News of the Week: Rockers Snubbed, the Grinch Arrested, and Chestnuts Roasting, Well, Everywhere

2018 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductees

Of course, I mean the year 2018. It would be really weird if the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inducted that many musicians in a single year.

The inductees this time around are Dire Straits, The Moody Blues, The Cars, Bon Jovi, Nina Simone, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. All fine choices, I guess (don’t get me started on Bon Jovi), but it means that a lot of people didn’t make it again this year (musicians are eligible 25 years after the release of their first commercial recording), including Depeche Mode, Judas Priest, Eurythmics, the Zombies, Janet Jackson, Devo, New Order, Iron Maiden, Roxy Music, the Cure, Tina Turner, and the Smiths.

I would also add Marshall Crenshaw to that list. I don’t know if he’ll ever be nominated but he deserves to be there.

Stink, Stank, Stunk!

This is a great story. It involves a five-year-old boy from Jackson, Mississippi, who called 911. Why did he call? Because he was upset that the Grinch was going to steal Christmas.

The father got on the phone to assure the 911 operator that there was no problem. The police went to the house to check on things anyway, and the boy showed them a YouTube clip of the Grinch and what he had planned. The police assured him that they weren’t going to let the green guy steal anything, and to prove it, they invited the boy to the police station two nights later so he could actually lock up the Grinch in a cell.

Of course, now the family has to make sure the boy doesn’t watch The Grinch Who Stole Christmas again, or he may think the Grinch escaped. Or at least let him watch it until the end, when his heart grows bigger as he learns the true meaning of the holiday and gives all the gifts back.

It’s the Most Wonderful, Annoying Words of the Year

Every December, magazines, newspapers, and websites release their best-and-worst lists for the year. The best and worst movies, the best and worst albums, the best and worst political stories of the year. It’s a year-end tradition we look forward to as much as stuffing and the first snow.

I don’t know if this counts as a “best” or a “worst” — maybe it’s the best of the worst — but the list of the most annoying words of 2017 has been released by Marist College. For the ninth year in a row, Americans have declared the word whatever the “winner.”

Other annoying words and phrases of the year include fake news; literally; you know what I mean; ya know, right; and huge. Actually, I would add the words actually, like, irregardless, basically, selfie, hashtag, and viral.

Maybe Marist should declare that whatever can no longer be named an annoying word of the year. It’s won way too many years. It’s the Modern Family of annoying words and should take itself out of consideration.

New Raymond Chandler

Raymond Chandler is one of my favorite writers, so when I heard that there was a newly discovered short story about to be published, I was more excited than a salad in a paper towel factory (I have no idea what that even means, that’s how excited I am). The story is in the current issue of The Strand, and it’s titled “It’s All Right — He Only Died.”

From that title, you might be expecting a two-fisted Philip Marlowe detective tale, but it’s actually about … the U.S. healthcare system? That’s right, Chandler was thinking about that way back in the 1950s (he died in 1959). Luckily, in the six decades since the story was written, we’ve completely solved any problems we may have had with healthcare.

Last-Minute Gift Idea

Did you know that Christmas is this Monday? That means you only have this weekend to buy the rest of your gifts, unless you’re one of those people who goes to CVS on Christmas morning and grabs a box of chocolate or whatever perfume is on sale.

May I suggest something that can be enjoyed the entire year, something that’s like getting a new Christmas gift every other month? A subscription to The Saturday Evening Post! Right now you can get an entire year (six issues) for a savings of up to 49 percent. With that subscription, you also get discounts on car rentals, travel, entertainment, even insurance! It’s a great deal and a great magazine (and I’d say that even if I didn’t work here).

RIP Keely Smith

Keely Smith was an acclaimed singer known for her partnership with husband and bandleader Louis Prima. She is remembered for such songs as “I Wish You Love,” “That Old Black Magic,” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” She died Saturday at the age of 89.

Here’s her version of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”

The Best and the Worst

Best: My favorite things this week haven’t even happened yet. They’re on TV tonight. CBS is continuing its annual tradition of showing back-to-back classic episodes of I Love Lucy and The Dick Van Dyke Show. It all starts at 8 p.m.

Worst: This also involves CBS’s airing of I Love Lucy and The Dick Van Dyke Show. As I mentioned just four seconds ago, it’s great that they air these episodes every Christmas. But do they have to be colorized? And do they have to be the edited versions of the episodes? That’s a travesty (the latter more than the former). These shows were both originally on CBS, so I don’t know why they have to show edited versions. And as for colorizing them, that was interesting the first time as a little historical pop culture curio, but colorizing TV shows and movies rarely works (the colorized Miracle on 34th Street I watched the other night looked awful). Really, viewers can handle black and white.

This Week in History

Wright Brothers Take Off (December 17, 1903)

Here’s an interview the Post did with Orville Wright in 1928 on the 25th anniversary of the historic flight.

A Christmas Carol Published (December 19, 1843)

The classic Charles Dickens novella has been filmed a gazillion times and the basic plot has been used in countless stories and TV shows. The first film made from the story was a 1901 short silent film titled Scrooge, or, Marley’s Ghost.

If you really enjoy the story, you could start a collection of various editions. This guy did, and he’s up to 1,000 of them.

This Week in Saturday Evening Post History: Centering the Christmas Tree (December 22, 1951)

Centering the Christmas Tree
Stevan Dohanos
December 22, 1951

Remember I told you a couple of weeks ago that I like artificial Christmas trees because they don’t shed like real trees? Look at this cover by Stevan Dohanos. Just look at it! Pine needles all over the place.

Christmas Recipes

I was listening to “The Christmas Song” the other day — I’ve already heard it 100 times this month — and realized that it’s been 30 years since I’ve had chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Actually, I’ve never had chestnuts roasting on an open fire. My mom used to boil them.

But it did get me thinking about the foods that are mentioned in Christmas songs, so I thought I’d list some recipes for you to make this holiday season. Here are five vintage and delicious recipes for chestnuts, and if you enjoy “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” here’s a recipe for figgy pudding. Brenda Lee sang about pumpkin pie in “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” and if you’re a “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” fan, here’s an eggnog recipe from Alton Brown (please note that it includes bourbon). And don’t forget, it’s a marshmallow world that we live in.

Merry Christmas!

Next Week’s Holidays and Events

Boxing Day (December 26)

The holiday started in Britain in the 1830s as a day to honor “post-men, errand-boys, and servants of various kinds.”

National Fruitcake Day (December 27)

Also known as “The Day Everyone Throws Away the Fruitcake They Got for Christmas” Day.

News of the Week: Words of the Year, Why We Say ‘Um,’ and (Literally) Half-Off Christmas Trees

And the Word of the Year Is…

Cursive writing on old paper

This week Merriam-Webster announced their “Word of the Year,” and it’s pickles. I know, I’m stunned too!

Okay, the word is actually feminism. I don’t have to explain why that is the biggest word of 2017, but you can read more about it at Merriam-Webster’s site. And it’s not the only important word chosen by the venerable language company. Other words of the year include complicitrecuseempathydotard, and … gyro? I don’t remember that being a big word this year; apparently Jimmy Fallon did a gyro-based comedy sketch with country singer Luke Bryan and suddenly everyone was talking about gyros, I guess.

Part of the reason the words were chosen is because they’re the words people searched for the most during the year after hearing them in the news, online, and in pop culture.

I still think pickles will be big in 2018. You can put them in a gyro.

As Judge Judy Says, Um Is Not an Answer

We have, um, a lot of verbal tics that we often say. They’re, um, a way of thinking of what we want to say, sort of a verbal, um, placeholder. A lot of people think that it’s, um, better than stopping for a second and saying, um, nothing.

Isn’t it annoying when the ums we say are written out like that? Of course! I often wonder why people don’t fight harder to stop using the word (if we can even call it a word). I’ve done it myself in the past, though it’s really a bad habit we should try to break. But why do people do it? This article at The Atlantic attempts to explain it. Writer Julie Beck talks to N.J. Enfield, a professor and author of the book How We Talk. He actually sees some use in um. He calls it a “hesitation marker,” and it can be useful in conversation.

I guess it could be worse. I was once in a coffee shop and overheard a job interview at the next table. The interviewee must have said “like” 100 times in the span of five minutes.

To the Moon (and Mars), Alice!

First off, I hope you got that reference.

Second, as someone who has been a space geek since he was a kid, I think this is exciting news. President Trump signed a directive this week that will “refocus America’s space program on human exploration and discovery.” With former astronaut Harrison Schmitt at his side, the president announced new projects to send humans back to the moon and eventually to Mars. It’s called “Space Policy Directive – 1,” which isn’t the most romantic name, but it does have a certain Star Trek feel about it.

Facebook Is Bad, Say People Who Helped Create Facebook

People under large hands giving thumbs down

A billion people use Facebook, but a lot of them are getting tired of it. Some have cut down on the number of times they post or even check it, and some have deleted their accounts altogether. It’s probably always going to be popular, but you’re starting to hear more and more people fighting against its influence and pull.

But you rarely hear those things from people who actually had a hand in it becoming the online force that it is. The past couple of weeks, we’ve heard from two different former Facebook honchos who say that maybe Facebook (and social media in general) isn’t worth it. Former Facebook President Sean Parker says, “I don’t know if I really understood the consequences of what I was saying, because of the unintended consequences of a network when it grows to a billion or two billion people and it literally changes your relationship with society, with each other … God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”

Former Vice President of User Growth Chamath Palihapitiya was even more blunt, saying, “I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works.” He says he feels “tremendous guilt” about what he has done. Facebook has actually responded to the criticism.

Maybe you should deactivate your Facebook account and see how it goes? Make it a New Year’s resolution. Who knows, you might even like not being connected to everyone and everything all the time.

But wait a couple of weeks before you do it, because I want you to head over to our Facebook page and share this column with your friends.

O Christmas Half-Tree, O Christmas Half-Tree

Christmas pine needles on a wooden floor

Last week I brought up the “real vs. artificial Christmas tree” debate, and from what I heard from readers, a lot of people like real and a lot of people like artificial, with maybe a slight edge to the real tree crowd. The other day, a supermarket cashier went on and on to me about the virtues of a real tree. I didn’t feel like getting into a discussion with her about why I like artificial trees (plus my ice cream was melting).

But what if real or fake isn’t the problem you face? Maybe it’s space. That’s where this Christmas half-tree comes in. It’s a tree that’s sliced down the middle, so it lies flush with the wall. It’s artificial, and stores in Britain are selling it for around $130.

If you really have no room, you can put your Christmas tree directly on the wall.

The Best and the Worst

Best: A new holiday tune from Dick Van Dyke and Jane Lynch, “We’re Going Caroling.” Van Dyke turned 92 on Wednesday, and he’s twice as active as I am.

Worst: This Slate article that dumps on Hallmark Channel Christmas movies. Now, feel free to critique the movies for how they’re made or the plots or the dialogue or the fact that it seems like 400 new ones are pumped out every year (I find them oddly comforting), but the author of the piece makes the whole discussion political and sour, as if we need any more of that.

This Week in History

Frank Sinatra Born (December 12, 1915)

Ol’ Blue Eyes would have turned 102 this week. There’s a new Sinatra holiday album titled Ultimate Christmas, and it includes this song, written in 1954 by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne. According to Sinatra’s daughter Nancy, Frank wanted a new Christmas song that would be his, and Cahn and Styne came up with “The Christmas Waltz.” It was the B-side to “White Christmas.”

Bill of Rights Ratified (December 15, 1791)

The first ten amendments to the Constitution were created in 1789 and ratified two years later. President Roosevelt declared December 15 Bill of Rights Day in 1941.

This Week in Saturday Evening Post History: Christmas Train Set (December 15, 1956)

Christmas Train Set
December 15, 1956
George Hughes

Do kids still get train sets for Christmas, or is there now an app for that? I don’t know, but my favorite thing about this cover by George Hughes is the guy on the left. He seems to be looking directly at the artist and thinking, “Yeah, draw me, whatever.”

Today Is National Cupcake Day


Remember three or four years ago when cupcakes were the hottest thing? Cupcake shops popped up everywhere, and it seemed like every food show on television revolved around cupcakes. Then they just faded away, replaced by kale and fidget spinners and HQ Trivia.

Good Housekeeping has 28 Christmas-oriented cupcakes you can make for National Cupcake Day, including ones that look like snowballs, reindeer, Christmas trees, Santa hats, and even Ebenezer Scrooge. If you’re feeling like the actual Ebenezer Scrooge and don’t want cupcakes that remind you of Christmas, try these Oreo Cupcakes.

Hey, you know what you should do on Christmas morning? Fill your kids’ stockings with kale. The joy on their faces will be priceless, and you can post the pictures to Facebook.

Next Week’s Holidays and Events

Winter Begins (December 21)

The Winter Solstice for the Northern Hemisphere begins at 11:28 a.m. EST. There’s also something called a “Meteorological Winter” and that began December 1, but that’s just confusing, so forget I even mentioned it.

Crossword Puzzle Day (December 21)

This marks the day in 1913 that the first official crossword puzzle was published. You can try to solve it at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament site. I couldn’t finish it.

News of the Week: Fake Trees, Dumb Cats, and the Invasion of the Xennials

A Christmas Controversy

There are many great debates in this world: Coke vs. Pepsi, Mac vs. PC, first Darrin vs. second Darrin on Bewitched. Another one is real Christmas trees vs. fake Christmas trees. Wars have been started over less.

I could probably write a lot of controversial sentences in this column about politics or religion or current events, but I bet none will be as controversial as this one: I like artificial Christmas trees. Sorry!

It’s not like I particularly dislike real Christmas trees. They smell great and … well, actually, I can’t think of anything else beyond that. They shed their needles all over the place, you have to make sure they’re watered, and some of them can be awfully expensive. Artificial trees can be expensive too, but you can use the same one for 20–30 years. They also come in various shapes and colors, and there’s a rich history behind them. I still remember the one we had in a box in our basement when I was a kid. I think we got it at Sears. It lasted for years, and there were as many memories attached to the tree itself as the ornaments on it and the gifts underneath. And the artificial trees they make now are even more well-made and realistic-looking.

You want that real tree smell? That’s why they make air fresheners, candles, and Scentsicles.

Dogs 1, Cats 0

A Dog with glasses

Another great debate is dogs vs. cats. Relationships have been broken up by people who can compromise on every other issue except when it comes to the family pet.

Researchers at Vanderbilt University have finally figured out which species is smarter, and cat people aren’t going to like the results. It comes down to how many neurons they have. Dogs have a lot more than cats do. The researchers say that the size of an animal’s brain doesn’t necessarily mean a particular animal is smart, but dog people will be happy.

I’m a dog person all the way. Will a cat fetch your paper? Will a cat save you from drowning? Does a dog do his business right in your house, like a cat? I rest my case.

More Holiday Reads

In our current issue, Amazon staffers tell us what books will make for great gifts this Christmas, including books by Jennifer Egan, Walter Isaacson, and Jeffrey Eugenides. Here are three more to add to your list:

Too Many Toys

And where can you buy those books I mentioned above? A bookstore!

Barnes & Noble has decided they want to concentrate on books once again and not on the other things they currently sell, like journals, toys, and microwave ovens. Chief Executive Demos Parneros, dealing with seven straight quarters of sales declines, also wants to make the stores smaller. They’re not getting rid of the non-book items completely, but they want to narrow the number and brands they sell.

I can understand that. The Barnes & Noble where I shop is gigantic. Half of the store seems to be made of journals and toys and games and a cafe, even if they do have a huge selection of books as well. Yeah, the store does seem a little big. But I hope they don’t get rid of the cafes. If anything, make the cafes bigger and better designed, with larger tables and more comfortable chairs. If you want inspiration, look at what Border’s used to do with their cafes. Do that and I will shop at your place all the time and spend all day in the cafe drinking expensive chai.

By the way, they don’t really sell microwave ovens.

RIP John Anderson, Johnny Hallyday, and Tommy Keene

John Anderson was the Illinois congressman who ran for president as an independent against Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter in 1980. He died Sunday at the age of 95.

Johnny Hallyday was a huge rock star, nicknamed the “French Elvis.” He died last week at the age of 74.

Tommy Keene was a king of the alternative music world, and one of my personal favorites. He died the day before Thanksgiving at the age of 59, and his brother has written a wonderful tribute at Keene’s official site.

The Best and Worst of the Week

Best: Back in the mid-’60s, CBS ran a Christmas commercial by R.O. Blechman that many people of a certain age remember and love. It was very subtle, calming, and over a minute long, which would probably make people antsy today.

Last week the network started running a series of new holiday commercials that remind me of that ad. They’re not as long, but they have that same nice, almost Christmas-card vibe. Vimeo has all the ads in one video.

Worst: This is the recognition of a word we didn’t know existed and I’m not sure we even need: Xennials. It’s not a cholesterol medication or the name of the new Marvel movie villains; it’s the word for people sandwiched between Generation X and Millennials.

I’m sorry, but I’m never, ever using that word. It’s hard enough to remember all the terms to describe groups of people or eras, and we don’t need new ones to fill in any gaps.

This Week in History

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Premieres (December 6, 1964)

This remains a Christmas favorite that you just have to watch every year, even if Santa is kind of a jerk in it.

Pearl Harbor Bombed (December 7, 1941)

A hero on that horrible day in Hawaii, Chief Boatswain’s Mate Joseph L. George has finally been recognized by U.S. officials, and CBS had a terrific story about him this week.

This Week in Saturday Evening Post History: Tree in Town Square (December 4, 1948)

Tree in Town Square by Steven Dohanos
Tree in Town Square
Steven Dohanos
December 4, 1948

This isn’t just one of my favorite Post covers of all time; it’s one of my favorites of any magazine ever. Stevan Dohanos not only captures the Christmas season perfectly, he captures friendly, helpful, small-town life perfectly too.

Today Is National Brownie Day

Brownies with Christmas frosting

Though we’ve settled the real vs. fake Christmas tree question, we have another debate at our family celebration: fudge-like brownies or cake-like brownies? My sister makes them every year; some of us like the former and some the latter. I’m in the fudge-like camp, but both are great because, hey, brownies!

For a Christmas-ish brownie, here’s a recipe from The Comfort Kitchen for Peppermint Candy Cane Brownies. And here’s a recipe for Eggnog Brownies from Back for Seconds.

Next Week’s Holidays and Events

Miracle on 34th Street Marathon (December 10)

A couple of weeks ago, I linked to a site that has a roundup of all the Christmas movies, specials, and TV episodes we’ll see through New Year’s Day. At first it looked like Miracle on 34th Street wasn’t going to be shown at all, but there’s actually going to be a marathon of the 1947 classic on Sundance TV this Sunday starting at 3 p.m. That might not be a station you usually watch, but I bet you have it.

Hanukkah Begins (December 12)

The Jewish holiday starts on Tuesday and goes until the night of December 20.

Cover Collection: Yuletide Shopping Shenanigans

The commercialization of Christmas is not a modern phenomenon. Holiday shopping can be a joy, but it often veers toward comedy. In the hands of Post cover artists, the mundane experience of making lists, checking them twice, and finally scavenging neighborhood stores to gather up holiday bounty is presented as equal parts delight, misery, and just plain silliness.

Under the humorous guise of this painting’s subject matter, Norman Rockwell makes use of snow as white space to break the image of an overloaded grandfather into completely disjointed components. It’s not quite a human being we are looking at, but pieces of one—a subtle nod to cubism, perhaps?

Incidentally, “Pops” Fredericks, the model for this illustration, was an actor who never quite succeeded on the stage or the screen, but who achieved immortality on Rockwell covers as a cello player, a seasick cruise passenger, a hobo, Ben Franklin, Santa Claus, and a beloved doctor patiently examining a little girl’s doll.


Christmas Shopper December 13, 1919, Neysa McMein

This stunning self-portrait by one of the Post’s more popular female artists makes use of winter’s white in an unexpected way. Not only is the background washed out—evoking a sense of snow—but the gifts  are a stunning white against the stark black of the subject’s mink. The multi-talented McMein, a Midwestern girl  from Quincy, Illinois, and star pupil  of the Chicago Art Institute, moved  to New York City with dreams of  succeeding as an artist, poet, or musician. The year before painting this cover, she traveled to war-torn Europe as a correspondent for McClure’s Magazine.  In the mid-1930s she would make an indelible stamp on the marketing world by creating the face of Betty Crocker.


Father Rushing Home with Gifts
December 13, 1919,
Neysa McMein

The rocking horse was not new in 1909. It had been popularized in England during the 1800s, then galloped from small workshops into factory production. By the early 20th century, it was a staple toy in America and made frequent appearances on The Saturday Evening Post’s covers, especially around Christmas. Notice the detail in the harried commuter’s overcoat and pants. Leyendecker, whose roots were in fashion advertising, always gave close attention to the clothing of his models. A mentor to Rockwell, Leyendecker was also a darling of the public. At one point his fan mail eclipsed that of legendary film actor Rudolph Valentino.


Store Gift Exchange
January 11, 1941,
Spencer Douglass Crockwell

The clerk’s face, almost floating in a sea of returned gifts, says all that needs to be said about the post-Christmas letdown. With its emphasis on the commonplace, the Post (and much of America) was willfully ignoring the global crisis brewing across the oceans. (The attack on Pearl Harbor that galvanized our engagement in World War II was still 11 months away.) Notice the signature, bottom right. Crockwell, who illustrated 18 covers for the Post, took to signing his illustrations “Douglass,” “DC,” or simply “D” to avoid being confused with another Post cover artist with a very similar last name.


’Twas the Night Before Christmas
December 26, 1936, J.C. Leyendecker

Leyendecker was one of the longest running  of the Post cover artists and certainly one of the most versatile. While best known for his stylish illustrations of fashionable people, he occasionally produced comic numbers, such as this colorful depiction of frantic, last-minute shopping. While many playful elements are at work, notice  the visual pun of the bulky mom who bears  an uncanny resemblance to St. Nick.


Bus Stop at Christmas
December 13, 1952, Stevan Dohanos

For this painting, Dohanos asked a man at a local nursery to
“saw me down a small Christmas tree to take out.” The little tree made this quirky cover in which all the players — duck included — seem remarkably complacent considering the circumstances. Post writer Rufus Jarman, a neighbor of Dohanos, makes a cameo appearance as the determined-looking man to the left of the tree.


Department Store at Christmas
December 6, 1952, John Falter

Even 65 years ago, the ugly tie was universally recognized as the least desirable Christmas gift one could receive. But sometimes, well, that’s the best a person can do. For this hectic scene, Falter relied on his background working at his father’s clothing store in Falls City, Nebraska. By the late 1930s, Falter had moved to New York and was painting shirts and ties for Arrow Shirt ads before being discovered by the Post.


Lost Child Department
December 20, 1958, Thornton Utz

At the center of the image, a child at the Information booth will soon be reunited with misplaced parents. Meanwhile, countless other dramas are being played in Utz’s shopping pandemonium. Utz began drawing cartoons at 12 and knew he wanted to be an artist by the time he graduated from high school. But later he would say that he and a like-minded friend “could probably have been talked out of the whole idea if we’d been offered a good job driving a laundry truck.” With his knack for capturing humor in everyday situations, Utz became one of the most successful cover artists of the 1950s.


Christmas Train Set
December 15, 1956, George Hughes

While drawing plans for a new home near Arlington, Vermont, Hughes decided to designate a room for his model trains. Months later, when breaking ground for his new home, his responsible side won out: He abandoned plans for the train room. But did he abandon his wish? One can almost feel the artist’s yearning for the magic of toy trains in this captivating holiday window display.

Making Holiday Heirlooms from Clothespins and Crepe Paper

Most of the ornaments on our Christmas tree are store-bought, but a few homemade ones have survived a dozen moves, sticky toddler fingers, and several Labrador Retrievers. I still have the Lifesaver doll made with yarn arms and a Styrofoam head. The Lifesavers are more than 40 years old and probably don’t qualify as food anymore. There’s also the wise man made of Popsicle sticks that was hastily painted at the end of a Sunday school lesson. These handmade ornaments from my childhood are not exactly “museum quality,” but they mean a lot to me.

German or “Froebel” stars.

My great-grandmother made stunningly beautiful ornaments — shoeboxes full of 16-sided German stars made from strips of paper, dipped in wax, and sprinkled with glitter. When I was a kid, we would cover our tree with them, and they would spin and glimmer in the tree lights.

My great-grandmother considered their design and execution a family secret. I wonder what she would think about the fact that anyone can learn to make these stars from the internet now.

Regrettably, her stars are all gone, lost to damp basements and cleaning frenzies. I’m sure I could fill a shoebox with new ones, but they wouldn’t be the ones my grandmother made.

Take care of those old ornaments. You never know who might cherish them decades later.

Below is an article we found in the December 1, 1933, issue of Country Gentleman. When Mary Frances Shinn wrote it, I’m sure she never imagined that Christmas decorations made from spools and clothespins might one day become family heirlooms.

Do you have a special Christmas ornament or other holiday decoration with a family story behind it? We’d love to hear about it. Please share your story in the Comments section at the end of this article.

Sparkling Tree Ornaments

ornament-smallCHRISTMAS comes but once a year, and why not — even if you never have before — celebrate it this year with a tree gayly trimmed with many bright-colored ornaments and tree-cleanballs, tinsel and colored lights! From the simplicity of the earliest decorated trees ornaments have gradually become more lavish, reflecting the decoration of the period; and since modern decoration and clothes are dependent upon the gay nineties for much inspiration, it is natural that tree ornaments should be, also. Being easy to make, there is a decided satisfaction in creating tricky ornaments. Foundations are ridiculously within reach of most housekeepers, such as discarded spools, pill boxes, small evaporated milk cans, clothespins, Cellophane—white and colored, saved from package wrapping—gold and silver tin foil, green and white wire, ribbons, cords, old gift and Christmas cards, heavy gay-colored papers, white crêpe paper, and cotton wool. A Christmas tree topped with a big star follows traditional ideas, and here is one that may be made in a twinkling. Some pieces of COUNTRY purple and gold cardboard form the star, outlined with clipped Cellophane taken from choice pieces of fruit. Another ornament that will add color to the tree is a drum, made by covering a small milk can with gay colored paper. Two holes close together at the top and side of the can are punched with a can opener, through which a string hanger is run. Or dress some clothespins to resemble a peasant girl or a butterfly. A spool makes a foundation for a small Christmas tree base. Cover it and wire some graduated strips of narrow paper together at right angles to form a tree. It’s easy, too, to make a pill box dressy with a rose-colored paper cover. Cut tinfoil star decorations for the front and back, cut white Cellophane to form a long narrow tail, which is pulled through slits in the top and bottom of the box. Fake bonbons that are “everlasting” are made of scrap paper rolled over clipped white Cellophane, tied with a bit of ribbon. An up-to-date-cut-out from a gift card may be pasted over it. And of course, cornucopias are always welcome as containers for homemade goodies of all kinds.

News of the Week: The Rockefeller Tree, Robert Vaughn, and Recipes for Thanksgiving 

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

We just went through an intense election, and one of the things that finally made me realize that I want to concentrate on the holiday season instead of who won and who lost and why those things happened was this week’s arrival of the Christmas tree to Rockefeller Plaza. This year’s tree is a Norway spruce that stands at 94 feet, weighs 14 tons, and leaves a lot of needles on the ground:


The tree will be lit during NBC’s annual Christmas special, which will air on November 30 at 8 p.m. Eastern.

RIP Robert Vaughn, Gwen Ifill, Leon Russell, and Lupita Tovar

Robert Vaughn is probably best known for his starring role as Napoleon Solo on the ’60s spy hit The Man From U.N.C.L.E. He also had roles in such classic movies as The Magnificent Seven, The Verdict, Bullitt, and The Towering Inferno, as well as TV shows like The Lieutenant, Bonanza, The A-Team, Columbo, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Father Knows Best, Dragnet,and Law & Order: SVU. He had a critically acclaimed role in the 1977 miniseries Washington: Behind Closed Doors and starred in the AMC caper drama Hustle from 2004 to 2012.

Vaughn passed away at the age of 83 from acute leukemia. Here’s a great profile of Vaughn from a 1965 issue of The Saturday Evening Post.

Gwen Ifill, the well-respected anchor of PBS NewsHour, passed away earlier this week at the age of 61. She had been undergoing cancer treatments recently. Besides working for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and NBC, Ifill moderated several vice-presidential debates in 2004 and 2008, and also moderated a primary debate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders for the 2016 election.

Face the Nation host John Dickerson wrote a nice tribute to his friend for Slate.

Leon Russell had a long career as a musician, with such songs as “A Song for You” and “Tight Rope.” But he had an even more successful career as a songwriter for others. George Benson recorded “This Masquerade,” The Carpenters did “Superstar,” and Joe Cocker did “Delta Lady.” Russell also wrote songs for and performed with such people as Frank Sinatra, George Harrison, Phil Spector, Aretha Franklin, and The Monkees, and you can hear his piano work on such songs as The Byrds’ “Mr. Tambourine Man,” Herb Alpert’s “A Taste of Honey,” and many songs on the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album.

Russell passed away in his sleep last Saturday at the age of 74. No cause was given, but he’d had a heart attack in July and had other serious health problems before that.

What if I told you that until last Saturday there was someone from the 1931 Spanish version of Dracula still alive? What, you didn’t know there was a 1931 Spanish version of Dracula? There was! It was filmed at the same time (and on the same set) as the classic Bela Lugosi Dracula we all know. Lupita Tovar was one of the stars of the film, and she has passed away last week at the age of 106. She was the grandmother of screenwriters Chris and Paul Weitz, known for such films as About a Boy and the American Pie series.

And the 10 Worst Toys of 2016 Are …

Every year, the W.A.T.C.H. child safety group releases its list of the 10 worst toys of the year, just in time for Christmas. The organization’s statement says that “Due to poor design, manufacturing, and marketing practices, there are toys available for purchase today with the potential to lead to serious injury and even death.” Yikes.

This year’s list includes toys called Banzai Bump N’ Bounce Body Bumpers, Slimeball Slinger, Kids Time Baby Children’s Elephant Pillow, The Good Dinosaur’s Galloping Butch, Dippy Dog’s Disco Ball Playset, and Peppa Pig’s Muddy Puddles Family. And believe it or not I made up only one of those.

I think the names of the toys might be as dangerous as the toys themselves.

The Supermoon

A supermoon isn’t an incredibly rare thing. In fact, we had one last year. But the supermoon that appeared this week is the closest we’ve had since 1948, and the photos from it are pretty spectacular.


Will This B-29 from World War II Fly Again?

To accompany this great history of the B-17 Flying Fortress from Saturday Evening Post Archive Director Jeff Nilsson and W.L. White, we have a story from this week’s CBS Sunday Morning about the efforts to repair and fly the last known intact B-29. Did they do it? Take a look:

This Week in History

Five Sullivan Brothers Die in USS Juneau Sinking (November 13, 1942)

In one of the more horrifying tragedies of World War II, five siblings from the same Iowa family — George, Al, Frank, Joe, and Matt Sullivan — died when the USS Juneau was sunk. Their deaths helped lead to the Sole Survivor Policy, which protects families who have already lost a family member in combat.

Robert Fulton Born (November 14, 1765)

Along with other clever Americans, such as Thomas Edison and the Wright brothers, Fulton ushered in a new age when he piloted the first commercially successful steamboat in 1807.

President Abraham Lincoln Delivers Gettysburg Address (November 19, 1863)

Lincoln’s famous speech is only 270 words long but it’s still genius.

Hey, Thanksgiving Is Next Week!

Turkey Day may have sneaked up on you this year. It seems like only yesterday it was Halloween and we were giving out peanut butter cups (not Starburst), and now — boom! — we’re cooking yams. If you’re not prepared for it, we can help.

Check out our “Shake Up Your Thanksgiving Dinner” feature for some rather different Thanksgiving dinner ideas, including Harry Truman’s Baked Ham, Curry Deviled Eggs, Carrot Top Pesto (which has nothing to do with the prop comic), and the classic Norman Rockwell’s Oatmeal Cookies.

And if you want to get a head start on the Christmas festivities, here are some gingerbread Christmas tree cookies you can make. If you multiply the ingredient amounts by a million and make each cookie 94 feet tall and 14 tons, you can tell everyone they’re Rockefeller trees.

Next Week’s Holidays and Events

Thanksgiving (November 24)

What, the above wasn’t enough reminder? Here are several things you might not know about the day, from a 1948 Saturday Evening Post article. They served boiled eel at the first Thanksgiving. I wouldn’t try that this year.

Black Friday (November 25)

I’m a big anti–Black Friday person, and November 25 also happens to be Buy Nothing Day. But if you insist on shopping, a site has been set up to show you all the deals in one place

News of the Week: Christmas Trees, Cassette Tapes, and Cookies Shaped Like Both

These Are Christmas Trees

The official lighting of the White House Christmas tree was last night, but if you weren’t there you didn’t see it live. For the first time in 33 years there was no Christmas in Washington special on television. The producers couldn’t find a TV network to air it in time. The event had been on TBS for the past 15 years but 2014 was the last year. Here’s the video:

And here’s this week’s Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting. It’s the 83rd lighting of the tree (don’t worry, they get a new one every year).

This Isn’t a Christmas Tree

The Web meme You Had One Job highlights job “fails,” those situations where someone had one job to do and they couldn’t even do that right. For example, maybe someone had to paint the word SCHOOL on a street and ended up spelling it wrong.

I thought of this when seeing this story about the Reese’s Peanut Butter Christmas Trees that look nothing like Christmas trees. If you took the cups out of the package and showed them to someone and asked what the shape was, “Christmas tree” wouldn’t come up in the first 1,000 guesses.

Of course, people are upset and have taken to social media, armed with the hashtags #ReesesTree and #ReesesChristmasTrees. The Hershey Company has apologized and says that it “isn’t the perfect experience we want for our fans.” But come on. They look nothing like trees. They look more like eggs. Maybe that makes things easier for the company when they have to do peanut butter cups that look like Easter eggs come April but it’s not very merry. But if it tastes the same as their regular cups that’s the most important thing. Or as Today’s Willie Geist says, “stop tweeting and start eating.”

The Return of the Cassette Tape


One of the interesting aspects about technology is that old technology eventually comes around again, either as a niche thing or maybe even as a mainstream one. Some people still love pencils and manual typewriters and landline phones and vinyl albums (which even Barnes & Noble is selling, along with turntables) and will never give them up, and now it looks like some people are starting to love cassette tapes all over again.

In this Boston Globe piece, we see that it isn’t something that only unknown bands are putting out or people are creating in their garages. Major bands and major record labels are actually putting out their music on cassettes and vinyl albums again. I remember cassette tapes well. Besides buying them, I used to swap albums with friends and we’d record vinyl albums on the cassette tapes and make mixes, and the quality of the versions we made were often better than the manufactured cassettes. As the article says, beyond portability and nostalgia, I’m not sure what the appeal of cassettes is over other old tech like CDs or vinyl.

Meanwhile, millennials are looking at these things as if they’re quill pens and powdered wigs. I predict the next comebacks we’ll see will be handkerchiefs and movie rental stores.

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

I’m still not sure about this movie. I’m pretty sure Superman could beat Batman if they got into an actual fight. Batman is just a man, after all, even if he can fight and has some neat gadgets, Superman could just punch him, crush him, set him on fire with his laser eyes, or pick him up and fly him to an ice flow in the Arctic and leave him there until he promises to behave. Maybe the “v” in the title refers to them being on opposite sides of the law in this film. Or maybe Batman has a lot of kryptonite stashed in the Batcave, who knows. I’m assuming they become friendly at some point and join forces because Lex Luthor wants to destroy Gotham and/or Metropolis.

Here’s the new trailer, which debuted this week on Jimmy Kimmel Live:

I like how Superman says to Batman at one point “If I wanted it, you’d be dead already!” so even he knows he could take him.

Now I just want to know why Wonder Woman has to be in this. Isn’t the first meeting between Batman and Superman enough for one movie?

Are You Doing Laundry the Wrong Way?

I’m tempted to just say probably not! and end things there, but hey, maybe you are doing your laundry wrong.

In this video I found on Lifehacker, the Sklar Brothers — whom you might know from their 2004-2006 ESPN show Cheap Seats — explain all of the things that we’re doing with our laundry that we shouldn’t be doing.

Honestly, I think a lot of those are pretty obvious and they’re things we already do or don’t do. Don’t use too much detergent? Don’t overstuff the washer? Wear clothes multiple times? I think we all know these things. I would also add “don’t try to clean your clothes with Listerine” and “don’t throw fish sticks into the dryer to stop static cling.”

I do have a problem with my white socks though. The bottoms are getting blue for some reason. It’s not happening to any of my other clothes when I wash them and it’s only on the bottom of the socks not the top or sides or the inside. Weird.

Game Show Googling


I have a new hobby.

In my obituary for game show host Jim Perry last week, I mentioned that I’ve become obsessed with the game show channel Buzzr. I’m so obsessed with it that I’ve started to watch classic game shows from the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s like What’s My Line?, To Tell the Truth, and I’ve Got a Secret and Googling the names of the contestants to see what happened to them/if they’re still alive, etc. I didn’t say it was a productive hobby, but it is an interesting one.

For example, a 1956 episode of To Tell the Truth had contestant Korczak Ziolkowski, a sculptor who worked on Mount Rushmore and was also at the time working on another project. He was sculpting a giant Crazy Horse memorial on private land in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

I decided to jump online and Google his name, and here’s the interesting thing. The project started in 1948 and is still going on! Besides being a massive undertaking in general, Ziolkowski didn’t want to take any government grants, instead relying on charging admission to the site to fund it. He passed away in 1982 and is actually buried in a tomb at the base of the sculpture. His wife Ruth took over the project, and she passed away in 2014. Their children are now in charge. Here’s the official site for the project, and there’s even a live webcam so you can follow the progress.

How big is it going to be when it’s finished? The four heads of the presidents on Mount Rushmore would all fit into the head of Crazy Horse.

(By the way, if you’ve never seen the above game shows or haven’t seen them in a while, take another look. They’re not just game shows but a fascinating look at the advertising, celebrities, and culture of the time. And Buzzr leaves the old commercials and intros/outros intact in each episode, which is a fantastic thing I hope they never change.)

Update: Mary Tyler Moore Statue Has a New Home

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Back in October, I told you about the Mary Tyler Moore statue that was put in storage because Minneapolis couldn’t find a place to put it. But now they have. Starting next week the statue can be seen at the new visitor center at Fifth Street and the Nicollet Mall. She’s gonna make it after all.



Ordinary pie just can’t cut it anymore, and ordinary cake is just too boring. Cronuts? They’re sooooooo 2010.

Now we have … piecaken! And yes the name says it all: it’s a pie baked inside of a cake! Personally, I think that just calling it PieCake would be enough, but it’s a play on Turducken and you have to keep things consistent.

Pastry chef Zac Young has created one that’s 1/3 pumpkin pie, 1/3 pecan pie, and 1/3 apple turnover cake. It looks great, but I wonder what happens if you don’t like one of the layers? What if you love apple turnovers but hate pumpkin pie? I guess you have to turn the cake on its side and just carefully eat what you like.

Note: If you’re on Weight Watchers or some other diet plan, please be advised that this dessert will probably use up all of your points until April 2016.

National Cookie Day

It’s today, and to celebrate how about cookies shaped like something I mentioned above? And no I’m not talking about cookies shaped like laundry. I’m talking about Christmas trees.

Pillsbury has Swirly Christmas Tree Cookies and Betty Crocker has another type of Christmas Tree Cookie. If you’re a recipe rebel, the Recipe Rebel has No Bake Christmas Tree Cookies that stand up.

And we have a bunch of great cookie recipes, including Cream Cheese Cookies, Zesty Orange Cookies, and Holiday Breakfast Oatmeal Cookies.

I also mentioned cassette tapes above, and I bet you think I couldn’t find a way for you to make cookies shaped like cassette tapes. Oh, you’d be so wrong.

Upcoming Events and Anniversaries

The Halifax Explosion (December 6, 1917)

The explosion, caused by a French cargo ship colliding with a Norwegian ship, killed nearly 2,000 people and injured thousands more.

President Roosevelt’s “A day that will live in infamy” speech (December 8, 1941)

The speech came the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor and officially ushered the U.S. into World War II. (You can also read about Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms series, inspired by another speech Roosevelt gave earlier that year.

James Thurber born (December 8, 1894)

Read the short story “You Could Look It Up” that Thurber wrote for The Saturday Evening Post in 1941.

First Nobel Prizes (December 10, 1901)

The first Nobel Prize ceremony lasted only 15 minutes.

Emily Dickinson born (December 10, 1830)

After the poet’s death, her family found close to 1,800 poems that she had written in forty handbound volumes.

The 12 Blessings of Christmas

Church Christmas Tree, December 27 1952, Stevan Dohanos
12 Blessings of Christmas
Church Christmas Tree
Stevan Dohanos
December 27, 1952

Grateful for the studded snow tires that anchor my car to the frozen earth, I follow the old dirt road as it crosses an icy creek, then winds through the snowy woods that extend for miles through the Vermont mountains.

It’s an incredibly beautiful day. Spotting the simple, 200-year-old Quaker meetinghouse in a sunny clearing ahead, I carefully slow to pull off the road, then stop by the freshly plowed path to its door.

To the north, there’s the sound of wood being chopped. To the east, a dog barks. But here there is only silence. As it has for nearly two centuries, this simple country church sits in a profound stillness rich with a sense of Presence. Leaning back in the sun, I relax for the first time in weeks.

This is my favorite time of year. My car is loaded with freshly cut pine boughs, candles, baskets of pine cones, dried seed pods, and lemon balm, plus garlands of balsam that I’ll use to drape over the door and decorate the deep windowsills of the old meetinghouse. But as I sit here in the warm sun, the rich fragrances of woods and meadow hold me in my seat—and remind me of the joyful blessings that will be woven into my life over the next several weeks.

1. The Blessing of Community

Tree in Town Square, December 4, 1948, Stevan Dohanos
The Blessing of Community
Tree in Town Square
Stevan Dohanos
December 4, 1948

During the holiday season, the entire world seems in harmony: Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, Buddhists remember the enlightenment of Siddhartha, Jews recall the miraculous temple lamp that burned for eight days, Muslims welcome the new year based on the lunar calendar, and even nontheists join the expression of goodwill with colored lights and electric Santas that wave to passersby.

Down the mountain in the village of Bristol, the Christmas season begins on the first Saturday of December when villagers sweep the snow from their steps, light the village Christmas tree, and members of three churches around the village green hold their annual Christmas Bazaars.

“It looks like an old-fashioned Christmas card,” chuckles my friend Laurie Kroll. “Wreaths and greens are everywhere. St. Ambrose has a silver tea on one side of the green, First Baptist has soups and sandwiches for lunch on the other side, and the Federated Church around the corner has Santa.”

The members of each church have been knitting and baking for weeks to produce an abundance of foods and crafts, and each church becomes a small marketplace with tables of homemade jams and pickles, knitted hats, fruit-studded braided breads, and every kind of holiday ornament imaginable. It’s a fundraiser, sure—”One year we made enough to buy a new vacuum,” Laurie remembers—but more than that, it’s a time of coming together and remembering what we share.

2. The Blessing of Giving

Thinking about my friends in Bristol, I realize that there are probably few of us who won’t admit that gift-giving has strayed far from its humble beginnings of homemade crafts and food—particularly when we have to cart piles of wrapping paper and plastic packaging to the recycling center after Christmas or pay our credit card bills in January.

A few years ago, this really got to ecology author and activist Bill McKibben, who lives a few hills over from me near Ripton. “A bunch of us in what was then the Troy conference of the Methodist Church, were thinking that there was a lot of waste at Christmastime—all those batteries!” Bill recently messaged me. “But when we started talking with folks about new ways of celebrating Xmas, we quickly found out that there was something deeper here. People really dreaded the approach of Christmas, because it had all become too much—and they were incredibly receptive to the idea of doing it differently, with an emphasis on gifts of service.”

Bill and his friends persuaded a number of families to commit themselves to doing things for those with whom they normally exchanged gifts—walking an elderly aunt’s dog when the temperature drops into the single digits, for example. Bill subsequently wrote a book called Hundred Dollar Holiday, in which he proposed spending no more than $100 per family at Christmas. The result? Less running back and forth to the mall, less time spent desperately looking for hot toys and sales, less time tuned out with electronics—and more time spent sitting by the fire with family, sharing a potluck with friends, or taking a long walk outside, alone in the freshly fallen snow.

Dreaming of a GREEN Christmas

December holidays bring extra packaging, millions of chopped down trees, and megawatts of flashing lights, adding 25 million tons of garbage to our landfills. Consumers can decrease these excretions by taking small measures to lower their carbon footprints. According to National Geographic News Online, if every family reused just two feet of holiday ribbon, the 38,000 miles of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet! The following tips suggest more ways of accomplishing a green holiday.

Recycle Wrapping Paper

Wrapping paper adds excitement to gift giving, but it also adds to tons of accumulated trash during the holidays. Consumers wrap an average of 20 gifts during the holidays. If just three of those gifts were wrapped in reused paper, the paper saved could cover 45,000 football fields!

Look for leftover paper from gifts you received last year, use old newspaper clippings or magazine adds to cover shoe boxes, or cut up brown paper bags as wrapping paper. If you can’t stand the do-it-yourself projects, opt for 100% recycled wrapping paper. You can find it online at or, and even in some organic foods markets.

Reuse Old Cards

We all love to hang those Christmas cards around the door frame or make collages on our refrigerators, but cards are known to stack up! Most of us throw them away after the holidays or stash them in a dark closet to take up space. The amount of cards sold in the U.S. each holiday season could fill a football field 10 stories high and consume up to 300,000 trees. Using the fronts of old Christmas cards as gift tags, new card stock (just glue on new pictures), or as a homemade postcard could save on paper where envelopes are no longer needed. If you can, opt for a paperless Christmas by calling family and friends on the special day or by looking for eco-friendly e-cards online.

Reduce Lights

Christmas tradition says the house with the most lights is the best. Well, not anymore! An average of 300 Christmas tree fires occur in the U.S. every year, leaving 14 fatalities. Timers can emit fires by controlling the amount of time lights stay on while you are not at home. Electricity also drains natural resources and reducing the size of displays can still offer an attractive light show and cut down on consumption!

Can’t live without your life-sized nativity scene in the front yard? Using LED lights can offer an alternative to downsizing, and they stay cool to the touch. If all conventional holiday lights were replaced with LED lighting, at least two billion kilowatt-hours of electricity could be saved in a month. That could power 200,000 homes for a year! LED lights can use up to 95 percent less energy and last much longer than traditional bulbs. Over a 30-day period, using 500 traditional lights could cost you $18 or more, where the same number of LED lights would only cost around 19 cents! Another huge incentive to switch, they are virtually indestructible, and when one bulb burns out, the others keep on shining.

Cut Down on Trees, Literally!

The U.S. Census Bureau observes that each year, roughly $410 million is spent in the U.S. for the purchase of real Christmas trees. Yet, fake trees are made out of nonrecyclable plastic. Fake trees may be used longer, but they are mostly manufactured overseas and emit toxins into the atmosphere when heated, and once they are shipped to landfills, they stay forever.

This season, opt for a real Christmas tree. These trees are grown on farms and are replaced by seedlings every year. As they grow, they help reduce carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and help support the farmers who produce them. Try to buy locally to reduce manufacturing and shipping emissions. You will love the smell, and you can even recycle the real tree once the holidays are over! Enter your zip code at to find nearby recycling posts for Christmas trees. The mulch could be used in gardens, playgrounds, and along riverbeds.

More: Picking the Perfect Christmas Tree

Paper or Plastic? How About Neither!

The Internet can be a great way to forego unneeded packaging, gas emissions, and overspending! Utilizing your options can help you save money on offers as you take the time to compare prices instead of indulging your impulses. Four in 10 consumers research purchases by Internet, but fewer than two percent buy online.

Buying online helps reduce several trips to several stores, overuse of paper or plastic bags, rewrapping, and spending more time and energy to mail gifts. As the song says, brown paper packages tied up with string are some of our favorite things! Shipping directly from the store to your recipient’s house will lack the pretty paper, but memories during the holidays are usually focused on time spent with family and friends. They won’t even notice the packaging; besides, it’s the thought that counts, right?

Experience the Gift of Giving

Instead of opting for physical objects, think of different activities that your recipient can enjoy without the use of packaging and bows! There are several choices: gift certificates, massages, tickets, etc. Check out for ideas. Just by using your imagination, your recipient will feel like you went out of your way to get to know them, and will appreciate the gift all the more!

Make It a Habit

It may seem difficult at first, making your holidays green, but be persistent. Once you take the challenge and are successful, you will reap those good feeling rewards. It will be much easier to continue through the holidays to follow—like second nature. And speaking of nature, she’ll be happy, too! Get out there and have yourself a green Christmas, and just like that old Mr. Grinch, you may be finding your heart growing a few sizes!

Picking the Perfect Christmas Tree

Picking out the Christmas tree is a sweet and, at times, comical tradition for most families. In the Nov/Dec issue of The Saturday Evening Post (“Of Trees and Men”), humor writer Lori Borgman jokes, “Nothing says peace on earth and goodwill toward men like a man going up against a live Douglas fir with some strong language and a 16-inch STIHL chain saw.” While the scene sounds familiar to some, the Christmas tree farm doesn’t have to be a battleground for man vs. tree. Just follow these tips for selecting a fir that fits.

The ideal variety of tree that’s best for you depends on where you live. For example, Floridians scout for Red Cedars, Virginia Pines, Sand Pines, Spruce Pines, and Leyland Cypresses, while those on the West Coast look for Monterey Pines and Fraser Firs.

Size and shape, of course, depend on personal preference, but offers a simple formula:

Room height – Size of tree topper – Height of tree stand – Base table under stand + Feet removed from bottom of tree = Height to buy at farm. Easy enough, right?

For example: If your living room is 8 feet high, your tree-topping star is 1 foot high, your tree stand is 1/2 foot high, you don’t use a base table, and you remove 1/2 foot of the bottom of the tree, then simple calculations allow you to buy a tree that’s 7 feet tall. (8 – 1 – .5 – 0 + .5 = 7)

Inspect your tree carefully:

To test the needles for resiliency, hold a branch 6 inches from the tip, then run your thumb and forefinger along the branch to make sure needles do not fall off in your hand. If only a few come off, the tree is considered fresh.

Evidence of a fresh tree can also be determined by its aroma and color. Well-hydrated trees retain their moisture content (and needles) and therefore remain more fragrant.

When buying from a choose-‘n’-cut farm, request that the farmer mechanically shakes the tree to eliminate dead needles. Also, make sure the limbs are strong enough to hold your ornaments and lights.

Handle with care:

If your trip from the farm to home takes you more than 15 minutes, it’s best to wrap the tree in a tarp to prevent wind damage on the highway. Don’t have a truck or camper to carry the tree? Not a problem: Tie it securely to the outside of your vehicle. To prevent needles from flying all over the highway, make sure the tree trunk is facing forward.

Before placing the tree in its stand, make a fresh, perpendicular cut about 1 inch from the bottom of the trunk. If you don’t feel comfortable sawing the tree yourself, ask your retailer to do it before bringing it home. Make sure your stand is big enough to support your tree, and don’t cut to fit. Cutting away the outer layer of the trunk affects its ability to absorb water. Always make sure your tree has plenty to drink. A well-hydrated tree will stay healthier longer, and your home will be filled with that fresh pine scent synonymous with the holiday season.

Tree not really your thing? Perhaps a simple wreath will do. We came across some truly crafty designs at

Happy holidays!

Notes from the Field: Gifts for the Gardener

Gifts for the Gardener

Forget the long lines and parking wars at the mall … instead, cultivate your own handmade presents for the gardener in your life. You’ll not only save a bushel, but these gifts from the heart show that you really care. Here are four ideas to get your creativity “growing”!

1. Stepping stone kit.
Gather — in a bucket embellished with a festive ribbon — a premade mold, small bag of cement mix, and decorative elements like seashells, river rock, and colorful marbles or tile.

2. Pampering package.
Pick up a pair of quality gardening gloves, a bottle of luxurious lotion with an SPF of 30 or more, lip balm, and insect repellent made with natural botanicals. Then, neatly place the items into a wide-brimmed hat filled with raffia.

3. Beauty on the inside.
Nothing perks up the winter-weary soul like a blooming plant. Bringing bulbs indoors is an easy way to welcome spring early. In a decorative container, collect spring-blooming bulbs (paperwhites or daffodils are good choices) and a small bag of sterile potting mix. Attach a note with planting directions (e.g., bulbs must be refrigerated for 12 to 20 weeks before planting).

4. Holiday herb garden.
Repurpose pretty aluminum food cans —  check out imported goods like coffee or tomato sauce — into trendy containers for kitchen herbs. Make sure the container is large enough and add a couple of drainage holes into the bottom of the can to allow proper drainage. Plant them with pot-friendly herbs, such as sage, rosemary, thyme, basil, and chives.

Embellish cans with ribbon and attach a recipe that features that particular herb.

And a Cardinal in a Fir Tree

If you enjoy a real Christmas tree this year, don’t just cut it up or pitch it out after holidays — share it with your feathered friends! Winter can be a challenging time as backyard birds struggle to find food and shelter. Your old cut spruce or fir tree can offer both.

After you’ve removed all the holiday decorations, set the tree outside — right side up or on its side. It makes no difference to the birds. Place near a window so you and your family can enjoy the flurry of activity that’s about to ensue. Decorate your tree with dried sunflower heads, Indian corn, holly branches, wheat, and millet. Pinecones slathered with peanut butter and rolled in birdseed make pretty “ornaments,” while strings of dried cranberries, unsalted popcorn, or peanuts in the shell serve well as a garland the birds will go gaga over. Once spring arrives, run whatever is left of your tree through a wood chipper. Add the chips to the compost pile or use as mulch in the garden.

Safe Travels

When winter blows in, so do treacherous driving conditions — black ice, snow, low-visibility, and unexpected wind gusts. Ensure your odds of getting out of a jam safely by taking a few minutes to assemble a roadside emergency kit. AAA suggests you pack the following:

• Blankets
• Gloves
• Boots
• Hat
• Granola bars or MREs (Meals-Ready-to-Eat)
• Water
• Essential medications
• Ice scraper and brush
• Flashlight
• Shovel
• Jumper cables
• Flares or reflective triangle
• Traction material
• First-aid kit
• Knife
• Screwdrivers (flathead and Phillips)
• Duct tape
• List of emergency contacts, medical conditions, and allergies

Classic Covers: By the Light …

… of the silvery moon? of a sparkling Christmas tree? of a glowing Jack-o’-lantern? The “star” in some paintings is not just the subject of the piece, but the lighting—a face lit by lamplight, a city bathed in sunshine, or the reflections of a snowfall. Post cover artists show intriguing use of light in all seasons—outdoors and some interesting, or even creepy, indoor lighting.

San Francisco is the city with the sunbathed background in the September 29, 1945, cover by artist Mead Schaeffer. Frisco was a jumping-off place during the war, and the sailors in the cover are all jumping onto a streetcar heading toward the Golden Gate Bridge. The angle of the sunlight and shadow is intriguing;

<em>Watching Chaplin</em><br />Norman Rockwell<br />October 14, 1916
Watching ChaplinNorman RockwellOctober 14, 1916

A good buddy of artist Schaeffer, a guy named Rockwell, knew a thing or two about lighting, and one of our favorite examples is from 1916. The whole family is watching a movie—notice the Chaplin programs. Rockwell, as we’ve said before, is all about faces, and their expressions are magical, enhanced by theater lighting.

One of the loveliest examples of lighting we found was the luminous glow of a Jack-o’-lantern in artist Pearl L. Hill’s November 1, 1924, cover. It’s hard to steal the scene from a pretty girl in a party dress, but the mean ol’ carved pumpkin is almost doing just that.

<em>Church Christmas Tree</em><br />Stevan Dohanos<br />December 27, 1952
Church Christmas TreeStevan DohanosDecember 27, 1952

The light casts eerie shadows in J.C. Leyendecker’s December 1, 1934, cover. We doubt the cook in this cover planned it this way, but she couldn’t have picked scarier lighting for her spooky story. She seems like a good storyteller, but let’s hope the little boy (and cat) doesn’t have nightmares.

We love the way cover artist Stevan Dohanos plays with light in his holiday cover from 1952. We have a voyeuristic view into a church where the Christmas tree is being decorated, and just enough light is spilling from the door to show us the hardworking man and boy bringing in armloads of pine boughs. Love the too-tall Christmas tree, but we have to say lighting is the star of this one.