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The main character of my book The Dala Horse, is a 10-year-old girl growing up in a Norwegian immigrant settlement in post-Civil War Texas. Her parents were born in Norway, but she was born in Texas. The book is inspired by the early Norwegian immigrants to Texas, including my own ancestors.

The definitive proof . . .

People are usually surprised to learn there are Norwegians in Texas. While it’s true most Norwegian immigrants to America settled farther north, some intrepid souls did choose the Lone Star State.

Norwegian immigrants came to America in three major waves in the second half of the 19th century. But the earliest came during an economic downturn after the Napoleonic Wars 1807-1814.

Norway had outgrown its ability to provide enough food for its population. If you imagine Norway is a top hat, only the narrow brim is practical for farming due to the mountainous terrain. In the 1800s, only about 3% of its land was under cultivation, mainly due to Norway’s geography.

In addition, prosperous farmers who invested in commercial agriculture to take advantage of this imbalance lost out when domestic markets fell to cheap imports. Many went bankrupt.

Faced with a transition from an agricultural to a money economy, many found immigration more attractive than moving to cities. After all, exploration and adventure was in their Viking blood! Pair this with the generous land policies in Texas, and it's easy to see why so many were willing to risk the journey.

Immigration was also fueled by the 19th century version of social media: newspapers, magazines, and letters from friends who had already moved away and liked the result.

Early emigration proponents included

All three had tremendous influence on Norwegian immigration patterns. All spent their final years in Texas and are buried there.

Johan Reinert Reiersen

Of the three, Reiersen perhaps had the most impact bringing Norwegians to Texas. He visited the fledgling republic while touring America in the 1840s.  He traveled to Austin and met with Sam Houston.

Reiersen was favorably impressed by Houston’s offers of support for any immigrants choosing Texas as their new home. Reierson’s book, magazine, and newspaper articles influenced many to join him there.

He and a small group of settlers founded the first Norwegian community in Texas in 1845. Initially called Normandy, today it is known as Brownsboro.

(However, they were not the first Norwegian settlers in Texas. That would be Johannes Nordboe, who had settled near present day Dallas in 1838.)

Cheap land - and plenty of it! - undoubtedly was a major factor in convincing immigrants to move to Texas. After Texas became a state in 1845, a married couple could claim a 640 acre section (one square mile). At that time, the average farm in Norway was 2-20 acres.

Not 220.

Between TWO and TWENTY.

The process of staking a claim in Texas varied, but went something like this:

  • claim the land
  • establish a home and cultivate at least 10 acres
  • occupy at least 3 years
  • pay for survey

And the land was yours, for anywhere from free to $2/acre.

No wonder immigrating to Texas sounded like a pretty good deal! The land was plentiful and cheap, but that was only a small part of the cost to immigrate. Immigration was booming. The ship captains were no dummies, and fares were at a premium.

As an example, immigrant one immigrant's fare on the ship New England from France to New Orleans was about $950. The fare on the riverboat St. Helena was $75 from New Orleans to Shreveport.

And this does not include her voyage from Norway to France. Or traveling overland from New Orleans to her final destination in Texas. One inflation calculator estimates $100 in 1847 to be worth about $2,750 today. Using that formula, her relocation to America cost around $30,000. And this was certainly not for first class accommodations. She traveled below decks with all the other passengers, and cargo, and animals.

After all the trouble and expense of immigrating from Norway to Texas, the original settlement of Normandy did not live up to the settlers’ expectations. Illness and other factors precipitated a relocation in 1848 to nearby Four Mile Prairie/Prairieville. More settlers arrived in 1850, bringing the Norwegian contingent to 105. Still seeking better quality soil and water, many Norwegians pushed further west in 1854 when Bosque County was created. The communities of Clifton, Cranfills Gap, and Norse became the Norwegian stronghold in the state.

Norwegian settlements 1 - Normandy 2 - Four Mile/Prairieville 3 - Bosque County Note: map by Daniel Feher at freeworldmaps.net; red numbers added by me

 

The Bosque County location proved most successful for the Norwegian immigrants. Today it is home to Norse heritage resources such as the Bosque Museum and the Cleng Peerson Institute.

Statewide population of Norwegians in TexasCensus records of the time reflect a slow but steady influx of Norwegians.

1860 = 321

1870 = 552

1880 = 941

One estimate of the number of Texans of Norwegian descent today is around

My great-grandfather Ole Olson with his son Kenneth ca 1930

129,000.

Several Norwegian societies have chapters in Texas, including

Scandinavian Friends

Fun facts about Texas Norwegians, or 'Texwegians'

For more Texwegian fun, check out my book, The Dala Horse, now available on Amazon. 

Now available at Amazon

10-year-old Kaya Olson lives in a small Norwegian immigrant settlement in post-Civil War Texas. When her mother is killed, Kaya feels responsible. Can she uncover the secrets her family is keeping to solve the mystery surrounding her mother’s death?



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Then

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.

Now

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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When the nice folks at the 10 Minute Novelists Facebook group reached out to me about publishing this guest post, I was happy to participate. I've found their group to be very friendly and helpful. Check out the post below and see if their writing convention coming up this summer fits into your schedule.

 

Click here for more info 

By Pam Humphrey

As writers, some days we struggle to find ten minutes in a day to dedicate to our writing. We scrape together small snippets of time each day, adding words to our work-in-progress. Those words add up. Our small things, brought together, can make something great.

The writers of the Facebook group 10 Minute Novelists believe that this is true. Started by Katharine Grubb, who wrote the book, Write A Novel in Ten Minutes A Day, the Facebook group offers tips, encouragement, and community for time-crunched writers worldwide.

August 9-11, 10 Minute Novelists will be hosting their first ever conference in Cincinnati, Ohio. The theme is fitting: Small Things Brought Together. The conference hopes to bring this online community of hard-working writers together for learning, support, and fun. Through the speakers and learning opportunities, they hope writers can make connections, amplify writing energy, and add tools to their writing toolbelt.

Their speakers include:

James Scott Bell, bestselling author of Plot & Structure, and award-winning thrillers like Final Witness, Romeo’s Rules, Don’t Leave Me, Blind Justice, Deceived, Try Dying, Watch Your Back, and One More Lie, will give the keynote.

Donald Maass, founder of the Donald Maass Literary Agency and author of The Career Novelist (1996), Writing the Breakout Novel (2001), Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook (2004), The Fire in Fiction (2009), The Breakout Novelist (2011) and Writing 21st Century Fiction (2012), will speak on The Fire In Fiction. This hands-on presentation will reveal how master contemporary novelists make every book great—and how participants can use the techniques of greatness in their current manuscripts.

Janice Hardy, founder and owner of FICTION UNIVERSITY, is the award-winning author of The Healing Wars trilogy, including The Shifter, Blue Fire, Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins, and of multiple books on writing, including the bestselling, Understanding Show, Don’t Tell (And Really Getting It). She’ll be speaking twice on Saturday: Planning Your Novel in Ten Easy Steps: 10 Surefire Steps to Planning a Bestseller! and (later that day) on Revision Readiness: How to Revise.

For more information go to http://www.10MinCon.com. The conference price is $329, but will go up to $379 after March 1, 2018. Price does not include travel, airfare, or hotel accommodation. Price does include lunch for Friday, August 10 and Saturday, August 11. Hotel accommodation information is also available at www.10MinCon.com.

Make time for your writing this summer. Join us at 10MinCon!

Pamela Humphrey, author of Finding Claire and Finding Kate, has been a member of 10 Minute Novelists since March 2016. She lives in San Antonio, Texas, with her husband, sons, black cats, and a leopard gecko.

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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All the hubbub about the Seth Rogen/James Franco comedy The Interview and its accompanying alleged North Korean threats against anyone showing/seeing the film, marketing strategy conspiracy theories, and censorship issues got me wondering if any other movies had caused a similar ruckus. After all, history tends to repeat itself. I challenge you to show me any recent headline that hasn't been seen or done before. And history proves me right in this instance, natch. Lots of movies have caused public uproars. Focusing on political films that directly target the leader of another country narrows the field considerably. Add debuting while said leader is still in power, and you get a very small sample size.

If you were ringing in on this topic on Jeopardy, you might answer, "What is The Great Dictator?", Charlie Chaplin's famous 1940 classic satirizing Adolf Hitler. However, another production caught my eye. I was delighted to learn there was an even earlier film by none other than the true kings of comedy: my childhood favorites, The Three Stooges. Their film, You Nazty Spy, beat Chaplin to theaters by several months. Moe Howard plays 'Moe Hailstone' aka Der Fuehrer, with Larry as 'Larry Pebbles' (Joseph Goebbels) and Curly as 'Curly Gallstone' (Hermann Goering). The 18-minute short film is full of Stooge silliness, physical humor, and so many puns, inside jokes and innuendo, I have to wonder how much of it the audience got on first viewing. After all, in 1940 there was no VCR, DVR,YouTube, or Wiki technology to ensure you got all the jokes.

Moe is the perfect Hitler (actually, with the addition of that little black smudge of mustache, any of us could pass). His stage persona as the bully of the threesome served him well as he ordered everyone around, shouted from podiums, and used that stiff arm salute to full advantage.

The plot thickens with the additional info that the three stars as well as the director, Jules White, were all of Jewish descent. It is tempting to cast these comedic icons as living dual lives as intrepid resistance leaders, but history does not quite bear this out. In 1940 it was common knowledge that the Nazi regime was anti-Semitic, but Jews were just one among many groups they targeted. It is doubtful either the Stooges or White were aware of the extent of the atrocities being committed or planned at the concentration camps. The idea for the short film may simply have been a combination of revenge fantasy, savvy co-opting of current events, and an irresistible desire to satirize such a ripe subject.

It is also tempting to envision You Nazty Spy as a heroic artistic statement that re-focused public opinion and precipitated the eventual fall of the Third Reich. Alas, again historical data points otherwise. Before the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941, many Americans felt strongly about staying out of the European conflict. The faltering economy during the Great Depression, plus lingering memories of the atrocities of World War I had few in a mood to get involved in another foreign dispute. I tried to find out how the film was received; no luck. As a short film, it likely would have been bundled with other media such as a full length feature, a news reel, etc., thus making it difficult to determine how it fared individually.

The film was lucky even to have been made. Prior to our current movie ratings system, there existed a movie censorship system known informally as the Hays Code. The Hays Code was developed as a sort of moral compass for a movie industry that many felt had gone off the rails in the early part of the 20th century.  The code listed many topics and behaviors to be avoided. Movie producers/directors submitted their screenplays to the censor. Movies that passed muster got made. Movies that didn't, didn't. You Nazty Spy violated the Hays Code as it related to causing 'willful offense' of foreign nations, but likely squeaked through because it was a short film - full length feature films were the focus of the censor's scrutiny.

Messrs. Rogen and Franco have some large shoes to fill, three pairs' worth between the two of them. They're funny, but Three Stooges-level funny? Only time will tell. I don't know if the writers were aware of You Nazty Spy as they wrote The Interview. There are some interesting parallels to be drawn between the two films, never mind the 70+-year gap in production timeline:

Satire Sells

The Three Stooges were busy fellows. They were under contract to shoot several short films annually. With such a long career, it probably wasn't long before the idea well began to run dry. Then, as now, current events to the rescue! And what better way to bring attention to a grim, humorless topic sore in need of public awareness than education masquerading as comedy? If you don't believe this, compare the box office earnings of most wretched, juvenile, bathroom humor bomb to the highest of highbrow documentaries. Not. Even. Close.*

Beware the Bomb

The international hubbub over The Interview (whether real, or, according to the conspiracy theorists, a marketer's wet dream) made the term 'box office bomb' fearfully literal. Anonymous bomb threats to any theaters showing the film probably had many re-thinking their holiday viewing plans. The Stooges had their own bomb scare, but not over their Hitler film. Earlier in their career, they had a less than amicable split with fellow performer Ted Healy. Healy threatened to bomb theaters where Three Stooges performed if they pursued a career without him. Thankfully, both threats were empty (so far).

The End - Spoiler Alert

If you finish your dinner, you get to wear your dinner's hat

Both films chose to off their protagonists. I haven't seen The Interview, but I understand Kim Jong-un loses his head in a rather violent fashion. In You Nazty Spy, Hitler and his cronies don't make it out alive, either, although their demise is not shown on screen - only suggested by a roar and a belch. The Stooges going for subtlety - imagine that!

I haven't seen The Interview. I was all for seeing it for solidarity, but the more this story unfolds, the more I wonder if this hasn't all been a huge publicity stunt. I think I'll wait it out. I've got 219 more Stooges films to catch up on.

*For example, 2014 figures for #78 out of 100, the comedy Sex Tape earned $38.5 million domestic. Top grossing documentary 2014, something called America which hardly seems to fit my 'highest of the highbrow' requirement, but whatever: $14 million. Citizen Four (about Edward Snowden) is perhaps a better match, raking in a (relatively) paltry $2 million. Figures from BoxOfficeMojo.com.

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2

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

March

April

May - Memorial Day last Monday

June

July - Independence Day July 4

August

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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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.

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2

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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