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One of Google's MLK Day doodles

Recently we celebrated MLK Day, a national holiday honoring slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. National government agencies got a paid vacay. Where I live, schools were closed.  I quantify that because state and local entities don't necessarily have to follow along with national holidays. Most do, but there is some wiggle room there. The local entities have to budget for paying the employees for that day off, so they have some say in it.

Side note: originally there was some resistance to the MLK holiday from a few sectors, most notably Arizona. By refusing to support the national holiday passed in 1986, they lost hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding, and Super Bowl XXVII (27 for those of you non-nerds who didn't take Latin in high school) moved to Pasadena in protest. Ouch!

We are fairly well covered with national holidays as follows:

January - New Year's Day 1/1, Martin Luther King Jr. Day 3rd Monday

February - President's Day 3rd Monday



May - Memorial Day last Monday


July - Independence Day July 4


September - Labor Day 1st Monday

October - Columbus Day 2nd Monday

November - Veterans Day 11/11, Thanksgiving 4th Thursday

December - Christmas 12/25

Look at those four gaps just begging for more celebrating. This puts me in mind of all the oddball holidays. Not a single day of the year is without one. Now we could go for the low-hanging fruit to plug those gaps and add the obvious (St. Patrick's Day, April Fools, Father's Day, etc.) But where's the fun in that? If I could wave a magic legislative wand and add one more national holiday, here's my short list. It was very difficult for me not to make every choice food-related, but I did my best.

March - Must be tough competition with Easter sometimes falling within March. I mean - Plumbing Day (11)? Buzzards Day (15)? Thank goodness for Crayola Crayon Day (31).

April - is my new favorite month. It has Beer Day (7), Pillow Fight Day (5), and Grill Cheese Day (12).

June - June is struggling, with Eat Your Vegetables Day (17), Blood Donor Day (14), Sewing Machine Day (13), and Insurance Awareness Day (28) zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. However, it is redeemed by two capital holidays: Flip Flop Day (20) and Sauntering Day (19). Let's make EVERY day 'Sauntering Day'!

August - Wow, and I thought June was struggling. Love Litigating Lawyers Day (31)? Really? I'm gonna hafta go ahead and choose either International Lefthanders Day (13) or Creamsicle Day (14) with Fresh Breath Day (6) a very tempting option also. Here's my dad's contribution to Fresh Breath Day: ask your friend if they have a breath mint. If they say 'no', you say, 'here, have one of mine'.

If you didn't see anything you liked in the above suggestions, how about coming up with a holiday or two on your own? It is quite a process to get a day declared a national holiday. All that pesky politicking and budget wrangling pressure spoils the fun. But it appears if you don't care about the national bit, all you have to do to declare a day a holiday is to declare it. I am declaring today Finish Your Blog Post Day. February 1 is going to be Take A Break From Blogging Every Day Day.

Have you read Matthew Goodman's Eighty Days, the story of two intrepid female journalists who were the 19th century version of Amazing Race contestants? The book is filled with history nerd goodies. Its brief passage about the Statue of Liberty sent me down a very satisfying rabbit hole. And why, you may be wondering, is the Statue of Liberty included in a book about a race to circle the globe in 1889? Keep reading, and you will find out.

Liberty's torch arm displayed in Madison Square Park, NYC

Statue of Liberty fun facts:

  • The Statue of Liberty debuted on what was formerly known as Bedloe Island in the New York harbor in 1886. Bedloe was artist Frederic Bartholdi's second choice as a location for his work. Originally he hoped to install a large statue of a woman holding a torch as a lighthouse for the newly completed Suez Canal. But Egypt was low on cash - their cotton profits nosedived when blockades of the Confederacy lifted after the Civil War, and American cotton was back on the market. So Bartholdi had to look elsewhere for a potential location (and buyer!).
  • After the Union victory in the Civil War resulted in keeping the union, well, a union (and abolished slavery in the process), a movement arose in France to honor these achievements (The U.S. - France on-again, off-again relationship was ON). It was suggested by one of France's movers and shakers, Eduoard de Laboulaye, that France commemorate our achievements with a grand gesture. Luckily for Bartholdi, Laboulaye was a friend and likely knew Bartholdi had that lady statue project in mothballs. And thus the Statue Formerly Known As An Egyptian Lighthouse was born. Miss Liberty cost about $250,000, all funded by donations from the French people.
  • So the statue was built and paid for, but what to place it on? You can't just set a 150-ft. tall copper structure weighing almost half a million pounds on the bare ground! As part of the gift deal, the U.S. agreed to pay for a pedestal since the generous French folk underwrote the statue. The pedestal ended up being just as big of a project, almost the same height as the statue and exceeding its cost by $20,000. But in a post-Civil War, Reconstruction economy, contributions lagged. Portions of the still-disassembled statue were put on display in New York City and elsewhere to generate buzz. It was not until Joseph Pulitzer (yes, that Pulitzer) published this heartfelt appeal in his newspaper, The World, that donations poured in. Most were under $1.*

We must raise the money! The World is the people's paper, and now it appeals to the people to come forward and raise the money. The $250,000 that the making of the Statue cost was paid in by the masses of the French people- by the working men, the tradesmen, the shop girls, the artisans- by all, irrespective of class or condition. Let us respond in like manner. Let us not wait for the millionaires to give us this money. It is not a gift from the millionaires of France to the millionaires of America, but a gift of the whole people of France to the whole people of America.**

  • The pedestal's architect, Richard Morris Hunt, was the first American to attend the prestigious Ecole des Beaux Arts academy in Paris. He also founded the American Institute of Architects (AIA).
  • Made of copper (think pennies), Liberty was originally brown for her first 30-40 years until the green patina we are so familiar with today gradually appeared.
  • The project engineer, in charge of designing an interior framework capable of maintaining structural integrity, was Alexander Eiffel (yes, that Eiffel).
  • Liberty's completion was celebrated with New York City's first ticker tape parade.

    Charlotte Bartholdi at left sans crown
  • Bartholdi is said to have modeled Liberty's face after his mother, Charlotte. This means either he was eligible for Son Of The Year, or had no money to pay models.



*This is the connection to the Eighty Days story - one of the two female globetrotters worked for The World.
**Quote (and much other info in this post) from the National Park Service's Statue of Liberty page.


It's that time of year when we all pretend we will make life-changing improvements and 'really stick with them this time'. From sad experience, I estimate this pleasant fantasy will disappear faster than the last Yeungling in a cooler full of Bud Lite. On about Day 6 we will wake up, go about our day, and not until about 3:48 p.m. remember the resolution(s) we had completely abandoned up until that point. Resolution may or may not be attempted depending on what it is. If your resolution was something like 'watch less TV' or 'read more books', don't despair! All is not lost! If your resolution was 'no more drive-thru', but this only hits you as you are cleaning the lunchtime Taco Bell bag out of the back seat, ruh roh! On Day 7, it will occur to us around 9:30 p.m. On Day 8, no sighting. Day 9, about 8:40 a.m. we will remember that we completely forgot all about our resolutions during Day 8. Day 10 =  'what resolutions?', and that will be that until next January.

I am completely cheating on resolutions this year due to a couple of factors.

1) Like 92% of us, I usually fail at this resolution thing. I am trying to learn from past experience. You know what they say about the definition of insanity. So I have adjusted my resolutions accordingly (see below).

2) I like to think I am getting older AND wiser about some things in life. I have stopped waiting until January 1 to make lifestyle improvements. Sort of like how I now shop for myself. I don't wait until special occasions, make subtle requests and hope people take the hint and gift me with things I like. I just buy them for myself, whenever I want (budget permitting). It's just easier that way. So when I see some aspect of my life that could use some improvement, I don't wait until January 1 Resolution Mania. This is turning out to be a pretty good strategy. Specifically, I successfully eliminated drive-thru meals (you don't even want to know how bad I was getting - or how fat!) and diet soda (Coke Zero, it was fun while it lasted) from my diet, as well as improved my writing habits, so yay me. The main disadvantage of this strategy is that all the big resolution topics are no longer available on January 1, as I have already tackled them!

On to the cheating -

I have two resolutions this year. One is personal; one professional. My main resolution this year may not seem like much, but since the Big Three are already undertaken (diet, exercise, productivity), you see how that limits my options. Here it is:

WHEREAS, I am the offspring of a 1950s era baseball pitcher; and,

Dad pitching for the Milwaukee Braves farm team 1958

WHEREAS, baseball is a noble and entertaining activity; and,

WHEREAS, I enjoyed playing and watching the game as a youngster and adult until other less worthy pursuits diverted my attention; and,

WHEREAS, 'tis the season for rectifying wrongs both personal and professional;

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Lissa Johnston, do hereby proclaim 2018 the year I revive my lifelong interest in baseball and all related activities thereunto appertaining; vow to celebrate the glories of real grass, outdoor stadiums, and wooden bats; and resume giving our national pastime the loving devotion it deserves forthwith. Go Rangers!

The cheating comes about because there's not much happening in baseball right now other than a few trades and hiring/firing rumors, so I don't really have much pressure regarding this resolution for a couple more weeks when spring training gears up. And therein lies the danger - remembering the resolution!


The original version of this post first appeared in 2014.

Here we are into the last week of the year already. (Where did the time go? I'm lookin' at you, Netflix!) The pressure's on! In addition to concerns about how to avoid personal disaster resulting from juvenile antics on New Year's Eve, we are also burdened with adulting by coming up with some meaningful New Year's Resolutions. Without careful planning, the sparkling euphoria of January 1's fresh start will disintegrate into the mildewed bath tile of mid-January and its humdrum routines. It's okay, don't be shy, go ahead and 'fess up. You are not alone. Heck, you probably forgot you will need any resolutions until you read this!

Some of us fail in our resolution goals quietly, dispiritedly slipping back into our old ways like a prisoner slinking back to the corner of his cell even when the jailer has left the door wide open. Others choose the flashier route, loudly cursing the resolutions back into the tiny mental shoebox we banish them to when we are exhausted by their stringent demands. I'm no different. I have been wasting time with this resolution game for most of my life and have rarely had a successful attempt (successful defined as declaring a behavior change and sticking to it for the entire year). Everyone I know who has ever brought it up has failed within days.

As a female, my resolutions always have something to do with appearance. Specifically, weight. After many years of trotting out Old Trusty, 'lose ten pounds', and seeing that was going nowhere fast, I tried a new tack. I adjusted Old Trusty to the more forgiving 'lose weight' - grams, ounces, whatever! - in hopes of making it easier to achieve and maintain. FAIL. Another adjustment included avoiding this or that food, increasing physical activity, no more drive-thru, etc. Fail, Fail, Fail. There came a day when I realized it was too demoralizing to face Resolution Failure. Avoiding failure was more important to me than the potential goal of achieving something positive if I did happen to succeed in my quest. So I just stopped doing them for a while, which left New Year's Day kinda flat as a holiday IMO.

I got to thinking maybe part of the problem was that my resolutions had no pep, no pizzazz. Very boring and everybody else is doing it, too. So I did a little Googling to see if there were a more attractive, compelling resolution out there for me to try.

Spend More Time With Family - Nah. My husband is retired and we are empty-nesters living far from extended family so that one is not logistically feasible. The hubs and I spend plenty of time together as it is.

Fitness - See above. Been there, done that. Yawn.

Lose Weight - See above.

Quit Smoking - Hey, this one has potential. A worthy goal. Wait - I don't smoke.

Enjoy Life More - This one has me puzzled. I don't know how I could increase my enjoyment rate without an accompanying lottery-sized financial windfall. Maybe 'Enjoy Life More' is secret code for 'Play The Lottery'.

Quit Drinking - Hard pass.

Get Out Of Debt - If I had any, I would.

Learn Something New - Okay, this one has merit. I like that it is adding something rather than subtracting/restricting an existing behavior.

Help Others - Is it me, or does this one smack of desperation that you can't think of any better resolutions??

Get Organized - Ugh. This one falls into the Lose Weight category for me. Admirable, but complete drudgery. Where's the sizzle??

This list, while perfectly legitimate, leaves much to be desired IMO. Bore. Ring. Plus, I am noticing that while these suggestions have some merit, even if you folks are doing these things, there is very little benefit to ME. So I think I will attempt to 'Help Others' and offer a few fresh ideas that might benefit all of us.  Here is my personal list of five things I would like to see more of you resolving to do. Five is a nice number, not too heavy, not too light. I like to think I have a little something for everyone.

1. Stop The (Forwarding) Madness - if you see a great email and you want to share it with me, please do. But remove that idiotic and somewhat threatening demand that I forward it to EVERYONE I KNOW.  This causes an automatic and uncontrollable twitch in my right index finger, and it migrates ever so slightly from the Forward button to the Delete key. If it is amusing or informative, I just might forward it. If it has that annoying phrase, not a chance in hell. UPDATE: This now also applies to Facebook posts demanding that I share with everyone to demonstrate my friendship or other positive personality traits. Any FB posts with even a hint of emotional blackmail will result in an immediate Ignore.

2. Leave The Panhandling To The Panhandlers - Stop hitting up friends and family to jack up sales of whatever side project you have going to make a little extra moolah. If you can't make it selling to strangers, just give up now. Might as well just ask me for the cash.

3. Know Your Knobs - See that skinny knob sticking out from your car's steering column? It's a cool new invention that, when used properly (or at all),  keeps your car from colliding with thousands of others sharing the road with you. I believe it is called a 'Turn Signal'. Use it.

4. Cover Thyself - Gents, unless you are Dwayne Freakin' Johnson, put a shirt on for crying out loud. Believe it or not, nobody wants to see your man boobs/beer gut/back hair. I don't care if it is a rain poncho, an old table cloth, your wife's bedtime XXXXL t-shirt, a modified garbage bag with holes punched in for head and arms (don't pretend you haven't resorted to that in emergencies) - please just cover that up. And apologies to Mr. Tebow.

5. Trust The Effort - Ladies, how about a little effort before you leave the house? It depresses me to see you at the Piggly Wiggly in your sloppy gray sweats and hair to match, that hole in the heel of your sock revealed by your tatty house slippers, sagging bra-less mammaries simulating (or in some cases doubling) a spare tire. Why not wear that t-shirt your kids gave you last Christmas that says 'I Have Just Given Up'? Important note: I need one of you (and just one, please) to ignore this resolution. You serve as a cautionary tale to the rest of us.

You will be happy to know I have already espoused not one, not two, but ALL FIVE of these worthy goals and am actually having great success with all of them so far this year. Number 4 is a snap for me. I  admit I sometimes struggle with #5, but so far am holding firm. I fervently hope not to be caught at The Pig in my slippers in 2018.

No, that title is not a typo (although until this thing catches on, I think it is going to hurt me on SEO). While noodling around for a title for this post, I think I discovered an un-met vocabulary need. We have a lovely word to describe the day before a big event: 'eve'. Short, easy to pronounce, and everyone knows what it means. Why don't we have a similar word for the day after? I propose we borrow the positive characteristics of 'eve' and call this day 'ove'. Short, easy to pronounce, and even if you don't know what it means (yet), you can sort of guess it might be short for 'over' as in, Christmas Is Over. If your mind went to 'ovaries' instead of 'over', you are probably a middle-aged woman like me, and you know at our age 'ovaries' is synonymous with 'over', so there ya go!

On this Christmas Ove, you may find yourself reflecting on the act of giving. Gift-giving is definitely an art. I don't consider myself an expert, but I am definitely past the apprentice stage. My son was opining that he did not feel like he did a particularly good job of giving this year. Not so much from the monetary value of the gifts, but from the selection and presentation. I told him there are a few tricks of the trade in crushing it as a gifter. Some I learned from watching others more masterful than I. Others, I learned from either giving or receiving things that were, frankly, Gift Fails.

If you are wondering why it matters what you give someone as long as you give SOMETHING, because 'it's the thought that counts', you are either not mature enough to benefit from the forthcoming advice, so you can stop reading now; or you are a complete narcissist, in which case you can share this post with your friends and relatives to ensure quality gift-giving to yourself in future.

I remember clearly as a teen the Christmas when I discovered the true joy of giving. And I am not kidding or being trite. It was the first time I remember being WAY more interested in giving than receiving. My dad's employer had a good year, and the big boss was handing out big bonuses. So Dad decided to get my mom a big wow gift (jewelry) for Christmas. He let my brother and I in on the secret. I was so excited for Christmas morning to come so that I could enjoy Mom's enjoyment of the gift.The gift was a hit, thank goodness. This was a big deal because Dad had been known to have a few Gift Fails. Hard to say whether he was wanting in the gift-giving area, or my mom was hard to buy for. Probably a combination of both. Mom used to tell the story of the time early in their marriage when Dad bought her a bejeweled can opener. I could elaborate on that story, but really, 'bejeweled can opener' pretty much says it all.

So my Christmas Ove gift to you is a few tips on how to up your gift-giving game next year. BTW it's not about how much you spend - it's what you spend it on. A careful investment of time and consideration of what to buy will pay off.

Be clear who the gift is for. Remember that Simpsons episode where Homer bought Marge a bowling ball complete with 'Homer' etched onto it? Many Gift Fails are a result of the giver mistakenly choosing something they themselves would like to receive. So when you see that cool faux alligator red patent leather combination phone case/wallet clutch on sale in November, just ask yourself: is Dad really into red patent leather?

Avoid chore gifting. Chore gifts are gifts that would mostly be applied to tasks that might be considered chores by the person receiving the gifts. Gents, listen carefully here: vacuums clearly fall into this category. I don't care how many nails and quarters and acorns the Orca Elite sucks up on the cool infomercial. Do. Not. Buy. Her. A. Vacuum. Bejeweled toilet scrubbers and bejeweled can openers are also a no-no.

It's a wrap. Some people are just difficult to buy for. In such cases, quality wrapping can cover a multitude of gifting sins. And you don't have to be an origami expert to get this right. A cute gift bag accented with some NEW coordinating color tissue paper (use plain white paper as a last resort; resist the urge to recycle last year's tissue paper; do NOT use toilet paper as a substitute, no matter how tempting at 3am Christmas morning). These cost little and go a long way toward dressing up a questionable offering. If you can't quite get the gift right, you can at least nail the presentation!

Details. It's okay to half-ass the gift to the paper boy. But you should know enough details about the significant people in your life to show you know the details when you buy them gifts. Some examples of how some gift ideas can seem like slam-dunks, but without knowing the details, can go horribly wrong:

-Food/beverage.You found a great deal on a cute festive coffee sampler basket. Do they even drink coffee? Dessert gifts abound during the holidays. Is your giftee a fitness freak? Diabetic? Allergic? Crunchy or sticky items - do you really want to be the guy responsible for her $1500 crown?

-Jewelry. Very tricky to buy for the ladies in your life. Rings are problematic in that they may accidentally convey an unintended message of commitment. Also they come in sizes, very hard to determine without giving away the surprise. How about non-sized items like earrings or necklaces? Fine, but semi-precious stones are often associated with a specific birthday month. Do you know her stone? Her birthday?? Pierced or clip-on earrings? Prefer gold or silver? Bracelets, you say? Some bracelets come in sizes. Is she a 7-inch or an 8-inch? Watches? Just because she doesn't wear a watch doesn't mean she needs or wants a watch. We could go on forever here. If you are determined to buy jewelry for a female, consider asking her friends or relatives what she prefers, or observe carefully over a couple of weeks to see what she wears.

-Hats. Ladies, be aware men's hats sometimes come in sizes other than 'one size fits all'. Do you have a clue what size his head is? I know, it probably varies depending on how great a week he is having.

-Books. If it's on the New York Times bestseller list, must be a lock, right? Maybe. Fiction or non-fiction? When is the last time you saw them reading a book?

-Clothing. Buying fitted clothing for women should be avoided at all costs unless you are very, very certain of their size. Too large? You may think you are in the clear here because they will be flattered they are just so dang fit and trim, the item is too big. But no. You are now the knucklehead who has no clue what size they are. Too small? Whoa, buddy, you do not even want to go there. Stick with scarves (lame), gloves (lamer), or socks (lamest) if you must buy an item of clothing.

Plan ahead. As you can see, quality gifting can take time. Don't pull a Serena Williams and 'forget'

Christmas is on December 25th this year. You have 364 days to come up with something. Learn from the Gifting Master and make a list. Check it twice. By about August you would be looking for gift opportunities everywhere. You don't have to buy it then, but at least start looking for options. If you are not a great planner, Amazon Prime free two-day shipping is your BFF. Join now.

Cash out. By now you may be tempted to throw in the towel and give cash. As my mother says, 'it's always the right color'. Cash gifts appear to be making a resurgence after being beaten into submission by the gift card and online buying trends of the past several years. I am a fan of cash, but be careful about giving it to those closest to you. Rule of thumb: do not give cash to anyone who would be insulted by you leaving it for them on the nightstand.

Gifting handicaps. As if all this gifting strategy weren't complicated enough, I would be doing you a disservice if I did not mention gifting handicaps. Exactly the same as golf. Handicaps exist to even out the playing field. Gifting handicaps are why your wife may squeal with delight over the tatty construction paper poinsettia your son made for her in kindergarten, yet give a subtle but noticeable stink-eye to the $50 iTunes gift card you so cleverly stashed (unwrapped) in her Christmas stocking. He gets extra points because 1) he's cute and 2) he has no money of his own, yet he still spent time and effort doing his best to provide a gift. You get the stink-eye because 1) you've been giving her the same gift every year since iTunes was a thing; 2) you spent approximately 3.2 seconds on this impulse purchase while standing in line at the Piggly Wiggly buying yourself some Natty Lite, Cheese Wiz, and Preparation H. So gifting is not a straight-up proposition. You will be competing with adorable 5-year-olds. Gird your loins.

Keep the receipt. Sometimes despite all your best efforts, your gift just may not be the cat's pajamas. Literally. They sell cat pajamas now. Anyway - be a considerate giver and accept this possibility. Give things that can be easily exchanged or returned. Most stores provide a gift receipt option. Stick it in a small envelope and include it in the gift bag or box. They may never use it, but your giftee will appreciate the thought.

It can be exhausting, but it's worth it to improve your gifting skills. This is one of the best-kept secrets of Christmas: that giving can be so much better than receiving, if you do it right. Knowing this makes watching clips of those awful annual Black Friday Wal-Mart mob scenes slightly more palatable. One can only hope the guy at the bottom of the pile with the last Xbox in the store is taking a pounding to bring home a great gift for his kid, not just gifting himself.

Now that you are armed with quality gifting advice, next year you can avoid Black Friday altogether and look forward to basking in the gift-giving afterglow of Christmas Ove.

This post was originally published in December 2013.

My grandmother Winona Louise Miller Nichols 1915-2004. She was a delightful little scamp (just like in this picture).Did you ever meet my grandmother Winona? If not, I wish you had the pleasure. She was a pistol. Born in 1915 in Marietta, OK, Winona was part Chickasaw. It was a little bitty part, but her Native American heritage shone through powerfully in her jet-black hair and tan-friendly complexion. If tanning had been popular in her youth - which it wasn't - she would never have burned or freckled. Granny Winona was a sprout compared to the long, lanky type she married and the six offspring they produced. She topped out at around five foot two, the Mighty Mite of the Nichols family. I was fortunate to be able to spend a lot of time with her in my youth and have many fond memories of her.

One of her more memorable legacies to her descendants is resurrected every year around Christmas (not Easter!): the 'Christmas Eve Gift' greeting competition.  

My great-grandmother Launa 'Tina' Wolfenberger Miller 1893-1971

 Have you heard of this? It's one of these traditions lots of people practice but sort of on the QT - everyone thinks their family is the only group of weirdos on the planet that does it, so they don't talk about it much outside family to avoid appearing, well, weird. Here's how it works, in our family anyway: the goal is to be the first in the family on Christmas Eve to greet other members of the family with the phrase 'Christmas Eve Gift'. My mother remembers when she was very young, her grandmother Tina would play the game in person with Winona and family when she was at their home visiting for the holidays. Each of the six kids was greeted this way as soon as they woke up on that special day. Tina's mother Cinderella lived with Tina in her final years, and she also participated and enjoyed the game.

Great-great Gran with the fabulous name Cinderella Arnold Wolfenbarger 1867-1943

In my era this has mostly been done by telephone, often at irritatingly early times in the morning. I have had more than a few of these disconcertingly early calls, especially in the days before cell phones and caller ID, when we all jumped to answer the phone rather than let it go to message. ( Shoot, there was no 'message' to go to! ) A pathological sleepyhead, I was one of the slow ones to catch on - I never remembered to get up and call, I never remembered it was Christmas Eve until the caller 'got' me. Suffice to say I was easy prey, the Biggest Loser in this game.

All these years I honestly thought it was a Granny Winona thing and had no idea other people did it, until recently when my brother's attempt at CEG was foiled by cell phone technology and his failure to keep up with current events. He awoke early and made a CEG call, excitedly spouting 'Christmas Eve Gift!' into the ear of the person who answered. Who was a complete stranger currently in possession of a recycled cell phone number. . . My brother was mortified and apologized profusely for the pre-dawn interruption. The groggy recipient said, 'don't worry about it - my girlfriend's family does it, too'.

Now this was news! Like learning there is life on other planets! Turns out this is not exactly a widespread tradition like champagne on New Year's Eve, but plenty of families do partake. Origins appear tied to the days of slavery, when the master often gave a small gift to the servants or slaves first to greet him thusly. This explains why it is more of a southern tradition.

This has been going on in my mom's side of the family for 70+ years. I will admit I have not exactly been a staunch supporter of this game as I always thought it was a little silly and I was always too lazy to get up and make the calls. It's funny how things change when you get older. What once seemed goofy now is now charming and sentimental, especially when I remember the joy my grandmother got from playing this game.

I am honored to perpetuate her family-oriented tradition, especially one that is so light-heartedly cheerful. My cousins will be getting a shock on Christmas Eve. I am the last person they will expect to 'get' them on that early morning call. But not too early . . .

In the past, I posted a series of short posts devoted to some of my favorite Christmas songs. I was poised to repeat that concept when two things happened: 1) I found out Christmas carols were banned for a time in Cromwellian England (mid-1600s) as 'pagan and sinful'; and 2) my friend Dan sent me a link to a Christmas song. After watching/listening, I wasn't sure if it was his idea of a joke, or he really liked it. So instead of another tired list of favorites, here's my list of songs I would ban if I were Oliver Cromwell. Shamelessly cherry-picked from many other 'worst' lists - The Worst of the Worst!

The criteria: I tried very hard to ignore the video and focus on the musical skills or lack thereof. Several songs on many 'worst' lists are not so bad if you don't have to watch the asinine video. There is one exception where the video just could not be ignored - see if you can guess which one. These are not songs I simply dislike. They are here because they represent a musical fail of epic proportions.

Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Joseph Spence

This video introduces Mr. Spence as a Bahamian Thelonious Monk. I am thinking more a Satan's spawn of Bob Dylan and Tommy Chong. Yes I know that is biologically improbable, but you get my drift. Mr. Spence: who on earth is 'Sandy Parr'? And why should we be concerned about his impending visit??

Have a Cheeky Christmas, The Cheeky Girls

I'm gonna just go ahead and free associate here: stripper poles butt cheeks hip thrusts freaked-out reindeer scrawny mail order bride kreesmas porn

I'll Be Home For Christmas, Jillian Hall

Sweet mother of pearl. This is one of those that you're not sure if she is spoofing herself, or she really is just that terrible and no one has the courage to clue her in.

O Holy Night, Steve Mauldin

Folks, if you are planning on your local church Christmas pageant as the first step toward winning American Idol, do us all a favor and PLEASE do not choose the Star Spangled Banner of Christmas songs!!

Jingle Bells, Ori Dagan

Going with Occam's Razor theory (the simplest explanation is probably the correct one): I think he was high.

Worst Christmas Song Ever, Kevin Mcleod

If you search the above song title on YouTube, you will get beaucoup hits. There are many pretenders. This one is the real deal.

I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus rap, names withheld to protect the guilty

Reprehensible and disturbing on many levels. NSFW. Ashamed I am even listing it, but it makes these others look like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir by comparison. Couldn't even get Blogger to post it properly!!

I had some problems with the audio on my laptop while researching this post. Originally thought it was old, overloaded, and overheating (kinda like me!!), but after listening to this mess, I think it was my laptop's version of dry heaves. When I started this project I thought it would be fun. But I honestly have to stop now. It is exhausting and depressing sorting through all the garbage that is out there. Kinda makes Mariah's Song That Shall Not Be Named look pretty good, doesn't it?


The Melungeons are described by those who study such things as a 'tri-racial isolate'. They're a group of people of different ethnicities who have intensified their bloodline by not venturing far from where they were born and raised. Before I started my research, I tried to recall where they tend to be found. Part of me thought somewhere in America, but I had doubts because that unique moniker had me wondering if they were of a more exotic locale, like Bulgaria or Peru.

Part of what drew me to this topic is the word itself. It looks intriguing, all those letters jumbled together in a unique way. And when you say it and hear it, it had a woven quality, meshing together very much like the ethnic origins of the people themselves.

The Melungeons are described by those who study such things as a 'tri-racial isolate'. They're a group of people of different ethnicities who have intensified their bloodline by not venturing far from where they were born and raised. Before I started my research, I tried to recall where they tend to be found. Part of me thought somewhere in America, but I had doubts because that unique moniker had me wondering if they were of a more exotic locale, like Bulgaria or Peru.

I was right the first time. The Melungeons are typically found in Appalachia where eastern Tennessee and Kentucky border Western Virginia. The 'tri-racial' term comes into play because they are theorized to be a mix of African American, Native American, and European American. They tend to have dark hair (often straight), dark eyes, and swarthy skin.

Not everyone agrees it is the African American and Native American cultures that are responsible for the Melungeons' darker physical features. Some suggest Portuguese, Black Dutch, Turks, Sephardic Jews, even Phoenician bloodlines may be responsible. Basically, if you were ever a sailor and may have shipwrecked on the Mid-Atlantic Coast in the 1600s, there is probably a Melungeon theory about you.

The simplest explanation is often the correct one, and the simplest is that early settlers who came to America as indentured servants, and therefore free people (as opposed to slaves), intermarried. Over time, their offspring became a challenge to identify precisely as one race or another. As time passed and laws shifted, claiming African American as your ethnic group became less attractive. When slavery became more widespread in the Mid-Atlantic and elsewhere, it was powerful motivation for those of mixed race to self-identify as something other than African (such as Native American or Portuguese). Other laws and cultural conventions contributed to this confusion.

  • In some cultures, children claim the ethnic group of their mother, regardless of what their father contributed to their DNA. So a child of a white mother and a non-white father would identify as white.
  • Bureaucracy intervened in the 1700s for tax reasons, basically trying to close a loophole by insisting anyone of mixed race could no longer identify as Native American which left African American as the only other option. They got a higher tax rate on African Americans, you see.
  • Flash forward one hundred years when slavery was going full blast, and they put the clamps on self-identifying by requiring you figure out some math to validate your ethnicity. Anyone who was less than 1/8 non-white was allowed to identify as white.
  • In the 20th century, some states including Virginia espoused the 'one drop' rule, reversing the 1/8 standard by saying anyone with one drop of African American blood was considered African American.
  • On top of all this, add laws that prevented marriage between different races. Mixed race peoples often intermarried to punitive measures. It was just easier.

The people now referred to as Melungeons did not come to be called so until around the 1800s. The word itself has some mixed etymology, which is only appropriate. The phrase mal engin appears in a 16th century poem, translating to 'ill intent'. But I like this other theory better: that it comes from the Angolan word malungu or malungo meaning companion, often used to refer to fellow shipmates and seen in Portuguese records. This theory meshes nicely with the colonization and melting pot image of early America and therefore is my favorite. Highly scientific.

Members of the Goins family

The Melungeon culture is not something banished to a few posts online. They still exist in their corner of Appalachia. The surnames Gibson, Collins, Riddle, and others often can trace their lines to Melungeon origins. Family tree researchers generate many leads and interesting theories for your Googling pleasure. If you have relatives from that part of the country, you might have some Phoenician blood. Who knew?

This post first appeared during my participation in the 2016 A to Z Blog Challenge.


I stumbled across this fun blog hop today while reciprocating a Like on my Facebook Page from author P.J. MacLayne. Who doesn't love a Top Ten list?

I've recently become obsessed with sour beers. Did not see that coming.

10. Trying new things - Some people find comfort in familiar favorites. Agree, but I love seeking out my next new favorite, whether it's food, books, sightseeing, or any life experience in general.
9. Problem solving - if it's broken, let's see how we can fix it! Yes, I am a DIY and HGTV addict.
8. Socialize with family and friends - this would've been higher on my list, but I'm an introvert, so . . .  a little bit goes a long way 😜
7. Yoga - one of my New Year's Resolutions for 2017 was to commit to a daily yoga practice. I had dabbled with it off and on for years. I'm happy to say I've created a strong habit, having missed only a couple dozen days since January 2017. Now I'm completely hooked and am in a terribly foul mood if I skip.

The Dala Horse
Available now in print, digital, and audio at Amazon

6. Travel - this should probably be at the top of my list, but factoring in frequency, it landed here. Hope to do more in 2018. Search this blog using the Travel keyword for more posts on this topic.
5. Create - holding a book in my hand that has my name after the word 'by' is quite a rush.

4. Computer - big ol' NERD here. Got into personal computers in the early days back when a TRS-80 cost $10k; been addicted ever since.
3. Movies (and recently, TV) - great fodder for character building and story arc. Joseph Campbell/Vogler/Hero's Journey acolyte. Looking forward to Frances McDormand (love her!) in Three Billboards. And if you want a master class on plotting, check out The Leftovers (HBO).
2. Read - have had my 'nose stuck in a book', as some unkind folk like to say, since I was able to put A and B together. Fiction and non-fiction alike. Just finished Beryl Markham's biography; going to switch over to fiction and read The Quick by Lauren Owen next. All recommendations gladly accepted.
1. Eat - is there anything better than a great meal with great friends?

Some very tasty Cuban food at El Siboney, Key West FL

Oh - wait - can I add another? I love good music. Gives me goosebumps.

If you want to participate in this hop, here are the rules:

1. Link your blog to this hop.*
2. Notify your following that you are participating in this blog hop.
3. Promise to visit/leave a comment on all participants' blogs.
4. Tweet/or share each person's blog post. Use #OpenBook when tweeting.
5. Put a banner on your blog that you are participating.

*p.s. re #1: I lost patience trying to figure out how to get the code for the InLinkz button so you could add your blog link here. Visit P.J.'s blog and see if you can figure it out better than I could.

The birth of the automobile industry reminds me of other business booms.

Mr. and Mrs. Pandolfo show off their baby

Somebody gets a great idea, or has some success, and suddenly everybody jumps on the bandwagon, hoping to cash in before another fad takes its place. History, and lots of barns you see on American Picker, is/are littered with the carcasses of the cars that didn't make it. The Pan Car falls into this category.

The Pan Car concept was conceived by a fellow named Samuel Connor Pandolfo. As a traveling salesman, Pandolfo felt his ideas for making a travel-friendly vehicle would be a success. The Mississippi-born Pandolfo planned to locate his manufacturing plant in St. Cloud, Minnesota, northwest of the Twin Cities. St. Cloud had easy access to two things a car factory needed: plenty of iron ore to build them with (they don't call that area the Iron Range for nothing); and a way to ship them to market (via rail to the shipping hub at Duluth).

Pandolfo did a 1917 version of Kickstarter and hit the road selling inexpensive shares of stock to fund his dream. He threw the mother of all barbecues to celebrate the prototype - and sell stock. He tried marketing by mail - to sell stock. He sold a lot of stock (around $10 million by some estimates), but car factories cost a bundle to build and run. Between car sales and stock sales, he just wasn't able to cover his expenses. Some considered his business plan something of a swindle. (I feel the pain. Ask me about my shares of Excelsior Henderson motorcycle stock.) Some say Pandolfo was a victim of auto and other big business conspiracies to block his success. He was convicted of mail fraud and did some time.

I'm likin' the two-tone

Fewer than 1000 Pan Cars were sold before the factory was forced to shut down. Today there are only about seven Pan Cars known to exist. A dedicated group of Pan Car enthusiasts scours the nearby countryside in search of overlooked Pan Cars, but usually must be satisfied with bits and pieces which they have painstakingly rebuilt over the years. The Pan Car price started at $1,000. Today, if you could find one, depending on the condition it could be worth five figures. How much, I don't know. I'm in the process of reaching out to some folks who can give me a number. In the meantime, I'll continue to ponder on this flash in the Pan.

This post originally appeared in the 2016 A to Z Blog Challenge