Happy Hallo-giving and Merry Han-kwan-mas-tice

We’re plum in the middle of the annual fall-winter holiday rotation and it’s like being on a speeding train that leaves the station earlier and earlier each year and there’s no getting off until January of the new year.

The Halloween decorations appeared in September this year, as did the costume stores.  The school year had barely started with lingering memories of summer vacations and we were carving pumpkins and draping polyester cobwebs on the front pine tree.  And, yes, Halloween originally was tied to religion, just like Christmas is.  It has its roots in several religious days, pagan and Christian.  Halloween is really Hallowe’en, which is really All Hallows Evening: the eve of All Hallows (or Saints) Day on November 1st, when the departed are remembered.  It was a solemn feast day in the early church, tied to the time when the Old Pagan Religion lit bonfires to mark the night when the air was thinnest between heaven and earth and souls could pass back and forth easily.   Costumes would have been more of the ghosts and skeletons variety, to scare the evil spirits away and keep the wearer safe.  Princesses, super heroes, ninjas, and the like came later with the candy treats, which were bribes to keep trick or treaters from pulling pranks, as earlier spirits might have done.  Upon asking, most kids in costume haven’t a clue what the phrase “Trick or treat!” means; they just say it by rote.

The day after, the webs came down, any carved pumpkins that were past their prime and caving in, headed for the compost heap.  The non-carved pumpkins could remain stacked artfully by the front door to help usher in Thanksgiving.  Waste not, want not.

I can recall as a kid that Thanksgiving actually meant something special.  Almost ceremoniously you got out the good china and created a fancy autumn centerpiece for the dining table, usually involving a cornucopia overflowing with bounty.

We cooked like crazy and life sort of came to a standstill for that one day so we really could enjoy family and blessings and the “harvest safely gathered in” idea, even though we had no garden in those days.  Stores were shuttered tightly.  In the days before 7-11 convenience stores appeared, if you didn’t buy it by Wednesday afternoon, you went without.

I think you can see where this is going.

No, I’m not pontificating nor being a crabby senior citizen, but I do think we’ve lost something along the way.  Now, Thanksgiving seems to be an unfortunate speed-bump that gets in the way of the mad dash to Christmas, er, the Happy Holidays.  God, do we REALLY have to stop and cook a turkey and pies NOW?  What a pain!  I need that flat-screen TV, or I-Pad, or Barbie Dream House more.

Nationally, Black Friday has–no surprise here–morphed into inhale your meal, or better yet, have it delivered to you while you’re in line at Toys R Us camping in your tent on Thanksgiving night.  Why even bother with Thanksgiving?  We can let that holiday safely fade into the mist and in a year or two, few will even remember or miss it.  You can have a Christmas, no wait, holiday turkey.

Then come the December celebrations which all vie for our time and attention.

For New Agers, the Winter Solstice is marked.  Jews can safely wish each other Happy Hannakuh and Kwanzaa observances are rather public these days, but woe unto those of us who risk all and say “Merry Christmas” instead of the more politically correct “Happy Holidays,” just in case the recipient isn’t part of a Christian faith system.  Since we don’t wear ID signs during the holidays, it’s hard to know who you’ll offend and who you won’t.

It’s a fact, Christmas, like Halloween, started as a religious observance and feast day; to try to make it something else is not really possible.  Santa Claus started out as St. Nicolas, remember?

Communities and schools have had to adjust to a more secular approach to the holidays (in Ethan’s school here in Utah there are no more Halloween costume parades) and Winter holiday celebrations across the country often revolve around non-offensive snowmen and characters like Jack Frost.

If memory serves, in the good old days of the USSR, the Communists there tried that with snowmen, snowflakes, and other secular symbols.  It never worked.

So in the mad dash to get just the right Christmas, oops, holiday gifts, send out e-Christmas holiday greetings, hit all the Christmas holiday parties, listen to those 24-7 Christmas holiday carol radio stations, get frustrated with jammed parking lots, try to hang onto the true spirit of the season.  Buy US made, buy local, smile, be happy.  Stop to smell freshly cut Christmas  holiday trees, consider the beauty of poinsettias.  If it snows, don’t curse the inconvenience; ponder the beauty of a snowflake.

I’m not jaded (yet) and I don’t get on my soapbox too often, but I guess I was thinking about all this with the dawn of more purchasing madness starting on Thanksgiving night.  Grrrrrrr.

And as Johnny Carson often said: “Mail your packages early so the post office can lose them.”

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Published in: on November 27, 2012 at 5:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

Samson, But No Delilah

Last weekend things were normal enough–a trip with Charlie (our corgi) to PetCo to stock up on dog food and his favorite rawhide bones.  It’s a favorite trek for the dog as he’s allowed in the store with the other dogs and generally makes new friends, gets lots of love and a few extra doggie treats.  But this time, Lara, Bob, Ethan, and Charlie came back with one more purchase: Samson.  Samson (aka Sammy) is a 5-month old carmel tabby cat.  Yes, cat!

He sort of matches Charlie’s coloring, just a bit lighter and both animals blend into the floor and carpeting color.  Double tripping hazard alert!!!

Now Charlie has a history with cats; in fact, there were two already living in the household when he was brought home as a puppy.  So he knows the ropes.  But we haven’t had a cat (read: purring lap cat) in about 3 years (I think Charlie’s feline memories are a bit fuzzy) and Bob and Lara were missing a cuddly ball of fur.  Hence, Samson.

Mercifully, there has been no hissing, snarling, or squabbles.  The cat is cool as a cucumber around Charlie, not fazed at all, no fear.  Charlie is perplexed and honestly, his ears are tinged with a bit of jealous green.  Samson, of course, is still in the exploratory phase, checking out the new digs.  Every opportune time, when Samson is on the floor or rugs, Charlie’s herding instincts kick in and, well, you know how successful that endeavor is: it’s impossible to herd cats, or in this case, a single cat.  But it is funny to watch.

Charlie maintaining his dignity while keeping an eye on Samson.

The cat was apparently abandoned or lost behind a store when rescued, so it was technically an “outdoor” cat and he desperately wants to head outside.  Samson doesn’t know it, but he’s now an indoor cat, at least for this winter until the spring when we can perhaps rig a harness and rope set-up and let him wander the backyard.  But try he does to use any open door: outside, garage, kitchen cabinet.  He’s a tiny escape artist and we have to watch our feet and open doors constantly.

He’s also a cuddle-bug, which is exactly what Bob wanted: a cat for his lap.  He eats up petting and purrs instantly when you stroke him or show affection.  Being a stray, he’s used to fending for himself, so he’s quite interested in dinner plates and the food on them.  We’ll have to work on his manners.

Of course, Charlie really gets his nose bent when he catches Samson drinking from his water bowl, and we understand that.  We are keeping some rooms cat-free zones until a new routine is established.  Charlie is well aware that Samson’s kibble bowl is up on Bob’s desk downstairs and it’s available 24-7.  You can almost see Charlie’s mental wheels and gears spinning overtime to figure out how he could get that perk, too.  (Charlie gets fed twice daily and, boy, you can set a clock by his instincts for mealtime!)

So, it seems we’ll have a cat curled up under the Christmas tree–or more than likely, climbing it as well as a corgi who remains VERY interested in all of Samson’s antics.  And I’m sure both critters will be driven nuts by the smell of turkey roasting in the oven.

Meet our new cat, Samson.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Published in: on November 20, 2012 at 4:22 pm  Comments (2)  

Election Day and Veterans’ Day Reflections

It’s election day in the US and though I usually avoid political debates and conversations, I can certainly add my voice to the multitudes and remind you to vote.  We have early voting in Utah, so I went to the polls last week and did my civic duty.  I imagine the lines will be long to get into polling locations and the folks recovering from the effects of Hurricane/Super Storm Sandy will have their hands full to exercise their right.  If it’s a close election, especially in contested states like Ohio, we may have delayed election results due to counting the absentee and provisional ballots.  That date is November 17, so 2012 could be somewhat of a repeat of 2000, but hopefully, no hanging chads!

Since Veterans’ Day is also around the corner next week, I wrote a history article for the museum that showcases one of our items from the military collection that seems to fascinate young visitors: a World War I gas mask.  So in honor of freedom, country, and sacrifice for the political process, I share the article below.

Veterans’ Day Reflections

Veterans’ Day.  November 11th.  With all the election excitement will you stop to remember it?  It once was called Armistice Day, marking the moment at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month when the Armistice Agreement was signed with Germany in 1918 ending World War I.  World War II came along and the Korean Conflict and Congress passed a law in 1954 updating it to Veterans’ Day.  It’s a day we should all remember the triumphs and sacrifices our men and women in the military have experienced and be thankful for our freedoms they have safe-guarded and continue to protect.

United States’ citizens from every state have served in all wars in some capacity and Utah is proudly patriotic.  Residents of large cities and small towns in the state can proudly point to all who gave their time, commitment, skills, and even, lives when Memorial Day rolls around each year in May and should also echo the sentiments and remembrances in November for Veterans’ Day.

The Syracuse Museum and Cultural Center has a display area dedicated to local residents–mostly men–who served their country in far-flung theaters of operations: Europe, the South Pacific and even stateside, mostly in World Wars I and II.  Uniforms, photographs, field equipment, letters and newspaper clippings all tell stories we should never forget.  When school groups or scout troops visit on planned tours, the staff member with them usually makes the military section a stop on the walk through the museum.  Many items fascinate the young visitors: a rifle, bullet casings, medals, and of course, arguably the most chilling donated item, the World War I gas mask.

World War I gas mask

This rather scary-looking mask seems to draw students’ attention; perhaps it’s because of its appearance or perhaps it’s because of its use, once explained to them.  War is horrific enough; it must be difficult for young minds to understand how people can be so evil to develop such a devastating weapon of war.

Up until The Great War (renamed World War I when twenty years after it ended, the unthinkable happened, World War II erupted) warfare was predictable and followed gentlemen’s rules of conduct.  Battles were fought on horseback with equalizing weapons and tactics field commanders followed from books.  World War I soon became mired in the use of trench warfare where opposing armies dug deep ditches and literally sat, often in mud, facing each other for months on end.  Considered uncivilized prior to World War I, the development and use of poison gas was necessitated by the stalemate of this new approach to waging war in Europe.

First used by the French, the Germans soon picked up on this weapon and used a type of tear gas in March of 1915.  From this point things moved rapidly; it took only a month for the Germans to debut at the Second Battle of Ypres a deadlier gas: chlorine.  The effects of chlorine gas were severe.  Within seconds of inhaling its vapor it destroyed the victim’s respiratory organs, bringing on choking attacks.  The British soon retaliated with a version of their own and poison gas became a permanent part of the military arsenal.

With the eventual development of even deadlier gases like phosgene and mustard gas, it became immediately apparent that protective devices were now almost mandatory for trench warfare.  Not only humans needed protection, but military patrol dogs and yes, even horses were soon fitted for gas masks.  Though primitive, most masks were useful to protect the wearer against an initial cloud of the poison gas and buy time to get out of harm’s way if possible.  The masks usually had built-in eye protection, like goggles, and some sort of breathing canister to supply a limited amount of filtered air.

Although effective at first, once the element of surprise was gone with repeated use and the quick development of masks, poison gas never turned out to be the weapon that turned the tide of war for one side or the other, as had been predicted.

So we are left with silent relics from the past, like the gas mask at the Syracuse Museum which, if you listen carefully, whispers a cautionary tale.

On November 11th , I hope you paused and thought about what military personnel have faced for all of us, to preserve our freedoms and way of life and if you got the chance, stopped and thanked a serviceman or servicewoman or a veteran.  In fact, you can do that any day of the year.  They’ll appreciate it!  Plan also to stop by the Syracuse Museum to see the military exhibits and all the other treasures that await.  The Syracuse Museum and Cultural Center’s hours are Tuesday-Thursday from 2-5 pm and by appointment (801-825-3633) and is located on 1700 South (Antelope Drive) just before 2000 West, Syracuse, UT.

Published in: on November 6, 2012 at 4:20 pm  Leave a Comment