My holiday gift to you all -- apologies in advance:

'Twas the night before Christmas,
and all through the house,
all the people were shaking,
wishing it was only a mouse.
Alas, alas no, a dragon had arrived –
His glittering red and green wings bright in the skies.
And ooh! All the smoke! All the fire and brimstone!
What horribly large and strong scaly thighs!
And up on the roof there arose such a clatter,
that every last person squawked, oh what does it matter!
If we can't get the brand new TV to turn on,
Or get the ASUS tablet to change this &^%%# icon!
(Er, wait. The poet just recalled
this poem was supposed to be set in older times
when Christmas did not include getting Malled
or trying to figure out arcane stuff,
like, has this thing been charged enough?
So sorry. We will return to days of yore,
and see what this dragon story has in store.)
So up on the roof their arose such a clatter,
that knights ran out shrieking, "What is the matter?"
"I need gifts," said the dragon, licking his lips.
"Something from each of your townships."
"Virgins?" asked the knights. "We might be a bit short –"
The dragon stopped that with a snort.
"What would I do with a virgin? No, I want gold.
Lots of it. Don't care if it's warm or cold."
The people whispered, and then with a nod,
dragged out a great cauldron. "No fraud!"
steamed the dragon, and the knights all quivered,
But none of the others even shivered.
As they ran from house to house grabbing supplies.
The dragon watched, then said "Hey guys –"
To the knights, who were guarding the pot –
"Do my eyes deceive me? You're girls, are you not?"
"We prefer 'women,' " said the knights, with a nod.
"You must have met more in your flights abroad."
"Oh yes," said the dragon, with a grin.
"It's the women who beat me again and again.
So I warn you, I'm ready for all of you knights,
Even if you have some tricks with some kites."
(This puzzled the knights, and even the poet,
who just flung up her hands and said, oh, stow it –
It's not as if anyone will be reading this blog,
On Christmas, especially this slog.)
"Oh, it's not us who will be saving the town," said a knight.
"But our various cooks. Fire! Ignite!"
And the knights lit the fire. The cauldron bubbled.
The dragon looked quite befuddled.
And all through the town the cooks they did hurry
to throw things in the cauldron with quite a scurry.
Two hours later cooks and knights they did grin –
"Oh great dragon, we beg you, begin!"
The dragon approached, and sniffed and sniffed –
Beer and cheese and some kind of spice –
Even the well travelled dragon thought, well, that's very nice.
He tentatively stuck out his very long tongue,
And one of the knights – she was quite young –
Grabbed a spoon and brought the dragon a taste.
"Cheddar beer soup! Perhaps not great for my waist –
BUT GOLD INDEED! WOW! This is amazing stuff!
I just hope we have enough!"
And they heard him exclaim, as he flew out of sight,
"I'll be back with more dragons for this soup tonight!"

#

For those looking for something a bit more, er, Christmasy, a new post is up at Tor.com.
I have just discovered that the only short sleeved green shirt I own is currently in a condition that will make no one happy if I wear it (yes, yes, I have plans to do laundry soon, I promise). Does having eyes that can be either hazel or green or blue, depending on the light, count?

So to do what little I can to honor the day:



Happy St. Patrick's Day!
Whether or not you celebrate the day, may you all have a warm and merry day, full of light. And cookies. Cookies are important. And, from me, in lieu of my usual silly holiday poem (because I zonked out on it this year) a free bit of story and magic.

Dragons! )
Ok, I know most of you are probably feeling the holiday music fatigue already, but you have to trust me: this is an excellent rendition of "Carol of the Bells":



H/t Jennifer Brozek.
Since I failed to wish all of you a Happy St. Nicholas' Day (December 6) and a Happy St. Lucia Day (December 13), allow me to wish you all a Happy Monkey Day today! Yes, this is apparently A Thing. Or at least an internet thing.

In unrelated news, this, a recreation of some of the year's major news events in Legos, cracked me up. (I especially like the little Lego guy waving an "Occupy Legoland!" sign. Will this be their chance to finally break the Lego tyranny?)
Santa Claus is terrorizing us again.

It's not Santa so much, it's that he comes with a fire truck and two cop cars all blasting their sirens and honking their horns at startled cars and bicyclists. Plus, his sleigh smokes, which sends everyone out assuming it's a fire only to be greeted by smoke, sirens and Jingle Bell Rock.

We waved. He ho ho hoed.

The next door kids were delighted. I'm off to get a drink, since I'm going to be hearing these sirens for several more minutes. (Santa terrorizes VERY SLOWLY.)
It's a gloomy, grey day out – quite Christmas like for Florida, at least as far as weather goes, despite the lack of snow, with dangling lights and the occasional plastic snowman to give a sense of the weather.

Over coffee, I carefully punched out another hole in cardboard.

I first saw Advent calendars when we lived in Italy. I fell in love with them immediately – the idea of getting another new little picture each day, of wondering what was beneath the little flaps, of wondering what the next day would bring – it added to the wonder and anticipation of the holidays. I was even more enthralled because we couldn't immediately have one – we were travelling to Florida for Christmas that year, and the next, and British Airways frowned on the thought of small children lugging large cardboard calendars on board for the sake of punching holes to see the next little pictures. It was not until our third year there that we got one, and I was allowed to carefully open each picture. We had a little Advent wreath to light candles on, too, and it glowed near the calendar.

And that was the end of the Advent calendars for years. When we returned to the States, decent and affordable Advent calendars were few and far between, and that travelling issue raised its head again. I almost got one in college, but realized again I would have to schlepp it back and forth. Post college, I was always either too broke, too dispirited, too busy, too travelling, or too unimpressed with the available calendars to buy one….even as I found myself looking at them, hands twitching, wanting to feel that tiny bit of wonder of what was behind the flap. (I admit that the chocolate ones were particularly temping, but I only seemed to find those on years when I was on a particularly tight budget.)

Then a certain friend, called @cyberlizard on Twitter, typed in a few fateful words:

Lego Star Wars Advent Calendar.

You are on a very tight budget, I told myself sternly. You have completely failed to finish a novel this year, which is not improving the condition of the very tight budget.

And yet. Not long afterwards I found myself at Target. It couldn't hurt to, you know, LOOK at the Legos, since I clearly and obviously wasn't buying any of them at all.

I don't know exactly how the Lego Star Wars Advent Calendar jumped into my trike. It Just Did.

I stowed it away in my closet for a few weeks, until December came, and I could start punching out each day.

The Lego Star Wars Advent Calendar is not exactly showing me new and improved Star Wars pictures (it has pictures outside the box.) What it does have is little Lego toys. So far I have uncovered a Chewbacca (not in Christmas clothing, although it looks as if the Yoda will be in a Santa Claus outfit) and a Rebel and a Trader and an X-wing (that was a bit tricky to put together since Lego added a couple extra pieces, very frustrating, so I felt I was doing it wrong) and things to hold little Lego weapons in and a couple of other fighter pieces.

I open a new hole over coffee each morning, wondering what little bit of Star Wars toys I'll get this time. And I think this is the sort of magic I may need to return to in future years.
Happy Dancing Day!

One of my favorite books is a long time forgotten work by Jenny Overton called The Thirteen Days of Christmas, which details, merrily enough, what might have happened had some wealthy man in some English historical past decided to prove that he was truly the romantic sort by, well, giving the gifts of "The Twelve Days of Christmas." (The conceit of the book: his actions inspired the song.) I love the book because it is silly and fun and filled with irritated geese, hens, swans and far, far too much milk. But I also love it because not so incidentally the author takes care to describe some of the traditions of the other days of Christmas, those running merrily from Christmas to Epiphany.

As she notes, not all of these customs were celebrated everywhere and not always on the day she noted. And some she simply made up for the convenience of this particular tale. Including, I am fairly certain, Dancing Day – I know a couple of old Christmas carols reference a dancing day, or say "tomorrow will be my dancing day" and so on, but given that this day in the book just happens to appear, suspiciously and conveniently enough, on the ninth day when the nine ladies dancing show up, I sense a bit of authorial intervention and creativity here.

On the other hand, some churches still celebrate John the Evangelist's Day (December 27th) by blessing the Gospels; the BBC informs us that some people are still observing Holy Innocents Day in a very white and powdery manner, and so on. (Confusingly enough, Holy Innocents is put in the liturgical calendar before Epiphany; I always felt it should be the other way around.) And in the main, she is right: the truly old fashioned Christmases were once twelve (or thirteen) full days of celebration from Christmas to Epiphany. Of course, these days, in the U.S., at least, we seem to start with the Christmas holidaying on Thanksgiving and continue right up through New Year's, if we are counting holiday parties, decorations, food, pleas to shop more, and so on. (Overton fails to mention any tradition of people leaping from their houses to find shopping bargains on the 26th; she has a snowball fight for St. Stephen's Day instead.)

Each year, I keep meaning to blog the various days, based on the book, and each year, I either haven't had the book readily available or I've just forgotten. So, this is kinda like your quasi blog of the celebrations. Mostly, I just like the idea of extending winter celebrations just a little longer, to start the New Year off with not just one (or, on a weekend like this, two) recovery days from New Year's celebrations, but with a few more festivities to start the year on a brighter light. So, Happy Dancing Day to all! Even if the celebration is entirely made up. Those of you quite celebrated out (including the cats, who were distressed to realize that many of our neighbors had leftover fireworks that they merrily shot off last night) feel free to consume chocolate from the sidelines.
Happy New Year to all. It is time, I think, to reveal my resolution for the year to all of you:

Eat chocolate.

I know, I know. But I'll be keeping my resolution.

**********

It's no secret that I love fireworks. Love them.

And I've always wanted to set off little fireworks of my own.

(Er, in the real, not metaphoric sense.)

Alas, much of my life, I have either lived in places where individual purchase and lighting of fireworks is outright illegal, or, severely disapproved of in the apartment complexes where I lived.

But last night, we were able to head out to the driveway to set off little fireworks of our own, under the concerned eye of the Winter Garden Fire Department, which was making slow and nervous rounds throughout our neighborhood. What I hadn't anticipated – although this, along with the unusually dry weather, which explained the Fire Department – was just how many of our neighbors would be joining in – nearly every single house on this street and the two next to it. Frankly, not shooting things off would have seemed, well, unneighborly.

We set off a few fireworks, then headed back in for games (because, honestly, more years should end by facing Cthulhu), turning on the TV to warn us when the New Year approached. Unfortunately, we made the mistake of having CBS on in the background, paying so little attention that we entirely failed to notice that CBS was running—not kidding –a re-run of David Letterman. They didn't even have the guts to run live coverage, so we totally missed the countdown.

Luckily, the booming sounds of Disney and the neighbors made up for this, so we weren't exactly able to ignore the incoming 2011 for very long. We flipped stations and then popped out to shoot off more fireworks. The street was filled with people making things go bang bang bang.

(I say "we" but in actual fact I just stayed back and watched things go up and bang. I'm notoriously abysmal with getting lighters to turn on and not particularly fast at moving backwards as fuses as sizzling. But it almost counted!)

It was not until after midnight that I remembered I also had a bottle of Rosa Regale (a rose champagne) in the fridge for a moment just like this (we'd been drinking Gluwine and eyeing the bottle of Chocolate Wine, which I actually haven't dared try out yet.) We decided to let it go. The city bangs lasted quite some time – until 3 am – and the Grey One, who does not approve of this sort of thing at all, is still not talking to any of us.

**********

On a totally different note, but before I continue to forget to blog about it: I am not at all surprised that Stargate: Universe was cancelled – ratings were not good, and although the show certainly improved in its second season, this was largely because it had nowhere to go but up. Cancellation was pretty much inevitable.

So yeah, not surprised, and filled with doubt that this is really and truly the ultimate end of the Stargate franchise – someone, somewhere will resurrect it again. But I will say that whatever the feelings about the cancellation, letting your cast and crew (including John Scalzi, who really doesn't deserve this sort of thing) find out that they've been fired through Twitter seriously sucks.
This will either make you run to a mall, or swear off malls entirely, depending:



Watching this, two different thoughts popped into my head:

1) I guess the "stand the second you hear even the first few notes of the Hallelujah Chorus," drummed into me at a young age, is fading now? Or is that just at full concert performances of the Messiah, where people start scuffling and standing up even before anyone bursts into song? Or just perhaps the people at the mall figured they didn't want to stand up against the singers.

2) As some of you know, for years I used to stroll around malls at the holiday season, caroling, and one of the things that always got me, no matter how long I'd been doing it, was the way bored and irritated expressions suddenly turned into, "Huh, they are really singing! It's not just a lousy recording!" (The problem with mall caroling is that the sound varies tremendously depending upon the acoustics of the particular corner or bit you are walking through, which in turn dramatically changes your sound from lifechanging and all inspiring to oh god when are those terrible singers GOING TO LEAVE already.) This realization was generally followed by the approach of an excited child begging us to to sing "Rudolph," the main reason why that particular song slipped from being my all time favorite song like ever (when I was five; I LOVED it) to my most hated Christmas song of all time (I don't quite think it's reached my most hated song of all time, since, well, lots of competition there) because I just had to sing the song waaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyy too often since how can you say no to a little kid squeaking "RUDOLPH RUDOLPH RUDOLPH!"?

Anyway, I had yet another nostalgic moment. It does appear to be the week of that kinda thing -- even some of my dreams last night had a decidedly nostalgic twinge. The holidays, I suspect, and on that note, happy Hannukah to all of you and may everyone gain lots of calories on latkes.

(For new readers, I am an agnostic equal opportunity stealer of various winter holidays.)

And while we're on this subject, a repeat of my still-favorite flash mob entertainment thing:

So, yeah, it's the last day of the year. The day when all Good Bloggers try to sum up the year while contemplating the later food and champagne. In this case, amplified by the apparent need to sum up an entire decade.

Er, the year first.

The year, not surprisingly, started with me yelling at Cigna (my "health insurance" company), and even less surprisingly, ended with me yelling at Cigna ("Cigna! Raising the blood pressure of our clients, one member at a time!"). One of my chief goals for 2010 is "to spend less time arguing with Cigna," a resolution which will be made easier by the fact that I am not going to be covered by them anymore. (Such a statement, of course, implies that they were, indeed, COVERING ME in the first place.)

Between these Cigna moments were many other things that sparked up what I had assumed would be a rather dull year into an unexpectedly dramatic one. I survived getting hit by a large truck. The trike was then stolen, leading to an exciting cop chase during which trained cops estimated that I am in my early 20s, followed by a considerably less exciting day in juvenile court during which trained attorneys estimated my age more correctly and more legal wrangling, resulting in his incarceration until 2014, not so much because of the trike but because of a long string of other charges. My kinder side (yes, I have one; I just don't use it that much) is hoping that he gets the therapy and help he needs.

And many of you, at the beginning of this year, assured me that riding a trike would be dull.

The year had more to it than this, of course. It had shuttle launches; the occasional concert/outing; some rather good movies (Up, Star Trek, and to my genuine surprise, Inglorious Basterds, the only Quentin Tarentino movie I have enjoyed); some utterly dreadful movies (GI Joe, Ninja Assassin); bonding with friends; silliness; zebras; unexpected ostriches and peacocks; Leverage, Lost; not putting stickers on the cane; books, more books; various publications but not enough actual writing, which deserves but probably won't get its own post since focusing on my own failures (and this is a bad one – I did not make any of my not particularly ambitious writing goals) is pretty painful; far too much information about the sex lives of famous athletes; far more music; sudden moments of dazzling insight; accepting the damn wheelchair; feeling the planet shift and move; fatigue; doctors; fuzzy blankets; excellent conversations; painful conversations; and some of those moments that you hold deep in your soul, to ponder over, to treasure in the dark hours of the night, or the worst hours of the day, when you remember to remember them.

***********

All this said, since August, my life has been held in an odd limbo, where various things that were supposed to happen, were planned to happen, in the fall, could not happen.

And I'm still there, waiting.

That waiting makes it intensely difficult to summarize this year as good or bad; it's a year of holding. And I'm simply not used to holding. I've certainly had worse years (one reason I'm not jumping on the summarize the decade bandwagon is that would require revisiting 2006, a year that seriously needs to be forgotten). I've certainly had better years. But rarely has it been so difficult to say where I was in the beginning, and where I am now, although if the past five years have taught me anything, it is that life – at least, my life – is not going to be travelling a predictable, planned path, perhaps interspersed by these holding moments.

So I'm not going to make any predictions for 2010. Except to say that I suspect chocolate will be involved somewhere. Because isn't it always?

***********

All of which is to say that my best summary of the year is still probably this, which in the end, was also my favorite publication of the year. I easily could have just posted that again, and left all of this out. But then we couldn't have revisited the cop chase. Hmm.
'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house,
Cthulhu was stirring, not quite like a mouse
The stockings were hung by the altars with care,
in hopes that the Great Old Ones soon would be there.
The cultists were nestled all snug in their beds,
while visions of chaos danced in their heads,
And Alhazred in his tower, and I with my cap,
were preparing our brains for Cthulhu post-nap –
When out in the temple there arose such a clatter,
we sprang from our knees to see what was the matter.
Away to the altars we flew like a flash,
And tied up some cultists with a lovely red sash,
The moon on the marble polished like bloody snow,
gave a sickly lustre to the objects below –
When what to our wondering eyes should appear,
but tentacle creatures riding reindeer.
With a large slimy driver who made us feel sick –
A feeling that told us this could not be a trick!
More rapid than rockets his tentacles they came –
And he whistled and cursed and called us by name!
"Come cultists! Come Bokrug! Come Atlach-Nacha!
Come Dweller of the Gulf, and Mother Hydra!
To the depths of the seas! To the crest of the ice wall!
Come devour, devour, come devour all!"
As cute little aliens dotted the sky,
And slimy things tried to learn how to fly,
Up to the cities and the glaciers they flew,
With chariots full of fire, and destruction too.
And then in a twinkling, I heard on the roof –
the clawing and pawing of a slimy hoof!
As I drew in my head and was turning around –
Down the chimney Cthulhu came with a bound!
He was covered in tentacles, head to foot,
And he gave off the stink of sulfur and soot,
Slime and evil wafted from his back –
And we don't want to know what he held in his pack.
The stump of a leg he held tight in his teeth,
And tentacles curled round his head like a wreath –
He had a broad face, and a large round belly –
That shook when he moved, just like evil jelly –
Chubby and plump, exactly unlike a cute elf;
I shuddered at the sight, in spite of myself.
A wink of his eye, a twist of his head –
Oh, did we have something to dread!
He sprang to the skies, with a horrific whistle –
It felt like my skin had been dragged over a thistle.
And I heard him exclaim as he stormed out of sight,
"Oooh, I love Christmas! Consumption tonight!"

-- ok, I could have just stuck with the traditional seasons greetings.

Merry Christmas, Joyous Noel, Happy Kwansaa, Happy Hannukkah, Ecstatic (and belated) Solstice, Glad Yule, bland Seasons Greetings, and a happy New Year to all, and tuna for cats.
From [profile] funkyturtle, a shocking story of how innocent, helpless Christmas lights are getting eaten by squirrels.

I can think of no better way to wish you all a merry and joyous holiday!

Well, ok, yes, I probably could. In the meantime, I will remind the less squirrelly among you that should you get a craving for lights, cookies make a great substitute.

Gift fail!

Dec. 22nd, 2009 11:32 am
This may be one of the most headshaking holiday articles I've read this year.

For those that don't want to read it, I'll summarize: the writer is attempting to find the one universal and thoughtful holiday gift that can be given to each and every person on the holiday gift list. So far, so...huh, but moving on. (I am assuming children's gifts are not involved.) After considering and discarding various possibilities (cookies - yes! cookies! who discards COOKIES???? Cookies are the entire point of the holiday season! :: eats cookie JUST TO MAKE THE POINT :: Also, perpetual calenders, umbrellas, memory sticks, plants, and, um, Sarah Palin's autobiography) the article settles upon this as the perfect universal holiday gift:
This brings me, at last, to the perfect universal holiday gift: Good Poems, a collection curated by Garrison Keillor. It's unabashedly middlebrow in the best sense of the word. Keillor isn't for everyone, but these poems are[....]Even people who don't seek out poetry, or people with an overdeveloped poetic muscle who swear they only read late-period Ezra Pound, will find something in here to like. If, that is, they have a shred of humanity. And you should tell your ungrateful wretch of a best friend exactly that if she looks a little crestfallen when she unwraps it.

The book hits a crucial target—it's general, but feels personal. Each recipient will be under the impression you thought long and hard about how to warm his soul this cold winter, when, really, you're working with an industrial-grade furnace. (If you really want to go in for the kill, bookmark a couple of poems that seem particularly well-suited to your giftee's taste.)
Look, I realize that this is meant to be slightly tongue-in-cheek. And yes, like all poets I like to harbor under the happy delusion that everyone loves poetry and my poems in particular. But the truth is, some people just don't like poetry. (Worse, some people don't like my poems in particular.) Even more people do not like poetry assembled for their delight by Garrison Kellior. Were I to gift certain people [names carefully omitted, but you know who you are] with a book of poems for the holiday, regardless of what was in the book of poems, I would be greeted with at best a blank stare and a frantic attempt to express polite gratitude, or more probably, a request for the umbrella.

By all means, if your gift recipients love poetry, give poetry. Otherwise, stick with the cookies.

(You'll all excuse me while I go hunt down those cookies in the kitchen. They are being terribly, terribly loud, and that sort of cookie behavior deserves the appropriate response.)

(Edited to add link. ::headdesk:: I blame the cookies.)
'Tis both Rosh Hashanah and Talk Like A Pirate Day! Ahoy vey! Shiver up ye timbers and celebrate this fine holiday. With a bit of rum, if ye be so inclined.

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