A very peaceful, quiet day today at home with family. Good food and wine, music, fun and games. A lovely Christmas! Merry Christmas to all!
Here is the immortal music of Bach, especially apt as it is from his “Christmas Oratorium”. A wonderful aria sung by Bernarda Fink, Argentinian mezzo soprano. It is “Schlafe, meine Liebster”, a lovely lullaby, perfect for tonight!
“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” - Charles Dickens
The first day of the holidays began today with a very full day around the house and the shops, for all the last minute shopping, chores and preparations for Christmas. The crowds were milling in the shopping centres once again and the traffic was quite horrendous. Nevertheless, it was quite good to feel the Christmas buzz in the air, hear the carols, admire the decorations in the streets and shops and finally feel that Christmas is here! This evening, having a quiet Christmas Eve at home with family, with a simple festive meal.
The day before Christmas can also be used for some last minute preparations for the Christmas feast tomorrow. I must admit that we generally have a very modest meal at Christmas, with some seafood to begin with, then typically a roast with some vegetables, and a dessert which is light and cool (the temperature maximum expected tomorrow is 27˚C). This is a very easy recipe for a Yule Log, which is made the previous day.
QUICK AND EASY YULE LOG Ingredients
1/2 cup icing sugar (with some additional for garnishing)
1/4 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoons instant coffee powder
2 cups chilled heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 250g package plain chocolate biscuits (e.g. Arnotts Choc Ripple)
Vanilla “mushroom” meringues (shop-bought) - optional for decoration
Chocolate shavings – optional for decoration
Glacé fruits – optional for decoration
Ground pistachio nuts – optional for decoration
Sift the icing sugar, cocoa powder, and coffee powder into a small bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat cream and vanilla in large bowl until soft peaks form. Add cocoa mixture, mix in well and beat until stiff peaks form.
Spread one side of one chocolate biscuit with a rounded teaspoonful cream mixture; top with another biscuit. Continue layering biscuits and cream for stack of five. Place stack on its side on long platter. Repeat making stacks with remaining biscuits and some of the cream; form log on platter by attaching stacks with the cream. Using a spatula, spread remaining mocha cream over outside of log to coat. Cover; chill at least 2 hours (better to prepare the previous day and keep chilled).
Place platter with yule log on work surface. Using fork, gently pull tines of fork along length of frosting on log to create design resembling tree bark. You may also pipe the cream around the log and use glacé fruit to make flowers. Sift powdered sugar over log to resemble snow, if desired. Arrange meringue “mushrooms” along sides of log if desired. Cut log on diagonal into thick slices. Serve immediately. Merry Christmas!
“I don’t believe in astrology; I’m a Sagittarius and we’re skeptical.” - Arthur C. Clarke
Well, today was my last day at work and it was a busy one too. Of course I didn’t finish half the things I intended to finish, so there is some homework I took with me… I was very grateful to receive quite a few emails and personal greetings from staff that thanked me for the year and for my support. It is good to do something and have that recognised. I think one of the gravest and commonest sins that we as humans can guilty of is that of ingratitude. It is so easy to thank people and quite often it means so much to them. I always do it (but it supports my argument that gratitude is all too common), but I often get a stunned look as I say “thank you”, or “I appreciate what you said, …or did, …or your support”.
I was thinking today, as the sun enters the zodiac sign of Capricorn, that Jesus Christ is a Capricorn! I looked up the traits of capricornians and lo and behold, there is something in thie astrology business! LOLLL
CAPRICORN THE GOAT: December 23rd - January 20th. Ruled by Saturn. A cardinal, feminine, negative, earth sign. Polar or opposite sign is Cancer. Fixed Star: Algiedi.
The Capricornian may be summarised with the verb: “I utilise”. A mountain top, a great father figure, the boss, the executive. A Capricornian quote: “I will be lord over myself.”
The Capricornian character is marked by being practical and self-reliant. Patience and persistence, especially in achieving success through constant hard work are the person’s trademarks, as well as having faith in oneself and ability to handle all the difficulties of life. Although they are warm and friendly to close friends, they are somewhat aloof and closed to strangers. Being somewhat self-centred, Capricornians are eager to sacrifice themselves for others in order to receive sympathy and appreciation from those they respect or from those in authority. They show a great respect for wisdom and age and generally they will work well within the limits set by their supervisors. They value security and success much and they tend to work doggedly in order to progress upward in a steady and sure pace rather than a risky rapid rise.
In personal relationships the Capricornians rarely show their innermost feelings and this makes them difficult to approach. They may be loners and may not form lasting relationships easily. Once in a relationship, the Capricornian is usually very loving and caring, the persistent and understanding person who gets through their defences being rewarded with a fine and enduring partnership.
The Capricornians tend to be perfectionists and they are clever, determined, sensible, play fair and expect the same treatment. They can devote much time to study in order to advance themselves and they have a talent for facts and figures, finance and also appreciate the arts. They make good bankers, lawyers, statisticians, mathematicians, financiers and businessmen. They appreciate the finer things in life and attach much importance to social status and prestige. They can be very charming and can be good company.
Acanthus, Acanthus mollis is the birthday flower for today. It signifies in the language of flowers “love of art” and that nothing will separate the giver and the receiver. The astrologers say that acanthus is ruled by the moon. Acanthus leaves served as the inspiration of the Corinthian order of Greek column capitals.
acanthus |əˈkanθəs| noun
1 A herbaceous plant or shrub with bold flower spikes and spiny decorative leaves, native to Mediterranean regions.
• Genus Acanthus, family Acanthaceae: many species. [ORIGIN: via Latin from Greek akanthos, from akantha ‘thorn,’ from akē ‘sharp point.’ ]
2 Architecture A conventionalised representation of an acanthus leaf, used esp. as a decoration for Corinthian column capitals.
“He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree.” - Roy L. Smith
Despite the skeleton staff (including me!) around at work at the moment, the pace is still quick and there remain quite a few urgent things to finish off by the end of the week. I am still getting numerous emails every day and today was good because I was able to resolve two student issues that had escalated to me. Both issues required a little lateral thinking and a bit of common sense. Problems were solved and both students were more than happy with the outcome.
I went out at lunchtime today for some Christmas shopping and I could not believe the number of people in the shops. It was quite an effort to negotiate one’s way through the crowds and it was quite tiresome to wait in a queue to pay. I was glad to get back to work! The sun was out today and the modest increase in temperature was enough to make Melbournians sweat and become quite cranky. We were hankering after summer and now that the mercury rose to the mid-twenties we became rather short-tempered and cross!
Nevertheless, I enjoyed the lunchtime stroll and for the first time this year I became aware of the proximity of Christmas. The decorations and carols have been around fro a couple of months now, but it was only when I was shopping for Christmas gifts today that became conscious of the holiday atmosphere and of the festive mood. I guess having decorated the house last weekend also helped. Quite a few children were out with their mothers in the City today and their laughter and joyous cries as they looked at the Myer Christmas windows also drove home the message that on Saturday we celebrate Noël!
For Poetry Wednesday another Australian Carol by John Wheeler. I have also managed to find it on YouTube, so here it is, with wishes for a wonderful Christmas! It looks as though we may have hot weather for Chirstmas after all with temperatures expected to rise up to the high 20s or low 30s…
The Three Drovers
Across the plains one Christmas night,
Three drovers riding blythe and gay,
Looked up and saw a starry light,
More radiant than the Milky Way;
And on their hearts such wonder fell,
They sang with joy ‘Noel! Noel!’
The air was dry with Summer heat,
And smoke was on the yellow Moon;
But from the Heavens, faint and sweet,
Came floating down a wond’rous tune;
And, as they heard, they sang full well,
Those drovers three – ‘Noel! Noel!’
The black swans flew across the sky,
The wild dog called across the plain.
The starry lustre blazed on high,
Still echoed on the Heavenly strain;
And still they sang ‘Noel! Noel!’
Those drovers three. ‘Noel! Noel!’
Today is the Summer Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere, and the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. Solstice is derived from two Latin words (sol and sistere) meaning “sun” and “to stand still”. As the days lengthen in summer, the sun rises higher and higher until it seems to stand still in the sky, explaining the origin of the term.
In astronomy, the solstice is either of the two times a year when the Sun is at its greatest distance from the celestial equator (that is, the great circle on the celestial sphere that is on the same plane as the earth’s equator). In the Northern Hemisphere, the winter solstice occurs either December 21 or 22, when the sun shines directly over the tropic of Capricorn; the summer solstice occurs either June 20 or 21, when the sun shines directly over the tropic of Cancer. In the Southern Hemisphere, the winter and summer solstices are reversed.
The reason for the different seasons at opposite times of the year in the two hemispheres is that while the earth rotates about the sun, it also spins on its axis, which is tilted some 23.5 degrees towards the plane of its rotation. Because of this tilt, the Northern Hemisphere receives less direct sunlight (creating winter) while the Southern Hemisphere receives more direct sunlight (creating summer). As the Earth continues its orbit the hemisphere that is angled closest to the sun changes and the seasons are reversed.
As a major celestial event, the Summer Solstice results in the longest day and the shortest night of the year. Civilisations from ancient times have been awed by the great power of the sun, and thus celebrated the first day of summer otherwise known as Midsummer (or the Wiccan Litha). The Celts & Slavs celebrated the first day of summer with dancing and bonfires to help increase the sun’s energy. The Chinese marked the day by honoring Li, the Chinese Goddess of Light.
Perhaps the most enduring modern ties with Summer Solstice were the Druids’ celebration of the day as the “wedding of Heaven and Earth”, resulting in the present day belief of a “lucky” wedding in June (I wonder if it holds true for December weddings in the Southern Hemisphere?). Pagan spirit gatherings or festivals are also common in June, when groups assemble to light a sacred fire, and stay up all night to welcome the dawn.
To add further to the astronomical goings-on today, a total eclipse of the moon will occur. This happens when the earth comes between the sun and the moon, so that the “shadow” of the earth falls on the full moon. The moon assumes a coppery red colour and the eclipse lasts much longer than solar eclipses. I just hope that we don’t get much cloud cover tonight. The sky has been overcast for most days in the past few weeks and even if it’s not raining, we are looking at a grey sky for most of the time…
“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” - Anne Frank
We watched a stock Hollywood movie at the weekend, which ended up being very good. I didn’t expect it to be much more than standard bilge, but it did have a bit of substance and being based on a true story, was reassuring in the values it highlighted. It was good to see that there are still some good people out there in the world and that they are busy “doing” things rather than “talking” about them. We very nearly didn’t see this film as it had a plot line involving American football, which we do not care at all about (actually we do not care about any kind of football!). However, the blurb on the package somehow struck a sympathetic chord and just as well, because the film was anything but about football…
It was the 2009 (co-written and directed by) John Lee Hancock film “The Blind Side”. The story is about Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy who take in a homeless teenage black boy, Michael “Big Mike” Oher. Michael’s father is dead and his mother is a drug addict. His education is rudimentary and because he chooses not to speak much, people consider him stupid. However, he is thirsty to learn and thirsty for the love and tenderness of the family he never had. Leigh Anne who is a Christian woman in deed not only words, takes charge of Michael’s life and ensures that the young man has an opportunity to succeed. When he is involved in football, she helps him, including giving the coach a few tips on how best bring out Michael’s talents. Michael’s life turns around as the family not only help him but accept him as one of their own, even hiring a tutor to help him improve his marks to the point where he would qualify for an athletic scholarship.
“Corny”, you might say. “trite” and “formulaic”. Well, yes, I did say that this was a typical Hollywood film. However, it was a good film and as I said earlier, all the more commendable because it was based on a kernel of truth. There are still people out there who do good, people who live by their principles and who are prepared to their money where their mouth is. I have no time for the proselytising bible bashers, nor the TV evangelists, nor the armchair Christians. A Christian is the person who lives the bible in their life and does Christian deed silently, unobtrusively, without show or hope for recompense or recognition, nor through calculation of pecuniary interest. Or so I hope Michael’s reality was.
Sandra Bullock does an excellent job as Leigh Anne – this is Bullock’s movie really – but also good is Quinton Aaron as Michael. The supporting cast, including Kathy Bates as the (“I’ll tell you a deadly secret: I’m a Democrat”) tutor, Miss Sue, does a good job. Jae Head steals some scenes as the littlest member of the Tuohy clan. They manage to create a feel-good sense about the film, although I can certainly see why some people may find it offensive and racist – far be it from the intention of the film, I think. Condescending it may be occasionally, but racist I think not.
Overall, I would recommend this film as it is an uplifting film an one that tells a story about a person’s potential. It is about faith and love and hope. It is also a film about self-doubt and charity and perseverance. Some may question the motives behind the act of Christian goodwill shown, but I prefer to take it at face value. Call me innocent.
For today’s Art Sunday, Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641), one of the most famous Flemish painters of the 17th century. He was one of Rubens’s many well-known pupils and assistants and he soon acquired all the virtuosity of Rubens in rendering the texture and surface of things, whether it were silk or human flesh. Nevertheless, van Dyck differed much from his master in temperament and mood.
Van Dyck was not a healthy man, something apparent perhaps in his paintings where a languid and slightly melancholic mood often prevails. It may have been this quality that appealed to the austere noblemen of Genoa and to the cavaliers of Charles I’s entourage. In 1632 he had become the Court Painter of Charles I, and his name was Anglicised into Sir Anthony Vandyke.
We owe him the artistic record of this society with its aristocratic bearing and its cult of courtly refinement. His portrait of Charles I, just dismounted from his horse on a hunting expedition, showed the Stuart monarch as he would have wished to live in history: A figure of matchless elegance, of unquestioned authority and high culture, the patron of the arts, and the upholder of the divine right of kings, a man who needed no outward trappings of power to enhance his natural dignity. No wonder that a painter who could bring out these qualities in his portraits with such perfection was so eagerly sought after by society.
Van Dyck was so overburdened with commissions for portraits that he, like his master Rubens, was unable to cope with them all himself. He had a number of assistants, who painted the costumes of his sitters arranged on dummies, and he did not always paint even the whole of the head. Some of these portraits are uncomfortably near the flattering fashion-dummies of later periods, and it seems that van Dyck established a dangerous precedent, which did much harm to portrait painting. But all this cannot detract from the greatness of his best portraits. Nor should it make us forget that it was he, more than anyone else, who helped to crystallise the ideals of blue-blooded nobility and gentlemanly ease which enrich our vision of man no less than do Rubens’s robust and sturdy figures of over-brimming life.
His “Self-Portrait” (1633; 58.4 x 73 cm) here shows us the artist holding a glorious sunflower. When he painted this, Van Dyck was the court artist to King Charles I. In 1633 Charles gave him a gold chain and a medal to honour the artist’s role as His Majesty’s “Principal Painter”. The significance of the gold chain cannot be overlooked as Van Dyck lifts it towards the viewer. He also draws our attention towards the sunflower by pointing to it. The sunflower was often used to symbolise the relationship between the king and his subject - just as the flowerhead turns towards the sun for life and light so the subject should turn to the monarch.
I have been blogging daily on this platform for several years now. It is surprising that I have persisted as the world is changing and "microblogging" is now the norm. I blog to amuse myself, make comment on current affairs, externalise some of my creativity, keep notes on things that interest me, learn something new and to surprise myself with things that I discover about this wonderful, and sometimes crazy, world we live in.
I sometimes get the impression that I am on a soapbox delivering a monologue, so your comments are welcome.