Thursday, December 31, 2009


The last day of 2009 is a doozy -- triply auspicious. Not only is it the eve of a new year and the start of a new decade, but also the occurrence of a full moon, a partial lunar eclipse (only visible in the US in the far northeast) and a Blue Moon to boot. We haven't seen a Blue Moon on New Year's Eve since 1990, and we won't see one again until 2028.

Since I've already written posts about the Blue Moon and Scottish New Year, Hogmanay, I'll provide links to those two posts and leave you to peruse some New Year's postcards. and

These postcards all feature vintage-looking snowmen, which I think are far more charming, lively and interesting than modern-day snowmen!

Among the most charming of the snowmen, I think, are those labeled Gelukkig Nieuwjaar, which I found out to be Dutch. Those labeled Bonne Annee are French, the Prosit Neujahr card is German and the card that says in the Cyrillic langage is Russian. The card with the clown snowman is probably Czech, as Happy New Year in Czech is Stastny Novy Rok.

Happy New Year and Happy Hogmanay, Ath Bhliain Faoi Mhaise (Irish Gaelic), Bliadhna Mhath Ur (Scottish Gaelic) and Godt NyttÃ¥r (Norwegian). Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


My golden angels and cherubs mantel.
(As I look at this photo I realize that this year
my two tallest angels are missing. What the??)

A blogging friend recently listed 55 things in honor of a 55th birthday. At the end of this year of 2009, during which I turned 60, I thought I would list 60 things -  about me and my life, what I love and what I don't, what I think and believe, what I feel and know. I borrowed a few of these things from my blogging friend's list, but not many.

And along with these 60 things, I thought I'd show you what my house looks like at the close of the year.

My tree of glass-blown ornaments,
with a vintage angel tree topper.

1. I am missing Kristen so much after putting her on a plane early Monday morning. Kristen, that jammie-loving, water-drinking, kitty-missing girl. Except when she went out, we seldom saw her dressed in anything but pjs, reading a book and sipping from her water bottle. I'm sure she gets her full 8 glasses a day, and more. (She quit drinking pop years some years ago.)

2. I learned an interesting fact from Kristen this year: If you are craving sugar, you're probably just thirsty.

3. I have only been in Kirkwood Mall three times this entire year. Twice, it was to get my hair cut at the JC Penney Salon. (Which shows you how infrequently I get my hair cut.) That hardly counts, as the salon is very close to one of the mall exits. The third time was early on Christmas Eve Day. I slipped quickly in to get a gift card and avoided the crowds.

4. Now I have a mall gift card to spend. What will I find to spend in a mall? I hate buying clothes. Boots to get through the 14 inches of new snow would be good though. And lord knows I could use another haircut. There's no longer a bookstore in the mall, but Target sells books, bless them. Or maybe I could finally get some new speakers for my computer. Now there's an idea. I wonder how much they cost?

This photo was taken a few years ago. Sadly, the violin
was broken when I pulled it out of storage this year.

5. Speaking of books, I also have a gift card to Barnes and Noble. No problem finding something there. The dilemma will be choosing just one hardcover or a couple of paperbacks. (Note added later: I found a doggie calendar and the book "The Elegance of the Hedgehog", which I promptly started reading and find to be wonderful!

6. We haven't gone out for New Year's Eve in many, many years. Instead we stay home and pig out on Alaskan King Crab. This year we'll probably be eating that fake crab meat.

7. 2010 had better be a better year for us than 2009, dammit.

8. This year, I was employed full time for 3 months, half time for 2 1/2 months, and unemployed for 6 1/2 months.

My little "English" corner in the kitchen,
featuring English Portmeirion Holly and Ivy
china, snowmen and the Christmas Robin.

9. Dan and I often say that Gracie thinks she is a human, but actually I think she thinks I am a dog.

10. Dogs are pack animals and Gracie considers me to be one of the pack. When I'm reading or watching TV on my bed, she comes up to me, turns around three times in a tight circle -as all dogs do -and plunks herself down as close to me as she can.

11. I like my name. I like the way it sounds, the way it looks on paper, and the person for whom I was named (my Grandma Julia). I started out life as Julia but was always called Julie. It was officially changed when I was adopted by my stepfather when I was 12.

12. I have a real tendency to lose my car keys. And to lock my keys in the car.

My Winter Garden. I have since added more
white flowers to this white and green garden.

13. I have a Celtic and Nordic soul. I am 1/4 Scottish, 1/4 Irish and 1/2 Norwegian. I have a strong sense of the mystical world.

14. I grew up in a village of less than 100 people.

15. I received unconditional love in my life from one person: my grandmother.

16. I have the same birthday (June 25) as my great-grandmother Margrete Wangen, who lived in Norway.

Half of my Christmas Angel collection.

17. At this point in my life I don't have a lot of friends. That doesn't mean I haven't had great friends in the past. My sister is now my best friend. Of course, I have my wonderful blogging friends.

18. I am not a joiner. I belonged to a book club and the local garden club but have quit both because neither met my expectations. 

19. My best achievement is having raised a wonderful, smart daughter. I think it would have bothered me a great deal if she had not been smart. Or didn't love to read.

20. I have a love-hate relationship with North Dakota.

The other half of the collection.

21.  I am a very empathetic person. I am compassionate and kind and am a good listener.

22. I am overly sensitive, although not as much as I used to be. I also have really good feminine intuition.

23. I have two psychological traits that I hate: Approach/avoidance and passive/aggression behaviors. I am getting better at the first, still not good on the latter.

24. I threw my visiting Aunt Mary out of my house on Christmas Day one year. I had had enough of her nasty comments about me and my family, made while she was eating my good Christmas Dinner. I lost my temper and told her to get out. (She didn't have to sleep in a snowbank - she went to stay with my sister.)

My white wooden snowmen and flocked trees. (The
little conservatories are now in my winter garden.)

25. I once had a subliminal experience.

26. I believe in the afterlife. I believe in ghosts AND spirits, though I have never seen any.

27. I was raised in a very strict sect of the Lutheran church, even though my mom was a Presbyterian and my stepdad was a mainstream Lutheran.

28. I was the religion reporter for my newspaper and learned a lot about religious tolerance.

The arch between my living and dining rooms, featuring
a garland with a Renaissance angels theme.

29. Except for a wish to visit Scotland and Italy, I don't have a bucket list. I'd like to just keep on doing the things that I do.

30. I hate self-help books. They are just a bunch of empty words to me. It's all psychobabble.

31. I grew up in a messy, dirty, cluttered house. I was ashamed to have friends over. My family was considered poor white trash. We lived (figuratively) on the wrong side of the tracks. My Grandma and Grandpa's family, the Munros, on the other hand, were well respected and planted firmly in the middle class.

32. I only learned who my biological father was four years ago. It turns out he knew about my existence but chose not to be a part of my life or have any contact with me. I always hoped my real dad would come and rescue me from my stepfather.

Some Father Christmases, which I prefer over Santa Clauses.

33. I can keep secrets. For years, if necessary.

34. I can't stand control freaks, especially when they want to control me. 

35. Machines and I do not get along well.

36. I hate cell phones and I can't stand people who use cell phones in inappropriate places and at inappropriate times.

A "feather" tree with 1950s vintage glass balls.

37. I consider myself to be a lady. Every day I strive toward serenity, grace and class.

38. I wish I could have romance back in my life.

39. Gracie has stolen 10 ornaments from the Christmas tree. At the rate she is going, I won't have to un-decorate it!

40. I love the full moon and feel very connected with the phases of the moon.

Not our usual tree. This tree is from
the year when we could not find the
bubble lights. I loved the white and
gold theme but "someone else" did not.

41. I am a homebody. I am perfectly happy puttering around, tweaking my house, napping, reading, watching tv, listening to music, spending time with my dog.

42. I enjoy my own company and have no problem spending time alone.

43. I believe that the wheel of God grinds exceedingly slow, but it grinds exceedingly fine. (i.e. I will get my revenge but it won't be me that exacts it.)

44. I came into my own in college. I was the most true to my real self at that time.

Some of my vintage Gurley candles.

45. I wish I could draw and paint, and play the guitar.

46. I used to love the color blue the most. Now I think I love shades of green the best.

47. I come from American farmers and small town merchants, Scottish shepherds, Irish peasants and Norwegian mountain dwellers.

48. I used to be terribly impatient when I had to wait in line, etc., but now handle this in a much more Zen-like way.

Some of my vintage Christmas figurines.

49. I used to write poetry but now feel as if my inner censor won't let me.

50. I don't need things to define my life.

51. I love cemetery angels.

52. I am not a person who likes to chat on the phone.

My flocked cardboard houses and bottle brush
trees. And a frosty crescent moon!

53. I love to poke around in antique stores and at flea markets, and in a limited way, thrift shops. However, thrift shops have gotten very savvy and very expensive regarding antique/collectible items.

54. I like to turn the music way up when my husband is gone and dance wildly around the house (with my dog joining in).

55. I love to turn the music way up in the car too, and sing along (badly) to the songs.

56. I'm in better physical shape than I was the past two Christmases. Two years ago, I had carpal tunnel syndrome and my hands were screaming in pain. Last year my right knee hurt badly. And in February this year I hurt my left knee and had to use a walker for a month.

White and gold angels.

57. I got better due to acupuncture and housecleaning! I spent a lot of time this fall cleaning my house from top to bottom, and although it is not all finished, it looks a lot better. All that bending, stretching, reaching, getting up and down, etc. seems to have made me more limber and loosened my joints!

58. I am a good cook but don't care much for cooking.

59. I can't stand to be cold and in the winter I am always covered up with comforters, afghans and the like.

60. I love:  the smells of freshly-cut grass, clean baby, new lumber, bread baking, rain, lilacs, Christmas trees, floral shops in winter; rock music; my family, past and present; memories; reading and collecting books; writing my blog; Coke; fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy; soups, roast pork; red wine; lemonade; peach ice cream; going to the movies and eating Junior Mints and popcorn together; comfy shoes; cashmere socks; going to Minnesota lakes and woods; Italian food; Chinese food; tangerines; dark chocolate; wild flowers; cultivated flowers; florist flowers; going out for lunch; attending a play or poetry reading; watching one of my favorite movies on DVD; A & E and BBC TV series; having my daughter come home; northern California and the Monterey Peninsula; watching otters; bird song; dogs; the scent of Chanel No. 5 perfume; learning Celtic lore; pens that write really well; blank journals; getting real letters; pineapple cheesecake; Applebee's fiesta lime chicken; chicken marsala from Ciatti's in St. Paul, Minnesota; Alaskan King Crab and lots of it; mocha coffee.

And one for good luck:

61. "The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow gave the luster of mid-day to objects below..." And to my bedroom. With the approaching full moon on New Year's Eve and all that new snow, light radiates into my bedroom at night, even with the lights out.

Another  English/Irish (Celtic) corner.
The plaque says "Ceud Mile Failte/Nollaig Mo Duit"
(Welcome and Merry Christmas in Irish Gaelic)

Thursday, December 24, 2009


by Scottish painter Joseph Fahrquarson
(This painting has become an iconic Christmas card image)

It's Christmas Eve morning, and although it is sunny right now, a fierce winter snowstorm is roiling this way - oddly from the East out of Minnesota - and is predicted to turn into a blizzard by tomorrow morning. We may be snowbound for several days, unable even to celebrate with my sister's family just five miles away.

On this night, it is a tradition in the Celtic world to put candles in the window to light the way for strangers. Having grown up on the prairie, I know just how welcoming a light can be in the middle of a raging blizzard.

In Scotland, this night is called Oidche Choinnle, or the Night of Can­dles. Candles were placed in every window to show the way for the Holy Family on Christmas Eve. Shopkeepers gave their customers Yule candles as a symbol of good­will,  wishing them a "Fire to warm you by and a light to guide you."

In addition to candles, Scots illuminate their holiday world with other kinds of lights, including dazzling fireworks displays and huge bonfires.

Even though I am of Scottish descent, I didn't know about Oidche Choinnle. Fortunately, I learned about it this year from Mary at "Celtic Dreamscapes" in a post dated Dec. 12:

In fact, I didn't think that the Scots had any Christmas customs. Author Diane MacLean explains why Scottish Christmas traditions "are – to say the least – a little on the patchy side. There are some great pagan ideas, first-rate medieval treats, but then there is a huge yawning chasm, a Christmas-free zone until the middle of the 20th century until it all came back into fashion.

"The reason for this dearth of Christmas cheer is that Scotland in the mid-16th century had its very own Grinch. Yes, just like the character in Dr Seuss's book who stole Christmas, John Knox and the newly reformed Church of Scotland cancelled festive season. They forbade anyone to celebrate this erstwhile season of goodwill, hounded those who broke the embargo and cast a gloomy December shadow that stretched down through the centuries."

Strangely enough Christmas was banned for a religious reason. There was a fundamentalist view of Christianity held in Scotland at the time and therefore it was believed that if something wasn't in the Bible then it shouldn't be celebrated.

In 1574 people in Aberdeen were charged and fined for "playing, dancing and singing carols," on Yule Day.

The devouring of mincemeat pies had been a favorite Christmas tradition dating back to medieval times. (Anyone anticipating today's fruit and spice pastry would be in for a shock, as the mincemeat pie back then also contained beef, and indeed anything that came to hand.) This would be baked up in a huge wheel to feed neighbors and visitors.

By 1583 the Church of Scotland forbade bakers from preparing these pies. Anyone found baking them would be punished, or as more often happened, encouraged to inform on the customers who ordered them. In order to fox the Church, mincemeat pies became smaller and easier to hide.

The people of Scotland found a way to continue their holiday merrymaking without breaking church rules. Writes MacLean, "We canny Scots, unwilling to forego a good party, simply moved the traditions a week along. From this came the Scottish emphasis on Hogmanay (New Year's).

The ban on Christmas in Scotland continued for 400 years! It was not recognized as a public holiday in Scotland until 1958 and up until then people continued to work on that day. Even now, most of the celebrations take place on New Year's Eve.

But after doing a little research I learned that the Scots do indeed have a few other Christmas traditions, customs and legends in addition to Oidche Choinnle.

On a cold mid-winter eve, a large man in a hooded cloak visits a cottage in the hills. He sits a while by the fire, swaps stories and shares hospitality. When he heads back out into the dark, the folk who live there find he has left behind gold, or food or other gifts. No, it's not Santa. It's Jol(or Jul), pronounced with a "y" for the "j" sound. From this Scandinavian mid-winter observation comes the Scottish Yuletide.

There used to be a long standing superstition that one absolutely had to keep the fire going in the fireplace on Christmas Eve. If not, the spirits that were roaming around outside would climb down the chimney.

An old Scottish belief says that early on Christmas morning all bees will leave their hives, swarm and then return. Many old Scots tell tales of having witnessed this happening. One possible explanation to this behavior is that bees are protective of their hives so if there is unexpected activity they will want to check it out to see if there is any danger. As people were often up and about on Christmas Eve observing various traditions or just returning from the night services, the bees would sense the disturbance and come out of their hives to check for danger.

There are a number of ancient divination cus­toms associated with Scottish Christmas tradition. One involves checking the cold ashes the morning after the Christmas fire. A foot shape facing the door was said to be fore­telling a death in the family, while a foot shape facing into the room meant a new arrival.

Another divination was the cere­monial burning of Old Winter, the Cailleach. A piece of wood was carved to roughly represent the face of an old woman, then named as the Spirit of Winter, the Cailleach. The Cailleach was placed onto a roaring fire to burn away. All the family gathered to watch Old Winter burn to the end. The burning symbolized the ending of all the bad luck and a fresh start.

Like all Celts, the Scots cut mistletoe, holly and other evergreens to decorate the house. They brought in the Yule log for light and warmth. During the summer a log was cut and dried, usually from a birch or rowan tree. On Christmas Eve, the dried log was brought into the house and circled around the kitchen three times. The Yule celebrants made a toast to the log, and placed it in the fire to burn. The last of the Yule log was saved under the mistress' bed to kindle next year's log, and bits and piece of it were kept for good luck.

Along with dancing and bagpipe music, food was an important part of the Scottish Christmas celebrations. Bannock cakes, made of oatmeal, are essential to the holiday. The Scottish version of the traditional Christmas pudding is called a clootie dumpling. It is made from fruits, suet, flour, sugar, and spices and sometimes contains a silver coin for good luck. The clootie dumpling is served hot with syrup or a custard sauce for the children and whisky-, rum- or brandy-flavored custard sauce for the adults.

Black bun is another traditional holiday treat. Originally called a Twelfth Night Cake, black bun is a very rich fruitcake, filled almost solid with fruit, almonds and spices, and bound together with plenty of whisky. The stiff mixture is put into a cake tin lined with a rich short pastry and baked.

Sun cakes are a legacy from Scotland's close associations with Scandinavia. Sun cakes are baked with a hole in the center and scored lines radiating from the center. These lines represent the rays of the sun. This pattern is now found on the modern Scottish shortbread and has been misidentified as slices markings! (That's what I always thought they were!)

Presents were rarely more than a sugar mouse and an orange in Auld Scotland, but relatives would tramp the hills in the dark and the rain just to get to their wee bothy. Father would have slaughtered the pig they'd been fattening since springtime. The aunties, uncles and cousins would crowd around the fire telling stories and singing hymns.

The term for Merry Christmas in Scotland is "Nollaig Chridheil", and that is what I wish to you today. And I hope that if you had to travel today, there is an Oidche Choinnle waiting for you. And if you are cozy at home, please light a candle for some weary traveler.

Monday, December 21, 2009


My blogging friend Ruthie's Christmas Card. Check
out this cool Scottish artist at "Five Precious Things"

We got a tree!! Big deal, you say. But we almost didn't get a real tree this year. Bismarck was sold out of them two weeks before Christmas. For some reason, many more local residents decided to buy real evergreens this year. Of course, chain stores like Wal-Mart only order and get so many trees each season.

Fortunately, a local seller had his father-in-law drive to Wisconsin to cut down 70 more trees on their tree farm. By the time they arrived in town there were a bunch of people at the lot waiting for them. The guy gave out numbers and Dan got Number 6. Needless to say, our tree is very fresh and smells heavenly. It may be just my imagination, but I think it has a stronger scent than a tree that was cut down weeks ago. Dan picked a nice one, even though he had only about two minutes to choose it.


Dan didn't have time to put the bubble lights on until yesterday. After he was through, I decorated the tree with our assortment of ornaments that have been collected over the 27 years we've lived in this house. So here I sit today with the lit tree near the window, and it makes all the difference in our house.

It has brought me the Yuletide Magic I had been searching for. If we had not gotten a real tree this year, it would have broken a chain that has gone back 39 years of spending Christmases together! After we managed to get a tree, Dan said he didn't mind cutting back on other things this holiday season, but not having a real tree would have been sad.

"LADY OF WINTER" by Nicky Flamingo

My mantel is decorated with gold angels and cherubs, plus more greenery and more lights. I know I have more fairy lights - I'm going to try to hunt some up to string here and there. It's a good day to talk about evergreens and lights, because the ancient Norse and Celtic celebration of Yule was all about bringing in greenery, firelight, warmth and celebration. Yule took place on and around the winter solstice, and our solstice arrived at 11:47 a.m. today in the Central Time Zone.

I must confess, I was not welcoming the holidaze season this year. It seems so much less dear to me than when I was a child. There are no small children to bring their joy and laughter, and it just seems all too much, especially in a year when we are cutting back.  Fortunately, I watched a couple "History of Christmas" shows yesterday on the History Channel. I learned something very important by watching these shows. Everyone NEEDS a big celebration this time of year. People have always needed a celebration at this time of year.

No one's really sure how long ago humans recognized the winter solstice and began heralding it as a turning point -- the day that marks the return of the sun. According to Earl W. Count, author of "4,000 Years of Christmas", the Mesopotamians were first to observe it, with a 12-day festival of renewal, designed to help the god Marduk tame the monsters of chaos for one more year.

It was a cold, dark world back then. The ancients were fearful that the warm sun, which had gone away, would never return unless they performed certain rituals. My Scottish and Irish ancestors, the Celts, would bring in holly, mistletoe, ivy and other evergreens to add color to their white world and remind them that the earth would be green again soon.

My other ancients, the Norsemen, celebrated Jol by dragging the hugest log they could find into the home and stuck it end first into the fire. As it burned, they pushed it further and further in. Day after day, it brought them warmth and light. The Yule Log later became a short log that could fit sideways into the fireplace.

For the Celts and the Norse, Yule was a natural time for feasting because for once there was plenty of meat, since most of the cattle had been slaughtered.

"YULE HOLLY KING" Artist Unknown

The Roman winter solstice celebration was called Saturnalia. As the name implies, this was a holiday in honor of the agricultural god, Saturn. This week-long party typically began around December 17th and lasted through and beyond the day of the solstice.

Fertility rituals were performed at the temple of Saturn, including sacrifices. In addition to the large public rites, many private citizens held ceremonies honoring Saturn in their homes. One of the highlights of Saturnalia was the switching of traditional roles, particularly between a master and his slave. All in all, it was a very debauched, riotous time.

"YULE Herne " Yule Card by Briar

Here's something else I learned yesterday: Shepherds don't abide with their flocks by night in the dead of winter. In fact, they're out in the fields at night only one time of year - during birthing season. Therefore, Jesus was likely not born in December but in April. Not knowing exactly when Jesus was born, Christians wisely tied the celebration of his birth into pre-existing solstice celebrations. That way, they weren't forcing pagans to entirely give up their festivities, just asking them to transform them.

"YULETIDE" by Meredith Dillman

And what of Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights that occurs around this time every year? Is it related to other celebrations of the season? The placement of Hanukkah is tied to both the lunar and solar calendars. It begins on the 25th of Kislev, three days before the new moon closest to the Winter Solstice.

It commemorates a historic event — the Maccabees' victory over the Greeks and the rededication of the temple at Jerusalem. But the form of this celebration, a Festival of Lights (with candles at the heart of the ritual), makes Hanukkah wonderfully compatible with other celebrations at this time of year.

"YULE" Artist Unknown

For the Celts, the winter solstice was the scene of one of the two yearly battles between the Oak King and the Holly King. These two mighty rulers fight for supremacy as the Wheel of the Year turns each season. At the Winter Solstice, or Yule, the Oak King kills the Holly King, and then reigns until Midsummer, or Litha. Once the Summer Solstice arrives, the Holly King returns to do battle with the old king, and defeats him. The Holly King them rules until Yule.

"LIGHTS OF YULE" by Helene Grasset

Egyptians welcomed Ra’s triumph over death. With the Daygan festival, the Persian Zoroastrians dedicated the day after the Solstice to Ahura Mazda, the Lord of Wisdom. Mithras was a Zoroastrian god created by the Ahura Mazda to save the world. The day of the virgin birth of Mithras was also referred to as Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, which means the birthday of the unconquered sun. Mithras was popular with Roman soldiers and thus Rome also celebrated Dies Natalis Solis Invicti.

Brumalia was a Greek winter holiday associated with Dionysus and wine. By the time of the winter Brumalia, the wine was ready to be poured into jars for drinking. Although a Greek holiday, the name Brumalia is Latin, bruma being the Latin for winter solstice.

In China and East Asia, the Winter Solstice is the occasion for one of the most important festivals, called Dong zhi, “the extreme of winter”. The Native Americans too had Winter Solstice rites, as is attested by the paintings of the Chumash people of California. So did the Incas: their festival called Inti Raymi honors Wiracocha, the Sun god.

"THE YULE LADY" by Natalie Smillie

Winter Solstice is the time of year when the night is longest and the day shortest. What happened to the sun? If, in ancient times, you believed in gods and goddesses who take an active interest in human life, you might have thought it smart to do something to make the gods happy again so they might bring back the light. Why not honor them either with a great festival to persuade them to bring it back or a kind of gift-giving birthday party for the sun's annual rebirth? This may be at the crux of the origin of the winter solstice holidays, where ever they occur.


I hope you enjoy the images I found to go with this post. I especially love Briar Yule Cards and have been blessed to have received a couple of them from English blogging friends. I only show one this time because I have used most of them in Yule posts the past two years.

No matter what name we give it, we all need a celebration at this bleak time of year to bring us warmth, color, light, feasting, music, gifts, family and friends. Happy Yule to everyone.