Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas Eve and the Loveliness of Christmas Cards

People often complain about the sending and receiving of Christmas or holiday cards. If someone gets a card from a person not on their "sent" list, they're liable to go into a little bit of a panic and try to send one before it looks like it was only sent in receipt. Or they might hate that feeling of obligation, that now they "owe" someone a Christmas card.

But I love getting Christmas cards, and I love sending them, too. The intent of Christmas card sending has always been to simply send a note of Christmas cheer to help celebrate the season. Or, in some cases (as in the very first Christmas cards ever sent:, to ask for donations for the poor and needy.

Since the very beginning, however, the idea that the card should be a small work of art has been part of the tradition.

"Holiday cards designed by Kate Greenaway, the Victorian children's writer and illustrator and Frances Brundage and Ellen H. Clapsaddle, were favorites in the late 1800's and early 1900's. Most were elaborate , decorated with fringe, silk and satin. Some were shaped liked fans and crescents; others were cut into the shapes of bells, birds, candles and even plum puddings. Some folded like maps or fitted together as puzzles; other squealed or squeaked. Pop-up Cards reveled tiny mangers or skaters with flying scarves gliding around a mirrored pond." - Juddi Morris, Vivian Hotchkiss

I am just as bad as everyone else. I get into a frenzy; I think I need to have the perfect cards, but not spend too much money. And then I need to buy enough cards. And if I don't buy enough and the others aren't available? What then? Get different "make up" cards. But then I have to decide who gets the original ones and who gets the second set? Jolly Santa? Christmas tree? Art Deco Christmas? And then what if the addresses are wrong. And then there's postage, which is almost ¢.50 per card these days. And you can choose from a variety of stamps. Who gets Mary and Jesus? Who gets the lovely pine branch? Who gets an ornament? What if they're out of Christmas stamps? Which stamps to get then? And again, who gets what?

It's as full of decision making energy as shopping for gifts!

I had part of the stress taken away a couple of years ago when I ordered 8 1/2 x 14 paper by mistake and didn't know what to do with it. And decided since I had already spent money on paper and ink and was short on what I needed to buy cards, that that would be my card. So, that's how my newsletter was born.

But the whole Christmas card thing becomes a bit of a stressor for everyone. And then we forget why we do it all in the first place. The other evening I had a reminder when I finally slowed down (was forced to slow down, actually, by this cold) enough to clean up my bureau and go through and put up my Christmas cards. I spent the evening going through each one. I read them, enjoyed the pictures, looked at the photographs, read the newsy letters enclosed in the cards.

Everyone had done it differently. And each card represented someone in a unique way. Some had children's and family pictures. One of my friends admitted to at least 10 takes to get their family photo right. Then there are the newsy letters - jobs gained and lost, children growing up, people moving, new things happening.

Then the art of the cards. They can range anywhere from the free cards my dad and stepmom send me from their past donations to animal groups to handmade creations with drawings and ribbon and homemade paper. Even with the "free" cards, my dad chose that polar in the bear in the snow cuz he thought it was cute. The friend who sent her handmade card used creams and reds in her homemade paper to represent her. Someone else sent a teal card with red ribbon. Another person sent a card of blues and whites. Another a card of reds and grays. Each card uniquely different from the other, representing one person sending greetings to another in a time honored tradition that goes back 150 years.

E-cards are beginning to replace regular greeting cards. I received at least three this year so far. And they have their own qualities. You can add motion and sound to an ecard that you can't to a regular card. The colors are brighter and there's more going on.

Each card is a little ambassador from a friend or relative's house to yours and represents time and energy, probably love, as well as effort. I found when I took the time to actually read and appreciate the cards that it helped me enjoy this time of the year a little more. If one of the functions of a winter holiday is about bringing light into the middle of the darkness, then each of these cards can represent a small light being sent your way during a time that could otherwise be dark for you.

So, Merry Christmas from my house to yours. And here's my little light I'm sending out to you.

Merry Christmas

Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas Eve Eve

Here are a couple of videos from Christmases past in case you’re in the need of something jolly with holly and other things that end in olly… (to paraphrase Susan from the Hogfather).

She Lit the Candle: A short holiday story -

City Sidewalks: A holiday poem -

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Doing Research

Today I stopped by our neighborhood newsstand to pick up some bridal magazines to do some research for a story I’m working on. I know people go on and on about how online is it these days, but Google and Bing assume you want to see certain things when you punch in your search terms, and the newsstand doesn’t assume anything. You have these magazines all there before – and you can choose whichever one you want without one of them shouting at you in loud font and colors or blinking across the screen. The artistry of the pics is different, the point of view, the perspective. It’s just better if what you’re looking for is a variety of styles or bits of information that haven’t been fed to you based on assumptions made by the cookies planted on your computer.

So, I pick up three of the bridal magazines (one says it’s the Fashion Issue! Oooh!), marginally wondering what the guy at the register will think of me as I buy them, when I stop short because I see the January/February double issue of Analog ( ). Not only that, but hidden a couple of tiers back is the MARCH issue of Analog. It’s hard to find SF/F mags out on the newsstands these days. Not like the old days when you could find Omni just out and about on your way to the coffeeshop. *sigh* I miss Omni.

So, then I start to wonder what the guy at the register will think of some middle-aged, overweight chick buying bridal fashion mags and and scifi mags both in one go. I figure he probably figures (if he figures at all) that it’s for my kids. People always assume I have kids, and I let them.

But then I get distracted again because I’m actually looking at the Analogs in hand. They’re much more thin than they used to be, even the double issue. It’s sad. They used to be nice, thick mags that you knew were packed with stories, articles, reviews all having to do with science fiction. Analog was one of the heavyweights, along with Asimov’s ( ) and Fantasy & Science Fiction ( ). In many ways, they still are the heavyweights and the diehards. It’s hard to get a story published by them unless you’re a name already. (I have tried several times, and I know others have as well. For the record, all three magazines rejected The G.O.D. Factor ( ).)

But something else I noticed, besides how thin and shoddy they felt, was that neither issue had female authors listed on the front covers. I don’t know if this means they aren’t getting any good submissions from women or if women just aren’t submitting to them, but it was discouraging and started punching all my old buttons where I wonder if I should start submitting stories under R.V. Olivier instead of Rachel V. Olivier because the scifi/fantasy world, no matter how much the insiders talk about how it’s come a long way, still seems to be ruled by the OWGs (old white guys).

I know, that’s not really true. The scifi/fantasy world has come a long way. I mean, we might have Stephenie Meyers as an ongoing embarrassment, but we also have Octavia Butler and Elizabeth Moon and Marion Zimmer Bradley and Joanna Russ, etc., etc., etc.

And, since I haven’t looked at an Analog in a long time, it could be these are just “one ofs”. So, I keep staring at them, wondering if it would be worth it to get them, these two issues of Analog. Do I really want to read a magazine that doesn’t want me? But who knows? Things change. I could enjoy the stories, even if Robert J. Sawyer (one of the listed authors) does normally give me a headache. I could learn something. It’s research. It keeps me abreast of my field. And it’s not like the bridal mags want me either. I mean, I’m not seeing any plus size brides on those magazine covers.

I shrug. I add the Analogs to the pile of bridal mags and plunk down the money and ask for the receipt. After all, it is research.

Once upon a time, I would have been embarrassed to even be found looking at a bridal mag. That’s so much fooffera that I have no need of and think is absolutely unnecessary. However, I would have rushed out to not only get the Analog, but go to the back of the mag and find the subscription form so I could look forward to a new issue every month.

These days, though, I’m thinkin’ the bridal research will be the more fun of the two.