The first season

For me, sometimes there are two Christmas seasons. I refer, here, not to the sacred observance of Christmas, but to the fun, traditional aspects. Right around this point, just after Thanksgiving, there’s an “Oh, boy, it’s OK to start celebrating Christmas!”, and I listen to a flood of Christmas music. I’m listening tonight:

Then, that wears off and I go back to regular music for a week, week and a half, before returning to Christmas music.

Of course, the schedule is a little different this year, with a shorter interim between Thanksgiving and Christmas, so maybe it will be jingle bells straight through to New Year’s.

I love having Spotify, by the way. I’ve put together a wonderful Christmas playlist, ranging from David Phelps to Mitch Miller to Barenaked Ladies to Tony Bennett to Tennessee Ernie Ford, and everything in between. And I can easily add a song if I hear it or remember it.

The widget only shows David Phelps because his album was the first thing I added. But I listen on shuffle.

Mister Snowman

When I spoke to my father earlier today, he was in a break from the long task of taking down Christmas decorations. I, living by myself in a slovenly apartment with few house guests, didn’t have to work quite as hard. I had a three-foot-tall fiber optic tree which I unplugged a little while ago and took back into the storage room. It took me all of 30 seconds.

I had one other piece of holiday décor, which I didn’t have to unplug because it never really got plugged in. It was a jar, painted as a snowman, that I made last summer while assisting Jean Nulle in her arts and crafts workshop at Summer Plus. (Jean gave her helpers the chance to make the same crafts the teens were making, which is always fun.) It had a very short power cord, and there was simply no good place for me to plug it up. But as I was unplugging the tree, I decided to plug the snowman into the extension cord I’d been using for the tree and leave it up, at least for a little while, as a wintertime decoration.

FR0027

Yes, I painted this myself. It’s a mason jar. It’s hard to see the texture in this photo – it was hard to get a good photo of it with my smartphone – but it has a frost-like appearance created by blotting the white paint on with the end of the brush. (A spray-on varnish had been applied first, as a primer, to help the paint adhere to the glass.) Then, the face was painted on top of the white paint. A short string of Christmas lights provides the interior light, and the felt hat, with ribbon trim, hides the cord, which dangles from the back like a ponytail.

By the way, one of the ornaments on my tree was also a Summer Plus souvenir – a little unglazed ceramic snowman which each participant painted.

Double the fleet

As you may or may not recall, on a whim I bought a model rocket this fall. I used to launch them when I was in high school, hadn’t fiddled with them for years.

WP_000287Well, I got the model built but haven’t had a good chance to launch it yet. You need a nice clear day with little or no wind, and I haven’t had the right combination of weather and schedule. I’ll get to it eventually, although (because of the wind thing) it may take a while.

When I do get to launch, however, I’ll have not just one rocket, but two. Dad gave me a rocket for Christmas, a really great and thoughtful gift. The rocket on the left here, a Taser, is the one I bought this fall; the one on the right, an Alpha III, is the new addition. It was more fun to put together, because it made less use of plastic parts. The fin assembly was plastic, but the engine mount was paper and metal, and so was the launch lug. I still want to build the old-fashioned kind where the fins are balsa wood and you have to glue them onto the body tube.

The other nice bit of serendipity was that Dad bought me slightly more powerful engines. I had bought a three-pack of A8-3s, the recommended “first flight” engine for my Taser – and also, as it turns out, for the Alpha III. It’s a fairly common first-flight engine. Dad, with his gift, bought me a three-pack of B6-6 engines. So now, I can give each model its recommended first test flight with the less-powerful A8-3, with an engine to spare in case of misfire, and then have the more-powerful B6-6 to challenge the models for a later flight.

There are much worse things

I love “A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All,” Stephen Colbert’s parody of Christmas specials, featuring Elvis Costello, Willie Nelson, John Legend, Feist, Toby Keith, Jon Stewart and George Wendt. The past couple of years, Comedy Central has only run this gem in the middle of the night; they did so last night, and fortunately I’d thought to look for it in advance and caught it on my DVR.

The special is not for all tastes; some would certainly be offended by Willie’s musical number, a “Little Drummer Boy” parody referencing a substance with which Willie is passing familiar. But I find the show wonderful, irreverent in the good sense of that term. Feist’s song, sung from the perspective of a call-waiting angel who tells you that your prayer is important to us and will be heard shortly, is hilarious, and Keith pokes fun at his own country conservative image with a song about the War on Christmas. I think it should be noted that the real Stephen Colbert (not the eponymous egomaniac character he plays on TV) is a devout Catholic who teaches Sunday School, or used to.

The entire cast (save Stewart and Wendt) sings a cover of Costello’s “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and Understanding?” which you think is going to be the finale. But the special actually ends with this, a really lovely duet between Costello and Colbert:

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
A Colbert Christmas: Colbert/Costello Duet
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Holiday greetings

Well, I had a wonderful Christmas today with my parents, two of my siblings and their families; I’ll get to see the third sibling and his family next week when the parents and I meet them halfway, in Pigeon Forge. Everyone was happy and healthy, my presents were well-received, including some about which I was worried, and I got some good stuff too.

I hope you had a happy and meaningful holiday as well, and that all of us will continue to remember the meaning of the season. Remember, for those of us in denominations which observe the liturgical calendar, the celebration of Christ’s birth only begins today; it continues for 11 more days, until Jan. 5.

A not-so-quiet week in Lake Wobegon

Well, this is just bizarre.

Garrison Keillor, author of “Lake Wobegon Days” and host of “A Prairie Home Companion,” has written a column expressing frustration with the co-opting of Christmas by non-Christians — from Unitarians changing the words to “Silent Night” to secular, holly-jolly Christmas carols by …. well, I’ll let him say it, just to make clear it’s Keillor speaking, not me:

And all those lousy holiday songs by Jewish guys that trash up the malls every year, Rudolph and the chestnuts and the rest of that dreck. Did one of our guys write “Grab your loafers, come along if you wanna, and we’ll blow that shofar for Rosh Hashanah”? No, we didn’t.

This is astonishing. Keillor definitely has a history of leaning left, and for a while his weekly radio show was a little too curmudgeonly political for me, even when I agreed with him on a particular issue. I had always thought of “APHC” as something timeless and above the latest political squabble. But now, here’s Keillor with a conservative-sounding “War on Christmas” screed.

Keillor’s column has caused a firestorm of controvery. Some non-Christians have responded along the lines of, “we’ll leave your holiday alone if you’ll stop shoving it down our throats.”

The trouble is that Christmas has been two different holidays since long before I was born, and really before Keillor was born. There’s secular Christmas, the Christmas of silver bells and materialism, and there’s religious Christmas, the Christmas of the little baby in the manger.

There was a line about Christmas in “Good Night, and Good Luck” which made me laugh out loud. Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) tells a CBS executive (Jeff Daniels) that he and his collaborator Fred Friendly will personally make up the ad revenue for a controversial episode of “See It Now,” since the normal sponsor objects to it.

“We just won’t have Christmas gifts for our kids this year,” Murrow sighs.

“Friendly’s a Jew,” shoots back the executive.

“Don’t tell him that,” responds Murrow. “Fred loves Christmas.”

It’s about a century or two too late to start declaring that Christmas is exclusively a religious holiday. Christians need to be respectful of those who are, by simple cultural fact, obligated to live through our holiday schedule even though they belong to another tradition. Non-Christians need to recognize that this is a special holiday, with a deeper meaning, to some (but not all!) Christians. (Even here in Bedford County, we have some churches that consider Christmas an unnecessary and anti-Biblical contrivance).

How that balance of mutual respect works itself out in practical situations — school programs and nativity scenes in public places and what have you — is a healthy and ongoing discussion, one that I fear is not at all helped by the chip on Keillor’s shoulder, or the risk that his comments will be perceived as anti-Semitic.

I seem to recall the characters at the center of the Christmas narrative being Jewish, after all.

Holiday spirit for free

Here’s a bargain: Amazon is offering 25 days of free Christmas MP3s. You do have to have a credit card, as if you were purchasing an MP3, but there’s no charge.

I like “Elf’s Lament,” by the Barenaked Ladies.

Between these free downloads and a holiday CD Christmas card I received today — what a great idea! — I have beefed up the Christmas playlist on my little MP3 player so that I can take it to work Monday and play it on my external speakers.

Parade fuel

I will be riding in the back of the pickup truck which pulls the Times-Gazette float in tonight’s Shelbyville Christmas Parade. I have to be at the paper at 2 to do some final work on the float, then the lineup and judging are at 4, and the actual parade won’t start until 6. (My brother and my nephews will also be in the parade, with a float representing one of my nephews’ Cub Scout troop.)

It will be cold.

So when I was shopping for a few groceries yesterday, I picked up some HamBeens 15-bean soup. I soaked the beans overnight and the soup is cooking as we speak.

I’ve blogged about this company’s products before — and even got some feedback from the company for doing so — but it bears repeating.

The nice thing is that it’s really more like a recipe than a processed food. All that comes with the soup are the assorted dried beans and a small packet of ham flavoring (or Cajun seasoning, for the Cajun variety). You add meat, vegetables and other seasonings, which adds a lot of room for personal taste.

For example, today I’m making the regular 15-bean soup. But instead of the suggested ham or smoked sausage, I’m using breakfast sausage, just because it sounded like a good idea. I’m using a larger size can of tomatoes than the directions called for, and a little more onion, and since I am out of lemon juice I’m going to replace it with a little shot of hot pepper vinegar. I also threw in some bay leaves while the beans were cooking.

A good hearty bowl of this stuff should help prepare me for a long, cold evening.

The leftovers freeze well, so I’ll be able to enjoy this batch of soup on several more occasions.