Archive for December, 2011


My New Year’s resolutions are simple. I resolve to be more patient, less selfish, cherish my friends, and in my small way help whoever needs help. I cannot conceivably influence the world’s destiny, but I can make my own life more worthwhile. I can give some help to some people; that is not vital to all the world’s problems and yet I think if everyone did just that, we might see quite a world in our time!

Gladys Taber. Stillmeadow Sampler. “Winter”. 

A very Happy and Healthy New Year to all of you from here on the Cutoff.

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These cherubs were playing their sweet music this year, trumpeting in the season, holding heavenly notes all these long winter nights. I knew, I just KNEW, that if I put them atop a few books of Christmases past, they would herald in a few more literary pages for me to turn in the long winter months ahead.

They didn’t fail me, these cherubs, nor my family in their giving.

It pays to properly place angels on things, doesn’t it?

It also pays to have an Amazon Wishlist.

I’m not generally one for making a list and checking it twice, and I’m definitely not making a plug for Amazon, but, I do find that keeping books on such a list helps me remember what I hope to read in the future – and I think it helps my family out as well.

Of course, there is my TBR list(s); in notebooks, on envelope flaps, napkins, and receipts, but, well, you know how most of those end up, don’t you? On the bottom of a purse, or shoe, in the wash, or on the floor of the car. This is all to ask you how you keep track of books you want to read. While your thinking on that, I thought you might like a glance at my holiday haul.

I think I’ll be starting with Mrs. Miniver by Jan Struther.

The house is settling into the kind of quiet that sneaks in after the family goes home, the dishes are washed, the lights are turned on, and blissful feelings hover around moments well spent. ‘Tis good to have a few books to read as one settles in.

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The Grand Essentials

The grand essentials to happiness in this life are

something to do,

something to love,

and something to hope for.

We’ve been busy here on the Cutoff; opening presents, tasting molasses cookies for the very first time, chasing Kezzie so she can “fine” Yia Yia and have a good belly laugh, waiting for Papa to wind up the angel, again and again, and watch her wings or dance to the music.  We’ve played the “pano”, up and down the keyboard, and we watched the deer run across the lawn. We’ve managed to turn on every light in the house, by midday, because it is fun. We’ve had big dinners, long breakfasts, and gone out for pizza and we’ve played with more bubbles at bedtime than any little girl could possible hope for. Most importantly, we’ve kept the magic of the season so peacefully alive and we look forward to see what this, the fifth day of Christmas, brings.

I hope all is well in your neck of the woods. I’ll be posting more as Christmas winds down.

(quote attributed to Joseph Addison)

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Did the animals speak?

In some traditions, it is said that animals speak in human tongue at midnight on Christmas Eve. While I have not heard an animal speak at midnight, I did notice some peculiarities this morning.

For instance, these Santas, left on the table after our Christmas feast, looked a bit spent this morning as sunlight streamed through the kitchen window. On closer look, they were just hugging and otherwise resting after adorning our dinner plates last night. Jason was the last person seen near them. Hum?

Later, when I went to set the table for some hearty leftover Beef Bourguigon, they seemed to have gotten a second wind, reminding me of the June Taylor dancers from the Jackie Gleason Show. I highly suspect that Antler Man had something to do with this display.

The sheep and others were roaming around the table, enjoying the bright sunlight. I think they were also enjoying the caramels, for when I looked in the candy dish, the pile of golden wrapped gems was greatly depleted. Bah! A lamb would never take a caramel – unless, of course, he was a black sheep. Bah! Bah!

Elsewhere in our little animal kingdom here on the Cutoff, the birds were resting in a Christmas tree, looking for the herd of wandering deer that roam our property. The deer have been bedding down elsewhere this winter. At least this far into December. The Christmas Buck that captured our attention survived last winter. We would see him limping, behind the others, but still foraging through the past year. We wondered where he slept this Christmas Eve. We may never know as the animals around here certainly aren’t talking.

I’ve been resting up after the busy holiday weekend  - and anticipating more joy as the Minnesotans arrive for Christmas on the Cutoff, part two.


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Christmas Day

A very Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday to you all, wherever you are, and thank you one and all for your presence in my life here on the Cutoff. Penny

(Christmas Day, Give or Take a Week or Two, Bev Doolittle)

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A Good Day for Reflection

Most of the baking is done and what is left to bake won’t take long. A good time for reflection.

The molasses cookies are now frosted and stored in a big, Tupperware cake tote. The tote has never been used to tote cake, mind you. Instead, is employed once a year for molasses cookies. The large lid serves as a bowl with the tray as a lid. It works famously this way and holds dozens and dozens of cookies. The very best part of it all is when the tote is opened; oh the scents that come forth are pure bliss.

I make the dough and refrigerate it, where it sits and mellows, sometimes for several days. Then, the dough is rolled and shapes cut and baked. The baked cookies sit until the next day to be frosted. There are so many to frost the job would never be done if Tom didn’t sit and help me. He remembers that Ethel used to bake the cookies and then Richard, her brother, would frost them the next day. I like to imagine them in the old farmhouse on the Ohio homestead, snug and warm within, baking and frosting the cookies.

I had trouble with the dough this year. The cookies are among the best tasting I’ve ever made, but the dough was hard to work with. It became too frustrating and I was losing ground, so, I made what I could and froze the rest of the dough for another time  with plenty of Ethel cookies for the holiday.

Sometimes life is like cookie dough, isn’t it? You have to know when to keep rolling the dough, and when to call it a day.

As I was dusting the dust of memories made and to be made, this picture looked down at me. It is small. 2″ by 4″. Though diminutive, it is large in what matters and brings to mind Normal Rockwell’s paintings. It is Tom’s maternal grandfather taken at the local school in a small community in Ohio. He was the custodian. Grandpa is standing next to a tree. A Christmas tree. It looks like a fir and is atop a push cart that Grandpa is leaning on. Gone are the days when a live tree adorns a schoolhouse, of course, but the picture is sweet and of a bygone era. Tom’s grandfather has a big, pleasant smile on his face, in spite of the work it must have been getting the tree into the school. He is smoking a pipe, taking a break from his work.

On Friday, amid the hustle and bustle, the uncooperative cookie dough and diminishing pile of Christmas cards, I met a friend for a short chat over coffee. Then I had a date with a tall, handsome, and very bright young man, our grandnephew. Scott and I share the same birthday. It was with great pleasure that he and I took in an afternoon movie. The Adventures of Tintin. What fun it was to watch with an eager young boy, who laughed with glee and slurped his soda and was “wowed” by the action. Life doesn’t get much better than this; sharing in joy with a child.

It is Scott’s great, great grandfather pictured above.

The day was, indeed, a good time for reflection for me. It doesn’t really matter if the cookie dough is stubborn. What matters is taking time with family and friends, having pride in a job well done, and knowing when to rest – and  spending time with a child.

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Still chirping . . .

In yesterday’s post, Danielle mentioned about a tradition of Christmas ghost stories, then Karen put in an Amazon link to another Dicken’s book with Christmas stories, and, well, one link led to another, then to another, then, tada, to Andy Williams. The Most Wonderful Time of the Year is played constantly in these parts come December; on the radio, in the grocery store, the elevator, the coffee shop. I’ve heard it most of my life, yet, I never wondered about the line about ghost stories.

There’ll be parties for hosting
Marshmallows for toasting
And caroling out in the snow
There’ll be scary ghost stories
And tales of the glories of
Christmases long, long ago

It all just got me to thinking. Do you know any scary ghost stories of Christmas?

While you are thinking about this, here’s Andy Williams.


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Heading toward the checkout counter at The Frugal Muse, something small and red caught my eye. What is this, thought I, as I pulled the little box down. A beautiful, bright red box with gold lettering and scrolls. Charles Dickens Christmas, it said. A Collector’s Edition, no less. Five books slid into the  tidy box, their spines, showing no wear, were looking daintily back at me, all for $5.00!

You know me, dear reader, do you not?  A bargain to be had. More books to fit upon a shelf. Stories to warm the long winter nights. The Time had come. Really. These are a collection of Time Life books, and they have graced the mantle since first they were bought a few long, hard winters ago.

As I made my purchase, the clerk inquired “Where did you find this?”. Like a ghost of Christmas present, I turned, in my long, black coat and pointed to the area where I had. He fondled the book, thinking, perhaps, of what a nice gift it could have made for his favorite uncle or grandmother. Ah, but the gift was mine, for its beauty alone, and the hope of some Christmasy Dickens.

Like all good intentions, this one languished. The books sat contentedly upon the mantle. Scrooge stands guard each Christmas. Mrs. Cratchit holds the Christmas pudding nearby. There’s a cricket, too, on the hearth. I thought I heard it fiddling along with the teapot’s whistling this afternoon.

Finally, this season, I pulled down the collection and out came  The Cricket on the Hearth. It has been keeping me entertained on these long winter’s nights ever since.

This is a smallish book from a smallish collection of books. The words are, well, small; a challenge, for sure for someone of my vintage. It is a story worth reading aloud, and I do just that when all alone. It just doesn’t work in a coffee shop, however, or over a spot of tea, but,  I’ve kept with it, and read “Chirp the First” and “Chirp the Second”, so, it is just that third chirping chapter to go before putting the book back into it’s spot. Then we will see about The Battle of Life: A Love Story, Chimes: A Goblin Story, The Haunted Man and The Ghost’s Bargain, and you know, that other ghost story that seems to have defined Christmas for more than 150 years. A Dickens’ of a tale if there ever was one, don’t you agree?

Chirp! Chirp!

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Fallen Angel

I was an angel of the Lord.

A fallen angel, really, though I redeemed myself the night of the birth.

Our Sunday school at Holy Apostles was staging the Nativity and I was selected to be an angel – THE ANGEL – who proclaims the joyful tidings of Jesus’ birth to the sheep abiding shepherds.

I probably would have made a better Mary than a heavenly host, as I was shy and soft-spoken, much as I imagined Mary.  I was probably too young at the time to be Mary and I was not pretty enough.  Pretty girls were always chosen to be Mary.  At least in the 5th grade. Still, I would have been a good Mary.

Instead, I was a tiding angel.

A well-intended adult had the abiding faith that I would be heard by the shepherds tending their flocks at night. Faith works in mysterious ways.

The Nativity was to be held on the stage of church – the first church for Holy Apostles. It was an old Lutheran church renovated to house our Greek Orthodox family and served as such for most of my elementary years until the permanent structure was built.  The stage was in the basement of the church and the Nativity would be presented on an evening in December, shortly before Christmas.

We were to memorize our lines, mostly biblical passages, and our parents were to properly adorn us so that we could properly adore the baby Jesus.

Being an angelic host, I was crowned with an aluminum foil halo and a white, flowing gown.  I do not remember if I had wings, but, the wide, ample dolmen sleeves flared out in the most heavenly fashion when my arms were held straight out. I commanded earthly attention – or at least the attention of the flock of sheep.

Aunt Christina had a sewing machine and so she sewed my angelic costume.

I felt quite holy in it!

I memorized my speech.  A textbook first-born overachiever, I eagerly learned my lines and was humbled by the importance of my role.  My biggest obstacle was not in the saying of the words, but, saying them so that they could be heard.

Fear not, for behold!

Fear not?  I was as frightened as a dormouse meeting the Christmas cat while coming down the chimney.

Finally, dress rehearsal.  Dress rehearsals are almost always disastrous, are they not?, especially when they are Christmas pageants.

The wise men, always a role coveted by the most mischievous of boys, misbehaved as if on cue,  as did the cane wielding shepherds, whose sticks, brandished as weapons,  were repeatedly confiscated.

A ramped platform was constructed so that the Angel of the Lord could rise above the lowly flock.  What were they thinking?  Was it not enough to expect an audible proclamation of good tidings? Did I have to walk the plank to do it?

 Fear not, for behold!

Fear not? Did they actually expect me to climb Mt. Holy Apostles to deliver the message according to Saint Luke?

The shepherds gathered, the sheep shephed,  and Father Bill decided to check on the pageant’s progress just as my father arrived to pick me up . . .  just as I commenced my heavenly ascent!

That is when I became a fallen angel.  Two or three steps up the heralding ramp and I tripped on the robe and tumbled, crashing to earth, denting my Reynolds Wrap halo with it’s glistening dust, as well as my already fragile ego.

Where was divine intervention?

I swear I heard the sheep giggle.

Adults rushed, as adults always do, when children want to fade into the woodwork.  I was examined for broken bones as helping hands attempted to disentangle me from my now tangled up gown.

The show, as they say, must go on, so, slowly, s-l-o-w-l-y, ever so slowwwwwly,  I ascended toward the brightly shining star hanging from the rafter, finally reaching the peak of my performance where I extended my ample sleeves to all their glory – and uttered my proclamation. Unfortunately, only the giggling sheep could hear.  The abiding shepherds could not hear me, nor could Father Bill or my earthly father, Pete.


Most of the words became slurred in the swaddling clothes.


Tears pooled in my eyes as Father and Father huddled. My heavenly halo threatened to dangle into foiled doom. My earthly pride  sapped.

The priest came forward, his black robe punctuating his purposeful steps. A sermon at hand.  I had a most important speech, he sternly admonished.  Not only the giggling sheep, but, the entire world needed to hear St. Luke’s words.  “You must project your voice”, he projected.  Could I do it by Sunday night’s performance?

My halo bobbed a “yes” as I silently pleaded for mercy and gingerly stepped down from my lofty lift, tears no longer in abeyance, and sobbed my way to my daddy, who I knew was not only disappointed, but was embarrassed by my tears.

That night, I cried myself to sleep, knowing I would awaken a fallen angel with tear swollen eyes.  I did not know how I could possibly be a properly proclaiming Angel of the Lord as I feared my fate at the feet of snickering sheep!

My mother paced over my tiny tears. “Pete, do something.” My grandmother sagely said I could do this in her broken English with all the encouragement a Yia Yia can give.  My father patted my shoulder and asked me if I thought I could do this. He said he had confidence in me.  He knew I could do this. I was a smart girl. He had faith in me. Did I have faith?

I did. I had faith, and that night, rising high above the sheep and shepherds . . .

. . . I was awesomely angelic as I loudly proclaimed:

Fear not, for behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, for unto you is born this day, in the City of David, a savior, who is Christ the King.  You will find Him wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger . . .

. . .  and the sheep did not giggle. The Wise Men behaved. The shepherds

shouldered their canes tightly and a Child was born.

(This is a repost from a few years ago. I hope you don’t mind me recycling it here today.)

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Five. Four. Three. Two. One. . .

. . . and we are ON the air!

Image from the Pheasant Run site

A birthday gift from Tom was tickets to see “It’s a Wonderful Life” at Pheasant Run in St. Charles. Last year, we saw a screening of the movie at the historic Tivoli Theater on my birthday, which was a treat for this fan beyond measure, until Saturday night, that is.

This was a live production. A play. A radio production inside a play, that is.

What fun it was to be in the audience as actors performed a radio broadcast of one of my most favorite holiday stories. I can’t begin to expound on the talents of the actors. They sang and they danced. They played multiple parts and worked the sound effects in between.

The  station manager was also the radio announcer as well as the despicable Henry Potter, the angel Joseph, and even Nick the bartender.

The pianist extraordinaire acted as Uncle Billy, Mr. Gower, and the celestial Clarence, the angel who saves George Bailey. He also gave voice to a host of others, sometimes jumping from one character to another while playing the piano.

Violet was as sassy a the movie character and she was Ma Bailey without missing a beat.

Mary Hatch and George Bailey. Well, I can’t say enough good things about the actors who played them, flawlessly. I smiled when they smiled and I cried when they cried. Just when I thought I couldn’t enjoy “It’s a Wonderful Life” more, I did.

I thought about the play and about radio programs on our long ride home last night. I thought about my favorite Saturday pastime of listening to Garrison Keillor on “The Prairie Home Companion”, anticipating Keillor’s imminent retirement in 2013. It is not just the end of his show that I thought about, but the idea of radio shows and the part they played in our national and international character for decades. The radio dramas that played  in everyday family lives.

Tom recalled his grandparents tuning in to soap operas in their Ohio farming community each day. My mom did the same ironing in the kitchen. My dad  loved the suspense of “The Shadow” and my Uncle Joe tried to talk me into naming my Pinto the “green hornet”.

Well, I digress, as I often do. Wandering and wondering – and filled with contentment at an evening well acted.

(Thanks, Tom, for the present.)

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