Monday, December 31, 2007



Howard David Johnson


These faerie guardians will surely be surrounding my friend Miss Robyn as she sits beneath her favorite tree in her garden today. For on this day, Miss *R* celebrates 50 years on this earth as a human being.
I am writing this now because although it is still December 31, 2007 in the U.S., in Australia, where Robyn makes her home, it is January 1, 2008. Thank goodness it is summer there so she can be comfortable under that tree!
Little Robyn didn't get to be the official New Year's baby in her hometown - she was beat out by a boy! But now she can't be beat!
Since "meeting" Robyn early in 2007, I have been down many magical and mysterious paths, learning the ways of the fae, following the wheel of the year with new appreciation, participating in her croning ceremony, gaining a knowledge of crystals and herbal lore, and just simply getting to know this warm and caring person.
Happy Birthday, Miss Robyn, and 50 more!

Saturday, December 29, 2007



I overdid it this Christmas with all the cleaning and cooking I did, and now my hands are screaming in pain. It didn't help that Dan's knee started to swell up on Christmas Eve day and by Christmas Day he was in excruciating pain. I ended up cooking Christmas dinner. It's been a long time since I've handled a full blown meal like that (Dan usually wears the apron in our family.)

I am now at the point where I am starting to drop things, and I can't open a Coke bottle. I am having trouble writing. and I can't make a fist. I can't believe that my original symptoms started in late September in my left hand and now both hands are compromised. It’s like the right hand “caught it” from the left.

Aleve, ibuprofen and Celebrex aren’t working anymore, physical therapy is only briefly helpful and I have no vacation or sick time built up for surgery (not that I want that anyway.)

It's obvious something needs to be done. The first option I will explore is cortisone shots. If the doctor won't approve them for me or if they don't help, I am ready to consider alternative medicine. I'm not giving up on Vitamin B6 yet, but one website says I should have been taking 300 mg a day for the past three months. What??? My vitamin bottle says that 3 mg a day is 200% of the daily requirement. Can anyone say toxic?

That's the trouble with doing one's own research on the web. It's so confusing. Should I order something called Carpal Tunnel Solution? The testimonials sound good. But wait a minute, it costs $160.00 for the 28-day, two-hand “pack”. That’s pretty spendy.

How about herbal medicine? There’s an enzyme found in pineapples called bromelain. Maybe I should just eat a lot of pineapple. I do like pineapple but would probably end up hating it, like my Hawaiian college roommate who worked a summer in a pineapple canning factory. I could, however, take bromelain and herbs in supplements.

Shall I try accupressure, acupuncture, massage or chiropractors? I have never been a believer in chiropractors before, but maybe I should start now. There’s Hellerwork (deep-tissue body work) and Feldenkrais (movement re-education). Both sound German and painful.

Ultrasound, fluidotherapy, paraffin wax dips? Been there, done that, don’t work. Splints, ditto. Rest? Out of the question. Therapeutic touch and magnetic therapy? Therapeutic touch “does nothing”, and magnetic therapy “has no benefit for people with carpal tunnel syndrome”, pooh poohs Mayo Clinic.

The new Balloon Carpal Tunnel-Plasty? Is it even done here in Bismarck? Biofeedback, diet, laser therapy, hydrotherapy, yoga, hypnosis? Aack, too much research. I don’t have the time and money to fool around with all these remedies. Let’s hope the cortisone shots work. I am impatient, I know. I want a solution, now.

If anyone out there has found success with any of these methods, please write and let me know.
I keep telling myself I could have cancer or another terrible disease. But the fact is, I don't. I have carpal tunnel syndrome and when I feel my hands like dead weights at the end of my arms, all I can think is, I DON'T WANT THIS ANY MORE!
(Below - ad for Carpal Tunnel Solution)

(P.S. Dan's knee is fine now.)

Friday, December 21, 2007



"The Holly King"

Joanna Powell Colbert


From Winter Solstice Gallery:

"The figure of the Holly King is a type of Green Man, the British vegetation god. In some mythologies of the changing seasons, the year is divided in half and is ruled alternately by the Holly King and his twin brother the Oak King. Echoes of their battles at midsummer and midwinter are found throughout British folklore, as in the mummer plays of St. George and in the tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight."


In the midst of all the Christmas frenzy, the Winter Solstice is often overlooked. The Solstice, which occurs tonight at shortly after midnight here in the Central United States, was an extremely important celebration for people of ancient times. For them, the shortest day of the year meant that the Dark King was defeated and from now on each day would be longer.

From “The Mythology and Folklore of the Caledonian Forest”:

For most of us the sight of holly leaves and berries is inextricably linked with Christmas, whether we celebrate this as a secular or a religious festivity. Christmas brings with it many traditions and it is probably the one time when many of us still practice at least a few old folklore customs today. Indeed in some parts of Britain holly was formerly referred to merely as Christmas, and in pre-Victorian times 'Christmas trees' meant holly bushes.

Though holly doubtless was, and still is, brought into the house for its shiny green leaves and berries, which reflect the light and add colour to the dark days of Yule, it has another significance as well. Christian symbolism connected the prickly leaves with Jesus' crown of thorns and the berries with the drops of blood shed for humanity's salvation, as is related, for example, in the Christmas carol, 'The Holly and the Ivy'. Yet even here the reference to these two plants refers to a pre-Christian celebration, where a boy would be dressed in a suit of holly leaves and a girl similarly in ivy, to parade around the village, bringing Nature through the darkest part of the year to re-emerge for another year's fertility.

Holly was also brought into the house variously to protect the home from malevolent faeries or to allow faeries to shelter in the home without friction between them and the human occupants. Whichever of prickly-leaved or smooth-leaved holly was brought into the house first dictated whether the husband or wife respectively were to rule the household for the coming year.

In Celtic mythology the Holly King was said to rule over the half of the year from the summer to the winter solstice, at which time the Oak King defeated the Holly King to rule for the time until the summer solstice again. These two aspects of the Nature god were later incorporated into Mummers' plays traditionally performed around Yuletide. The Holly King was depicted as a powerful giant of a man covered in holly leaves and branches, and wielding a holly bush as a club. He may well have been the same archetype on which the Green Knight of Arthurian legend was based, and to whose challenge Gawain rose during the Round Table's Christmas celebrations.

However the folklore of the holly is not solely connected with Yuletide festivities. Like several other native trees it was felt to have protective properties, and there were taboos against cutting down a whole tree. Hollies were frequently left uncut in hedges when these were trimmed. A more arcane reason for this was to obstruct witches who were known to run along the tops of hedges, though more practically farmers used their distinctive evergreen shapes to establish lines of sight during winter ploughing. Apparently the Duke of Argyll even had a prospective road rerouted to avoid cutting down a distinctive old holly in 1861.

Although the felling of whole trees was said to bring bad luck, the taking of boughs for decoration, and the coppicing of trees to provide winter fodder, was allowed. Holly leaves proved to be particularly nutritious as winter feed for livestock, and some farmers even installed grinders to make the pricklier leaves more palatable. Coppicing also allowed the holly's hard, white, close-grained wood to be used for inlaid marquetry and to make chess pieces and tool handles. Folklore suggested that the wood had an affinity for control, especially of horses, and most whips for ploughmen and horse-drawn coaches were made from coppiced holly, which accounted for hundreds of thousands of stems during the eighteenth century.

In Scotland the Gaelic name for holly, Chuillin, appears across the country from Cruach-doire-cuilean on Mull, where the local McLean clan adopted holly as their clan badge, to Loch a' Chuillin in Ross-shire in the north; the town of Cullen in Banffshire may also have derived its name from a local holly wood.

Holly trees were traditionally known for protection from lightning strikes, to which end they were planted near a house. In European mythology, holly was associated with thunder gods such as Thor and Taranis. We now know that the spines on the distinctively-shaped holly leaves can act as miniature lightning conductors, thereby protecting the tree and other nearby objects. Modern science occasionally catches up with an explanation for what may previously have been dismissed as superstitious lore!


"But the hue of his every feature
Stunned them: as could be seen,
Not only was this creature
Colossal, he was bright green

No spear to thrust, no shield against the shock of battle,
But in one hand a solitary branch of holly
That shows greenest when all the groves are leafless;"

from 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight' ca 1370 - 1390, author unknown


"Heigh ho! sing heigh ho! unto the green holly:
Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly:
Then, heigh ho, the holly!
This life is most jolly."

from 'As You Like It' by William Shakespeare


By Lady Isadora

Tune: “Noel Nouvoulet” Traditional

Sing we of a mystery, now as long ago
Blood red holly berries, blood upon on the snow
The Oak king shall rise, the waxing year to bring
Therefore bid we farewell to the Holly king

Now in deep midwinter all seems in a trance
Comes the golden Oak King in his age old dance
Comes he to slay, yet honor he does he bring
To his fallen brother the darksome Holly King

In the bright midsummer the year's wheel turned around
Then shall be the Oak King's blood upon the ground
Ever it comes, once more the years waning
Then shall be victorious the Darksome Holly King

Sing we of the Mystery now as long ago
Blood red holly berries, blood upon on the snow
The Oak king shall rise waxing year to bring
Therefore bid we farewell to the Holly king


This post is dedicated to my English friend from "Somerset Seasons", Leanne, whose specially- chosen middle name is Holly.



Nov. 22, 1953 - Dec. 21, 1978



Added Saturday: Vicki left this as a comment, but I am adding it to the post because it is so fitting. Here's to my stars this Christmas: Johnny, Ronnie, Mom, Grandma, Uncle Donnie, Aunt Mary, Aunt Ina, Uncle Scotty, Uncle Billy, Uncle David, MIL Lillian, FIL Earl. I miss you all so much, especially at this time of the year.

"Perhaps they are not the stars, but rather openings in Heaven where the love of our lost ones pours through and shines down upon us to let us know they are happy."

~Author Unknown

Thursday, December 20, 2007


Back: Julie, Dad, Ronnie
Front: Gloriann, Mom
Where's brother Johnny?


Carole at Pea's Corner has tagged me to list 12 things about Me and Christmas. Note that I did not use the dreaded M word.

1. We opened our Christmas presents at our house on Christmas Eve and then went to Grandma's house for Christmas Day. Mom fixed a quick meal on Christmas Eve: grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. She knew that her kids were eager to finish eating and get to the presents.

2. We stayed far away from Grandma's House on Christmas Eve because that was the one day of the year that they had lutefisk. Thank goodness the smell had dissipated by the next day, due largely to the lovely aroma of turkey.

3. Our gifts were kept at Dad's service station/shop until Christmas Eve. This is because Brother John would covertly open all his gifts before Christmas, and carefully re-wrap them. Some years Dad would be on the road and didn't get home until late. How our Mom must have suffered with trying to appease four anxious kids!

This lacquered Chinese music/jewelry box
was a favorite present when I was 12.


4. My brother Ron swore to his dying day that one Christmas he saw Santa and his reindeer flying across the face of the moon. Whenever my sister and I wanted a good laugh, we would have him tell his Santa story.

5. I remember one Christmas when I had the stomach flu. All I could do was lie on the couch and look at my gifts - a cool stove, fridge and sink set.

6. My brother John, age 25, and his girlfriend were killed in a car accident on December 21, 1978, on their way from her parents' house to mine. It will be 29 years tomorrow. The only reason we had Christmas that year was because of Glori's two-year-old son Nick, whom John loved as his own kid.

Left to Right: Julie, John, our Cousin Kevin, Glori, Ronnie
Guess our Grandma did have an aluminum tree!


7. My favorite Christmas carols are "God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen" and "Good King Wenceslas." When my Aunt Mary asked me what my favorite carols were, that's what I told her. "Oh, you would pick them," she said. I think she meant: "You're weird."

8. I kicked the aforesaid Aunt Mary out of my house on Christmas Day about five years ago, for making really nasty comments about Dan, me, and our family. She didn't have to go sit in a snowbank - she had my sister's place to go to. She would always come down for a week or two at Christmas and constantly criticize our pets, our late meals, kids running around, etc. She never, ever stayed at my sister's place; she criticized her even more. One year, I just.had.enough.

9. My favorite part of Christmas? The lights. When you live on the prairie, distances from farm to farm to farm and town can seem even longer on a dark winter night. Those Christmas lights bravely shining on the houses at each farmstead were a welcoming glow. They meant, people live here. It is not all stark and barren and silent.

I made out like a bandit this Christmas!
Check out the watch and the snazzy apron.
I must have had a perm because
my hair was never that curly!


10. School and church Christmas Pageants stand out vividly in my memory - so much so that I am going to write a separate post about them.

11. Dan's family opened their presents Christmas Day. The first Christmas I spent with him alone, he made me wait to open gifts until Christmas morning. It just wasn't the same! I spent my first Christmas away from home with Dan in Langdon, ND. Because of his schedule as a physician's assistant, we weren't able to go back to Williston and Larson.

12. I always associate Christmas with tangerines, which I love. It isn't Christmas unless I have tangerines. Yes, I have had them this year, and they were wonderful.

That is one Charlie Brown Christmas tree!


At this point I am supposed to tag other people, but frankly, I left it go too long and I am sure anyone I tagged would jump up, all afrazzle, covered with gift wrap and tape, and moan, "I can't possibly do it now. Why are you such a procrastinator, Julie?"

Uncle Donnie with another Charlie Brown tree!

Sunday, December 16, 2007


After Kristen started school, Christmas photos were no problem. We would just tuck a school photo into our Christmas cards. But before that, sometimes we went to Sears or JC Penney for her holiday photo, and sometimes I took the photos. I think Kristen was around four, maybe five, when these photos were taken. I seldom curled her waist-length hair, but this was for a special occasion.
(Click to enlarge)
Hmm, there are a lot of outtakes here. A little bit of talking back, some grimness (will this ever be over?), face needs scratching, oops, the flash was too bright, a real pout (it's NEVER going to end), resignation.
Which one do you think I chose?

"Love, Dan, Julie & our own living doll, Kristen."

Saturday, December 15, 2007


(Picture borrowed from Anna's blog)
For those of you who don't already know, my good blogging friend Anna (Nature Girl) fell and broke her ankle this week. After her surgery, her doctor told her she had "a clean break and good bones", so that is good news. She also felt up to blogging this morning, which is a really good sign. But, she will have to wear a cast for three months. This comes after an extremely painful bout of shingles she suffered all through October and November!
Today, Anna wrote about the healing power of prayer. She said she felt her friends' spirits surrounding her when she was on the operating table, felt their loving touch. I strongly believe in the power of prayer and touch too, and am sending healing prayers Anna's way and to a couple of my blogging friends who are currently suffering, not from an ankle break but from heart break.
My heart goes out to all of you who may be suffering physical or emotional pain this Christmas season, which in itself is such an emotionally fraught time. Anna is forced to have a quiet Christmas this year, but maybe we all should "have ourselves a quiet little Christmas" so we can have time to remember our good friends.
Anna called her friends her "quiet angels." You are all my quiet angels for all the love, support and kindness you have shown me this past year (I started blogging in January.) I didn't say it in my Thanksgiving post, but I say it now: I am so thankful to have met all of you and I am thinking of all of you this quiet morning. I am sitting here telling myself how foolish it is to be fretting over my hands today. I could be so much worse off, but I'm not, and a big reason why is because I have been on the receiving end of your prayers, too. And they have helped.
Love, Julie

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Santa Lucia Day

I did not know until a few days ago that St. Lucia's Day (Santa Lucia Day) is celebrated in all of Scandinavia. I thought it was strictly a Swedish custom. Had I known Norwegians observe it too, I would have been celebrating it by going to the local Three Crowns Swedish Club for their annual St. Lucia Day celebration.

Below, I have reprinted part of The Legend of Lucy of Syracuse (Sicily)" from

"How did a girl who died for her faith in the 4th century AD in Sicily become a symbol of the Christmas season with candles in her hair and a tray of sweet breads in Scandinavia? In between are many legends, and maybe just a few facts.

"Santa Lucia's Day is the first day of the Christmas Celebration in Sweden, Denmark and Norway. On the morning of the 13th of December, a young girl previously elected is dressed up as Lucia in a white gown with a red sash, and with a crown of lingonberry and lit candles on her head. Followed by all her handmaids and some boys called star lads, all carrying lit candles in their hands, she goes from house to house (or just into her parents' bedroom), singing songs dedicated to Lucia, and offering coffee or wine (glögg) mulled with almonds and raisins, saffron buns (Lussekatter), and ginger bread cookies.

"St. Lucia's feast day commemorates the day of her martyrdom, December 13th, which also was the shortest day of the year - Winter Solstice under the old Gregorian calendar. Because her name means "light," many of the ancient light and fire customs of the Yuletide became associated with her day. Thus we find that "Lucy candles" were lighted in homes and "Lucy fires" burned in the outdoors.

"Before the Reformation, Saint Lucy's Day was one of unusual celebration and festivity because, for the people of Sweden and Norway, she was the great "light saint" who turned the tides of their long winter and brought the light of the day to renewed victory. Similarly, Lucia became the patron saint for the "light of the body"--the eyes, which may be the source of legends that she was blinded and her eyesight miraculously restored.

"Over a thousand years ago, King Canute of the Norsemen declared that Christmas would begin with her feast, and last for a month. But how did did this Italian girl who died for her faith in 303 A.D. come to be so revered in in the far Northern lands of Scandinavia?

"Perhaps a clue lays in the tray of sweet breads she carries. A part of the Scandinavian legends about Lucia was how during a severe winter's famine, she was seen with her white robes and halo bringing in a ship full of food over lake of Vänern. A similar miracle deliverance is described in her native Sicily.

"Traditions tell the legend of how there was a great hunger in Syracuse, Sicily, and the town's people had gathered in the cathedral on her feast day, December 13th, to pray, and two ships loaded with wheat arrived, with her at the helm of one, dressed in white, with a halo of candles on her head. This is the explanation given for the cucci, or cooked wheat which is an ingredient in all her festival 's foods. Cuccia, a kind of sweet porridge, is made with wheat berries, chocolate, sugar and milk. Each family has their own versions of this dish. It is thought perhaps Viking traders, who traveled even the Mediterranean seas long ago, may have taken her legends home with them, and that is how Lucia came to the far North.

"Few saints have their own songs, but Lucia has a number of popular songs-some that children sing; one in particular has been recorded by Caruso, Mario Lanza and Elvis Presley."


"Santa Lucia, thy light is glowing

Through darkest winter night,

Comfort bestowing.

Dreams float on dreams tonight

Comes then the morning light,

Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia"


To see how Britt-Arnhild and her daughter Marta celebrated St. Lucia's day in Norway today, visit (Of course, Lucia girls today wear wreaths with candles powered by batteries.)

If you prefer a Pagan slant to this holiday, The Winter Solstice Gallery, says that "Juno Lucina, Mother of Lights, was a goddess of childbirth whose festival was celebrated with torch lights and bonfires in Rome in early December. As midwife of the miraculous Sun Child born at Winter Solstice, it was said she brought children to light."


Print by Joanna Powell Colbert

Tuesday, December 11, 2007





Is there any hope when your sister, whom you love dearly, is late AGAIN for your every-other- Saturday luncheon date, therefore making you late for the flea market, and when you get there at 3:30 P.M. you discover they've changed the closing time to 4:00 P.M. instead of 5:00 P.M.?

Yes, there is! In fact, I found more in a half hour in this flea market than I sometimes find when I have way more time to browse. Sadly, our local monthly Flea Market/Antique Show has become almost solely flea market, since most antique dealers sell their wares on eBay now days.

But this time, I was fortunate to find the postcard shown at the top of the post, and a lovely gilded Easter postcard, both mailed from Czechoslovakia. The dealer had many more Czech postcards, which I have never seen before. I wish I had had a chance to peruse the others, but it was time to move on.

At another booth, I found this pensive little Victorian Girl in Winter. Hmm . . . She could almost be my January Painting of the Month, couldn't she? At the same booth, I found a copy of Robert Louis Stevenson's "A Child's Garden of Verses", copyright 1933, in really good condition (a steal at $5.00). I was surprised and thrilled to learn that this edition was illustrated by Frances Brundage, who was a renowned illustrator of Halloween and Christmas postcards during the Golden Age of Postcards. All I need to do is glue down the flap that covers the spine.

In my little speed walk through the flea market, I also found a really nice blue and white china plate and a statue of a springer spaniel (I collect dog statues). Last but not least, I found this Father Christmas dressed in white, and another one dressed in red for my sister.

I left this picture for the last because I wanted to tell you that Leanne at "Somerset Seasons" has written a post about Father Christmas/Santa Claus/St. Nicholas. Before the red-suited Santa we know today came along, Santa - or more accurately Father Christmas - was often pictured in long robes of white, green, blue and brown! Leanne has also written some other lovely Christmas-tradition posts, including ones about Robin Red Breast, the Yule Log, Mistletoe and Christmas in Olden Times. They begin December 5 and continue through today (so far!). Please check out her blog at Another English blogger, Rowan, has been visited recently by her very own lovely Christmas Robin. Read her blog at

Saturday, December 8, 2007



I haven't been doing as many Christmas-related posts as I had planned, because it's been too cold in my little corner of the world. And by that I don't mean outside (although it is cold outside), but here in my computer corner in the living room. Frigid air is coming in around the window air conditioner, and my fingers are like icicles. This post will be mainly pictures, but that's okay, and hopefully Dan and I can run up to Menard's tomorrow and get some weather- proofing stuff for the window while we're out getting our Christmas tree.

Today I'm sharing some of my vintage Christmas items, which I have found at flea markets and antique shops (which in North Dakota are basically vintage shops), and in one instance, on eBay. I bought them because they bring back warm fuzzy memories of my childhood home and of my grandma's house.

To me, the quintessential Santa Claus is the Coca Cola Santa from the 50s. It's who I imagine when I picture Santa in my mind's eye. His beard, his hat, his suit, his black belt and even his old brown boots are just perfect. The Coca Cola Santa illustrations can be found in old magazines at flea markets.

I love glass-blown bird ornaments. They just plain make me happy. The reproductions today usually have big feathery tails but I prefer the older ones with the straight tails. I have found some that have lost their clips, but I just bring them home anyway (they're cheap) and tuck them in here and there in arrangements.

This lighted plastic music box church was always on display at Christmas at my grandma's house. I loved to sit and stare at it, and occasionally turn the key to play "Silent Night." I only knew it as the Miles Kimball church because it used to be offered in the Miles Kimball catalog. I always meant to order one for myself, but Miles Kimball stopped selling it. I was sure I could find one on eBay and I was right. I was surprised to learn that this is well known by its brand name, as the Raylite church.

Recognize these little choir boys, anyone? These are Gurley candles. When I was growing up, we had only the choir boys, the cute little angels and the evergreen trees. However, Gurley made many other kinds of Christmas candles and so I have added the Santas, snowmen, reindeer, elves, and so forth to my collection.

A cellophane wreath like this used to hang in my grandma's living room window. Its warm red glow meant, "Welcome, Welcome!" to me. Mine hangs in my kitchen window, where I leave it lit 24 hours a day. It is very fragile, as are all the cellophane wreaths that exist to this day, but that makes me love it even more.

Does anyone remember the little Christmas chimes? The heat from the candles makes the top spin and produces tinkling sounds. If you're looking for them in vintage shops, they come unassembled in little boxes and you have to try to remember every year how to put together all the pieces.

My family and Dan's family both had bubble lights on our Christmas trees. My grandma didn't have a tree when I was growing up but I was told that for many years Grandma's sister "Auntie Jenny" in Montana shipped the Munros fresh Christmas trees on the train. Wouldn't that have been fun?
Anyway, back to bubble lights. I loved them when I was little. I used to be mesmerized by the liquid that started bubbling after the bulb warmed up.
Dan and I have carried on the tradition of bubble lights, but I am getting sick and tired of them. I still think they are pretty, but they break or dry out or stop bubbling, and it is becoming nearly impossible to find replacement bulbs. I found some on the Internet last year, but they were out of stock and they were "not available until 2007". Did I remember to go back and order some in early 2007? Of course not. When did I think about ordering some? Yesterday. Am I too late? Of course.

I want to get rid of the bubble lights entirely and have all white lights, but Dan doesn't agree. We did have to do without them a couple of years ago, when we couldn't find the bubble lights (and no, I didn't hide them).

These vintage balls and bells are among my favorites, too. I have a small white tree decorated with these glass-blown ornaments, and I group the others in a bowl. Now this is really going to date me: My mom and us kids also made red and green construction paper chains, and strung cranberry and popcorn garlands for our trees.
I was asking Dan last night about the decorations he remembered, as his mom and dad had a lot of these same items. He remembers that his Auntie Gladys and Uncle Bill had angel hair on their Christmas tree, and that it was considered to be very expensive at the time. "Earl wouldn't have any of that," says Dan, referring to his frugal father.
Yesterday my co-workers and I had lunch together. We were talking about Christmas decorations and someone mentioned bubble lights. "What are bubble lights?", asked 20-something Stephanie. I realized then and there that the post I had planned to write about vintage Christmas would have to include me, as I, myself, am now considered to be vintage! (And Stephanie probably thinks of me as antique.)
I hope you enjoyed my trip down "Christmas Decoration Memory Lane". Those of you who are my age most certainly recognized all or most of these decorations. For you youngsters, I hope I introduced you to some cool stuff.
Oh, by the way, neither Dan's parents or my parents ever had an aluminum tree colored by rotating lights! That's way too retro for me.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007


"KRUMKAKE GIRL" by Suzanne Tofte
(Norwegian Proverb)

For our book club Christmas party, we decided to have an afternoon tea/coffee and bring desserts. A number of the desserts turned out to be Scandinavian cookies, which was fitting since at least half of us are Norwegian and/or Swedish.
The hostess made absolutely wonderful frosted sugar cookies in the shape of the Dala horse, which is a symbol of Sweden. I brought my Dala horse home uneaten specifically to scan it (and then I enjoyed it, very much.) I learned from that baking is a fine art year-round in Scandinavia, "But come late November, most kitchens see a flurry of flour, sugar, spices, almonds, butter, and eggs when serious Christmas baking begins.

"Danish and Norwegian home cooks bake at least seven different kinds of cookies--a carryover from the 19th century when the number reflected a family's wealth and status. The buttery treats are packed away in tins awaiting the first Sunday of Advent and the official start of holiday entertaining. That's when Scandinavians especially love the ritual of gathering around the living room coffee table to enjoy after-dinner coffee and a dazzling array of cookies." (My friends and I were right in synch then, as our party was this past Sunday, the first Sunday in Advent.)

"Recipes for Scandinavian Christmas cookies are handed down from generation to generation, often orally. Recipes might vary between families and location, but timeless favorites exist, even overlapping national borders. Among the most popular cookies:

Pepparkakor, crisp, very thin gingersnaps from Sweden, traditionally cut out in heart and flower shapes.

Pebber Nodder (Pepper Nuts) from Denmark and Peppernotter (Pepper Nuts) from Sweden, are the oldest Christmas cookie in Scandinavia and Europe, dating to medieval times when spices were used exclusively for holiday baking.

Fattigmann (Poor Man), from Norway, also dates to the Middle Ages, and, along with rosettes, is typical of traditional cookies deep-fried in unsalted fat.

Krumkake, Vaffler, and Goro from Norway date to the 1700s. They were originally made over open fires using decorative irons, but modern cooks use electric or stovetop irons to bake paper-thin wafers imprinted with delicate filigree patterns. Krumkake, wrapped around a wooden cone, are named for the buttery crumbles left in your hand when you take a first bite.

Pepparkakorhus, the traditional gingerbread house, often a family project, is a centerpiece on many Christmas tables.

Aebleskiver, plump doughnut-like round balls are a favorite in Denmark served when friends and family go visiting between Christmas and New Year's.
My mother and grandmother did not make Scandinavian cookies because they were so readily available in Crosby during the holidays, and I don't bake them. Most of them require special tools. In Bismarck, no one makes them, so I usually miss out.

I have not tried all of the Norwegian Christmas cookies listed in, but here a few of my favorites: Above: Sandbakkels, or Sand Tarts. These are baked in special little tins. They are pictured here with fruit, but we used to eat them plain.

Above, Pepparkakor. My favorites are the heart-shaped cookies. No need to bake these as they can be purchased in collectible tins (different every year) at Scandinavian shops (see below).

Below: Rosettes, shown here with powdered sugar, but they can also be eaten plain. These are made by dipping a rosette iron into batter and then deep frying.

Below: Krumkake. These are baked on a special krumkake griddle (see illustration at the top of the post) and then rolled on a cone while still pliable. They can be eaten with whipped cream and sprinkles, or plain.

Below: the Dala Horse!

Below: Fattigmann, made with triangles of dough. A slit is cut into the dough near the base of the triangle and the tip of the triangle is pulled through to the other side, then the dough is deep fried. (You can tell why I like Scandinavian cookies.)
Some other Norwegian cookies not shown here are Sprits (or Spritz) and Berlinerkranser or Christmas Wreath cookies. Recipes for all of these can be found just by googling Norwegian Christmas cookies.

Saturday, December 1, 2007


Today is the first day of December - a blank new white page in a journal or engagement calendar - or upon the land. We have a beautiful blanket of snow covering the ground today. It has snowed a couple of times already this season, but nothing that covered the ground or stayed. This is our first real snow. Soft, fluffy and fresh, it covers the dirty and the ugly and makes everything pristine.

I had written on several occasions that I hadn't been getting into the spirit of the holidays this season. But with the fresh new calendar page and the fresh white snow, I am coming around. And I want to clarify that what I was bah-humbugging about were the awful aspects of the silly season: The commercials, the jammed stores, the lunatics waiting in line for bargains in subzero temperatures, the carols in November, the encroachment upon Thanksgiving and even Halloween, the overspending and debt building, the whirl of parties laden with alcohol and false cheer, the endless and exhausting decorating, baking, entertaining, buying and wrapping.

I have decided that from now until Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (the FIRST day of Christmas, remember?) I will make this a time for quiet reflection. For basking in the glow of tall white candles and Christmas lights, which I love so much. For listening to Christmas music of my choosing when I choose it. For contemplation, for introspection, for attending to the needy. For writing to new friends and old far away, and for getting together with my very best friends, my book club members, for our annual Christmas party tomorrow afternoon.

I am going to try not to enter the mall at all, if possible. If I do, I will not be struggling with large shopping bags and my heavy coat and purse, getting overheated and overwhelmed with choices, and then going outside to minus 20 degree weather and a frozen car.

Dee Hardie, who used to write columns for House Beautiful and House and Garden, wrote that she did not "go to the market place" the week before Christmas. I think that is a smashing idea, and I hope to carry it out if I can. There are antique shops and small gift shops with handmade items that will better suit my needs this year. And yes, the Internet will be employed.

I have a shopping budget and I am going to stick to it. Nothing novelty, nothing wacky, nothing trendy, not "the latest thing", just a couple of items for each person, that are sensible and beautiful and sturdy and warm and instilled with love. And books, yes, always books!

I am not going to buy one new ornament or Christmas decoration. I have enough to last one woman several lifetimes. I think I'll put out fewer decorations too - just my very favorite ones - and not try to cover every single surface with Christmas. I think my husband will probably appreciate that as well!

And I am going to try to write, each day, about Christmases past when so many more of my family members were alive. Or about the Christmas books I love, the vintage decorations that remind me of the Johnson and Munro homes of long ago, about my favorite songs of the season, about my memories (good and bad!) of school and church programs, about the Norwegian Christmas traditions my North Dakota community held so dear. I will also print the Christmas and December poems and quotes that speak to me.

(Below - illustrations from "Why The Chimes Rang")

So today, I am showing you two lovely old Christmas books, both purchased at antique shops or flea markets. The first is "Why The Chimes Rang," by Raymond MacDonald Alden, and the other is "The Birds' Christmas Carol" by Kate Douglas Wiggin (and I swear that until this minute I always thought her name was Wiggins).

The Wiggin book, especially, is old fashioned and sentimental, and always brings a few tears, but what better season for it?

I love these old books as much for their lovely illustrations as for their stories. And for their histories. I was thrilled to look in the front of the books and learn that the Alden book has a copyright of 1909 and spent time at Voltaire (School) Special #26, and that the Birds' book was given to someone named Ruth Welch of Menoken, ND, on June 19, 1918.

Britt Arnhild of asked participants to bring books to her Advent party today in Norway, so I offer these two. Of course, you know me as a book lover so these will be just the first of several Christmas books I will share.

I hope you come along with me on my journey of remembrance, and join me as I celebrate not the silly season but the shining season.


Edited on Sunday, December 2, to add: These two books are available on eBay, both in their vintage and newer editions. Some are available through bidding only, but many can be purchased directly through Buy It Now.

(Below: Carol Bird, the Bird family's
very own Christmas Carol.)