Wednesday, December 31, 2008

An inspirational retrospect

Seldom have I been so moved as by this tone poem. I first recommended it on Tuesday, May 13th, in this post, which I suggest that you click on to get the most direct link to the movie, which lasts around four minutes. Then, be sure to click on "here" in that post. As far as I've been able to tell, it's the best quality in both video and audio - and trust me, I've checked a bunch of them - and comes on immediately in full screen!

If you have any problem - you shouldn't, because I just double-checked it, but 'just in case' - the url address is "".

I have a copied version from YouTube coming up next but, if you enlarge it to full screen, the writing is a little blurry. However, it's better than others available, which cut the poem short. (Heaven forbid!)

I've scheduled this to publish at 8pm CST this evening. (I'll be playing bridge. Wish us luck?)

May I take this opportunity to wish you and yours a very Happy New Year!

Little (teensy tiny) bits & pieces

These are going to be REALLY teensy bits!

Played bridge this morning with Dottie Ann Goodloe. First time we've ever played together, and I had an absolute blast! We had a nice solid game. Nothing to 'write home about' but nothing to snivel at, either. Came in second.

Took Sam with me. Who's Sam? Click here. I figured he might like to get out of the house for just a little bit and show off his suit before I relegate him to the closet until St. Patrick's Day.

I might even decide to take him back with me to the bridge studio tonight, when Julian and I are scheduled to play bridge to see the new year in.

I don't have much else to say other than to link Chuck's post of earlier today, where he decided to share his New Year's resolutions with everyone. Hilarious, just hilarious!

Here he is, taking singing lessons ...

Check back here later - after 8pm CST - for a far more reflective and serious post, OK? Meanwhile, DO click on the link to Chuck's post. It's funny. Really funny!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New Year's traditions - foods

In many Spanish-speaking countries, eating a grape at each stroke of the clock leading up to midnight - one for each month - is for good luck. If the grape for the corresponding month is sweet, so is supposed to go that month. If the grape is sour, you shouldn't expect a good month. (No matter how sweet or sour each grape is, however, by the time the clock strikes twelve - unless you chew and swallow very fast - you will have a mouthful of grapes!)

"Media noche" - middle of the night - menus in the Philippines often include twelve round fruits (representing money), one for each month. Added to the spread on their New Year's table, Filipinos believe that an abundance of food ensures a prosperous new year.

French-Canadian "tourtiere" (meat pie), often served up in a flaky crust on New Year's Day, can include pork, veal, and/or beef - in addition to mashed potatoes combined with various herbs and spices. (Sounds absolutely scrumptious to me, having been raised in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. In fact, the mashed potatoes part reminds me of a "shepherd's pie" I used to make years ago. I simply must find* that recipe!)

The tradition of ingredients signifies wealth (meat) and substance (potatoes), with the seasonings adding the subtleties of flavor - the nuances of life, as it were, for the coming year.

In this country, there is a Southern tradition that dates back to the battle of Vicksburg during the Civil War. The residents were under seige for over 40 days, and no supplies came in or out. To avoid starvation, they ate the black-eyed peas that had previously been used exclusively for cattle feed.** Today, every January 1st these are commonly eaten to bring good luck for the new year.

One way to prepare black-eyed peas is with ham, bacon, chicken bouillon, onions, peppers, and various spices in a slow cooker. The full recipe can be found here, and the finished product is shown below.

However, some believe that certain foods are bad luck. Lobsters, for example - they move backwards ... and chickens, for another - they scratch in reverse. So, with that in mind, you might not want to use that recipe.

Greens - collard, cabbage, lentil, etc. - are thought of by many to bring prosperity, the green color symbolizing money.

Do you have any traditional servings of food in your family? I actually remember none growing up. It wasn't until I came south, many years ago, that I first heard of a 'black-eyed pea' tradition on New Year's Day. (In fact, there's a restaurant here in Houston - the 'Black-Eyed Pea', of course! - that serves [at least, they used to!] black-eyed peas gratis with any order on January 1st.)

* If I find that recipe, I will make sure to include it in a post on down the road. Trust me. It's been tried and tested - many times, actually. I just have to find it! I seem to remember that it included green beans and mushrooms. No 'crust'. Remind me. Please?

** My research for this post led me, of course, to George Washington Carver - to Booker T. Washington - to Tuskegee. Look for a post on January 5th (coming up shortly) on GWC and another April 5th on BTW. There'll be lots more research involved between now and then on both, but you're just going to have to wait to see it all in writing! Meanwhile, if you have any little tidbits of information that you'd like me to look into for possible inclusion in my stories about either of these great men or the Tuskegee Institute, I'd love to have them.

New Year's traditions and resolutions

Celebrating the New Year is a tradition that dates back to ancient Babylon, nearly 4,000 years ago. Originally it was celebrated during the time of the first New Moon, which is in the Spring. (That tradition continues to this day, by the way, in many parts of the world - particularly in Asia.) It wasn't until Julius Caesar established the Julian calendar that the date of January 1st was even thought of as the beginning of a new year.

Tet Nguyen-Dan is the most important holiday within the Vietnamese culture, and is celebrated for three days. In years past, on New Year's Eve, fireworks that had been strung to houses would have been set off at midnight. To try and help add to all of the noises that were intended to intimidate and drive away the evil spirits, the people would go outside and shout and bang as loudly as they could on pots and pans.

Chinese celebrations, which extend over a 15-day period, include the Lion Dance which I bet many of you have seen. The costume is colorful but intended to be quite fierce, and the dance is usually accompanied by loud drums and cymbals to help drive away the evil spirits. Then, on the last day of their celebrations, lanterns are lit to help guide those spirits who did not know the way how to get back to their home.

In Sri Lanka, there is a kind of "in limbo" period of several hours between when the old year ends and the new year begins, during which people are encouraged to restrain from material pursuits and participate in religious reflections according to custom.

Some people of the world still celebrate the coming of a new year in conjunction with seasonal changes - warmer weather that brings hope and signs of new growth and a re-birth of life, as it were.

Almost all 'clean house' - some literally, by sweeping away bad luck - others by settling old debts, patching up grudges, restoring relationships, and resolving to not make the same mistakes again in the new year. Have you made any New Year's resolutions?

I am making only one, and it's on my calendar for next week to fulfill. I am going to update my will. It hasn't been re-drawn since my 2nd divorce, over 30 years ago. As I told my lawyer last week, "Utterly disgraceful!"

Setsubun - "sectional/seasonal division" - has marked the last day of winter in Japan since the 13th century, and is celebrated one day prior to the beginning of spring - either February 3rd or 4th, depending on the lunar calendar.

One of their more common traditions is to throw beans either in the air or at someone dressed as an 'oni' (devil) while shouting, "Oniwa sato, tukuwa uchi!", which means "Devil's out, good luck/happiness in!" After the beans are thrown, family members then pick up and eat the same number of beans as their ages, bringing good health, luck, and fortune for the new year.

(to be continued with "New Year's traditions - foods" coming later today)

Having fun

Do you enjoy plays on words? I do! To help refresh your memories, just in case you don't remember what those are exactly, here are a couple of examples ...

The dead batteries were given out free of charge.

To write with a broken pencil is pointless.

Whalechaser came up with 33 of these for her post yesterday. Nearly all are real 'groaners' but funny as all get out. You might want to read them while sitting down.

Then, she sent an e-mail introducing me to a character named 'Uncle Jay'. Ever hear of him? I had not, but I've already added his site to my "Ideas for future posts" folder.

He's had this website for nearly two years now, and it looks like he posts a new one every Monday. Kind of cute. Definitely tongue-in-cheek.

Monday, December 29, 2008

I am crushed

I watched the first 3/4 of "The Sound of Music" last night before having to switch over to a PBS showing of part two of a Masterpiece Theater classic starring Helen Mirren as "chief inspector"/"chief detective"/"detective superintendent" - obviously, I don't remember her exact title.

The switchover wasn't what crushed me. Helen Mirren is worth the switch. (By the way, this tells you about the program I switched over to.)

No, what crushed me was the fact that - only a few minutes ago, I looked up Peggy Wood (She's the one who played the Mother Abbess in that movie, remember?) and discovered that her voice was dubbed (DUBBED!) for that movie when she 'sang' "Climb Every Mountain"!

All these years - the movie came out in 1965 - I thought I was listening to Peggy singing that magnificent song, and I was going to try and find a YouTube link for it. Boohoo!

[According to one source I found, however, it was Peggy herself who requested the dubbing, declaring that she was "too old" (73) to handle the vocals. Margery McKay/MacKay - I've seen her name spelled both ways - did the dubbing, which was uncredited at the time.]

I went to YouTube anyway, and found the original soundtrack from the movie. I had the intention of posting it here for you (my link thingee is working again) but the video is rather dark, and so I listened to a few others and found one that I think you might enjoy.

It's in the same key as that of the film score, and the visuals are lovely. I do not know the vocalist's name. Here it is ...

If you'd like to read more about Peggy Wood's career, here's the best link I could find.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Body art

Truly wondrous, these are! Try this one ...

or even this one, for that matter ...

These and more can be seen on Tammy's post of earlier today.

She and her little gals 'found' an absolutely delightful website, but to learn more you're just going to have to click on this link.

Pledge of Allegiance

It was on this date in 1945 that Congress recognized the Pledge of Allegiance and urged its recitation in American schools.

Originally written by Francis Bellamy - a Baptist minister and Christian Socialist - in 1892, it was published in the Youth's Companion, a family oriented magazine that had the largest circulation of the time, around 500,000.

Evidently James B. Upham, the nephew of the magazine's owner, who was working in the premium department, had (in 1891) gotten this idea of selling American flags to schools as a premium to solicit subscriptions.

To further promote this idea, Bellamy was hired to work with Upham, and plans were made to include the newly-composed Pledge and salute in flag raising ceremonies across the country for Columbus Day. Bellamy spoke to a national meeting of school superintendents, and they liked the idea so much that they formed a committee, naming him as chairman.

When first published in September 1892, the Pledge read as follows:

"I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands; one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all."

The original salute, described in detail by Bellamy, was changed from an extended arm during World War II to hand over heart.

[I would have been in the 1st grade in 1943 and participating in the Pledge, but I don't remember specifically doing so. I guess it was just such a natural thing to do then that it doesn't jump out at me from my memory banks. I don't remember ever doing an extended arm salute! It was always hand over heart.]

A few changes have been made to the original Pledge. The word 'to' was added in October that same year; 'my Flag' was changed to 'the Flag of the United States' in 1923; and 'of America' and the words 'under God' were added in 1924 and 1954, respectively. There's a neat chart available here of official versions of the Pledge with changes noted in bold italics.

The only change that Bellamy would have approved of was the addition of the word 'to'. He worked very hard on the initial Pledge, and every word had been carefully selected. He'd wanted to include the word 'equality', but knew that it would never be accepted because women and African Americans were not considered equals. In fact, he later stopped attending church altogether because of the racial bigotry he found there.

I do not actually know whether or not the Pledge of Allegiance is still being recited to begin every class day. I tend to doubt it. When I was teaching in the public schools in the 50's, 60's, and 70's, it was. Now? I don't know.

It's a shame, in my opinion, that God and country seem to be coming more and more under attack. As a person of Christian faith, I am bothered by this. I am old-fashioned enough to think that one should stand to show respect, that doors should be held open, and that heads should be bowed in prayer.

I am proud to be an American. I feel privileged to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance with hand over my heart as a sign of faith and sincerity.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The day after (part two)

I was originally scheduled to arrive at my daughter's house out in Katy 'early' Christmas Day - around 9 or 10 am, she said. Well, I'd been up for about an hour and a half or so (after not having gotten that much sleep the night before), and was fixin' to hit the pillow again for a short nap before heading on out there, when the phone rang at 7:19am.

I recognized the phone number and answered, "Merry Christmas!" "Merry Christmas, Grandma!" my granddaughter replied on her new speaker phone with a gazillion other gadgets. This was her 'treasure' at the end of a long hunt "with clues that were really hard, Grandma!" "How long did it actually take?" I asked. "Two seconds?" "About 10 minutes," she replied, giggling.

"Just wait until next year," I said, "if you thought the clues this year were hard! Next year you're going to have to go to the moon to find your treasure!!" "Oh, come on, Grandma!"

"No, really!" I said. "The first clue will direct you to a package tied with a specific-colored string and a standout-type bow. When you unwrap that, you'll find an apparatus that will allow you to be jet-propelled into space along with an even harder clue as to which package you should open next. And because you'll be going into outer space, you'll need a pressurized suit, an oxygen tank, a built-in cell phone that will allow you to call home, and goggles with a television so you can watch some of your favorite programs while you're traveling. It should take six months or so, and you wouldn't want to be bored."

"Oh, Grandma," she said, "by this time next year it'll only take 30 minutes!" We all had a good laugh over that one! The next few minutes were spent speculating on whatall else she would need. Some sort of potty, for example. And what about food? We didn't even mention that necessity!

But then my daughter interrupted our conversation with, "Come on, Muther! (Only mothers who have daughters know how that word sounds when pronounced thusly.) You're holding up everything. When were you planning to get out here, anyway?" Obviously, she had completely forgotten our prior arrangement.

Well, forget the nap. I scurried around, trying to find everything that I had originally meant to take with me - and yes, I'd made a list, but was checkin' it twice. I told her I'd call when I was actually in the car and starting out.

It took two trips to load the car. On the first trip, after loading, I opened the garage door only to find a complete stranger standing there beside a pickup truck that was blocking my egress. My face was probably registering my shock, because he said, "Hi! I'm your new neighbor. My name is Dave, and I'm moving in today."

Not listening very well, obviously, I said "Ray?" (That was my dad's name, and I thought, "How fun!") "No," he replied, "Dave." He seemed a pleasant enough person. We exchanged a few words. Well, more than a few words, actually.

He said that he was pretty much a homebody, didn't like loud noises, didn't have any big dogs that would be barking night and day, and in fact didn't have any pets at all. I asked, "How about the wife and ten kids?" Nope. No wife. No kids (at least none that would be living on the property). Sounds almost too good to be true, doesn't it? I'm sure we all have more than our share of 'bad neighbor' stories. Think I might really have lucked out on this one!

[See this post for how I feel about getting new neighbors.]

I told him that I normally don't 'visit' much. He seemed to like that response. Told him I was just loading up the car to go out to Katy to be with my daughter and her family for Christmas and alerted him that the next time I came out I'd be ready to go and he should move his truck.

I asked, "By the way, what's your last name?" "Jones" was the reply. Rrvit! (For those of you who don't know why we both erupted in laughter, here's the story.)

After wishing each other a "Merry Christmas" and promising to exchange phone numbers, his moving his truck, etc. and blah, I was finally on my way out to Katy.

[In anticipation of some of your questions, I'll try and answer, OK? #1 - How old is he? I don't know. The older I get, the less able I am to guess others' ages. Somewhere in his 50's, I would say. Maybe 60's. If he's in his 40's, then I hope he never reads this post! #2 - Is he good-looking? Not an ogre, if that's what you're getting at. He has a mustache. Does that count for anything? #3 - Does he play bridge? I have no idea. Give me a break here!]

The rest of Christmas Day was delightful. One of my more fantabulous gifts was a robe that is so luscious, so scrumpdeliocious, so soft to the touch, so luxurious, so -- sorry, I have just run out of words here. (And NO, you may not have it!! However, if you are very very good, I might allow you to view it from a distance!)

Along towards the end of all the opening presents festivities, I received a gift that appeared to be just an empty box. It was really light in weight. I shook it. No rattle. I listened, but heard no ticking. I thought, "Hmmm!"

I opened it, very carefully. Granddaughter offered the suggestion that it might contain a gift certificate. I acknowledged, "Hmmm!" I felt the wrapping - again, cautiously. I thought, "Hmmm!" and said aloud, "It feels kind of like a cigar or a pen of some sort." No one responded to my statement. I continued the unveiling procedure and discovered ... ... a CIGAR!

And not just "a cigar", either, but the very one I had given my son-in-law last Christmas in an effort (I guess!) to revive and continue a long-standing family tradition.

Can't believe I forgot that! Well, obviously I did, but still!! (Their gift to me of what I'm now corresponding to all y'all on must have completely obliterated any memories I might have had prior while trying to re-institute the cigar family tradition.) So anyway, 'guess who' is stuck with the safe-keeping of the newest gorgon/white elephant/albatross/whatthedevil'sthewordanyway until next year? Moi, that's who!

Friday, December 26, 2008

The day after (part one)

This might have been my best Christmas ever! So many wonderful memories to savor and treasure!!

I guess I'll start with Christmas Eve day, when I was at Beth's. Many enjoyable hours were spent there talking, visiting, laughing, eating, napping (only me -- not 'many', but a couple, maybe!), smiling, hugging ... very different from Thanksgiving! The highlight of my evening came was when I was fixin' to leave and Beth said, "You can't leave yet! You haven't opened your presents!!"

I thought, "What presents?!?" She handed me one of those festive bag thingees with colorful tissue paper inside that are so popular nowadays for wrapping, and I began opening. Inside were a bridge score pad (she had optimistically thought we'd be able to get in a hand or two while I was there!), an absolutely delightful magnetic angel for the refrigerator or to use as an ornament, and a couple of those little all-ready-to-go bags of coffee makings that she thought I would probably enjoy.

Then, while we were all laughing and exclaiming over those items, she presented me with a larger box. This one was from Thelma, Beth's mom. I thought, "Oh, my goodness!" I didn't want to open it. I didn't want to destroy what was obviously a hand-made wrap. It didn't make any difference from which direction you viewed it. Each side and end was a scene in and of itself, all very carefully hand-cut and painstakingly taped together to create what was - truly - a wondrous package.

I kept oohing and aahing over it and procrastinating cutting into it to get a look at what might be inside until finally, Dianne - Beth's sister - said, "Here, let me get a closer look at that." I was about to just hand it over to her when I noticed that she had a knife in her hand.

"Ding, ding, ding, ding!" sounded this alarm in my brain and I said, "Give me the knife first." She reluctantly handed over the knife, but then - when I offered the package in order that she could get the closer inspection that she had requested, her interest seemed to have completely dissipated.

Well, there was just no way I could possibly further avoid having to cut into this hand-made treasure, and so I began. Very carefully, I felt along the outside of the package trying to discern where the 'seams' might be.

I'm going to curtail what was threatening to become the world's longest short story ever here by simply saying that I FInally got the job done. What was inside? Well, the little package I initially pulled out - one of three - contained what at first just looked like bits and pieces of fabric scraps! But then I could discern various colored caps and bows. I thought, "What the devil?"

Laughing all the while over these tiny items and thinking, "They must be for a doll. I'm too old to be playing with dolls!", I pulled out the next two bubble-wrapped items. The first was the base. It kind of looked like some sort of candle holder and I thought, "Neat!" I then looked for the candle.

No candle. Instead, there was a pink flamingo. I kid you not here, a pink flamingo! (And no, I'm not going to put him outside in the yard. Do you think I'm crazy? Don't answer that.) And yes, I have decided that it is a 'he'. Sorry, Dianne, but my pink flamingo is going to be known as the world's classiest cross-dresser and will be enjoying every second of his newly-found fame. (I may, however, decide to hold a naming contest for him later. Any suggestions in the meantime?)

He has outfits for not every occasion, but lots of them! Here he is with his very proud new owner, modeling his Santa outfit complete with bow tie and cap (which I have, as of this writing, perched jauntily on the top of his head).

You can see parts of some of his other outfits on the couch to my left. And, if you are able to enlarge the photo* of me, you will be able to count my multitudinous wrinkles, skin imperfections, gray hair (FInally! I've been endeavoring to cultivate every single one of those strands for many years now!!), missing teeth, and whatever all else and varying assortments that often accompany the aging process -- however, I hope that you also take particular note of the sparkling twinkles in my eyes.

What a fun present. What a fun day! Part two of "The day after" will come later. Might even be tomorrow, who knows?

*And yes, you can. Just do a single click and there you have me, such as I was on Christmas Eve! As I told Beth, "If I'd known my picture was going to be taken, I'd have at least flossed and brushed my teeth!"

PS. No contest. His name is Sam. Sorry, folks, no contest. Sam it is. Rrvit!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Favorite Christmas music ... #8 ...

I began this very special series with Mannheim Steamroller, and I'll end it with the group playing a song that I heard for the first time less than two weeks ago. I just love it, and I'm pretty sure it will remain one of my favorites for many many years. Perhaps it will become one of yours, as well.

Here is Mannheim Steamroller's "Up Above the Northern Lights" ...

I hope that all of you have had a most blessed Christmas filled with love, hope, and warmth.

Favorite Christmas music ... #7 ...

"Go Tell It On the Mountain" is one of my favorite songs. When I found this rendition on YouTube, it sounded so joyous, happy, and light I knew that I just had to use it.

Favorite Christmas music ... #6 ...

It's difficult to think of gospel music without the name Mahalia Jackson coming immediately to mind, and this rendition of her singing "What Child is This?" is just wonderful.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Favorite Christmas music ... #5 ...

This is not one of my all-time favorites. In fact, I don't think I've ever heard it before -- at least not that I can remember. I'm including it in this special series because of the unique combination of video and audio as put together by a second year medical student and posted on YouTube just 26 days ago. I think it's quite lovely.

The video is an LDS short clip from the movie "The Nativity" and the music is from Amy Grant.

A Visit from Saint Nicholas

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled and shouted, and called them by name;
"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St. Nicholas too!

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

His eyes how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew, like the down of a thistle,
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night."

~ by Clement Clark Moore, 1779-1863

Christmas plants - legend and tradition

The tradition of kissing under the mistletoe at Christmas emerged in Europe during the Middle Ages. The original custom held that each time a man kissed a woman under a twig of mistletoe, he should remove one of the berries. Once all the berries were gone, no more kissing could take place under that twig.

The sources I read say that mistletoe is found along the East Coast of the United States. Well, it's also here in Houston! The only time you really notice it, however, is when the leaves are gone from the trees. Huge clumps of the parasitic and poisonous plant can then be easily seen.

First discovered by the early Aztecs, the poinsettia was thought of as an Indian symbol of purity. When they were converted to Christianity by the Spanish conquistadors, the power of the poinsettia was also transformed.

Legend has it that an impoverished Mexican girl had nothing to offer on the altar to Jesus except weeds, but was encouraged by the priests to give of her spirit and so she brought the weeds to church with her. Once inside, the weeds miraculously blossomed into a beautiful poinsettia plant. In Mexico, the poinsettia plant is called Flores de Noche Buena, or "flowers of the holy night".

It is still widely believed that the poinsettia is poisonous, even tho countless studies have disproved that notion.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Looking for Secret Santas

The Society of Secret Santas is an anonymous group of individuals throughout the world, performing random acts of kindness to those less fortunate. Using their own resources and without a tax deduction, these leaders share their wealth with those in need. They give from their hearts, remaining forever anonymous.

Secret Santas share the following characteristics and values:

Anonymity ... They do not draw attention to themselves and strive to protect their personal identity and those of other Secret Santas.

Leadership ... They lead by example.

Humility ... Through belief in the human spirit, they share their wealth in a humble, selfless way.

Compassion ... Through random acts of kindness, they tap into the human spirit and try to create in the recipient hope and a belief that they are worthy of unconditional love.

Humor ... They would rather lose every dime they ever made than lose their sense of humor.

Friendship ... They value their association with people of like mind and character; they are each a true Elf.

Did you know that there actually exists, officially, a Society of Secret Santas? I did not.

I'm pretty sure I've heard the term 'secret Santa' nearly all of my life, but did not - until just this morning - know of this organization.

It was founded in 1979 by one Larry Stewart, who kept his identity hidden until he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2006.

There appears to be an ever increasing number of organizations wanting to affiliate themselves with this group. This is just one among the many.

The idea of such a philanthropic organization embodies the true spirit of Christmas, does it not?


It's only chilly here, not really cold like it is up north. Steven now, just the other day, wrote about how it was 25 below there. He was talking about Centigrade, not Fahrenheit. Still plenty cold! Frigid, even!!

Tammy, who lives in Idaho (Steven hails from Canada, by the way), wrote yesterday about how they had received 13" of the white stuff already with more falling ... 4-5 inches expected through the night with 40-50mph winds. Folks, that's a blizzard!

Her daughter Katie shot a video of the storm yesterday afternoon, and it's posted on her site (complete with sound effects). Brrrr!!!

I remember one time, when we were living 'way up there' in the frozen north, we were scheduled to fly out of Marquette, some 40+ miles away. We called the airport to make sure our flight was still scheduled. Why? Well, there was a blizzard going on, that's why!

The person who answered said, "Oh, we'll be taking off all right. Who's this?" When we identified ourselves, he then said, "You'll have to follow the snowplow up, eh?" (That's a UP-ism, the 'eh' - pronounced as in 'weigh'. Took me over twenty years to lose that!) We replied, "Yes." "We'll hold the plane for you," he told us.

You have to understand that this was in the late 1950's, and I'm talking small town here. I mean, small town!

So anyway, we 'crawled' directly behind the plow all the way. Couldn't have made it otherwise. The wind was howling from the north - directly off of Lake Superior - and that snow was drifting, drifting, drifting almost as soon as it was plowed.

When we finally made it to the airport, we were met at the gate by snowy figures carrying snowshoes for each of us to put on. No way could a car be driven inside! I don't remember having to carry our luggage. I think some sort of travois on a toboggan-type sled must have been provided.

We got out to the plane - a guide rope was strung so that none of us strayed, our luggage was loaded, and we climbed inside. It was nice and warm in there. Toasty warm! "You're the last ones," they said, and I thought, "Good! That means we'll take off shortly. I'm ready to get out of here!!"

But we didn't take off shortly. No, we just sat there, plane engines revving, nice and toasty warm, but not moving. I thought, "Well, the pilot's just waiting for a little clear space so he can see to take off." You could hardly see your hand in front of your face, it was that bad. Seriously!

As we continued to sit there, tho, I thought, "We're going to have to go back to Munising. We won't ever be able to take off in this weather!"

Then, all of a sudden, the door to the outside opened and this somewhat indistinct figure came in - blizzard coming into the cabin with it - bearing what looked like the bottom of a cardboard box filled with open containers of 'something' with steam rising from their tops.

First delivery was to the pilots. Next we each got one - it was either coffee or hot chocolate, I don't remember which. The figure went back outside, closed the door, and we took off. They weren't waiting for a 'little clear space'. No, no, they were just waiting for their hot beverage! Rrvit!!

[I hope you'll forgive me if I've told you that story before. I was pretty sure I had, but spent a lot of time trying to look up exactly where I might have done so and couldn't find it. It's far and away my favorite blizzard story. I have a lot of snow and cold weather stories, but I'll save those for another post - or two.]

Meanwhile, back here in Houston, we've already received our first snowfall - which made national news a couple of weeks or so ago, the first one in four years.

What happened four years ago really made history. We actually had a white Christmas! Galveston, I seem to recall, received their first snowfall ever and there were many pictures taken of residents and visitors alike outside in their thongs and shorts building snowmen and having snowball fights. I kid you not here.

What's happening right now? Well, it's raining. Nothing like Houston in January (except that it's still December) for yukky weather. Cloudy, windy, and rainy. Yuk! And it's supposed to continue like this all week.

At least snow is pretty! That is, until you have to shovel it, then shovel it some more, or have to first get out of your driveway and then try and get to wherever it is you need to go ... the airport, the store, wherever. Then your idea of what's pretty changes. I know. I've 'been there done that'.

Our biggest concern is ice. This might sound really strange to you, but it's the truth. In fact, in this post, published within the past two weeks, I wrote more than just a little bit about this problem.

My most toasty warm thoughts go out to all of you who are in the midst of winter already, although - officially - I think it has barely begun. Yikes!


Did you ever wonder what the number one song was on the day you were born? the day you got married? the day you graduated from high school or college?

Well, here's a site for you. Something to have a little fun with just before Christmas.

I played around with it a little bit, and came up with the following for my family:

Mom ~ "By the Light of the Silvery Moon" by Billy Murray & Haydn Quartet

Dad ~ "Nobody's Little Girl" by Byron G. Harlan

My brother ~ "Chattanooga Choo Choo" by Glenn Miller

My sister ~ "Night and Day" by Fred Astaire with Leo Reisman

My daughter ~ "Blue Moon" by The Marcels

My son-in-law ~ "I Need You Now" by Eddie Fisher

My granddaughter ~ "Macarena [Bayside Boys Mix]" by Los Del Rio

Me ~ "September in the Rain" by Guy Lombardo

I just looked up birth dates, but you could select any date you're interested in. A neat idea. Thanks, Tammy!

Monday, December 22, 2008

'Tis the season for ... (Christmas) ...

... rejoicing in Christ's birth
... reaching out to others to share God's love
... random acts of kindness
... exchanging gifts
... enjoying the warmth of family and friends
... believing in miracles
... hope and inspiration

Yes, all of these wonderful things and more. Yet there are some people, myself included, who occasionally find themselves overtaken by emotions that are not so pleasant - anger, grief, loss, jealousy, guilt, disappointment, fear, resentment, or maybe even hatred - feelings that can easily be exacerbated by what is 'expected'. A few are all alone, with no one around with whom to exchange a friendly greeting, a smile, or a hug.

So, in an attempt to jumpstart positive memory banks and perhaps help provide some added good thoughts and even inspiration during this time, I thought a few good stories might just hit the spot.

In my post of May 1st, the 'good news' part, I wrote about the incredible story I'd heard of an act of unbelievable sportsmanship in a collegiate women's baseball game. Do you remember that, by any chance?

Probably not, but I was thrilled to read Chuck's post of yesterday, where he included mention of that game (with more accuracy than my version, of course!) along with linked references to videos and newspaper articles.

I thought you might like to see a photo of the act that won an ESPY award this year. Here it is ...

The first part of Chuck's post, titled "All the Way, Shay!", talks about the remarkable kindness extended to a mentally and physically handicapped child. It's a good read, and supposedly based on a true story.

There's a short film - well, about 16 minutes or so in length - called "Validation" that I've been trying to link directly here from YouTube, but I'm having those problems again. (It's a good thing I got all my Christmas favorites in place before my link thingee decided to go on the fritz, huh?)

So, unless I can get it fixed, here's the URL address so you can watch it yourself. It's the story - a fable, actually - of a parking attendant's ability to make people smile, and is another warm fuzzy. I love happy endings!

Do you know the story of "The Little Engine that Could"? A wonderful children's story about this little engine who doesn't really 'know' that what needs to be done is impossible. He just goes ahead and tries to do it, all the while saying to himself, "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can, I think I can." Then, when he does accomplish the feat, he shouts in triumph, "I thought I could, I thought I could, I thought I could, I thought I could!"

Well, in 1983, at the start of the Melbourne to Sydney Ultra Marathon - a distance of 543.7 miles - a 61-year-old farmer named Cliff Young showed up in overalls and work boots. Much to everyone's surprise, he wasn't there as a spectator. No, he was there to run the race!

The initial flurry of interviews with curious reporters and overall interest and excitement among the other participants and onlookers faded away to almost nothing after the race began. Cliff had this odd running style, almost a shuffle, and he was soon left far behind the pack.

However, that first night (all of the other runners were sleeping) Cliff gained a lot of ground. In fact, he even passed a bunch. "You see," he said in one interview, "When I was growing up and there was a lot of rain coming - we didn't have any tractors or horses or trucks or anything like that - I would run for two or three days straight sometimes, trying to get all the sheep to safety before the big storms hit."

He won the race handily, not once stopping to sleep, shattering the old record by more than twelve hours!

I realize that he's not shown here in overalls and work boots, but this photo was shot during that race.

There exists actual footage, but it's kind of hard to find. I can give you the link, but if you click on that you will only get audio - and this after waiting a few minutes, but it's certainly better than nothing.

[Alert! Alert!! I just clicked onto that link from this post, and it took me directly to the video - immediately - with no problems. So, if you're able to access that video as easily as I just did, then you can ignore the next whole paragraph. Wild. Just wild!]

If you type in the URL address, which is, you will be informed that the video is no longer available. However, have just a touch more patience. Stay with YouTube here, and type in "Cliff Young - Australian ultra marathon". After a very short wait, you will be directed to the one and only video from that event - and, by the way, it'll be the one that you were originally informed was not available!

Then, from watching that little bit, another one of interest will appear on the sidebar, I think - "Cliff Young on the farm training". In this one, he talks about why he wears work boots while running. He describes the weather there as, "It rains nine months of the year and then winter sets in." Says he doesn't like his feet to be wet. Makes sense to me!

By the way, Cliff attempted that ultra marathon again quite a few years later, this time finishing 7th. It's a wonder he finished at all! According to one source (that I can't immediately put my finger on, so I'm just going to fly with my memory on this one) he had a displaced hip!!

A couple of added tidbits here. His name, of course, is known throughout Australia and among serious runners worldwide. The "Young shuffle" has since been adapted by many ultra marathoners. In fact, since Cliff first won in 1983, at least two other runners have won the race using his technique.

He died just a touch over five years ago now at the age of 81, finally succumbing to the ravages of cancer, but he is certainly not forgotten. Wiki has a nice writeup about him and many other articles exist, as well. Truly an inspiration for us old folks!

Holiday eating tips

The following tongue-in-cheek holiday eating tips are courtesy of Will Sheephogan, whose blog I discovered while cruising through some of Blogger's roll of those who describe themselves as 'semi-retired'. And yes, I'm listed there.

1. Avoid carrot sticks. Anyone who puts carrots on a holiday buffet table knows nothing of the Christmas spirit. In fact, if you see carrots leave immediately. Go next door, where they're serving rum balls.

2. Drink as much eggnog as you can. And quickly. It's rare. You cannot find it at any time of year but now. So drink up! Who cares that it has 10,000 calories in every sip? It's not as if you're going to turn into an eggnog-aholic or something. It's a treat. Enjoy it. Have one for me. Have two. It's later than you think. It's Christmas!

3. If something comes with gravy, use it. That's the whole point of gravy. Gravy does not stand alone. Pour it on. Make a volcano out of your mashed potatoes. Fill it with gravy. Eat the volcano. Repeat.

4. As for mashed potatoes, always ask if they are made with skim milk or whole milk. If it's skim, pass. Why bother? It's like buying a sports car with an automatic transmission.

5. Do not have a snack before going to a party in an effort to control your eating. The whole point of going to a Christmas party is to eat other people's food for free. Lots of it. Hello?

6. Under no circumstances should you exercise between now and New Year's. You can do that in January when you have nothing else to do. This is the time for long naps, which you'll need after circling the buffet table while carrying a 10-pound plate of food and that vat of eggnog.

7. If you come across something really good at a buffet table, like frosted Christmas cookies in the shape and size of Santa, position yourself near them and don't budge. Have as many as you can before becoming the center of attention. They're like a beautiful pair of shoes. If you leave them behind, you're never going to see them again.

8. Same for pies. Apple, pumpkin, mincemeat. Have a slice of each. Or if you don't like mincemeat, have two apples and one pumpkin. Always have three. When else do you get to have more than one dessert? Labor Day?

9. Did someone mention fruitcake? Granted, it's loaded with the mandatory celebratory calories, but avoid it all costs. I mean, have some standards.

10. One final tip: If you don't feel terrible when you leave the party or get up from the table, you haven't been paying attention. Re-read tips. Start over, but hurry. January is just around the corner.

He closes with this motto to live by ... Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming, "WOO HOO what a ride!"

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Sunday scatterings

Favorite Christmas music ...

I spent most of what idle time I had yesterday going through my previous notes on whatall I wanted to include in this series and listening to song after song on YouTube.

Originally, I thought that I would post Gene Autry's rendition of "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer" on Christmas Eve. It's far and away my favorite version of that tune. In fact, I had already selected the exact video recording that I would publish.

But then, as I kept listening and watching, I decided to go a very different direction - one I thought more in keeping with the meaning of Christmas, and Rudolph just didn't fit into the mix. (Sorry, Rudolph!) And so, beginning at 8pm CST on the 24th - the scheduled publish time - you will be able to view my final choice.

Then, continuing from there on through Christmas Day, I have three more scheduled ... one at 6am, another at noon, and the third at 6pm. Eight in this series altogether. There were so many from which to choose! I had a really hard time pinning myself down.

Sunday morning ...

Does the name Kristin Chenoweth ring a bell? There was a segment featuring her this morning on Charles Osgood's show. While I was watching I thought, "Geez, she looks familiar. Isn't she one of the regulars on 'Pushing Daisies'?" (That's a show I watch with some frequency and yes, she is.) She has a really interesting life story. I wasn't more than 1% aware of her background until I watched his show today. Fascinating!

As usual, he had all sorts of good 'stuff' to share, including an extensive interview with Dustin Hoffman, who's been one of my favorite actors for many a moon. I thought we were about the same age and we are, except I've got him beat by a little over a month and a half. Now, that interview was fun! He has a wonderful sense of humor.

He talked about how he flunked out of Santa Monica College during his first year there, but yet they called upon him a few years ago to ask if he could help with their fund-raising efforts for some sort of center for theatrical studies on campus. They told him his name was the only one of note that they could find in the phone book. He said, "But I didn't graduate from there." They said they didn't care. Would he help? He said that he would.

When the building was near completion and names for it were being considered, he nixed the suggestion that his name be put on the building. However, his name appears on one of the rooms inside the building - that of the backstage restroom - and Dustin proudly showed off that little area on this morning's program. Rrvit! Don't you just love it?

He said that he had always wanted to be a jazz pianist. Did you know that? I didn't. When he was in his 20's, he composed the musical score for "Shoot the Breeze". Bette Midler added lyrics years later, and part of the feature this morning showed Dustin playing the piano while Sting sang the lyrics.

He is such a talented actor! I was reminded of some of my favorites of his. Three stand out in my mind ... "Tootsie", "Midnight Cowboy", and "Rainman". I know, I know, there were many others, but those are my favorites!

I will probably come back another time and do a separate post on something he said about divorce and ending relationships. Don't look for it until after the holidays, although I could surprise myself and tackle it before then. It will be very introspective.

I recommend ...

Steven is having a good time right now posting things he began planning for a few weeks ago, and I'd like to recommend a couple ... ...

... A three-part series on Truman Capote's short story, "A Christmas Memory" -- part one published Friday, part two yesterday, and (I'm assuming) part three will be later today.

... In addition, he has re-visited Mr. Bean. Remember this bumbling fool? Earlier today he began showing "Merry Christmas Mr. Bean". Don't know how many parts there will be to this one. Make sure you're sitting down while you're watching these, OK?

Weather ...

I'm not talking about Houston's weather, although we have dropped 30+ degrees within the past 24 hours. If I tell you that the current temperature is in the 40's, will that give you an idea of why I wasn't mentioning our weather recently?

No, I'm talking about Boston's weather. My son-in-law flew there Thursday to attend the annual Christmas/holiday festivities/family reunion. He arrived there OK, but the weather precluded him from getting to his final destination.

I don't know if he has been stuck at the airport since then, in a nearby hotel, or what! He hasn't been able to see his father, who's in his mid-90's, and is more than ready to come back home today except all of the flights have been cancelled!!

I seem to recall a very similar thing happening last year at this time, except that - somehow, on that occasion, he at least was able to see his Boston family and then finagle (perhaps even through devious means, who knows?) his way back here.

How awful! Absolutely dreadful news!!

Well, that's it for today. Talk atcha later!

PS. Either I'm not listening at all attentively or I am terribly uninformed. It's one or the other. Whatever the reason, I have to add an amendment to this post. My daughter told me - just within the past half hour or so (it's now going on 2pm) - that her husband did indeed arrive at his father's home, but that they were unable to attend the festivities on Saturday (nor were many other family members!) due to a snowstorm that is continuing as I write this addendum. The very earliest that he can possibly be back here in 'God's country' is tomorrow. He had to upgrade to a 1st class ticket for Tuesday, and will be spending all of tomorrow on 'standby' at Logan Airport. At least that's what my daughter told me. Yuk! Double yuk!!

PPS. It's now going on 3pm. Just spoke on the phone with my son-in-law and wished him a merry ho-ho just in case he didn't get back before then. He didn't sound all that concerned, actually, tho I'm sure he is! He sounded nice and warm, and wasn't at all sure that he would be spending tomorrow at the airport. Thought he might just stay with his dad and spend all day watching television. Rrvit!

Favorite Christmas music ... #4 ...

One of my contemporaries - Johnny Mathis - is still performing, altho he now limits his public appearances to 50 or 60 concerts a year. That's still a bunch!

I cannot imagine "Silver Bells" sung more beautifully than by Johnny Mathis. The crystal clear clarity of his velvety voice can be easily heard in this clip.

Wiki has an extensive writeup about him if you'd like to read more, including some little tidbits that I didn't know about, such as his prowess in sports and his operatic training.

Friday, December 19, 2008

What a day this has been,

What a rare mood I'm in ... ... but the words that come up next don't fit. Gene Kelly, wasn't it?

My day began yesterday, actually, with a phone call (around noon or so) from one of my long-timey customers, asking me if I could pick her up this morning to go to Intercontinental Airport. I said, "Sure! What time?" She said, "10:00. I'll have to call you later to give you the flight number. I'm in a meeting right now." I said, "I don't need a flight number to take you to the airport. I just need one to pick you back up."

Well, later that evening (last night), she called and asked, "What time did I tell you to pick me up?" I said, "10:00." She said, "I was afraid of that. My flight leaves at 10:00!" No problem. We just scheduled an earlier pickup.

Anyway, I got over to her place in plenty of time this morning. I was early, cuz I had allowed for a lot of extra traffic - of which there was none, and so just sat in front of her house waiting for her to come out with her "baby".

Now, she doesn't have a 'baby' as such. What she has is a cute little dog with hair going every which direction that has to be sedated before every plane trip. (She has her baby travel with her -- not with the luggage.)

I was there perhaps 15 minutes or so when - right next door - some big van pulled up and honked loudly two or three times. I thought, "How inconsiderate! It's way too early to be honking, for crying out loud!!" And then I thought, "Geez, I hope my customer doesn't think it's me doing all that honking!"

Well, of course my customer came out of her house to see who was making all that racket and saw me sitting there. We got everything loaded and off we went, arriving at her terminal in plenty of time for them to get checked in.

I didn't think any more about it. Drove back into town, went to Kroger's to get my weekly 'fix' of grape salad (including a smaller-sized container for my daughter, who had never tasted it), bought a little green plant to take to her house out in Katy, stopped at another store on my list, and returned home around 11 or so. Checked my e-mails. Something wrong with the 'system' most of the day today for some reason or another. Same thing with my daughter's. Replied to a couple, responded to a comment or two on various posts, and then lay down to take a short nap after first calling my daughter to tell her what time I thought I'd be heading out her way.

Later. Out in Katy. Daughter and I are having a nice visit. Granddaughter and her two friends have had a lot of fun discovering their new names -- remember the "My NEW NAME is Boobie Battyface" post?

Daughter is giving me some added info on how to link other sites and download pix, etc., when my cell phone rings. I answer, "Hello?" It's -- you're not going to believe this, but it's my customer, asking if I can come and pick them back up from the airport. They've not been able to get on a flight.

I said, "Of course I can, but it'll be a while before I can get there." "No problem," she says. "Don't start out right now, tho. We're still trying to catch another flight. I'll call and let you know for sure."

Meanwhile, back out in Katy, my daughter tries to hurry up all of my tutorials and sample the grape salad while I'm checking and double-checking my list of 'stuff' to run through with her. Heavens to Betsy!

I think it was two or three phone calls later when my customer said, "We're trying to catch the 7:00 flight. Would you be available to pick us up if we don't get on?" I said, "Sure, no problem. Just let me know."

[Can you believe the real life nightmare this woman was experiencing?!?]

I don't get another call. I arrive back home just before 7 and call my daughter. "Do you think I should try and call her cell phone?" I ask. Daughter thought I should probably give it another half hour or so. During our conversation my customer calls again, this time saying that there are so many people waiting to catch that flight that she doesn't see any way that they will be able to get on, and can I come and pick them up?

I told her that I would leave immediately and asked where they would be waiting ... in the luggage area or in departures? She told me that their luggage had already gone. My goodness, my goodness!

OK. So, it's like two or three minutes later. I'm on the road. I can't even begin to imagine the frustration she must be feeling! I'm not going to break any speed records getting up there, but I'm not going to dawdle around, either!

I'm no more than two or three miles from my house when my phone rings again. I recognize the number and say, "Yes?" "Don't come!" she says. "We made the flight." I turned around and went back home.

Sooo, how's your day been?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas Cookie Observations

The following observations have been made by a noted master chef* who recently completed yet another intensive course in the culinary arts.

1. If you eat a Christmas cookie fresh out of the oven, it has no calories because everyone knows that the first cookie is just a test and thus calorie free.

2. If you drink a diet soda after eating your second cookie, it also has no calories because the diet soda cancels out the cookie calories.

3. If a friend comes over while you're making Christmas cookies and wants to try one, you should - per rules of etiquette - eat with your friend. And because your friend's first cookie is calorie free (see #1), your courtesy allows you to participate in the tasting under the same exception.

4. Any cookie calories consumed while walking around will go directly to your feet and fall off as you continue to move. This is due to gravity and the density of the caloric mass.

5. Any calories consumed during the frosting of the Christmas cookies will be negligible because it takes many calories to lick excess frosting from a knife without cutting your tongue.

6. Cookies colored red or green have very few calories. Red ones have only three and green ones have five ... one calorie for each letter.

7. Cookies eaten while watching "Miracle on 34th Street" have no calories because they are part of the entertainment package and not considered one's personal fuel.

8. As always, cookie pieces contain no calories at all because the process of breaking causes massive calorie runoff.

9. Any cookies consumed from someone else's plate have no calories since the calories rightfully belong to the other person and will cling to their plate.

10. Any cookies consumed while feeling stressed have no calories whatsoever because cookies used for medicinal purposes NEVER have calories!

*Whalechaser. Although her astute observations have been edited for purposes of this post, the essence of her wisdom has been strictly adhered to. So, enjoy those cookies without fear of gaining even an ounce!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What are angels?

Children have a very broad view of what angels are. Here, in their exact words, are some of their explanations ...

I only know the names of two angels, Hark and Harold. ~ Gregory, age 5.

Everybody's got it all wrong. Angels don't wear halos anymore. I forget why, but scientists are working on it. ~ Olive, age 9.

It's not easy to become an angel! First, you die. Then you go to Heaven, and then there's still the flight training to go through. And then you got to agree to wear those angel clothes. ~ Matthew, age 9.

Angels work for God and watch over kids when God has to do something else. ~ Mitchell, age 7.

My guardian angel helps me with math, but he's not much good for science. ~ Henry, age 8.

Angels don't eat, but they drink milk from Holy Cows!!! ~ Jack, age 6.

Angels talk all the way while they're flying you up to heaven. The main subject is where you went wrong before you got dead. ~ Daniel, age 9.

When an angel gets mad, he takes a deep breath and counts to ten. And when he lets out his breath, somewhere there's a tornado. ~ Reagan, age 10.

Angels have a lot to do and they keep very busy. If you lose a tooth, an angel comes in through your window and leaves money under your pillow. Then when it gets cold, angels go south for the winter. ~ Sara, age 6.

Angels live in cloud houses made by God and his son, who's a very good carpenter. ~ Jared, age 8.

All angels are girls because they gotta wear dresses, and boys didn't go for it. ~ Antonio, age 9.

My angel is my grandma who died last year. She got a big start on helping me while she was still down here on earth. ~ Michael, age 9.

Some of the angels are in charge of helping sick animals and pets. And if they don't make the animals get better, they help the child get over it. ~ Vicki, age 8.

What I don't get about angels is why, when someone is in love, they shoot arrows at them. ~ Sarah, age 7.

This post is courtesy of an e-mail from my friend Beth. Aren't they wonderful?

To close this off, I thought I'd include a cute cartoon -- it fits, kind of.

Sky Traffic

Are you planning air travel over the next week or two? You won't be alone. Here's an example of what air traffic controllers in this country have to deal with on a daily basis ...

Or maybe you'll be traveling to Europe? Check out this mind-boggler. About halfway through the video the map turns on its axis and it looks, literally, like a beehive of activity.

Wasn't that interesting? I seem to remember hearing or reading about how air traffic controllers often suffer 'burn out' from the stress of their jobs. That sounds quite plausible.

Now, for a worldwide look at air traffic over a 24-hour span, have some fun with this 72-second clip. I found it mesmerizing.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Cataclysmic events

There is no 'good time' to experience the loss of a family member or loved one. For a Christian, this time of year is perhaps the worst. Around Easter, because of our belief that Christ lived and then died for our sins and subsequently rose from the dead in both triumph and humility, we have the hope that our loved one is with the Heavenly Father.

I cannot speak for those of other faiths or those with no 'faith' at all except in the here and now and what they can actually see and put their hands on. I can only write from my perspective.

It doesn't matter whether or not you might have been 'hoping' that your dear one's suffering might end. Perhaps your beloved was in a terrible accident and your loss was sudden and particularly shocking. Perhaps the person died and it was only after his/her death that you realized how much this person meant to you. Perhaps you had some sort of 'closure'. It really doesn't matter.

The fact is that your dear one is no longer with you here on earth except in your memories and in your heart.

The grieving process is described eloquently, yet succinctly, in a seemingly insignificant little paperback book, "How to Survive the Loss of a Love", which includes some poems and little snippets of added thoughts that you might not find elsewhere.

I have - somewhere around this house - what is now probably a terribly dog-eared copy of this book with pages highlighted with different colored markers, depending on which loss I was experiencing at the time.

In my post "Loss and feelings" - published December 11th, I attempted to address this convoluted and often most elusive of subjects.

I used the words "maelstrom" and "whirl" to try and describe some of the emotions one feels after experiencing such a loss and how they threaten to overtake, overwhelm, and even interfere with our everyday functioning. I spoke briefly about how one will - eventually - assimilate all of these feelings and experiences into a new definition of 'normality'.

I could have used the word "morass" or even several others, I'm sure, to illustrate the helplessness and inadequacy one feels.

What's my point? Well, I guess I have only one ... ...

Unless you have experienced a significant loss in your own life, you really have not the vaguest idea of what another person is going through, emotionally. Even then, I venture to say, you are not that other person and so you still do not 'know' - nor will you ever! - what they are going through. The very best that you can do is listen, to try and provide a 'sounding board', as it were.

There's a wonderful little saying from that book that I'd like to quote for you. "I sat evaluating myself. I decided to lie down."

My friend sat evaluating and then decided to lie down.

Once again, I ask that you send your most heartfelt thoughts and prayers my friend's way.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas traditions

When I was a kid and even well into adulthood, there was a cigar that was passed around from one family member to the next each Christmas. If any uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents, etc., were to be among the gathering on Christmas Day, one of them would probably be included. When I married, my husband was initiated into the annual exchange. I don't recall if any of his family were invited to join the group or not, nor do I remember exactly who started it.

All I know for sure is - if you were the recipient of the cigar one Christmas, it was your responsibility to watch over and guard it until the next Christmas and only then could you pass it along to another lucky person.

Various wrapping disguises were used ... cigar boxes, clarinet cases, whatever one's imagination could come up with to try and hide the fact that someone in the family was about to be honored with a cigar that - over the years - deteriorated almost to the point of extinction.

It was a lot of fun. Some years we couldn't even remember who had gotten the cigar the year before! When that happened, the person in whose safekeeping the cigar had been entrusted never admitted that they had it, but would go along with the group in their quandary. I wonder whatever became of that cigar?

A tradition that I began, and my daughter has continued with her own daughter, is a sort of treasure hunt on Christmas morning.

My husband and I - along with a whole lot of other parents, I'm sure - were usually bleary-eyed from all the frantic activity the night before, and really didn't want to be awakened and have to get up bright and early Christmas morning just because Santa had been there!

And so, we instituted this policy whereupon our daughter could open her stocking and nothing else until we were out of bed. In her stocking, in one of the small wrapped gifts, I would place the first clue to where she would eventually find her 'big' gift. This bought us maybe five more minutes.

She'd sometimes come in to our bedroom and want either her daddy or me to give her a hint. Or she'd ask, "What's this word?" (And as the years went by, of course, the clues had to become harder and harder.) I tell you, it was a stitch! He and I would be lying there, giggling softly and listening to her rummaging about until her shout of triumph would indicate that she'd found the next one.

I probably made up ten or so clues altogether. And like I said, it bought us another few minutes. Worth every second!

Now I've seen some of the clues she makes up for my granddaughter. Heavens! I would have trouble deciphering them!! But then, what can I tell you? My granddaughter's a genius. Trust me. You have the word of an unprejudiced grandmother.

Polimom published a post just the other day of a tradition in her family. It has to do with this picture ...

If you'd like to learn more about the history of those teddy bears, go here.

What about your family? Do you have any stories you'd like to share?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Favorite Christmas music ... #3 ...

"O Holy Night", I believe, is one of the most beautiful songs ever written. I went in search of a recording that lifted my heart up and gave me chills. I found one.

Here, for your enjoyment and to help provide some inspiration, perhaps, is David Phelps ...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Here, there, and everywhere ...

Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, will this post ever be scattered! As with such posts before, I will highlight each little (or big) section in bold to try and make it easier for you to read - or not - as you are interested.

Baby, it's cold outside!

I went out to the store several hours ago. Had the car radio on the whole time. They said that the actual temperature was 42 degrees (Fahrenheit), but I would have sworn that it was at least twenty or thirty degrees colder! The wind is coming directly out of the north. I'm not even going to take the time to check and see what the actual velocity is. I don't need to. I know what it feels like! Brrr!!

I reported in my "Snow!!" post that there were 'no accumulations to speak of' of the white stuff, and yet I keep hearing all these stories of 3" of the wet stuff on the east side of town and 4" in SugarLand, just 'down the road' and southwest of where I live. I must have been watching the wrong newscasts, whadya think?!?

Where I live, we only got a 'dusting' ... really and truly.

[693 motor vehicle accidents this morning between the hours of 4 and 11 on Harris County roadways]

Buyer beware!

In my post "Testing digital" , I spoke briefly about the efforts our local television stations were making to ensure that everyone was informed about the upcoming government-mandated changes from analog to digital.

I received a comment from Tammy on that post that I found most distressing. Seems that her family had purchased a supposedly digital TV last summer from WalMart, but - when their local TV stations had provided such a test in their area just a couple of weeks ago, their television set was not compatible! That comment incensed me!!

In my ignorance, I suggested to Tammy that she not let go of this, that she take the TV back to the store where it was originally purchased and insist that they exchange it, that she raise a real 'stink' about it. She responded that they had already tried all that (except for the stink-raising). The store would do nothing for them. Said that the warranty, a 60-dayer, had long since expired.

Today, I called a lawyer friend of mine whom I've known over thirty years to hear what he had to say about all this. "Unfortunately," he said, "stores have no legal obligation to take anything back! And in this economy," he added, "their policies are becoming more and more stringent. The fact that they've often done so in the past was due more to their willingness to promote customer goodwill than any legal requirement."

I asked what would happen if Tammy wrote a letter of official complaint to the Better Business Bureau or the local newspaper. "Probably nothing," was his answer, "but it might make her feel a little better! And, you never know, WalMart may even accede to her wishes."

Wish I had better news for you, Tammy. Meanwhile, you can visit or call 1-877-DTV-5353 for more info on how to get those free $40 coupons (two per household) towards the purchase of a converter box.

Christmas Specials

We've got another one coming up Saturday night on NBC ... "It's a Wonderful Life" ... I'll be watching. (Unfortunately, I think I'm going to be in for about a half hour's worth of commercials. They've got it slotted in for three hours. It's not that long a movie, is it?)

Cornbread Sausage Casserole

I finally put it all together and tried it yesterday. I've never been much for cornbread, so used a combination of that with mashed potatoes as the very top layer. Figured that'd be good.

Well, folks, I'm sorry to report a "10 thumbs down," as Kayla would say. It was the sausage!! Who'da thunk it? I love sausage! One recipe down. A billion good ones out there, I'm sure, but I'll stay away from any with sausage for a while.

[I must confess, tho, that I used a ground "country" sausage instead of "breakfast" sausage. Don't know if that would have made a difference or not.]

Meanwhile, I've been ingesting peanut butter and jelly sandwiches today to try and get the awful taste out of my mouth. Brushing my teeth and tongue, along with liberal swishings of mouthwash, simply did not do the trick!

I'll be putting together another batch of chili later tonite. That'll be good, and perfect for this weather.


A bit of interesting news to report. It was announced yesterday that first prize, in the amount of $10,000, had been awarded to a duo from Rice University for their suggestions on how to recycle 5 million cubic yards of trees that had been destroyed when Ike struck nearly three months ago.

Charcoal, which would be used in fertilization (seemed logical to me!), was one of their suggestions. Another, which I don't understand but sounds plausible, talked about producing methane gas as an energy source. Prototypes are in the works.

Maintenance fees

For the first time in several years, monthly maintenance fees for my townhouse are increasing - from $172 to $177. That's becuz they're doing such a 'wonderful' job maintaining, doncha know?

It'll be three months tomorrow since Ike blew through. My neighbors just across and down the back alley finally took matters into their own hands and replaced their fence themselves. It's a really good-looking fence - much classier than the ones the Association puts up. I hope they're allowed to keep it!

Odetta and Elvis

An update from yesterday's post. I received a long comment today from Dan Bessie, who knew Odetta personally and had a few interesting stories to tell and little tidbits to share about her. Check the comments section from that post to learn more.

Paul Harvey

As I said earlier, I had the radio on while I was out and about and happened to catch Paul Harvey's show. A fellow named Ron Chapman was guest-hosting ... hope Paul's OK. As usual, there was a cute story. Here it is ...

Seems that this woman went out to her car one day, started it up, and was about to start running her errands when she noticed that some things just weren't working right. Windshield wipers, horn, turn signals, funny engine sounds and the like, so she took it to the shop. When the mechanic opened the hood to try to begin diagnosing the problem, he found everything inside literally covered with black walnuts! Seems a chipmunk had been using that area to store his goodies.

A question here: How long had it been since she had last driven the car?

Loss and feelings

A friend of mine has - within the past week - experienced the loss of a dear one.

Losing a loved one is often traumatic. Our feelings range from shock to denial to anger to acceptance to grief to guilt to relief to sadness to -- whatever we are experiencing at any given point in this whirl of emotions that occasionally overwhelm us and interfere with our normal everyday routines. Our comfort zone at times seems to completely disappear in this maelstrom, and we wonder if things will ever be normal again.

Well, things will never be the same! That loss, if permanent, will always be with us. A new definition of 'normal' will be created, and we will move on.

For me, the most important first step that one can take in the grieving process is to recognize what one is feeling so that validation can take place.

I grew up with a father who 'tut tutted' me. What do I mean by that? Well, try "It's not that bad." or "You don't really feel that way." I didn't know it at the time, of course. It is only in retrospect, after psychotherapy sessions and many many years later, that I realize how damaging statements of that nature were to my feelings of confidence and sense of self-worth. What he had meant as words of comfort did not serve to have a good effect long term.

Instead of developing into and becoming an independent and mature person who was well-grounded, I became a "woman who loves too much" - one who is dependent upon others for recognition, approval, and validation.

To compound the problem, I married my father. Not literally, you understand, but for almost another twenty years I was subjected to the same or very similar platitudes.

It was only years after our divorce and he had entered into a serious relationship with a woman he subsequently married that he said, when I called him - sobbing - on the phone to tell him that a person we had both enjoyed tremendously had accidentally shot and killed himself while cleaning his gun, "Oh, that is sad!"

Now, I am fully aware of my emotions. I was really 'down' at Thanksgiving and even for a few days afterwards this year, and wrote extensively about my feelings in the post "Religion and me" , published November 28th.

I am on a slightly more even keel now. Think I'll be OK. Not to worry.

However, because of my background, one of my more pushable 'hot buttons' is when someone tries to tell me how I feel. Please, do not attempt to tell me how I feel! I feel how I feel how I feel how I feel, and - unless you are me, you do not 'know' how I feel!!

I admit I was a little miffed a couple of days ago when I learned that my daughter said that I am 'angry' - this in re Thanksgiving and Christmas. (You'd have to read my post - linked above - to understand what I'm talking about here.) She didn't say, "She seems angry." Do you see a difference there?

I have since accepted the fact that she thinks I am angry. She has a right to think whatever she pleases. Just don't tell me or anyone else what my feelings are!

My friend buried a family member yesterday. I have sent many thoughts and prayers my friend's way. Perhaps you will have a moment to do the same.


For the first time since 2004 - Christmas Eve, actually - we had some snow.

Not much on my side of town, altho the rooftops and parked cars had the white stuff all over them. I'm probably about the only person in town who owns an ice scraper, but my baby was safely tucked away in the garage - the rest of the folks would have had a slight problem unless or until they figured out that all they had to do was grab a hard plastic spatula from a utility drawer in the kitchen. That works pretty well.

The 10pm news was full of shots of snow falling - not terribly heavy, no accumulations to speak of, but it was enough to create a winter wonderland scene at the outdoor ice skating rink downtown and cause a car accident or two.

There were worries, because we have literally hundreds of overpasses in Houston, of the wet roads overnight becoming like glass resulting in a nightmarish rush hour this morning. And they would have (and probably some were in the hours between 10pm and midnight), except that the temperatures did not continue to fall into the 20s as predicted. Rather, they held fairly steady from 9pm on (when we were right at the freezing mark) and even rose three or four degrees.

Currently, temperatures are ranging between 33 and 36 degrees with winds either from the WNW at 8mph or NW at 10, 11, & 13mph, depending on where you live in Houston. Those figures are different from those of an hour ago. They're significantly lower.

The skies are clearing, which is bad news. With no cloud cover the temperatures will continue to drop. If the roads are still wet, we'll have those icy conditions. Not good for the morning commute. I'm glad I don't have to be out this morning. It's not my driving I'm afraid of. It's all those other idiots out there!

[OK. It's now a little after 5am. Just did the latest weather check, and it would appear that we are out of the woods. The skies are all now 'clear' and 'fair', wind speeds range from 7-16mph, and the lowest temperatures are up a degree to 34. Good news all around, it would seem. I'm going to go into the other room in just a sec to see what they're reporting on the news. If there's anything of interest to add, I'll let you know.

Well, too bad. I was being too much of an optimist. Accidents everywhere. Many overpasses are difficult if not impossible to negotiate safely. In fact, accesses to some are being blocked off. The glare of ice can easily be seen from Transtar cameras. Temps now at the freezing mark. Nightmare commute. Glad I'm inside.]

Christmas is just around the corner. If we get some significant snowfall between now and then, I'll do a post on Christmas in 2004. In fact, I might just do one anyway! It's worth talking about.