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33 Valentine's Days ago, we slipped over to the local Justice of the Peace on our lunch hour and got married. Then we went back to work. He was late because he stopped to buy me flowers. I wore white (try not to laugh). Actually it was a white suit with a pink blouse. We were the only couple there. Complete strangers served as our witnesses. You just can't get any more romantic than that.

We had both been through the big production wedding ceremony before. That was the last thing either of us wanted. Since we were paying for the second go-round ourselves, we chose to spend our money on a fun reception and honeymoon instead.

It actually was pretty cool because we kept it a secret from everyone. Afterward, I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to wipe the goofy grin off my face so people wouldn't think I had a three martini lunch (it was the 80s).

We finally told everyone, of course, but it was fun those few weeks prior to the event when only the two of us knew.


When people find out our anniversary is Valentine's Day, they usually say they think it is a great idea, so romantic, etc. At least that's what they say to my face. I imagine they are secretly thinking what a crazy idea, and how problematic it would be to plan a wedding for that day. Yes, if you were going to go big with a fancy church/location, white dress, seven course reception and so forth. But if you are just going to the JP on your lunch hour, no biggie.

They also think it is a bad idea to combine the two events into a single day and possibly reduce gifting opportunities, like having a birthday on December 25. But my husband is no slacker. He always gets me separate gifts and cards (unlike me, he is a card guy), one for Valentine's and one for anniversary. It is problematic going out to celebrate as restaurants are mobbed. But they would be mobbed anyway, whether it was our anniversary or not, so we just plan around it.

Not sure how we are celebrating this year. It's hard to top the romance of running off to get married at the JP on your lunch hour.

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Mystick Krewe of Comus invitations - notoriously hard to come by

Look at this beauty: an invitation to the Mystick Krewe of Comus' 1867 Mardi Gras ball.  Most are familiar with the springtime New Orleans extravaganza. But what's up with the krewe business?

First, let's clarify what's going on with the word 'krewe'. It's pronounced the same as 'crew', but the founders thought it would be fun to give a shout-out to John Milton and spell it old-style. Krewes are basically private clubs. Membership is select and usually requires a fee. Some membership rosters are secret. The fee varies widely, from a few bucks to thousands. Think country club membership, without the golf. Their purpose is to make a splashy contribution to the Mardi Gras celebration.  This usually takes the form of an elaborate parade float with all the accoutrements (costumes; items like fake coins and cheap beads to throw to the crowd). Some also throw a big party on Mardi Gras night, from lavish balls to tailgate-style cookouts.

The Comus Krewe is the oldest New Orleans krewe, founded in 1857.The founders were familiar with the long tradition of elaborate Mardi Gras celebrations in Mobile,

The theme for Comus Krewe's floats in 1867: Epicurean

Alabama, which began in 1703. Yes, that's right - Mobile is the birthplace of the Mardi Gras celebration as we know it, not New Orleans. Not to be outdone by their Gulf Coast neighbors to the east, the Comus Krewe put on quite the shindig at home in New Orleans that spring. It was a big hit. Word got around. In subsequent years, folks traveled from near and far to observe the annual New Orleans parade. And thus a multi-million dollar tourist industry was born.

Like some country clubs, membership in Comus was limited and pricey. It wasn't long before other krewes sprang up to fill the void created by their snootiness. Some were copycats, equally pricey and snooty. Some were more casual, catering to underserved (read: folks Comus wouldn't allow in their club, like non-whites, non-Protestants, non-men).

Flights of Fancy 1901 Mardi Gras parade float designed for Comus Krewe by Jenny Wilde, one of the first female float designers via Tulane University Library

Comus Krewe operations flowed more or less without interruption until they hit a bump in the parade route in 1992, when New Orleans passed an anti-discrimination law. Comus chose to withdraw from parade participation rather than comply with the new law as it applied to their membership. They still hold their annual ball.

Most of what you've read up to this point is more or less verified and accurate, as accurate as anything can be that is based on online research. This last bit is to be viewed with an exceedingly skeptical eye, but it was so outrageous and, dare I say, crazy, I had to share:

Diligent Googling about the Comus Krewe may also steer you to a website claiming to be a transcription of a deathbed confession by a former member. In it, he claims the krewe was a front for a secret society composed of anarchists, murderers, and (gasp!) Yankee bankers. The argument is made that certain founders of the Krewe had ties to powerful financial interests that supported the creation of the Confederacy, and therefore were behind all manner of mayhem to bring this to pass. It makes all kinds of claims connecting Comus Krewe to the Bank of Rothschild, the Illuminati, the Masons, the assassination and attempted assassination of various high ranking politicians, including James Buchanan, Zachary Taylor, William Henry Harrison (presidents all) and longtime Louisiana politician Huey P. Long. The confessor does say most krewe members were unaware of the diabolical deeds the ringleaders orchestrated.

The article is long, as conspiracy rants tend to be. It needs a good editor. It's probably a load of nonsense. But if you're a conspiracy theorist, or you're looking for some story ideas, check it out. The Comus Krewe confessions might lead you somewhere even more entertaining than the French Quarter during Mardi Gras.

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

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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. Tomorrow is going to be Take A Break From Blogging Every Day Day.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 . . .

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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?

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It is one of life’s delightful conundrums that the most fundamental human truths are often found in unexpected places. Take, for instance, the pumpkin patch. At first glance, there is not much to learn from fields of curling vines and trampled squash. But in bucolic settings across the country each fall, the humble gourd reminds us that beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder.

One of my little pumpkins with his little pumpkin

We usually get our holiday pumpkins out of the big cardboard bins near the front entrance of the local grocery store. This can be a time saver but is nowhere near as much fun as the pumpkin patch. For one thing, I find it very hard on the shoulders and back to rearrange a half-ton of loose pumpkins so that my children can inspect each and every one. “Just pick one!” I implore, but they insist they are looking for “the perfect pumpkin”. So I upend myself into the bin, legs flailing in the air like grasshopper antennae. I hoist gourds from one side of the bin to the other. Inevitably I cause a pumpkin avalanche and have to start over. How this usually ends up is I get tired of the whole thing and repeat, “Just pick one!”, the italics evident in my tone, and we go home with pumpkins that are almost perfect, but not quite.

Thanks to having out of town visitors one fall, we had an excuse to visit an authentic pumpkin patch instead. The day of our visit could not have been a more perfect Minnesota fall day. The crisp clear air dictated a light jacket; the brilliant sunshine, dark glasses. At this particular patch, the pumpkins lay scattered over a couple of acres of gentle hills. Pumpkins of every size, shape, and color awaited our all-knowing selection process. They clamored for our attention – a fetching turn of orange rind here, a saucily curving stem there. This was not going to be easy. As I accompanied my daughter among the furrows, this is how it went.

How about this one?”

No, too small.”

This one?”

It’s flat on one side.”

This one?”

I don’t want one with any green on it.”

This one?”

No stem.”

How about this one?”

Yes. That one looks great. Wait – it’s rotten on the bottom.”

And we would start all over again.

Over there is one,” was our mantra. Over there, over there, our necks bent at the same angle as when we hunt for shells at the beach. The next time we looked up from our search, we found ourselves on the far edge of the patch, led astray like Cortes searching for the Seven Cities of Cibola. At last, at last, we found The Perfect Pumpkin. It was of medium size with a goodly stem, strong enough and long enough to use as a handle. It was uniformly, yes, perfectly, round , that perfect pumpkin orange in color. Feeling pretty proud of ourselves, we cruelly detached it from its life-giving vine and retraced our steps to the entrance of the patch. We had not traveled five steps before my daughter spied another Perfect Pumpkin. This one was dark green with lighter green stripes, more tall than round and about the size of a small coffee can. So much for the 'no green ones' rule. Snap! went the vine and we added it to our small collection.

Back up the hill we went to pay for our treasures. We passed a young mother struggling to turn a stroller around on the uneven ground. Two very large (and slightly imperfect) pumpkins occupied the front and back seats; its intended occupants were nowhere in sight. We stepped aside to get out of the way of another pumpkin patch customer. She had large, space-age combination wagon-wheelbarrow contraption full to overflowing with at least a hundred pounds of pumpkin aboard. Definitely not perfect pumpkins, but to some people, size matters.

A young fellow of three or four years was in the process of educating his father in the pumpkin selection process. “Do you like this one?” the father asked, pointing to a traditional-looking specimen. “No, Dad,” was the reply. “I like the green ones.”

Behind the checkout counter, pumpkins lined a table awaiting the Pumpkin Shuttle. The Pumpkin Shuttle relieves one of the task of hauling one’s pumpkins over hill and dale, from the patch all the way back to the parking lot. I marveled at the variety awaiting the Shuttle. You could make the argument that the table should be filled with Perfect Pumpkins because of course all of the Imperfect Pumpkins would be left behind in the fields. You might imagine all of the pumpkins on the table would be of about equal size, shape, and color in order to meet the universal criteria of ‘perfect’. But of course, this was not the case. These pumpkins were a jumble - tall, oval, short, squatty, orange, yellowish, green, combinations of all colors, streaks, lines, stems, no stems. There was a Perfect Pumpkin there for every person who was at the patch that day. And of course, everyone was certain THEY had selected the Perfect Pumpkin, leaving the rest of us to settle for less. But I smiled at my daughter in smug satisfaction. We both knew the Perfect Pumpkins were going home with us.

The original version of this post first appeared in August 2011.

Recently I was down the glorious Library of Congress digital collection rabbit hole, looking for something to post relevant to the Memorial Day holiday. Look what I found:

It's an illustration from Puck Magazine from Memorial Day 1899. In case you can't read the small print, its caption says 'Three Veterans Under One Flag'. History nerd that I am, naturally I wondered which three wars. Just from looking at the uniform of the Colonel Sanders character on the left and doing the math, I figured he was from the Civil War. But the other two had me stumped. Mexican-American War, maybe? Guy on the right, no clue (fail!). Had to research it. And here's the scoop:

Colonel Sanders is indeed from the Confederate Army of the American Civil War (1861-1865). Interesting that they were generous enough to consider him as 'under one flag'.

Cowboy Bob in the middle is from the Spanish-American War (1898). This is the war infamous for its slogan 'Remember the Maine', which referred to the sinking of a U.S. naval ship in Havana harbor. It's the one some historians theorize was instigated by decidedly biased coverage in the Hearst newspaper empire. The one featuring Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders? The one where we helped Cuba gain independence from Spain? I wouldn't blame you for forgetting. It only lasted ten weeks.

The third guy on the right is a Union veteran, also from the Civil War. That's where they got me - I was thinking it needed to be three different wars.

By Memorial Day 1899 there were three other wars fought by American soldiers that could have supplied images of veterans for this illustration: the American Revolution (1765-1783); the War of 1812 (1812-1815); and the Mexican-American War (1846-1848).

BTW The Library of Congress has loads more entertaining illustrations from Puck Magazine. Puck was published from 1871-1918. It was a combination of humor and political satire - think BuzzFeed meets The Daily Show. This particular illustration is by artist Udo J. Keppler.


Originally published May 2016