We never discussed it. Not a single conversation. We don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day. We haven’t in the past and don’t now. It’s a fake holiday, designed to sell greeting cards and tacky heart-shaped diamond pendants from jewelry mass marketers.
There are plenty of real holidays to celebrate. In any case, we don’t need a special holiday to say “I love you.”
I love Garry. He loves me. We’ve loved each other a long time and I expect we always will. We say so often. At least once every day. Even when we aren’t having a good day. True love survives bad days, even bad months and sometimes, bad decades.
Become a Citizen Scientist. Click the link to read about Project Squirrel and to tell us about squirrels near you. Project Squirrel has been operating since 1997. During this time, over 1000 people have offered their knowledge, provided observations, and filled out the forms. We have been able to learn a great deal about these squirrels, particularly in the Chicago Metropolitan Region. Observations from other parts of the country have also been welcome and interesting.
In honor of National Squirrel Day …. What, you didn’t know? Well, today is National Squirrel Day. Project Squirrel gives you the opportunity to participate in … well … watching squirrels. Taking pictures of squirrels. And sharing your squirrel stuff with other squirrelly people.
Here we are again somewhere in what’s probably the most bittersweet or sweet bitter time of the year for most of us. It’s the jolly, holly almost Christmas time. It’s when we see everything filtered through childhood memories, wrapped in music, movies, and hectic preparations. Ready to greet folks we don’t often see. We force ourselves to shift gears, putting aside worries about health, bills, and family drama. Put on a happy face for the most wonderful time of the year.
Emotions are curious things with which the holiday season plays fast and loose. For those of us who tend to internalize our feelings, it can be tricky. Smiling isn’t easy. Showing happiness is not instinctive.
It was easy for me to show emotions in my professional life. I can still produce a professional smile on cue. But now, we’re talking about real life. As time has marched on, I find it harder to get into the Christmas spirit. I miss childhood.
As a kid, Christmas was anticipation. I was Ralphie in A Christmas Story. The year I campaigned for the two-gun Roy Rogers set was very anxious. My hopes were almost dashed when I thought Santa had not heard me as we ripped though our presents that Christmas morning. But Dad, who always had a funny smile during Christmas and New Year’s Eve, motioned to one last present.
Yes!! It was the deluxe Roy Rogers two-gun set with 2 rolls of caps!! Even Mom smiled as I squealed in delight. I never thought we were poor, though Mom frequently reminded us. We nearly always got what we wanted for Christmas. We didn’t feel deprived.
My holiday memories include a whole tribe of relatives who are gone. Our Christmas card list was long. It included aunts, uncles, cousins, grandpa, grandma. I still see them clearly in my sense memory. I used to carefully print the card messages when I was young. As I grew older, I proudly displayed my penmanship, writing endearments to my relatives. I thought they would be in my life forever.
These days, I am the only one in the family who sends real Christmas cards. I write messages to each person and get writer’s cramp for my efforts. But I see my Mother hovering behind me somewhere, nodding her approval. I have to nudge myself not to buy or write cards for Mom, Dad, Grandpa, Grandma … and all those aunts and uncles.
I chide myself, “Hey, you’re not a kid anymore.”
I’m Gramps, one of the old people, something our 18-year-old granddaughter likes reminding us. With that reminder comes a sense of loneliness that lingers. Movies are my fix, taking me back in time. Unlike the real world, the movies stay the same.
I grew up a child of the movies. I saw my first film, The Best Years Of Our Lives, during the holiday season of 1946. My Dad had just returned from the war. He was in uniform and seemed 10 feet tall as we went to the venerable radio City Music Hall to see the movie which is still a favorite with Marilyn and me. Movies and their fantasies have always been a part of my life, my personality. I am comfortable, charming, loquacious when talking about movies. I lose myself in movies, especially westerns and holiday movies.
I can laugh, smile, cry and sing along with favorite movies like It’s a Wonderful Life, Meet Me In St. Louis, A Christmas Story, The Shop Around the Corner,and many other memorable films shared in our collective sense memory. But once the movie is over, it’s back to reality minus the celluloid good cheer.
It was the same way during my life as a TV news reporter. I did holiday stories ranging from heartbreak to feel-good. Thousands, maybe tens of thousands of people over the decades, watched those stories and associated me with festive times. The real me chuckles at TV reporter me — trying to separate fact from fiction. Print the legend, they say. Roll everything.
One of the nice things about this holiday season is catching up with long-lost friends who’ve found me on Facebook. One person, a former mentor, who I presumed dead chatted me up, clearly remembering the years when I was a young reporter full of myself.
It’s nearly Christmas again. The big tree has been replaced this year by small, live trees, but they twinkle with lights. As merry as any tree we’ve had in the best. The gifts are waiting to be wrapped. This evening, we watched “A Christmas Story” and laughed. As we always do.
And as I write this, Bing is singing “White Christmas”. As he always does. Every year, just in time for Christmas.
Do you have a signature dish? If not is there one in your family?
I don’t have a signature dish from my side of the family. However, I have a good one from my first husband’s family. I don’t do holiday cooking anymore. My son cooks . He uses the same recipe which came from his grandmother. Usually, we make quite a lot of it. It feeds a crowd and reheats well. My husband is not as thrilled with beans these days, so although it used to be a staple in the house, now, it’s a holiday and party dish.
Kraus Family Chili Recipe
NOTES 1: There are no precise measurements for this recipe. You can make more or less, depending on how many people you’re feeding, and how much you want leftover. A little more of this or less of that won’t matter. Go easy (gradually) on spices. Add a small amount at a time. Be especially wary of salt. No matter what anyone says, if you add too much salt, you will never get rid of it. This is a basic recipe. You can double it, triple it, or cut it in half — whatever suits your needs.
2 pounds of good quality minced beef
1 large or 2 small cans diced tomatoes
2 cans (14 oz.) pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 very small cabbage (or half a larger one), chopped up
A couple of chopped onions
Powdered or chopped garlic
Chili powder (Or fresh chili peppers, chopped fine)
All spices to taste. If you like your chili hot, you’ll use more and hotter chili powder. Standard grocery store chili powder, unless you live in the southwest, is pretty mild. There are many different levels of chili powder from hardly noticeable to able to remove your tonsils without tools. I like it toward the less lethal end, but with a bit of kick to it.
Brown the onions and garlic in a big, deep pan or chili pot (I use black iron)
Add the ground beef. Brown it, then drain off as much fat as you can.
Add the rest of the ingredients. Stir, bring to a boil, then lower to a high simmer. Cook at a simmer for at least an hour until it comes together. The cabbage will cook down to maybe a third of its original size. If you want filler, some people throw in some carrots or celery or other stuff. I don’t, but you can do whatever pleases your palate.
NOTES 3: Don’t slow cook it all day. It will end up completely tasteless. Check the pot regularly to make sure there’s enough liquid. Add spices as you go. Don’t use oregano unless you want it to taste like pasta sauce.
I serve it with rice. My mother-in-law served it with mashed potatoes. My son prefers crackers. A lot of people want bread on the side. Cornbread works nicely too.
Do you have a favorite board game?
Monopoly. We used to play it all summer long on someone’s front or back porch. We made up a lot of rules as we went along. Recently, I found a version for Kindle that’s pretty cool, so I’m playing Monopoly again. It satisfies my inner capitalist.
Is there a household chore that you enjoy?
No. I might love the results, but I always hate the work. Garry sometimes likes washing dishes. He says he likes beating The Dirt. I am happy to let him continue the age-old battle. There is always more dirt where the original dirt came from.
I used to enjoy gardening, at least a little bit. Now, I can’t bend so nope, not that either. Do writing and taking pictures count as household chores? No? Well, then … back to the original answer.
What is one thing you will never care about?
Justin Bieber. Anyone named Kardashian. Paris Hilton. And a whole bunch of people whose names I can never get quite right.
Every year, we sing the song … or somebody does. Usually more than one somebody. The 12 Days of Christmas. It’s been done with humor, with dread seriousness, as a short, funny film. As a picture book. The Boston Pops does a brilliant and hilariously raucous version that bears little resemblance to the original song.
In all these years, hearing the song, playing the song on the piano and the organ, singing the song, humming it, pondering why or how anyone could give anyone a partridge in a pear tree and live to tell the tale … I mean, okay, five gold rings … but seven swans a-swimming? Did he include the pond? Did he have to do major construction to get those swans a-swimming for his lady-love?
And where on earth do you find leaping lords? You certainly can’t just go to Walmart and put them in your basket for checkout. At the very least, you’d have to get them to go along with your act and lords, especially around these parts, are hard to find. Maybe guys with the last name “Lord” would do? Hofstra had a President named “Lord” at the same time as Nassau County had a Parks Commissioner named “Moses.” It led to the unforgettable headline on the Hofstra Chronicle:
LORD AND MOSES CONFER OVER PROMISED LAND
At issue was a small parcel on the north side of Hempstead Turnpike which the university wanted to incorporate as part of its development of a new dormitory and library complex on the former Mitchell field, north of the Main Campus. This really happened and though I saved the copy of the paper, it has disappeared with the passing years. Pity about that. NOTE: For you history buffs, this is the airfield from which Lindbergh began his historic trans-Atlantic flight.
But I digress.
TAKE NOTES. THERE WILL BE SHORT QUIZ AT THE END OF THE LECTURE
This morning I woke up fully engulfed in a mental itch.
When are the twelve days of Christmas? It can’t be the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day because that’s always one week and will never change. Even if you add in Christmas Eve, that’s still only 8 days. What’s with the other four days and why doesn’t Google put them on the calendar? It puts on the birthdays of even the most obscure of my “Google +” connections. Surely (I know, don’t call me Shirley) this has got to be at least as important as some acquaintance I’ve never met having a birthday. You think, Probie?
But all was not lost. The calendar might not offer much help, but Google, the ubiquitous source of all miscellaneous information combined with — let’s not always see the same hands … you, there, in the back — right! Wikipedia! They had the answer and it only took me 0.77 seconds to get about 515,000,000 results. I only needed one result and don’t have time or enough interest in the subject to check out the other 514,999,999 answers.
Twelve Days of Christmas 2014 begin on Thursday, December 25 and end on Monday, January 5
From Wikipedia. It’s the religious response, or at least a general overview thereof. Feel free to check out any of the other hundreds of thousands of available answers to this question:
The Twelve Days of Christmas is the festive Christian season, beginning on Christmas Day (25 December), that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, as the Son of God. This period is also known as Christmastide. This is different from the Octave of Christmas, which is the liturgical time from Christmas Day until the Solemnity of Mary on 1 January. The Twelfth Day of Christmas falls on 5 or 6 January depending which tradition is followed. There is similar confusion about the date of Twelfth Night which is commonly held to be 5 January but some hold that it is 6 January. The Feast of the Epiphany is on 6 January which celebrates the visit of the Wise Men (Magi) and their bringing of gifts to the child Jesus. In some traditions, the feast of Epiphany and Twelfth Day overlap.
In Medieval England, this period was continuous feasting and merrymaking, climaxing on Twelfth Night, the traditional end of the Christmas season. In Tudor England, Twelfth Night was permanently embedded in popular culture when William Shakespeare used it as the title of one of his most famous comedies.
Some traditions were adapted from the older pagan customs, including the Roman Saturnalia and the Germanic Yuletide. Christianity was, as all religions have been, opportunistic. If everyone was going to celebrate anyway, why not give the celebration Christian meaning? It’s no coincidence that every religion celebrates the solstices and equinoxes … or that the pagan Omer (celebrating the first cutting of the wheat) coincides with Passover on which Easter is overlaid. Nor should these overlays of later religions on earlier ones diminish the importance of the holidays. It’s hard enough to get a new religion going, to convert an entire population to a new way of thinking. Why not use whatever tools (and holidays) are handy?
ARCHAEOLOGY AND RELIGION
For a long time, whenever I drove down the old road from Jerusalem to Lachish, I noticed a piece of an arch pushing out of the ground. I could see there was a ruin there. I hoped the archaeologists would get to it so I could find out what it was.
One day, the diggers arrived.
It was a 5th century synagogue, complete with mosaic floor showing a mandala of 12 astrological symbols, the same ones we use today. The floor was taken, intact, to a museum in Tel Aviv. Digging recommenced and beneath the synagogue, pillar on pillar, stood a Roman temple. After rescuing whatever artifacts they could, the group began to dig again and found — pillar on pillar — a Greek temple.
Finally, below the Greek temple, on the base rock, was a Canaanite temple.
During each stage of the dig, we were allowed to go poke around the ruins. Israelis love archaeology. It’s was as much the national pastime in Israel as baseball is here. Everyone has a few artifacts … pottery shards, tiny oil lamps, Roman glass, old coins from vanished empires.
Human history and religion has never been the monolithic, simplistic structure many people — on both sides of the religious equation — would like it to be. If there is an omnipotent deity, it is not an old guy with a long beard counting your sins and weighing them against your good deeds. Or his son, nephew, or third cousin twice removed.
Whatever there is, it is unlikely to be something we can neatly classify. It is, as “they” say, complicated.
There are plenty of “Novelty” Christmas songs. As a matter of fact there are far too many. Some are amusing to the point of being endearing. Some are a bit weird or odd sounding. Some are just obnoxious and need to be removed from the Christmas playlist, permanently.
Endearing novelty songs might include “The Chipmunks Song.” It certainly was a favorite when I was a kid. Alvin was my favorite chipmunk and it seemed perfectly OK to play the 45 (look it up) over and over, much to my mother’s chagrin. In later years, “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer,” struck me as quite amusing. I guess it is funnier after a few spiked eggnog. “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” may have many good versions, but the original recorded from 1952 should remain locked in the vault. Also, radio stations will bring out the irritating “I Want a Hippopotamus For Christmas,” and the overplayed “All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” recorded originally by Spike Jones and His City Slickers, a novelty act if there ever was one.
The all-time most obnoxious novelty song that ought to be put away forever is definitely “Dominick the Donkey.” What record executive thought that an Italian Christmas Donkey was amusing? To top it off the 1960 recording by Lou Monte sets new standards in irritating. The song could have died a well deserved death, but the geniuses at Amazon decided in 2011 it should be rereleased, starting another round of annoyance:
Hey! Chingedy ching, (hee-haw, hee-haw) It’s Dominick the donkey. Chingedy ching, (hee-haw, hee-haw) The Italian Christmas donkey.
Some songs are just long and repetitious. Chief among these is “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” After a while the litany of gifts is just too much. All versions of this song should be put away except, perhaps, the version by The Muppets. At least the popular Sesame Street characters get the joke and can carry it out to its funniest. That is much better than the many serious versions of the song that hit the airwaves at this time of year. The Muppets might even teach young ones the exceptional skill of counting backwards from twelve, something that is sure to be useful in their chosen professions later in life.
A song that is a classic but has clearly received too many variations is White Christmas. “The Drifters” version has been heard once too often on my radio. The 1954 recording was big for the Rhythm and Blues group, and it was the first of their songs to crack the Billboard 100 singles chart on mainstream radio stations. It would have thankfully been retired had it not been resurrected by holiday movies, including Home Alone starring Macaulay Culkin in his greatest role. I can pass this one up:
Actually, every version besides the Bing Crosby version should be put away. Admit it, whenever you hear “White Christmas” you think of Bing Crosby. Every version is automatically compared to the iconic version that has been washed into our brain cells from infancy, unless you were born before 1941. You can not help it, the sounds of Bing Crosby whistling his way to another season of white is all you can hear. Everyone will come up short by comparison, no matter how good they are.
Recently, we gave a bit of the history of the song here. The song was a hit since Crosby introduced it on his Christmas radio broadcast. The movie Holiday Inn helped to make it even more popular. When Crosby entertained the troops during World War II, it became a bit of nostalgic relief when soldiers where thinking of their lives back home. Bing thought the song might be making the boys sad, and he felt he did not go to entertain the troops only to bring them down. He tried eliminating the song from his show, only to have the soldiers call out for it anyway.
The original master recording of “White Christmas” wore out from all the “pressings,” the process by which vinyl recordings were made. So in 1947 Crosby recorded the song again with the original orchestra, trying to duplicate the original sound. It is the 1947 version you hear today. The recordings of the songs for the movie “White Christmas” would likely have been remastered into a Christmas Album had they not been destroyed by fire. Crosby performed the iconic Christmas song in 3 movies and countless radio and television broadcasts. There just is not another version.
Bing sang this song right to the end, after actually. In this montage of footage from some of his Christmas specials, the final lines are from 1977. It was his last Christmas special. He died after it was taped and before it was aired.
Some of the stories behind our favorite Christmas songs, by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog
I did not know Dasher, Dancer and the gang until I learned the song. Of course, I learned it rather young, so perhaps no one had a chance to tell me. Besides, why would I want to get to know them since “they never let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games?” But then one foggy something eve, I guess it was, I learned more about him.
Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer was a celebrity in this part of the country long before he became an international hit. Chicago-based department stores and mail order giant Montgomery Ward had been giving out their own coloring books at Christmas time for years. Robert L. May, an advertising copywriter, was assigned to come up with a Christmas story in 1939 — and Rudolph was the result.
When his wife passed away, the retailer offered to take May off the project, but he went on to complete it. The resulting book was distributed, but World War II stopped its publication due to restrictions on paper use. Rudolph made a grand reappearance in 1946.
Rudolph might have faded into a mere footnote of Christmas lore had it not been for May’s brother-in-law, songwriter Johnny Marks. He turned the story into a song. Which made Rudolph famous throughout the country.
The song led to sequels by May, eventually to television and movie specials. Rudolph really did “go down in history.”
2014 is the 50th anniversary of the animated Christmas special children and adults still watch today.
The song was recorded by cowboy star Gene Autry. Legend has it, he was not fond of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, but his wife, liked the song. Autry’s 1949 recording became number 1 on the charts. It was the first number 1 song of the 1950s and became the second biggest-selling song of all time, until the 1980s. Another Christmas classic was already number one.
TheChristmas Song is commonly called “Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire” and also has a Chicago connection.
Musician, singer, actor, composer Mel Tormé, a Chicago native and performer about town before hitting the big time, wrote the classic in 40 minutes one sweltering July day in California in 1944.
Mel spotted a few of the opening lines in a notebook by Bob Wells, a frequent collaborator, and went on to finish them and add music. Wells had just been writing down a few cold weather ideas to help him deal with the sweltering summer weather.
The song was subsequently recorded by Nat “King” Cole and his trio in June 1946, but Cole convinced the record label to re-record the song with strings. It is the second version, recorded in August 1946, that became a hit. Cole went on to record it again in 1953 and 1961. The 1961 version is the one you hear continuously throughout the season. The vocal performance of the last version is considered the best of Cole’s recordings.
Tormé recorded the song too. Years later he added a verse and a “coda,” which came from “Here We Come A-Wassailing.” In 1992, the composer of one of the best know Christmas songs of all time finally recorded an album of Christmas songs. Legend has it that The Christmas Song was not one of Tormé’s favorites, but he was grateful for the royalties.
The all time best-selling song was written for a movie, but not for the movie of the same name. White Christmas was one of twelve songs written by Irving Berlin that were included in his 1942 movie Holiday Inn.
The romantic comedy musical starred Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire in a boy-wins-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-wins-girl story. Crosby leaves a musical act to run an Inn that is only open on holidays. Astaire comes to the Inn after his dance partner leaves him, giving us the opportunity to hear a variety of holiday songs by legendary song writer, Irving Berlin.
In the movie White Christmas is a duet when we first hear it, and when it reappears late in the story, the female character Lila, played by Marjorie Reynolds, sings it. The song picked up the Oscar for best song of 1942. The recording by Bing Crosby the same year has gone on to sell over 50 million copies and holds the top spot by far. It too is part of our non stop Christmas soundtrack.
It is the overwhelming popularity of the song that led to a movie entitled White Christmas. Of course, Bing Crosby is back in another role, this time teamed up with Danny Kaye. Fred Astaire turned down the project.
White Christmas, like Holiday Inn, achieved great success, but its soundtrack never got a remix into stereo for release as an album. The master recordings were destroyed in a fire.