Which is the word in English that has nine letters, and remains a word at each step when you remove one letter from it, right down to a single letter remaining.
Well, Christmas is officially over. Sunday was Epiphany, the Feast of the Three Kings (who of Orient are) – the twelfth day of Christmas. I took down the tree in our living room, and removed the huge wreath and its garland from our balcony, and put away our Creche set. About fifteen years ago, I found the most beautiful little resin statues of Mary, Joseph, and the Babe in a Seasonal Concepts store. They were five inches high, marvelously detailed, and colored to look like carved wood that the paint had worn thin on. I bought them and an angel, a shepherd and a set of three sheep. The next year I bought the Three Kings riding camels. It wasn't long before I realized the makers – Fontanini, an Italian company – were out to sell all of Bethlehem. Every year I bought another piece or two, the baker, the carpenter, the green grocer, the potter. Down the road I found myself on E-Bay, buying from other collectors and, once or twice, from the manufacturer in Italy. I'm not a proper collector, I didn't keep the boxes the pieces came in, and when I bought duplicate sets of hanging angels playing musical instruments, I repainted their costumes. I bought palm trees and some of the buildings. When I got them out at Christmas, they took over every flat surface in our big living room. I would start the Three Kings out the first Sunday in Advent in our bedroom. They'd wander through the upstairs as the days progressed, down onto the landing, through the kitchen, arriving in Bethlehem Christmas Eve. For Epiphany, I replaced them with the Kings on foot, presenting their gifts.
Then we moved into an apartment. When I tried setting them up on the kitchen counter, it looked like a riot. So I gave them to my church. Not only were they pleased to get them, they put me in charge of setting them out in Advent and taking them down at Epiphany, so I still get to play with them.
A problem has been the angels. In our townhouse, there was a fireplace with a big beam for a mantel, and I suspended them from tiny brass hooks – some of my shepherds are looking up at them (so are two of the sheep, too sweet!). But how to display them in the narthex of our church? I took a large and small embroidery hoop, tied them together and hung sixteen of the angels on very thin fishing line from them – they let me screw a hook into the ceiling. But the hoops seem intrusive and they refuse to hang straight. I want something more subtle, perhaps of wire. And capable of holding all of my angels (I have about two dozen – a real “multitude of the heavenly host.”)
Perhaps one of you has a suggestion? It should be something I can build myself.
This evening at seven I will be at the Shakopee Public Library. I gave a talk there several months ago and it felt too short and rather thin – they were videotaping it and I got intimidated and stuck strictly to my printed version. So I asked if I could try again, and they agreed I could. No camera this time so it should be warmer and have some improvisation, which makes it more fun.
Answer to the riddle: 'Startling' is the word. Begin by removing 'l', which makes it 'starting', then take away the 't', making it 'staring', and so on – string, sting; sing; sin; in; and I.