Sunday, September 26, 2010

Christmas Smells

I was doing a little baking this week for a church bake sale.  The house will filled with the smell of cinnamon combined with other spices and this got me to thinking about the holidays.  It is said that our sense of smell is mostly linked to memory, so what smells make you think about Christmas?

Despite the tendency of humans to underestimate the role of smell in our every day lives, for most mammals, smell is the most important sense. Dogs are probably the most obvious example of this, it is through the use of the olfactory system that animals are able to find food, reproduce, and even communicate. While being one of the oldest and important parts of the brain, our failure to fully realize the importance of the olfactory system resulted in it being surrounded by numerous questions. How does it work? How do we identify smells? While these are only a few questions out of a whole list, research has progressed in recent years that we know much more about the olfactory system than before, but the fact remains that much remains to be found.

An important quality of the olfactory system is that information travels both to the limbic system and cortex. The limbic system is the primitive part of the brain that include areas that control emotions, memory and behavior. In comparison the cortex is the outer part of the brain that has to do with conscious thought. In addition to these two areas, information also travels to the taste sensory cortex to create the sense of flavor. Because olfactory information goes to both the primitive and complex part of the brain it effects our actions in more ways than we think.

Many wonder how certain smells able to trigger memories of events taking place several years ago despite the fact that sensory neurons in the epithelium survive for about only 60 days. The answer is that the neurons in the epithelium actually have successors. As the olfactory neurons die, new olfactory neurons generated by the layer of stem cells beneath them, which eventually takes the role of the old neuron as it dies. Linda Buck points out that the key point to the answer is that "memories survive because the axons of neurons that express the same receptor always go to the same place". The memories are stored in the hippocampus, and through relational memory certain smells trigger memories.

So, what smell triggers your Christmas memories?  Is it the smell of the fresh evergreen decorated in your home?  Or the odour of baking permeating the house in the month of December?  Or that scent of chocolate and melted marshmallow as you just get in from an afternoon of sledding with the kids?  Or the smell of the turkey cooking in the oven as you visit your parent's home during the holidays?

Whatever smells help you remember Christmas, each one is a cherished memory that your  brain will keep filed away until that particular blend of chemicals enter your olfactory center once again.

Happy Holidays!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Christmas History: Ornaments

Christmas Ornaments History, Facts, and Origins

In the eleventh century, religious plays called "mystery plays" became popular throughout Europe. One of the most prevalent plays was the annual Christmas "Paradise Play" This play told of the Biblical account of Adam and Eve and the partaking of the forbidden fruit. The only prop on the stage was the "Paradise tree", a fir tree adorned with apples, which represented their sin. Later, wafers were added to the tree which stood for Christ's atoning sacrifice. Red and White flowers later adorned many of these trees. Red symbolized knowledge and the White flowers represented innocence. Many credit the common Christmas ornament colors of Red, Green and White to the Paradise Tree.

Christmas Ornaments and Christmas Tree Decorations - A Chronological History

The first account we have of a tree decorated with Christmas ornaments in a home dates from 1605 in Strasbourg, Germany. The use of Christmas ornaments spread in Germany with cookies, bread, nuts and the like serving as decorations. So many sweets decorated the German Christmas tree it was nicknamed the "sugar tree." Small gifts also made their way to the branches of the Christmas tree.

German immigrants brought their Christmas tree decorating habits to America, where the tradition spread.

The Christmas ornaments that caught the public's eye were the glass-blown ornaments hand-crafted in Lauscha, Germany. Besides their visual appeal, their lightweight design may have been equally appealing. With all the Christmas candles and the food, wood and metal ornaments, Christmas trees became rather heavy. The light glass-blown ornaments may have been a welcome replacement for some of the heavier ornaments.

There are several legends behind using tinsel to decorate the Christmas tree. The primary one tells of a woman whose husband had died. She needed to bring up a large family of children herself. She worked hard and was determined to make a happy time for them at Christmas. She prepared a Christmas tree to surprise them on Christmas Day. Unfortunately spiders visited the tree, and crawled from branch to branch, making webs all over it. The Christ Child saw the tree and knew she would be devastated to find this on Christmas morning. He changed the spiders' webs to shining silver. 

In the 1860s and 70s, the first commercial Christmas tree ornaments began to emerge. Some of these commercial Christmas ornaments were crafted out of embossed and painted cardboard. These were Dresden ornaments, named for the German city where they were produced. In Germany in the 1600's, Christmas Trees were decorated with colored paper, small toys, food, and sometimes candles.

Later, tinsel, silver wire ornaments, candles and small beads became common. The custom was to have several small trees on tables, one for each family member, with their gifts stacked on the table under the tree.

Electric Christmas tree lights were first used just 3 years after Thomas Edison had his first public demonstration of electric lights in 1879. The early Christmas tree lights were handmade and rather expensive.

Christmas Ornaments in the 1900's

In the 1900's, popular decorations included strings of popcorn, homemade cards, pictures, cotton to look like snow, candy, and eventually glass balls and figurines. Some people used candles, but they often caused devastating fires. 

In the 1930's, common Christmas tree decorations included bells, balls, and tinsel, and with a beautiful golden haired angel at the top. Commercial Christmas ornaments took off in America when F.W. Woolworth, of five-and-dime store fame reluctantly began selling German glass ornaments and they sold out in two days. That convinced him and he began his buying trips to Germany. Translucent plastic shapes, honeycomb paper angels, and glow-in-the-dark icicles became popular items.

Not until WWII did an American company succeed in manufacturing Christmas ornaments. Using a machine designed to make lightbulbs, the Corning Glass company was able to produce more than 2,000 Christmas ornaments a minute.

The mid-1960's saw another major change. The world was changing and modernist ideas were everywhere. Silver aluminum artificial trees were so popular that they were imported from America throughout the world. Colored lights placed below the tree made decorations unnecessary.

In the 1970's, America made a return to Victorian nostalgia and the trees had a refreshing new look. Some American companies specialized in making antique replicas, but others found the original makers in Europe to recreate wonderful glass ornaments and real silver tinsels.
Real Christmas trees were popular. However, several manufacturers starting creating artificial trees that looked real. Many homemakers preferred the convenience of a real looking artificial Christmas tree. If your room was big enough, you could have a 14-foot artificial spruce right in your living room-with no dropped needles! The new pine scented sprays claimed to give your artificial Christmas tree that "real tree smell"! 

In the 1990's, "theme trees" gain in popularity. For example, popular Christmas ornaments helped complete the decorations for the "Starry Night tree", the "Twilight tree", and even pop culture trees. 

In the 2000's, personalized ornaments lead in popularity.
Today, you can find Christmas ornaments in nearly every size, color, and shape imaginable. From handmade ornaments to limited edition and collector's edition Christmas ornaments, thousands of styles exist to decorate your Christmas tree.

Just found a great game!

Here we are, back from a 2 week visit to family in England. Had a great time and the weather was really good. Haven't played many board games lately but have been playing a few on the PC. While trolling around looking for a decent free game I found EA Sports FIFA 2010 online. Wow! If you like football games this is the one for you. Great graphics, easy controls and you can play against the AI or other online players. Best of all it's absolutely FREE!! Check out the promotional video and sign up here....

I am only still finding all there is to know about the game, but I have played England through to the World Cup Final.....I know it could never happen. But this is just fantasy..right! Anyway, I beat Germany, Argentina and Brazil on the way and beat Switzerland 3-0 in the final. I'm sure if you like football you will like this. There is a major update coming on the 28th September so sign up before then because I think there will be some rewards for existing players.

I just played my brother head to head, I'm Spurs and he's Arsenal...classic derby. He scored first, but then late in the second half I got a penalty and blasted it home to finish an honourable 1-1 draw. Give it a go, it's very addictive, as Tina will tell you....are you still playing that bloody football game....

Happy Gaming!!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Christmas in the News

Kannapolis City Christmas parade marching on.

A very special Christmas from Fox's Family Guy

House owners from A Christmas Story launches web site.

New holiday album from Bing Crosby.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Mariah Carey: Merry Christmas II You

As autumn leaves begin to fall, interna­tional superstar Mariah Carey puts the finishing touches on MERRY CHRISTMAS II YOU, her second career album of holiday tunes, arriving November 2nd on the Island Def Jam Music Group.  Highlighting the long-awaited new album is a brand new recording of Mariah's all-time standard, "All I Want For Christmas Is You." 
 In addition to traditional yuletide fare - "The First Noel,"  "Little Drummer Boy," "O Little Town of Bethlehem," "O Come All Ye Faithful" and more - MERRY CHRISTMAS II YOU also contains four original songs composed by Mariah, including the new single, "Oh Santa," and many more surprises for the fans.  Producers on the new album include American Idol's Randy Jackson, multi-platinum hit-making producer Jermaine Dupri, James Poyser (acclaimed producer for Aretha Franklin, The Roots, Lauryn Hill and more), and five-time Oscar nominee and Grammy/Tony/Emmy award winning composer Marc Shaiman.
Since it was first released, "All I Want For Christmas Is You," written by Mariah Carey and Walter Afanasieff, has become one of the essential musical hallmarks of the holiday season, and continues to set sales records each year.  The song hit #1 on Billboard's Hot 100 Singles Recurrents chart every year from 2005 to 2008.  After ringtones began to be charted in 2006, "All I Want For Christmas Is You" hit #1 for the next three consecutive holiday seasons.  It became the first seasonal Mastertone to be certified RIAA gold (2006) and RIAA platinum (2007), and is ranked as the top-selling seasonal ringtone of all-time."All I Want For Christmas is You" was the featured single from MERRY CHRISTMAS, which has sold over 12 million to date.   


Monday, September 20, 2010

Magazine Collection

This is the time of year that all the special holiday magazines start to fill the shelves.  I've already picked up the Better Homes and Gardens Holiday crafts issue.  I've bought this magazine for the past few years and I've noticed that they have a bit of a pattern.  They'll put a cute felt pillow on the cover with the same blurb of easy, fast crafts to make before the holiday comes upon us.  Well, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.  This pattern seems to work well for them and I'm sure that they'll sell many issues, mostly to devoted Christmas fans such as us.

Am I alone thinking, though, about feeling a bit let down?  I love the crafts, the ideas and the fun things to look at in the magazine.  Don't get me wrong.  But couldn't  they make more of an effort trying to mix things up a little?  Take a look at this year's edition versus last year's.

Mister Snowman is the 2009 edition and Santa and Reindeer is the 2010 edition.  See what I mean?  Practically the same wording for the "So Cute" projects as well as the wording on the bottom. 

This being said, I still bought the magazine and that's all the publishers want: to sell their product.  So, they've accomplished their goal.  I shouldn't begrudge them their lack of imagination and creativity for their covers, should I?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Voice of Rudolph has passed

Some sad news.  Billie Mae Richards, who was the voice of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer in the beloved animation, has passed away in Toronto on Friday, September 10. 

The grandmother of 12 also voiced the sequels Rudolph's Shiny New Year and Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July, and she was Tender Heart Bear in the The Care Bears Movie.
She enriched so many of our lives with Rudolph's story and will be missed.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Christmas History: Old Christmas Day

Until the time of Julius Caesar the Roman year was organized round the phases of the moon. For many reasons this was hopelessly inaccurate so, on the advice of his astronomers, Julius instituted a calendar centered round the sun. It was decreed that one year was to consist of three hundred and sixty-five and a quarter days, divided into twelve months; the month of Quirinus was renamed 'July' to commemorate the Julian reform. Unfortunately, despite the introduction of leap years, the Julian calendar overestimated the length of the year by eleven minutes fifteen seconds, which comes to one day every on hundred and twenty-eight years. By the sixteenth century the calendar was ten days out. In 1582 reforms instituted by Pope Gregory XIII lopped the eleven minutes fifteen seconds off the length of a year and deleted the spare ten days. This new Gregorian calendar was adopted throughout Catholic Europe.

Protestant Europe was not going to be told what day it was by the Pope, so it kept to the old Julian calendar. This meant that London was a full ten days ahead of Paris. The English also kept the 25th of March as New Year's Day rather than the 1st of January. By the time England came round to adopting the Gregorian calendar, in the middle of the eighteenth century, England was eleven days ahead of the Continent.

A Calendar Act was passed in 1751 which stated that in order to bring England into line, the day following the 2nd of September 1752 was to be called the 14th, rather than the 3rd of September. Unfortunately, many people were not able to understand this simple manoeuvre and thought that the government had stolen eleven days of their lives. In some parts there were riots and shouts of 'give us back our eleven days!'

Before the calendar was reformed, England celebrated Christmas on the equivalent of the 6th of January by our modern, Gregorian reckoning. That is why in some parts of Great Britain people still call the 6th of January, Old Christmas Day.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Highland Christmas

Christmas has come to the dark, wintry highlands of Lochdubh, Scotland.  Where Santa is as welcome as much as a flat tire on a deserted road.  This little village eschews the holiday with a vengence.  There are no puddings, no carols, no banquets or gifts.  There isn't even some whisky to keep the winter chill away.  The local constable Hamish Macbeth still has his hands full.  One local woman has lost her cat and someone has stolen the neighbouring town's Christmas tree.  Hamish is also courting a new young school teacher.

Although a tremendous amount of joy and goodness stems from the officer's actions, he never seems to realize any of the positive results. Macbeth appears to be just what this community needs: a logical voice when one is called for, help in times of need, and a balance between older ways of thinking and the changes being brought by the outside world. The story leaves a warm glow of contentment and has several humorous moments. A perfect selection for the holiday season and a solid tale for sharing year-round.  All this and more has to be done before the church bells toll, or Lochdubh will face another chilly winter without the warmth of Christmas.

Marion Chesney is a popular and prolific author. She has written numerous successful historical romance novels under her own name, including the Travelling Matchmaker and Daughters of Mannerling series. Using the pseudonym M. C. Beaton, she has also written many popular mystery novels, most notably the Agatha Raisin and Hamish Macbeth mystery series.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Christmas Star

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him. When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.

Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also. When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.
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A Christmas Story

Oh No! The triple dog dare! This is a holiday classic for me. Some people love me....and some hate it. I love the whole nostalgic feel of the movie. I'll be waiting for the marathon of this movie on Christmas Eve through Christmas night. :)

Monday, September 6, 2010

A Christmas Story House

The film takes place in fictional Hohman, Indiana, the setting of writer Jean Shepherd's stories, based on his actual hometown, Hammond, Indiana. Cleveland was chosen because of Higbee's Department Store. Appropriately, the fictional boyhood home of Ralphie Parker is on Cleveland Street, the name of the actual street where Shepherd grew up. In addition to the house exteriors, Cleveland was the location used for the scenes involving Higbee's department store, despite the fact that there were no Higbee's stores in Shepherd's hometown.

Cleveland was only one of several locations used. The school scenes were shot at the Victoria School in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada. The Christmas tree purchasing scene was filmed in Toronto, Ontario, as was the sound stage filming of interior shots of the Parker home.

The exterior shots of the house and neighborhood where Ralphie lived were filmed in the Tremont section of Cleveland's West Side. The "...only I didn't say fudge" scene was filmed at the foot of Cherry Street in Toronto; several lake freighters are visible in the background spending the winter at Toronto's port, which lends authenticity to the time of year when the film was produced.

A Christmas Story House Museum:

Brian Jones, a fan of the film since childhood, purchased the house across the street and converted it into A Christmas Story House Museum, which contains some of the props from the movie, including Randy's snow suit, the Higbee's window toys, and hundreds of behind the scenes photos. The house to the left of the museum features a gift shop with movie memorabilia.

The house and museum opened to the public on November 25, 2006, with original cast members attending the grand opening, and the site drew 4,300 visitors during its first weekend.

This is one of my favorite Christmas movies. A very warm telling of a family during the Christmas season.
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Top Toys for Christmas

Now that the kids are back in school, the real push for the Christmas season will begin.  There will be Thanksgiving and Halloween (or vice versa in the US), Memorial Day and then the big day itself, Christmas.  So, you might want to start looking for those gifts now before everyone gets into a panic in December.  There are a few toys that have been on the radar at Santa's workshop this year.  Here are a few suggestions:
Toy Story toys.  

With the new Toy Story 3 out this summer, kids have fallen in love again with the characters from this movie.  One of the newest versions is Jet Pack Buzz Lightyear.  With more lights and sounds than previous models, your child can recreate the opening scene from the movie and continue Buzz onto new adventures.

Zhu Zhu pets.

These little hamsters were all the rage last Christmas and there is no sign of stopping this year.  There's a newer line of ultimate pets on the horizon.  All the fun of having a pet with none of the mess!  Teach your child the basics of pet care with these lovable little animals.

Of course, anything that's Barbie® is sure to please any little girl this holiday.   Budding filmmakers, take note: Barbie® doll now doubles as a video camera! Girls can record and play back clips with this multi-tasking doll, which has a video camera built right in. Capture everything from a doll's-eye-view, then watch it instantly or upload to your computer. There's an LCD screen on Barbie® doll's back, and a camera lens hidden discreetly in her necklace. Talk about making movies in style!

So, there's a few ideas for this holiday season.  Remember to shop around and see if you can find these toys before Santa runs out!
Happy Holidays!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Christmas in the news

Huntsville charities have already started getting ready for the holidays.

Want to be ready for Christmas?  Start preparing now.

Government makes sure that there's enough chickens for the holidays in Philippenes.

Google is moving in to sell music online by Christmas.

Christmas countdown begins in Yorkshire, England.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Gingerbread House

What would the holidays be without the smell of gingerbread wafting through the air?  Gingerbread has been around since the early Christian times, when the ancient Romans baked it portable ovens.  As early as the 1500s, inventive bakers began using it as a decorative building material.  The fragrant pastry became popular in early American cooking because it was inexpensive to make and it could survive the unpredicability of wood and coal fired ovens.

Gingerbread houses became popular in Germany.  Enterprising parents created a house similar to the witch's house in the Grimm's tale Hansel and Gretel.  The hard gingerbread is made in decorative shapes, which are then further decorated with sweets and icing. The tradition of cutting gingerbread into shapes takes many other forms, and exists in many countries, a well known example being the gingerbread man. Traditionally, these were dunked in port wine.  Early German settlers brought this lebkuchenhaeusle - gingerbread house - tradition to the Americas.

Nowadays, gingerbread houses can be as simple or as elaborate as you want it to be.  You can take the time to make your own, or simply buy a store bought kit.  Many pastry chefs show off their talents with gingerbread house competitions throughout the country; showing their amazing techniques and innovations using this versatile confection.

There are many sites out there to help you become inspired with your creation.  Ranging from the simple 8x8 design to ones more complicated, you'll find something for all talent levels.  Try out such sites as Gingerbread Lane or Ultimate Gingerbread for some ideas of where to start.  Or if you have the means, get the house already made for you from a Gingerbread Construction Company.  Luckily, the dough is very tough and practically keeps forever.  You can leave out your house for the whole Christmas season without worrying about decay.

Whatever you choose to do, make it fun for the family.  Get the children involved in decorating the house.  Then you can show off your creation to all your friends during the holiday season.

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Christmas Trivia Fun

Here's a little fun trivia game. I found out that I didn't do so well. How did you do?
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Essen 2010 gets ever closer

But I'm still not going! Still looking at all the new releases though and in this respect Board Game News in invaluable. There column detailing all the new releases, constantly updated as well, is great. As I mentioned before Inca Empire interested me and another game from White Goblin, Norenberc, looks interesting as well. So I checked out their website and found Khan, another game slated for Essen release. Both of these are 2-4 or 5 player so fall into my category. They are also releasing an expansion for Rattus, a game already released, again it plays 2. Well, they all look very tempting, then I find that if you pre-order you get exclusive bits only available for Essen. Hmmmmm, I'm crumbling. I mention to Tina that they have a deal that if you order the whole bunch, that is Inca Empire, Khan, Norenberc and the Rattus base game and expansion, you not only get the Essen goodies but a discounted price as well.

OK, you can have it for your Christmas present then......whoo hooo! Straight onto their pre-order page and bang. That's blown my games allowance for this year and next I should think.

Happy Gaming!!!