Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Oscar Wilde's The Selfish Giant #ChristmasLit

I only managed to read two Christmas books this season. The Greatest Christmas Stories of All Time: Timeless Classics That Celebrate the Season is a collection of classic short Christmas stories and novels. I shared a favorite last week...Willa Cather's The Burglar's Christmas. I enjoyed most of the stories in the collection and this one was another stand out for me. The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde. I had no idea he had written a Christmas story, and though it did have a slightly religious theme, I still thought it was a wonderful story, especially for children. I'm sharing below. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Every afternoon, as they were coming from school, the children used to go and play in the Giant's garden.

It was a large lovely garden, with soft green grass. Here and there over the grass stood beautiful flowers like stars, and there were twelve peach-trees that in the spring-time broke out into delicate blossoms of pink and pearl, and in the autumn bore rich fruit. The birds sat on the trees and sang so sweetly that the children used to stop their games in order to listen to them. 'How happy we are here!' they cried to each other.

One day the Giant came back. He had been to visit his friend the Cornish ogre, and had stayed with him for seven years. After the seven years were over he had said all that he had to say, for his conversation was limited, and he determined to return to his own castle. When he arrived he saw the children playing in the garden.

'What are you doing here?' he cried in a very gruff voice, and the children ran away.

'My own garden is my own garden,' said the Giant; 'any one can understand that, and I will allow nobody to play in it but myself.' So he built a high wall all round it, and put up a notice-board.


He was a very selfish Giant.

The poor children had now nowhere to play. They tried to play on the road, but the road was very dusty and full of hard stones, and they did not like it. They used to wander round the high wall when their lessons were over, and talk about the beautiful garden inside.

'How happy we were there,' they said to each other.

Then the Spring came, and all over the country there were little blossoms and little birds. Only in the garden of the Selfish Giant it was still Winter. The birds did not care to sing in it as there were no children, and the trees forgot to blossom. Once a beautiful flower put its head out from the grass, but when it saw the notice-board it was so sorry for the children that it slipped back into the ground again, and went off to sleep. The only people who were pleased were the Snow and the Frost. 'Spring has forgotten this garden,' they cried, 'so we will live here all the year round.' The Snow covered up the grass with her great white cloak, and the Frost painted all the trees silver. Then they invited the North Wind to stay with them, and he came. He was wrapped in furs, and he roared all day about the garden, and blew the chimney-pots down. 'This is a delightful spot,' he said, 'we must ask the Hail on a visit.' So the Hail came. Every day for three hours he rattled on the roof of the castle till he broke most of the slates, and then he ran round and round the garden as fast as he could go. He was dressed in grey, and his breath was like ice.

'I cannot understand why the Spring is so late in coming,' said the Selfish Giant, as he sat at the window and looked out at his cold white garden; 'I hope there will be a change in the weather.'

But the Spring never came, nor the Summer. The Autumn gave golden fruit to every garden, but to the Giant's garden she gave none. 'He is too selfish,' she said. So it was always Winter there, and the North Wind, and the Hail, and the Frost, and the Snow danced about through the trees.

One morning the Giant was lying awake in bed when he heard some lovely music. It sounded so sweet to his ears that he thought it must be the King's musicians passing by. It was really only a little linnet singing outside his window, but it was so long since he had heard a bird sing in his garden that it seemed to him to be the most beautiful music in the world. Then the Hail stopped dancing over his head, and the North Wind ceased roaring, and a delicious perfume came to him through the open casement. 'I believe the Spring has come at last,' said the Giant; and he jumped out of bed and looked out.

What did he see?

He saw a most wonderful sight. Through a little hole in the wall the children had crept in, and they were sitting in the branches of the trees. In every tree that he could see there was a little child. And the trees were so glad to have the children back again that they had covered themselves with blossoms, and were waving their arms gently above the children's heads. The birds were flying about and twittering with delight, and the flowers were looking up through the green grass and laughing. It was a lovely scene, only in one corner it was still Winter. It was the farthest corner of the garden, and in it was standing a little boy. He was so small that he could not reach up to the branches of the tree, and he was wandering all round it, crying bitterly. The poor tree was still quite covered with frost and snow, and the North Wind was blowing and roaring above it. 'Climb up! little boy,' said the Tree, and it bent its branches down as low as it could; but the little boy was too tiny.

And the Giant's heart melted as he looked out. 'How selfish I have been!' he said; 'now I know why the Spring would not come here. I will put that poor little boy on the top of the tree, and then I will knock down the wall, and my garden shall be the children's playground for ever and ever.' He was really very sorry for what he had done.

So he crept downstairs and opened the front door quite softly, and went out into the garden. But when the children saw him they were so frightened that they all ran away, and the garden became Winter again. Only the little boy did not run, for his eyes were so full of tears that he died not see the Giant coming. And the Giant stole up behind him and took him gently in his hand, and put him up into the tree. And the tree broke at once into blossom, and the birds came and sang on it, and the little boy stretched out his two arms and flung them round the Giant's neck, and kissed him. And the other children, when they saw that the Giant was not wicked any longer, came running back, and with them came the Spring. 'It is your garden now, little children,' said the Giant, and he took a great axe and knocked down the wall. And when the people were gong to market at twelve o'clock they found the Giant playing with the children in the most beautiful garden they had ever seen.

All day long they played, and in the evening they came to the Giant to bid him good-bye.

'But where is your little companion?' he said: 'the boy I put into the tree.' The Giant loved him the best because he had kissed him.

'We don't know,' answered the children; 'he has gone away.'

'You must tell him to be sure and come here to-morrow,' said the Giant. But the children said that they did not know where he lived, and had never seen him before; and the Giant felt very sad.

Every afternoon, when school was over, the children came and played with the Giant. But the little boy whom the Giant loved was never seen again. The Giant was very kind to all the children, yet he longed for his first little friend, and often spoke of him. 'How I would like to see him!' he used to say.

Years went over, and the Giant grew very old and feeble. He could not play about any more, so he sat in a huge armchair, and watched the children at their games, and admired his garden. 'I have many beautiful flowers,' he said; 'but the children are the most beautiful flowers of all.'

One winter morning he looked out of his window as he was dressing. He did not hate the Winter now, for he knew that it was merely the Spring asleep, and that the flowers were resting.

Suddenly he rubbed his eyes in wonder, and looked and looked. It certainly was a marvellous sight. In the farthest corner of the garden was a tree quite covered with lovely white blossoms. Its branches were all golden, and silver fruit hung down from them, and underneath it stood the little boy he had loved.

Downstairs ran the Giant in great joy, and out into the garden. He hastened across the grass, and came near to the child. And when he came quite close his face grew red with anger, and he said, 'Who hath dared to wound thee?' For on the palms of the child's hands were the prints of two nails, and the prints of two nails were on the little feet.

'Who hath dared to wound thee?' cried the Giant; 'tell me, that I may take my big sword and slay him.'

'Nay!' answered the child; 'but these are the wounds of Love.'

'Who art thou?' said the Giant, and a strange awe fell on him, and he knelt before the little child.

And the child smiled on the Giant, and said to him, 'You let me play once in your garden, to-day you shall come with me to my garden, which is Paradise.'

And when the children ran in that afternoon, they found the Giant lying dead under the tree, all covered with white blossoms.

The End.

A part of...

Always in spirit...

Monday, December 30, 2019

Taking Down the Tree

I don't take my tree down until after the new year, usually not until January 6th or 7th, but I know some take theirs down earlier. This poem is an homage to thinking of the memories while performing this task. Makes it more meaningful, I think, rather than just a chore.

Taking Down the Tree

"Give me some light!" cries Hamlet's
uncle midway through the murder
of Gonzago. "Light! Light!" cry scattering
courtesans. Here, as in Denmark,
it's dark at four, and even the moon
shines with only half a heart.
The ornaments go down into the box:
the silver spaniel, My Darling
on its collar, from Mother's childhood
in Illinois; the balsa jumping jack
my brother and I fought over,
pulling limb from limb. Mother
drew it together again with thread
while I watched, feeling depraved
at the age of ten.

With something more than caution
I handle them, and the lights, with their
tin star-shaped reflectors, brought along
from house to house, their pasteboard
toy suitcases increasingly flimsy.
Tick, tick, the desiccated needles drop.

By suppertime all that remains is the scent
of balsam fir. If it's darkness
we're having, let it be extravagant.

"Taking Down the Tree" by Jane Kenyon from Collected Poems. Copyright © 2005 by the Estate of Jane Kenyon.

A part of...

Always in spirit...

Friday, December 27, 2019

#WeekendLit - A Burglar's Christmas by Willa Cather


I read this story a couple of weeks ago and it really touched me. It's a prodigal son tale, set at Christmas. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

A Burglar's Christmas

Two very shabby looking young men stood at the corner of Prairie Avenue and Eightieth Street, looking despondently at the carriages that whirled by. It was Christmas Eve, and the streets were full of vehicles; florists' wagons, grocers' carts and carriages. The streets were in that half-liquid, half-congealed condition peculiar to the streets of Chicago at that season of the year. The swift wheels that spun by sometimes threw the slush of mud and snow over the two young men who were talking on the corner.

"Well," remarked the elder of the two, "I guess we are at our rope's end, sure enough. How do you feel?"

"Pretty shaky. The wind's sharp tonight. If I had had anything to eat I mightn't mind it so much. There is simply no show. I'm sick of the whole business. Looks like there's nothing for it but the lake."

"O, nonsense, I thought you had more grit. Got anything left you can hock?"

Nothing but my beard, and I am afraid they wouldn't find it worth a pawn ticket," said the younger man ruefully, rubbing the week's growth of stubble on his face.

"Got any folks anywhere? Now's your time to strike 'em if you have."

"Never mind if I have, they're out of the question."

"Well, you'll be out of it before many hours if you don't make a move of some sort. A man's got to eat. See here, I am going down to Longtin's saloon. I used to play the banjo in there with a couple of coons, and I'll bone him for some of his free-lunch stuff. You'd better come along, perhaps they'll fill an order for two."

"How far down is it?"

"Well, it's clear downtown, of course, way down on Michigan Avenue."

"Thanks, I guess I'll loaf around here. I don't feel equal to the walk, and the cars well, the cars are crowded." His features drew themselves into what might have been a smile under happier circumstances.

"No, you never did like street cars, you're too aristocratic. See here, Crawford, I don't like leaving you here. You ain't good company for yourself tonight."

"Crawford? O, yes, that's the last one. There have been so many I forget them."

"Have you got a real name, anyway?"

"O, yes, but it's one of the ones I've forgotten. Don't you worry about me. You go along and get your free lunch. I think I had a row in Longtin's place once. I'd better not show myself there again." As he spoke the young man nodded and turned slowly up the avenue.

He was miserable enough to want to be quite alone. Even the crowd that jostled by him annoyed him. He wanted to think about himself. He had avoided this final reckoning with himself for a year now. He had laughed it off and drunk it off. But now, when all those artificial devices which are employed to turn our thoughts into other channels and shield us from ourselves had failed him, it must come. Hunger is a powerful incentive to introspection.

It is a tragic hour, that hour when we are finally driven to reckon with ourselves, when every avenue of mental distraction has been cut off and our own life and all its ineffaceable failures closes about us like the walls of that old torture chamber of the Inquisition. Tonight, as this man stood stranded in the streets of the city, his hour came. It was not the first time he had been hungry and desperate and alone. But always before there had been some outlook, some chance ahead, some pleasure yet untasted that seemed worth the effort, some face that he fancied was, or would be, dear. But it was not so tonight. The unyielding conviction was upon him that he had failed in everything, had outlived everything. It had been near him for a long time, that Pale Spectre. He had caught its shadow at the bottom of his glass many a time, at the head of his bed when he was sleepless at night, in the twilight shadows when some great sunset broke upon him. It had made life hateful to him when he awoke in the morning before now. But now it settled slowly over him, like night, the endless Northern nights that bid the sun a long farewell. It rose up before him like granite. From this brilliant city with its glad bustle of Yuletide he was shut off as completely as though he were a creature of another species. His days seemed numbered and done, sealed over like the little coral cells at the bottom of the sea. Involuntarily he drew that cold air through his lungs slowly, as though he were tasting it for the last time.

Yet he was but four and twenty, this man he looked even younger and he had a father some place down East who had been very proud of him once. Well, he had taken his life into his own hands, and this was what he had made of it. That was all there was to be said. He could remember the hopeful things they used to say about him at college in the old days, before he had cut away and begun to live by his wits, and he found courage to smile at them now. They had read him wrongly. He knew now that he never had the essentials of success, only the superficial agility that is often mistaken for it. He was tow without the tinder, and he had burnt himself out at other people's fires. He had helped other people to make it win, but he himself he had never touched an enterprise that had not failed eventually. Or, if it survived his connection with it, it left him behind.

His last venture had been with some ten-cent specialty company, a little lower than all the others, that had gone to pieces in Buffalo, and he had worked his way to Chicago by boat. When the boat made up its crew for the outward voyage, he was dispensed with as usual. He was used to that. The reason for it? O, there are so many reasons for failure! His was a very common one.

As he stood there in the wet under the street light he drew up his reckoning with the world and decided that it had treated him as well as he deserved. He had overdrawn his account once too often. There had been a day when he thought otherwise; when he had said he was unjustly handled, that his failure was merely the lack of proper adjustment between himself and other men, that some day he would be recognized and it would all come right. But he knew better than that now, and he was still man enough to bear no grudge against any one man or woman.

Tonight was his birthday, too. There seemed something particularly amusing in that. He turned up a limp little coat collar to try to keep a little of the wet chill from his throat, and instinctively began to remember all the birthday parties he used to have. He was so cold and empty that his mind seemed unable to grapple with any serious question. He kept thinking about gingerbread and frosted cakes like a child. He could remember the splendid birthday parties his mother used to give him, when all the other little boys in the block came in their Sunday clothes and creaking shoes, with their ears still red from their mother's towel, and the pink and white birthday cake, and the stuffed olives and all the dishes of which he had been particularly fond, and how he would eat and eat and then go to bed and dream of Santa Claus. And in the morning he would awaken and eat again, until by night the family doctor arrived with his castor oil, and poor William used to dolefully say that it was altogether too much to have your birthday and Christmas all at once. He could remember, too, the royal birthday suppers he had given at college, and the stag dinners, and the toasts, and the music, and the good fellows who had wished him happiness and really meant what they said.

And since then there were other birthday suppers that he could not remember so clearly; the memory of them was heavy and flat, like cigarette smoke that has been shut in a room all night, like champagne that has been a day opened, a song that has been too often sung, an acute sensation that has been overstrained. They seemed tawdry and garish, discordant to him now. He rather wished he could forget them altogether.

Whichever way his mind now turned there was one thought that it could not escape, and that was the idea of food. He caught the scent of a cigar suddenly, and felt a sharp pain in the pit of his abdomen and a sudden moisture in his mouth. His cold hands clenched angrily, and for a moment he felt that bitter hatred of wealth, of ease, of everything that is well fed and well housed that is common to starving men. At any rate he had a right to eat! He had demanded great things from the world once: fame and wealth and admiration. Now it was simply bread and he would have it! He looked about him quickly and felt the blood begin to stir in his veins. In all his straits he had never stolen anything, his tastes were above it. But tonight there would be no tomorrow. He was amused at the way in which the idea excited him. Was it possible there was yet one more experience that would distract him, one thing that had power to excite his jaded interest? Good! he had failed at everything else, now he would see what his chances would be as a common thief. It would be amusing to watch the beautiful consistency of his destiny work itself out even in that role. It would be interesting to add another study to his gallery of futile attempts, and then label them all: "the failure as a journalist," "the failure as a lecturer," "the failure as a business man," "the failure as a thief," and so on, like the titles under the pictures of the Dance of Death. It was time that Childe Roland came to the dark tower.

A girl hastened by him with her arms full of packages. She walked quickly and nervously, keeping well within the shadow, as if she were not accustomed to carrying bundles and did not care to meet any of her friends. As she crossed the muddy street, she made an effort to lift her skirt a little, and as she did so one of the packages slipped unnoticed from beneath her arm. He caught it up and overtook her. "Excuse me, but I think you dropped something."

She started, "O, yes, thank you, I would rather have lost anything than that."

The young man turned angrily upon himself. The package must have contained something of value. Why had he not kept it? Was this the sort of thief he would make? He ground his teeth together. There is nothing more maddening than to have morally consented to crime and then lack the nerve force to carry it out.

A carriage drove up to the house before which he stood. Several richly dressed women alighted and went in. It was a new house, and must have been built since he was in Chicago last. The front door was open and he could see down the hallway and up the staircase. The servant had left the door and gone with the guests. The first floor was brilliantly lighted, but the windows upstairs were dark. It looked very easy, just to slip upstairs to the darkened chambers where the jewels and trinkets of the fashionable occupants were kept.

Still burning with impatience against himself he entered quickly. Instinctively he removed his mud-stained hat as he passed quickly and quietly up the stair case. It struck him as being a rather superfluous courtesy in a burglar, but he had done it before he had thought. His way was clear enough, he met no one on the stairway or in the upper hall. The gas was lit in the upper hall. He passed the first chamber door through sheer cowardice. The second he entered quickly, thinking of something else lest his courage should fail him, and closed the door behind him. The light from the hall shone into the room through the transom. The apartment was furnished richly enough to justify his expectations. He went at once to the dressing case. A number of rings and small trinkets lay in a silver tray. These he put hastily in his pocket. He opened the upper drawer and found, as he expected, several leather cases. In the first he opened was a lady's watch, in the second a pair of old-fashioned bracelets; he seemed to dimly remember having seen bracelets like them before, somewhere. The third case was heavier, the spring was much worn, and it opened easily. It held a cup of some kind. He held it up to the light and then his strained nerves gave way and he uttered a sharp exclamation. It was the silver mug he used to drink from when he was a little boy.

The door opened, and a woman stood in the doorway facing him. She was a tall woman, with white hair, in evening dress. The light from the hall streamed in upon him, but she was not afraid. She stood looking at him a moment, then she threw out her hand and went quickly toward him.

"Willie, Willie! Is it you?"

He struggled to loose her arms from him, to keep her lips from his cheek. "Mother you must not! You do not understand! O, my God, this is worst of all!" Hunger, weakness, cold, shame, all came back to him, and shook his self-control completely. Physically he was too weak to stand a shock like this. Why could it not have been an ordinary discovery, arrest, the station house and all the rest of it. Anything but this! A hard dry sob broke from him. Again he strove to disengage himself.

"Who is it says I shall not kiss my son? O, my boy, we have waited so long for this! You have been so long in coming, even I almost gave you up."

Her lips upon his cheek burnt him like fire. He put his hand to his throat, and spoke thickly and incoherently: "You do not understand. I did not know you were here. I came here to rob it is the first time I swear it but I am a common thief. My pockets are full of your jewels now. Can't you hear me? I am a common thief!"

"Hush, my boy, those are ugly words. How could you rob your own house? How could you take what is your own? They are all yours, my son, as wholly yours as my great love and you can't doubt that, Will, do you?"

That soft voice, the warmth and fragrance of her person stole through his chill, empty veins like a gentle stimulant. He felt as though all his strength were leaving him and even consciousness. He held fast to her and bowed his head on her strong shoulder, and groaned aloud.

"O, mother, life is hard, hard!"

She said nothing, but held him closer. And O, the strength of those white arms that held him! O, the assurance of safety in that warm bosom that rose and fell under his cheek! For a moment they stood so, silently. Then they heard a heavy step upon the stair. She led him to a chair and went out and closed the door. At the top of the staircase she met a tall, broad-shouldered man, with iron gray hair, and a face alert and stem. Her eyes were shining and her cheeks on fire, her whole face was one expression of intense determination.

"James, it is William in there, come home. You must keep him at any cost. If he goes this time, I go with him. O, James, be easy with him, he has suffered so." She broke from a command to an entreaty, and laid her hand on his shoulder. He looked questioningly at her a moment, then went in the room and quietly shut the door.

She stood leaning against the wall, clasping her temples with her hands and listening to the low indistinct sound of the voices within. Her own lips moved silently. She waited a long time, scarcely breathing. At last the door opened, and her husband came out. He stopped to say in a shaken voice,

"You go to him now, he will stay. I will go to my room. I will see him again in the morning."

She put her arm about his neck, "O, James, I thank you, I thank you! This is the night he came so long ago, you remember? I gave him to you then, and now you give him back to me!"

"Don't, Helen," he muttered. "He is my son, I have never forgotten that. I failed with him. I don't like to fail, it cuts my pride. Take him and make a man of him." He passed on down the hall.

She flew into the room where the young man sat with his head bowed upon his knee. She dropped upon her knees beside him. Ah, it was so good to him to feel those arms again!

"He is so glad, Willie, so glad! He may not show it, but he is as happy as I. He never was demonstrative with either of us, you know."

"O, my God, he was good enough," groaned the man. "I told him everything, and he was good enough. I don't see how either of you can look at me, speak to me, touch me." He shivered under her clasp again as when she had first touched him, and tried weakly to throw her off.

But she whispered softly,

"This is my right, my son."

Presently, when he was calmer, she rose. "Now, come with me into the library, and I will have your dinner brought there."

As they went downstairs she remarked apologetically, "I will not call Ellen tonight; she has a number of guests to attend to. She is a big girl now, you know, and came out last winter. Besides, I want you all to myself tonight."

When the dinner came, and it came very soon, he fell upon it savagely. As he ate she told him all that had transpired during the years of his absence, and how his father's business had brought them there. "I was glad when we came. I thought you would drift West. I seemed a good deal nearer to you here."

There was a gentle unobtrusive sadness in her tone that was too soft for a reproach.

"Have you everything you want? It is a comfort to see you eat."

He smiled grimly, "It is certainly a comfort to me. I have not indulged in this frivolous habit for some thirty-five hours."

She caught his hand and pressed it sharply, uttering a quick remonstrance.

"Don't say that! I know, but I can't hear you say it it's too terrible! My boy, food has choked me many a time when I have thought of the possibility of that. Now take the old lounging chair by the fire, and if you are too tired to talk, we will just sit and rest together."

He sank into the depths of the big leather chair with the lions' heads on the arms, where he had sat so often in the days when his feet did not touch the floor and he was half afraid of the grim monsters cut in the polished wood. That chair seemed to speak to him of things long forgotten. It was like the touch of an old familiar friend. He felt a sudden yearning tenderness for the happy little boy who had sat there and dreamed of the big world so long ago. Alas, he had been dead many a summer, that little boy!

He sat looking up at the magnificent woman beside him. He had almost forgotten how handsome she was; how lustrous and sad were the eyes that were set under that serene brow, how impetuous and wayward the mouth even now, how superb the white throat and shoulders! Ah, the wit and grace and fineness of this woman! He remembered how proud he had been of her as a boy when she came to see him at school. Then in the deep red coals of the grate he saw the faces of other women who had come since then into his vexed, disordered life. Laughing faces, with eyes artificially bright, eyes without depth or meaning, features without the stamp of high sensibilities. And he had left this face for such as those!

He sighed restlessly and laid his hand on hers. There seemed refuge and protection in the touch of her, as in the old days when he was afraid of the dark. He had been in the dark so long now, his confidence was so thoroughly shaken, and he was bitterly afraid of the night and of himself.

"Ah, mother, you make other things seem so false. You must feel that I owe you an explanation, but I can't make any, even to myself. Ah, but we make poor exchanges in life. I can't make out the riddle of it all. Yet there are things I ought to tell you before I accept your confidence like this."

"I'd rather you wouldn't, Will. Listen: Between you and me there can be no secrets. We are more alike than other people. Dear boy, I know all about it. I am a woman, and circumstances were different with me, but we are of one blood. I have lived all your life before you. You have never had an impulse that I have not known, you have never touched a brink that my feet have not trod. This is your birthday night. Twenty-four years ago I foresaw all this. I was a young woman then and I had hot battles of my own, and I felt your likeness to me. You were not like other babies. From the hour you were born you were restless and discontented, as I had been before you. You used to brace your strong little limbs against mine and try to throw me off as you did tonight. Tonight you have come back to me, just as you always did after you ran away to swim in the river that was forbidden you, the river you loved because it was forbidden. You are tired and sleepy, just as you used to be then, only a little older and a little paler and a little more foolish. I never asked you where you had been then, nor will I now. You have come back to me, that's all in all to me. I know your every possibility and limitation, as a composer knows his instrument."

He found no answer that was worthy to give to talk like this. He had not found life easy since he had lived by his wits. He had come to know poverty at close quarters. He had known what it was to be gay with an empty pocket, to wear violets in his buttonhole when he had not breakfasted, and all the hateful shams of the poverty of idleness. He had been a reporter on a big metropolitan daily, where men grind out their brains on paper until they have not one idea left and still grind on. He had worked in a real estate office, where ignorant men were swindled. He had sung in a comic opera chorus and played Harris in an Uncle Tom's Cabin company, and edited a socialist weekly. He had been dogged by debt and hunger and grinding poverty, until to sit here by a warm fire without concern as to how it would be paid for seemed unnatural.

He looked up at her questioningly. "I wonder if you know how much you pardon?"

"O, my poor boy, much or little, what does it matter? Have you wandered so far and paid such a bitter price for knowledge and not yet learned that love has nothing to do with pardon or forgiveness, that it only loves, and loves and loves? They have not taught you well, the women of your world." She leaned over and kissed him, as no woman had kissed him since he left her.

He drew a long sigh of rich content. The old life, with all its bitterness and useless antagonism and flimsy sophistries, its brief delights that were always tinged with fear and distrust and unfaith, that whole miserable, futile, swindled world of Bohemia seemed immeasurably distant and far away, like a dream that is over and done. And as the chimes rang joyfully outside and sleep pressed heavily upon his eyelids, he wondered dimly if the Author of this sad little riddle of ours were not able to solve it after all, and if the Potter would not finally mete out his all comprehensive justice, such as none but he could have, to his Things of Clay, which are made in his own patterns, weak or strong, for his own ends; and if some day we will not awaken and find that all evil is a dream, a mental distortion that will pass when the dawn shall break.

The Burglar's Christmas is a short story by Willa Cather. It was first published in Home Monthly in 1896 under the pseudonym of Elizabeth L. Seymour, her cousin's name.

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Always in spirit...

Thursday, December 26, 2019

#BoxingDay (Christmas Around the World) and #NationalCandyCaneDay

Today our friends in Britain, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and other Commonwealth countries celebrate Boxing Day.

Let's take a look at some Boxing Day traditions.

This secular holiday is on the same day as the religious day of St Stephen’s. Boxing day originated around eight hundred years ago. However, it should be noted that there are really two Saint Stephens in history. The December 26th is for the St Stephen about whom the Good King Wenceslas carol (one of my favorites!) is written.

There are some theories about the origins of the name ‘boxing day’:

One theory is that the day is named for a box placed in church on Christmas day to collect money for the needy. Another theory suggests that ‘boxing day’ refers to a box gifted to the servants of grand houses in the past, during one of their only days off in the year (i.e. the day after Christmas). Finally, a ‘Christmas Box’ is simply a traditional name for a Christmas present!

In more recent years, Boxing Day is a Bank Holiday, meaning that many people have a day off work and some people that do work are paid time and a half, or double. The day is then an extension of Christmas celebrations. It's another wonderful opportunity to continue celebrating with friends and family.

Boxing Day is currently celebrated (or is a public holiday) in UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. In some European countries, such as Germany, there is also an unconnected festive day known as Zweite Feiertag (which is translated as ‘second celebration’).

What's any holiday celebration without food, and so on Boxing Day, the food is often a lunch typically created from leftover Christmas dinner or a roasted ham. Christmas desserts such as Mince Pies and leftover Christmas pudding are also served. 

Shopping, watching football (our soccer), and even swimming (in the UK, swimming in freezing places has somehow become a tradition) are other Boxing Day traditions. 

In honor of National Candy Cane Day, I'm sharing this delicious recipe!

Christmas Candy Cane Cookies


3 candy canes crushed (1/4 cup)
½ cups butter softened
1 cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1 egg
¼ teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoons baking powder
⅛ teaspoons baking soda
1-½ cup all purpose flour
½ cups powdered sugar

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease light colored baking sheets with nonstick cooking spray, line with parchment paper or use silicone baking mat and set aside.
  2. Place candy canes into a plastic food storage bag and crush using a rolling pin. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Whip in vanilla and egg. Scrape sides and mix again. Stir all dry ingredients together in a small bowl and then in pour into the mixer and slowly mix until just combined, excluding the powdered sugar. Scrape sides of the bowl and mix again briefly. Stir in crushed candy canes.
  4. Pour powdered sugar onto a large plate. Roll a heaping teaspoon of dough into a ball and roll in powdered sugar. Place on the baking sheet and repeat with remaining dough.
  5. Bake for 9-11 minutes or until bottoms begins to barely brown and cookies look matte {not melty or shiny}. Remove from oven and cool cookies about 3 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.
Recipe Notes
If using a nonstick darker baking tray, reduce baking time by about 2 minutes.

Recipe and image from Lauren's Latest.

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Monday, December 23, 2019

Happy #Festivus and #Christmas Eve Eve!

Last year, I posted all about Festivus, which happens today, and every year on December 23rd or, as some of us say, Christmas Eve Eve. Read all about the tradition here.

This year, I'm going to share some ideas for Festivus dinner. It's all in fun, and as a huge Seinfeld fan, I love it.
1. “These Pretzels Are Making Me Thirsty”

While the meatloaf is in the oven, offer guests a salty soft pretzel. In Season 3 Episode 11: "The Alternate Side", Kramer accidentally runs into director Woody Allen and lands a speaking role in his upcoming movie. His line? “These pretzels are making me thirsty.” While this may seem like something that anyone would say after eating this salty snack, the gang spends most of the episode helping Kramer figure out how he should deliver his line.

2. “No Soup for You!”

Offer guests your favorite soup recipe inspired by Season 7 Episode 6: “Soup Nazi.” In this episode, Jerry, George, and Elaine visit a new soup stand where the owner is known for his stormy temperament and strict ordering rules. If you’re looking to keep it authentic, some of the Soup Nazi’s most popular recipes include turkey chili, crab bisque, and mulligatawny.

But if you want to keep your guests in the holiday spirit, you may want to forego the owner’s most famous line – “No soup for you!”

3. “The Big Salad”

Pair your soup of choice with a big salad, inspired by Elaine’s lunch request in Season 6 Episode 2: "The Big Salad". What is the big salad? Well, Jerry would tell you that it has “big lettuce, big carrots, [and] tomatoes like volleyballs,” but it’s never made clear what really makes up a big salad. While volleyball-sized tomatoes may not be feasible, you can still serve guests a fresh topped with crisp in-season veggies and your favorite dressing.

4. “I’m So Keen-o on Beef-a-Reeno”

The beef-a-reeno jingle made a brief appearance in Season 7 Episode 11: "The Rye", but stuck in the hearts of Seinfeld fans for years to come thanks to Kramer’s comical scene. Fans only catch a quick glimpse of this canned concoction as Kramer feeds it to a horse, but it can be assumed this delicacy consists of beef and pasta.

Stick to the canned stuff, or create your own version of beef-a-reeno to serve guests at your Festivus party.

5. “You Can’t Beat a Babka”

On their way to a dinner party in Season 5 Episode 13: "The Dinner Party", Jerry and Elaine stop at a bakery to pick up a loaf of their famous chocolate babka. When they forget to get a number from the counter, a couple ahead of them who are headed to the same party buy the last babka. Elaine and Jerry have no choice but to get a cinnamon babka, which Elaine dubs the “lesser babka.”

Finish off your Festivus meal right with this sweet bread flavored either chocolate or cinnamon.
Info in this article from WebstaurantStore blog.

I think I'm going to search for the Festivus episode today. You can watch Seinfeld for free if you're a Hulu, SlingTV or fuboTV subscriber.

Always in spirit...

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Poems for #WinterSolstice - Happy #Yuletide

Yuletide Cheer 
A poem by Isha ArrowHawk

The chill breath of winter touches us, 
As blankets of snow cover the ground. 
With the glow of moonlight upon them, 
It's like diamond sparkles all around. 

Inside the room is cozy and warm, 
The scent of evergreen wafts from the fire. 
Surrounded with love and family, 
I've got all that I could desire. 

Sleigh bells jingle from the front porch, 
As my coveners decorate outside. 
They've no need of blankets, 
They have the warmth of love inside. 

In my home we all gather round, 
And with Pagan carols our voices ring. 
Then we settle down to enjoy the tale, 
Of the Oaken Lord and the Holly King. 

For our holiday is quite different, 
Than the cowan Christmas night. 
We cast our Circle, join together, 
And welcome the return of Light. 

Then we sit and share the feast, 
As we pass bread and wine around. 
As blessings from mingled voices... 
"Never hunger," "Never thirst" abound. 

All too soon the rite is ended, 
And we greet the newborn day. 
As we clasp hands together, 
This wish we send your way.... 

It's no matter your tradition, 
Be you family, friend, or guest. 
We wish you joy and peace, 
And may your Yule be Blessed!!

Aspects of Yule 
A poem by Zephyr Lioness

Time of deepest darkness 
The God is born anew 
Seedling in the frozen earth 
Awaiting springtime dew. 

The ground, an icy wasteland, 
Though neighbors hearts are warm 
We share our goods with everyone 
So no one comes to harm. 

Snow lies on her shoulders 
Frosted mantle for her hair 
Winter's Queen is giving birth 
The Goddess, always there 

The sun is growing brighter. 
It happens every year 
Promising return of light 
For sod and oak and deer 

Stag King, his mighty antlers 
Rising from a drift 
Leaps for the hunter's arrow 
Just as strong and swift 

He knows his time has ended 
He is heading to the plain 
Where joy caresses memory 
Like softly summer rain  

New fawn takes his first step, 
The buck he will become. 
After the time of knowing 
A new year has begun.

Read more Winter Solstice poems at http://www.angelfire.com/moon/yule/

Always in spirit...

Thursday, December 19, 2019

The story behind the #Christmas song, "It's Christmas Day"

It's Christmas Day has been performed by many thousands of choirs worldwide in the last few years. When first released, 'It's Christmas Day' featuring The Balfron Christmas Stars received coverage on national TV and radio. In the past few years, thousands of choirs and soloists have performed our Christmas carol in countries such as USA, India, Holland, Spain, Italy, Poland, Canada ,Russia, Germany, The Philippines as well as the UK and many other countries. In fact, the chances are there is a choir near you who have performed the song at some point.

Watch the video for the full story of the song (though the stats have changed since this video was made).

The latest 2019 instrumental release is by award winning arranger Enzo De Rosa and his beautiful arrangement received it's debut play on BBC Radio last Christmas. It is mastered by Grammy winning Vlado Meller at Vlado Meller Mastering. Vlado is famous for his work with Andrea Bocelli, Johnny Cash, Celine Dion, Duran Duran, Julio Iglesias, Michael Jackson, Paul McCartney, George Michael, Barbra Streisand and many more.

"Where do I see this new version? It's kind of a throwback to some of the instrumental Christmas music you would hear in the 40's and 50's and I feel it encapsulates Christmas perfectly." ~Dougie Campbell

Visit itschristmasday.com to read more about it and to access the song streaming via Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music. 
You can also access all versions of the song via Soundcloud here: https://soundcloud.com/christmas-music

Always in spirit...

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Barbara Briggs Ward's The Tin Cookie Cutter - A Heartwarming Tale #Review

My thoughts

Once again, Ward has told a heartwarming story surrounding family, love and traditions. She gives us a peek into the lives of the Amish, and shows us how it's possible for people from different worlds to become good friends. The story has a visual, and even olfactory, impact, as baking and making Christmas cookies takes center stage. The idea of cookie making being an art, and also an inspiring task, made an impact with me, as I simply love to bake. The tradition of baking also works to bring the characters together.

In all, The Tin Cookie Cutter shares the importance of family...reconnecting and preserving those bonds which make a family. Also, the importance of love and friendship, at Christmas time, and all through the year. If you love reading heartwarming stories at Christmas, this is definitely the book for you.

Read my reviews of...

The Reindeer Keeper
The Snowman Maker
The Candle Giver

About the book

Those who've spent time with the elderly Amish woman realize the wisdom in her words. One could say Catherine's kitchen is her office. Baking cookies is her form of therapy.

Christmas wreaths, nailed to the porch of the Amish home. attract the eye of photographer, Claire Ryan. Knocking on the door, she plans on asking permission to take some photos and then be on her way. But once inside, sitting in the warmth of that home with paper angels on strings and pine boughs decorating the mantel, Claire relaxes, eventually telling Catherine why she's about given up on finding love and no longer bothers with Christmas.

Soon they're in the kitchen getting ready to make cookies. When Catherine brings out a wooden box holding old tin cookie cutters, Claire notices one is missing.

The cookie cutter is found weeks later and it has nothing to do with making cookies.

About the author

Barbara Briggs Ward is a writer living in Ogdensburg, New York. She is the author of a Christmas trilogy for adults featuring The Reindeer Keeper, released in 2010 and selected by both Yahoo’s Christmas Book Club and the Riverfront Library Book Club in Yonkers as their December, 2012 featured Book of the Month. Barbara completed the trilogy with the release of The Snowman Maker in 2013 and The Candle Giver in 2015. In 2017, her first work of Amish fiction, A Robin’s Snow, was released.

Her articles and short stories have appeared in the Chicken Soup for the Soul books, Christmas Magic and Family Caregivers, plus Ladies’ Home Journal, Highlights for Children and The Saturday Evening Post online.

In 2018, Barbara’s work of fiction, a short story titled, “Sleigh Bells Ring Again,” earned first place in Watertown, New York’s Jefferson Community College Writing Center’s annual Writing Festival. She has been a featured writer on Mountain Lake PBS in Plattsburgh, New York and at Target Book Festivals in Boston and New York.

Barbara invites you to visit her website at www.barbarabriggsward.com. She is on Facebook under The Reindeer Keeper.

Always in spirit...

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Weekend Baking - Eggnog Cupcakes for #NationalCupcakeDay

Personally, I love eggnog, but I don't drink much of it because...calories. I'd rather spend those calories on cookies, to be honest, or perhaps these delicious-sounding (and looking) eggnog cupcakes.

Eggnog Cupcakes

  • 1 1/4 cups (163g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 6 tbsp (84g) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cups (155g) sugar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp (150ml) eggnog
Eggnog Buttercream
  • 1/2 cup (115g) butter
  • 1/2 cup (95g) shortening
  • 4 cups (480g) powdered sugar
  • 4 tbsp (60ml) eggnog
  • 1/4 tsp rum extract, optional
  • 1 tsp nutmeg

1. To make the cupcakes, prepare a cupcake pan with cupcake liners and preheat the oven to 350°F (176°C).
2. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium sized bowl and set aside.
3. Add the butter, sugar and oil to a large mixer bowl and beat together until light in color and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Do not skimp on the creaming time.
4. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until mostly combined after each. Add the vanilla extract with the second egg. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed to be sure all ingredients are well incorporated.
5. Add half of the dry ingredients to the batter and mix until mostly combined.
6. Slowly add the eggnog and mix until well combined.
7. Add the remaining dry ingredients and mix until well combined and smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed to be sure all ingredients are well incorporated. Do not over mix the batter.
8. Fill the cupcake liners just over 1/2 full and bake for 15-18 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
9. Remove cupcakes from the oven and place cupcakes on a cooling rack to cool.

10. To make the buttercream, combine the butter and shortening in a large mixer bowl and mix until well combined.
11. Add 2 cups of powdered sugar and mix until well combined and smooth.
12. Add 2 tablespoons of eggnog, the rum extract and nutmeg and mix until well combined and smooth.
13. Add the remaining powdered sugar and mix until well combined and smooth.
14. Add remaining eggnog and mix until well combined and smooth.
15. Frost the cupcakes with the buttercream and sprinkle with a little nutmeg, if desired.

Recipe and image from Life, Love and Sugar.

Happy National Cupcake Day!

Always in spirit...

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Sharing the Joy - #GingerbreadHouseDay #Christmas

Today is Gingerbread House Day and I know for many families the making of a gingerbread house is a time-honored tradition. So what happens if you just don't have time to make one, or the inclination? I know I still have making one on my bucket list. I thought I would be able to this year. Unfortunately, I'll have to put it off for another year. No worries though...I found a cute, creative and easy alternative, courtesy of the Betty Crocker Christmas Cookbook.

Giant Gingerbread House Cookie
12 Servings
  • 1 pouch (17.5 oz) gingerbread cookie mix
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 1 egg
  • 1 container (1 lb) vanilla creamy ready-to-spread frosting
  • Assorted candies (gumdrops, peppermints, candy canes, red cinnamon candies, candy sprinkles), if desired
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 15x10x1-inch pan with cooking parchment paper.
  2. Make cookie mix as directed on pouch, using butter, water and egg. Roll dough in pan to about 1/4 inch thick.
  3. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until edges are set and golden brown. Cool 5 minutes. Use pizza cutter to cut gingerbread house shape from cookie. Cool completely.
  4. Use frosting and candie to decorate gingerbread house as desired. Use any excess cookie pieces as decoration. Cut into piece to serve. 
My personal notes: 
  • I will probably make my own buttercream icing to use. I'm sure any frosting or icing would work.
  • The image is just one example of how your house can look. Make it the same, or make your own creation. 
  • Have fun!

Always in spirit...

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

#Christmas Around the World - England

Many Christmas customs and traditions we have today originated in England.

Christmas Cards

John Calcott Horsley, an Englishman started the sensation of sending Christmas cards in the late 1830s. He produced small cards featuring festive scenes and a pre-written greeting when he began producing small cards featuring festive scenes and a pre-written holiday greeting. The cards were an almost overnight success due to the innovation of post offices in England and the United States.


The Celtic and Teutonic people believed Mistletoe held magical powers. Some of these powers were healing wounds and increasing fertility. The Celts hung mistletoe for good luck and to hold evil spirits at bay. During the Victorian era, the English would hang mistletoe from ceilings and doorways. If a person was found standing under the mistletoe, they would be kissed by someone else in the room. This was behavior rarely seen in Vistorian society.

Christmas Pudding

You know, the "figgy pudding" in the "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" carol, or more commonly known as plum pudding. The English dish dates back to the Middle Ages. Made with Suet, flour, sugar, raisins, nuts and spices, the ingredients are tied loosely in cloth and boiled until the ingredients are “plum,” meaning they have enlarged enough to fill the cloth. To serve, it's unwrapped, sliced like cake and topped with cream. (I've wanted to try making it for years. Maybe next year.)


Another tradition begun in England. Traveling musicians would go from town to town, visiting castles and homes of the rich, in the hope of receiving hot meals or money in return for their performances.

A Modern Christmas in England

Christmas Crackers

The cracker is a paper tube, covered in foil, twisted at both ends. It’s shaped like a large sweet with hidden treasures inside. Each person crosses their arms, using their right hand to hold their cracker, and pulling their neighbor’s cracker with their left. POP! The cracker will make a bit of a bang with the contents spilling out which usually is a joke to be read at the dinner table, a small trinket and a paper crown.


Rather than hanging stockings above the fireplace, British children hang them at the end of their bed hoping they will be filled by Christmas morning. That would be a nice surprise to wake up to, though Santa might find it difficult to keep from waking the children.

Mid-Day Dinner
Christmas dinner is similar to ours here in the U.S. with a roast turkey, goose or chicken and trimmings. But, there are some specialty items that aren’t as common such as parsnips which are a root vegetable similar to a carrot. It’s a familiar taste but it’s fun to incorporate a new veggie to the table. There's Yorkshire Pudding, which isn’t pudding-pudding like you would think. It’s more like a flaky, deflated biscuit with the center just waiting to hold your gravy. Then there's the trifle. Remember when Rachel on Friends tried to make a traditional English trifle but the recipe pages stuck together and she mixed together a trifle with sheperd’s pie? It is indeed a layered cake but strictly no beef.

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