IT’S THAT TIME OF YEAR AGAIN

The leaves haven’t changed yet. It’s not yet Autumn in New England. And yet … and yet … I’m seeing complaints about how folks are being forced — FORCED!!! — to not say “Merry Christmas.”

You know, no one has ever cared what I said about any holiday. Other than responding with a smile and a returned greeting, I’ve never met a single person who gave a rat’s ass whether I said Merry Christmas, happy holiday, or “have a great time whatever you happen to celebrate” — which I occasionally say when I don’t know what holiday you celebrate or even if you celebrate anything.

Basically, I’m a nice person and I want you to enjoy your holiday. So, I say Merry Christmas if I’m reasonably sure you celebrate Christmas. I would say something different if I thought you celebrated something else … or don’t celebrate anything for whatever reason. If I happen to say “happy holidays,” you’re going to spit in my eye? Because I greeted you with the wrong words and stepped on your self-righteousness?

The cops aren’t going to pick me up for my accidental failure to greet you the way you want to be greeted.


There are no “political correctness” police.

Anyone can say whatever he or she wants to say and that includes saying nothing. At all. So you can be friendly, or you can be a jerk. It’s not about religion or beliefs. It’s about being civil to other people who may or may not share your background. The whole little spiel about how I can leave if I don’t celebrate your customs? Since when did your customs become mine? Talk about offensive … you’ve got a lot of nerve!

I am tired of oppressed “Christians” whose idea of oppression is to not get everything exactly the way they want it — and who snivel about oppression because they have to move their crèche to the church around the corner.

You live in a country where you can have a church. You can have a dozen churches and attend all of them. Any time. That is freedom. What you want is spiritual tyranny.

The laws to which you refer do not exist. The police don’t care. Basically, neither do I. I’m just being polite. To you. For no special reason. You could merely smile and say “thank you.” Consider the possibility.

WHAT’S “TRADITIONAL”?

There was a time … long, long ago … when I had traditions. Celebrating Passover. The rituals of Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Day. New Years Eve and New Year’s Day Feasting. The decorating and piling presents under the tree. Carving a pumpkin. Putting out the little gourds for Autumn.

Oh (little) Christmas Tree

As time moved on, everything slowed. then stopped. We celebrate a semblance of Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve, but the piles of gifts are gone. I save the best gift for my granddaughter, then nice ones to both parents. Garry and I go shopping during the sale following the holiday when everything is half price.

Uxbridge Common

We don’t need that stuff anymore. We haven’t changed sizes in years. We have plenty of clothing, sweaters, shoes and lord knows I do not want another decorative item for shelves or walls. We were full up on that stuff a long time ago. A particularly interesting book from one of the used bookstores can be interesting and small things that go with the cameras — bags, cleaning cloths, and spare lens caps — are good. Especially spare lens caps. A new camera strap? Okay.

Otherwise, what we really need are things no one can afford. A better screen door for the kitchen and, for that matter, if one exists — a new Dutch door too. And maybe everyone would come over and spent four hours cleaning a couple of times a year — I’d jump for joy on that one!

Even so, we seem to be getting along very well without a lot of the stuff that seemed such a big deal years ago. I don’t miss the 8 foot tree with the falling needles that were still under the rugs two years later.

Or all the broken class ornaments knocked down by cats and dogs. I don’t mind figuring out how we are going to fit a tree into the house. We have a wee little 4-foot table tree that lives (decorated, no lights) in the attic, covered, and can be comfortably plopped on the table in season then covered up and moved back to the attic.

I always wondered why Garry’s parents used to more or less beg us to NOT put up another tree. We were young and we didn’t get that they’d had a lifetime of trees and were perfectly happy to celebrate without the symbols.

Maybe that’s the real truth of it. We like the “feelings” of the holidays, but we don’t need the panoply, the endless decoration, the expense of wrapping papers and tapes and ribbons and cards, then are bagged and dumped. No one needs all the inexpensive little things we gave each other, just to fill up the corners of the holidays.

I miss the family dinners. so if someone else is willing to cook? I’ll put my bells on! I think I have cooked enough family dinners for several lifetimes. And it’s okay. Paper plates work for me!

I remember the first time I told my mom I thought it was time for me to make Thanksgiving. The look of relief that swept over her. I had been expecting an objection, maybe even a complaint … until I realized my mother hated cooking. It was usually my father who cooked with all the resulting bedlam — and even had we been a more “normal” family, they had been hosting family dinners since before I was born. And it was a big family.

 

After I took over that first year, I did it every year. I liked it. I messed around with different versions of turkey, discovered I should never, ever serve soup before the big bird. Stick with simple stuffing. Also, don’t let the bird cool on the counter when you have hungry cats.

There is a time for The Traditions. And then, there is a time to pass traditions slide down the tree to the next generation and the one after that. Sliding down the tree of life, if you think about it, makes sense. That’s the way of it.

When the kids are young — and even when the grandchildren are young — there’s a surprise and a certain bubbly excitement to oncoming holidays. But by the time all three top generations in the family are adults, that magic has quietly faded away. Hopefully leaving some good memories.

We had good holidays. No family battles. No shouting or sniping or ugliness. We didn’t hate each other.

We merely grew older and got tired. Now, the best part is watching old Christmas movies. Bring on “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Going My Way” and “Holiday Inn” and more. Each generation will have their own. Thanksgiving? “Wizard of Oz,” of course! And every single American holiday, it’s “Yankee Doodle Dandy” at least twice, with reruns of the best dancing.

Bring on traditions — and don’t forget the music and movies!

DESTINATION: FRIENDSHIP

A Trip to Alsace, Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog


In the eastern part of France, along the Rhine River and the borders of Germany and Switzerland, lies the region known as Alsace.  The colorful history and culture of this area could never be told in a brief post. From ancient time to the present, the land has been part of the Holy Roman Empire, the Frankish Realm, German Empire, Kingdom of France, Nazi Germany, modern-day France and others.  The fusion of cultures and languages makes the area a fascinating trip through history, tradition, architecture and cuisine.  A prominent feature of the region today is the wine vineyards.  A trip down the wine road is a delight.  I have done it often.

Green alternative

Although you can take a flight to Paris and go on to Strasbourg, the largest city of Alsace, by train, the more efficient and cheaper transit may be to fly to Frankfurt/Main, as I did on my most recent journey.  From there you have several choices to reach Strasbourg.  I have taken the Lufthansa bus in the past, but this time my friend recommended Flixbus.

This is a relatively new service connecting many western European cities with a “reliable and green alternative” to other services.  The new buses and quick trip to Strasbourg, along with the significantly cheaper prices compared to the Lufthansa bus, make it the best choice if the timetable fits your schedule.  This time it worked best and I arrived quickly in the center of Strasbourg.

My friend collected me at the bus stop and on we went to the small town of Selestat, which dates back to at least 727 AD.  We have spent much of our time together here in recent years.  It is the center of our adventures.  For me, the best part of the trip is to sit on the small balcony of his apartment, look at the castles on the hills around us and enjoy a local beer or glass of Alsacien white wine.

Selestat, Alsace, France

It is not necessary to go to exotic and expensive places to have a good time.  We watch sports and eat together in my friend’s apartment.  We visit with friends and relatives.  We make some local stops, but the time together discussing American sports is more enjoyable than I could explain.

When my friend was off to work, I took in some of the local sites with his father.  He speaks no English and I know little French.  It does not matter, we have a good time.  At least I am having a good time and I think he is too.  Sometimes I do not understand where we are going until we arrive.  I don’t mind.  It will be fun.  Our first adventure took us to a local distillery museum.  It is new and has interactive displays.  At the end you finish in a gift shop (of course) where we sampled their main product, Eau-de-vie (water of life).  It is really a clear, fruit brandy.  A friend of mine calls it French moonshine.  It will certainly wake you up if you took a morning tour of the museum and gift shop as we did.

The Maison du Distillateur

You’d need help to carry this home.

If a clear brandy does not suit your taste, perhaps the local chocolate museum and shop will.  On our next adventure, all I understood from my friend’s father was chocolate was in our immediate future.  How could I say no?

So off we went to learn about the making of chocolate and to see a demonstration by a craftsmen who melted chocolate and then created leaves and animals and a variety of chocolate charms to the delight of the crowd.

The chocolatier spoke French so I understood little, but watching him create was a joy.

Le Maitre Chocolatier

Old church, small town Alsace

The region is dotted with small towns that are a step back in history.  We have no such places in the US, as these town contain buildings that pre-date America. The culture has evolved over many more centuries and the history of many of these locales tells tales that would delight an historian. In each of the stops, we see a lifestyle unlike our own. I particularly enjoy the ancient churches for what they tell us of the individual towns.

It was love and sacrifice that brought people together to build unique structures before there was any modern technology or construction equipment.

Ribeauville, Alsace, France

I could wander endlessly through the streets of these old towns and villages, stopping in shops to view the local wares.  It is a joy to have a cup of coffee at one stop, a pastry at another and perhaps a wine at another.  The slow pace of exploration is so much more pleasant than the tourist traps of the major cities.

Yes, I enjoyed Paris and would even go again, if I could, but the back streets of the small towns will fill your eyes with delight and warm your soul for reasons you will not fully comprehend.

Sunset in Alsace

Each time the sun sets on our visit in France, the sadness grows a little stronger.  That is because there is one less adventure in our future, one less year to be together.  It is also a time of joy, because there was one more adventure and one more memory to take home.

CHRISTMAS YET TO COME

My Top Ten Christmas Songs, Young Artists Edition, By Rich Paschall

From the time your Halloween pumpkin turned to mush on your front porch until now, you have been hearing Christmas music in the stores, on the radio and television and perhaps on your computer and mobile devices as well.  As we have noted on past Top Ten lists, the airwaves have been filled with familiar voices singing the same holiday hits to us that they have been singing for decades.  Of course, it is not Christmastime if we do not hear Bing, Perry, Andy and Nat crooning to us, but perhaps there are some newer artists who will earn a spot on the radio station playlist some day soon.

It is in this spirit that I come to you with another holiday playlist in hand.  I can see by the tired look on your faces, that you are ready for something fresh.  For this edition we have an eclectic assortment of original songs and holiday covers.  Before we get too carried away with Aunt Maude’s apple cider or Uncle Harvey’s Gluhwein, I have an honorable mention from talented producer, video editor, musician and performer Kurt Hugo Schneider (age 28).  Performing this “mash-up” of holidays tunes with him is actor, dancer, singer Max Schneider (24, and no relation) and Victoria Justice (23).  I will leave it to you to figure out how KHS pulls this off.  He really does not explain it at the end.

Now the weather outside might be frightful, but the following is so delightful, and since you’ve no place to go (because most stores really are closed), enjoy these tunes from the 30 and under crowd.

10. Christmas Must Be Something More, Taylor Swift (26) Released in 2007, this tune has not gotten the airplay of her rather uninspiring covers of “Last Christmas” and “Santa Baby.”

9.  A Wonderful Christmas Time, Demi Lovato (24)  The former Disney princess covers the Paul McCartney hit in a Disney Parade.  I guess that means Ryan Seacrest needs to make the introduction.

8.  Santa Tell Me, Ariana Grande (23) The former Nickelodeon star has made it big in television and film, as well as recording pop songs.  The Christmas video comes with a series of “outtakes” at the end.

7.  Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, Sam Smith (24)  The typical presentation of this Grammy winning artist is perfect for this melancholy version of the bittersweet tune.

6.  Let It Snow – Baby It’s Cold Outside, Robby Word (19) and Alex G. (24).  It’s another holiday mash-up from Kurt Hugo Schneider, a master at the one-take video.  You can also wonder how they pulled off this one.

5.  Winter Wonderland, Alexander Rybak (30) The 2009 winner of the Eurovision song contest released an album of holiday tunes in English in 2012, Christmas Tales.  Not only did Rybak arrange and sing the songs, he is the entire string section on the recording.  The multi-talented artist was born in Belarus and lives in Norway.

4.  I’ll Be Home For Christmas, Sam Tsui (27)  Sam writes, arranges and sings on a large number of You Tube videos.  On this selection, he goes a cappella with a crew of Sams singing along.  Tsui has a Christmas EP so you can hear other familiar Christmas tunes as well.

3.  All I Want For Christmas Is You, Steve Grand (26)  This will be our non-traditional entry on the list.  Grand plays the piano as well as sings the familiar tune.  He is the featured character in the story being told, but how does it end?  You can find a link to another video on how they made this one on You Tube.  We have previously featured Steve as the “All-American Boy“.

2.  Mistletoe, Justin Bieber (22)  The Biebs scored a big hit with all the Beliebers in 2011 with this snappy tune.  The video has picked up over a quarter billion views and still going strong.  The radio airplay may have died down, but this song really deserves a place on the list.

1.  Pat-A-Pan, David Archuleta (25)  There were a lot of Christmas songs to choose from by the popular recording artist.  He has a full length album of Christmas songs.  He has performed on multiple Christmas television programs.  In fact, he was the featured performer on a Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas program on PBS.  That show received more ticket requests than any of their previous annual shows.  Find a half hour of highlights here.  I chose Pat-A-Pan from a different show not just because he sings to us in French and English, but also because it shows off the strength and clarity of his voice.

Entire You Tube Playlist:
Christmas Yet To Come
Christmas Present
Christmas Past

A CHRISTMAS STORY – GARRY ARMSTRONG

A SIMPLE GESTURE CAN CHANGE EVERYTHING

Marilyn had been doing battle for days with UPS and FEDEX about vanished Christmas deliveries. It was frustrating and not funny. Her frustration got to me too, since I can’t help fight this particular battle. It finally got sorted out, but it left us tired and not feeling any kind of holiday spirit.

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Add that we have been intermittently under siege from “whatever is going around,”while trying to fend off another of the seemingly endless viruses that leave us feeling old and tired. Factor in the latest appalling, comic strip news from the president-elect. We are bummed out. Wishing the holidays were over before they had begun. Whether you celebrate or not, this ought to at least be a season with hope for a better New Year to come, but this one? Good riddance to 2016, but 2017 was not looking better.

Is there no silver lining? Anything to look forward to?

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Bleak thoughts were racing through my head as I made a deli run to pick up a few items. I flashed a smile to the friendly lady at the counter. Civility is a requirement, even if I’m feeling down. She totaled up my purchases while I pulled out my debit card and started to hand it to her.

“Nope,” she said. “Not need, it’s all paid for.” indicating I wouldn’t need my card.

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I looked around confused.

The gentleman standing next to me smiled and softly said, “Happy Holidays”.

I left the deli, a bit stunned, but smiling. Sometimes, the world surprises you. In a good way. Maybe there is hope after all.

A SIMPLE GESTURE – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Marilyn has been doing battle with UPS for two days about Christmas packages lost in transit. It’s been frustrating and not especially funny Abbott and Costello 48 hours for Marilyn. Her frustration gets transferred to me because I can’t help. It finally got sorted out, but it left us tired and not feeling that holiday spirit.

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Add that we’re under siege from “what’s going around,”and trying to fend off another of the endless colds that leaves us grumbling and grumpy. Now, factor in the latest comic strip news from President-elect Orange Head. Not surprisingly, we are bummed out and wishing the holidays were over before they have entirely begun.

Is there no silver lining?

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Bleak thoughts were racing through my head as I made a deli run to pick up a few items. I flashed a smile to the friendly lady at the counter. Civility is a must even if you’re feeling down. I pulled out my card and started to hand it to her.

“Nope, it’s all paid for”, she said, indicating I wouldn’t need my debit card.

I looked around confused.

The gentleman standing next to me smiled and softly said, “Happy Holidays”.

I left the deli, a bit stunned, but smiling. Sometimes, the world surprises you. In a good way.

WHERE’S MY PACKAGE? RECONSTRUCTING AN EVENT

It’s the season of so many things, but one of the biggest is shopping online. This is when we need packages to arrive on time. So, of course, this is exactly when they are most likely to disappear. I got three emails from UPS yesterday telling me three packages had been delivered to my “front door.” As soon as I saw “front door,” I knew it was trouble.

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Our front door is inside the gate where Bonnie and Gibbs are ever on guard. In order to bring something to the front door, they have to go through the gate with the big “BEWARE OF DOGS” sign … not to mention figuring out how to open the gate, then convincing it to actually open, which isn’t easy. We get lots of deliveries. It all gets delivered to the big red door alongside the driveway. We even have put a big table so if the weather is bad, they can put it up out of the snow or puddles.

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NO ONE delivers anything to the front door. And none of the three packages actually arrived. Since most of this was stuff that was on super clearance or for use during the holidays, it was a depressing loss. UPS is the primary delivery service out here. There’s also the United States Postal Service (cheap, but good luck with that) … and FedEx which is usually good, but during holidays, erratic.

Officially speaking, these packages were delivered to our front door by UPS at 3:25 pm.

Uh uh. Not at the front door, either of the two side doors, or the door upstairs on the deck. Or at either of the gates or by the mailbox. Or alongside the shed. No packages. I looked. Garry looked. I looked again. Garry looked again. Nada. Nothing.

The red door by the driveway

The red door by the driveway

It could be that the delivery guy, being a holiday temporary employee delivered the package to the wrong house. It has happened before. Usually, that’s the end of it. We never see it again. We’ve gotten a lot of other peoples’ packages, but we are good neighbors and deliver them by hand to the proper house. Other folks are less honest or more lazy. Not sure which. Maybe both.

So I called United Parcel Service, alternatively known as UPS or brown because they dress in brown uniforms and drive brown trucks. FedEx is all red, white and blue and the United States Postal Service (USPS) drive white trucks and don’t bother with uniforms here. In the city, they still wear blue, official uniforms, though. In the country, we are grateful to get mail at all and are not picky about apparel.

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UPS had no idea where the packages were. “Maybe some other family member picked them up?”

“It’s just me and my husband.”

“Have you checked …”

“Every door. Every gate. Ever inch of the driveway and up by the mail box. And the back porch. No packages.”

“The driver came back with no packages. He said they were delivered.”

“Well, he didn’t deliver them here.”

“We’ll call you back in less than an hour.”

The deck gate.

The deck gate.

I waited. And waited. So, I called again, this time with the case number. No one knew anything, but they would call me back in less than an hour. Repeat one more time. Still no information, but they would DEFINITELY call me back in less than an hour. No, really, they would call me back.

Meanwhile, I called Lands’ End and they said they’d send me a replacement coat and I called Amazon and they said they’d send me a new oven thermometer. There was another missing Lands’ End package, so I called them, again … only to discover that four of the six items I’d ordered were no longer available. Only one sweater and a pair of dress pants for Garry could be replaces. And he really needs those pants for the party we are going to next week. I agreed to give it one more day in the unlikely hope UPS would “find” the packages. Sometimes, they say packages have been delivered, but they haven’t really delivered them. They are planning to, but to keep their bosses off their backs, so they mark them as delivered early. I’m hoping this is what happened. Otherwise, one of my neighbors got an early Christmas bonus.

The back door


This morning, I woke to the phone ringing. It was the UPS driver. Yes, indeed, he delivered them to the people next door. The unpleasant ones who seem to feel we are not nearly good enough to be their neighbors. That must be why they kept our stuff. The drive thinks he can get it back. I have my doubts, but I appreciate him trying. Isn’t there a law about this or something? It’s really theft, in passive-aggressive mode.

From my point of view, the worst part of the deal is that the three clearance sweaters I ordered from Lands’ End are no longer available in either my size or color. Out of 6 items, they can resend just two. So they will replace two items, refund the other four, and collect the money from UPS’s insurance. It’s the original vendors who deal with the problems, replacing missing packages and then filing the endless paperwork to get their money back. Meanwhile, the neighbors have one lovely wool coat, a pair of men’s dress pants, five lovely sweaters, and a rather classy oven thermometer. Free.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Tis the season indeed, which is why I do all of my holiday shopping before Thanksgiving. It’s only the beginning of December and I won’t be doing anymore ordering until the holidays are over. This is as much holiday angst as I can handle.

CONSTRUCT | THE DAILY POST