The Sounds of the Solstice Breakfast

Longest night, shortest day just passed up here in the Northern Hemisphere. Like most other days, I got up and made some breakfast.

Actually, not quite everything. Lilly made eggs and brewed coffee. This is what both of those sounded like together: frying egg and the drip-drip-drip from nearby Mr. Coffee.

Eggs and Coffee Dec 2014

The toaster oven tick-tick-ticks. I prefer that mechanical sound to the hum of something digital.

Toaster Oven Dec 2014

Here’s another breakfast sound that might be a little hard to guess.

Grits Dec 2014

Yes, it’s the bubbling of grits when the pot is nearly done. Big steam bubbles rise from the bottom and puff their way through the surface of the grits. Reminds me of the films you see of bubbling hot mud.

Huis Tem Bosch ’93

We now have a 2015 calendar produced by Nishi-Nippon Railroad Co. Ltd., which I believe Yuriko got for free, and it’s a high-quality bit of work. It’s has a travel theme, and as with a lot of calendars – or magazines or other pictorial works — the photography’s of extreme high quality. Looking at the pictures, you can easily imagine that you’ll never see anything so grand in person, but then again, everything I see with my eyes is higher quality than any photography; it’s just that we’re so used to seeing with our eyes that we don’t appreciate it.

Anyway, the subject is Kyushu – the coast off Nichinan City, plum groves in Kitakyushu, barley fields in Saga Prefecture, Ogi City cherry blossoms and more. It reminds me of how little I saw of Kyushu: mainly Nagasaki and the curious Japanese theme park known as Huis Tem Bosch.

The theme? The Netherlands. Wiki puts it this way, and I can confirm the description, at least as of December 1993 when we went: “The park features many Dutch-style buildings such as hotels, villas, theatres, museums, shops and restaurants, along with canals, windmills, amusement rides, and a park planted in seasonal flowers.”

Parades, too.

HuisTemBosch 1993Since we were there in December, a fellow dressed as Father Christmas posed for pictures with visitors. I guess that would be Sinterklaas. I think he really was a Dutchman, but in any case he was blotto.

Mid-December Salmugundi

Persistent cold so far through mid-December – that’s no surprise for December – but only cold rain, no snow to speak of as we approach Christmas. The girls fret about it. Don’t bother me a whit. A cold but snowless and especially iceless winter? Sounds good to me.

Ah, Cuba. Not in the U.S. news as much as it used to be, but now it’s back for a moment. Listening to some of the reportage, you’d think Cuba’s been isolated from the world since the early ’60s, but no. Just isolated from the United States.

When I was very young, I remember hearing the character Ricky Riccardo talking about coming from Cuba, and I was confused. I was pretty sure I’d also heard that no one was allowed to leave Cuba. Speaking of TV, I seem to recall an episode of The Twilight Zone in which Peter Falk plays a character that’s Castro in all but name. Yes, indeed.

Dreams are peculiar. Someone I haven’t seen in nearly 25 years appeared in one recently, and the subject of her ancestry came up. “Swiss and Wren,” she said. It made sense at the time. Only when I woke up did I think of the kind of bird.

Custer Shorn

Historical tidbit for the day, from The Last Stand by Nathaniel Philbrick, subtitled “Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of Little Bighorn” (2010), p. 38.

“Custer was known for his long hair, but in 1876 he, like many men approaching forty, was beginning to go bald. Before leaving Fort Lincoln, he and another officer with thinning hair, Lieutenant Charles Varnum, ‘had the clippers run over their heads.’ This meant that the former ‘boy general’ with the famously flowing locks now looked decidedly middle-aged.”

Nice detail. All the depictions I’ve ever seen of Custer just before he met his fate feature the distinctive locks. It’s a good book so far, as all of the other Philbrick books I’ve read – Sea of Glory, Mayflower, and In the Heart of the Sea – though this one isn’t about the sea. Unless you consider the Great Plains as a vast kind of ocean.

As the subtitle says, the book isn’t just about Custer. Sitting Bull gets equal billing as the winning commander.

Also interesting to note: Going west that spring, Custer, publicity hound that he was, hoped that a battle with the Indians would win him a large measure of fame back east in time for the Centennial. Sure enough, it did. But maybe not quite in the way he planned.

I don’t think I’ve read this much about Custer since before we went to Little Bighorn in 2005.

Last Stand Hill, 2005The stone with the black backdrop is Custer’s, but unlike the other men, his body was reburied elsewhere, at West Point in fact.

Upclose Ornaments

Today I wasted spent a few minutes taking pictures of Christmas tree ornaments in situ, and then more posting them. Such as the ever-popular Michelin Man.

Ornament 2014It would seem to violate my guidelines about commercial ornaments, and it does. But it’s the Michelin Man. I’ll made an exception.

Ornament 2014We have four of these, acquired who knows where in the last 15 years. Lilly said this year that these were favorites of hers. I had no idea. They are pretty baubles.

Ornament 2014We have two pickles on the tree. One of Ann’s friends saw it almost immediately and wanted to know, with some urgency, why there were pickles on the tree. All I can say to that is Why Not?

Ornaments 2014Not bad for tin and plastic. It’s a “UFO” ornament, acquired many years ago. In theory, they rest on top of lights and glow (the one here is perpendicular to the ground, rather than horizontal). In practice, they never fit very well on any lights, especially the newer LEDs. So we just hang them any old way.

Finally, one with a presidential connection.

Ornaments 2014Well, vice presidential connection. About 10 years ago, I visited the Evanston Historical Society, which happens to be in the former mansion of Vice President Charles Dawes. They were giving away these thin metal ornaments, and so here it is.

Tannenbaum ’14

We acquired a Christmas tree on Friday, but the thing wasn’t fully decorated until this afternoon, when Ann and some friends put on some icicles.

Christmas Tree, Dec 15, 2014Earlier, I put on the lights, and then Lilly and Ann hung some of the other decorations. Along with the icicles, I crowned it with a star (it should be last, but close enough). Unconsciously, my children more-or-less follow my rules of Christmas tree decor, which I detailed more than 10 years ago (but which I clearly learned from my family decades earlier).

… lights first, ornaments next, icicles after that (tinsel to some people, those who also call it “trimming” the tree). The last item is the Star of Bethlehem, which goes on top.

Other guidelines, if you happen to be me, and want to decorate your tree:

* Space the lights and ornaments evenly, but not uniformly or systematically. That is, unless you have a very young child, as we do; in that case, fewer and tougher ornaments go near the bottom, and fewer lights down there too. [That last sentence doesn’t apply any more.]

* Decorate the back, the bottom and the interior of the branches, not only the front or visible sides.

* Be eclectic with ornaments, but no commercial logos or too-silly ornaments, unless your child made them.

For us, that last one means you’ll find on our tree: balls, santas, angels, stars, bells, birds, elves, snowmen, toy instruments, strings of beads, ribbons, even an eggplant ornament. They’re made of glass, plastic, cloth, paper, wood and ceramic. Lots of colors, more cool than hot. Some are old and beat up, some relatively expensive, some downright cheap, some bought at department stores, or discount stores, or garage sale, or acquired for free as gifts.

Eventually, the tree looked like this.

Christmas Tree, Dec 15, 2014It looks better than the ’73 tree, but maybe that’s just the magic of digital photography.

Christmas 1973

We bought a Christmas tree the day before yesterday. I’m not inclined to do so as much as I used to be, but the girls insisted, and took charge of the decorations.

For some reason, I documented our 1973 Christmas tree with the Instamatic 104 camera my mother had bought sometime in the 1960s. At least, I’m pretty sure this is what we had, along with millions of other people. It broke in 1976.

Xmas73.3Not a particularly good image, even for that camera. But it captures most of our indoor decorations. The tree, which always looked more-or-less like that; stockings, hanging from a small sled acquired in Germany; a hard-to-see nativity scene on the table next to the tree (under the lamp); and a poinsettia.

I also documented my presents for the year. The flash cube activated for this shot.

Xmas73.2There’s some kind of Revell model kit under there, but I don’t remember what it was (the company’s still around). That was probably among the last kits that I had, since I lost interest in models around this time.

On top of that are gloves, a bicycle pump, an envelope with some money tucked inside it, and a 1974 Wretched Mess Calendar. There isn’t much easily accessible information online about that publication, but there is a little evidence, besides my fractured memory and an overexposed print from late ’73, that such a thing existed. This is an article mentioning a ’69 version of the calender.

Finally, speaking of models, this shot. Not a Christmas image, but something I was doing at the time.

SaturnV.73My Saturn V model. My mother had acquired it for me some years before — at a trading stamp redemption center — but I was too young for it for a while. In late ’73, I took up the task and finished it. And a fine model it was, too.

An Early Three-Cent Card

The U.S. domestic postcard rate went up to 3 cents on August 1, 1958. The postmark on the following card clearly says August 1958, but the exact date is impossible to suss out. Its message is also short and to the point — from the West Coast back to the East Coast, an image of Grauman’s. Lots of people have been there before and since. Graumans1958.1Gaumans1958.2I didn’t forget! We stopped here on our tour of Hollywood and Beverly Hills! We are having a wonderful trip.

Emily Loeser

It’s addressed to Robby’s Beauty Salon (originally “shop,” but it’s crossed out) in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Note the staple holes in upper-right corner. I like to think that the recipients at Robby’s stapled the card to a bulletin board or the like for a while.

Another Two-Cent Card

On July 13, 1958, a fellow named Ned mailed a hotel card – one depicting the Radisson Minneapolis surrounded by what I take to some Minneapolis sights. A busy design, but the Radisson has had a long history in the city.

Raddison1958.1Raddison1958.2Dear Mother & Dad

Here is where I stay in Minneapolis. Heading home Tuesday. Hope you are OK.

Love, Ned

Ned could have put that in a tweet, I think.