THE ST. VALENTINE’S DAY MASSACRE – OF GOATS AND DOGS

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

 

A Krispy Kreme Valentine

A Krispy Kreme Valentine

This week many of you will experience panic attacks as you realize that Valentine’s Day has once again occurred on February 14th.  I’m always baffled when I hear people (well, mostly my husband) say “What day is Valentine’s Day?”, as if it changes from year to year.  Personally, I’m not a big fan of the holiday.  I’ve seen too many people treat their significant other rather shabbily all year long and then think that a $9.99 bouquet of roses from Safeway will make up for it on Valentine’s Day.  But I do realize that I may be a minority in this respect, since millions of people around the world mark the occasion with cards, flowers, and it would appear, oversized teddy bears and lacy lingerie.  So I got to thinking about how we began this tradition.  Of course lots of people say it’s a “Hallmark” holiday and as you will read, the greeting card industry has certainly benefited from the day, but it turns out that Valentine’s Day has been celebrated for centuries and by some very unlikely people indeed.

There are many theories as to how Valentine’s Day got started and even who St. Valentine was.  The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different martyred saints named Valentine or Valentinus and they can’t quite decide which is the original cupid. Sounds like the old “To Tell The Truth” program to me.  In any event, the most popular legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death – on February 14.   Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote his jailor’s daughter a letter signed “From your Valentine,” thus setting up the greeting card industry for the next two thousand hundred years.  Around 498 A.D. the Pope, who was not a big fan of pagan holidays, decided to combine the remembrance day for St. Valentine with the pagan rite of Lupercalia, which was celebrated on February 15.  Never heard of Lupercalia?  The short version is that it was a fertility festival highlighted by two sacrifices:  a goat for fertility and a dog for purification.  That sounds about right.

Romeo-and-Juliet

During the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of birds’ mating season, which added to the idea that Valentine’s Day should be a day for romance. That seems just the slightest bit odd.  Really, when was the last time you stared out the window at birds mating and thought, “That is SO romantic!”.  For that matter, who in the heck watches birds mating?  Nevertheless, as the years went on the holiday grew more popular. Chaucer and Shakespeare romanticized it in their work, and it gained popularity throughout Britain and the rest of Europe.  By the middle of the 18th century it was common for friends and lovers of all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes, and by 1900 printed cards began to replace written letters due to improvements in printing technology.  It is believed that Americans began exchanging hand-made valentines in the early 1700s. In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland began selling the first mass-produced valentines in America and it’s been downhill ever since. Howland is considered the “Mother of the Valentine”.   I think in some circles she might be known as the “mother” of something else.  She made her creations with real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures known as “scrap.”  Or “crap”.  I forget.  Today, according to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year, right after Christmas. Which brings up an interesting fact: women purchase 85% of all the Valentine’s that are exchanged.  I was stunned by that fact until I thought more about it.  Modern day traditions guilt men into buying flowers, candy, dinner and the aforementioned lingerie.  All women do is buy a card and we’re good to go.

NixonAnd since everything these days has a Presidential spin, I got to thinking about whether there were any romantics among our former Presidents.    It’s well documented that John and Abigail Adams had a wonderful 54 year marriage and were very devoted.  And the Reagans were renowned for their doe-eyed looks at one another. Harry Truman apparently wrote such torrid letters to Bess that she burned them all lest someone else read them.  Although I don’t think Harry’s love notes would even make it on to TMZ these days.  But there were also some head-scratchers among our former commanders-in-chief.  Woodrow Wilson, who was thought to be a pretty stolid guy was widowed after a 27 year marriage and was completely heartbroken.  Until six months later when he was described as a “school boy” when meeting his second wife, Edith.   Perhaps the most unlikely romantic was Dick Nixon.  We all remember him as rather stiff and sweaty, but apparently in his youth he was quite a romantic…and maybe just the slightest bit desperate.  Turns out that he was so enamored of Pat that he would offer to drive her and her suitors on their dates just so he could spend more time with her.  Kind of sad, really.  But then again, Valentine’s Day is named for a martyr so for all I know he exemplifies the holiday.  In any event, I hope you have a wonderful day regardless of how you choose to celebrate.  Just don’t go sacrificing any dogs.

 

Shakespeare By Any Other Name . . .

by Bob Sparrow

S birthday

The Birthday Boy . . . or is he?

While I was busy either hiking or trying to track down my friends in Nepal and Suzanne was selecting the menu for her ‘Last Supper’, we missed an important date last month on April 23, the birthday of William Shakespeare – he turned 451.  Don’t worry if you didn’t get him anything or even send a card, he’s used to being ignored. To wit:

Only four of the nation’s 52 highest-ranked universities require that an English major take at least one, yes one, Shakespeare class – those schools: Harvard, Cal, Wellesley College (Massachusetts) and the U.S. Navel Academy. Go Navy!

Dr. Chapman

Dr. Viola Chapman

Fortunately, my curriculum at Westminster College in Utah did include the study of several Shakespeare plays and sonnets.  I remember my first day walking into class and sizing up the professor, Dr. Chapman.  She was a elderly, diminutive woman with a stern continence, of course elderly to a college student in those days was anyone over 40.  She wore her hair in a bun and I thought she could have played the part of Norman Bate’s mother in Psycho.  I was petrified.  I was afraid not to pay attention, but once she opened her mouth, she had me. She was brilliant and quirky – she’d sit on her desk, swinging her feet to and fro, reciting, by heart and with an Elizabethan accent, long passages from Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets.  By the end of the first week, I was all in.  She brought the literature to life, she made me want to know more.  There is no question in my mind that my interest in and ultimate love of Shakespeare was a result of one person, Dr. Viola Chapman.  By the time I had graduated, I’d taken every class she taught and ended up with a minor in English.  She not only instilled in me a love of Shakespeare, but influenced my decision to become a teacher and ultimately try to turn high school students on to the ‘The Bard’.   She taught at Westminster from 1948 until 1972 and was the first professor to be honored as ‘Faculty Emeriti’ by the college.  She is without question, my favorite teacher of all time.

C Marlowe

Christopher Marlowe

If you haven’t really thought much about Shakespeare since you flunked that Merchant of Venice test in high school (like I did), then you may not be aware of the fact that there has been a long-standing debate as to whether William Shakespeare actually wrote all or any of the plays and sonnets attributed to him. Such luminaries as Mark Twain, Sigmund Freud and even Helen Keller have opined that Shakespeare wasn’t Shakespeare.  So who was?  Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, the Earl of Oxford, the Earl of Derby and several others have been debated ‘to be or not to be’ the ‘real’ Shakespeare.  The debate will not be settled anytime soon, and it probably doesn’t matter because if Shakespeare didn’t write those plays and sonnets, the real author or authors are also about 450 years old and probably dead.

A line from Captain ‘Hawkeye’ Pierce, of the old TV series M.A.S.H., even references the debate when he complained about a bad tasting breakfast, saying,  “This bacon tastes as old as the Bacon that wrote Shakespeare’s plays.” 

Whoever he was, Shakespeare continues to influence our lives today.

West Side Story

West Side Story

Some plays/movies that you may be familiar with . . .

     West Side Story – based on Romeo & Juliet

     Kiss Me Kate – based on Taming of the Shrew

     The Lion King based on Hamlet

You’ve also probably quoted Shakespeare, maybe without even knowing it, as he coined too many phases to be listed here, but a few of the more familiar ones are:

     Love is blind

     Neither a borrower or lender be

     The world’s mine oyster

     He will give the devil his due

     This above all to thine own self be true

And a favorite of mine . . .

     The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers

So a belated happy birthday to whoever wrote all that wonderful literature and a tip of the cap to Dr. Viola Chapman for bringing it into my life.

There’s probably a Shakespeare play being performed somewhere close to you this summer – I say go see it; at 451 years old, he may not be around much longer and you just might enjoy it.

Class dismissed!

Samoans Vanish from the Face of the Earth

by Bob Sparrow

real Samoan

No, not this Samoan

It’s February and my New Year’s ‘diet resolution’ was already as precarious as a politicians promise; then along comes those adorable, freckled-faced girls in green uniforms to push it completely over the precipice.  Yes, it’s Girl Scout Cookie time and I was first approached by those purveyors of baked goods as I came out of my local super market last week.  I rationalize my purchase by telling myself I’m supporting a good cause, and deep down I knew that I was really not going to get much thinner . . . again this year.  So I walked up to their card table set up outside the grocery store door and pondered my options.

I like Peanut Butter cookies and Thin Mints, but I love the Samoans – those vanilla cookies topped with caramel and sprinkled with toasted coconut and laced with chocolaty stripes – they are ‘good-bye diet’ delicious!  I said, “I’ll take a box of Thin Mints, a box of Peanut Butter cookies and 5 boxes of Samoans.”  Yes, 5 boxes. I knew I could polish off one box by the time I drove home from the grocery store.

The next words I heard temporarily shattered my cookie-eating world.  “OK, thank you, but we don’t have Samoans anymore.”  I froze all cookiesand stared at this little person delivering this tragic news and started to put my wallet back in my pocket, “We now call them ‘Caramel deLites’ – they’re the same thing”, she continued as she handed me a box to examine.  I was offended on two fronts, although I tried not to show it as I knew the young lady standing and smiling in front of me with a tooth missing, had nothing to do with either. First, these cookies are not ‘Lite’ anything – a serving, which is 2 cookies about the size of a silver dollar, is 130 calories – that’s more than a pint of Guinness! Just sayin’.  Secondly, and more importantly, are we no longer calling them Samoans because by doing so we could be offending Samoans everywhere?  Was the name changed out of concern for being politically correct?  Give me a break!  What country or ethnic group would not want to have that delicious cookie named after them?!”

who am I     I almost gave the boxes back, but I was fairly sure that the Girl Scout standing in front of me probably didn’t have much to do with the name change and certainly wouldn’t follow my comparing and contrasting the calories with a Guinness.  So I tried to take the high road and paraphrased Shakespeare saying, ” I suppose a Samoan by any other name doth taste as sweet.”  At that point the Girl Scout’s mother, not knowing what her daughter was going to be subjected to next, stepped between her daughter and me and encouraged me to either buy something or move along, that there were people behind me who didn’t care about the name, the calories, or Shakespeare for that matter, saying, “We’re just trying to sell cookies here to send our girls to camp.”  Which was code for, “Quit creeping my daughter out and either buy some cookies or get the hell out of the way.”

On my way home, while finishing off that box of Samoans (I refuse to call them ‘Caramel de-Lites’), I was thinking, about the misuse of the word ‘Lite’ in advertising as well as the hyper-sensitivity to being ‘politically correct’.  I get it that some Native American Indians don’t want to be a ‘mascot’ of American sports teams, but if we’re insulting the Samoans by naming a cooking after products from their islands, then we need to look at changing a number of other food items if we are genuinely concerned about being politically correct’.  To wit:

–       I’m sure we’ve insulted the English by naming a muffin after them?

–       We’ve certainly insulted the Brazilians by naming a nut after them!

–       I suppose Italian pizza should be called ‘Lo-Cal Mediterranean Cheese, Meat & Sauces on Lite Bread’

–       Are we still insulting the Polish by naming a sausage after them?

–       I’m not sure if Scottish folks are insulted by having Scotch named after them – or were they named after the Scotch?

–       And what about the Turkey sandwich?  Oh, never mind.

–       Should Maine lobster with drawn butter now be called ‘Northeastern crustacean with Lite oleo’

–       How about renaming French Fries ‘Anti-American, bath-needing, sniveling, wine-sipping, bastards Fries’frenchman

Well perhaps I do need some political sensitivity training, and I’ll get some as soon as the Girl Scouts bring back the Samoans.

Hoax, Conspiracy Theories and the Truth!

by Bob Sparrow

“The great mass of people will more easily fall victim to a big lie than to a small one.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                      Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf

shower

The recent fiasco surrounding Manti Te’o’s non-existent girlfriend (photo at left shows her in the shower) and things like the 11 million views on YouTube showing how the federal government and the Screen Actors Guild conspired to create the ‘Sandy Hook Hoax’, have me convinced that our culture will not let the facts stand in the way of a good conspiracy theory.  Not that people haven’t been lied to by their government, or the Screen Actors Guild for that matter, but as a public service I’d like to put forth the real truth about some of our most popular conspiracies.

 

If you think that there is a possibility that Michael and Janet Jackson were actually the same person or that the ‘grassy knoll’ was never michael jacksonjanet jacksonreally examined as thoroughly as it could have been, then you need to read on.

global warmingConspiracy: global warming is a real threat

Supported by: Al Gore, who told us so

Anti-Conspiracy: Global warming is a hoax perpetrated by Carrier, the air conditioning people and a few awning and umbrella companies.

The Truth: My anecdotal findings are that the globe seems to be warmer in the summer, so I lean toward the global warming theory, but it seems to cool down in the winter, so I can’t be sure. I’m going to read Al Gore’s book, An Inconvenient Truth – it’s on the Internet, which he invented.

 

 abby roadConspiracy: Paul McCartney walking barefoot on the Abby Road album cover proves that he was actually dead.

Supported by: Those who had high-tech record players back in the day that could play Beatles records backwards and hear Paul actually say that he was dead at the time.

Anti-Conspiracy: Paul was late for the album photo shoot and forgot to put on his shoes.  What amazingly has gone unnoticed over the years is that Ringo is not wearing any underwear in the photo – he is not dead either.

The Truth: Paul is alive and actually came closer to death when a judge told him he had to pay Heather Mill $235 million in his divorce settlement.

 

elvisConspiracy: Elvis faked his death

Supported by: Elvis weighed approximately 275 pounds at the time of his ‘supposed’ death, yet the casket ‘they’ say he was buried in weighed only 210 pounds.

Anti-Conspiracy: The king didn’t fake his death, but actually died three days later after finishing second in a chili dog eating contest at the Dunes Hotel in Las Vegas.

The Truth: Elvis’ death has never been certified and rumors fly around this time of year when an elderly duet that looks an awful lot like an aging, 65 pound lighter Elvis and Jimmy Hoffa, appear for their dinner show in Sun City, Las Vegas.

shakespeare_winkConspiracy: Shakespeare didn’t write his plays

Supported by: All those who claim to have written them

Anti-Conspiracy: Shakespeare actually wrote the plays, but in a hurry to get to the airport one morning, left them at a table at Starbuck’s where they were ultimately picked up by Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe and Woody Allen.

The Truth: Who cares?

 

mood landing fakeConspiracy: We never landed on the moon

Supported by:  A ‘moon set’ was found inside an old cheese warehouse in the New Mexico desert; they also found a man in the warehouse with a large, round, glowing, orange face.

Anti-Conspiracy: No New Mexico license plates were found on the lunar lander.

The Truth: We of course landed on the moon and ended up bringing back some aliens and weather balloons and accidentally left them just outside a warehouse in Roswell, New Mexico.

 

I may be a little confused about that moon landing thing, but hopefully I’ve cleared up a lot of conspiracies for you theorists out there; although things like, ‘Is wedding cake really a birth control method?’ still remains a mystery to us.

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