wine tasting on Friday and Saturday. It will be Kevin and I (and Cooper), Roy and Bobbi, and Diane and Gene. The perfect holiday.

So we won’t even be around for Black Friday. Overstock’s clock will continue to tick down (26 days: 14 hours : 16 minutes) and rather than frantically shopping, we’ll be enjoying good friends. In 25 days. And on Black Friday, we’ll make it Red Wine Day. That’s living it out loud in holiday style.

The celebration of sadness, and joy, in A Charlie Brown Christmas

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, December 11, 2013 11:30 PM

A Charlie Brown Christmas first premiered on December 9, 1965. Evidently the executives at CBS, where the show first aired, saw a rough cut in November of that year and hated it. It was slow, there was no laugh track, the characters were voiced by real children rather than adult voice actors, and the score was way too jazzy. They were also very concerned that Linus told the story of Christmas from the Gospel of Luke. Too religious. They were sure they had ruined the idea of Charlie Brown forever.

The show premiered on that fateful Thursday, and it was watched by nearly 50% of the people watching television that night, about 15 million homes. It was second in ratings only to Bonanza. That horrible score by jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi has since become one of the most popular Christmas recordings ever. Each year when the show airs, on different networks now, it still draws huge audiences. It aired this year on December 2, and will air again on December 19. 7.1 million people watched it on December 2nd. For a broadcast that is 48 years old, that’s impressive.

I am a sucker for A Charlie Brown Christmas and not just because of the music, though the soundtrack remains one of my favorites. I think I like it because it seems to celebrate both sadness and joy, something profound for adults let alone children. Yes, it’s obviously about the commercialization of Christmas, something that has done nothing but increase since the show first aired in 1965. In the first showing, Coca Cola was a prominent sponsor. According to some, it was a Coke advertising executive who first suggested doing a Peanuts Christmas special. Naturally it would have to have something about Coke as a reference. When the show first aired and Snoopy tossed Linus out of the skating rink, Linus landed against a Coca Cola sign. The sponsorship references were later removed. The special now airs free of any reference to any product whatsoever.

Poor Charlie Brown, ever the pessimist, can’t get into the spirit of Christmas and no matter what he does, from looking into his mailbox for Christmas cards to watching Snoopy decorate his doghouse for a contest to directing the school pageant, he’s miserable. He goes to get a Christmas tree and gets the smallest, most pathetic tree on the lot, with about five needles on its five branches. The kids laugh at him, call him a blockhead, and leave him to wonder if he has any idea what Christmas is really all about.

Cue Linus, who recounts the story about the shepherds and God bringing them tidings of great joy. This cheers our intrepid hero who picks up his tree, and goes home to discover that Snoopy’s overly decorated and gaudy doghouse has won first place. He takes an ornament and hangs it on the tree, which promptly tips over. Even more distraught, Charlie Brown walks away dejected. The other Peanuts kids find it, decorate it and suddenly it’s a lovely little tree, full of hope and promise and joy and the spirit of seeing goodness in all things, in all people.

I don’t know if that’s the ultimate message. It always has been to me. There is a sadness that can permeate the season, when we’re missing those we’ve lost, those closest to us and separated by miles and a country. There is also the sadness of expectations, most of which are overblown. Expectations are things we put on ourselves. Sometimes they’re legitimate, but sometimes they’re based on something that never existed to begin with. Normal Rockwell comes to mind. He painted a picture of a big family celebrating Christmas together and it was somehow deemed that everyone must celebrate accordingly or their Christmas was wrong.

Christmas is what we make it. Some choose to celebrate, some do not. Some spend it with family, some with friends. Sometimes the gatherings are big, something they’re small. The point is to celebrate together; to celebrate the goodness and joy.

As for Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree, I think it’s a metaphor. Things may look bleak and doomed, but with a few well-placed lights and ornaments, life begins to look brighter. A Charlie Brown Christmas celebrates sadness without condemning it, and it welcomes joy without exploiting it. Sadness and joy intermingle like two exquisite flavors of the same dish to create what is ultimately Christmas. That’s why I love this holiday classic. It clearly states the meaning of Christmas between friends and family, sharing, arguing, enjoying. It has nothing to do with the Gospel of Luke and everything to do with us mere mortals, down here on the planet, together, even when apart; together always. 

Oh Christmas tree

by Lorin Michel Sunday, December 8, 2013 12:00 AM

Today’s the day we put up our Christmas tree. I’ve been threatening to do it since Thanksgiving, which was just last week. Usually there is at least two weeks between turkey day and when I finally get the tree up and semi decorated. Semi-decorated means that it has lights and usually something at the top. We don’t put an angel at the top. We have a Santa holding a wine glass. It seems appropriate.

My husband can have a tendency to get a little cranky around the holidays. One year, when Justin was still in high school, he was being a particular kind of bear and we were fighting about getting a tree. Until that day, we had always gotten a live tree but as he was wearing his Ebenezer Scrooge outfit, and I was mad, I decided to go buy a nice artificial instead. We’ve used it every year since and I actually like it quite a bit.

We used to hang all kinds of ornaments every year. It was a big deal when Justin was little. Like most kids, decorating the Christmas tree was always something he loved to do, placing all of his ornaments in about the same two-foot area on the front of the tree. After he went to bed, we would carefully redistribute the ornaments in order to have a bit more balance. If he ever noticed, he never said anything. His job was to decorate. After he was done, he never gave it another thought.

One Christmas we waited until Christmas Eve to get a tree and by the time we got to the lot, there were two sizes left: short and Rockefeller Center. We opted for the Rockefeller Center. Somehow we got it tied to the roof of the car, got it home and into the tree stand. We had to move large pieces of furniture to give it enough room as it was probably at least 13 feet tall. We strung lights, we hung ornaments and we went to bed. The next morning, Justin came into our room as he always did on Christmas. It was still dark since it was probably about 5:30. He was excited to see what Santa had left, or so we thought. He went over to Kevin’s side of the bed and whispered: Dad! The tree fell over!

The next hour or so was spent resurrecting our fallen tree. I’m relatively sure they never have that problem at Rockefeller Center in New York. Miraculously, we only had one ornament break. With the tree back in place, Kevin tied string to the top and secured it to the air vent that was up near the top of the vaulted ceiling. When I was recounting the story to my mother later that day, she laughed and said: you got a 13 foot tall Christmas tree and didn’t secure it to anything? Lesson learned. After that, we just got smaller trees.

It was Germany that started the tradition of Christmas trees. It was in the 16th century and devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes to celebrate the birth of Christ, a date that was actually chosen by the Romans centuries earlier. Some Christians built pyramids of wood and decorated them with evergreen boughs. Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer, was the first to suggest lit candles for a tree. It was done to commemorate the brilliant twinkling of the stars above the pine trees.

Americans were slow to embrace the tradition of a tree in the house. German settlers in Pennsylvania had trees in their homes and a community tree in 1747. But other Americans saw trees as pagan symbols. Christmas was a sacred time to the puritan Pilgrims and William Bradford, the second governor, penalized anyone partaking in such frivolity, something he deemed pagan mockery. Oliver Cromwell also preached about the heathen traditions of Christmas carols, decorated trees and any joyful expression related to the birth of Christ. In 1659, Massachusetts passed a law making any observance of December 25, other than at a church service, illegal. People were fined for hanging decorations of any kind. But the steady arrival of German and Irish immigrants eventually undermined the ridiculous law and by the late 1890s, handmade Christmas ornaments as well as Christmas trees became the norm. Once there was electricity, trees also began to appear in town squares. The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree tradition started during the Depression in 1931. It was small and unadorned, placed by construction workers at the center of the construction site as they were building the plaza what would eventually house Radio City Music Hall, RCA NBC and he famous skating rink. Two years later, a tree with lights appeared. In 1948, the tallest Rockefeller Center tree was erected at 100 feet. Each year the tree twinkles with more than 25,000 lights.

Our tree is 7 feet tall. We hang wine-grape lights and small wine-bottle lights. We supplement with strands of red and wine lights. These days, we often don’t hang a single ornament. It’s festive enough. We love to plug it in at night and just let the warmth of the lights illuminate the house. It’s perfect, it’s festive. It’s our own little pagan celebration for the season. A little O’ Christmas Tree on the hi-fi, and life is be nearly perfect. 

Thoughts on this Sunday morning

by Lorin Michel Sunday, November 24, 2013 11:18 PM

The rain has stopped and huge white clouds, some still tinged with gray, drift across the sky. Dramatic shadows grace the foothills making them appear closer and curiously farther away at the same time.

Until recently I sometimes wondered when to use the word further and when to use the word farther. It’s one of those strange phenomena that I never took the time to look up. I was watching something online and one of the characters corrected another character’s use of the word further when he meant farther. Farther connotes actual distance; further is metaphorical distance. Farther has the word far in it. A good way to remember.

I need to wash the car but the dance of the clouds above has me eyeing them with suspicion. The saying goes like this: want it to rain? Wash your car. Of course, I’ve put off washing the car for two weeks and I’m glad I did because it poured for two days. Now the car looks horrible, and I am very particular as to how my car looks.

I’m in the kitchen, at the bar, writing and listening to Seascapes on Live365, a station that has nothing to do with the sea and everything to do with ambient music. Very soothing; very Sunday. I should have the football games on. I’m simply not in the mood. Football makes my blood pressure rise and I have too much to do today to have a heart attack.

See above statement about washing the car.

Justin is home. He flew in last night, arriving about midnight, nearly two hours later than originally scheduled. Buffalo had weather that delayed his departure by about a half an hour. He changed planes in Las Vegas, and because of weather in Las Vegas, as well as the rest of the country, McCarren was running about an hour and a half behind for every single departure. We had dinner around 1 am; bed at 2:30.

Justin and Kevin are out running errands. Kidlet forgot his powercord for his computer and he has a big project due for a final and wanted to work on it while he’s home. It’s on a program that Kevin and I don’t have so he needs his computer. They think they can get something at Best Buy.

Yesterday while cleaning the house in anticipation of Justin’s arrival, Kevin had a great idea on what to do with my Byer’s Choice Carolers. I’ve been collecting these Carolers since the late 1980s. I’m not a collector generally, but I love these guys. Their old Victorian England look, the way they’re all individual. As a fan of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, I also have first editions of each one of the characters from that story, most courtesy of my husband. I have some displayed already and year round. But I had many still in a plastic transport box. They used to all co-exist in a curio cabinet I had but I tired of the cabinet and sold it in a garage sale years ago. They haven’t had a permanent home since.

Kevin was in the dining room with me looking at the hutch that isn’t nearly full since I left much of our stuff in boxes. I didn’t unpack the china, or the antique china. I didn’t put out a lot of my good glassware. He said why not put some Carolers in the hutch?


So several Carolers are now in the hutch, dispersed throughout the glass shelves. I put an antique tapestry runner on the dining room table with a Santa in his sleigh, another Santa holding a glass of wine. It looks festive, but not too Christmasy. I decorate; I don’t over decorate. Plus, it’s not yet Thanksgiving. As much as I’m itching for the music and to put up my tree, I have to exercise restraint else my boys will lock me in a closet.

Cooper is snoozing on the floor next to me. His feet are racing. He’s off in a field somewhere and the breeze is blowing through his fur, the sun is on his back. Life is good.

Justin just texted me. They’re on their way back; it’s ok for me to start cooking breakfast. Soon I’ll have all my boys here. Life is good indeed. 

And a bunch of birds next to a palm tree

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, November 20, 2013 11:27 PM

One of the signature songs of the holiday season is The Twelve Days of Christmas. It was first published in England in 1780 but not as a song. It was a rhyme, or chant, thought to be French in origin. It appeared in a book for kids called Mirth without Mischief, and became a game where one person would recite a verse and the players would repeat the verse. The person would add another verse and the players would repeat that as well as the verses that had come before until somebody made a mistake.

The rhymes/verses were set to music in 1909 by English composer Frederic Austin who also gave the song the prolonged “five golden rings.” Originally, it was just five gold rings. The golden adds so much more.

Some say the lyrics have no meaning at all. Some say that perhaps the gifts described have some sort of significance. For the life of me, I can’t figure out who needs eight maids a-milking or 10 lords a-leaping. Who has the room for them? Some, like the Catholic church, believe that – at least originally – there was meaning to each verse. Because Roman Catholics in England weren’t permitted to practice their faith openly between 1558 and 1829, the church believes that the rhyme and now carol has a code word for religious reality inside each element, and that the twelve corresponds to the twelve fruits of the Holy Ghost.

According to Ann Ball, who wrote the Handbook of Catholic Sacramentals, the two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments; the three French hens stood for faith, hope and love; the four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; the five gold rings represented the first five books of the Old Testament; six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation; seven swans a-swimming represented prophesy, serving, teaching, exhortation, contribution, leadership and mercy; eight maids a-milking were the eight beatitudes; nine ladies dancing were charity, joy, peace, patience, goodness, mildness, fidelity, modesty and continency; the ten lords a-leaping were the Ten Commandments; the eleven pipers stood for the eleven faithful Apostles; and the twelve drummers symbolized the twelve points of belief in The Apostles’ Creed. The true love doing the giving was Jesus Christ. 

To which I say Dog!

I prefer to think of it as just a harmless little ditty that goes on a tad too long. I’ve always found it a personal challenge to actually remember the verses. I seem to forget every year, and though I love Christmas music, I tend to listen more to jazz and instrumental, even new age Christmas. I don’t know that I’ve heard a saxophone version of The Twelve Days of Christmas. And I don’t know that I care to.

You’re wondering what all of this has to do with anything. It’s quite simple, actually. I thought of the song today as we were walking and came upon a tree loaded with doves. They were spread out on the branches, silhouetted against the clouding sky. They were ghostly, almost statuesque. The day, like the sky, was cold. There wasn’t so much as a coo emitted from any of them. They were just a bunch of birds in a tree, a bunch of birds next to a palm tree.

Which was, according to my research, the original first verse of The Twelve Days of Christmas when my true love gave to me a bunch of birds next to a palm tree.

Again I ask: Who has room for that kind of gift? 

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