Monday, December 31, 2012

The Joy of Journaling

Keeping a journal can be a powerful tool for self-improvement, giving feelings an outlet and helping to achieve goals.
One of the roadblocks when starting a journal is beginning with great enthusiasm but backsliding as time passes. We forget; are distracted by more “important things”; think we don’t have time; or just loose interest.

I have been keeping a journal intermittently for most of my adult life and am  quick to admit there are many blanks, even blank years.

But what I have come to believe over the past few years is that keeping a journal is the best possible way to introduce ourselves to… OURSELVES! And I say that with the knowledge that recording my thoughts, dreams and goals has become an insight to knowing my own self better.

Some considerations:

A journal doesn’t have to be a daily diary, although it can be if that's your choice.

There's no right way or wrong way to keep a journal; there’s only your way – the way that works best for you.

It's important to choose the medium that’s best for you. It could be your iPad or computer, but I vote for paper. Choosing a beautiful book in which to write if for me part of the joy of keeping a journal. I enjoy the feel and smell of a handsome leather cover, the look and feel of the paper and the satisfaction of placing ink strokes on the page. But a journal can be something as simple as a spiral-bound notebook. In the end it’s not about using a fancy book; it’s about just writing!

google image

One advantage to keeping a paper journal is it can be taken with you, never needs electricity and can be personalized with clippings, drawings, mementos and the like.

Handwriting can be therapeutic, as it can allow deeper access to emotions, so choose a writing implement that's comfortable and meets your artistic needs. Keep the pen with your journal and use it each time you write and for no other purpose.

Decide what type of journal you will keep. If you keep just one, make it a Daily Journal, an “everything” journal where you record daily activities, who you saw or talked with; appointments; how you are feeling; what you are thinking; ideas; insights; world events and your thoughts about them; even the weather.

There are many other types of journals people keep. Journals devoted to any specialized interests you can think of are available. There are journals for travel, dieting, exercise, child rearing, recipes, cooking, music -- you name it and it's out there!
Decide on the time and place you’ll write each dayJournal writing should ideally be a time of reflection and it requires solitude, peace and no interruptions. It's important to feel relaxed, at ease and not having to worry about being disturbed. It's also important to feel comfortable. Select your favorite journal writing spot. Experiment by writing in different places to see what happens to the content of your writing.

If you’re having difficulty finding something to write about, think of something that inspires you; or what you’re feeling right now. Write it down and see where it leads you. Writing down ordinary facts and events can open up a whole world of ideas, allowing insights you would not have been able to bring forth without recording your thoughts in the journal.

            Fill your journal with whatever you like. Doodles, song lyrics, poems, quotes, book excerpts, newspaper clippings, a photo you took, ticket stubs from a movie or play. Your journal is the real-life manifestation of your mind, so make it something that's completely yours!

And finally, don't be overly concerned about grammar, spelling, or other perfection in your journal. This is yours and there are no rights or wrongs. Correcting mistakes during your thinking process could hamper the flow, so don’t try for perfection.

Read back and reflect over what you've written now and then. This can be a growth exercise.  

Don’t allow anyone to read your journal. You'll only feel free to honestly express yourself if it's for your eyes only, so be sure to find a safe place to place it.

A few months ago I was contacted by the editor of Loving Me Now, a Website in the UK that provides encouragement to women who have had weight loss surgery, and asked to write an article of my choice. I chose to write about Journaling and if you are interested in reading the article, it's at Loving Me Now.
Maybe you already keep a journal, or if you write a blog, it is one form of journaling. If you don't keep a journal, why not give it a try? The rewards can be gratifying, an eye opener and wonderful.

An added benefit: Your journal can be a gift to future generations if you want it to be – a gift to your descendants who can perhaps get to know and appreciate you better after you’re gone. 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Winter Dreams

I was already thinking about the topic of my post for today when I went into the garage this morning and saw this:

From left, Myrtle, Murtie and Carl
The three cats crowd into one small bed -- for warmth and companionship -- when there's a larger bed alongside it. I moved them from the barn to the garage several months ago and they seem to love it there. Plus, its much more convenient for me to visit them several times each day.

They are the sweetest kitties! And I'm hoping they'll have warmer Winter Dreams there.

For me, it seems that winter truly sets in once Christmas is past. Time to get on with the New Year, snuggle in and enjoy more time indoors, relax more, plan, dream. (Apologies to readers in the Southern Hemisphere, where you're in the midst of your summer! In that case, please share here your plans for hot weather projects.)

So what will you be dreaming about this winter? Starting a new project? Something creative like knitting, sewing? A project on the house? Learning something new? Maybe you want to take a class, read more, write a book, listen to some special music. Or perhaps you'll be perusing the seed catalogs and and dreaming of starting a spring garden.

With one day left in 2012, there's still time to go out and purchase a journal, in case you haven't already done so, in which to record your daily thoughts. Keeping a journal is a good way to organize thoughts and keep track of our goals and progress.

The journal I've chosen for 2013

Tomorrow I will be publishing a post on journal writing and I already have my pretty leather-bound book waiting for my first entry of 2013.

Sweet winter dreams, everyone.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Long Night's Moon and Moon Myths

The last full moon of 2012 occurred Dec. 28 at 4:22 a.m. CST. It is the longest full moon of the year, thus its name, Long Night’s Moon. But it is also known by other names: “Cold Moon, “Oak Moon, “Christmas Moon.” When it occurs before Christmas, it is known as “Moon before the Yule.”

December Full Moon

Native Americans had other names for the full moon. The Dakota Sioux called it the “Moon of the Popping Trees”. The Cheyenne named it the “Big Freezing Moon”. The Taos call it the “Night Moon” and to the Wisham it is “Her Winter Houses Moon”.

Who knew the December full moon had so many names?

December’s full moon is visible longest because we’re in the midst of the longest nights of the year, the longest of which occurred Dec. 21.

The moon stays full through Dec. 29 .I was not awake at 4:22 a.m. today, won’t be moon-gazing tonight due to a heavy cloud cover but will hope for clearer skies tomorrow night.  

People have blamed weird behavior on the moon for centuries, ranging from people turning into werewolves to lunacy to epileptic seizures to sleeplessness.

Here’s an interesting You Tube video from davidskybrody on why mythologies surrounding lunatic behavior during the full moon just aren't true. 

So go ahead. Howl if you must the next two nights. But don't blame it on the moon!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

“Taking Christmas”

This post will be the last in what has unintentionally turned into a series of little stories about some of the traditions – long past now – that were unique to the area in which I grew up. Insofar as I know, this one, which we called “taking Christmas,” may be unique to my very large extended family, or to this region. I would be interested to know if others upheld this tradition, perhaps known by another name, or no name at all.


The term “taking Christmas” simply referred to the round of visits that began Dec. 26 and continued until just after the New Year began. In a convoluted way, perhaps it is analogous to The Twelve Days of Christmas with a secular twist.

The kids were out of school and it was certainly a way to entertain them, as there weren't many other diversions available. I’m sure the women also were ready for a change after all the hustle and bustle of getting ready for Christmas. As for the men, they enjoyed the visits as well and they didn't have to do a darn thing but show up!

Visits were most often among family members, but often also included hospitality with close neighbors as well.


Our extended family was quite large, as both my mother and father were one of eight. Mother’s oldest sisters had children the same age or older than her, and by the time all of them had THEIR children -- well, there were many children around! 

Christmas was perhaps the only time such large numbers were invited into homes for a meal and socializing.

It started on Christmas Day at my grandmother’s house, where there could be as many as 50-75 people congregated under one roof. There would be much talk that day of the upcoming scheduled visits, both day and evening gatherings. The women and children congregated during the day, and husbands were included in the evening events. Are you still with me?

Toni doll just like I received one year at Christmas. You could give her a Toni hair permanent!

This was an exciting time for us children, because it gave us the opportunity to take our newly acquired toys for a “show and tell” with our cousins. We would drag along our dolls, games and other treasures that Santa Claus had brought.

Houses would be filled to capacity; the women buzzing around in the kitchens laying out the food; the men sitting around living rooms laughing and talking; the girl children in bedrooms comparing dolls and laying tiny tables for tea parties; the boys in another part of the house racing little trucks and cars that Santa brought; and teenagers in yet another room spinning 45 RPM records and swooning over the latest Rock n' Roll sensation.

It was a common things that boys were dressed in Roy Rogers or Lone Ranger cowboy suits and girls in majorette outfits and twirling their batons.
In the 1950s all little boys seemed to want a cowboy outfit and toy gun from Santa Claus.

As I recall, no cook arrived empty handed, bringing along pans of chicken and dressing, chicken and dumplings, cooked greens, a cake or pie and a jar or relish or pickle canned during the summer months.

Tables groaned from the weight of all that abundance of food, but there were many people to feed. Rarely was there space to eat around the tables in dining rooms and kitchens and plates would be filled and taken to other rooms, to be balanced precariously on laps while eating.

Men first, children second and women last is my memory of the order in which people filed around tables to fill plates. Often the women would make spaces for themselves around tables once everyone had cleared out.

There was never any shortage of sweets, because back in the 1950s, and certainly for many decades prior to that time, the woman of the family spent days cooking and baking for Christmas. I recall that my mother baked five or six large layer cakes – fresh coconut, fruitcake, jam cake, German chocolate and orange date nut. Pies prepared included chocolate, coconut, pecan, chess and egg custard.

Housewife decorating a cake in the 1950s

Now I understand why so many cakes and pies were baked, as the eating  occurred often and lasted for many days!

Music was usually a part of these celebrations. Most homes had a piano and many children and some adults would play Christmas carols and the group would sing along. Sometimes a guitar, mandolin or fiddle would be brought and the men would “make music.” That would turn into a “toe-stomping good time!”

It was a time for sharing and having a good time before the reality of winter set in and children returned to school. Memories made on these occasions could keep you warm throughout the long spell about to begin.

So many memories; so many of the ones no longer with us: Daddy, Mommie Howell, Grandmother and Grandaddy Trousdale, Uncle Buster, Aunt Sister, Aunt Jewel, Aunt Myrtle, Uncle Luster, Aunt Marge, Millinea, Uncle James, Uncle Roy, Aunt Ludie, Lela, Madge and Ivy, Wilton and George, Arlon and Delsey, and oh so many others!

And not forgotten are the ones from my generation who left us too soon and before their time: Martha, Yvonne, Tommy Jr., Chesley Jr., Cheryl.

These are memories of times that seem (and were!) so long ago. Soon the 60s would be upon us and the times they were a-changing, to paraphrase Bob Dylan. But I’m glad I was a part of the experience described above, when a good time was had by all in a very simple way.

Did your family -- in the past or now -- have such family gatherings? If so, what are your best memories?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas Serenading

During the olden days there was a tradition around here called “Christmas Serenading.” It is now long past but the older people in this community remember it.

Not to be confused with Christmas caroling, serenading involved dressing up and going door to door on Christmas Eve to beg for treats, similar to Halloween trick-or-treating today.

My mother, an aunt and a neighbor were my first-hand sources for information about serenading. They retold how when they were teenagers a group of friends would dress in a way they wouldn't be recognized and make rounds to neighboring houses. Knocking on doors, they would be invited inside and given a cookie, piece of cake, candy or fruit.

This form of Christmas entertainment didn't survive beyond my parents’ generation, but many of us grew up hearing their stories. Halloween wasn't celebrated at all during their childhoods, and Christmas Serenading was entertainment during a time when there weren't many other forms of diversion.

My mother recounted one of her father's stories about serenading when he was young -- which would have been around the turn of the 19th century -- when boys would engage in naughty tricks. One was going around to neighboring farmers’ barns, dismantling their wagons and reassembling them on the house rooftop. Imagine a farmer’s surprise the next morning! I’m thinking that there was no knocking on those doors for treats; but a matter of serenaders operating surreptitiously.

Research on the Internet did not provide much background information on this subject. I did, however, find two pieces of information about Christmas Serenading:

From a magazine article and subsequently the book Foxfire Christmas


A Real Appalachian Serenade

Just gettin' out and going around, sneaking up to someone's house [was our entertainment at Christmastime. That's what we called serenading.] They didn't know nothing about it, and we'd just come up making the durndest noise you ever heard. If they was in bed, they just as well to get up. They shore to God couldn't sleep! We'd just keep on making noise until they got up and gave us something to eat. They'd always invite us in and feed us. They'd have something for us to eat and sometimes give us a present or something.

"We'd never start out till about midnight. There'd be about twenty-five or thirty of us. The girls would join us, too, and we'd all go. We'd be sure everyone was in bed and had the lights all out. Everybody would make some kind of noise, one way or the other. You never heard such bells ringing, shooting, hollering, and beating old tin buckets and things. Take us half the night to get back after we got through serenading people; we might serenade a dozen and not get back until daybreak.

"People in them days would have a cow and a horse, at least, in the stalls in the barn. While they were asleep that night, we'd take the horse out of one stall and put it in the cow's stall, and move the cow into the horse's stall. They'd go in there to milk the next morning—we liked to be there to watch—and there'd stand the ol' horse in the cow stall. Boy, they could get mad! They'd throw their milk bucket down on the ground. Us kids got a lotta kick out of that. We'd do all kinds of stuff like that. We'd move people's stuff, hide their axes or somethin' else. Whatever we could find loose, layin' out, we'd hide it. Wouldn't put it where he couldn't never find it, but he'd maybe have to hunt for two or three days.

"Folks didn't care, though. Everybody else done it. Just like trick or treat here now on Halloween. It was just on that same basis—everybody done it. They'd just gather up, boys and girls, and they'd just take off. We thought if people ought to be serenaded, we'd give them a round. If anybody came in our settlement, they got serenaded whether they liked it or not.”

Foxfire magazine began in 1966. It is written and published as a quarterly American magazine by students at Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School, a private secondary education school located in Georgia. The magazine articles are based on the students' interviews with local people about aspects and practices in Appalachian culture. They captured oral history, craft traditions, and other material. The articles were collected and published in book form in 1972 and became a bestseller nationally and gained attention for the Foxfire project.

More information about Foxfire .

The other source is an article in The Sylva (North Carolina) Herald written by Gary Carden. He reports in Appalachian Christmas Traditions of accompanying his relatives on a Christmas serenade:

"In the company of my cousins (Lyndon and Fred), Aunt Irene and a collection of relatives (Daltons and Gibsons), we assembled on Aunt Nancy’s porch a little before midnight. I was given one of Cousin Irene’s dresses to wear (in serenading, the males dress like women and the women dress like men) and everybody put soot on their faces. Lyndon and Fred carried a washtub and a hammer. Uncle Pratt carried a shotgun. Cousin Irene led the way with a lantern as we walked along a dark road to a neighbor’s house, the Hasketts. On a signal from Uncle Pratt, who fired the shotgun, we screamed like banshees while Lyndon and Fred beat the washtub. We kept it up until the lights came on in the house.

"Later, it occurred to me that the Hasketts woke up, dressed and filed out on the porch in record time. I finally decided that they were not in bed at all. In fact, they had been sitting in the dark waiting for us. They laughed at our costumes and then invited us in the house for stack cake and hot apple cider (which had been prepared in advance). Then, we all went up on the ridge above the Hasketts’ house and burned a big brush pile that had already been soaked in coal oil. It lit up the whole holler, and I could see other fires on other ridges around us."

Sylva Storyteller
Gary Carden

Credit: The Sylva Herald
If you are interested in reading his complete article, including information about how the tradition may have originated, find it at The Sylva Herald.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Gift!

An old expression, “Christmas Gift," was much used in days gone by, but is rarely heard any more except among the older generation. It’s meaning is roughly the equivalent of saying “Merry Christmas.” And that is my wish to you today.

The expression can be traced back to as early as 1844 in the southern United States, when people would wake on Christmas morning and rush to say "Christmas Gift" before anyone else. The person being told "Christmas Gift!" was expected to present the person saying it to them with a present, such as candy or nuts.

In more recent times, it was carried out in fun, with no real expectation of a treat to appear. I heard this term growing up, used by members of my mother's family, but the term has "died out,"  as there are so few of the old generation remaining. It was a tradition to try to be the first one to "get" the other members by uttering the phrase. It  was a way to create fun when often in reality there were few Christmas treats.

"Christmas Eve Gift" was a variation, and the Dictionary of American Regional English traces the first written uses of "Christmas Eve Gift" back to 1954.


In 1991, Georgia author Ferrol Sams published the book Christmas Gift, a charming account of Christmas in a Fayette County, Ga. Sams, who also authored Run with the Horseman, weaves memories of his boyhood Christmases in the dark days of the Depression when the family was strapped for material resources adequate to their generous spirits. During that time, members of the Sams household, he writes, would greet each other with the joyous cry of "Christmas Gift" in order to share the tidings of the season and celebrate their connection.


So I am wishing each of you a Merry Christmas, or “Christmas Gift.” 

Thank you so much for reading and leaving comments here on my blog. It has been a real pleasure “getting to know you" through your visits and comments. I have met many of you through your interesting and entertaining blogs, and these past months have been such a treasure.

Now it's time to relax and enjoy your holiday with family and friends. Be safe and be happy!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Happy Holidays from Ginger

Busy bloggers and blog readers don't have much spare time right now, but here's a quick must-see YouTube video I hope you'll take a few minutes to watch.

Have you seen the other Ginger videos? To view more, visit YouTube channel sawith65.

Aren't they the cutest things? Such clever people out there.

Have a calm and peaceful day!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas Dogs

Our Goldens are acting like anxious children waiting for Santa Claus.  They have been so rambunctious all week long -- following me, watching me, getting in my way with each step I take.

They were finally cooperative in allowing me to photograph them wearing the reindeer antlers I purchased several years ago.
Kris, posing for the camera

Valerie became embarrassed, it seemed, and just lay down on the floor and closed her eyes!

She looks so goofy with her long tooth hanging out of her mouth!

Maybe it's the cold weather that energizes them. They so enjoy each other's company and do their little "horsing around" throughout the day.

Yesterday I bought their Christmas present, a large rawhide bone for each. But because they were so playful and noisy last night, I decided to give them their bones in order to settle them down.

There's a ritual they go through whenever I buy them rawhide. Kris will not take his bone, but instead waits for Val to take one, chew it into two pieces and soften it up. At that point, he grabs a piece and begins his entertainment. After awhile, he goes to the door with the bone, wants to be let outside and promptly finds a place to bury it. THEN, he comes back inside and tries to steal Val's half! Such a naughty boy!

 I have watched him, however, when he buries it and promptly recover it. I bring it inside, wash it off and reintroduce that piece into the mix.

This morning, one bone is still untouched. Kris is waiting for Val to "prepare" it for him. I'm not sure which dog had the privilege of devouring the remainder of the chewed bone; was likely a joint effort, as they tend to "switch off" the chewing/gnawing.

Val takes the new bone and asks to be let outside, safely away from Kris.

Kris pouts, waiting for Val to return with a portion of the bone, knowing it's "ready" for him and the game begins anew.

Our dogs!
Constant entertainment!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Winter Solstice and Other Musings

On Friday morning, Dec. 21, at 5: 11 a.m. Central Standard Time, the Winter Solstice arrives. This marks the official change from Fall to Winter in the northern hemisphere and is the shortest day of sunlight.

"Little Bantam in the Snow"
Credit: blessed1indeed via

In astrological terms, the solstice means the north pole is tipped as far away from the sun as it can go.  Conversely , the south pole is going to be tipped as far toward the sun as it can go. All areas north of the Arctic Circle will be in darkness for 24 hours while south of the Antarctic Circle will have 24 hours of sunshine.

Over the ages, there’s been much lore associated with the Winter Solstice. Some say the  celebration of Christ’s birth was designated by the Catholic Church to be December 25 to compete with, or appease, the Pagans’ celebration of the Winter Solstice festival.

Recently, there’s been a lot of “buzz” about the Mayan Calendar, which some claim predicts the world will end December 21, the day of the Winter Solstice.


As I sit her at 8:30 on Thursday, Dec. 20, and already, in Australia and other places December 21 already arrived. And according to report I heard on the NBC Nightly News, life continues there.

My blog name, Halcyon Days, has an association with the Winter Solstice, because in a story from Greek Mythology, seven days before the Winter Solstice the halcyon, a mythical bird with the body of a kingfisher, begins to build her nest. This takes seven days, after which for another seven days she lays and hatches her eggs.
Kingfisher bird

During this 14-day period, known as "halcyon days," the wind and sea are calm. Modern day usage of the phrase refers to peaceful times and evokes images of an earlier time, remembered as idyllic, whether accurately or not.

I just happen to like the term so that's what I named by blog.

On to other things:

I added a few pieces of lichen from an oak tree to my natural wreath I showed you here two days ago:

I visited a shop in town called "The Lemon Tree." Here are few pictures of their holiday offerings:

These Red Cardinal tree photos are for Patricia! But I feel sure she has her own.

There were several displays featuring this "new" Christmas Green color. I like it!

The silver reindeer were nice!

Finally, a few stormy day photos. Cold weather has definitely arrived in North Alabama. The temperature will drop into the 20s (F.) tonight and the wind is blowing like a storm.

Here's my (Bradford) Pear Tree. Perhaps tomorrow morning I will find a Partridge perched there!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Two Turtle Doves

Shortly after dawn I stepped outside my back door and beheld a sweet and beautiful sight.

Two mourning doves were perched on a tree limb very near the deck. They were preening and were totally absorbed with each other, to the point they didn't seem to notice my presence.

I silently took my phone in hand and started making pictures. Hoping for a closer shot, I moved in, fully expecting them to fly away. But surprisingly, they seemed to ignore me, which was a good thing for me.

The birds perched on the lowest thin branch.

The birds can be seen a bit more clearly in this photo.

A little more daylight gives a better view of the doves.

This is obviously not the best photo of perching birds, but it was a special moment and I'm happy they didn't fly away when I got relatively near them.

Credit: wikipedia
American Mourning Dove. The wings can make an unusual whistling sound upon take-off and landing. The bird is a strong fllier, capable of speeds up to 88 km/h (55 mph

Mourning doves are quite abundant in this area. They are within the same family of the Turtle Doves, which we all are familiar with through the song, "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Turtle Doves, also known as the European Turtle Dove is found throughout the continent and North Africa.

Credit: wikipedia
European Turtle Dove


I was pleased these "two turtle doves" decided to visit and bring much joy during the Christmas season.

From The Twelve Days of Christmas

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me Two Turtle Doves  
and a partridge in a pear tree.


Isn't this such a sweet picture?

The Turtle Dove by Sophie Gengembre Anderson

My day was quite hectic and there were challenges, but my morning started perfect with a viewing of the two doves. I think my planets have been out of alignment the past few days. I'm ready for them to shift!! (haha)

How was your day?

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