Saturday, December 31

For auld lang syne

Methinks Robert Burns was hitting the Scotch when he wrote this New Year's Eve classic in 1788:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?
For auld lang syne, my jo, for auld lang syne, we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne.
And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp !
and surely I’ll be mine !
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
We twa hae run about the braes,
and pu’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin auld lang syne.
We twa hae paidl’d i' the burn,
frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin auld lang syne.
And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!
and gie's a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak a right gude-willy waught,
for auld lang syne.
Aloha Kanani. 

Welcome McKenna!

On the seventh day of Christmas

On the seventh day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Seven swans-a-swimming, six geese-a-laying
Five golden rings, four calling birds
Three French hens, two turtle doves
And a partridge in a pear tree.

President Abraham Lincoln signed an act on Dec. 31, 1862 that admitted West Virginia to the Union, thus dividing Virginia in two. Rivalry had existed for years between the wealthy slaveowners to the East and the poorer miners and hill folk to the West -- divided by the Appalachian mountains. Lincoln admitted West Virginia with the condition for the gradual abolition of slavery. While many felt that West Virginia's admission as a state was both illegal and unconstitutional, Lincoln issued his Opinion on the Admission of West Virginia finding that "the body which consents to the admission of West Virginia, is the Legislature of Virginia," and that its admission was therefore both constitutional and expedient.

Friday, December 30

On the sixth day of Christmas

On the sixth day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Six geese-a-laying
Five golden rings, four calling birds
Three French hens, two turtle doves
And a partridge in a pear tree.

The United States buys land from Mexico to facilitate railroad building in the Southwest on Jan. 30, 1853 in a deal known as the Gadsden Purchase.

The Gadsden Purchase was a 29,670-square-mile region of modern southern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico that was purchased by the United States in a treaty signed by James Gadsden, the American ambassador to Mexico at the time, on December 30, 1853. It was then ratified, with changes, by the U.S. Senate on April 25, 1854 and signed by President Franklin Pierce, with final approval action taken by Mexico on June 8, 1854. The purchase was the last major territorial acquisition in the contiguous United States, adding a large area to the United States.

Thursday, December 29

On the fifth day of Christmas

On the fifth day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Five golden rings, four calling birds
Three French hens, two turtle doves
And a partridge in a pear tree.

The Young Men's Christian Association (commonly known as YMCA or simply the Y) was founded on June 6, 1844 in London, England and opened its first American YMCA on Dec. 29, 1851 in Boston, Mass. It is one of the many organizations that espouses "Muscular Christianity." Today, YMCAs are open to all, regardless of religion, social class, age, or sex.

However, most people think of the YMCA as a deliciously silly 1978 song by the Village People:

It's fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A.
It's fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A.

Wednesday, December 28

On the fourth day of Christmas

On the fourth day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Four calling birds
Three French hens, two turtle doves
And a partridge in a pear tree.

Dec. 28, 2000 was a sad date in retail history when U.S. retail giant Montgomery Ward announced it was going out of business after 128 years.

Montgomery Ward was founded by Aaron Montgomery Ward in 1872. Ward had conceived of the idea of a dry goods mail-order business in Chicago, Illinois, after several years of working as a traveling salesman among rural customers. The business grew at a fast pace over the next several decades, fueled by demand primarily from rural customers who were also attracted by the innovative and unprecedented company policy of "satisfaction guaranteed or your money back", which Ward began using in 1875.

Laura Ingalls Wilder fans recognize the importance Montgomery Ward catalogues had for those who lived far from the big city:

For themselves, they decided to buy a present together, something they could both use and enjoy. After much studying of Montgomery Ward’s catalogue, they chose to get a set of glassware. They needed it for the table and there was such a pretty set advertised, a sugar bowl, spoon-holder, butter dish, six sauce dishes, and a large oval-shaped bread plate. On the bread plate raised in the glass were heads of wheat and some lettering which read “Give us this day our daily bread.”

Laura Ingalls Wilder
The First Four Years

That breadplate was one of the very few things to survive the housefire that destroyed their home a few years later.

One of Momma's treasures includes an identical antique glass breadplate. (She loves to collect antique china and glass patterns mentioned in her favorite kidlit books. So far she has Laura's breadplate and Blue Willow china as well as Tacy's china pattern in a teacup and saucer. She's trying to hunt down a sandwich tray in Mrs. Ray's china pattern, too.)

Tuesday, December 27

On the third day of Christmas

On the third day of Christmas, 
my true love sent to me 
Three French hens, 
Two turtle doves, 
And a partridge in a pear tree. 

Tonight I think I shall watch Show Boat in honor of its 84th anniversary.

Originally produced by Flo Zeigfeld in New York on Dec. 27, 1927, it was based on Edna Ferber's 1926 novel. The musical is in two acts with music by Jerome Kern and book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II.

The plot chronicles the lives of those living and working on the Cotton Blossom, a Mississippi River show boat, from 1880 to 1927, and its dominant themes include racial prejudice and tragic, enduring love.

Show Boat boldly portrayed racial issues, and was the first racially integrated musical. It was the first Broadway musical to seriously depict an interracial marriage, as in Ferber's original novel, and to feature a character of mixed race who was "passing" for white.

For a great read about life upon a showboat I highly recommend Rosamond du Jardin's malt shop book, Showboat Summer:

A summer vacation aboard the Harwood College Showboat was an exciting prospect for Pam and Penny, the twins of Double Feature. To Penny, it meant being with Mike who had a job on the tugboat that pushed the old Regina from town to town along the Ohio River. To Pam it meant a chance to act, and perhaps a leading role in one of the gala showboat performances.

Monday, December 26

Joyous Kwanzaa

Heri za Kwanzaa. 

American Girl
Neither Momma nor I celebrate Kwanzaa but I was interested in researching it. 

Kwanzaa is a week long celebration held in the United States honoring universal African-American heritage and culture, observed annually from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1.

(Kwanzaa derives from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, meaning first fruits of the harvest.)

Kwanzaa was created as a means to help African Americans reconnect with their African cultural and historical heritage and was first celebrated in 1966–1967. It features activities such as lighting a candle holder with seven candles and culminates in a feast and gift giving.

Kwanzaa symbols include a decorative mat on which other symbols are placed including corn and other crops, a candle holder with seven candles, called a kinara, a communal cup for pouring libations, and gifts. The symbols were designed to convey the seven principles:
  • Umoja (Unity)
  • Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)
  • Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)
  • Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)
  • Nia (Purpose)
  • Kuumba (Creativity)
  • Imani (Faith)

On the second day of Christmas

On the second day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Two turtle doves
And a partridge in a pear tree.

Happy Boxing Day!

Boxing Day is traditionally a day following Christmas when wealthy people in the United Kingdom would give a box containing a gift to their servants or employees. It's also known as St. Stephen's day which makes me wonder if they put him in a box, too.

Here in the States, an excellent story on American Girl dolls appeared last week in the Chicago Tribune:

My only complaint? "American Girl dolls also do not have attitudes, existential crises or politics. They wouldn't join an Occupy protest."

Tsk. They've obviously never met Me!

Sunday, December 25

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night

I don't know about you but I am exhausted, and look rather like Randy in these two scenes from A Christmas Story.

Momma (and Santa) outdid themselves this year. This is what I got:

Golden Kung Fu Cannon
Launch an awesome assault! This Exclusive Fisher-Price Kung Fu Panda Golden Cannon with Wolf is an action packed cannon launcher! Load up the balls and aim at the targets. Press down on the cannon to fire! Includes: cannon, 3 balls, 3 targets and an exclusive Wolf figure.

Schylling Zeppelin Ornament

This Miniature Tin Toy Ornament was inspired by the classic tin toys from the 1920's and 30's. Making Tin Toys is a dying art. A single piece of this ornament can require 6 or more processes to create its final shape. Each ornament is then hand assembled from up to to 24 of these single pieces.

It is easy to see why tin toys were quickly abandoned when plastic was developed. Now, tin toys are sought after by collectors around the world.

Uglydoll - 4" Ice-Bat Clip
Wage, Babo, and the Uglydolls decide to go on a sort of Ninja type mystery adventure...a sort of quest. The mission? You know the cookies and snack foods youve been munching on? Yeah they want some of those. Or more than just some. Probably all. Ice-Bat lives in the freezer. Yeah but can he crash at your freezer while he's on this whole Ninja mystery mission adventure dealio? 

God bless us, every one!

On the first day of Christmas

On the first day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
A partridge in a pear tree.
"The Twelve Days of Christmas" is an English Christmas carol that enumerates a series of increasingly grand gifts given on each of the twelve days of Christmas. Although first published in England in 1780, textual evidence may indicate the song is French in origin.

The 12 days in the song are the 12 days starting Christmas day, or in some traditions, the day after Christmas (Dec. 26) to the day before Epiphany, or the Feast of the Epiphany (Jan. 6, or the Twelfth Day).

Twelfth Night is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "the evening of the fifth of January, preceding Twelfth Day, the eve of the Epiphany, formerly the last day of the Christmas festivities and observed as a time of merrymaking."

The earliest well-known version of the music of the song was recorded by English scholar James O. Halliwell in 1842, and he published a version in 4th edition The Nursery Rhymes of England (1846), collected principally from "oral tradition."

In the early 20th century, English composer Frederic Austin wrote an arrangement in which he added his melody from "Five gold rings" onwards, which has since become standard. The copyright to this arrangement was registered in 1909 and is still active by its owners, Novello & Co. Limited.

If the "partridge in a pear tree" of the English version is to be taken literally, then it seems as if the chant comes from France, since the red-legged (or French) partridge, which perches in trees more frequently than the native common (or grey) partridge, was not successfully introduced into England until about 1770.

For fans of Maud Hart Lovelace, the song was allegedly imported to the United States in 1910 by Emily Brown, of the Downer Teacher's College in Milwaukee, Wis., who had encountered the song in an English music store sometime before. She needed the song for the school Christmas pageant, an annual extravaganza that she was known for organizing.

Since Tib's Browner was based upon Downer I wonder if Tib knew her?

This Week in The Civil War: Sunday, Dec. 25

Christmas in Wartime

Christmas in a divided nation is a more muted holiday than in years past, but still not absent its celebrations. Though fathers and sons have soldiered off to war, the carols and feasts go on around the Christmas tree, both in the North and the South. On this Christmas Day 1861, President Abraham Lincoln holds yet another strained Cabinet meeting as he seeks an end to an impasse with Britain over the seizure of two Confederate envoys seized by his Navy from a British packet ship. The same evening he presides over a Christmas party, pressing for a semblance of holiday cheer despite a diplomatic crisis, war and the absence in his country of "peace on Earth." On this day a blockade runner is snared by the Union Navy and there is some minor skirmishing in Maryland and Virginia. New Year's Day of 1862 is about to dawn, but even that holiday will not be spared hostilities. On Jan. 1, 1862, Union warships unleash a barrage on targets around Pensacola, Fla., and the Confederates respond by bombarding Union-held Fort Pickens in the Florida Panhandle. Despite the ongoing conflict, The New York Herald-Tribune reports many in New York City have paused to rejoice on Christmas Day as churches filled to overflowing, ice skating was had on frozen ponds and many made merry. "The little ones ransacked the repositories of Chris Kringle, shouted the elves hoarse with delight over the treasures which the jolly old fellow had dropped for them over-night ... and after that the winged hours of the long Winter evening passed imperceptibly away, with song and dance, and jest and laugh, lightening the heart, and making each participant more happy and content with his burden, brightening the future with new hope."

Saturday, December 24

Merry Christmas!

My little friends and I were having a pleasant chat and it occurred to me to ask them how they would wish you a Merry Christmas in their native languages.

Felicity might say "Happy Christmas!" since that would be proper in England and probably the Colonies. (Molly's friend Emily would, too.)

Josefina would say in Spanish, "¡Feliz Navidad!" 

Kirsten would say in Swedish, "God Jul!" 

Ma chère amie Cécile might say in French, "Joyeux Noël!" 

Rebecca would wish her Christian friends in Russian, "С Рождеством Христовым!"

Kanani says in Hawai'ian, "Mele Kalikimaka!"

And Merry Christmas from all the rest of us! 

How do you say "Merry Christmas!"?

The Nutcracker? Sweet!

I have to laugh whenever I hear my friend Samantha Parkington talk about The Nutcracker since she was only 9 in 1904 and it premiered at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia on Friday, Dec. 18, 1892.

I know she's rich but old enough and rich enough to go to Russia? Sheesh.

For Christmas, Samantha longed for the beautiful doll she saw in the window of Schofield’s Toy Store. It’s made of porcelain with movable arms and legs. Her hair is tied back in a big pink bow that matches her ruffly party dress. In her arms she carries a tiny wooden nutcracker—the perfect Christmas doll.

The Nutcracker is a two-act ballet with a score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. (The libretto is adapted from E.T.A. Hoffmann's 1816 story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.)

The original production was not a success.

So when did The Nutcracker make it to the U.S.?

A short version of the ballet, performed by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, was staged in New York City in 1940 by Alexandra Fedorova.

The ballet's first complete United States performance was on Dec. 24, 1944, by the San Francisco Ballet. The New York City Ballet gave its first annual performance of George Balanchine's staging of The Nutcracker in 1954. Beginning in the 1960s, the tradition of performing the complete ballet at Christmas eventually spread to the rest of the United States.

Wait a minute! Do you think Samantha's the same Samantha I met in St. Louis? Maybe she became a time traveler, too!

Friday, December 23

'Twas the night before Christmas

Then they gathered around the fire with Margaret in the circle of her father's arm, and Betsy read from Dickens' Christmas Carol, the story of the Cratchits' Christmas Dinner. Margaret recited 'Twas the Night before Christmas, and Julia read the story of Jesus' birth out of the book of Luke. Later they turned out the lights to fill one another's stockings which were hung around the fireplace.
Heaven to Betsy 
Maud Hart Lovelace

A Visit from St. Nicholas, also known as The Night Before Christmas and 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, is a poem first published anonymously in the Troy, N.Y., Sentinel on Dec. 23, 1823. Clement Clarke Moore allegedly wrote it for his children but, being a scholar and professor, did not wish to be connected with the poem until they insisted that it be included in an 1844 anthology of his works.
'Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro' the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar plums danc'd in their heads....

Festivus for the rest of us

You modern Americans have some very strange holiday customs.

Take Festivus.

Festivus is a secular holiday celebrated on Dec. 23 as a way to celebrate the holiday season without participating in its pressures and commercialism.

It was created in 1966 and introduced into pop culture by the TV show Seinfeld.

The holiday includes an unadorned aluminum "Festivus pole," practices such as the "Airing of Grievances" and "Feats of Strength," and the labeling of easily explainable events as "Festivus miracles."

Celebrants of the holiday sometimes refer to it as "a Festivus for the rest of us," a saying to describe Festivus' non-commercial aspect.

At least it was non-commercial until they started selling Festivus poles, etc.

Thursday, December 22

Steamrolling through Christmas

I believe I have mentioned that Momma gets a little weird this time of year. 

One of her Christmas obsessions is Mannheim Steamroller, an American music group known primarily for its modern recordings of Christmas music.

(The name "Mannheim Steamroller" comes from an 18th century German musical technique, Mannheim roller, or Mannheimer Walze in German, and a steamroller which is a type of steam-powered heavy construction machinery
used for leveling surfaces.)

Momma has been to two of their Christmas concerts and has "a lot" of their music.

She's especially pleased that several of her favorite carols were included in Mannheim Steamroller's 1995 Christmas album, Christmas in the Aire.

Christmas in the Aire
was the third Christmas album and 21st studio album released by Mannheim Steamroller.

A year or two before the release of Christmas in the Aire Momma saw a request for song ideas for their unnamed third Christmas album. Among her suggestions was Angels We Have Heard on High - which they included! She got a free copy of the album and a letter of thanks as well as a mention in catalogs at the time. (Sadly, they misspelled her name - sigh.)

She's very happy to see that Angels We Have Heard on High was also included on their latest Christmas Symphony.

What is my favorite thing about Mannheim Steamroller?

Need you ask? The iconic steamroller, of course! 

Wednesday, December 21

Bilbo Baggins 13, Snow White 7

Hmm, I wonder if there is some connection between the shortest day of the year and dwarfs -- or dwarves.

Coincidence? I think not.

Why else would the long awaited trailer for The Hobbit be released today, Dec. 21, 2011.

The Hobbit
Sept. 21, 1937
(or Dec. 21, 2011) 

  • Thorin Oakenshield
  • Fili
  • Kili
  • Oin
  • Gloin
  • Dwalin
  • Balin
  • Bifur
  • Bofur
  • Bombur
  • Dori
  • Nori
  • Ori 

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Dec. 21, 1937
  • Doc
  • Grumpy
  • Bashful
  • Sleepy
  • Happy
  • Sneezy
  • Dopey

It looks like 1937 was a good year for dwarves -- or dwarfs.

Incidentally, J.R.R. Tolkien deliberately used dwarves, which corresponds with elf and elves -- or scarf and scarves. The original editor of The Hobbit "corrected" Tolkien's plural of dwarves to dwarfs, as did the Puffin paperback edition of The Lord of the Rings.


Happy Winter Solstice!

By Gollum

I. Can't. Wait.

And Momma says it's not fair for me to Time Travel ahead and watch it without her.


The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey follows title character Bilbo Baggins, who is swept into an epic quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor, which was long ago conquered by the dragon Smaug. Approached out of the blue by the wizard Gandalf the Grey, Bilbo finds himself joining a company of thirteen dwarves led by the legendary warrior, Thorin Oakensheild. Their journey will take them into the Wild; through treacherous lands swarming with Goblins and Orcs, deadly Wargs and Giant Spiders, Shapeshifters and Sorcerers. Although their goal lies to the East and the wastelands of the Lonely Mountain first they must escape the goblin tunnels, where Bilbo meets the creature that will change his life forever ... Gollum. Here, alone with Gollum, on the shores of an underground lake, the unassuming Bilbo Baggins not only discovers depths of guile and courage that surprise even him, he also gains possession of Gollum's "precious" ring that holds unexpected and useful qualities ... A simple, gold ring that is tied to the fate of all Middle-earth in ways Bilbo cannot begin to know.

A "purist" friend of Momma's said after watching the preview,  "We hates it, we hates it, we hates it forever!"

I wonder if she knows that J.R.R. Tolkien himself rewrote part of The Hobbit after writing the Lord of the Rings trilogy. In the first edition of The Hobbit, Gollum willingly bets his Precious on the outcome of the riddle-game, and he and Bilbo part amicably.

Snow White and the Eight Dwarfs

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the world's first full-length animated feature, premiered on  Dec. 21, 1937 to critical acclaim at the Carthay Circle Theater in California.

Based upon the German version of Snow White first published in 1812 by the Brothers Grimm, it featured the magic mirror, poisoned apple, glass coffin, and the seven dwarves. (The dwarves first received names in a 1912 Broadway play Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and were then given different names in Disney's version.)

Before Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Disney studio had been primarily involved in short Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphony cartoons. Disney hoped to expand his studio's prestige and revenues by moving into full-length features.

Disney had to fight to get Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs produced, and the Hollywood movie industry referred to it as "Disney's Folly." He even had to mortgage his house to help finance the film's production, which eventually cost $1,488,422.74, a huge amount for a moving picture in 1937.


Tuesday, December 20

The festival of lights

Tonight I'm off to New York City to learn about Hanukkah, but I'll let my friend Rebecca Rubin tell her story.

Rebecca is a girl growing up in New York City in 1914, who celebrates treasured traditions passed down through her Russian-Jewish family. With a little creativity, Rebecca learns how to stay true to her heart as she follows her dreams in the big city.

Rebecca is troubled when her teacher assigns her class to make Christmas decorations. Rebecca's family is Jewish and doesn't celebrate Christmas, but her teacher says Christmas is a national holiday, for all Americans to celebrate. Yet Rebecca knows she's as American as anyone else, even without celebrating Christmas! She wants to please her teacher, but she's sure her family will be upset. Then, on the first night of Hanukkah, Rebecca finds kindness in an unexpected place, and learns the real meaning of the holiday season. 

Rebecca can't wait to light the menorah and celebrate Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights! This set features:
  • A beautiful menorah and nine pretend candles
  • A dreidel Rebecca and her cousins spin to play games
  • Three shiny coins, called gelt
(Hanukkah begins at sunset on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011, and ends at sunset on Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2011.

Monday, December 19

We wish you a steamy Christmas

Be still my non-existent heart! (Note to self: Ask for a Build-a-Bear heart for Christmas.)

There's a growing demand for steampunk books.

Just in time for the holidays: A Clockwork Christmas

Changed forever after tragedy, a woman must draw strength from her husband's love. A man learns that love isn't always what you expect. A thief steals the heart of a vengeful professor. And an American inventor finds love Down Under. Enjoy Victorian Christmas with a clockwork twist in these four steampunk novellas.

The anthology includes: 

Far From Broken by JK Coi 
Soldier. Spymaster. Husband.

Colonel Jasper Carlisle was defined by his work until he met his wife. When the prima ballerina swept into his life with her affection, bright laughter and graceful movements, he knew that she was the reason for his existence, and that their love would be forever.

But their world is shattered when Callie is kidnapped and brutally tortured by the foes Jasper has been hunting. Mechanical parts have replaced her legs, her hand, her eye...and possibly her heart. Though she survived, her anger at Jasper consumes her, while Jasper's guilt drives him from the woman he loves. He longs for the chance to show her their love can withstand anything...including her new clockwork parts.

As the holiday season approaches, Jasper realizes he must fight not just for his wife's love and forgiveness...but also her life, as his enemy once again attempts to tear them apart.

This Winter Heart by PG Forte
Eight years ago, Ophelia Leonides's husband cast her off when he discovered she was not the woman he thought she was. Now destitute after the death of her father, Ophelia is forced to turn to Dario for help raising the child she never told him about.
Dario is furious that Ophelia has returned, and refuses to believe Arthur is his son—after all, he thought his wife was barren. But to avoid gossip, he agrees to let them spend the holidays at his villa. While he cannot resist the desire he still feels for Ophelia, Dario despises himself for being hopelessly in love with a woman who can never love him back.

But Dario is wrong: Ophelia's emotions are all too human, and she was brokenhearted when he rejected her. Unsure if she can trust the man she desperately loves, she fears for her life, her freedom and her son if anyone else learns of her true nature...
Roderick Coddington is on a mission to make Cornelia Peabody pay. After identifying her as the thief who stole a priceless Fabergé egg from his dying sister, he finds her and shackles a deadly timepiece to her arm. If she doesn't return the egg by Christmas morning, she will die.

Normally seven days is more than enough time for Cornelia to carry out the perfect crime, but Roderick's intrusion into her life is beyond distracting. He challenges her mind, and ignites her body with desire she's never felt before. But worst of all, he threatens the independence she values above all else...

As Roderick spends time with Cornelia, he realizes there's a lonely soul hidden beneath her beautiful but criminal veneer. Falling for a thief wasn't part of Roderick's plan, but plans can change and he has no intention of letting another priceless treasure get away from him.
Wanted: One Scoundrel by Jenny Schwartz
All suffragette Esme Smith wants is a man. A scoundrel to be precise. Someone who can be persuaded to represent her political views at men-only clubs. As the daughter of the richest man in Australia, Esme can afford to make it worth the right man's while.

Fresh off the boat, American inventor Jed Reeve is intrigued by Esme's proposal, but even more interested in the beauty herself. Amused that she takes him for a man who lives by his wits, he accepts the job—made easier by the fact that he already shares her ideals. Soon, he finds himself caught up in political intrigue, kidnapping and blackmail, and trying to convince his employer he's more than just a scoundrel...

Since this is a digital book you can download and read the stories in time for Christmas.

Do you think these qualify as either bodice-rippers or penny dreadfuls? Miss Sparrow might be shocked....

Sunday, December 18

How the Grinch stole my heart

I can never quite decide which is my favorite classic Christmas cartoon: Charlie Brown vs. The Grinch.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is an animated television special  based upon the children's story written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss. 

Published as a book by Random House in 1957, and at approximately the same time in an issue of Redbook, the story of the Grinch criticizes the commercialization of Christmas and those who profit from it.

(Hmm, did Charlie Brown grow up to be the Grinch?) 

Directed by Chuck Jones, the special first aired on Dec. 18, 1966, and is one of the very few Christmas specials from the 1960s to still be shown regularly on television. 

Momma and I simply do not acknowledge the Nov. 17, 2000 feature-length version since We do not like it. 

This Week in The Civil War: Sunday, Dec. 18

Trent Affair — Diplomatic Crisis Defused

At the close of 1861, President Abraham Lincoln finds himself at war at home — and fending off a diplomatic crisis with Britain that threatens hostilities if not handled delicately. Though outrage lingers in London after the Union warship USS San Jacinto stopped the neutral British ship Trent east of Cuba on Nov. 8, 1861 — seizing two Confederate diplomats bound for Britain — an end to the impasse is near. An outraged British government has been demanding an apology for what is seen as a violation of its neutrality. And London also insists on the immediate release of the two Confederate envoys. But after tempers flare, cool heads prevail. A message is sent by the British minister in Washington to Lincoln's secretary of state on Dec. 19, 1861, demanding a reply. Yielding to British demands is a difficult step for the Lincoln administration, but Lincoln cannot afford another fight. On Dec. 27, the U.S. secretary of state would send back a carefully worded reply announcing that the Confederates would be freed and reparations paid — defusing the standoff. Also this week, The Associated Press reports that Confederates are able to run their own limited blockade of waters leading to Washington, D.C., much as the Union blockades Southern seaports and inland rivers. Rebel batteries menace the Potomac River along bluffs lining the banks in spots where it lazily wends toward Washington. But Union boats still get past. "Some eight or ten schooners have run the blockade on the Potomac during the past forty-eight hours," The AP reports on Dec. 18. But the threat is real, AP notes: "The new batteries, which the rebels have recently disclosed, show that is it their intention to make the blockade effectual if they can."

Saturday, December 17

God bless us, every one!

Hard to believe it now, but A Christmas Carol by English author Charles Dickens used to scare me.

Yes, me.

First published on Dec. 17, 1843, the novella (which met with instant success and critical acclaim) is about stingy Ebenezer Scrooge's transformation after supernatural visits.

Dickens divided the book into five staves, or stanzas, in keeping with the title of the book.

Stave 1

The tale begins on Christmas Eve seven years after the death of Ebenezer Scrooge's business partner Jacob Marley. Scrooge is established as a greedy and stingy businessman who has no place in his life for kindness, compassion, charity, or benevolence. After being warned by Marley's ghost to change his ways, Scrooge is visited by three additional ghosts "each in its turn" who accompany him to various scenes with the hope of achieving his transformation.

Stave 2

The Ghost of Christmas Past takes Scrooge to the scenes of his boyhood and youth which stir the old miser's gentle and tender side by reminding him of a time when he was more innocent.

Stave 3

The Ghost of Christmas Present takes Scrooge to several radically differing scenes (a joy-filled market of people buying the makings of Christmas dinner, the family feast of Scrooge's near-impoverished clerk Bob Cratchit, a miner's cottage, and a lighthouse among other sites) in order to evince from the miser a sense of responsibility for his fellow man.

Stave 4

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come harrows Scrooge with dire visions of the future if he does not learn and act upon what he has witnessed. Scrooge's own neglected and untended grave is revealed, prompting the miser to aver that he will change his ways in hopes of changing these "shadows of what may be."

Stave 5

Scrooge awakens Christmas morning with joy and love in his heart, then spends the day with his nephew's family after anonymously sending a prize turkey to the Crachit home for Christmas dinner. Scrooge has become a different man overnight, and now treats his fellow men with kindness, generosity, and compassion, gaining a reputation as a man who embodies the spirit of Christmas. The story closes with the narrator confirming the validity, completeness, and permanence of Scrooge's transformation.

The tale was viewed as an indictment of 19th century industrial capitalism and has been credited with restoring Christmas to one of merriment and festivity after a period of sobriety and somberness. A Christmas Carol remains popular, has never been out of print, and has been adapted to stage, film, opera, and other media.

Friday, December 16

Not for all the tea in Boston Harbor

Felicity and I plan to get together tonight to drink some hot chocolate in remembrance of the Boston Tea Party.

After Boston officials refused to return three shiploads of taxed tea to Britain, a group of colonists boarded the ships on Dec. 16, 1773 and destroyed the tea by throwing all 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor. The incident remains an iconic event of American history.

Those 342 chests contained 90,000 pounds (or 24,000,000 cups) of tea at two shillings per pound, which came to £9,000 -- or £888 thousand or $1,378,880.04 today!

The Boston Tea Party was the culmination of a resistance movement against the 1773 Tea Act, which had been passed by the British Parliament. Colonists objected to the Tea Act because they believed that it was taxation without representation.

The Boston Tea Party was a key event in the start of the American Revolution. Parliament closed Boston's commerce in 1774 until the British East India Company had been repaid for the destroyed tea. Colonists responded with additional acts of protest and convened the First Continental Congress, which petitioned King George III for repeal of the acts.

The crisis escalated and the American Revolutionary War began near Boston on April 19, 1775.

So do you drink coffee or tea? Coffee has been the beverage of choice in the United States since the Boston Tea Party. On average, Americans drink about 0.75 pounds of tea a year, which equates to just under half a cup a day, whereas coffee drinkers in the United States consume 3.1 cups of coffee per day.

Momma messes with these statistics since she drinks at least eight cups of tea a day. 


The Posada Adventure

Tonight I'm off to what you now know as New Mexico to help my dear friend Josefina Montoya celebrate Las Posadas.

Las Posadas (Spanish for "lodging" or "accommodation") is a nine-day celebration beginning Dec. 16 and ending Dec. 24 with origins in Spain, now celebrated in Mexico, Guatemala, and parts of the United States.

Last year my Big Sister got asked to be Maria at the very last minute when the original Maria got sick -  just like Josefina did in Josefina’s Surprise!

Josefina is a girl growing up in New Mexico in 1824. Ever since Mamá died, Josefina and her sisters have bravely met the challenges of the rancho without her. As they watch the new Americano traders arrive from the East, they struggle to hold on to the old ways their beloved mother taught them. Josefina dreams of becoming a healer like her Tía Magdalena. Hopeful and caring, she is the star of her story.

A few weeks before Christmas, Josefina and her sisters went into the village to help with holiday preparations. They took two bright ristras, or strings of red chiles, to Señora Sánchez to flavor her famous stew. In return, she gave the girls a special gift—a plump chicken nestled in a bentwood cage. The plucky little hen had already laid two tiny speckled eggs! 

Papá lit the way of the Las Posadas procession with a wooden lantern that had windows made from a mineral called mica. Ana carried a silver tray piled high with bizcochito cookies. You can bake real bizcochitos using the simple recipe included with the pretend cookies. Help Josefina make beautiful paper flowers called ramilletes to decorate the church altar for Christmas Eve—a complete ramillete kit is included.
Josefina saved her very best dress for the most blessed night of the year, la Noche Buena—Christmas Eve. Tía Dolores provided the elegant striped fabric. But Josefina chose the stylish pattern and sewed every stitch herself by hand! With it she wore ruffled pantalettes, white stockings, black slippers, and a fine lace mantilla, a veil held on with a fancy comb.

Thursday, December 15

I'm just a Bill of Rights

Happy 220th anniversary, Bill of Rights!

On Dec. 15, 1791, the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights, were ratified.

The Bill of Rights is the collective name for the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution. These limitations serve to protect the natural rights of liberty and property. They guarantee a number of personal freedoms, limit the government's power in judicial and other proceedings, and reserve some powers to the states and the public. 

Originally, the Bill of Rights included legal protection for land-owning white men only, excluding African Americans and women. It took additional Constitutional Amendments and numerous Supreme Court cases to extend the same rights to all U.S. citizens.

Jumping the broom
Happy anniversary Grandmomma!

(And Grandpoppa, too!)

Momma's parents "jumped the broom" 49 years ago today. Well, they didn't actually "jump a broom" since they were married in a church. But they could have.

So where does the custom come from?

Local variations of the custom were developed in different parts of England, Scotland and Wales when gypsy couples would get married by jumping over a branch of flowering broom (shrub) or a besom made of broom. The broom was placed in an angle by the doorway and the groom jumped over first, followed by the bride.

In the United States slaves who wished to marry were sometimes only permitted to "jump the broom." (This custom has been revived by some due to to the popularity of Alex Haley's wonderful novel and miniseries Roots.)

It does not seem to have any, um, roots in African culture but may have been the only form a marriage permitted by slave owners who were familiar with "jumping the broom" from the old country.