Saturday, December 23, 2006

G.I.F.T. Challenge, Part 4

I made it! Okay, barely, but I did make it! This morning, I finished reading Christmas Magic, ed. David Hartwell, which has been on my bookshelf for about four years with a bookmark in the middle. This year, I started from scratch, and read through the entire thing. Huzzah! I finally finished it!

The verdict? Sadly, I was a little disappointed. There were some high points, as there always are with short story collections. The pinnacle was Janet Kagan's The Nutcracker Coup. It won a Hugo for good reason! I so enjoyed it, and found it extremely easy to read and fall into, to the point where I find myself thinking I should check her out as an author. Other highlights were Bedlam Inn by Madeleine Robins, Santa Rides a Saucer by Donald A. Wollheim, Merry Gravmas by James P. Hogan, The Last Belsnickel by Chet Williamson, and Death in the Christmas Hour by James Powell. Some of the others were good but less memorable. As for the rest, I confess I expected more. Humour seemed forced, satire seemed to not quite make it there, emotion was lacking, clarity wasn't exactly a priority, or the story was just... ho hum. Next Christmas, therefore, when I feel the need for some Christmas spirit, I will pick it up and only read my favourites.

In two hours, give or take, we hit the road. I probably won't post again until we get back, so Merry Christmas, everyone!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Oh no...

Sheila's last Christmas present didn't arrive. Her birthday present for next year did instead... :P Sheila, I hope you're okay with getting a mysterious I. O. U. for Christmas. I'm sure it'll be here on the 27th, when the building reopens, because, you know, that's just the way it works!


Thursday, December 14, 2006

G.I.F.T. Challenge 2006, part 3

I have recovered a book from my bookshelves that I will be reading and commenting on as part 4, but for part 3, there have been a few thoughts. My first thought was to go and try a Second Cup Eggnog Latte. My brother-in-law looks forward to their reappearance on the menu every year at this time! I have not had the pleasure of trying one yet, mostly because I'm not much of a coffee drinker. However, I couldn't quite find a G.I.F.T. heading for that to fall under. There is no "Christmas food and drink" category. To that end, I refocussed on the "Christmas Music" category. What to do? If I go to the library, likely all their Christmas music will be gone, and the CBC isn't consistently playing Christmas music 24/7 yet. Then I sat back to think about Christmas music. My absolute favourite song of the season is Carol of the Bells. I've had a thought to collect various versions of the song and make a whole Christmas CD of them. I have heard techno, orchestral, acapella, jazz, and variations on the theme. But what do I know about the song? Hmm... I don't even know the words! So, it was off to Google. Let me share with you what I learned today about my favourite carol.

Carol of the Bells as we know it today is a fairly recent creation. However, the melody dates back to a folk song of Ukraine. It is a winter well-wishing song, generally sung on New Year's Eve of the Julian calendar (January 13 on ours), wishing prosperity for the hearer in the new year. In fact, the original folk song is considered out of place if performed at Christmas time!

In 1916, Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovich was contracted by a choir master to create a choral piece of Ukrainian folk songs. Leontovich found the song in a book, and adapted it and its lyrics to new piece entitled Shchedryk, meaning "bountiful." The new lyrics that Leontovich adapted from the original folk song tell of a swallow who flies into the eaves of a family's household, and proclaiming the prosperous year they will have. The choir for whom the piece was composed then toured North and South America in 1919 and after, promoting Ukrainian culture, and performing Shchedryk for a multitude of audiences.

On 5 October 1921, the choir performed Shchedryk for the first time in the United States, to a sold-out crowd in Carnegie Hall. Peter Wilhousky, an American choir director, heard the work, and it reminded him of bells. He sat down and wrote out an English set of lyrics for the work, for use with his own choir. The tune and lyrics were copyrighted in 1936, despite being published in the Ukraine 20 years before, and Wilhousky's choirs began to perform the song during the Christmas season in America. The song was immediately associated with Christmas in North America, due to lyrics like, well, "merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas." Other sets of lyrics have been written for the tune, as well. In 1947, M.L. Holman wrote "Ring, Christmas Bells," and anonymous lyrics in 1957 ("Come, dance and sing") and 1972 ("Carol of the Bells," differentiated from the original by the first line: "Hark! How the bells, sweet silver bells" vs. "Hark to the bells! Hark to the bells!") also used the same melody. All four, however, continue with the Christmas theme.

There is also an erroneous report out there that the song is based on an old Slavic legend that all the bells in the world rang out at the birth of Jesus. While a nice thought, the folk song puts paid to this version of the song's origin.

I find it fascinating that, in the Ukraine, both the original folk song and Shchedryk remain New Year's songs, and cannot be performed around Christmas without being told by the listeners that it's not the right time for the piece, but here in North America, the tune remains indelibly tied to Christmas. Unlike Greensleeves, which depending on the lyrics chosen can be both a Christmas and an every-other-day song, this one is seasonal, despite its varied origins. What a wonderful thing to learn about my favourite carol!

I will leave you with Wilhousky's lyrics. Merry Christmas!

Hark how the bells,
sweet silver bells,
all seem to say,
throw cares away

Christmas is here,
bringing good cheer,
to young and old,
meek and the bold,

Ding dong ding dong
that is their song
with joyful ring
all caroling

One seems to hear
words of good cheer
from everywhere
filling the air

Oh how they pound,
raising the sound,
o'er hill and dale,
telling their tale,

Gaily they ring
while people sing
songs of good cheer,
Christmas is here,

Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas,
Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas,

On on they send,
on without end,
their joyful tone
to every home

Ding dong ding... dong!

A Christmas Mystery

I received a plain white envelope in the mail on Tuesday. "A Christmas card!" I thought. "I wonder who it's from." There was no return address on the envelope, so once I'd divested myself of coat and boots, and wandered into the kitchen to retrieve my letter opener, I slit open the envelope. The card was lovely: an angel over Bethlehem, with gold writing bordering the scene. I opened the card.

It was blank.

Well, not completely blank. The wishes the card manufacturer put inside were there. But there was no writing at all.

I started to laugh. It was almost more delightful than receiving a regular Christmas card. It is a mystery!

I have these clues. The writing on the envelope is relatively feminine, and was addressed to simply, "Vanessa and Mike." It was postmarked from the T5L area, which is in Edmonton. The card is religious in nature, though that may not be as much of a clue as I think it is.

Maybe I don't really want to know who sent it. Part of me, though, is infinitely curious as to how an envelope could be hand addressed, and a card make it inside without being written in. Or perhaps that was the point. But I would like to thank whoever it is for giving me such a wonderful diversion and making me laugh in childish pleasure for a good five minutes, and kept me smiling for at least an hour after that. Even now, I cannot help but grin at the thought. You have given me a wonderful gift this season, and I thank you, even if it was unintentional.

Monday, December 11, 2006

G.I.F.T. Challenge 2006

Only two weeks left to do this challenge, so I will start with the familiar ones, and find something new to partake in soon. Before the 24th!

GIFT 1: Christmas Traditions

There are so many in our family, it's hard to know where to begin! But perhaps that is the best one to share... Christmas for us begins with Craft Dinner. It is a day of good company, good food, and fun crafts. I think perhaps the part I like the best about Craft Dinner, besides the Danish lunch table that tastes so wonderful and makes me fill myself far fuller than I would on any normal occasion, is the absolute variation and personality in the crafts we make. For example, this year, we made walnut mice. Essentially, you take a half walnut and a hazelnut. Fill the half walnut with stuffing and cover with fabric to create the bed, then add the hazelnut to the top, with felt ears and face drawn on. Finish with a yarn tail and hanger. Consider this sample:

So much difference! So much personality! And the same holds true for the years we make crafts from Mary Maxim kits. We all follow the instructions, and each final product is filled with its creator's personality. I do so adore Craft Dinner. To me, it is the way the season starts, no matter if we hold in at the beginning or end of November, and from there, the rest of the season follows.

GIFT 2: Christmas Movies

There is a part of me that half expected to spend this part of the post extolling the virtues of It's a Wonderful Life. And that is one of my favourite movies, not just for Christmas, but for all time. But for the last several weeks, it's been another James Stewart movie in my mind: The Shop Around the Corner. I have only seen this film once, but it sticks with me. Christmas is the backdrop for the story, and the young James Stewart and Margaret Sullivan find themselves both in hate and love in a jolly, busy season. This movie was recently redone as You've Got Mail, with the redoubtable duo of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in the main roles, and it is indeed a good film. But the original, with its 1940s charm, has a special place in my heart. I wish I'd seen it more than once.

For GIFTs 3 and 4, I believe I will turn to literature, and see what kinds of novels, short stories, or poems I can experience in the time I have left.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Okay, now you can see the highlights!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

More pictures!

Mike's cookies! He is so proud...

The remains of the gingerbread house. Now to nibble on it. :)

The outcome of my highlights and haircut! She pinned up my hair like I was going to a Christmas party. Not sure if you can see the highlights in these pictures, but it's a tawny kind of colour, both blond and red and brown.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

They stole my recycle bin!

At first, I thought it was a hallucination, because, you know, I have a Virus, but after several double-takes, I realized it must be true. From one day to the next, the recycle bin in the office disappeared!

I called the building front desk person. "Did they take my recycle bin?" I asked her.

"Umm... I don't know. What did it look like?"

"Well, it was waist high, clear, had a plastic bag in it..."

"Waist high? Did your association buy that for you?"

"No. It's always been here."

"Well, we have waist high, clear, with plastic bags in them recycle bins in the hallways, but those are ours. Why did you have one?"

"I've always had one!"

So even if I could find my recycle bin again, I can't have it, because it's "not mine." What I want to know is, why leave it in the office for over a year, so I can get used to it, and then POOF! make it disappear one day? And worse, why make it disappear when I'm sick, so I question whether or not I just missed seeing it?

Off to Canadian Tire. I'll label this one very clearly as mine. :)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


Intellectually, I realize that it is Wednesday of the first full week of December. But I have lost a week due to illness. This is an evil virus. Stay very far away from me. Thankfully, Mike hasn't caught it yet, and is not likely to at this point.

I have been at work for three hours, and it feels like three days. I know I went to an athletic first aid/taping and strapping course this weekend, but it seems a month ago, and I'm very glad I have textbooks. I know that I went to the doctor on Monday, to confirm its viral nature and get a note, since I was mostly out of the office the last three days of last week, but that also seem an age ago. Medications do not touch this virus; they simply make the symptoms microscopically less debilitating. I want to curl up on the floor of my office and have a nap. Not sure how that would go over.

So much for my vow not to set foot in a mall in December. The Virus stole the last days of November from me, and the early part of December as well, and I still have a list, albeit relatively short, of people to purchase presents for. But I just can't right now. Even sitting here, having worked for three hours only, my legs are shaking. A mall of any sort is beyond my capabilities right now.

Being miserable, my first inclination is to remove myself from others until such time as I am good company again. I burrow in blankets, sleep or read if I have the strength, and wait. This time is different, however. I find I am desperate for comfort. I want my love to hold me until I fall asleep, and wait out the inevitable conclusion of the illness with me. It's odd.

Mike baked cookies yesterday. He was so proud, he took pictures. We won't mention that the dough was premade. :)

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