Snowflake Bentley would have loved January 21, 2015

1999_Snowflake_BentleyAlthough he isn’t strictly Christmas, I bet Wilson A. Bentley (1865-1931), the first man to ever photograph a snowflake, would have loved the wet snowfall yesterday. The snowflakes were huge, ideal conditions for studying the hexagonal ice crystals.

I stumbled across a short documentary about him when I was looking for more paper snowflake crafts.  His obsession with capturing the snowflakes on his Vermont farm required a unique rig of a microscope attached to one of the first cameras.  This type of photography is called “photomicrography.” In his lifetime, he took photos of over 5,000 snowflakes, one at a time–in a place where there snowfall averages 120 inches a year, I guess he really loved snow.  As the flakes fell from the sky, he caught them on a black velvet-covered tray.  Then, he pushed them into position with a chicken feather so he could photograph each one.

(I’ve got plenty of chicken feathers but none of the obsessive patience it must have taken to do this!)

The Jericho Historical Society was established in 1972 to preserve Bentley’s life and legacy, and this year they celebrated the 150th anniversary of Wilson Bentley’s birthday.  In conjunction with the historical society, there are authorized snowflake gifts for purchase.

One way to learn more about this remarkable man is to read about him.In 1998, Jacqueline Briggs Martin and illustrator Mary Azarian published Snowflake Bentley, based on the true story of his life.  Azarian won the 1999 Caldecott Medal for her illustrations.

I would like to buy a copy of this book for my grandson.  We love “spiriments,” and I can imagine he and I would be out in the cold trying to gather snowflakes to photograph. The photos would make beautiful Christmas cards or winter thank you notes.  Watch out. . .I’m cooking up a great idea. . . and from the weather report, it looks like we might have our photo opportunity this weekend.  Fingers crossed!




Need a Little Christmas? You can have a piece of 2013.

Noah’s grandmother Christine is the first to decorate the day after Thanksgiving, and she is also the first to pack her decorations, just hours after December 25.

Holiday lights, train, and other displays are disappearing, many ending with the new year, often around the 12th day of Christmas, January 5.

Until January 12, you still have time, though, to witness one of the best gingerbread displays in America, Gingerbread Lane, at the New York Hall of Science in New York City.  This gingerbread display, designated as Guinness World Record Holder, is celebrating its 20th year.  It is the handiwork of one man, chef Jon Lovitch, and he works all year to build his sugar-coated creations.  Here is a great New York Daily News article that includes several videos demonstrating the construction process. What I like best about Lovitch is that he has a PLAN that puts  The Yule Log 365 to shame.  Here’s his annual timeline–and Lovitch does all of this while holding a full-time job!

On January 12, Lovitch disassembles the village and gives away the individual parts—houses, trains, and other confections.  The give-away begins at noon–bring your own cardboard box.

I didn’t get my John Waters Christmas card

John Waters Mug ShotAs much as I embrace Christmas, I do not embrace all of Christmas–the really odd, the grossly commercial or the genuinely creepy.  I tend toward traditional Christmas carols, Advent wreaths, and midnight Mass; therefore, despite the fact that we are practically neighbors (we live in the same Baltimore metropolis), I  don’t think I will ever receive a John Waters annual Christmas greeting–I’m not on his A- list of 2,000 recipients.

Waters, who is famous for writing and directing Polyester (1981), Hairspray (1988) and Cry Baby (1990), has thrown a holiday party the weekend before Christmas for the last 50 years (according to an interview with The Baltimore Sun).  I’m not on that guest list either.  I’d love to experience the weirdness, just once.

I have a better chance at seeing his one-man Christmas show, which toured 10 major cities this year, finishing at the Baltimore Soundstage on December 19 and 20.    If you find Waters’ irreverent humor, well, humorous, check out some of his past Christmas cards and a link this year to the Baltimore Sun Magazine‘s photo gallery of Waters’ Christmas decorations.

Clove Orange Pomander

photo (51)We had a snow day today, so I was able to do more Christmas preparation than usual.  At the grocery store, we bought oranges and cloves so that I could make some clove orange pomanders to celebrate the season.

Clove orange pomanders have a long history back to the Middle Ages, when people carried pomanders made of silver, gold, wood, or other material, enclosing a mixture of spices, the scent of which would ward off unhealthy odors and illness.  A woman might wear this item on her waist, suspended by a chain.  There’s an excellent website that illustrates types of pomanders  during the Medieval and Renaissance periods.

By Jane Austen’s time and during the Victorian Era, exchanging clove oranges became customary during Christmas and the New Year.  This website discusses the historical significance and gives excellent directions for making them at home.

The Wartski family firm in London sells fine jewelry and objets d’art.  They have several beautiful examples of pomanders, including a silver segmented one that is so beautiful (and, probably, so valuable).  This 1547 painting is featured on an antique jewelry website.   I wonder if I could begin a collection of pomanders–I should stick to oranges (although cloves can be an expensive purchase).   250px-Pomander

A word of caution.  My oranges need ribbon and more cloves.  I think I should have used smaller oranges with rinds that were not quite as thick.  I wound up with Band-aids on both thumbs because whole cloves are sharp, and it takes a little effort to pierce the rind of the orange.  Also, if I had used ribbon first, I would have had a natural line to follow.  My patterns leave a lot to be desired.

One year L’Occitane en Provence sold a clove-orange scent in candles, lotions and hand cream.  It must have been a holiday scent because I was given the shea cream as a gift, and when I went to the store to buy more, the scent was discontinued.  If you know of somewhere else that sells this particular scent, let me know!  For me, the smell of clove oranges and Christmas are tied together.

Duncan Royale at Frederick Community College

Display CaseSure enough, just when I “need a little Christmas” I find it at Frederick Community College while I’m searching for a lab in the library. In the main hallway on the first floor, there are two showcases of Duncan Royale Santa figurines gifted to the college by the family of Donald B. Rice, Sr. 

The figure of “Black Peter” caught my eye first because of Jeremy’s explorations into the topic.  The “Sir Christmas” is my favorite.  There is little that I could find explaining the background of these collectibles, produced in throughout the 1980’s and early 90’s.  With limited production, they are now traded at increasing prices from $150+ per figurine.  This link to Christmas Treasures will give you a look at the entire collection.Sir Santa

The display included two books about the Christmas series, so I think my next step is a visit to the local library.Bad Santa

British Christmas Stamps

England has the distinction of issuing the first pre-paid adhesive postage stamp, in May1, 1840, with the official circulation date beginning 173 years ago today, May 6.  The “penny black” had a portrait of Queen Victoria.  The black color of the stamp proved to be problematic because it was difficult to see the cancellation marks, so the next issued stamp was the Penny Red.  At that time, the United Kingdom was the only country using this type of stamp, so there was no need for the country of origin to be printed.

Fast foward to the 20th century, with Hungary issuing the first official Christmas-themed stamp in 1943.  The United States issued their first in 1962. Great Britain followed shortly thereafter with a children’s competition to design the stamps issued in 1966.

121106_ChristmasMs2012Annually, the British alternate between sacred and secular themes.  This year will feature a sacred postage stamp, as last year’s was designed by the illustrator of The Gruffalo, Axel Scheffler.  The United States Postal Service follows a similar pattern, alternating the Christmas themes.  A list of the United States Christmas stamps is located here.

In 2010, the British stamps featured my favorites, Wallace and Gromit.0245-christmas-2010-hi-res

Look for the announcement in late summer for both the British and American Christmas stamps 2013.  I’ve included a link to Beyond the Perf, which features the American 2013 stamps already authorized and  link to the British issue stamps for this year. Coincidentally?  Both countries feature fast cars!

Bottle Cap Christmas Ornaments

At a recent party, I found myself eyeing the soda and beer bottle caps that littered the drink table.  I summoned the courage to ask our hostess for the trash, and came away with a dozen or so–much to Roger’s dismay.

With these, I had planned to make snowmen ornaments, but a quick search yielded quite a few more possibilities. I’m excited to get started on my next “trash to tree” project.  Here are my options.

Snowman bottle cap ornamentsMy basic snowman is featured on a number of blogs and websites, but I liked Shannon Makes Stuff because, in this version, two bottle caps are glued together, which gives the snowman more depth. The red ribbon to hang them is glued along the body in between the caps, probably making the snowman more sturdy.  The snowmen in the photo are from an etsy site, and the Utah crafter is clearly more skilled with jewelry-making that I could ever be.  These are just a suggestion of what someone with some real art skills could do.

Bottle Cap clustersValerie Heck featured beer bottle cap snowflake ornaments that she says were a family joke, but they were kind of cool.  I saw in the comments that her mother said the snowflakes came apart, which made me kind of chuckle.  It would be just like my mom to comment on my blog about which of my ornaments didn’t hold up over time.  Right, Mom?

bottlecap_ornamentsMy favorite, and the most difficult to reproduce, were some Christmas ornaments that came in a kit, which depended on more advanced crafting skills, including prepared bottle caps and  photo software.  The result, though, is really nice.  I suspect, on a full-sized tree, they might get a little lost.

Snowmen, here we come!

Peep Show and Christmas

ChristmasPeepsPeeps, the sugary, marshmallow treat, are a part of just about every Easter basket, on par with candy canes at Christmas.  Jeremy sent a link to The Washington Post’s seventh annual Peeps diorama contest asking me why The Yule Log failed to enter this year.  I could remind him that I sent an article to him LAST year about a similar Carroll County Arts Center Peeps contest.  We can agree that great minds think alike–just on different schedules.  You can expect The Yule Log will be making a Christmas-themed diorama in 2014.

Meanwhile, what will our diorama be called?  Merry Peep-ness?  Santa and his eight tiny Peep-deer?  T’was the Night Before Peep-ness. . .The Peepcracker Ballet . . .The possibilities are endless. The Peeps website lists all of the annual contests, so I’ve marked the page here.  I’m expecting Jeremy to do one of his post-holiday raids on the local stores to stock up on the leftover Peeps. Better yet, I think we should stock up next year on all of the holiday peeps–the neon green trees, the brown gingerbread men, and the white snowmen Peeps.  I had better check the diorama rules to see if ANY kind of Peep is an OK kind of peep–or do we need to stick to lavender bunnies and yellow chicks?

I “LIKED” Peeps on Facebook and took the Peeps personality quiz. (I didn’t get results, but the questions were clever.)  Lo and behold! Peeps has a web page dedicated to Christmas Peeps recipes.  With my belly full of the candy I raided from Roger and C.J.’s Easter baskets, I’m not too motivated to bake anything with marshamallow Peeps, but that’s not to say that I won’t be ready tomorrow.

The Christmas perks of a newspaper subscription

For Valentine’s Day, the love of my life gave me a daily subscription to The Washington Post.  This was in light of two obvious reasons NOT to give the paper to me–I don’t even have time to read my mail at night and the waste of whole “trees” in the production of a newspaper is completely against Roger’s “small footprint” philosophy.

Yet, here it is.  Every day.  Early–before 6:00 a.m.  It’s like getting a Christmas present because I’ve found some tidbit or other, in just about every issue, to fuel the Yule Log (love that pun).

halloran_thomas_9780807835876Sunday’s Washington Post had an excellent review of the new Thomas Nast biography by Fiona Deans Halloran, Thomas Nast:  The Father of Modern Political Cartoons.  I first wrote about Nast’s 1870’s drawings of Santa Claus as the origins of our modern-day depiction. (See post – February 16, 2012)

This biography examines three of Nast’s major contributions:  the elephant as mascot of the Republican Party, bringing down Tammany Hall and “Boss” William M. Tweed through his political cartoons, and the jolly old St. Nick drawings.  Jonathan Yardley’s review of the book is really interesting and reveals that the Santa drawings are more than just the “man.”  They also depicted children, sugarplums, and the sentimental trappings that get all of us excited about the holiday.  Since my American history knowledge is limited to the bare outlines, I think this book is just my style.12-thomas-nast-santa-claus-granger

I don’t know when I would get a chance to read it, though.  I have to get through a newspaper every day!

Podcast #45- 21 Days to Go!

potteryPodcast #45- Click here to listen to this week’s podcast- Starry Night!

For this week’s podcast we decided to change things up a little.  After work today we made out way to our local create your own pottery shop- I Made This!  Located in downtown Frederick it gave us a relaxing start to our adventure.  Listen in as we discuss our clay creations before heading in to see our planetarium show, The Mystery of the Christmas Star.  After the show we finish our recording on the way to a holiday concert.  Hear the details of the show and of Natalie’s celestial nap!

This is #45, not #46 as we state when we are recording.  We’re just too excited!