Noel ’13

Christmas1934Merry Christmas to all, with a good Boxing Day thrown in for good measure. One of these days, probably long after I’m gone, Americans will have the day after Christmas off, too.

Posting will resume again around January 5, 2014.

To the right is a paper ornament that hung on my grandparents’ Christmas tree in the mid-1930s, now mounted against a red-paper background and usually hanging in my office. For a short while, it’ll be on our Christmas tree here in the mid-2010s.

Santa Has No Mouth, and He Must Say Ho Ho Ho

I spent a little while looking at this blob, trying to see a conventional Santa in it. It was hard to see. The scan seems to make it a little more representational. Made it’s the lighting.

SortofSantaNo matter. Its purpose wasn’t to be admired visually, but to taste good on the way down.

That got me to thinking — it doesn’t take much to start a tangent — that the next big thing in custom chocolate could be treats based on famed abstract art. That’s the sort of thing that the Sharper Image or SkyMall might sell: Henry Moore milk chocolate shapes or Isamu Noguchi foil-wrapped dark choco Easter bunnies or a Dada Whitman Sampler.

Tuesday Recommendations

Butter toffee from Guth’s End of the Trail Candy Shoppe in Waupun, Wis., a burg southwest of Fond du Lac. Every year a PR company I’ve long dealt with sends me a box for the holidays. It’s the only time I eat toffee. It’s insanely good. Only a few pieces will make you feel a little queasy, so rich is the confection. But you eat them anyway.

The Man of Bronze. It’s the first Doc Savage novel, and probably the only one I’ll ever read. With genre pulp, that’s usually enough. I have memory fragments of the mid-70s Doc Savage movie I didn’t see – not many people did – so I’m probably remembering the commercials. My friend Kevin recommended Doc Savage as an entertaining read of no consequence, and I’ll go along with that so far. You have to like a yarn that begins with the sentence, “There was death afoot in the darkness.”

Gravity. It’s a really engaging Man Against Nature story, or to be more exact, Woman Against Vacuum. With a one-damn-thing-after-another plot that keeps your attention. Also, worth the extra money to see in 3D, and not too many movies are. In fact, the depiction of space alone is worth the price of admission. A few of the space-science stretchers bothered me a little – I don’t think hopping from spacecraft to spacecraft is quite that straightforward – but not that much. I don’t want exact space science from a movie, just high verisimilitude, and this movie delivers.

Lizard Point Consulting’s geography quizzes. Every now and then, I make Lilly and Ann take some of the easy ones, such as U.S. states or capitals. It’s my opinion that every adult American citizen without cognitive impairment ought to know all of the states.

But I can’t brag about a lot of the other quizzes. It’s clear that my knowledge of, say, French regions is fairly meager, and sad to say I don’t do that well on Japanese prefectures, either – I tend to remember only the ones I’ve been to, plus a scattering of others (like Aomori, where Aomori apples come from, because it’s due south of Hokkaido).

Even quizzes that ought to be easy-ish, such as African nations, have their confusions. Without looking, which one is Swaziland, which one Lesotho? Which is Benin, which one Togo? Which one is Guinea, which one Guinea-Bissau? (That should be easy, Guinea’s bigger.) Similarly, it’s hard to keep track of which –stan is which in Asia, except for Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Kazakstan.

To Dully Go When No Man Has Gone Before

More snow today. Seems like we’ve already gotten more snow this winter than last, even ahead of the Solstice. Which is just the Solstice, not the “beginning of winter.” Winter got out of the gate early this year.

File the following under (1) movies I’ve seen pieces of lately and (2) movies I saw long ago that I never need to see again in their entirety, which is actually most of them. I chanced across Star Trek: The Motion Picture the other day, about which I have vague recollections from early 1980. That is, I vaguely remember it being a yawn.

So I watched about 10 minutes of it. The Enterprise had encountered one of those sprawling, amorphous energy beings that it seemed to run into with some regularity, and the ship was boldly going into it. Or at least going in with some trepidation.

Two things struck me. First, the purpose of the scene seemed to be to show off the movie’s special effects, which probably did look swell on the big screen in 1980. But the scene went on and on, with the characters and the audience seeing light patterns go by, something like the “through the star gate” scene in 2001, only a lot slower.

Also, everyone on the bridge just stood there, wide-eyed. This is the bridge crew of the Enterprise we’re talking about. They’ve seen a lot of outer-space marvels and weird things in their time. So why weren’t they at their instruments, trying to figure out what the thing was?

Pizza & Doughnut Run ’84

Nothing says holiday cheer like pizza and doughnuts. At least, we’re looking pretty cheerful in this picture, preparing to feast on those victuals on a cool December day in San Antonio in 1984. They weren’t just for us, of course. I think.

PizzaDonutDec84High school friends (five years out of high school) Nancy, Tom, and me. My brother Jay might have taken the picture, but I’m not sure.

A Dispatch from the War on Christmas

“War on Christmas,” huh? Seems like a fairly robust holiday to me. You hear a lot about the holiday this time of year, after all. I can’t think of any jurisdiction in Western world that has suggested banning it, or suppressing the Christmas tree trade, or sending street-corner Santas to re-education camps. Not even the Russians do that any more.

But what about a real War on Christmas? And by real, I mean with artillery.

Ellesmere Is.—The forces of Christmas suffered a serious setback on Thursday when anti-Christmas forces overran a major redoubt near Ft. Kringle on Ellesmere Is., putting the fort in a perilous position. Should Ft. Kringle fall to the hands of anti-Christmasites, the path would be open for an assault on the North Pole, which has been pounded in recent weeks by aerial bombardment.

An estimated 2,000 elves were killed or captured when the redoubt was taken. Dasher, a spokesdeer for the Claus government at the Pole, said that the little ones died heroically in defense of Christmas, and vowed that the redoubt would be retaken during an upcoming counteroffensive, though he declined to give details. Units of elves are rumored to be massing in northwestern Greenland for a flanking counterattack, but that could not be independently verified…

Twilight Filler

We’ve arrived in late January already, down in the bitter pit of winter a little early. Good thing it’ll warm up some later in the week — up toward, but not actually above, the freezing point of water. So the ice crystals I can see on my lawn will stick around a while.

I saw an episode of the original Twilight Zone the other day that I don’t ever remember seeing before, “The Mind and the Matter.” (Been a while since I’ve seen any episodes.) I looked it up later – the urge to do that is a minor curse of the Internet age – and found that it first aired the month before I was born, which was a mildly interesting thing to find out.

Mostly, though, the episode confirmed that every TV anthology is going to have filler. Except for a few moments, it was flat and uninspired, and the cheapness of the production – which often isn’t an issue in the series – was all too clear.

A generally forgotten comedian named Shelley Berman starred (still alive at 88, according to Wiki, and maybe sour about Bob Newhart’s success). He plays a miserable, misanthropic office drone who – with remarkable ease – learns to wish away the rest of the human population of his New York-like city. Almost immediately he’s bored, and decides to wish everyone else to be like him. Almost immediately after that, he discovers that a world of miserable misanthropes is no good either, so he puts everything back the way it was.

My question is, if suddenly everyone else is gone, why would you report to the office to do any work, which is what he does? (Because the show didn’t have money for another set.) And why wouldn’t you be concerned, even in passing, that the utilities would soon go out? Maybe the idea was that this fellow has no imagination whatsoever, but if so, I’m supposed to be sympathetic with that? Never mind. Filler isn’t worth thinking about too hard.

Cold Tuesday, Clutch, Dog ‘n’ Tree

This from today’s Chicago Tribune: “The temperature [this morning] dipped below zero overnight at O’Hare International Airport, the earliest that has happened here since 1995… The temperature fell to one degree below zero around 12:55 a.m., according to the National Weather Service. That’s the earliest subzero readings here since a low of minus 4 on Dec. 9, 1995.”

Those are two-fisted Fahrenheit readings, not any namby-pamby Celsius, either. Remember last winter, when it didn’t seem to get cold at all, with little snow? Not this time. So far. More snow is supposed to fall in the wee hours tomorrow.

Open questions: Is Clutch Cargo enjoying some kind of vogue among hipsters? Otherwise why is the Music Box Theatre, a fine revival and arts house on the North Side of Chicago, screening five episodes of the show on Friday?

Yesterday, girls decorating the Christmas tree. Today, a snap of dog and tree.


She hasn’t shown much interest in the tree, unlike certain other trees during her walks. I figure dogs have their own holidays, which somehow have something to do with epic events in the history of smell.

Tannenbaum ’13

I’ve turned most of the tree decorating over to the next generation. I did put the tree in the stand and string on the lights, though. Lilly and Ann didn’t quite get all of the ornaments on the first or second day, but they’re mostly done.

Christmas Tree 2013Icicles will go on tonight, and a star on top. I put on the star.

This is the first time the tree’s been in the lower level of the house, for various reasons. One is to complement the new walls and floor. The dog showed some interest in the smell of the thing, for a while, but the novelty wore off, and she hasn’t destroyed any of the ornaments yet.

Calendar Oddities

Snow today, beginning in the morning, finally enough to obscure the grass. At about noon, Lilly asked her device – which has a male-voice version of Siri – Is it going to snow a lot today? Male-Siri said, “It appears to be snowing.” Guess it knows how to look out the window.

On Saturday a cheap 2014 calendar arrived from a company we do scant business with. I like it for its completely eccentric choice of special dates.

It’s got some presidential birthdays, of course. In order: McKinley, FDR, Lincoln, Washington, Jackson, Madison, Jefferson, Grant, Kennedy, J.Q. Adams, Hoover, Benjamin Harrison, Eisenhower, TR, and Wilson. Not a bad selection, but Benjamin Harrison? Well, he did ink the bills for six new states. And… even I have to look up the details of his administration. Maybe the calendar maker is a fan of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act.

Other calendar oddities include mentioning the first national election (Jan. 7, 1789), Alexander Hamilton’s birthday (Jan. 11, 1757), “Edison’s Incandescent Lamp Patent” (Jan. 27, 1880), Henry Longfellow’s birthday (Feb. 27, 1807), “Peary Discovered the North Pole” (April 6, 1909), “Dewey’s Victory at Manila Bay” (May 1, 1898), Col. Lindbergh’s NY to Paris Flight” (May 21, 1927), “Hawaii Annexed” (July 7, 1898), “Panama Canal Opened” (Aug. 15, 1914), “Monroe Doctrine Announced” (Dec. 2, 1823), “South Pole Discovered” (Dec. 14, 1911), and “Wilbur Wright’s 1st Aeroplane Flight (Dec. 17, 1903).” That’s right, aeroplane. It’s good to be up on to-day’s latest technical marvels.

Standard federal holidays, as well as an assortment of popular days (Ground Hog Day, Valentine’s Day, etc.) and Jewish holidays are noted. V-J Day is noted on Sept. 2, but V-E Day isn’t mentioned. (I learned elsewhere that “Victory Day” on Sept. 2 is actually a state holiday in Rhode Island; see “A Few Interesting Facts…” ) The Wright Bros. (one, anyway) and Lindbergh made the cut, but no space flight of any kind did, manned or unmanned, Soviet or American. You’d think they’d be space for the first Moon landing at least. Hawaii annexed but why not the purchase of Alaska? Longfellow but not, say, Walt Whitman?

Ah, well. We each live according to an eccentric calendar.