Monthly Archives: December 2014

2014 In Review

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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,600 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 43 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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It’s a Marshmallow World All Right!

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I am really glad that Christmas is over, because I’m really tired of hearing the Marshmallow World commercial. And I really hope that Target will not think that just because its holiday commercial has snowmen in it that it can carry on past Christmas with it. A marshmallow world? I don’t think so!

It all started with a semi-annoying version that featured the mangling of a once benign old song sung by Bing Crosby, turning it into a jingle-jangly, repetitive song that invades the brain. It was all based on the Alice in Wonderland type scene, but all about kids and presents (and shopping at Target, of course.) That was enough for me. I remember thinking, “How can I endure hearing this a thousand times in the next couple of weeks?” I had no idea what was to come.

That version soon morphed into another several versions, all of which featured some rendition of the marshmallow song. But there’s a twist. Now the song turns a bit discordant and seems to be less and less about holiday gift heaven. The next one features nice kids getting cell phones, and the naughty kid getting a huge, dusty, ancient mobile phone, delivered out of a giant penguin’s mouth. Where else would you find one?

And then, the song gets even more maniacal, and suddenly the story changes to exploding snowmen. Yep. The heads just pop apart, leaving a trail of glitter. How does this represent Christmas? Or Christmas shopping? They’re selling headphones, and when the kid cranks up the volume, the snowmen’s heads start exploding. How does this help sell these headphones?

So, Target, I know you’re having a string of bad luck these days, but PLEASE consider ending the marshmallow world. Or maybe that’s your plan for the last in the series…destroy the planet with marshmallow fluff! Happy Holidays!

Christmas Traditions From an Outsider’s Point of View

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I’m not a Christian, so I don’t really celebrate Christmas myself. A loosely practicing Jew can really muck up Christmas. I’ve had a Christmas tree that I called a Hanukkah bush, hung blue lights and stockings, sung Christmas carols about Jesus, and even attended midnight mass. I can just see my very Jewish aunt shaking her head and wondering why. But I’ve also been a part of many Christmas celebrations over the years with Christian friends, and have seen how the holiday is done by those that know what they’re doing. Today as, I was cruising through the holiday posts on Facebook, I was musing at how differently everyone celebrates the Christmas holiday.

First comes decorating. Real tree, or fake tree? Ornaments handed down over the years, or ornaments to match the chosen theme of the year? Tinsel? Popcorn or cranberry garland? Angel or star? Lights…all one color, or mixed colors? Outside decorations…over the top, fill your yard, cover your house, and light the neighborhood? Or simple lights along the roofline? Nativity scene? Angels everywhere? Wreaths? And when do you put up the tree…Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day? Christmas Eve? Whenever you have a moment to yourself without the kids? Or with the kids?

And the countdown and preparations. Elf on the shelf? Advent calendar? Shopping trips? Pictures with Santa? Naughty or nice checklists? Cookie exchanges? Airline tickets?

Food is a big deal at any holiday, but Christmas seems to come with more than any other. Ham or turkey? Or something more fancy like prime rib roast or lobster tails? Or perhaps a special, local or family traditional fare…like lefse, or lutefisk? Potluck, or is one family member responsible for the entire meal? Christmas cookies, candy canes, fudge, and all of the cute treats that look like something Christmassy. Glug, grog, cider, hot chocolate, hot toddies, or a good ole Tom & Jerry?

And what about Santa? Do you have a family member (or perhaps a Jewish friend) dress up as Santa to visit the kiddos and pass out presents? Or do some gifts appear that have Santa’s name on them? Do you leave cookies and milk out for him? Anything for the reindeer?

Then there’s the opening of the presents. Christmas Eve, or Christmas morning? Or maybe one on Christmas Eve, and the rest the next morning? Does everyone take turns, oohing and ahhing over each gift, or is it mass chaos as everyone tears into their prizes, regardless of what’s going on around them? And do the presents get put under the tree as they were purchased or made, or do you wait until the kids are asleep on Christmas Eve to drag them all out of hiding?

And for those with larger families, how do you decide where to celebrate, and when? If you have to make it to 4 or 5 houses to “do Christmas” with each relative, how do you fit them all in, and still make it meaningful for your family? Do you eat 5 Christmas dinners in one day? Do you ever get to have Christmas at your own house if you are traveling all over creation to attend all of the relative’s celebrations?

And, last, but not least, what’s it all about to you? Presents and decorating, eating and drinking, visiting and enjoying time as a family, or the religious parts? I see a lot of folks get caught up in the rat race of Christmas, running around to find the best gifts, getting everything cleaned, made and ready. They must be too exhausted to enjoy the holiday once it arrives! And there’s the expectations that tend to run rather high for most. We’ve all seen the Christmas morning tantrum over a gift not received, or a gift that doesn’t work as promised. And that’s not always just the kids!

As an outsider, whatever your Christmas was, I hope that it was everything you hoped it would be. I hope that you spent it with family and friends, and that you inhaled deeply the time together.

Police Action in a Small Town

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As I’ve said before, I live in a very small town in the middle of Minnesota. Everyone knows everyone, and everyone is pretty darned nice here. You’d imagine you were fairly safe in your home, on the streets, and at public places. Nothing very big in the world of crime ever takes place here.

Well, a couple of months ago, within the same week, there were two major police actions in our little burg. The first happened at the house next door to some friends of mine. A bunch of law enforcement vehicles showed up, and they heard through the bullhorn, “Come out with your hands up!” Officers were searching all around with flashlights, including IN my friends’ backyard sauna. Needless to say, it raised some concern for them, and for me, since they don’t live far from me. My friends never heard any more about what had gone on there, and it remains a mystery.

Then, just 3 nights later, in my very own neighborhood, right next door, a very similar thing happened. Suddenly, I noticed several law enforcement vehicles parked in the street and the driveway of the house next door. I saw some officers chatting in the driveway, and some neighbors who had gathered across the street to see what was up. I stepped out onto my porch to see if I could hear anything, or find out what was going on. I noticed in the upstairs window of the house next door, there was someone looking around with a flashlight. I decided to investigate further, fearing that someone was on the loose or something.

I put on my shoes and jacket and headed next door, to the group of officers who were chatting away, seemingly unconcerned with the goings on around them. I said, “I live next door. Is there anything I should be concerned about?” Their reply was, “Oh, no, everything’s under control. Nothing to worry about.” Right. 7 or 8 cop cars (probably all we have, plus those from 2 or 3 surrounding communities), and nothing to be worried about. A neighbor called the police to see what was going on, and they told her the same…nothing to worry about. And, as with my friends’ experience, nothing more was ever heard as to what might have happened.

It took me a few days to feel totally safe. I heard through the grapevine that someone was arrested next door, and he was in the attic. This made me worry that someone could be hiding in MY attic (something I’ve always had an unwarranted fear about.) I have no idea if any of that is true, but it made me think that the law enforcement officers should maybe be a little more willing to inform neighbors of any such possibly dangerous situations that occurred in their neighborhoods. It would be nice to know more details, to put my mind at rest, knowing that this was a unique situation, and there are no hardened criminals cruising around looking for hiding places.

Guest Post: Please Vote Me Off the Island!

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Here’s another post from my friend, “Anonymous”…

The nature of life is such that all species are in constant competition from birth to death.   In nature, there is competition for food, shelter and dominance, to name a few.  This competition, along with genetic mutation, is what basically drives natural selection and evolution.  Humans are no different, but their competition is more complex—it involves numerous other factors, such as grades, acceptance into college, friends, jobs, buying a house, and just about everything up to and including wars.  It seems that virtually every step to get through life is a competition at some level.

So it strikes me as odd that we compete every day, and yet we choose competition as a major theme in a lot of our entertainment.  There has long been competition in entertainment, such as radio quiz shows.  On TV, we have seen many game shows such as Password, Jeopardy, The Price is Right, Let’s Make a Deal—the common theme is coming out ahead, and we all like to win or to watch others win.  Nothing wrong with that.  These shows seem mostly friendly, and the winners take home prizes.  Often, the losers get consolation prizes.  Both are somehow compensated, and they seem to have some fun in the process.

But the advent of reality shows has taken competition to an even higher level.  Survivor, Big Brother, Hell’s Kitchen—we see people put into difficult and tense situations, and how they scheme and plot against each other.  In other words, we are shown the seamy, nasty, dirty sides of contestants—there isn’t a lot of smiling or handshaking going on, and it’s not very pretty.  While I have seen some of these shows out of curiosity, I don’t watch them anymore because they are so distasteful and unpleasant.

Let’s take cooking shows.  I can remember The Galloping Gourmet, The Frugal Gourmet, and Justin Wilson.  In these shows, a host demonstrated how to cook one or more dishes—they were informative and somewhat humorous.  There are still lots of cooking shows that are instructive, such as Good Eats or America’s Test Kitchen.  But there is a new species of cooking show that is extremely competitive.  Amateur chefs are pitted against one another, often with unrealistic or ridiculous constraints, and harshly judged by professionals.

A scenario might go something like this:  three average people are asked to use two turtle eggs, a kiwi fruit, beef jerky and some goat cheese to create a restaurant-quality dish in 16 minutes—not a second more.  They will be judged on taste, presentation and originality.  A scramble (Ha! I made a funny!) begins as the chefs rush to prepare their offerings for the judges.  As they labor, there is an announcer who describes their feverish activities, and this seems to add to the tension.  When the time is up, the dishes usually look horrible—go figure.  The chefs then face the judges one at a time and receive criticism.  Sometimes there is praise, but, more often, a judge (aka food snob) will say something like “Marjorie, your dish looks and tastes like wildebeest feces—I can’t imagine that you have ever eaten in a restaurant, let alone can cook in one.”  The winner seems to win by default rather than superior results.  After all, who can take those ingredients and come up with something palatable in that time frame?  And under what circumstances in the real world would one have to try?  So the “competition” has artificial conditions and is basically meaningless.  And most of the participants are chided or humiliated, then eliminated.  Viewers don’t really learn how to cook anything.  So we are really watching losers, not winners.

And that’s the take home lesson—our society seems to thrive on competition and enjoy watching people fail.  It’s not enough anymore to compete all day—we need to watch competition when we get home.  It’s not enough anymore to see someone win on a game show, and to watch the loser be a good sport—we need to watch people stab each other in the back, or be embarrassed.   I have no objection to entertainment that contains violence, intrigue, debasement or conflict.  These shows or movies that I enjoy have actors portraying characters.   But the people in the type of show I describe are real people—they sell their dignity, and the producers exploit their willingness to do so, and the desire of the audience to see it.   For cryin’ out loud, change the channel!

Classy Act

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So, I got a card in the mail the other day, saying I was included in a class action suit against my mortgage company. Apparently, the suit is being filed because of some flood protection issue that I don’t understand, nor do I think applies to me. But the card said I was included, so I read on, dreaming of finally hitting it big and raking in zillions on which I could retire.

In the fine print, it said that this class action suit would bring me a whopping $9.50. Yes, you read that right, $9.50. Not 9.5 million, or even CLOSE to a zillion. After that disappointment had registered, I decided to read further. In the last bits of the fine print, there was a paragraph entitled Who Will Represent Me? In this paragraph, it said that Dewey, Cheatem, and Howe would be representing me, and would be paid the sum of $1.5 million to do so. Huh.

So, my pea brain began to hum. Each of us poor schmucks who may have been charged more in our mortgages for some type of flood protection that really wasn’t above board will now receive a nice reward of $9.50, while the lawyers will sit back and rake in $1.5 million for “representing” all of us. Even though we’ve never met.

It gets better. I’m sure my mortgage company, after being sued for $1.5 million for the law firm, and $9.50 multiplied by however many of us schmucks return the card to be included in the class action, will then have no alternative but to raise the interest rates and closing costs on their mortgages and refinancing. Again, it comes right back to us poor schmucks. Classy.