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THOSE SPECIAL TWELVE DAYS

On the second day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me ... 2 TURTLEDOVES!

On the second day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me … 2 TURTLE DOVES!

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.

On the 3rd day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me ... THREE FRENCH HENS!

On the third day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me … 3 FRENCH HENS!

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?

On the 4th day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me ... 4 CALLING BIRDS!

On the fourth day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me … 4 CALLING BIRDS!

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.

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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.

Astrological signs by J. D. Mylius

Astrological signs by J. D. Mylius

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.

Evil Squirrel’s Nest Comic #138 — 12/18/14

Marilyn Armstrong:

If this doesn’t perfectly sum up the spirit of Christmas, I’m sure I can’t imagine what does. I’m also including the lovely portrait of Lil which Bill sent to me. It arrived — actually ARRIVED — via U.S. Postal Service. A Christmas miracle?

Lil is beautiful and so is Bill and so is Evil Squirrel, his alter-ego. Walt Kelley is smiling down from somewhere.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Originally posted on Evil Squirrel's Nest:

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ONE WEEK BEFORE CHRISTMAS: WHAT’S NEXT?

In Due Time — What’s your next, most pressing deadline? Are you excited, stressed, or ambivalent about it? What’s the first thing you’d like to do once you’re done with it?

Chistmas Eve 2013 gifts

Holy Moly! The pingbacks have returned! Can I believe my eyes? It must be Christmas!

I don’t know about you (though I can make an educated guess), but I have a full dance card this time of year. It would be hard to figure which of the many tasks remaining is the most pressing. Discounting everyday chores, the one that looms largest is the same one which every year, I procrastinate doing until later and later … sometimes until Christmas Eve itself! I’m generally not a procrastinator. Really.

Wrapping. The. Presents.

I bought paper. I bought gift bags. I bought ribbon and little sticky labels. I still need bows, but even without them, I’m good to go.

I am a capable, fast, and occasionally artistic gift wrapper. But over the years, watching people pick up their gifts, rip the paper and ribbons off without so much as checking to see whose name is on the label (like who is giving me this gift?) well, it has taken some of the bloom off that particular rose.

I used to put a lot of effort into beautifully wrapping packages. Now, I just wrap them. In whatever paper is the right size. Okay, I try to vary the paper so it make a pretty pile. And coördinate ribbons and bows to complement the colors in the paper. Make sure that I don’t give the fluffy pink kitties to the boys.

However, I don’t go that extra mile. I was probably over the top anyway. I made my own bows using miles of curling ribbon. Nobody can curl ribbon better than I can. But I was young and eager.

In recent years, I get wrapping done quickly, efficiently, neatly. Then I stand, admiring my handiwork for a while, hoping I haven’t left some important gift in the back of a closet where it may never be found.

Xmas gifts

Every year, I lose at least one expensive, important gift. I have reached an age where I should not be allowed to hide anything unless someone else knows where I’ve put it. Because the odds are high I will not remember where I put it. I may never remember. The next time it will see the light is when I am carried out of here, feet first, and my closets are finally emptied. It will be like archaeology.

When I am done with the wrapping, after I pick up all the little bits of paper, ribbon, and tape? I’m going to sit down in my recliner and watch “It’s a Wonderful Life.” While having a cup of cocoa. Does anyone have a better idea?

IT’S GOING ON YOUR PERMANENT RECORD

Last night, watching Star Trek: Next Generation, Geordi La Forge (Levar Burton) disobeyed a direct order given by Captain Stewart, er, I mean, Jean-Luc Picard. Although he survived his misadventure — barely, I might add — Picard told Geordi that regretfully, he was going to have to “put this incident on your permanent record!”

Oh my god! His permanent record. Even in Star Fleet, you cannot escape your permanent record. It’s four hundred years in the future and they still have that record.

Back in our golden olden days, the thing that was held over our heads — the veritable Sword of Damocles — was that our bad behavior would go on our permanent record. From elementary school through our working years, we were warned our permanent record would follow us. Marks against us might even (gasp!) prevent us from getting into college at all, in which case we knew we might as well die on the spot. If you didn’t go to college, you would never have a decent job or find someone to love. I knew that right into the marrow of my bones. Didn’t you?

little colorado rocks

The Permanent Record is (was) (will be) like the Rock of Gibraltar. Huge, unchanging. No matter what we do with our lives, everyone will know about our misdeeds. All they have to do is check the record. They’ll know I sassed my eleventh grade social studies teacher (he deserved it and worse) in May 1962. That Garry ran over his allotted time while reporting a news event in Boston and was not even repentant when confronted with his foul deed! The evil that we do will be revealed.

You might want to see Lamont Cranston, because the Shadow Knows.

So, here’s the deal. Now and forever, every one of us has a permanent record in which all our misbehavior is cataloged. I know because I’ve been told. I’m not sure who has custody of these records, however. As far as I can tell, everyone on the planet has one, so there must be a gigantic storage unit somewhere, where everything is filed. That’s a lot of records to keep.

But they aren’t being stored around here. I’d have noticed a building that big.

permanent-record-file

I expect when we die, if there actually are Pearly Gates and a gatekeeper who decides if we can enter, he will be clutching a copy of our permanent record in one angelic hand. That’s right. You talked back to your teacher in fifth grade, cut school in high school. Told a professor the dog ate your final paper in college. Now, you won’t go to Heaven.

Sorry buddy. Your permanent record just caught up with you.

A PLEA FROM THE WOMAN WITH THE VISA

Marilyn Armstrong:

Ah, the holidays. Oh the joys of shopping. All I can say is ‘THANK YOU ONLINE WORLD” because I no longer need to go to the mall for my holiday shopping. It gets delivered to my door and usually, it’s on time and in the same number of pieces it started out its journey. Sometimes, change is good.

Originally posted on Stuff my dog taught me:

imagesDEAR TRENDY CLOTHING STORE EMPLOYEE:

I know that everything in your store has been designed to fit and flatter my teenage daughters and that my presence is an unappreciated reminder that you will all someday sacrifice beauty for comfortable footwear.  However, as the woman with the VISA, I have no choice but to lurk around the racks and there will be occasions when verbal communication between you and I will be unavoidable.

To reduce my stress levels as well as yours I plea with you to consider lowering the music volume and perhaps turning up the lighting.  I could potentially lip read over the pounding, highly-synthesized rhythm, if only there was enough light for me to make out your facial features.  Alternatively, I could have my children verbally guide me through the store if I could make out their voices over the dance-party “mash up” that is playing at a stadium-concert…

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OBJECT OF DEJECTION – I MADE IT MYSELF!

The Object of My Dejection — Tell us about the object of your dejection — something you made, a masterpiece unfinished, or some sort of project that failed to meet your expectations. What did you learn from the experience? How would you do things differently next time?


When I was a young mommy working full-time and raising my son, I thought I should make my own clothing. It would save a lot of money. My mom made all my clothing when I was a child. She continued throughout her life to make her own outfits and they were gorgeous and classy.

The dolls stand next to the clock is my sewing machine. Yes, it is still there.

The dolls stand next to the clock is my sewing machine. Yes, it is still there.

Now that I was grown up with a job and a toddler, she occasionally — if I begged and pleaded — made something for me. Things I wanted but couldn’t find in the store, or afford if I found them.

I waxed nostalgic about the days when Mom made my clothes. I didn’t appreciate how beautifully everything fit. How special the outfits were until I was much older. When I was a kid, I wanted was to look like everyone else. Kids are dumb that way.

I spent childhood watching my mother create things on her magic Singer Sewing Machine. Most the clothing I wore to school and all of my dress clothing was homemade.

How hard could it be? I picked up a second-hand sewing machine. Took a sewing class. Bought a few patterns. Bought fabric, zippers, buttons, threads — all those little widgets and doodads sewing requires. Thus armed, I dove in and made a few new outfits. I was delighted by how much I could make for a pittance, especially compared to buying its equivalent ready-made. People stared at my clothing. Admiration? They must be impressed. I was right.

Long pause. “You made that yourself?”

“How did you know?”

“Just a lucky guess.”

singer sewer 2

It turns out you have to set both sleeves the same way so one isn’t puffy while the other lays flat. There’s pattern matching and buttons which are supposed to line up. Zippers aren’t supposed to stick out or be bunched up. So many details. Hems? One length all around seemed to be the standard.

Those pesky collars — they never came out right. It was getting personal. Even is a big word in sewing — the noun, not the pronoun form. Both sides of a garment are supposed to be identical or so close that the differences are invisible. Unless your model is oddly shaped.

I took another sewing class. This time, I was ambitious. Tailoring. It didn’t go nearly as well as sewing had. There was padding and that stuff which stiffens fabric. I gave up, threw in my pinking shears and folded up the machine where it remains to this day.

Nowadays, I play to my strengths. I have cameras, take pretty good pictures. Write little stories. Wrote a book, maintain this blog. I leave the handicrafts to the handy. Does anyone need an older, but barely used sewing machine?

DON’T MAKE ME CRAZY

As I was coming back from my doctor’s office today, I got to thinking what could be done to improve the customer service experience, especially regarding voice mail systems. This is what I came up with.

LET ME SELECT WHAT I NEED

Your options have not recently changed if you can’t remember the last time you redid your message. If I know I need number 2, 3, 1, or 0, let me press it. Do not make me sit there while you rattle on. It’s an inexcusable imposition on my time and patience.

Moreover, everyone is familiar with voice mail. It’s not new technology. We know to listen until we hear the option we need. We are not stupid.

My time is as valuable to me as yours is to you. Don’t waste it.

DON’T BURY THE LEAD

Whatever your organization does, make sure the first choice in your list is the thing most of your customers want. It probably is not your address, business hours, website address, or the opportunity to hear about your new services — or take a survey.

CustomerSvcFallonQuote

If you are a personal service provider — doctor, dentist, veterinarian, massage therapist, hired assassin — scheduling should be on top. At least half your calls will be people who need to make, change, or cancel (or some combination of these) an appointment. Don’t send us to a sub menu with more options. Answer the damned phone.

If you are a utility — cell service, telephone company, ISP, power company, water — why do think most people call? Because your service isn’t working. No power, no water, no cell service, no dial tone. No WiFi. No cable. Do not tell us to use the website. If we could get to the website, we would not be calling you.

customer-service

Whoever picks up the call must be able to reply to this: “Is this a general outage or is it me?”

  1. If the former: When do you expect service to be restored?
  2. If the latter, transfer the caller to tech support. Don’t ask us to make another call.

IT DOESN’T WORK

Number 2 should be Technical support. Of course. Something isn’t working or isn’t working as it should. Have a human being answer the phone. Even if it involves waiting, don’t make your already upset and angry customer wade through another set of prompts. Take responsibility. Be a person.

ABOUT THAT BILL

Number 3? They want to talk about the bill. Which they already paid, can’t pay, shouldn’t have to pay, is actually someone else’s. If you put them into another voice mail system, it will might make them angry enough to dump you for another provider.

They do not want to leave a message for someone to ignore and never call back. They want to straighten out what they hope is a simple misunderstanding. If you send them to more voice mail or an answering machine — and you don’t return the call immediately — expect to never get your money or lose our business. I have dumped providers at the first opportunity many times and I will do it again. If you aggravate me enough, I will hold it against you. Forever. And I will tell everyone why.

This is business. I am a paying customer. Act like you care.

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A CAUTIONARY TALE

I hear so many companies complaining how bad business is. Never do I hear them wonder if their own action (or inaction) might have something to do with it. Maybe the problem is how badly you treat your customers.

Consider this: Maltreating customers does not endear you to them. If they can, they will go elsewhere. At the first opportunity, they will drop you so fast you won’t have a chance to say “Hey wait, I’ve got a deal for you.”

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine got the option of using FIOS instead of Warner Cable. FIOS was a bit more expensive and had a slightly smaller offering, at least back then. She changed services anyway. She said: “I hate Warner so much, I’d happily pay more to anyone else just to be rid of them.”

I feel that same way about our cable provider. They think they are invulnerable because we currently have no choice, but eventually, we will have a choice. It’s only a matter of time. The ill-will they are amassing now will ultimately bury them. It’s a cautionary tale for all corporations who think they “own” the market — and the customers.

Talk to your customers. Be nice to them. Make them feel valued. Calm them down rather than throwing gasoline on the fire. If you are in a service industry, provide service. It’s what we are paying for.

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