Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A little of this and a little of that, or Fast away the old year passes

Two more days and 2015 will be history. I'm still boggled at the thought that the 21st century has arrived, and already a sixth of it is down the drain.

A hundred years ago we (well, not we, but you know what I mean) were embroiled in World War I and the sinking of the Lusitania was just months away.

Two hundred years ago the Napoleonic Wars, which had lasted from May 1803 until November 1815, ended in Europe. On this side of the pond in America, General (and future President) Andrew Jackson defeated the British at the Battle of New Orleans early in 1815. Since 1959, thanks to country singer Johnny Horton, we former colonists remember it this way (2:28).

Three hundred years ago, the French had just lost Louis XIV after a 72-year reign (if Her Majesty reads this blog, there's a new goal for you) and the British were just beginning to get used to George I after the death of Queen Anne of rounded furniture legs fame. Here is a statue of her that stands in front of St. Paul's Cathedral in London.































A High Tory political opponent of Queen Anne wrote that "it was fitting she was depicted with her rump to the church, gazing longingly into a wineshop". Except that our president would be gazing at a golf course instead of a wineshop, many Americans know, as they prepare to enter a new year that will see the end of the reign tenure of Barack Obama, just how that Tory felt.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Got a minute? I have something really important to tell you.

On the afternoon of December 25th, whilst driving with Mrs. RWP the 30 miles to our son's home for the Brague family get-together (total in attendance: 15 , or 17 if you count Chester the dog and Gracie the cat) , I turned the radio on in our car (which vehicle was recently upgraded to a 2006 Nissan Murano with 107,000 miles from a 2000 Toyota Camry with 324,000 miles and now we are only a decade behind the consumer paradise where the automobile industry's incessant commercials tell us every right-thinking citizen should be instead of a decade-and-a-half) . It being Christmas and all, the regularly scheduled talk-radio programs (Can you say Rush? Can you say Sean?) had been replaced by four-hours of pre-recorded holiday music entitled "Mannheim Steamroller's American Christmas" -- I know it was pre-recorded because (1) the very same four-hour tape was broadcast on the afternoon of December 24th as well and (2) the talent presented included stuff like Bing Crosby singing "Do You Hear What I Hear?" and a male-female duo who reminded me of but were not Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé singing "Baby, It's Cold Outside" and what sounded like a very young Barbra Streisand singing, "I'll Be Home For Christmas" -- stuff nobody but old geezers whose minds are gone and whose muscles are too atrophied to stretch out their hands and change the station would listen to for more than five minutes.

I said all that to say this.

After every third or fourth song, the music was interrupted by somebody from Mannheim Steamroller telling all of us in the vast listening audience some supposedly interesting fact about the season. One of these non-musical segments was about our old friend Santa Claus and his counterparts in various countries of the world. What nearly made me drive off the road was that after the man with the radio-trained voice said that in England Santa Claus is known as Father Christmas, he told us that in France he is called Pierre Noël.

You read that correctly. Pierre Noël.

Au contraire, my golden-voiced, misinformed, highly paid friend. In France Santa Claus is not called Pierre Noël (Peter Christmas) . He is called Père Noël (Father Christmas) .

I'm so glad we had this time together.

I feel so much better now.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Hodie Christus natus est


Well, not exactly hodie, more like the day after tomorrow, but I may not post again before Christmas.

As we used to say in Old English, wolcum yol.

Shooting Parrots expressed his admiration of the nativity tableau in my last post. Ian, this close-up is for you. Yorkshire Pudding expressed his dislike that my photographs overlap into my sidebar. As my mother used to say, like it or lump it.

I thought I skipped the Bah, Humbug phase this year, but apparently it is trying to rear its ugly head.

I won't let it.

I will listen to Benjamin Britten's Ceremony of Carols.

I will listen to the Christmas portion of Handel's Messiah.

I will listen to the King Singers sing "Lo, How A Rose E'er Blooming".

I will listen to the good folk in Gloucester Cathedral sing Christina Rossetti's words, "In the Bleak Midwinter".

I will listen to Karen Carpenter sing "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas".

I recommend that you do the same. If those won't get you out of any residual pre-holiday funk, nothing will.

I have used U.K.-style end punctuation throughout this post (the periods outside the double commas).

I repeat, Wolcum yol.

Monday, December 14, 2015

It’s NOT beginning to look a lot like Christmas, plus a 7-year-old’s advice to President Obama

This is a bifurcated post. For those of you in Alabama, that means it has two parts.

Let’s begin.

It’s NOT beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

Oh, there’s this:


and this:


and this:


and even this:


but so far there’s not any of this:


The temperature around here has been in the 70s this week. That’s Fahrenheit, kiddies, not Celsius. Let’s not be ridiculous. Global warming hasn’t gone quite that far yet. Although I did read that it was 93 in Brisbane, Australia.

Which brings us to Part 2 of this post.

I also heard on the radio that a father explained to his 7-year-old son, after they both had listened to President Obama speak last Sunday night, what terrorism is and what global warming is. The father happened to mention that Earth’s temperature is expected to rise by two degrees in the next 100 years. The son sat down and wrote two letters to President Obama.

The first letter said, “Don’t be afraid of the bad guys. Just go and fight them.”

The second letter said, “Buy some sunblock.”

Out of the mouths of babes.

Thus ends this bifurcated post. As it is my 87th post of the year, I probably will not make it to 100 posts in 2015. Still, seven or so times a month for a 74-year-old man is pretty darned good, n'est-ce pas?

Monday, December 7, 2015

Time marches on and I must too!

I can't believe it’s December.

Thanksgiving came and went. We shared ours with 45 people altogether. Not all at once, mind you. We attended two Thanksgiving feasts, one on Thursday in Alabama at our daughter’s in-laws’ home with 29 in attendance, and one on Saturday closer to home at our second son’s home with 16 in attendance. A good time was had by all on both occasions.

So now it’s the first week of December. St. Nicholas Day. Pearl Harbor Day. Christmas is right around the corner. I don’t even want to think about it.

The busy-ness of the season has already started. Two choir practices last week instead of one, the regular Thursday night rehearsal and an additional two-hour rehearsal on Saturday. Friday evening we traveled 25 miles to our granddaughter's school to watch her in a musical program. Saturday evening we attended the Christmas extravaganza at the huge mega-church our neighbor attends (seating capacity: 9000). This week there’s our third-oldest grandson’s 18th birthday and two more choir rehearsals. Chiropractor appointments. Haircut appointments. Basketball games. Prayer meetings. Shopping trips. Wrapping of presents. Sending of Christmas cards. Getting out the nativity scene. Putting up the tree. Getting down the decorations. Actually decorating. Cleaning the house. I’m already tired and it hasn’t even begun yet.

As Rosanne Rosannadanna used to say on Saturday Night Live, “It’s always something.” I do miss Gilda Radner.

Instead of complaining, though, I will be thankful that I am alive and breathing and in good health, because twenty years ago next month I had a heart attack, an anterior myocardial infarction, to be exact. Fortunately I have never had to take a single nitroglycerin pill.

At my last semi-annual visit to the cardiologist, my EKG was excellent and all my lab work was within normal ranges except for one thing. My good cholesterol, the HDL, was a bit low. I asked him if there was something I could do to increase it and he told me that only two things will raise one’s HDL -- exercise and red wine. He recommended one glass with evening meals. He also wants me to exercise but we will have to see how that goes. (Yorkshire Pudding recommended yesterday that I take up Yemenite dancing.)

I told our prayer group leader that it was official: my doctor had told me to drink a glass of red wine every evening. The prayer group leader said, "That must be a big relief" and we both laughed hysterically.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

First night of Hanukkah, er, Chanukah, er, the Festival of Lights

At sundown tonight -- or, for some of you, at sundown last night -- the eight-day Jewish holiday known as Hanukkah began. Hanukkah (or Chanukah, or however you choose to spell it) marks the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem after its desecration by the forces of Antiochus IV (around 165 B.C.).

It commemorates the "miracle of the container of oil" that held enough oil to last one day but burned for eight. According to the Talmud, at the re-dedication following the victory of the Maccabees over the Seleucid Empire, there was only enough consecrated olive oil to fuel the eternal flame in the Temple for one day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days, which was the length of time it took to press, prepare and consecrate fresh olive oil. Each evening during Hanukkah, another candle is lit on the menorah until, on the final day, the entire menorah is lit.

The re-dedication of the temple is described in the book of First Maccabees in the Apocrypha, which writings are accepted as canon by Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, but not by Protestant churches. (Your trivia fact for the day: Protestant Bibles contain 66 books; Catholic and Orthodox Bibles contain 73 books.) The "miracle" itself is not mentioned in First Maccabees, but the eight days are.

The dreidel, a four-sided top, is used for a game played during Hanukkah. Each side of the dreidel bears a letter of the Hebrew alphabet: נ (Nun), ג (Gimel), ה (Hei), and ש (Shin), which together form the acronym for the Hebrew phrase "נס גדול היה שם" (Nes Gadol Haya Sham, reading from right to left, of course) which means "a great miracle happened there."

I am indebted to Wikipedia for much of the information in the preceding paragraphs.

(Photo by Roland Scheicher, 1 August 2006)

No matter what anyone might have told you, Hanukkah is not "the Jewish Christmas."

In the interest of full disclosure, my mother was Jewish (non-practicing) and my father was Christian (lapsed Methodist).
I was raised Christian and have never attended a synagogue, but for years I struggled with my own identity. I wondered whether I was Christian or Jewish or half-Jewish, whatever that meant, and whether there could even be such a thing as "half-Jewish." In 1962, Mrs. Lydia Buksbazen of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, whose husband Victor headed the Friends of Israel missionary organization, told me, "Hitler would have considered you Jewish." So basically, if my great-grandfather Max Silberman and my great-grandmother Sarah Nusbaum had not left Germany with their respective families and come to America in the mid-nineteenth century, we might not be having this conversation.

This year, the eight days of Hanukkah run from sundown Sunday, December 6th through Monday, December 14th. Therefore, please do not wish your Jewish friends a “Happy Hanukkah” around December 25th, long after it has ended. They will certainly appreciate the thought but they may look at you strangely.

[Editor's note. Parts of this post were previously published on this blog in 2007, 2008, and 2011. --RWP]

Friday, December 4, 2015

It’s simple, really...

...when you think about it.

I don’t know why I didn’t see it before.

Everything is so much clearer now.