Christmas Cards: an obscenely detailed checklist

  1. Decide that you’re going to frickin’ SEND OUT CHRISTMAS CARDS THIS YEAR.
  2. Take off at least 2 – no, better make it what you have left, all 8 – days off work.
  3. Make preliminary list of addressees.
  4. Check your Gmail, Google Docs, Facebook events, and the township tax assessors to figure out the most current addresses.  Laugh at how your be-all-and-end-all-spreadsheet from 3 years back is hopelessly incorrect on so many counts.  Put a star next to the 5 friends who are…somewhere…you’ll figure out where later.
  5. Gather up all the Christmas cards you have accrued.
  6. Debate how offended your Lutheran friends might be to receive cards from All Saints Convent, which you bought because they were pretty and doctrinally sound enough.
  7. Count your cards, but not in a Vegas casino way.  Find that you have 53.
  8. Discover more addresses, and also summery and autumnal address labels.
  9. Add new addresses to spreadsheet, while wondering how much those address labels cost the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, considering that they send them to you quarterly at no charge.
  10. Hunt for church directory, because what you really need is a longer addressee list.
  11. …Hunt….more…
  12. Find it under a heap of notebooks!
  13. Hope no one has moved in the past 4 years besides the associate pastor.
  14. Realize that the thing you have is a pictorial directory, not one with addresses or phone numbers.
  15. Look through it anyway.  Add 15 families to your list.
  16. Get to the end to find that your efforts have been rewarded!  There ARE addresses here, just at the end.
  17. Wonder idly about the etiquette of addressing one of the church ladies by her full name when you only learned it from the directory.
  18. Wonder what people actually write in Christmas cards, if they aren’t just a family-picture postcard.
  19. Gather up three shoeboxes of old correspondence to investigate the question.
  20. Find that one shoebox actually contains shoes.
  21. Read some old cards.  Resist tearing up, barely.
  22. Hit up your friend’s Tumblr’s “seasonally appropriate” tag to turn on Strictly Advent music.
  23. Count your envelopes (40?  How did you end up with 13 fewer envelopes than cards?!), address labels (plenty), and stamps (48 Forever, 12 44-cent stamps, which should get the job done, unless you add further people to your list, which is nigh-on inevitable at this point).
  24. Re-count your list of addressees.  Debate adding choral union people.  Briefly ponder etiquette of divorcee names.
  25. Make a cup of tea and also a bitter-orange soda.
  26. a-child-is-born-cover-final-600Find that the “seasonally appropriate” tag has only 4 songs in it so far. Put on the King’s College choir singing John Rutter settings of Advent and Christmas music.
  27. Consult the post-its that your past self put on certain cards to earmark them as especially appropriate for certain people.
  28. Actually write out 11 cards!
  29. Get waylaid by a Tumblr friend asking for “religious Advent music,” as though there were a secular equivalent.  Get out hymnals to make a list of recommendations.
  30. Make another cup of tea and eat, like, a pound of green beans.
  31. Sort out which cards go to the Catholic friends.  Write out 6 more cards.
  32. Cook the Advent bacon your roommate got you and make yet more tea.
  33. Wonder whether the addresses in Superior Charter Township get addressed as such, or if they’re sent to Ypsilanti.
  34. Have roommate confirm that yeah, they should all be addressed to Ypsilanti, because the Superior Charter Township has no post office.
  35. Earmark more cards before you stop for the day because you have choir practice.
  36. Go off the deep end completely and ponder writing out an Advent hymn to send with said cards.
  37. Decide you are crazy.  Write 4 more cards.
  38. Try to figure out what to write to that one friend who deserves, like, the best words.  The most moving sort of tribute.  Fail.
  39. Seal up the two dozen or so that you actually finished.
  40. Leave open the cards you never found an address for, to puzzle yourself next year.

Uncut 2015 Christmas Letter

Hello, people-I-swear-to-write-but-never-do, relatives, and/or those who have filled me with a sense of obligation by mailing me something first!  Greetings of a seasonal variety to you!  May your Christmas season be full of love, hope, peace, and other fruits of the Spirit.

What follows is my attempt to sum up my year, despite the fact that you probably have learned most of this information via Facebook and, moreover, don’t expect changes of any great magnitude, because there weren’t any.  Unless you count starting on an antidepressant, in which case: there was one change of some magnitude in the past few months, and it is somewhat obvious if I forget it.   …pardon me a moment, I just realized I forgot something…

Right, so.  Life!  And the aspects thereof.  Well.  First off, there’s my…

Job: Yeaaah, I’m still at the law office.  I’ve now spent half a year as secretary for two attorneys, without more salary to show for it. Awesome.  Also awesome: doing anything with the court of appeals for the first time; we are all of us flailing about and consulting the court rules every 5 minutes.

Housing:  You may recall me living in a rental house with 3 other ladies.  As one of my erstwhile roommates got married and remained with her spouse in the house, Cecilia and I moved a whopping .8 miles north and east across Washtenaw.  This is close enough to walk between them, but far enough that anything you sent to my old address will miss me.  Except that I eventually put my mail on forward.  I meant to send you a tidy little handwritten note with my new address, but that just didn’t happen.  Sorry.

Romantic Relationships: Hahahaha, psych!  There’s been nothing of the sort for the last eight years at least.  This year, I went on 3 mediocre dates and 1 decent one, followed by some uninspired texts and no calls.  Friends have suggested I broaden my field of search to include more states, or at least the Fort Wayne seminary.  I may yet do so.

But! I am not without commitments: I have bought two new bookshelves this year and, by virtue of having a roommate who did the actual acquisition, acquired two kittens.  I’ve also become an official member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, having decided after 1.5 years in their choir that I wouldn’t just run off somewhere else.  Except for the weekends when I’m off attending weddings, when I will run most anywhere given sufficient notice.  There were three such weddings this year – those of my erstwhile housemate Hannah G. W., my other erstwhile housemate Liz C. N., and my concert-going, somewhat-indie music-supplying, lemon-jousting drinking buddy Hannah M. K., whose Astoria wedding was a delight to witness and stand up in.  I also attended my friend Zach’s ordination to the Roman Catholic priesthood, which is basically like a wedding, except without a 300% markup on the celebratory cake.

There is now another wedding on the horizon, as my brother Paul is engaged to one of my dearest friends, Michelle; I am quite pleased for them (mostly because I am not the one currently dealing with obscene markups for nuptial celebration paraphernalia)(but also because I love them both dearly and, you know, hope they will carry on in delight together &c)(that said, Paul could be a bit less nauseating in his effusions of loving feeling)(someone get me a bucket).

I'm not even an engineer. Just label me "Exhausted" or "Envious" or something.

I’m not even an engineer. Just label me “Exhausted.”

Other celebrations: 12th Night (complete with Shakespeare, almond cake, and crowns); my first Feuerzangenbowle (complete with fiery sugar and carol-singing); Michaelmas (complete with more Milton than I’ve ever read in one sitting before); St. Crispin‘s Day (complete with yelling the Henry V speech to passersby on Mackinac Island); and birthday celebrations of several people, including me (complete with playing two games of Boggle at once!  Or eating Moroccan food/bowling/drinking Greek wine/reading Evelyn Waugh/however we celebrated birthdays).

I also basked in the reflected glory of my brother John competing on Jeopardy! in January, and his return for the Tournament of Champions in November.  My own knowledge of trivia has not been sufficient to get me past the online Jeopardy! test, but it HAS won me a few rounds on LearnedLeague.com.  Aw yiss.  So much less of a timesink than either TriviaCrack or JetPunk, addictions which I have overcome!   …Sadly I have not overcome my addiction to Sherlock fanfiction; please pray for my soul and/or recommend a support group.

No one can tell this deer is wearing jeans anyway.

No one can tell this deer is wearing jeans anyway.

On the bright side, I have profited greatly from reading both The Joy of Less and unfuckyourhabitat.tumblr.com, not that you can necessarily tell by looking at my work desk or my bedroom.  But I’ve managed to dispose of some papers that had lingered for the last year or six, and got rid of some brown pants just in time to miss them at Halloween.

Other consumables:  Continuing my tradition of checking things out of the library for as long as possible, I’ve had a couple books by Milosz out for 2 years now. It’s like grad school library privileges without needing to be in grad school.  Books I actually read include some volumes on orthography, a couple intriguing books by Neil Postman, and I, Robot; generally my reading material has been more poetic, word-loving, critical, depressed, and mildly feminist.

Viewing-wise, this has been the year of my finally watching Die Hard, The Room (via RiffTrax Live), Zoolander, and White Christmas for the very first time.  National Theatre Live brought Coriolanus and Hamlet within my purview, for which I both bless and curse them.  2015 also involved an Iron Man marathon (which, lest you be deceived, involves no physical activity) and more watching of The Decoy Bride / Not Another Happy Ending than is strictly advisable.  Not to mention The Mindy Project, Inspector Lewis, and odds and ends from Parks and Rec.

I remain a member of the UMS Choral Union, which performed Mendelssohn’s Elijah and Handel’s Messiah; as mentioned above, I’m part of my church choir as well.  Occasionally I pinch-hit as an alto because we are as poor in altos as we are rich in sopranos.  Shocking, I know.

This year’s culinary adventuring included the eating of Moroccan bistilla (would recommend) and the cooking of meringues, gluten-free pizza, and gluten-free fried chicken.  There were also a fair allotment of cocktails: lots of G&Ts and a fair sampling of Drinking with the Saints.

Also wik:  I read with some alacrity the epic saga of Brother Orange; I learned more of the geography of John and Elizabeth’s neighborhood whilst dogsitting, when I accidentally walked their dog Hektor 5 miles longer than necessary;  and I did the most Pinterest-y project of my life, namely, using twine and clothespins to hang a bunch of stuff, mostly calligraphy, on my bedroom wall.

963

There you have it: a far longer summary of a year than you might want or need.  Merry freaking Christmas, y’all.  See you all in 2016, unless I don’t actually.

Much love,
(really, I promise)
Joy

Onward, majestic Frog Steed!

Onward, majestic Frog Steed!  Onward to 2016!

The Goodenough Candymaker Presents: Truffles

Dear Friends:

Having just left the Christmas Candy mess behind (by getting on an airplane and leaving it at my mom’s house), I thought you would all appreciate a few tips. If you are a practiced, experienced, perfected chocolatier, well, bully for you. You already know all the things, anyway, and will probably only get a laugh from me. If you’re not, I have a recipe for you that works every time.

Get good chocolate, so no matter what happens, things taste good. Things like the sink. Your nose. Your infant son’s ankle. Wait, scratch that. You never know what THAT really IS. Anyway, the chocolate could be unlovely and everywhere, but make sure it’s delicious and you don’t go far wrong. It’s getting everywhere anyway, you might as well enjoy the mess.
We used Scharffen Berger semisweet chocolate. Ghirardelli makes good truffles too, though, and it’s easier to find in a grocery store.

You get a ton of advice from the internet, and many conflicting recipes. Stop looking at them. Look at this. Double or halve as necessity dictates. You know, if you simply must have a truffle but only have 4 oz. of chocolate? It happens. Just scale accordingly.

16 oz. chocolate, chopped up small. 
1 c. heavy heavy heavy cream
1/2 vanilla

~Put the chocolate in a glass bowl with the vanilla.
~Scald the milk in a pan on the stove, just til there are a few wee sweet little bubbles around the pan. Or until it boils furiously, if you lose your head and try to open the leftover wine with your teeth and bite off the cork.
~Pour the milk over the vanilla. Stir this for a while, until all the chocolate is totally melted and looks smooth and shiny and so so brown. Don’t panic at any point. Just stir. Drink your wine.
~ Let it cool for a long while. Hours and Hours. Overnight, even.
~ Scoop small balls out with a spoon.
~Roll the balls into bally-er balls. Drink your wine with a straw, as your hands are a terribly nasty mess.
~Laugh maniacally at how lopsided the truffles have become. Drink away your sorrow.
~Roll the balls in cocoa powder, coconut, chopped nuts, crushed peppermint, or tempered chocolate. Tempering chocolate is something you’ll have to look up somewhere else. I am not at all sure I should say anything about that. Things get funny when I temper chocolate. And when I drink.

NOTE WELL.

DO NOT ADD BUTTER TO THIS RECIPE.

Do not add butter to this. Many recipes say to add butter. Butter is nothing but a heartache and a mess. It makes the truffle more difficult to roll into lopsided balls. It melts too slowly in the hot milk and you sometimes have to use a microwave to keep things hot enough to melt the chocolate. Sometimes, the butter extrudes itself from the truffle, through the coating. Extremely odd. Not worth the trouble. Don’t do it.

Rhyme Schemes Send Me Silly Places

Merry 6th day of Christmas!  I hope your home is not overrun by poultry sent by your true love.  In lieu of six geese a’laying and a summation of other bird-gifts, I have some exploration of a hymn for you.  Just what you always wanted, right?  I know, I know, I shouldn’t have.

Yesterday at church, we sang “From East to West.”  I’d call it a run-of-the-mill Christmas hymn and forget about it, but it struck my ear with a thing I call Éponine rhymes – so called because of a section of Les Miserables that always stuck in my brain:

Marius:   Get out before the trouble starts!
Get out, ‘Ponine, you might get shot!
Éponine: I’ve got you worried now, I have.
That shows you like me quite a lot!

If you don’t know that “quite a lot” is coming, you sit there wondering why Éponine would fail so badly at rhyming with the fellow she adores.  How else to prove you were made to finish his duet?

Taking a musket ball for him is not conducive to singing duets with him, I'm afraid.

Taking a musket ball for him is not conducive to singing duets with him, I’m afraid.

It’s not unrhymed; the rhyme just takes longer than expected to show up.  Thus with “From East to West”: it’s an ABAB rhyme scheme, but was set to a tune more frequently employed for “From Heav’n Above to Earth I Come,” which has an AABB scheme.  The ear expects a rhyme immediately, and is startled by the wait.

I contemplated sending a note to Thalia, saying Thought of you this morning whilst singing LSB 385.  The power of rhyme, it is not strong with Mr. Ellerton.  But John Ellerton, as it happens, was but translating the words of 5th century poet Coelius Sedulius.

Obviously I had to see what sort of rhyming Coelius Sedulius did or didn’t do.  This is what I found: “A Solis Ortus Cardine,” or “From the point of the rising of the sun,” is an acrostic with twenty-three verses about Christ’s birth, his ministry, his miracles, his betrayal, his death, and his resurrection.  Coelius Sedulius used every letter of the Roman alphabet to start the verses, which calls for some creativity: not only does he juggle different rhyme schemes (ABBA, ABCB, AABB, AABA, etc.), but he had to be extra inventive when he reached the letter X.  So far as I can determine, “xeromurram” is a hapax legomenon referring to myrrh (myrrham, rendered as murram for postclassical vulgar Latinate Reasons) intended to anoint the body of Christ, whose name is alluded to via a spelled-out Chi Rho.

Since it’s not always practical to sing all 23 verses, the church used the first 7 (plus a doxology) as a Christmas hymn, and 4 of the later verses (plus a doxology) as an Epiphany hymn.  Luther translated these two hymns into German (with an AABB scheme throughout), and later on Ellerton translated the Christmas hymn into “From East to West” as we sing it today.

Admittedly, these renditions do not necessarily reflect how we sing it today.  I thought they were interesting, though, and wanted to share them:

Gregorian plainchant hymn adapted to English by St. Meinrad Benedictine Archabbey in Indiana

Alan Charlton’s Advent motet, sung by the Meridian Singers

Guillaume Dufay, or so it says, alternating polyphony and chant.

All glory for this blessed morn
To God the Father ever be;
All praise to You, O Virgin-born,
And Holy Ghost eternally.