Friday, December 31, 2010
In my part of Scotland, the New Year celebration is known as Hogmany. It's imperative to wear a mask. My dour Scots neighbors are afraid someone will see them having fun, and call their parents. Mercifully, my family tradition is from a bit further west.
My ancient relatives Irish New Years celebration is known as drunken brawl. It involves consuming copious alcoholic beverages, usually 12 ounces per serving. Masks are periodically worn, to elude the police, throw off the innocent victims, and protect the virgins.
Whatever your family tradition, party hardy, be safe and come back tomorrow in one piece. We'll leave the light on for ya.
For a bit more serious look at Celtic holiday traditions take a peek at my new best friends the Celtic Queens.
Thursday, December 30, 2010
While you have been seasonally greeting, I've remained vigilant, preparing you for the day ahead. Today we give thanks to the US Armed Forces, our canary (parrot) in the mineshaft.
Obviously, the military performs tasks that most of us neither want to know about or think about having to do ourselves. Think Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men.
Our armed forces do what they are told with the resources given to them, and it's up to them to get the job done. Military commanders are only criticized for being in situations they shouldn't be in, by politicians who didn't protect them in the first place.
Two 2010 Army studies were published which up front, loud, in your face detailed the areas which will cripple it's future.
Draw a mental picture of a 2010 Army recruit. Patriots? Some. Kids looking to beat the sheriff? A few. Young people hoping to better themselves? Most certainly, it surely isn't the free work clothes which draws them in. In reality a pretty wide cross section shows up at a local recruiter.
In June the Army reported that 27% of recruit applicants are too fat to enlist. The spirit is willing, the body isn't able.
Last week, it was reported that 23% of recent high school graduate applicants failed the Armed Services Qualification Test,the entrance exam if you will. My suspicion is that this number is probably a constant, and reported every few years as news, but still it is unnerving.
If your curious, you may take the exam here without fear of a recruiter getting in touch. There are 4 parts. Arithmetic Reasoning, General Science, Math knowledge and Word knowledge.
So is there an answer? Certainly not one the Armed Forces can take on alone. They can't fight obesity, stupid and politicians at the same time. God bless 'em, for we know not what they do.
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
The book is the story of Mr. Stewart's winter walk across Afghanistan shortly after the Taliban were evicted in 2002. Taking advantage of the Islamic cultural tradition of providing shelter and food to travelers, Rory, who speaks an Islamic dialect, tells the day by day story of the places he goes, the people he meets along his cross country, off the road walk.
What I found most chilling, and may change or harden your belief in what western military forces are doing in the country, is just how little the locals know of the world a few kilometers outside their villages. Beliefs that died in the west at the end of feudalism, are the norm in the mountainous villages and valleys he traveled.
The clear conclusion I drew was that Westerners will NEVER get their heads around rural Afghanistan. The illiteracy, the tribal animosities, the poverty begger modern western belief.
The story deserves your read. Orlando Bloom has signed on to play Rory in a film about his life.
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Then you wake up and throttle your kids for not doing this first. Even the dimmest bulb could become an internet millionaire sensation.
On this date 1065, King Edward the Confessor dedicated what is now known as The Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster. A week later he died. His successor, Harold II the last king before the Norman invasion, held his coronation there, as have all monarchs since. Seventeen are buried here.
The current church was begun in 1245.
For over a thousand years daily liturgical and choir services have been held in the Abbey. The building itself while huge, feels surprisingly intimate during services.
It's a must see for even the most jaded London tourist.
Monday, December 27, 2010
I needed somewhere to enjoy my balmoral in comfort so while you wasted your day wondering how to get out of town before the storm, I was invested as Laird, Toad of Dunans Castle (Glendaruel, Argyll Scotland). No longer need I rely upon my beloved son in laws family's good nature to assure my teeny bit of Scots ancestry. I'm a landowner, a Laird, likely eventually a tax payer, my sons conscripts of the homeland of Bobby Burns.
It's not my fault our new family castle burned the day before my 1st wedding anniversary, and lies now in ruin. I had pleaded with Fergus to forgo mains electric, but no. Retainers feel they know best. Mercifully, the cellar was saved.
Being Laird of the Manor comes with any number of pleasantries. Use of this catchy stationary.
A Lairdship certificate, suitable for framing, and impressive title when making dinner reservations on date night Friday.
Most importantly use of the estate tartan,
and estate tweed, as soon as I design it.
If you are in the neighborhood drop in, as long as you don't mind the taste of burnt cork.
Sunday, December 26, 2010
You didn't get what you really wanted for Christmas. Not due to any naughtiness on your part. Now is the time to give yourself what you really wanted.
Go to India.
Author,raconteusse (I may have just invented that word) and friend of the Toad's Dominique Browning is looking for adventursome souls to join her in February, as she visit the sub-continent.
Margaret at Elevated Destinations will handle all the details for you.
You are even welcome to go if you got everything you ever dreamed of for the holidays, and just wish to escape the Northern Hemisphere winter for a while.
I got what I wanted on my Christmas list, yet sadly shall not be attending. Should you go, I do have a small shopping list. Nothing bulky, expensive, illegal or large I assure you, so please get in touch.
Whatever your tastes, enjoy your Boxing Day, Kwanzaa or Sabbath or Sunday.
all photos from the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Saturday, December 25, 2010
Friday, December 24, 2010
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
On this date 1864 Union Major General William T. Sherman sent the following telegram to President Abraham Lincoln.
"I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the city of Savannah with 150 heavy guns, plenty of ammunition and also about 25,000 bales of cotton"
I doubt the Sons of the Union Army Veterans have an annual sit down commemorating this in Savannah.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
The Irish born, Catholic nuns of my youth were big on making little children recite. Poetry, bits of verse, catechism it made no difference. "Stand up straight Toad, give us the first 10 lines of..." I can conjure up those memories at will. My favorite was and is by Robert Frost, a poem suitable and fitting for this glorious day.
As days shrink
to the size of a small doorway,
like a protective dome
in the star arched sky.
We frenzied town dwellers
buy bigger presents,
indulge in more parties.
Beyond the entrance we call ‘Winter’
lies a quiet space, empty
but for a single candle
whose light increases
as dreams and hopes
fuel its incandescence.
Step softly within
where the calm communion
of sitting with silence,
shining with light
brings long sought oneness.
Winter Solstice 2006
Have a blessed day, pay heed to the natural rhythm of the seasons.
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Charlestonians, generally a hard partying lot, are getting a jump on the festivities commemorating the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War by holding the Secession Gala Ball tonight, organized by the Confederate Heritage Trust, and sponsored by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The event, criticized as "a celebration of treason and slavery" by the ever vigilant and vocal local chapter of the NAACP, which plans to protest the gala, is privately funded.
Mark Simpson, the S.C. division commander for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said his organization condemns slavery and respects the NAACP’s right to protest.
“We could look back and say (the Civil War) wasn’t something to celebrate – about 620,000 died in the North and South,” Simpson said. “If you count civilians, you’re up to about a million killed in that war. “Do we celebrate that? Heavens no,” he said. “War and death is never something to celebrate. But we do celebrate the courage and the integrity of 170 men who signed their signatures to the Article of Secession – the courage of men to do what they think is right.”
Part 2 of the festivities is the display of the Article of Secession. Seems no one in SC is willing to raise their hand and say have it here.
The first plan was to display it at First Baptist Church in Columbia, where it was drafted on Dec. 17, 1860. The church – whose website notes secessionists met there by order of the S.C. Legislature, “not by invitation of the church” – had no interest in displaying the document.
Next the plan was to display the Articles at the State House, but it was decidedly unwelcome there. The document is on display at the Archives and History building in Charleston.
And so 150 years later, the war continues. We have come so far, and have so far to go.
Friday, December 17, 2010
Are you a bird watcher?
We have 6 feeders around the manse during the winter months, each attracting a bevy of feathered guests. I enjoy watching, but my level of interest is not to the extent that I can discern the differences between the various types of goldfinches,hawks,bats, owls, eagles, nuthatches and whatever else winters here without my handy "Birds of Eastern Missouri" guidebook.
My office is mid tree level so I occasionally do get a birds eye view of what's happening. It was an eye opener to realize that the pecking order isn't just a figure of speech. I see it in action, daily.
If you are into birds, or just fantastic nature photography, take a peak at The Beauty of Nature: 100 Brilliant examples of bird photography. If not, this site just may change your mind. All the above photos are from that site.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
Sometimes nothing is worse than the wrong gift. There are no hand grenades for Christmas. close does not count. The right gift is important. This story is about a young boy who suffers such a fate. The first minute and 30 secs or so is in French. The rest in English.
It's long, but a great reminder of how it pays to be thoughtful.
I present The Sweater.
For my treasured friends up north.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
We received holiday cards from each. They are coming to town for the holidays, the youngest for Christmas, his sister for Kwanzaa. Catch their message?
We head to Kansas this afternoon to visit Paige and her family. Our first holiday visitors arrive Thursday. Laissez_Les_Bon_Temps_Roulez_.
Should you find yourself "over the river and through the woodsing" might I recommend a fun family car activity, so long as you can get the kids off their Gameboys? If you're clever the kids will never catch onto the educational aspects either.
Pick up a copy of
The final Jeopardy quizzes will keep you busy for miles.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Mrs. T was in one room wrapping, I was in another, when I heard her yell. I didn't understand what she was saying, I knew only to come hither quickly. She yelled again, this time I heard "get out of the car." Was someone sliding down the drive heading for the lake?
No such luck. Instead, Meryl Streep was being counseled.
She does this every time Bridges of Madison County is on. I'm afraid to ask what this says about our marriage.
To those fighting the good fight this festive season, listen to your heart. You are in our thoughts.
Monday, December 13, 2010
Have you ever considered changing Gods? Perhaps it's more contemporary to ask change religions? Leaving your lifelong church for what's next door.
Mrs T and I attended our grandson's holiday choir concert this week, which was held in a local Methodist Church. The kids were backed by the church's adult choir and organist along with a holiday brass band. If what was presented is indicative of what takes place on Sunday, I'd reconsider.
The program opened with a bagpipe. Verily, one need be Scots to face an unexpected piper on a cold winter's night, yet in honor of Pearl Harbor Day piper George Gerules set the holiday mood with a stirring rendition of Amazing Grace. Later in the program, George had the crowd on its feet with his performance of Highland Cathedral.
The church choir was magnificent. Not unexpectedly, the men were graybeards, the women younger, yet they were led by a master who knew how to get the sound he wanted. The quality of the music,as well as the church acoustics were a world above the Romish churches of my youth. As strangers, we could feel that God dwelt in that house. The kids did a great job too.
Saturday, December 11, 2010
My dearest darling Edward, Dec 25
What a wonderful surprise has just greeted me! That sweet
partridge, in that lovely little pear-tree; what an enchanting, romantic, poetic present! Bless you, and thank
Your deeply loving Emily.
Beloved Edward, Dec 26
The two turtle-doves arrived this morning, and are cooing
away in the pear-tree as I write. I'm so touched and
With undying love, as always, Emily.
My darling Edward, Dec 27
You do think of the most original presents! Who ever thought
of sending anybody three French hens? Do they really come all
the way from France? It's a pity we have no chicken coops,
but I expect we'll find some. Anyway, thank you so much;
Your devoted Emily.
Dearest Edward, Dec 28
What a surprise! Four calling birds arrived this morning.
They are very sweet, even if they do call rather loudly --
they make telephoning almost impossible -- but I expect
they'll calm down when they get used to their new home.
Anyway, I'm very grateful, of course I am.
Love from Emily.
Dearest Edward, Dec 29
The mailman has just delivered five most beautiful gold
rings, one for each finger, and all fitting perfectly! A
really lovely present! Lovelier, in a way, than birds, which
do take rather a lot of looking after. The four that arrived
yesterday are still making a terrible row, and I'm afraid
none of us got much sleep last night. Mother says she wants
to use the rings to "wring" their necks. Mother has such a
sense of humor. This time she's only joking, I think, but I
do know what she means. Still, I love the rings.
Bless you, Emily.
Dear Edward, Dec 30
Whatever I expected to find when I opened the front door
this morning, it certainly wasn't six socking great geese
laying eggs all over the porch. Frankly, I rather hoped that
you had stopped sending me birds. We have no room for them,
and they've already ruined the croquet lawn. I know you meant
well, but let's call a halt, shall we?
Edward, Dec 31
I thought I said NO MORE BIRDS. This morning I woke up to
find no more than seven swans, all trying to get into our
tiny goldfish pond. I'd rather not think what's happened to
the goldfish. The whole house seems to be full of birds, to
say nothing of what they leave behind them, so please,
Frankly, I prefer the birds. What am I to do with eight
milkmaids? And their cows! Is this some kind of a joke? If
so, I'm afraid I don't find it very amusing.
Look here, Edward,
This has gone far enough. You say you're sending me nine
ladies dancing. All I can say is, judging from the way they
dance, they're certainly not ladies. The village just isn't
accustomed to seeing a regiment of shameless viragos, with
nothing on but their lipstick, cavorting round the green, and
it's Mother and I who get the blame. If you value our
friendship, which I do (less and less), kindly stop this
ridiculous behavior at once!
As I write this letter, 10 disgusting old men are prancing
up and down all over what used to be the garden, before the
geese and the swans and the cows got at it. And several of
them, I have just noticed, are taking inexcusable liberties
with the milkmaids. Meanwhile, the neighbors are trying to
have us evicted. I shall never speak to you again.
This is the last straw! You know I detest bagpipes! The
place has now become something between a menagerie and a madhouse, and a man from the council has just declared it
unfit for habitation. At least Mother has been spared this
last outrage; they took her away yesterday afternoon in an
ambulance. I hope you're satisfied.
Our client, Miss Emily Wilbraham, instructs me to inform you
that with the arrival on her premises at 7:30 this morning of
the entire percussion section of the Boston Symphony
Orchestra, and several of their friends, she has no course
left open to her but to seek an injunction to prevent you
importuning her further. I am making arrangements for the
return of much assorted livestock.
I am, Sir, yours faithfully,
G. Creep Attorney at law.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
From The Jewish Magazine
My TIVO has 4 versions of A Christmas Carol. I know them all.
To stay in the regifting spirit, I offer this rerun from last year. Someday, it's going to become a classic.
Monday, December 6, 2010
Our mailman got a truck for the season. He had been tooling about town in a Jeep thingy, that was on its last legs 4 years ago. Now he can complain about the load in comfort. At least until he gets to our house, where he is overcome with fits of amusement.
Along with Harry and David, Hermes has seen fit to add the Toad's to their mailing list.
Naturally, I was blamed. 130 color glossy pages of "just a little somethings". In the spirit of if you need to ask, The World of Hermes Magazine, August/Winter 2010 edition is a little light on product, yet long on moody French country photos.
I would have preferred a bit more scarf and accessories to hungry boys and girls looking sad. Native French existentialism on a dreary winter morning leaves me chilled.
I was brought up short by the photo below. It is a genuine fear of mine, to wake up to the remnants of Noah's ark having a tussle in our drawing room. Some dream of teeth, I dream of Santa's sleigh. Gone bad.
Sunday, December 5, 2010
1. Xmas is one day, same day every year, December 25.
Jews also love December 25th. It's another paid day off work. We go to movies and out for Chinese food and Israeli dancing. Chanukah is 8 days. It starts the evening of the 24th of Kislev, whenever that falls. No one is ever sure.
Jews never know until a non-Jewish friend asks when Chanukah starts, forcing us to consult a calendar so we don't look like idiots. We all have the same calendar, provided free with a donation from the World Jewish Congress, the kosher butcher, or the local Sinai Memorial Chapel (especially in Florida) or other Jewish funeral home.
2. Christmas is a major holiday.
Chanukah is a minor holiday with the same theme as most Jewish holidays. They tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat.
3. Christians get wonderful presents such as jewelry, perfume, stereos...
Jews get practical presents such as underwear, socks, or the collected works of the Rambam, which looks impressive on the bookshelf.
4. There is only one way to spell Christmas.
No one can decide how to spell Chanukah, Chanukkah, Chanukka, Channukah, Hanukah, Hannukah, etc, so even if you are an illiterate klutz you can't go wrong.
5. Christmas is a time of great pressure for husbands and boyfriends. Their partners expect special gifts.
Jewish men are relieved of that burden. No one expects a diamond ring on Chanukah.
6. Christmas brings enormous electric bills.
Candles are used for Chanukah. Not only are we spared enormous electric bills, but we get to feel good about not contributing to the energy crisis.
7. Christmas carols are beautiful...Silent Night, Come All Ye Faithful....
Chanukah songs are about dreidels made from clay or having a party and dancing the hora. Of course, we are secretly pleased that many of the beautiful carols were composed and written by our tribal brethren. And don't Barbara Streisand and Neil Diamond sing them beautifully?
8. A home preparing for Christmas smells wonderful from sweet smell of cookies and cakes baking.
A home preparing for Chanukah smells of oil, potatoes, and onions. Jews burn their eyes and cut their hands grating potatoes and onions for latkes on Chanukah. Another reminder of our suffering through the ages. Unless of course you are in Israel where they celebrate by eating inedible cherry donuts call sufganiot.
9. Parents deliver presents to their children during Christmas.
Jewish parents have no qualms about withholding a gift on any of the eight nights.
10. The players in the Christmas story have easy to pronounce names such as Mary and Joseph.
The players in the Chanukah story are Antiochus, Judah Maccabee, and Matta-whatever. No one can spell it or pronounce it. On the plus side, we can tell our friends anything and they believe we are wonderfully versed in our history.
11. In recent years, Christmas has become more and more commercialized.
We save money on Chanukah, less gifts to buy, less to return, less junk to deal with, easier to sleep with.
Better to stick with Chanukah!
Saturday, December 4, 2010
I am an inveterate collector. Some collect stamps, some exotic cars, I collect commonplace books, as well as keep my own. A commonplace is a collection of oddities, pithy sayings, newspaper stories and all things which catch the author's fancy.
My favorites are the annual A Christmas Cracker published by John Julius, Lord Norwich, only child of Duff and Lady Diana Cooper, perhaps the second most famous couple in Europe in the immediate post WW II years. For much of his life, Lord Norwich has kept a journal of favorite poems, odd definitions, strange anecdotes and curious correspondence. Since 1980, instead of Christmas cards, John has printed selections of his findings and mailed them to anxiously awaiting friends.
Yesterday, I received the 2010 edition, and over the next few weeks will share my favorite entries. This tops my list. The more things change...
And I thought it was only me.