Showing posts with label Christmas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christmas. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Long Time No See!

It may seem quiet here on the blog, but it's been a busy, busy couple of months for me.  Ideas for posts occasionally circle my brain, only to be swept away by something more immediate or exciting.  But there's good news: the year is still fresh, and my energy is getting back to where it was.

Timeline of Events:

28 November - Thanksgiving
29 November - Jillian gets on a plane bound for the UK
30 November - Jillian and Michelle are reunited in Oxford and a ten-day visit begins.
30 November to 9 December - Jillian and Michelle spend time hanging out at coffee shops (particularly Cafe Nero at Blackwells) reacquainting ourselves with our old haunts, watching Chuck, Farscape, Haven & Doctor Who, going to pantos, taking walks, writing, Christmas shopping (the glorious Scriptum on Turl Street), taking cold medicine, etc.

Highlight, 6 December - Jillian goes to London by herself as she unwittingly gave Michelle a cold.  Visited St. Paul's Cathedral and the Tower, navigating the London Underground solo.  Not a small feat for one born and raised in a Midwestern state that has no subway system.

9 & 10 December - the weary traveler makes it back to Nebraska and drives from Omaha back to Lincoln.
11 December - Jillian's car battery decides it doesn't like the frigid weather and promptly dies in the driveway.

Highlight - Jillian starts looking for a new apartment for herself and Ninja the cat.

25 December - Christmas.
6 January 2014 - Jillian finds a lovely little place with a view of Nebraska's capital. 
18 - 21 January - Jillian and Ninja move house.  Ninja puts up a fight characteristic of, well, a highly skilled ninja.  

Since then, it's been a matter of unpacking, rearranging, realizing what kitchen utensils I need, what furniture is still in limbo, getting a cat to adapt to new surroundings without a basement to throw her into.  All the while I've been painfully aware that I've not sent queries out for my novel in a long time, and that I need to get that particular wheel moving again.  

Perhaps it's just taken this long to regain my strength, my mental resolve, and keep at bay all of those doubts and devil voices that like to me that querying is useless, that my novel is crap, that I don't have a strong presence online anyway so why bother.  When you're anxious person, this is the reality, and it's just not helpful.  It drives you away from your everyday writing, the heart-stories and creative activities that define your day, your sense of self.  I don't want to give it up or shrink away so easily this year.

I want this year to be about forging ahead and hesitating less.  Call it a resolution if you will - or perhaps solemn goal is a better term.  Whatever it is, querying is one of those stages in the life of a book that can't be bypassed or jumped over or TARDIS-ed into oblivion.  No, the Doctor isn't going to pull me out of this one.  I have to do it myself.  

So I sent three queries this morning.  At the very least, I hope I'm continuing to learn something about this process, to think of this as a project and an opportunity and a leap of faith.  I am simply starting down the corridor again, and knocking on the doors.  Some day one of them will open.

open doors by kuronakko

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Spritz Christmas

When I was little, I came into a cookie tradition.  My parents were critical care and intensive care nurses who balanced their schedules so that someone was always home with their little girls.  Cookie-making was a way for keeping us busy.  And Christmas, of course, is the Season for Cookies. 

Every family has its special staple cookie - the one that has to be made each year in the same fashion because it won't be made at any other time of the year.  Cookies were an escape, a wonderful, creative distraction from the terrible weather, wet or dry, that characterizes Nebraska's bleak winters, mid- and late.  Without cookies, I somehow believed, Christmas wouldn't really come.

We made spritz cookies and almond bark-pretzel-m&ms cookies. The latter isn't really a cookie, but they were special.  Circle pretzels, with almond bark poured in and red and green M&Ms in the middle.  Before I was old enough to melt the almond bark myself, I remember watching Mom or Dad pour it into pretzels - there was something magic in watching the white sugary stuff fall from the spoon - pure liquid white.  As a child with a particular penchant for all things sugar and chocolate, this was a beautiful ceremony.  Still is, actually.

We did not make sugar cookies often.  I know we had the cookie cutters - stars and Santa Claus and Christmas trees - but they sat in a jumble in the kitchen drawer while Mom got out the old spritz cookie press and made a dough of flour and sugar and butter (three sticks), vanilla and almond extract: the aroma of the season.  I still have the old press.  Most of the parts are metal, and the thing is most likely twenty-five years old or older.  It's finicky, and falls apart easily.  I have a brand new plastic press that works like a dream, the latest in cookie press technology, but... 

"Haven't you thrown that old thing out yet?" Mom will probably ask when I visit for Christmas.  Well, no.  So much of my childhood is wrapped around this device, so many hours of watching her labor over a cookie sheet, pulling deformed blobs of proto-cookie off the sheet and begrudgingly throwing it back into the dough bowl.  She'd work until the pan was full of trees and stars and wreaths. Then my sister and I would descend with the colored sugar and the red-hots.  The old press doesn't make the cookies easy, but it did make it Christmas.  In the days when I imagined Santa dropping into our mantle-less house (we did have a chimney, but no fireplace), we always made sure there were spritz cookies waiting for him.


The don't make them like they used to.  
I'm thinking that this box might make an awesome handmade cover for a cook book.

 Mom eventually stopped making the spritz cookies.  You can't really blame her.  They're difficult to make and time consuming.  They're mostly butter and sugar, and are small enough that a handful are eaten at a time - the antithesis of a healthy diet.  But.  It's Christmas.

The spritz cookies would always ALWAYS go into the same blue tin.  Every year.  My parents tried to get rid of it years ago, but I took it with me because... well, my mouth waters and I sniff for that almond extract and vanilla smell every time I lay eyes on it.  Rest assured it has been washed several times since the '90s, but it is still "the" tin.  I was a kid listening to Grampy's Christmas tape, Julie Andrews was singing "Jingle Bells", and there was spritz cookie dough in my mouth (ah, the BEST dough EVER) and imagining the horse was really pulling that sleigh all the way around the tin.

What I appreciate about the cookies now is how easy they are to freeze and to give as gifts.  They go great with tea.  They're pretty and colorful without a thick smothering of icing.  They're bite sized (in some cases).  They smell heavenly.  Even as I make them now, I feel like that little kid aching for a taste of the dough, eager to mold it in my hands.  There is nothing quite like spritz cookie dough getting soft and buttery between in the fingers.  And as a writer, I find I need to cookie - do something purely tactile and savory - to get my brain working.  Kneading bread dough, chopping potatoes, simmering wine, decorating cookies so that they look like snowflakes - it all creates room in the brain for those stories to grow, to simmer.

The best Christmas gifts involve food and drink and sharing it with others.  Back in September I thought I should write stories and give them to people this Christmas.  That didn't happen.  Little stories aren't easy for me, and with the double stress of a trip to England in the first part of the month and a move sometime in the near future I turned to the simpler plan of cookies and puddings.  I'm glad I did.  These treats help us face the long dark of another winter of resolutions failed and met, of more snow and shivering and dying car batteries.

This winter I'll be back to getting those query letters out to potential agents.  I'll be looking for my first solo apartment.  I'll be writing a sequel to my novel and dabbling in the revamp of another.  I'll also have a few spritz with my tea, while my supply lasts.

And who knows?  I might make more for St Valentine's Day.


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Mull (j)

Day 105.  Merry Christmas!  Today's word is...


To mull is to cogitate over something deeply and at length.  To mull wine one warms it and adds 2 tablespoons mulling spices (cinnamon, cloves, allspice, etc.) and sugar.  Judging from Oxford Dictionaries, the second usage of mull seems to be a century older.  So... somehow the term for spicing Christmas wine became the term we use when deep in thought.  Mulling involves a twenty-minute simmer, letting the spices mix with the fruity elements of the wine, producing a warm, delicious aroma.  This simmer - not a hard, obvious boil - is a great metaphor for serious under-the-surface thought: it can't be (nor mustn't be) rushed; is quiet, not shouted; and the results are worth waiting for.  As writers, we're mulling over a thousand things at once, envisioning worlds at a continuous simmer.  The longer these worlds soak in the spices of inspiration, the sweeter they'll be. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Mirth (jillian)

I've been elbow-deep in Christmas puddings this month, hence the quiet at Daedalus.  2013 is on the horizon.  I plan to begin the year by writing the blog by hand through January.  Wish me luck!  I have longer pieces in the works, as well, including a post on visions and dreams.  Thanks for reading and writing along with me!

Adventure 101 in Logophilia is...


A Christmasy word, but perhaps one we don't hear very often outside of Dickensian stories.  Mirth (n) is, simply, gladness or gaeity accompanied with laughter; its near synonyms being glee, jollity, hilarity and merriment. 

My ideal Christmas is just that: gladness and laughter.  In 2009, I was snowbound with my family over the 25th and 26th.  The roads were a mess.  We couldn't leave the house.  But we were warm.  We spent the day reading and cooking the Christmas feast.  My parents, who received Nerf guns that year from my sister, would occasionally shoot foam missiles at each other like two little kids.  I read Wives and Daughters in the window, watching the birds.  That was the year a Cooper's hawk came and gobbled up a little unsuspecting junco in the snow.  Not exactly mirth for the junco, but for us it was a testament to being safe indoors, able to watch the goings-on in the wintry world and knowing we were together and well-fed (overfed) and laughing.  It doesn't get much better than this!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

AIL Day 95 & 96: Yule and Noel

The words I chose for this weekend are part of the rich vocabulary of the Advent season.  They've been with us for so long I know I haven't much concept of their meanings.  So I took this opportunity to do a little digging via Oxford Dictionaries (old habits die hard, I suppose).


Yule is the (archaic) Old English/Old Norse term for Christmas.  More specifically, it refers to a pagan festival that took place around the Winter Solstice and lasted twelve days after what is now Christmas.  When Christianity spread into Europe and the solstice celebrations became celebrations of the birth of Christ, the old name lingered.  So when you hear the phrase "yuletide treasure" in the old song "Deck the Halls", it isn't necessarily a pagan or a secular reference, but a general reference to Christmastime.


A noel is a Christmas carol, particularly the refrain.  So "gloria in excelsis deo" and "come let us adore him" might count as noels.   This is a French version of the Latin word natalis, meaning birth - a birth song.  This makes sense when you think about one of the lesser known Christmas songs "Noel, A New Noel."  I always thought "You mean there were noels before Christ was born?"  Apparently so!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Coventry Carol, a mystery play (jillian)

We've entered into the time of carols.  I'm the sort of person who most definitely gravitates towards "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" and cringes from the likes of "Silver Bells."  (Although my aversion to the song might have more to do with an awful, cloying 1960s rendition of the tune of which I grew up hearing.)  I love Christmas carols for their beauty and their rich history, and in some cases their bizarreness.  Which brings me to "Coventry Carol."

Lully, lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
By, by, lully, lullay.
Lully, lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
By, by, lully, lullay.

O sisters too, how may we do
For to preserve this day,
This poor youngling for whom we sing
By, by, lully, lullay.

Herod, the king, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might, in his own sight,
All children young to slay.

That woe is me, poor Child for Thee!
And ever mourn and sigh,
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
By, by, lully, lullay.

I first sang an arrangement of this carol with my high school women's choir ten years ago.  I'm sure I'm not the only one who first heard this beautiful, haunting song and wondered what on Earth it had to do with Christmas.  This is, of course, about the massacre of the innocents, which took place after Jesus' birth; King Herod, learning that a king was born to the Jews (a king that would challenge his own kingship), ordered all the male babies in Bethlehem destroyed.  Mary and Joseph fled with Jesus into the wilderness.

The song itself is the last surviving remnant of a 16th century mystery play from Coventry, England called The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors.  (Ye Olde Wiky-paedia.) Mystery plays were a staple of the Middle Ages, tableau performances and songs depicting Bible stories or scenes from the lives of saints.  The shearman and the tailors were probably members of that particular trade guild, not monks or nuns... although there were such performances within monasteries.  "Mystery" in this context actually means "miracle." 

What intrigues me about this song is that it alone survived the test of time.  "Coventry Carol" is a mystery of a mystery.  What did the happier songs of the shearmen and tailors' pageant sound like?  Why did this song endure the test of time?  Was it simply the prettiest?  Or has it a mind of its own, haunting down through the ages to testify about the brutality of the age into which Christ was born?  And who had the powerful idea of making it a lullaby?  Did they have any idea, when they sat down by candlelight to plan out their guild's Christmas pageant in, say, 1530 that people would be singing it and wondering about it well into 2012 and beyond?  That my friends, is special!  Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

AIL Day 93: congeries

Today's adventure in logophilia is


Congeries is a collective noun meaning "a disorderly collection or jumble."  This is taken from the Latin verb congerere "to heap up." 

This word best describes Christmas preparations - the intentions, the results, the mess in my room.  I cheer myself up by imagining that Santa's workshop is a terrible disaster (the mess!) and Christmas' best keep secret.  There's a reality television show for you: overworked elves who complain of constant foot pain due to long hours and the shoes they have to wear; piles of discarded toy parts; the floor a definite hazard with tinsel and glitter and glue everywhere; not to mention the reindeer leavings; interviews with the elves who maintain Santa's sleigh: "you wouldn't believe the mileage on this thing..."

Sunday, December 9, 2012

AIL Day 89: amaranth

Today's adventure in logophilia is


An amaranth is a flower that never fades, used as a dye that produces a color similar to magenta but redder.  Something that is amaranthine is undying, particularly in color.  This is an amaranthine season, methinks.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

AIL Day 82: advent

Today is the first day of


Advent is simply the arrival or coming of a notable person, thing or event - from the Latin adventus (arrival) and advenire (to come).  This season of Advent specifically is preparing for the coming of Christ.  Each year, I can hardly my excitement to be able to listen to Christmas music again and think of new creations to give as gifts to my loved ones.  Provided this excitement does not give way to overwhelmed despair, this looks to be a good year. 


I have to vent, as a writer just beginning to dip her toe into the waters of social media, that Twitter has been frustrating me.  I know there must be an ebb and flow to how many followers one must have, but the last few days I've seen mine dwindle.  1.) I know building a platform takes time.  I've been at it two months, so I'm imploring myself to chill out.  2.) The ebb and flow and dwindle of followers must happen to everyone.  So... is it just more noticeable because I have so few followers to begin with?  3.)  Am I saying stupid things?  I thought not tweeting if I had nothing to say was the better option.  Perhaps I'm wrong.  4.) I still have followers, and this by no means precludes gaining others.  5.) There must be a way I can use it creatively.  Shall I tell a story?  Shall I do hiakus?  I am studying my options.

What it boils down to is this: putting oneself out there is hard.  Hard for a shy introvert.  Hard for everyone.  I still feel like I'm talking in a room full of people having many brilliant conversations, unheard and hiding in a corner, but I have to tell myself it will change.  As much as I hate advertizing myself and my writing, that's how the game is played these days... but it is by no means something that is "won" or "mastered" in one go, in one tweet, in one word.  It takes practice. 

If the numbers really bother me, I'll keep away for a day or two and then get right back in.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Lo, How a Rose E're Blooming and other tales (Jillian)

Once upon an advent, I "discover" a "new" carol. "New" because it is new to me, or it had never interested me before. Carols are rich in history and echoes of medieval legend, so naturally, I never tire of them. They represent more than just the story of Christ coming to earth, but of how that story was told again and again in song and folklore across every culture.

As a child at Christmas, I would take the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Christmas Carol book off the piano and gaze at the beautiful nativity scenes, the woodcuts, the many paintings and tryptics of the Madonna and Child. I remember coming across odd carols I'd never heard before - "The Sussex Carol", "Joseph Dear, Oh Joseph Mine," and a Czech carol called "Rocking, Rocking." Then there was the compelling mystery of the Burgundian carol "Patapan" - where was Burgundy? Why had I never heard of that country before? (Northwest France. I think. Burgundy held itself as a separate entity from struggling France in the 100 years war, English allies. Joan of Arc campaigned against them in 1429, was captured by them, and later sold to the English for 10,000 francs by them. Just saying.)

This year's carol curiosity is "Lo, How A Rose E're Blooming." I have to admit, I always thought it was boring. Just boring. And slow. And too somber for Christmas. This may be because I grew up listening to the Mannheim Steamroller version, which presented it in French horn. There is nothing particularly malign about creating a brass rendition of this old song, but it makes the already somber tune too heavy for one who liked dancing around to "In Dulci Jubilo" and "Wassail, Wassail."

But then, I saw The Time Traveler's Wife. If you've ever seen it, please do. It is a beautiful film - a nicely watered down version of the novel. Anyway, "Lo, How A Rose" is woven throughout the film - from Henry DeTamble's mother singing it in the car with her lovely operatic soprano (in the original German), to his wife Claire's bridal procession, to the theme playing at their home in the last few months of his life. This was a simple string ensemble, perhaps a quartet, and it was/is perfect. This song should NEVER have been arranged for brass.

So naturally, I am intrigued and very deeply moved by so simple, so quiet, so lovely a piece.

Here's a little history:

* First officially "published" in 1582, but is probably much older.
* Thought to be from Song of Solomon 2.1 - "I am the rose of Sharon..."
* There is a legend associated with this hymn: a monk in the German town of Trier found a blooming rose while walking in the woods on Christmas Eve. He placed the rose in a vase, and placed it before the alter to the Virgin Mary.
* In 1609, Protestants adapted the hymn to reflect Jesus instead of Mary.
* Wikipedia has the lyrics:


Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen,
aus einer Wurzel zart,
wie uns die Alten sungen,
von Jesse war die Art
Und hat ein Bl├╝mlein bracht
mitten im kalten Winter,
wohl zu der halben Nacht.


Lo, how a rose e'er blooming,
From tender stem hath sprung.
Of Jesse's lineage coming,
As men of old have sung;
It came, a flow'ret bright,
Amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.

Like Christina Rossetti's "In the Bleak Midwinter," it tells of hope in the midst of winter - roses blooming in the snow. That is the beautiful mystery of the Nativity: how Christ was born - whether it was winter or summer - into a dark, cold world. That's a hope we can carry throughout this winter - that there will be roses even in our Winters if we look hard enough.

* Trivia on this hymn is from

Monday, December 29, 2008

Caroling, Caroling (Jillian)

Officially Christmas lasts until 6 January, Epiphany... so I do not believe it is too late to spill some Christmas whimsy here for all to enjoy.

In recent years, I have wondered at the history of carols - those familar, special hymns that have become ingrained into our culture for hundreds of years - particularly the ones that I was least "exposed" to as a child. Mysteries in general are interesting to me, so here I dig. (In retrospect, it might have been thoroughly festive to have posted interesting facts on lesser known carols the entire length of the "Twelve Days", but, alas, that might have to wait till next year!) I have always marveled at "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel", "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen", and "What Child is This?" but I wondered at obscurities like "In the Bleak Midwinter," and its more pensive melody that takes it farther down the spectrum from "Joy to the World" and "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!" I discovered, thanks to the sometimes-helpful source of Ye Olde Wikipedia, that it was a poem written by Christina Rossetti in 1872... and only published after her death.

Check out the first two verses of the poem:

In the Bleak Midwinter

In the bleak midwinter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter,
Long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold him,
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When he comes to reign;
In the bleak midwinter
A stable place sufficed
The Lord God incarnate,
Jesus Christ.

"See? This is what Christmas is all about!" If you have ever heard the melody, you'll know that the music matches the words - pensive and quiet... and maybe a little "bleak". But it is absolutely perfect... more so because I imagine this as a poem from a writer not intending her words to be put to music, just writing... and pondering... and praying... true to herself.

Another carol added to the ultimate Christmas playlist!

For your reference: wiki article.


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