Category Archives: Holidays

Some Thoughts on Veteran’s Day, A Day Later

Much was made of the fact that Veteran’s Day this year fell on 11-11-11.  It used to be called Remembrance Day, and even before that, Armistice Day, and still is in many countries other than the U.S.   It’s intended to remember the dead at the end of WWI (you know, The War To End All Wars), when the Armistice  ending the war was signed by Germany at 11:00 A.M on November 11th (November being the 11th month).  The hype about it being 11-11-11 made me crazy.  It’s like numerology. 


It seemed to me there was a lot more fervor this year.  In Tallahassee, there was a very large parade this year, which occurred in part because last year’s parade was an embarassment.  A new group took over, determined to make it front and center.  They got the prime parade route, down a few blocks of Monroe Street, which is Tallahassee’s “Main Street”.  Which is also U.S.Highway 27.  It’s a huge deal to close that, even for a short period of time.  To do it, you have to get permission from the U.S. Department of
Transportation.  In other words, from the very start, it was not an easy task,  I admired them for doing this.  They also had a “festival” of sorts, with food vendors stretched out in the “Chain of Parks”.  These parks are essentially mini-parks in the median of a divided street (Park Avenue) which go for maybe six blocks.  And I don’t mean to minimize them.  They are beautiful, with huge old live oaks, benches, and seasonally changing landscaping, all cared for by the City of Tallahassee.  How many cities can boast of such beauty in the middle of downtown? 

But the “festival”/food vendor thing, made me vaguely uncomfortable.  Yes it drew more people, probably, but what?  Have a funnel cake in honor of a dead soldier? 


I do it every year onVeteran’s Day.  I think of my father who was a Gunner’s Mate on some sort of warship during WWII (I’m not up on WWII warship categories).  According to my cousin Jerry (Captain,USN, Ret.)  he went up and down in rank depending on what shenanigans and violations he committed that week.  My father was an avid, obsessive, fanatic bookreader.  Hmmm.  Who else do we know who is like that? 

When my father died, thanks to my cousin Jerry he was buried at sea in an official naval ceremony.  He had asked cousin Jerry to scatter his ashes in the ocean, but Jerry went him one better. 


I can remember one day several years ago when I was in the grocery store, suddenly thinking, sheesh.  We are not suffering at all for GWB’s war in Iraq.  We are not suffering for anything.  There is no rationing.  I can buy chocolate and gasoline, all I want.  Meanwhile, there are members of the armed forces who this very night will be sleeping with a pile of sand as a pillow.  My opinion:  the Bush administration did not want it to hurt at home.  They were on a mission, and did not want any interference by a skeptical public.  They knew better than we did what was best for us.


The final thing that makes me uncomfortable is all the hype this week about heroic service people, chiefly, the Marines.  To make a long story short, these people are being blown up in record numbers.  It has overwhelmed the VA.  And the stories have been mostly about the courageous guys with amputated limbs who have triumphed.  The VA and Walter Reed in particular (which is another story) have created multiple prosthetic limbs which allow the person to continue doing what they were doing before they got blown up.  They make prosthetic legs with a foot on the bottom, or a ski, or an ice skate.  How wonderful and amazing is that? 

But what I thought was, what about the other people?  What about the people who weren’t runners, or skiers, or hockey players before?  What if they were librarians?  Or doctors?  Or (more likely) just ordinary kids who never even had a chance to figure out what they wanted to be or do?

I can almost guarantee you that for every phenomenal amputee, there are 10 other people who aren’t doing very well.  So FINALLY, NPR did a story: 


So, it kills me when people say “Happy Veteran’s Day”.  There is nothing happy about it.

Another Peaceful Sunday

Relatively speaking.  The cat spent part of her morning cleaning out the inside of the girl dog’s ears (gag), and the two boy dogs spent some time trying to pee on the neighbor’s Rottweiler through the chain link fence.  The Rottweiler tried to return the favor. 

Later in the afternoon, the cat got mad at the smallest boy dog and tried to kill him.  It’s never clear how these things (which fortunately are infrequent) get started, but it’s very clear that she isn’t just kidding.  She’s at a bit of of a size disadvantage, but she has the advantage of stealth and of the fact that the dog seems to have a hard time taking her seriously.  Her primary techniques include standing up on her hind feet and batting his face rapidly while emitting blood-curdling yowls, and biting him in the throat.  I always remain neutral in order to retain all my body parts.  However, I always root for the cat, because if the dog ever DID take her seriously, he could take off her head.    It ended the way it always does:  they both got bored and wandered off in opposite directions. 

Then I finished the latest Janet Evanovich book.  There is no substitute for Janet Evanovich and her Stephanie Plum novels for sheer mindless fun.  Now what shall I do?  I stocked up on reading matter on December 23rd.  The books include Jane Goodall’s latest (“Hope for Animals and Their World”) about efforts to save endangered species from extinction; a book called “God Sleeps in Rwanda”, the true story of a man who escaped the genocide there and went on to return and be elected speaker of the Rwandan Parliament.  I also picked up “The Crying of Lot 49”, by Thomas Pynchon, mainly because he’s one of masteroftheuniverse’s favorite authors.  I’ve read him as well, but it was so long ago I can’t remember a thing about it. And finally, a suspense novel by J.F. Freedman.  So what shall it be?  Well of course, J.F. wins.  I’m not ready to tackle anything important today.

Incidentally, I looked for a copy of anything by Ayn Rand, and every single copy (of which there are many) of every book she ever wrote was checked out, in both print and audio versions.  This is somewhat scary.  I take it back–a single copy of “Anthem” was left on the shelf, but after investigating, decided I was not interested.

So the rest of my day will consist of starting a new book and watching 60 Minutes later on.  However, at the moment we have a Fakename emergency:  I’m out of Pinot Grigio.  Off to the neighborhood liquor store.

The Christmas Blog

Today DavisW posted a blog about the worst Christmas songs ever, which caused me to comment that it’s no wonder there are so many homicides during the holidays.  Regardless of how good the song is to begin with, hearing it a hundred times a day (think Brenda Lee and “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree”) for three weeks in a row will set anyone’s nerves on edge. 

I’m not really kidding about that homicide thing.  On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, a guy here in Tallahassee shot his live-in girlfriend to death, dumped her body in the Appalachicola National Forest, then went home and shot himself, although he didn’t die right away.  The story is here.

This leads me to my point, which is what is bad and good about Christmas.

Bad Thing Number One.   There is altogether too much pressure.  With the exception of some obsessive-compulsive types who finished their Christmas shopping in July, and who bought all their this year’s Christmas decorations in January when they were on sale, AND who completed their decorating on Thanksgiving night, Christmas sneaks up on everybody else. 

Bad Thing Number Two.  Christmas is all about families.  You are supposed to be happy as a lark to have this opportunity to spend with your family, regardless of the fact that the rest of the year you do your best to avoid them.  Let’s face it–your family is not Ozzie and Harriet (younger readers, if there are any, Google it).  On Christmas, you will first of all be disgruntled that everybody else DOES have an Ozzie and Harriet family (sure they do).  Second, being cooped up in a house with people you ordinarily wouldn’t give the time of day to is a recipe for disaster.  And yet, people look forward to it all year long, only to be slapped in the face with reality on the day in question.  It’s fake nostalgia–nostalgia for the way you wish it had been rather than the way it really was.

Not that I’m immune.  Which leads me to the good things. 

Good Thing Number One.  Lights.  Decorations.  Especially lights.  When I lived in South Florida, I loved the lighting on the palm trees…it was like, the heck with the fact that we aren’t having a traditional Christmas with fir trees and snow–we’re celebrating anyway!  Here in Tallahassee, it’s live oaks.  All of the hundreds of live oaks are filled with lights, and it’s just…festive.  What can I say? 

Good Thing Number Two.  Christmas is December 25th.  The days are already starting to get longer.  Spring is in sight! 

And now I will be uncharacteristically sentimental.  There are actually good Christmas songs, and my favorite, for forever, is “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”.  The song came out in 1943, and it seems equally timely and poignant now, as more troops begin deploying to Afghanistan–just in time for Christmas. 

No one has ever improved on Bing Crosby’s original version, but this one isn’t bad.  Merry Christmas.  And please don’t kill anybody. 

Food for New Year’s Day

All over the world, traditional foods are consumed on New Year’s Day, regardless of what calendar you use.  Lunar, solar, Chinese, Gregorian…every calendar and culture has a New Year’s Day, and part of the celebration of it will include eating special foods.  What those foods are varies greatly from culture to culture, but for the most part, the superstition is that whatever you eat on New Year’s Day will somehow ensure plenty for the rest of the year.  Eat rice on New Year’s Day and you will be blessed with rice for the rest of the year.  I really hope that isn’t true.

Because here in the American South, a traditional New Year’s Day food is black-eyed peas, which I detest.  I can eat them, but if I had to eat black-eyed peas all year I would starve before the next New Year’s Day.  However, I can deal with it in the symbolic sense:  eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day and you will be blessed with whatever peas you’d rather eat for the rest of the year.  So in that spirit, I searched yesterday at the grocery store for the smallest amount of black-eyed peas I could find.  Here’s a little reverse grocery voyeurism for you:  shop along with Fakename. 

My preference would have been to find about a Tablespoon of already prepared peas, but I forgot to check the deli.  There were none frozen, lots of dried (one-pound bags, no way), and canned were all gone (I wouldn’t have felt so bad about eating a Tablespoon of canned and giving the rest to the squirrels), but I hate canned foods on principle anyway.  At last when I was on the way out the door I discovered fresh ones in a special display case.  Buy one, one get one free even–but each package was 12 ounces.  So, 24 ounces of something I hate anyway?  For $2.79?  I’d rather risk a plague of locusts. 

But no matter…I had already purchased my traditional New Year’s foods:  Jif Creamy peanut butter and Haagen Daz butter pecan ice cream.  No really, I only eat that on weekdays.  For years now, my New Year’s Day dish has been corned beef and cabbage. 

If I had to eat corned beef and cabbage all year, I could deal with it.  It would beat the hell out of rice and black-eyed peas.  And the best thing about today’s corned beef is that you can roast it, which really improves the taste over boiling it.  If you don’t like the taste of corned beef under any circumstances, I can’t help you (Go back to camp).  If you don’t like cabbage, you could always have collard greens instead, another traditional Southern New Year’s Day food.  I happen to like collards, and it came as a shock to me that they aren’t available everywhere. 

But what, you might ask, exactly is corned beef?  The answer is, you don’t want to know.  No seriously, technically it’s beef brisket, a meat so tough you could use pieces of it as a sledgehammer, which has been preserved and tenderized by brining–marinating in a salt water solution for weeks, along with “pickling spices”, which include peppercorns.  That, I’m guessing, is the origin of the term.  Even after brining, the meat was still so tough that the only way to make it palatable was to boil it for hours, until recently. 

Now you can roast it, because it has been tenderized with papain, an enzyme from papaya.  Papain has been used for centuries in South America to tenderize meat and to poison the tips of arrows.  No really, I’m kidding.  I think.  Plus, they’ve dispensed with that cumbersome soaking thing and now just treat the meat with compounds beginning with sodium and ending with twelve-letter words you don’t understand. 

I started the corned beef and cabbage thing in the spirit of creating your own traditions and cheer for the holiday season, and also because it’s faintly Irish, as am I.  Whatever food you’re having for New Year’s Day, may you have plenty of it.  If you hate it, may you have a lot less of it in the coming year.  And,  “May you have warm words on a cold evening, a full moon on a dark night, and the road downhill all the way to your door.”

Fakename Does Christmas

This year for Christmas, I’m doing…nothing.  Or almost nothing.  My two usual things to do are either to go visit Fakesister in the Atlanta area, or spend it on St. George Island.  This year I can’t afford to do either, and although I could do that rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul method of financial management, I just can’t justify it this year.

First of all, I have to board my dogs if I go out of town, and that’s about $60 a day.  Second, I got a bill from the opthamologist last week for $500 plus.  Oh, by the way…I didn’t get you a gift this year.  But I’m thinking of you, honest I am.  I’m thinking of the opthamologist too.  I wonder how he feels about the phrase:  “It’s the thought that counts”.

So this year, like many years in the past, I’m spending Christmas alone.  Alone at Christmas, or more dramatically, ALL alone at Christmas.  No family to share it with.  Can there be a more pathetic state of affairs?  Well yes, there could be.  It would be spending it with YOUR family.  I could barely stand my own family celebrations when I had them, why would I want to endure yours?  In the best case scenario, the men are in the den while football drones on endlessly, and the women are in the kitchen washing dishes.  What a treat!  I can hardly stand to miss it!

It never ceases to amaze me how many people say to me, “So, what are you doing for Christmas?”  “I don’t know yet”, works for a while as an answer, but eventually you will be pinned down.  It never dawns on anyone that “Nothing” might be your deliberate plan.  Don’t misunderstand me, most are well-intentioned, and want me to know I have a place to go if I want it.  I don’t mind this at all.  I do mind some invitations I’ve received that hint of charity (“We don’t really want you, but it’s my duty to ask”), or real pity.  I’m not The Little Match Girl!

The funny part comes when the people who invite me forget that they told me about their own Christmas the previous year, what a disaster it was and how much they dread it this year.  Here’s theoretical example, which I am only partially making up.

In this scenario, you come from a strict religious background and alcohol is not allowed.  Non-alcoholic eggnog is grudgingly allowed, but is considered suspect since drinking it might lead to the hard stuff, kind of like marijuana leads to heroin.  If you’re truly pure, nothing will ever pass your lips other than sweet tea.  If you drink unsweetened tea, you’re a Communist. 

Next:  Christmas dinner.  Your dad has to excuse himself from the table on several occasions to go check the air in the tires of his truck (translation:  there’s a vodka bottle in the glove compartment).  After the seventeenth trip, he comes back and announces that you will not, NOT be getting any Goddamn pumpkin pie if you don’t eat all your turkey.  And you’re 47 years old.  (Cursing is forbidden in your house too, but your Dad seems to have had some sort of memory lapse.)

Your brother, in a rare display of protectiveness, goes out to his Harley and brings in his pistol.  “Dad, you can’t talk to Alice that way!”  Whereupon he shoots all the lights out of the Christmas tree. 

Your Mom: “That does it!  Ain’t nobody getting any pumpkin pie this year!” (Takes pie, throws it down on the kitchen floor, stomps on it with both feet.  For good measure, takes pecan pie and does the same thing.)

So thanks for offering to share your family experience with me, but this year my plan is to sleep late and go to a movie.  I was hoping to see Gran Torino, the Clint Eastwood film which opens Christmas Day “in select theaters”.  “Select theaters” is a code for “Not where you live”.  So maybe The Tale of Despereaux, or Bolt–nothing is more fun than seeing an animated, kid-type movie during the holidays, although I like them any time.  That afternoon, I’m feeding the four dogs and one cat of a friend who will be out of town for the day.

Having said all this, I’m not a Bah Humbug sort.  It amazes me how many people think of the holidays as torture (which apparently, some would like to share with me).  I learned long ago that that you have to manufacture your own cheer.  You have to decline things which will cause you misery.  While it’s a cliche, being grateful for what you have and leaving it at that, leaves no room for guilt and stress and regret. 

In today’s New York Times, Judith Warner’s op-ed piece has the following quote:  “…without some belief in the possibility of happiness, without some willful suspension of our attunement to the dreariness of reality, the holiday season really is nothing more than a forced march of shopping wrapped in a laundry list of neuroses.”

So my Christmas wish for all of you is this:  Be of good cheer!  And go ahead, have some eggnog.

Why I Don’t Do Christmas Trees

I was always traumatized by the story “The Little Tannenbaum”, but I mostly managed to ignore that until the last time I had a real tree.  As I was discarding it after Christmas, one truly minute, tiny pine cone fell off, and I just burst into tears.  It seemed at the time that in the midst of death, it was desperately trying to perpetuate itself, and it had lost.   Normally I don’t get emotional about plants.  Maybe it was a phase. 

I’m definitely not the fake tree type either.  No matter how you decorate them, they remind me of paintings of Elvis on velvet. 

I don’t miss the part about dragging real trees  into the house, cutting off the limbs that don’t look right, and wrestling them into the tree stand.  Note:  the tree trunk will always be too big for the tree stand.  You will have to go out and buy another one.  Then, once you get it, the tree will fit into it but it will lean in one direction or another.  You will either have to lean it against the wall, or prop up two of the tree stand feet with Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.  You don’t use that anymore anyway. 

But none of the above is why I really don’t do Christmas trees.  The real reason is, I have three dogs, two of whom are male, and a cat.  Nothing makes a male dog happier than a tree inside the house.  It’s very time-saving.  And cats love to climb them and bat around those ornament thingies, especially the ones that have been passed down through your family for generations.  That splat-crash sound does startle them a bit.