Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Post-Christmas Hangover

Is there any tougher week of the year to work than the week between Christmas and the New Year? We don't think so. It is not only hard to motivate to do work-related things after the heavy focus on hearth and family, it is hard to find people to do them -- except for a silly few, the author included, offices are empty. Perhaps this emptiness is good -- the trouble with finding people to do things, aside -- because Christmas, as much fun as it can be (and it was a very fun Christmas on the Quarter Acre) is exhausting. The preparation, the parties and the cleanup leave us feeling toasted. It's hard to shake off the hangover that lingers after Christmas and focus on the work-a-day details that make the boisterous and present-strewn-celebrations possible.

So, we return to the grind with eyes-all-a-bagged, mind cloudy (at best) and nothing to look forward to except taking down the decorations, January, February, March and at least half of April.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Birth of The Savior

While they were there, the time came for her to have her child,
and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear. The angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger." And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests." When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.

Luke 2:6-20

Sunday, December 24, 2006

To Bethlehem

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town. And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.

Luke 2:1-5

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Dream

Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means "God is with us." When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.

Matthew 1:18-24

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Annunciation

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!" But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His kingdom there will be no end." And Mary said to the angel, "How shall this be, since I have no husband?" And the angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the Child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible." And Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her.

Luke 1:26-38

Dark Lights (2) & Decorations

Our Brother has a theory about the intensity of the Dark Lights: being LEDs they have no white in them. Traditional lights have a filament that burns white and shines through either clear or colored glass. LEDs have no white to soften their glow and lend warmth to the night. We like this theory, but still think that the Dark Lights miss the point.

The NY Times has an amusing article about the blow-up Santas, polar bears and other "seasonal" characters who populate suburban lawns in ever-greater numbers. We are not sold on these decorations and think that they, like the Dark Lights, miss the point. While we prefer more traditional Christmas decorations, we do see some humor in these blow-up behemoths (there is one giant snow man snow globe, with swirling "snow" and a lit-and-star-bedecked-Christmas tree within the globe, that must be 12 feet tall not far from the Quarter Acre) and know that Child One takes tremendous delight in riding around to look at character strewn lawns this time of year.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Dark Lights

With the Christmas Season in full swing, and houses bedecked in their holiday finest, we've noticed many shrubs lit by super-bright LEDs. The intensity of these lights is startling. They burn like little suns but cast off little ambient light and accentuate the darkness rather than alleviate it.

This seems to miss the point of the Christmas light. Traditional Christmas lights cast a warm glow and brighten dark winter nights. They serve as beacons in the gloom to guide visitors to welcoming homes -- a fitting symbol of the season's true meaning.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Decorating Disaster

Last night, we decorated the Quarter Acre Christmas Tree. Child One unwrapped ornaments, commenting on the beauty of each, and hung them with glee, absolutely enjoying the moment. This is the the first year that she has been able to actively assist in the hanging of ornaments and it was one of the most enjoyable tree decorating events of our young family's history.

We decorated the tree twice last night. We also re-strung all of the lights.

While taking stock of the gift inventory in the basement, we heard the bouncing and popping of hard objects above our head. We ran upstairs to discover that the Quarter Acre Christmas Tree had toppled over, shattering many ornaments, spilling tree solution all over the rug, and generally creating holiday mayhem in the living room.

We are unsure of what made the tree topple, though we have a theory. We had placed some newspaper beneath the tree-stand to absorb any liquid that might spill during watering. Though the stand seemed stable it was obviously out of balance for when laden with lights and ornaments . . . It was ugly. Broken glass, pine needles and ornaments littered a soaked rug.

We picked up the broken glass, and tried as best we could to dry the rug. The physics of this event are intriguing to a non-scientist. Many of the balls on the sides of the tree landed on the floor but their hangers remained in place. The light strands dislodged from their original locations and clumped together in disheveled bands. Evidently, this fall generated a lot of force -- too much, at least, for tree lights and decorations. We lost some beautiful ornaments, one of which was a an antique purchased in Rhinebeck, NY several years ago. There is something extra-disappointing about breaking an ornament.

So, we restrung the lights -- they look better and are applied more rationally than before -- rehung the surviving ornaments, and went to bed when done at 1:30 AM. For the first time this year it finally felt like the holidays.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Christmas Tree Lighting

Everyone we know within our generation has a story of helping their father string lights around the tree and being told to "pass me the lights! Pay attention! Don't bump into the tree! Give me some slack!"

Now that we are a homeowner, responsible for purchasing and lighting our own tree, we laugh when thinking about our role as a lighting assistant, and understand completely why it was such a trying experience for our father. Because Child One and Child Two are too small to help, lighting the tree is a solitary endeavor with many spacing consultations and other internal reviews with Mrs. Agricola, and Child One.

From having rolled lights onto reels in the wrong direction at the end of last year (more on that in another post,) to seeking out the dead bulb that shorted half a string of lights, this year's Christmas tree lighting was an epic endeavor. What we had hoped would take only an hour ballooned into a three hour effort that pushed the decorating process into a multi-day affair. A tradition of sorts -- similar to being told to "pass me the lights!" -- has been born on the Quarter Acre. Someday, we're sure that we'll look back on it and laugh.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Encountering the Raptor

Despite living in NYC for the better part of a decade we never saw the famed nesting- pair of Red Tailed hawks that lived in Central Park; nor the Red Tails who were evicted and later reinstated at a tony address on 5th Avenue; nor the Peregrine Falcons who supposedly hunted at will throughout Midtown; nor the trained falcons used to control pigeons in Bryant Park. It took our move to Boston to start encountering urban raptors.

Just last week, while walking near my office a sudden movement high atop a bell tower caught my eye. The pigeons who roost up there suddenly took flight and started flying around the tower in large swooping arcs. Within moments a Peregrine Falcon coasted into view looking for lunch. The small bird peeled away and about three minutes later it reappeared, approaching the bell tower and potential lunch on a new vector.

At another job, in one of Boston's tallest buildings, we had the good fortune of sitting in a cube with a westward facing window -- looking out towards Fenway Park and Boston's western 'burbs. A Peregrine Falcon lived nearby for we saw it almost daily, hunting while riding the updrafts that scoured this structure. Our perch was high enough that at times we could see the falcon from above.

As much as we might have wanted to we did not see either of these falcons make a kill. We did witness a kill on the Quarter Acre in the spring of '05. One morning, while holding Child One by a window, watching birds on the feeder, all of the avian diners bolted in a panic. Within a moment a hawk dove past the feeder, talons out, and landed on the lawn. It came so close to the feeder that at first we thought it had picked off an unfortunate sparrow. However, as it flew away, after standing proudly in the middle of the lawn, most-definitely occupying the top of the food chain on the Quarter Acre, we saw that it had nailed a ground-feeding chipmunk.

This same hawk has flown by our porch -- at eye level, close enough to hear the air moving over its body -- and we frequently hear it while working in the yard, chirping and screeching from its nearby, but unseen nest. Last spring this raptor had a partner and we watched them soar high, high above us, nearly transparent in the sky, but highly audible as they screeched to one another while making lazy circles.

Spending as much time as we do commuting to our job we also notice many hawks perched above the highways and byways of the Commonwealth. Two hawks hunted from neighboring lampposts over I-95/128 in Woburn. One was struck by a car -- we saw its carcass by the side of the road in the late summer -- leaving only one hunter to scan the shoulders and median strips of that road. A giant hawk perches atop a lamp post along Soldiers' Field Road in Brighton, hunting along the obviously abundant banks of the Charles River.

The overt presence of these amazing predators is one more exhibit in a growing body of evidence that nature is adapting and growing ever more comfortable living in close proximity to humans. Many might argue that Man encroaches ever-more into nature, and forces this adaptation. Our neighborhood, however, was built in 1954, and is therefore, not a recent encroachment into some pristine wilderness area. Despite the seemingly settled nature of our man-made environment we are surrounded by the eternal struggle between hunter and hunted, entropy and stasis. It would not take much for our environment to revert to its original state as evidenced by the raptors that live comfortably in our midst.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Seasonal Opening

This past weekend,in addition to rekindling our love affair with the Martini we began the process of decorating the Quarter Acre for Christmas. Greenery was purchased for the outside of the house. Lights were placed in windows, and on Sunday a yard-tree was dressed in lights, a spotlight was placed in the lawn to shine on the front door and the Christmas season officially opened on the Quarter Acre.

Child One helped us with the window lighting which was very fun. The house is really coming to life, and assuming a magical air. This is one of our favorite times of year on the Quarter Acre. A week after putting the yard to rest until the spring, the focus shifts to the house, the home and the interior life of the Quarter Acre. We take comfort, and delight in this transition which is so fitting at this time of year.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Rekindling An Old Flame

This past weekend, in the midst of starting the Christmas Season by decorating the house with lights and greenery, we created and knocked back a couple of delicious Martinis. In the past this was the defacto, winter drink of choice on the Quarter Acre. However, due to unknown reasons the Martini has not been agreeing with us and has fallen out of favor. Perhaps our body is telling us that ingesting three shots of Gin, one shot of Dry Vermouth and olives is not a great idea because even one Martini would leave us feeling less than delightful the following day.

Despite all of this, we mixed up two Martinis this weekend -- one on Saturday, the other on Sunday. They definitely agreed with us this weekend; and, as the Christmas season truly gets under way, an old flame has been rekindled. The turning point in this relationship happened about two weeks ago. While out to dinner we ordered a Martini and received instead a glass of chilled gin containing some olives. This irked us. Recipes are written for a reason and are meant to be followed. If we wished to drink chilled gin and olives we would order that.

The abominable drink that we received motivated us to try out our tried and true recipe (Thanks to DrinkBoy for being our guide and our high priest of classic and classically prepared cocktails) and give our preferred winter beverage a new chance. The old flame is back and burning brightly. Just in time we say, as the world enters the darkest time of year.