A growly bear Christmas

by Lorin Michel Thursday, December 26, 2013 12:07 AM

Guest post by Cooper

I got up really early this morning, even for me. It was still dark. I don’t know what woke me up but once I’m up I need to get out of my kennel and stretch and shake. Sometimes I get up on the bed, after first putting my cold nose on mom’s nose. That’s the way I know she’s really awake cause she says Cooper! Dad took me out and then I came back and got up for a nap. I guess I got up on the wrong side of the kennel though cause every time mom moved, I growled. I don’t know why but I did and she kept telling me to shush and that if I didn’t settle down. She never finishes that sentence when she says it. I guess she thinks I can finish it for her.

If I didn’t settle down then she’d make me sleep there all day. That’s what I think.

I didn’t settle down but I didn’t get to sleep there all day either because I found out it was Christmas. I kind of knew something was going on because there was a tree in the house and mom kept playing all this special music and then there were boxes under the tree and a round tree on the front door that lit up at night. I know it was at night because when we went for a walk in the morning it was just this round tree, but when we went for another walk and came home at night it was lit up.

Dad kept talking about Santa Paws coming to visit. I don’t always like it when people come to visit, especially if I don’t know them though mom and dad both say I’m getting better. I don’t like guys in uniforms and I heard that this Santa guy wears a red uniform. I wasn’t sure I’d like him if he came to the door. Turns out he comes down the chimney. Now I stood in front of the chimney this morning and I looked and I thought, how does anybody fit down that? Plus we had a fire last night and I know that fire can burn, especially if you’re in fur like me. Santa’s uniform also has fur so I didn’t think that was a good idea.

Me and Santa Butt

When we came out this morning, there was nobody else here but Justin – I really like Justin. He can come visit any time – so I figured that Santa didn’t come. Then I got some new toys and one was a Santa Butt! I looked at dad like, is this the Santa you were talking about? He just laughed.

I got to have some new cookies that my Aunt Khristan sent and that Justin gave me. I like cookies a lot. I watched everybody open their presents and laugh and talk. I was right in the middle, under the table so I could see everything, from where I was by mom’s feet. She pushed on me once or twice, by accident and I didn’t do growly bear because I only do growly bear when I’m on the bed. Don’t know why. It just seems like the place to do growly bear.

But one time, I was in front of the fire and mom came over to pet on me and I gave her a little growly bear and she laughed and said Merry Christmas, growly bear. And so I growled again.

Then I went and got my Santa Butt to chew on because dad said nothing says Christmas like a Santa Butt and since I didn’t get to meet the real Santa his butt is the next best thing. At least that’s what I think. 

Feliz Navidad

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, December 24, 2013 10:02 PM

Spending our first holiday season in the Old Pueblo has introduced us to a number of new festivities. There was the snow at La Encantada, blasted out of mini snow machines at 6 and 6:45 on Friday and Saturday nights as carolers sang below. It was actually very Christmasy, and certainly cold enough for snow. That’s something we had not expected in our move from Southern California. It gets cold there, to be sure, but it seems colder here in the desert. I’ve spent the last weeks bundled up even in the house. The night we went to La Encantada for snow, we had to duck into a local restaurant and sit next to their fire so I could get warm. It felt very much like the holidays.

The spectacle that is Winterhaven is quite something. This is a neighborhood not far from here where they’ve had an annual Festival of Lights every year since 1949 when a man named CB Richards created the small residential area. It was Mr. Richards who purchased the first lights used in the first festival. He also purchased the Aleppo pine trees that line the neighborhood, quite out of place in the desert, except during the Christmas season when the temperatures often curl around 30 degrees. There are electrical connections near each tree so that hundreds of thousands of white, red, blue and green lights can blaze beautifully, in the trees and on the houses. Those lights have shown brightly every year save one, during the energy crunch in the 1970s. It’s a stunning display and something Kevin and I had never experienced before moving here. What’s even better is that cars are only allowed on three nights, and two of those are after Christmas.

The Festival is free but the residents request a donation of canned food. In 2012, they raised nearly $21,000 and offered approximately 34,000 pounds of food to the local food bank.

Many homes outside of Winterhaven also decorate for the season. As newcomers we wondered if somehow the Dark Skies Ordnance, which dictates there be no bright lights at night, including street lights, would preclude people from putting lights on their houses and dancing reindeer in their front yards. We needn’t have wondered. Many trim their homes in lights, and wire-framed reindeer graze merrily. Luminarias are also plentiful. These candlelit brown paper bags are also called farolitos, meaning little lanterns, which according to my research may or may not be the correct term. The tradition of using these small lanterns first began in the 16th century as a way to light the way toward Midnight Mass on the final night of Las Posadas, a reenactment of the story of Mary and Joseph and their search for an inn in Bethlehem.

I’ve long loved the look of luminarias. In the past, paper bags were filled with sand and a candle was placed inside. Today, there are electric luminarias, undoubtedly safer and easier, though not quite as eerily beautiful, with the live flame contained and dancing inside the bag.

Experiencing the holiday season in Tucson has been one of wonder and joy, an adventure in finding the right coat to wear. For 25 plus years, our Christmases were spent in Los Angeles. While we didn’t have family there we did have our closest friends, our chosen family. We would all gather for Christmas dinner; the day after would be spent wine tasting in Santa Barbara county. It’s hard to move to a new area and I worried about the holidays especially. I wondered if we would be lonely, if we’d find new traditions. What we’ve found is a city alive with spirit, and color, and lights, and that this season – my favorite – is bursting with local traditions, new to us, perhaps to others as well. From light festivals like Winterhaven to the historic Arizona Inn, where 2500 tiny lights are strung on a 16 foot tree that’s then decorated with glass, wooden Santas, colored tin ornaments from Mexico, white doves and more we have found music, snow, theatre and Tucsonans making merry.

We have a tree in our new home, my Byer’s Choice Carolers collection, and a simple wreath on our front door, one with white lights and flocked snow. At night, it illuminates the drive and lights our way.

Each evening, when the temperatures drop and Christmas lights blaze to life, the new traditions present themselves readily. We put on a heavy coat and a scarf, gloves for our hands, and with our beloved Cooper in tow, off we go to walk through our local neighborhoods, breathing in our new city and its festivities. We find ourselves marveling at the decorations, listening to the sounds of children playing and dogs barking, of shoppers rushing to and fro. We’re at home here – we’ve come home – and we’re embracing our new lives in the Old Pueblo. Feliz Navidad indeed.

Parade of lights

by Lorin Michel Monday, December 16, 2013 10:55 PM

Catalina Highway begins at Tanque Verde to the east and ascends in a straight line, north toward Mount Lemmon. From the moment you turn onto it, you’re overwhelmed by the stretch of road ahead, one where there are precious few cars, and one that appears to be headed directly into the foothills. They jut up into the sky, red rocks and cactus, an imposing feast of nature beckoning you ever forward. Cyclists love this road. It’s not uncommon to find more people on bicycles than in cars.

Along the two-lane roadway, there are houses tucked in and between saguaros and prickly pear, mesquite and other desert brush. They are almost all desert architecture, low to the ground with flat roofs. They are not too close together. Rather they’re spread out and comfortable. Rarely do you see people outside of these houses; occasionally someone will be walking a dog.

Before the climb begins to Mount Lemmon there are two stop signs, one at Houghton, the other at Snyder. Just past Snyder, about five miles up from where the road began, it begins to climb up and to the east, twisting its way through the Catalina foothills on its way to the mountain. Just before this climb, there is a road called Mount Lemmon Short road. It is back off of this road, and nestled into the hills, where our property resides. It’s quiet during the day, pitch black at night save for the twinkling stars and on this night, a full moon tucked behind a veil of clouds.

It’s a beautiful area, peaceful, serene, away from most of the city. In fact, it is outside the city limits though still within the arms of the county. On Saturday, suited up in our leathers we rode the Highway. I happened to see a fire truck parked in someone’s driveway, completely decked out for the holidays, with tinsel and Santa and his sleigh on top. Lights dripped along the metal, nearly obscuring the truck’s true identity; a wreath adorned the grill. Kevin didn’t see it. On the way back down, I pointed it out. We figured it had to be for a parade. People decorate for the holidays, some even decorate vehicles, but not like this.

There is a tractor in a field near where we live that is outlined in lights. At night, it is lit up, the lights lining the wheels appearing to turn. Smoke in the guise of blue lights pushes out the chimney. There is an old Toyota Land Cruiser Jeep, with a right hand drive, in the street across the way. It is parked in someone’s front yard, also strewn with lights. An inflatable reindeer is on top. Inside, at the wheel, an inflatable Santa.

Down the street, in an area called Winter Haven, the houses are all decorated and ready for the steady stream of visitors who walk and drive through each Christmas for two weeks. There are enormous pine trees that reach toward the stars, real smoke curls from chimneys, Christmas music plays. It’s as if moving through a film. It’s a destination for people all over the city, a chance to experience the magic of Christmas. Norman Rockwell meets Clark Griswald.

Today, I saw the fire truck again, on Facebook. It was announcing the annual Parade of Lights, an event that takes place this Saturday night. The truck will undoubtedly be part of the parade that will start with a tree lighting and will see dozens of entrants, all showcasing beauty and creativity. The parade theme is creativity in the use of lights.

Off of Catalina Highway, outside the city limits, was one entry already prepared to lead the way, from our neighborhood to downtown and beyond. It’s going to be something to see. Very festive, joyous. Colorful. It’s the spirit of the season lit up for the world, living it out loud along streets trimmed to be very merry. I can’t wait. 

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. 

Fresh Aire

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, December 4, 2013 11:57 PM

My boyfriend’s roommate in college was a guy named Kevin. He was an absolutely gorgeous guy and knew it. Fancied himself to be a model and took pictures of himself on a regular basis as he tried to get a modeling contract somewhere, anywhere that would take him far away from New Hampshire. Once we got to know him we realized that the reason he wanted to leave, to run as if the place was toxic, was because to him, it was. He had a very bad home life, an alcoholic mother, an abusive father and siblings who had left as quickly as they could.

Kevin was very into his stereo system and he had one that was spectacular. I don’t remember much about the receiver or the turntable or the tape deck, but I do remember the speakers. They were Polk Audio, something I had never heard of. I didn’t know much about stereo equipment at that time; I don’t know much about it now other than what constitutes good brands and what doesn’t. But the speakers Kevin had were like pieces of furniture in their dorm room. They were on stands and the speakers themselves stood at least four feet if not five feet high. At the top, they had fuses for the tweeters, if memory serves. They were the clearest sounding speakers I had ever heard, perhaps have heard to this day. He would put on an album and it was if the group was in the room with us.

If was one of the few things I liked about Kevin at first.  The other was that he introduced me to something called Fresh Aire. I thought it was the group’s name. I would learn much later that the group was actually Mannheim Steamroller, and that Fresh Aire was an album series the group started in 1975. Each tract on each of the subsequent eight albums through Fresh Aire 8 in 2000 explored the four seasons using electric bass guitar and synthesizers, amazing sounds that escaped Kevin’s Polk Audios with such clarity they broke the windows, literally. They also blew the fuses on a regular basis. Kevin would put the albums on the turntable and turn up the volume and suddenly it would be spring, or summer, winter or fall. Birds, snow, wind and rain. The music was technically classified as baroque classical and light jazz with an even lighter sense of humor. The group used any and all instruments that seemed appropriate, including a toy piano on one piece and a pipe organ on another. Harpsichord was their instrument of choice. In the latter albums they ventured beyond the seasons to include the moon, Greek mythology, numerology and infinity.

Mannheim Steamroller began as an alias for producer/musician Chip Davis. The name came from the 18th century German musical technique, the Mannheim roller, a crescendo passage having a rising melodic line over a bass line and popularized by the Mannheim school of composition. When they couldn’t get a major label, they formed their own, called American Gramaphone. They’re still still recording today.

They’ve since become known largely for their Christmas music, of which we have many CDs including A Fresh Aire Christmas and Christmas in the Aire. The music, while largely recognizable is still steeped in the harpsichord and remains largely baroque type music played on largely baroque type instruments. Some now call it progressive rock, but it will always be Fresh Aire to me. 

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live out loud

Welcoming December

by Lorin Michel Monday, December 2, 2013 11:40 PM

I’ve made no secret of my love of Christmas. I love the music, the lights. I love the smells, the spicy pine, the cookies (even though I don’t eat cookies), the atmosphere. I even love the ridiculous blow-up Santas and Frosties on top of car dealerships. It might be nostalgia. When I was growing up my mom always made Christmas-time special. We lived far from other family so it was often just the five of us but she was – and is – a great baker. She loved to decorate. We had two trees: one in the family room that was for the kids. Twinkling colored lights and all of the mismatched colored ornaments, homemade ornaments; my brother’s train set. The one in the living room was hers. She and my dad would sometimes flock the tree before bringing it in, then she’d string white lights with no twinkle, followed by gold garland. It was a very deliberate process and one that largely bored the kids after a while. She would pull out the glass ornaments and the white and gold balls, the fancier ornaments. She hung each very deliberately. After several hours, the tree was done.

The presents went under my mother’s tree. On Christmas morning we would gather in the living room and open them, one at a time. We always thought that was horrible, mean and slow, but now, I understand. She was trying to preserve the morning. There’s always so much build-up to Christmas. The music, the television specials, the decorations both outside and inside; the cookies, the shopping, the wrapping, the parties. The hype. And then, if you’re not careful, it’s over in a matter of minutes, or at least it seems like that.

My mother doesn’t do the white tree anymore. She has a smaller wall tree that she sometimes puts up, but often doesn’t. She decorates in different ways now, with garland and lights on the mantle; her antique santas. My sister, with her two kids, has taken up the decorating mantra. I don’t think she does two trees, but maybe she does. I know she has lights and wreaths and more on the outside of the house; Department 56 villages inside. Stockings hung by the chimney with care.

In our house, we put up a tree. The last few years we’ve used wine/grape lights and nothing else. We string some white lights outside but not too many. We have stockings. And my Carolers. We adopted the one present at a time idea when Justin was little and it has served us well. In fact, I think we all prefer it, especially Justin. He likes that we take turns, that we enjoy the morning. We’ll be able to do that this year, too, as he’ll be home again in three weeks.

So it’s December and I’m excited for the holidays. I have quite a bit more shopping to do; I wonder about doing something with cards. In the recent past, we’ve sent out some snail-mail cards. It used to be very important when our older relatives were still alive. They didn’t have computers; didn’t do Internet cards. In the long-ago past, Roy, Bobbi and I always did hand-made cards. We haven’t done them in years. Maybe this year we’ll do an electronic card. I’ll write it, Roy will create art, Bobbi will input it graphically and Kevin will program it.


There are many birthdays this month, starting with Roy tomorrow. Kevin’s is on the 8th, then Khris on the 21st, John on the 27th (or maybe it’s the 28th), mine on the 30th. Kevin and I have at least one nephew with a birthday this month; I believe I have a cousin or two also celebrating. Maguire’s birthday was on Christmas day. Justin’s is on January 2nd, so it’s close but not quite.

December is cold and snowy and wondrous and twinkling and bright and full of cinnamon and sugar and all things light. I welcome it, I celebrate it. I can’t wait for it all to unfold as jazz plays in the background and lights softly announce the season, presents get wrapped, stockings hung and joy shared everywhere.

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? 

In which I commence Christmas shopping

by Lorin Michel Monday, November 11, 2013 10:55 PM

I am a bona fide lover of Christmas. Each year I look forward to the decking of halls and the jingling of bells. I especially love Christmas music. Beginning in late October, right around the time the time changes and the days become lukewarm, the nights nearly cold, I start thinking about when it is permissible to begin playing tunes foretelling good tidings and joy. It is an ongoing discussion in our house with the two men in my life declaring, almost every year, that the day after Thanksgiving is the accepted day. At that point, I am allowed to play Christmas and holiday music as often as I want. I do.

This is a dilemma because of the aforementioned end of October. Truth be told, I have already broken protocol. Just last week, when it was cool and cloudy, I put Winterscapes on live365. I kept it very low so that only Cooper and I could partake in its haunting, Celtic type music. I was trying to get into the spirit.

Usually by this time of year I have secured a number of Christmas presents but this year, for whatever reason, inspiration has escaped me. I have a list for Kevin that only includes three things. Justin has yet to supply us with what he wishes Santa would deliver. I haven’t received anything from my sister as to what the kids are dreaming about finding under the tree. Granted, I haven’t yet asked, but I will.

And then November happened. With it came the avalanche of Christmas-themed commercials. Kmart, which I didn’t even know was still in business, has been busy hyping its layaway program. It won’t be long before my favorite ads commence. Each year I look forward to the Budweiser commercials that look like an animated Currier & Ives Christmas card of old come to life. There are no words spoken, simply the jingle of bells, the low coo of carolers in harmony, and the majestic Clydesdales. They may already be running and I just haven’t seen them yet.

Last week, I was surfing as I so often do and came across an idea for Kevin that wasn’t on the list. I bought it and felt immediate accomplishment. It was something small, something I hadn’t even thought of, didn’t even know about. I doubt he knows about it either. But it allowed me to dip a toe into the shopping waters.

I am not a mall shopper. In fact, my motto for years has been if I can’t find it online, I probably don’t need to buy it. Granted there are usually some items that require a physical trip to the store, items that need to be touched and held; items that are often in specialty gift and boutique stores. One-of-a-kind items I don’t know exist until I see them. But most of my shopping occurs via the internet. I frequent Amazon; I spend time on Ebay. Ebay has changed to be mostly an online swap meet of sorts. Once upon a time, it offered an incredible shopping experience especially where antiques were concerned. One-of-a-kind items for equally special people. I bought a World War I compass for my husband on Ebay; he has purchased many of my first edition Byers’ Choice Carolers on Ebay.

Last night, I was able to find something on Ebay and immediately put in a bid. It’s an antique item that was actually on my Kevin list this year. I was very pleased to have found it; I was thrilled to officially commence with my shopping. Now it’s time to start viewing my favorite holiday movies (any version of A Christmas Carol I can find; Die Hard 1 and 2; Lethal Weapon). I’ll be firing up Winterscapes again and I’ll be turning up the volume proudly. The season has begun. Let’s celebrate the ho-ho.

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