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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?

 

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

We writers often lead a secluded, sequestered life. It is said many of us are introverts. We prefer it that way. Combine this with a WFH schedule, and I often find myself unprepared for April Fool's Day hijinx. I forget all about it date-wise, and therefore am easy prey for Internet scams, like the one promising the Firefly series would be revived on Netflix; or the one touting an X-Files TV series comeback (if you consider that fiasco a comeback, the joke's on you).

I never think of April Fools that I don't wring my hands over whether or not to include an apostrophe. And also over the family lore of the time my dad thought it would be hilarious to break up with my mom in high school and let her think it was for real until almost the end of the day. Pretty sure when he bopped up to her locker that afternoon and said, "April Fool!", he's lucky he made it home with all his teeth. Strangely, Dad is now known for his sense of humor and comic timing. I guess he was still learning the ropes back then.

I like a good laugh as well as anyone. Much of the April Fool's horseplay has always struck me as dominated by the adolescent male bathroom humor types. They're either too silly, too gross, or do a poor job of disguising their latent cruelty. I know that makes me sound like a sourpuss. But I can appreciate an April Fools prank if it's done well.

I fondly recall the time, 30-odd years ago now, that I was roped in by one of the greatest April Fool's pranks of all time: the Sports Illustrated story by George Plimpton that ran in 1985 about a phenom baseball pitcher. I devoured the entire article, mouth agape, which got very messy as I was simultaneously salivating over the thought of watching this kid play in the upcoming season. It never occurred to me that it was a hoax until I heard a few days later. And it was such a gloriously prepared prank, I wasn't even mad about it. I spent no small amount of time turning it over in my mind like a piece of journalistic pyrite, marveling over how they pulled it off. That's the kind of prank I like - something so original and well thought out and perfectly executed, so very Sting-like (the movie, not the singer) that you can't feel too badly about being hornswoggled. They set the bar pretty high. Somehow, Vaseline on the doorknob and plastic wrap over the toilet seat pale in comparison.

It's been a while since anyone Fooled me on April 1. No fake break-ups with the ensuing lawsuits and dental bills. No tiresome Whoopie cushions or rubber snakes. I keep waiting for another great fake article from those devilish tricksters at Sports Illustrated. I understand why they can't run one every year. But I haven't read this week's SI yet. There's still hope.

 

This post originally appeared as part of the 2016 A to Z Blog Challenge.

Clover photo courtesy Irene Davila at Unsplash

I always felt a little bit of a sham celebrating St. Patrick's Day. Like a true Heinz 57 American, I assumed I had some Irish blood in me somewhere; I just didn't figure it would be more than a drop or two. We did the DNA test thing last year, and I was pleasantly surprised. I can't compete with my husband's 56% results, but 6% for me is about 5% more than I would've guessed. (How wrong I was about other aspects of my own DNA ancestry is fodder for another post.)  I should've guessed I had a little Irish in me based on how much I enjoy drinking beer.

It's 5% more than I thought I had 🙂

Beer is a pretty big deal in Ireland. This is not news. What was news to me, however, were the following little factoids I distilled from some Googling;

  • Beer has been brewed in Ireland for 5000 years or more. Hops doesn't grow well there, so early beers were barley-based ales. They were brewed locally by women known as alewives. Brewing was traditionally a female profession from ancient history until the Middle Ages.
  • Half the alcohol produced in Ireland is beer. This may be news for the whisky fans.
An aerial view of the Guinness distillery in Dublin
  • Stout used to be the leader but was overtaken by lager in the 1900s. Stout initially meant higher alcohol content. In the Irish stout world, Guinness is king, In 1756 Arthur Guinness secured a 9000 year lease on the brewery location at St. James Gate in Dublin. It is the largest brewer of stout in the world. It began brewing Irish dry stout, using roasted barley, to avoid paying the additional tax levied on malted barley.
  • Porter is a  dark colored beer resulting from roasting the malts, barley, and other ingredients. Guinness stopped making ale in 1799 to devote its attention to porter.
  • I'm not a fan of dark or heavy beers. My favorite Irish beer is Harp. Harp is a lager style, which means it is lighter in color. Lagers are cold processed which means the beer ferments at a lower temperature. Guinness developed the Harp brand in the 1960s.
  • Irish red ales Such as Killian's Irish Red get their reddish color from the caramel in the recipe. Ironically, Killian's is no longer available in Ireland. Coors bought the rights to the name in the 1980s.

And last but not least (did I bury the lede?):

  • Until the 1970s, pubs in Ireland were closed on St. Patrick's Day. Excessive revelry during Lent was frowned upon in the heavily Catholic country.

It's hard imagining a dry St. Patty's Day in Ireland! We often throw a party at our house, but this year we're headed downtown to celebrate with a bigger crowd. I'm hoping it's dry, but only meteorologically speaking. Drink responsibly!

As Lent is upon us, I have been interested to learn what people are giving up in this season of abstinence. It is no surprise to me that the item most often abandoned is some sort of food. There are a few iconoclasts who do without tobacco, or alcohol, or shopping. I never got beyond the idea of renouncing something edible (I gave up chocolate). To many of us, foregoing food is the ultimate sacrifice. There is only one person to blame for my epicureal preoccupation: my mother.

Mom is the last of her line in a fine tradition of southern cooks. She grew up in a large family. Her own mother, my grandmother Winona, had to satisfy nine healthy appetites for the better part of two decades. Winona had no microwave or dishwasher as helping hands in the kitchen. It is no wonder, then, that as the oldest of six children, my mother soon found herself the number one kitchen assistant, and thus learned to cook at the apron strings of the master.

It is difficult to recreate the multi-dimensional majesty of my mother’s cooking

Mom at age 80 still frying cube steak like a boss

via the printed word. Thanks to Mom, if I ever find myself on death row and they ask me what I want for my last meal, I am ready with an answer: my mother’s chicken-fried steak, mashed potatoes with cream gravy, green beans, and her homemade yeast rolls. Her home-brewed iced tea is the perfect accompaniment. As is the case with most meals, the meat is clearly the star.

Chicken-fried steak is a southern specialty, often confusing the uninitiated. Is it steak? Is it chicken? Deep-fried or pan fried? Some are surprised to learn it is only the humble cube steak, pounded into tender submission before being dunked in milk to allow the flour coating to stick. Then the palm-sized portions hit the hot grease of my mother’s black cast iron skillet with the initial hissssss to rival any McDonald’s French fry operation. Once they have turned a toasty brown and filled the house with the intoxicating aroma of fried meat (my apologies to vegetarians), they are ready to eat. When that first batch hit the paper towel-lined serving dish to make room in the skillet for the next, my father could always be found skulking about in the kitchen, stalking stray nibbles of steak that had become separated from the Pangaea of the bigger portions. Done properly, as my mother always did, chicken-fried steak requires nothing sharper than the side of your fork to divide it into bite-size pieces.

The side dishes pale in comparison to this pan-fried glory. They are there for the sake of upholding tradition; and in the case of the potatoes, upholding my mother’s cream gravy.

Never in all my classroom hours of chemistry or math did I ever approach the level of timing, precise measurement, and pure artistry required to duplicate Mom’s cream gravy. Making gravy from scratch is my culinary Holy Grail. I have tried and failed more times than the Jamaican bobsled team. There are just too many things that can go wrong. The grease must be of the correct temperature (hot) and quantity (equal to the flour). The flour must be stirred into the hot grease vigorously, so that the dreaded lumps cannot form. Then, and only then, the correct quantity of milk is added. If you do not own the little pink crockery bowl my mother uses for the milk, you will never be able to get the milk quantity right. I do not own one of these bowls, as they have not been made since 1960.

This is why, when Lent rolls around each year, giving up some sort of food is the worst suffering I can imagine. When I am feeling contemplative, I wonder how something so harmless as a good meal in good company should be something I should try to control; avoid, even. Then I look at my last cholesterol test results. I suppose setting aside one of my favorite edibles is the least I can do for Lent this year. If I had any guts, I would have given up chicken-fried steak.