Eight Days To Christmas: Tiny Baubles

From “Deck the Halls” in Just an Ordinary Day: Stories by Shirley Jackson:

“It was eight o’clock in the evening, Christmas Eve, and Mr. and Mrs. Williams were decorating their Christmas tree. It was the first Christmas tree they had had since they were married, but this year their little girl was two years old, and Mrs. Williams had thought that it was time they started making a real Christmas for her to remember when she grew up. Mrs. Williams had bought some ornaments at the five and ten, and a lot of little toys to hang on the tree, and Mr. Williams had brought out a kitchen chair and was standing on it, hanging things on the top branches. All of the baby’s relatives and friends had sent lovely things, which Mrs. Williams intended to pile lavishly under the tree, and Mr. and Mrs. Williams had bought an enormous teddy bear, taller by a head than the baby herself, which would be the first thing she would see in the morning.

When the tree was finished, with the packages and the teddy bear underneath, Mrs. Williams stood back and looked at it, holding her breath with pleasure. ‘Bob,’ she said, ‘it looks lovely. Like a dream of Christmas.'”

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Nine Days To Christmas: Four Santas, Two Gnomes, One Jester, and Some Very Skinny Reindeer

From “The Elves” in The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, translated and edited by Jack Zipes:

“A shoemaker had become so poor that he didn’t have enough leather left for a single pair of shoes. In the evening he cut out the shoes that he planned to work on the next morning. However, when he got up the next day and was about to sit down to do his work, he saw the two shoes already finished and beautifully made, standing on the table. Soon a customer paid so well that the shoemaker could purchase enough leather for two pairs of shoes, which he cut out that evening. The next morning when he once again wanted to sit down and work, they were already finished, just as the pair had been the other day. Now he was able to purchase enough leather for four pairs of shoes from the money he received from the two pairs. And so it went. Whatever he cut out in the evening was finished by morning, and soon he was a well-to-do man again.

“Now one evening right before Christmas after he had cut out many shoes and wanted to go to bed, he said to his wife: ‘We should stay up one time and see who does our work in the night.’

“So they lit a candle, hid themselves in the corner of the room behind the clothes that had been hung up there, and watched closely. At midnight two cute little naked men came and sat down at the workbench, took all the cutout pieces of the shoes, and worked so swiftly and nimbly that the shoemaker could not take his eyes off them. Indeed, they were incredibly fast, and he was amazed. They didn’t stop until they had finished the work on all the shoes….

Then they scampered away, and it wasn’t even day yet….


Ten Days To Christmas: Peace

From “What Christmas is, as we Grow Older” in A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings by Charles Dickens:

“On the hill-side beyond the shapelessly-diffused town, and in the quiet keeping of the trees that gird the village-steeple, remembrances are cut in stone, planted in common flowers; growing in grass, entwined with lowly brambles around many a mound of earth. In town and village, there are doors and windows closed against the weather, there are flaming logs heaped high, there are joyful faces, there is healthy music of voices.

Be all ungentleness and harm excluded from the temples of the Household Gods, but be those remembrances admitted with tender encouragement! They are of the time and all its comforting and peaceful reassurances; and of the history that reunited even upon earth the living and the dead; and of the broad beneficence and goodness that too many men have tried to tear to narrow shreds.”

From “The Lady’s Walk: A Story of the Seen and Unseen” by Margaret Oliphant, in The Valancourt Book of Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories, edited by Tara Moore:

“It was a lovely evening, soft and warm, the western sky all ablaze with colour, the great branches of the beeches thrown out in dark maturity of greenness upon the flush of orange and crimson melting into celestial rosy red as it rose higher, and flinging itself in airy masses rose-tinted across the serene blue above….

“The air was of magical clearness, and earth and sky seemed stilled with an almost awe of their own loveliness, happiness, and peace.”

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Christmas Is Coming! A Preview…

From “A Christmas Tree” in A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings by Charles Dickens:

Being now at home again, and alone … my thoughts are drawn back, by a fascination which I do not care to resist, to my own childhood. I begin to consider, what do we all remember best upon the branches of the Christmas Tree of our own young Christmas days, by which we climbed to real life.

Straight, in the middle of the room, cramped in the freedom of its growth by no encircling walls or soon-reached ceiling, a shadowy tree arises; and, looking up into the dreamy brightness of its top — for I observe, in this tree, the singular property that it appears to grow downward towards the earth — I look into my youngest Christmas recollections!”


Last year I put together a “days to Christmas” series of photography posts, and I’ve decided to do something similar this year, starting again with “Ten Days to Christmas” … which means I need to publish the first post in two — eeeks! only two! — days. I have zero ( zero! ) images ready at the moment, so I’ve got some work to do. Gonna need to crank up the shutter speeds!

On the weekend after Thanksgiving, I tugged the Lifelike Christmas Tree (calling it “artificial” is so outdated) from it’s off-season squeeze-place in a closet where it barely fits, which forces me to knee the door shut every other month of the year. I generally try to just avoid that particular closet. As I mentioned in a previous post, my tree has gone political this year — it’s now covered in blue lights to acknowledge Georgia flipping blue (again and again and again) in the presidential election.

Here’s the tree fresh out of the closet, after about three hours of twisting and shaping to get it de-scrunched. I’ve had this one for about five years, and while it does take a while to make shapely, it was a step up in convenience from its predecessor: an eight-foot, all-silk monster with branches that needed to be inserted individually into the trunk by color-code, then carefully shaped so the “needles” didn’t fall off. It usually took me a full day to finish it and then vacuum up all the silk bits that fell to the floor no matter how careful I was, so I feel like I gain five or six life-hours back every time I assemble this newer one.

Here we have the first attempt at topper attachment, with the angel a bit tipsy (too much egg nog?). Ladders and climbing were needed to correct the problem.

Here’s the angel righted and lit, with most of the tree lights installed. Actually they were all installed just before this; then me and the dog took a little break — and we came back to find some of the lights had leaped off the tree and engaged in a good bit of abusive self-entangling. What is it with Christmas lights anyway? They seem to have minds of their own, and no good comes from leaving them unattended.

And then we came to the end of day one. Here we have almost all of the lights installed, the point at which I often plop on the couch and wonder if maybe, just maybe, I should skip the rest of the tree decorations and leave it like this — just like you might see it in your favorite hardware store where they’re trying to get you to buy a pre-lit tree. I decided not to do that, of course; but the rest of the decorating took place over the next couple of days and will be part of the “days of Christmas series” coming up. I should also add that I managed to find room for three hundred more lights even after this, so the tree itself is now visible as a triangular blue glow, from space.

Below is a little preview of some of the photography work I’ll be doing for the upcoming series. I turned the foyer in my house into a MacGuyver-style photo-studio, hung this ornament from the center of a tripod, then positioned some lighting from below (three flashlights!). The walls in my foyer are green, so I developed this homegrown “green screen” technique to photograph ornaments that have open interior spaces like this one — so that I could remove all the green from the photo with Adobe Lightroom and make the ornament look like it was suspended on a black background.

I have managed to find a few colorful fall subjects, though autumn color has really just appeared in this unusually warm season over the past couple of weeks. Fall came so late I may need to create my own season — Christmaswinterfall — to have a good reason to include some of the fall photos with the Christmas ornament photos. I mean it’s true — isn’t it? — that richly-colored autumn leaves, in decent sunshine, are not that much different than Christmas lights, right?

Thanks for reading and taking a look!


“The Owl Has a Silent Wing”

From School of the Woods by William J. Long:

“It is more and more evident, I think, that Nature adapts her gifts, not simply to the necessities, but more largely to the desires, of her creatures. The force and influence of that intense desire — more intense because usually each animal has but one — we have not yet learned to measure…. The owl has a silent wing, not simply because he needs it — for his need is no greater than that of the hawk, who has no silent wing — but, more probably, because of his whole-hearted desire for silence as he glides through the silent twilight. And so with the panther’s foot; and so with the deer’s eye, and the wolf’s nose, whose one idea of bliss is a good smell; and so with every other strongly marked gift which the wild things have won from nature, chiefly by wanting it, in the long years of their development.”

Owls have been here before — and by “here” I mean both in my back yard and on this blog — see Owl on the Prowl, where I included three pictures of their first appearance as babes over a decade ago. They sometimes visit my garden as a pair — roosting among the branches of Japanese Cypress trees that tower over my pond — and after a while I was able to differentiate one from the other, partly by their appearance and partly by their behavior. One is slightly smaller and lighter in color than the other; and that smaller one is more reticent, likely to fly off to higher branches if I approach. In the earlier post, I showed the larger owl; the photos below are the smaller one — which often hides out of sight in the treetops.

I knew an owl was visiting even before laying eyes on it: the cacophony from smaller birds in the same trees takes on a distinct sound of little flyers warning other little flyers that there’s an extra-large, possibly dangerous threat in the area. If there are enough squirrels around at the owl’s arrival, they’ll join in too; it’s almost funny how you get to know wildlife in your yard so well that you can tell when they sound alarmed. Watching through the glass door leading to my back yard, I saw three squirrels hauling-ass in multiple directions, increasing their distance while keeping their balance as they raced to the ends of thin branches them jumped to an elm tree on the property next door.

Recognizing this as the more bashful of the two Barred Owls, I took most of these pictures through the back door, or from the steps leading to my courtyard. Owls don’t do that much when they’re roosting — except to turn their head and scope out potential snacks — so the photos are a bit repetitious, I suppose. But in the last two, notice the owl’s eyes: they’ve widened a bit because I moved in closer to try for better shots … but, as I expected, off it flew without making a sound.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!