One angel’s journey from heaven to our house

2014-11-23 12.47.04Angels are spiritual beings, messengers of God, represented in human form with wings and long robes: at the holidays, they grace Christmas cards, nativity scenes, wreaths, and more. Many families top their Christmas trees with stars or angels, and, since we have been married, Roger and I have been searching for just the right one. For a while, we’ve skipped topping the tree with anything.

A second definition of “angel” is an exemplary person, one whose conduct is virtuous.

This is a story of one knitted angel made more beautiful by the many angels who have loved her.

As Jeremy and I were planning our Knit-mas Tree, I recognized that the difference between ordinary and extraordinary was going to be the tree-topper. When my creative and talented–knitting–godmother, Rosalie Hughes, visited Maryland for her high school reunion in October, I seized the opportunity to present her with pictures of all of the knitted ornaments I planned to make and to solicit her advice on our Knit-mas tree.

Buoyed by my enthusiasm about the tree and the Kennedy Krieger event, she impetuously volunteered to knit the angel as a gift for my November birthday. I was thrilled and gave little thought to the commitment she had just made. What’s difficult about knitting an angel—my aunt can knit or crochet anything!

Rosalie returned to Iowa and began to visit every yarn shop in the area (which, if you’ve ever traveled in Iowa, is a considerable distance). She Googled “Tree Toppers” and then settled on ordering a book on Amazon, Angels: A Knitter’s Dozen.

After Rosalie’s commitment to the project, I continued to make items for the tree, confident that the angel was under way, never considering my aunt’s labors. She, meanwhile, had to re-learn how to use double-pointed needles (used to knit round shapes) and to work with Cro-sheen, something she hadn’t done for 50 years. (For us non-knitters, Cro-sheen is the type of yarn/thread used to make tablecloths and doilies. It’s closer to a heavy thread or string.)

At some point, my mother mentioned talking to Rosalie and hearing that the angel was not being “angelic” in the construction phases. Rosalie said to Shirley (who repeated it to me), “If she was not my godchild. . .”

Friends in Rosalie’s prayer shawl knitting group knew about her struggles as she consulted their expertise—they agreed with her that this “labor of love,” this heavenly being, was not all light and air.

Then, one mid-November day, I got an urgent call from Shirley. The angel had arrived—in pieces—with pages of Xeroxed directions for her ultimate assembly. And this would require a brew of cornstarch. Mom said she wasn’t sure she was up for the task.

With the bravado of someone who has no idea what future is in store, I told Mom I’d meet her to exchange the Franken-angel’s body parts. (In the box, Shirley included a token bag of cornstarch for good measure.)

This is where my good friend, Gini (Angel #3, if you are counting) comes into the story. We had invited her for dinner and a movie, but I told her I needed her help with a special holiday project. She agreed, with the same foolish optimism I had exhibited. How hard can this be?  When I unfolded the directions and the delicate white body parts, she reached for her reading glasses and rolled up her proverbial sleeves.

Oh, did I mention, we were just 48 hours from the tree decorating event? We starched our girl and placed her on forms, with Roger (Angel #4) offering vases, pots, bowls and other random shapes on which to let her dry. The dinner and movie were put on hold.

The next day, she was damp and rumpled. I was not hopeful. That’s when I decided she needed a careful blow dry. I put on headphones to listen to a long chapter of a Victorian novel and secluded myself in the bathroom. Hours later, shaping the stiff pieces with needle and thread, she was looking much more heavenly. It wasn’t until I sewed her hands together in prayer holding a pair of knitting needles that she was transformed into the perfect tree topper.

Indeed, everyone who stopped by the tree during the three days it was on display, remarked how the angel was amazing.

2014-11-22 14.34.06

The tree was sold the first day, but the angel story doesn’t end there.

Angels #5, 6, 7, and 8 (my sister Barbara, her husband, and two daughters) decided that the Knit-mas tree could not go home with just anybody. A stranger could not properly appreciate my aunt’s efforts. The angel needed to stay in the family. Secretly, they bought the tree and had it shipped to my mother’s—to surprise me on Christmas Eve.

Nothing is that easy.

My mother’s house is outside of the 40-mile delivery radius. So that required Angel #9 and his family. My Catonsville brother took delivery of the tree and sent it on to Mom’s house, where it spent Christmas with all of us.

The Knit-mas tree has had a second life in Vermont, at my sister’s vacation home. The angel (and tree skirt) came home with me. She perched on our tree (with her head bent a little in prayer because she was mashed against the ceiling) until yesterday, when we filled her nooks and crannies very carefully with tissue paper and packed her away until next year.

My cousin Kathleen asked her mother, Rosalie, if she would be knitting an angel for Kathleen’s tree. Rosalie flexed her fingers (to which feeling is just now returning), and said, “When _____ freezes over.”

 

 

Blessed be the chalk!

Epiphany ChalkYesterday Natalie wrote a little recalling some Epiphany posts of the past. It sparked me to review some ideas and practices for the liturgical feast.  Today Epiphany is celebrated at the mass on the Sunday between January 2 and 6, but the actual feast day is the 6th (or the 5th if you stick to the strict Julian calendar dates of old- but that’s a whole other post).  The feast combines the major points that showed the new baby Jesus being recognized as man and God’s flesh on earth- the adoration of the Magi, the baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan, and the 1st miracle of the wedding feast in Cana.  The importance and level of recognition of the feast varies around the world today.  It is relatively unnoticed in the US but continues to be a national holiday in places like Finland, where all but a few essential services are closed.  Traditions of the day include activities like the baking of the king’s cake, community carols, and gifts for the children to represent the gifts of the Magi. Did you remember to replace your shepherds with the wise men in your nativity scene?

The formal mass for the feast includes the blessing of the gifts the Magi brought- the gold, the Frankincense, and the myrrh.  Also blessed is sone epiphany water and some chalk. Chalk? That’s right chalk.  The chalk is blessed with the prayer: “Bless, O Lord God, this creature chalk to render it helpful to men. Grant that they who use it in faith and with it inscribe upon the entrance of their homes the names of thy saints, Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, may through their merits and intercession enjoy health of body and protection of soul. Through Christ our Lord.”

Epiphany Chalk 2At the end of mass people take some of the epiphany water and the chalk home.  The water is used to bless the rooms of the house for the new year.  The chalk is used to bless the house.  To do the blessing the chalk is used to write above the door to the house like this 20 C + M + B 15.  The 20 signifies the millennium and century and the 15 the decade and year.  The C, M, and B are the initials of the Magi- Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar but also represent the blessing “Christus mansionem benedicat”- Christ bless this house.  The blessing remains above the entryway until Pentecost (May 24th).  As an added little challenge, tradition holds that the first time any enter through the door they should step first with the right foot- maybe the origin of the phrase “starting out on the right foot”.

Epiphany ChalkI didn’t make it mass to get chalk last Sunday but it’s ok for the “father of the house” to do a blessing as the note is made above the door: “Let us pray. Bless, + O Lord God almighty, this home, that in it there may be health, purity, the strength of victory, humility, goodness and mercy, the fulfillment of Thy law, the thanksgiving to God the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. And may this blessing remain upon this home and upon all who dwell herein. Through Christ our Lord.”  A blessed and happy new year to you all!

Podcast #64- 104 Days to Go!

Beach-Shell-Christmas-TreePodcast #64- 104 Days to Go!
Click here to listen to the newest podcast- Time to Start Again!

Natalie and Jeremy are getting back to work.  After a long nearly 6 month break, it is time to refocus our Christmas spirit. We are excited to get back to sharing all the joys of the season. Today we took to the mobile studio and recorded while on the go (forgive the poor recording quality- a little studio trouble). We discuss our lack of Christmas in recent months and our renewed energy for the Christmas spirit. We talk about elves and trees and make the announcements about our tree themes for the 2014 Kennedy Krieger Festival of Trees. Give it a listen and let us know what you think about our tree ideas. Looking forward to getting back to our 2014 structure of KNOW, PLAN, and DO in the coming week.  Merry Christmas everyone!!

Merry Christmas: Sounds of Hawaii

During Christmas season palm trees are decorated with lights in the Normandy Isle neighborhood in Miami Beach, Florida, USAWe checked in this week to find out more about how Christmas happens in Hawaii. One of the topics that came up in our conversation with Siobhan was music.  The same familiar carols, hymns, and holiday songs are heard throughout the islands.  White Christmas drifts out of the speakers right there under the twinkle lit palm trees and Winter Wonderland is heard at the beach side pig roast.  But there are some differences too, like the Hawaiian Twelve Days of Christmas. For most Americans the Hawaiian Christmas song is Mele Kalikimaka.

Hawaiia Santa

 

This ukulele driven Christmas classic was written in 1949 but Robert Alex Anderson, known for his uniquely Hawaiian sounds.  The song gathered lots of interest and many fans from the start.  The popular 1950 radio recording featured Bing Crosby & the Andrew Sisters.  The song’s name is known as the Hawaiian way to say Merry Christmas.  Not entirely true. It is a translation, of sorts. To get the whole story behind the name we go back to 1778 when Christmas first came to the Islands with the arrival of Captain Cook.  The holiday did not catch on immediately.  It would not become wide-spread until the arrival of New England missionaries in the 1820s.  These missionaries helped to translate the language and to create a written version of the Island tongue.  The words Merry and Christmas were spoken by the Hawaiian natives and due to the differences in language sounded like Mele Kalikimaka.  The terms are a Hawaiian phonetic translation of the English phrase.  Simple.  The lyrics are simple too- basically a repetition of the same two stanzas:
     Mele Kalikimaka is the thing to say
     On a bright Hawaiian Christmas day
     That’s the island greeting that we send to you
     From the land where palm trees sway

     Here we know Christmas will be green & bright
     The sun to shine by day & all the stars at night
     Mele Kalikimaka is Hawaii’s way 
     To say Merry Christmas to you

It really is a happy, cheery little song.  Listen to it’s carefree lilt and imagine a warm breezy holiday picnic on the beach.  This version by Bette Midler should help set the mood.  Aloha!!

HNY HawaiiI learned the Hawaiian phrase for Happy New Year too- Hau’oli Makahiki Hou.  The phrase grew from the period or resting and fasting with 4 months of no war and no conflicts.  The term Makahiki translates to year.  Han’oli translate to Happy, and Makahiki has a track on year.  I will be looking into more foreign language faves in our area for Christmas.

Podcast #61- Island Christmas Call

mele-kalikimakaPodcast #61- Click here to listen to this week’s podcast- Island Christmas Call.

This week we check in with our friend Siobhan in Hawaii.  Natalie gets all the details on the unique island twists on the Christmas traditions.  Listen as they talk about outrigger Santa, Christmas lights on palm trees, trans-Pacific Christmas trees, and music.  They also introduce an awesome concept, what I think is the best idea so far in 2014!  Keep June 25th open on your calendars my friends- Mele Kalikemaka!

 

Eddie WouldSpecial audio bonus!  Listen to some more of the conversation to hear about the Wave and to find out where “Eddie would go”.  

 

 

A True Tradition- Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Macys LogoAlmost through the first month of our new format for 2014!  My fourth Thursday entry each month will focus on tradition and/or history somehow connected to Christmas.  For January we’ll have a tradition steeped in history or is it  a historic tradition?  Hmm…  Either way, I’m talking about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  In my family it is most definitely a tradition.  We have watched this parade together since my earliest memories, and definitely every year my sister has been alive.  But the parade has a huge history having just held it’s 87th march.

Macys 2Today the parade is a modern marvel full of dancers, bands, floats, singers, balloons, and technology everywhere.  Over 3.5 million people watch it in person on the streets of Manhattan and 50 million more tune in to watch on TV.  10,000 volunteers and scores of city workers insure the success of the parade in our modern times but it didn’t start that way.  Let’s talk history!  The original Macy’s parade began in 1924.  It is the second oldest Thanksgiving parade in the US.  (the oldest is the Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day Parade- originally the Gimbel’s Parade.  Yes, that Gimbel’s!)
The original Macy’s parade was based on and took over a parade  from Newark, NJ where it operated as the Bamberger’s Parade.  That first parade in ’24 was re-named the Macy’s Christmas Parade.  It began in Harlem and moved through Manhattan to end in Herald Square in front of Macy’s Department Store.  It included floats, bands, and animals from the zoo in Central Park.  The parade ended with the arrival of Santa Claus who was crowned as “King of the Kiddies” in front of the store.  Changes started right from the beginning and the parade had been modernized and improved continually for 90 years.  The iconic image with the parade has to be those giant balloons!

Macys 1Balloons were first added to the parade in 1927 with Felix the Cat.  He was filled with just air and carried through the streets by volunteers.  Helium was added to the balloons the next year (we can talk about some of the challenges of the helium balloons another time).  Also in 1928 began the release of the balloons.  They were let go at the end of the parade and each had a label.  If you found the balloon you could return it to Macy’s for a $100 prize!  That practice would end when the competition to “find” the balloons became too dangerous.  But the balloons are still one of the most popular parts of the parade.  Lots of different balloons have been part of the parade over time.  Some of the additions include Mickey Mouse in ’34, Donald Duck in ’35, Bullwinkle in ’61, Underdog in ’65, Cat in the Hat in ’94, and Buzz Lightyear in ’08.  Some balloons have made many different appearances in the parade.  “Harold” is a character who was in 4 different parades (1945-1948) as 4 different characters: a clown, a baseball player, a policeman, and a fireman.  Mickey Mouse, Spiderman, and Hello Kitty are some of the balloons appearing in different versions.  The winner is Snoopy.  Charlie Brown’s pet beagle has had seven different balloons in the parade- a record set in 2013.  A few interesting facts related to these balloons.  During World War II the balloons were given to the military to use- over 650 lbs of rubber!  Macy’s is the largest helium consumer after the US Government.  When a shortage occurred in 1958 the balloons were filled with air and moved through the streets on cranes.

Macys 3Aside from those incredible balloons, how did the parade grow into the global event it is today?  The parades of the 20s were watched by hundreds of thousands of people on the streets of New York.  It has been held every year since 1924 with the only break from 1942-1944 for World War II due to restrictions on fuel, rubber, and helium.  The awareness of the parade grew first from the radio broadcasts of the action.  Yes.  Radio! The parade was broadcast live on radio from 1932-1951.  The first television broadcast of the parade was an experiment in 1939.  Local tv broadcasts started in 1946 and national broadcasts followed in 1947. That year was the same year the parade got lots of attention from the movie Miracle on 34th Street.  The film used filmed scenes from the actual parade the year before.  NBC became the exclusive television broadcaster of the parade in 1952 with the name of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  Color broadcasts became the norm in 1960.  NBC has been that exclusive broadcaster for the last 62 years, winning 12 Emmy awards since 1979.  Since the parade is in public other broadcasters can set-up shop and show the parade too.  CBS shows the parade too with the name The Thanksgiving Day Parade on CBS.  You can also catch it on local channels in the New York area and even streaming online.  The three-hour spectacle has become a focal point to officially begin the holiday season.  As we say in my family- “we can’t start our Christmas until Santa gets here”.

So make your plans now to include the parade as part of your holiday plans in 2014.  Tune in 9:00 AM, Thursday, November 27, 2014 on NBC.  Book a hotel and go in person maybe.  Until then find out more about the parade, play games, and shop at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade official website.  You have 308 days to wait for THE kick-off to the holiday season!

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.