‘TIS A FINE WEEK

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Surely, ’tis the best week of the year, is it not?  St. Patrick’s Day is not until Wednesday but some of us have begun celebrating early.  I am personally contributing to the festivities by drinking a pint of Guinness every day. Guinness is the mother’s milk of Ireland, and for good reason.  Three years ago I had the good fortune of spending time in the Emerald Isle with four of my girlfriends.  On the first day of the trip I ate something that didn’t agree with me.  Our driver suggested that I “take a Guinness”, extolling it’s virtues as a cure-all for most any ailment.  I gulped it down and, sure enough, I began to feel better.  He went on to explain that when he was growing up, doctors were scarce – and unaffordable – so Irish mothers gave their children a nip of Guinness whenever they were sick, as it was believed to be chocked full of vitamins and minerals.  Sort of the Irish version of Children’s  One-A-Day.

Once back home I began to research the miracle of Guinness.  Was it really a health food?  Should I be drinking more?  Turns out that back in the 1920s, when the “Guinness is Good for You” slogan was introduced, the claim was based on market research that found people felt good after they drank a pint of the dark and foamy stout.  Okay, but substitute “stout” for almost any form of alcohol and you’d probably have the same result.  Soon after the slogan gained popularity the flimsy claim was bolstered by the discovery that Guinness contains iron. A ha!  Now we’re getting somewhere.  Even pregnant women were advised to have an occasional pint. Of course, it would take something like a dozen pints a day for a woman to get her recommended daily allowance of iron, in which point the alcohol and calories would cause more harm than good.

But in 2003 researchers at the University of Wisconsin found a truly redeeming feature of the beloved Guinness.  Turns out that stout beer like Guinness (as opposed to lager and other light beer) is high in the antioxidant compounds called flavonoids—similar to those found in red wine, tea and chocolate—that can reduce the risk of heart attack from blood clotting.   The researchers carried out laboratory tests on dogs with clogged arteries, comparing the effects of Guinness and Heineken. Only those dogs fed Guinness had reduced clotting.  Wow – red wine, chocolate, dogs and Guinness.  The gods have come together to link all of my favorite things together into one healthy bundle!  I should live to be 100.

My brother and I share a love for Ireland, even though our DNA results show our Irish heritage to be somewhat limited.  I am 12% Irish and he is 8%, which doesn’t seem fair because he has frequented a lot more Irish pubs than I have.  In fact, he has a unique ability to find an Irish pub everywhere he travels.  When he hiked Machu Picchu,  he fortified himself beforehand at Paddy’s Irish Pub in Cusco, Peru, which holds the distinction of being the highest elevation pub on the planet at over 11,156 feet.  I recently watched the Amazon Prime Video movie “The Irish Pub” and it became clear why we cling to our small but powerful Irish ancestry.  The documentary highlighted pubs all over Ireland, interviewing the owners and customers.  Charming doesn’t begin to describe it.  Yes, some of the pubs were dark and possibly had not been cleaned since 1947.  But the owners and customers alike took great pride in their establishments and their welcoming of strangers.   Anyone who has visited Ireland can attest to that – the Irish seem to be universally good-natured and friendly.  The film made it clear that the local pub provides a gathering place for people to chat and get to know one another and many customers remarked that they would rather do that than watch television.

I think what we can conclude from all this is that America would be a far better – and healthier – place if we all gathered down at the local pub for a good conversation and a pint of Guinness.  Throw in a dog by the fire and that’s about as close to Heaven as one can get.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day and…Slainte!!

 

We’re All Singing the Betwixmas Blues

by Bob Sparrow

Yes, Betwixmas is a word . . . sort of – it’s the term used for the six days between Christmas and New Year’s Day – and we are now in it up to our masks.    There are names for two of these six days that bookend Betwixmas; at the beginning, December 26 is ‘Boxing Day’, which is not celebrated in America, but mostly in England and its former Commonwealth satellites (Canada/Australia/New Zealand/Hong Kong).  It started out as a day to honor servants and those less fortunate by giving them a ‘box’ of something of value.  It then morphed into a shopping holiday (apparently, they said, ‘screw the servants’) where one would take back the ‘boxes’ of whatever they got for Christmas and exchange them for a box of something they really wanted (Maybe we do celebrate it here in America after all).  At the other end of Betwixmas is, of course, New Year’s Eve; never before will so many people really mean it when they say “Happy New Year”!!! But those four days in between, particularly this year, will drive you crazy enough to actually try to eat your grandma’s brick-hard fruitcake that you got again this Christmas.

Betweixmas is a time when we really don’t know what day it is,  who you are or what you’re really supposed to be doing.  There is no school and no one is really working.  If someone goes into the office during Betwixmas, it’s not to work, it’s just to get away from the spouse and/or kids, that have been driving them crazy since the Covid outbreak.

Paradoxically, the shortest day of the year was just last Monday, so the days should seem to just fly by, but no, these days drag on and makes Betwixmas seem interminable.  Typically, it’s the time to relax after the Christmas ‘rush’ and get ready to usher in a new year, a different year, anything but what we’ve been experiencing, so this Betwixmas drags on even more than normal.

Snow Angel

The result of these shiftless days are things like creating New Year’s resolutions that are unrealistic and completely unattainable.  To wit:  you’re probably going to be a little heavier by this time next year.  That home gym that you built this year will go mostly unused next year.  You’re not going to be a better person next year, you’re going to be about the same, and you’re going to be no more organized next year than you are this year.

Usually, the novelty of the kids being home during Christmas vacation calls for some family activity – heading to the mountains to frolic in the snow, visiting Disneyland or if you’re a fan, going to a college football bowl game.  But there’s no snow in the local mountains, Disneyland is closed and the general public is not allowed to attend a college football game.  We are doomed to spend Betwixmas just like we’ve spent the last nine months – in house arrest.

So, one would think that this would have been a good time for a blog that’s really entertaining; a missive filled with little-known facts of interest that would take your mind off the tedium of the times.  But no, it’s a match for the times.

Merappy Betwixmas

 

THE ANGELS AMONG US

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

I am ending this very strange year with the inaugural From A Bird’s Eye View people of the year award.  No, it’s not as prestigious as the award from Time magazine, but I believe our nominees are more fitting.  The poem is one I came across a few years ago and my hardest task for this post was narrowing down the nominees who best represent it.  I’m sure I’ve forgotten many groups of people but for all of those who have worked during perilous times this year, we want to express our thanks for your unwavering strength throughout 2020.

 

There are always angels everywhere. 

 

 

 

Perhaps we only think to look for them at Christmas,

 

 

 

When their wings can be seen and their halos glow with light.

 

 

 

But they are always there.

 

 

 

There in the quiet corners,

 

 

 

there in the shadows,

 

 

 

 

there in their ordinary clothes, 

 

 

 

and they are beautiful.

 

 

 

Make room for the angels, for they will catch you unawares and fill your heart in ways you never could imagine.

 

 

 

Speaking of angels, our dad was certainly one on Earth and I believe he continues to watch over our family. One of Pop’s hallmarks was the Ice Cream fizz he served every Christmas morning.  Oh sure, most families had hot chocolate and cider while we were drinking gin, but don’t judge – it has given a roseate hue to many a Christmas morning.  So this year we are once again sharing his recipe so that you and your family might also enjoy this wonderful tradition.

 

POP’S CHRISTMAS ICE CREAM FIZZ

Fill a blender 1/4 full with ice cubes

Add 6 jiggers of gin

Add 4 scoops of French Vanilla ice cream

Add 1 small bottle of soda water (the size you get in a 6-pack)

My brother Bob adds an egg so the white adds some froth, brother Jack doesn’t add an egg.  Personally, I’d add it just because you can then claim it’s a protein drink.

Just blend it well and – voila – you have a concoction sure to put a positive spin on everyone and every thing!

Our mom served them in a wine glass with a dash of nutmeg.  As we got older we would conspire with Pop and ditch the wine glass for a chilled beer mug from the freezer. Saved having to go back for seconds…or thirds.

Bob and I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas.  We know for many of you it may be quieter, but hang in – 2021 is sure to be a better year.

Could This Be Your Most Memorable Christmas?

by Bob Sparrow

Like everything else in 2020, I’m guessing Christmas this year will be a little different for you.  Probably fewer people gathered together, maybe a change from the regular venue, Santa could be wearing a mask instead of a beard and perhaps the gifts given and received might be a little different, as suggested by Suzanne last week.  But I have no doubt that the ‘Christmas Spirit’ will prevail – assuming you don’t run out of Christmas ‘spirits’.  If Covid has taught us anything, it’s that sometimes we need a change of routine in order to appreciate the routine.

So, as we prepare for whatever this holiday will bring, I can’t help but recall my most unusual Christmas – it took place in 1968.  As a backdrop for those who weren’t around then or as a stark reminder to those who were, 1968 was a crazy year!  The U.S. was ass-deep in a very unpopular Viet Nam war, causing unrest on college campuses in the form of protests and draft card burning.  Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated; the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia, Richard Nixon beat Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace to be elected to his first term as president, streets were filled with civil and gender-rights protests – some not so peaceful, 82 crewmen of the USS Pueblo were held captive most of the year by North Korea; Mao Tse-Tung celebrated 20 years as communist leader of China and the Zodiac killer (who has yet to be found to this day) is on the prowl in California. In December of that year, three Apollo 8 astronauts, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and William Anders, became the first to circle the moon, in preparation for the first moon landing seven months hence.

Don and me in front of house in Atsugi, Japan.  Dec. 1968

In 1968 I was an Ensign in the Navy (ours!) and in July of that year I received orders for Atsugi Naval Air Station, Japan.  By December, my wife and I and our dog, Xoon, were living in a small, two-bedroom house, surrounded by Japanese neighbors, about four miles from the base on Dog School Road – apparently, there was a dog school nearby; I’m not sure if it was a pre-school or a pee-school.  Thousands of miles from home in a foreign country, we were planning for a fairly lonely Christmas, our first and only one without family or friends.  Then, about two weeks before Christmas, I got a letter (no cell phones or even email in those days) from my best friend, Don Klapperich, who was a Navy F-4 jet pilot, assigned to the aircraft carrier, USS Coral Sea.  He wrote that their ship, that had been on combat duty in the South China Sea, was coming into Yokohama for Christmas, and that their squadron (VF-151) allowed them to send for their wives to spend the holidays in Japan.

What great news!!!  What was going to be a very dismal Christmas, just got significantly better.  Don was not only my best friend, but my singing partner from high school, and since he had his guitar with him (not in his aircraft, but on the ‘boat’) and I had mine, Christmas Eve found the four of us gathered around our ‘space heater’ chatting and singing songs, which I recorded on a reel-to-reel tape.  I still have the recording, which I converted to a CD, and when I listen to it today, it takes me back to that most-unusual Christmas far from home.

That cold Christmas morning we woke up to no presents under no tree and no stockings hung by the chimney with care – we had no chimney.  But we did exchange gifts, then drove to the Officer’s Club on base, which had a TV, in order to watch our astronauts circle the moon and provide us with that iconic ‘Earth Rise’ photo.

Iconic ‘Earth Rise’ photo – December 1968

As we headed back home for the evening, we looked to the sky and saw a bright, crescent moon and marveled that three astronauts were up there circling it.  So, when I was expecting a lonely Christmas far from home, it turned out to be one of my most memorable Christmases ever.

My point, and I apologize for the rather circuitous route in getting to it, is that this Christmas will undoubtedly be different, presumably like no other you’ve ever or will ever experience, but with a little luck and a positive attitude, it may turn into a Christmas you’ll never forget – in a good way.

We’d love to hear how you’re planning to make this Christmas a pleasantly, different one.

 

OUR ANNUAL USELESS GIFT GIVING GUIDE

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Each year at this time we try to perform our civic duty by providing suggestions for silly and useless gifts for the upcoming holiday season.  Last year I included such things as a harness for your chicken and a “Pull My Finger” Santa.  Boy, was I ever off the mark.  As it turned out, the most useless gifts for 2020 would have been tickets to a Broadway show, a gift certificate for business attire, or a European river cruise in July.   So I’m cautiously taking a different approach to the list for 2021.  Herewith is a list of what I hope will be useless in 2021:

Coffee Mug Map of My House: When I was a kid the phrase “shelter in place” meant we ducked under our school desk for a 5 minute drill.  This year, while we weren’t confined to a 2×2 space on a grimy linoleum floor, we did have to spend a whole lot more time inside our homes.  Venturing from the kitchen to the patio was the 2020 equivalent to a European Grand Tour.  

 

Toilet Paper Ornament:  Never have so many struggled to obtain such a pedestrian item.  Toilet paper became the Holy Grail of paper products.  People were trading semi-precious stones for a roll of Charmin like they were at a Middle Eastern bazaar.  One would think that we had become a nation full of diarrhea-prone idiots. There were jokes going around that in 2050, when people are cleaning out their parent’s homes, they will find a stash of toilet paper that will last another 100 years.  The summer brought some sanity to the situation with plenty of stock on the shelves but, alas, the recent uptick in Covid has caused people to lose their minds again.  Look for large quantities of tp for sale on Ebay when this thing ends.

Costco:  I don’t really want Costco to become useless in 2021.  I love Costco.  How could you not love a store that produces such a perfect pumpkin pie? But in 2020 Costco has become a madhouse.  At our local warehouse lines stretched around the store 30 minutes before it opened.  When the metal grate finally lifted there was a mad rush to the back of the store for….you guessed it…toilet paper!  And paper towels, meat, Lysol wipes and liquor.  Lots of liquor.  Last week when I was there I discovered that Extra Strength Tylenol is now on the restricted list, as it is what’s recommended to thwart the effects of the COVID vaccine.  So, I’ve made my last trip to Costco for the year – I’m just not up for being an unwilling participant in the Supermarket Sweepstakes frenzy.

 

Hand Sanitizer:  My hands are chapped, my nails are split and I rub my hands with sanitizer like an obsessive-compulsive person in “the home”.  I never thought that I would switch up my perfume for “Essence of Purell”.  Early on there was a huge shortage of sanitizer but then some geniuses figured out how to use regular alcohol to manufacture it and suddenly our local brewery became the best place to score some.  Now it is ubiquitous, featured on the end caps of every store from Target to the gas station.  I think the person who can come up with toilet paper and paper towels with hand sanitizer built in could make a fortune.

Lounge Wear:  Personally, I love a good pair of sweatpants.  I have some in every color, ranging from formal black to “greet the Amazon delivery person” gray.  Prior to the pandemic I really deplored people wearing their pajamas to the grocery store.  Now it’s so common it’s startling when you see someone with pants that actually zip.  There have been numerous studies over the years around the concept of “you are what you wear” and they all agree that dressing well positively impacts self-esteem and how you interact with the world.  Based on what I’ve observed in the past few months we have desperately low self-esteem, bordering on self-flagellation.  Hopefully when we regain some sort of normalcy we will also see the return of buttons and a sharp crease.

Working from Home:  I used to love working from home on occasion.  There’s nothing like the satisfaction of doing a load of laundry in between conference calls to make you feel like Super Multi-Tasker.  But I can probably speak for every working parent that we have reached the limit of how much time we want to work from our living rooms.  Turns out that most people like the interaction with people other than their immediate family and pets.  Plus, working while trying to futilely understand your third grader’s math problems is humiliating at best.  The goal for 2021 is to get everyone back where they belong – kids in school and adults at work.  For those women whose job was already full with child-rearing and running a household, I say they have earned a very well deserved rest, complete all the chocolate and wine they can consume.

That’s it for this year.  I’m looking forward to 2021, when a finger-pulling Santa is the highlight of my list.

And stay tuned for December 21 where I will once again share our dad’s recipe for his Christmas Ice Cream Fizz.  This year we may have fewer people gathered around but if ever there was a year where we need to double the recipe, this is it.

 

 

Rudolph the Bullied Reindeer

by Bob Sparrow

Rudolph without antlers

Do you ever really listen to the lyrics of Christmas carols?  I do; and we’ve certainly had plenty of opportunity since Halloween, as radios and department stores remind us that it ‘tis the season’.

Some of you will remember a short while back when the lyrics to ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’, were assailed by the ‘Me Toos’ for manipulative tactics of a guy using the cold weather to keep a female from going home on a cold winter’s night.  So why isn’t someone outraged when it come the Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer?

Sure, on the surface it seems like a benign enough, feel good, Christmas carol, about a reindeer that helps Santa and the other reindeer, find their way to our homes on a foggy Christmas Eve.  But have you ever really listened to the lyrics?

 

All of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names

They never let poor Rudolph play in any reindeer games

I don’t know about you, but this sounds like bullying to me – laughing at him and calling him names and excluding him from whatever games reindeer play.  But once Santa and the reindeer realize that what makes him odd, his bright shiny red nose, is now a benefit to them; well . . .

Rudolph with antlers

Then how the reindeer loved him, as they shouted out with glee

Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, you’ll go down in history

Aside from trying to imagine a reindeer shouting out with glee, it seems that all is forgotten and Rudolph will be going down in history as the most famous reindeer of all – which clearly irks Dasher and the gang.  But, if you really think about it, which clearly I have, isn’t it cruel to be calling him by the derisive moniker ‘red-nosed’, as not to confuse him with the rest of the reindeer with normal colored noses?  What if they called Donner the ‘clubbed-foot’ reindeer and Blitzen the ‘lisping’ reindeer, or Prancer the ‘anal leakage’ reindeer?

There’s more.  It is a little-known fact that both male and female reindeer grow antlers!  Males drop their antlers in November, leaving them without antlers until the following spring, while females keep their antlers through the winter until their calves are born in May.

Cupid keeping the ball from Rudolph

Pictures of Rudolph and the rest of the reindeer typically show them pulling Santa’s sleigh, so we can reasonably assume that it is the month of December and thus a male reindeer would have no antlers.  The pictures of Santa and his reindeer almost always show all the deer but Rudolph, with antlers; so since the pictures are in December, we know that Comet, et. al, are all female.  Pictures of Rudolph are mixed, showing him/her both with and without antlers.  So, his name, Rudolph and the song’s lyrics referring to ‘him’ or ‘he’, would suggest that he is a male, but antlers would tell us that she is female.  That’s OK to be questioning, but it makes one wonder if this, in fact, is the source of the bullying by this team of catty reindeer.

And of course no one ever thinks about what happens after Christmas Eve, when there is no longer a need for Rudolph and his scarlet beacon.  One can only surmise that by Christmas Day the reindeer have probably return to their malicious name-calling.  I envision the reindeer playing a pick-up game of 4-on-4 basketball, as Rudolph sits on the sidelines, watching and hoping that next Christmas Eve will also be foggy.

OK, I admit it, I have too much time on my hands!

OH, TO BE THANKFUL

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

 

Well, we’ve made it to Thanksgiving.  In this weird/awful year of 2020 there were no guarantees.   If ever there was a year that a giant asteroid would destroy Earth, this would be it.  But here we are, ready to celebrate what we are thankful for on Thursday.  Some gatherings won’t have as many guests as normal since everyone except the Governor of California is supposed to limit the number of people with whom they dine.  Other families have had a really rough year – either due to health issues or financial stress.  We all know that we should be grateful for what we have and there have been about 8 million articles published about that in the last week.  There are so many that I’ve begun to think “yada, yada, yada” when I see them – they invariably with a photo of someone in a yoga pose or a cup of matcha tea.  So I’ve decided to take a different view – this week I tried to find some reflections on Thanksgiving that might just bring a smile to your face or appeal to the irreverent aspect of your humor.  After all, we could all use a laugh about now.

“A new survey found that 80 percent of men claim they help cook Thanksgiving dinner. Which makes sense, when you hear them consider saying ‘that smells good’ to be helping.” – Jimmie Fallon

“If you stand in the meat section at the grocery store long enough, you start to get mad at turkeys. There’s turkey ham, turkey bologna, turkey pastrami. Someone needs to tell the turkey, ‘Man, just be yourself.'” – Mitch Hedberg

“The Thankstini: A fun and delicious new novelty drink I invented. Cranberry juice, potato vodka, and a bouillon cube. Tastes just like a turkey dinner.”  – from How I Met Your Mother

“It’s not too much food. This is what we’ve been training for our whole lives. This is our destiny, this is our finest hour.” – from The Gilmore Girls

“Coexistence: What the farmer does with the turkey—until Thanksgiving.” – Mike Connolly

“I suppose I will die never knowing what pumpkin pie tastes like when you have room for it.” – Robt. Brault

“An optimist is a person who starts a new diet on Thanksgiving Day.” – Irv Kupcinet

“I’m looking forward to seeing pie this Thanksgiving more than members of my own family.” – Damien Fahey

“Thanksgiving dinners take 18 hours to prepare. They are consumed in 12 minutes. Half-time of the football game takes 12 minutes. This is not a coincidence.” – Erma Bombeck

“Cooking tip: Wrap turkey leftovers in aluminum foil and throw them out.” – Nicole Hollander

“Thanksgiving: Bringing out the best in family dysfunction since 1863.” Anonymous (for obvious reasons!)

“Thanksgiving—when the people who are the most thankful are the ones who didn’t have to cook.” – Melanie Cook

“There’s always something to be thankful for on Thanksgiving. Even if it’s just not being a turkey.” – Unknown

“Money saving tip:  Be sure to bring up politics at Thanksgiving dinner.  It’s going to save you money on Christmas gifts.”

“Real ballplayers pass the stuffing by rolling it up in a ball and batting it across the table with a turkey leg.” – Tom Swyers  (This one strikes a chord with me as it reminds me of the year that a large bowl of fresh whipped cream was placed on the table in front of Bob and me and we proceeded to take take large handfuls of it and have a whipped cream fight.  And, no, we were not 10.  We were in our 30’s.  Perhaps there was some wine involved.)

Bob and I wish all of you a very happy Thanksgiving.  However you are able to celebrate it, hopefully you will find something or someone to be grateful for.

Also, as a reminder, this is the last week we will be posting on Facebook so if you want to continue to read our blog please subscribe.  It’s easy, free and we don’t share your information!

 

CELEBRATE 2020 – EAT GRAPES, POUR LEAD, DROP A POTATO!

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Well, here we are again, ready to ring out the old and ring in the new.  Personally, I’ll be glad to ring out the old since it did such a good job of ringing me out this year.  But hope springs eternal for 2020.  There is something inherently optimistic about a new year.  This year we also get the double whammy of anticipating a new decade.  To get us in the mood for New Year’s Eve I researched some of the more unique ways people celebrate the new year around the world.  Trust me, after reading about some of the customs you’re going to feel a whole lot better about your stale bottle of champagne and Cheetos.

The 12 Grapes of Luck – In Spain and some Latin American countries, one New Year’s tradition is to eat 12 grapes, one for each month of the coming year, to secure prosperity. Here’s the challenge: you need to eat one grape with each bell strike at midnight. I think this would be a whole lot easier if we could drink our grapes in a nice Chardonnay.  The likelihood of me choking on a grape is quite high with this one.

Pouring Lead – Who doesn’t want to know what the next year might bring? In Germany, people melt small pieces of lead in a spoon over a candle, then pour the liquid into cold water. The bizarre shapes from the lead pouring (or Bleigießen as it’s known) are supposed to reveal what the year ahead will bring. If the lead forms a ball, luck will roll one’s way, while the shape of a crown means wealth; a cross signifies death and a star will bring happiness.  It kind of puts a whole new spin on “get the lead out”.

Scarecrow Burning – In Ecuador, people build scarecrow-like dolls of politicians, pop stars, or other notable figures to set them alight. Burning the año viejo (old year) is meant to destroy all the bad things from the last year and cleanse for the new.  You can see the potential here, right?  Is it possible to build a scarecrow that exactly replicates Washington DC?

Round Food, Round Clothes, Round Everything – In the Philippines, the start of the new year is all about the money. The locals believe that surrounding themselves with round things (to represent coins) will bring money or fortune. As a result, clothes with polka dots are worn and round food is eaten. I think this one is right in my wheelhouse.  After all, cake and cookies are both round.  By this measure I should be Bill Gates by now.

Tossing Furniture – “Out with the old” is the motto in Naples, where people toss everything from toasters to fridges off their balconies. Getting rid of old possessions symbolizes a fresh start in the new year. To prevent serious injuries, most locals stick to small and soft objects for their throwing tradition, though it’s still a good idea to watch your head should you travel there.  Nothing like being hit on the head by a refrigerator to put a cramp in your Italian vacation.

Animal Spirits – Rural Romania is steeped in tradition. New Year’s Eve celebrations include mask dances and ceremonies about death and rebirth. Dancers dress up in furs and wooden masks depicting goats, horses, or bears, then dance from house to house to ward off evil spirits. The dance of the bear is the most popular. According to pre-Christian folklore, if a bear enters somebody’s house, it brings prosperity, health, and good fortune.  Yeah, tell that to all the people at Tahoe who have “entertained” bears in their house.

The Potato Drop – With less tradition but more high-tech, the people of downtown Boise will welcome the new year by dropping a giant spud from the sky. More than 40,000 spectators turn up to see the internally lit, 400-pound “GlowTato.” Frankly, my husband and I love Boise and have been visiting there for more than 30 years.  Lately it has been overrun by Californians escaping the taxes and high housing prices and it has changed dramatically.  I think the Potato Drop is a “jumping the shark” moment for this formerly low-key town.

Personally, I’ll be sitting in front of a fire eating a great dinner and watching the Utah Utes beat the Texas Longhorns in the Alamo Bowl.  It may not be exciting but it beats getting hit on the head with a Barcalounger.

Bob and I would like to wish all of our subscribers and readers a very happy and healthy 2020.

 

Christmas – All Quiet on the Western Front . . . for a Day

by Bob Sparrow

In the last three weeks we’ve given you a) some crazy gift ideas, b) some little-known and less care about Christmas’s in other parts of the world and, perhaps most important of all, we’ve given you c) the recipe to Dad’s Christmas Ice Cream Fizz.  Yet, Christmas isn’t here yet, so this week there’s more Christmas stuff that could possibly help get you into the Christmas ‘spirits’.

The Pooper

We’ll start with what I have found to be the  most ridiculous way that Christmas is celebrated. The Catalonia region of Spain (around Barcelona) is known for its somewhat unorthodox wooden toys and statuettes. El Caganer (which would roughly translate as The Pooper) is one of them. A mysterious figure that insists on pooping wherever he’s placed; this dwarfish, leering figure is part of any Christmas stall or arrangement of figurines. He’s even placed in Nativity Scenes. – and they blamed that smell on the cattle in the manger!

Getting a fruitcake this Christmas?  As it turns out, the rumor that there is only one fruitcake in the world and it just keeps getting passed around, is true.  It’s fairly common knowledge that hardly anyone actually enjoys eating this holiday loaf, but because of its great significance in the All American Christmas, each year many hosts are forced to smile falsely and pretend to be elated at receiving this baked good that can crack a kitchen counter top.  This cake, containing all kinds of fruits and nuts, is derived from the British “Christmas Cake” but has roots in Roman times. Perhaps that Roman fruitcake is the one that is still circulating.

There are all kinds of Christmas traditions and stories from all around the world, but the one that is most sensational and heart-warming to me, is the one that took place in Belgium during WWI – the ‘Christmas truce’.

Meeting in ‘No Man’s Land’

On December 24, 1914 it began when German troops began to light candles and sing Christmas carols and the British soldiers would either join in from their own trenches or start singing their own carols.  Then, certainly without permission from high command, a German messenger walked across ‘No Man’s Land’ to broker a temporary cease-fire agreement.  Soon troops from both sides walked bravely onto ‘No Man’s Land’ and met, talked and exchanged food, souvenirs and cigarettes with one another.  They even played a game of football (soccer) which the Germans won 2-0.  It should be noted that the British got revenge when the Germans lost the war.  The British also won the ‘rubber match’ when Germany was defeated in WWII.

While this event was the first of its kind and certainly the most publicized, nearly 100,000 British and German troops participated in a ‘Christmas truce’ that year all along the Western Front.  In fact, there are similar stories of this same thing happening on the Eastern Front.  As expected, the commanders from both sides were not happy with this fraternization and soon put an end to ‘peace on earth, good will towards men’.

It is so sad that the great message in this story seems to have been lost in history.

The entire staff here at ‘From A Bird’s Eye View’ (OK, just Suzanne and me) hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday season and a happy and healthy new year.

JOY TO THE WORLD (WITH A SPLASH OF GIN)

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

        A jolly man indeed

 

Christmas is a lot like golf.  We have visions of greatness and perfection but the reality is often closer to a bogey.  Some years maybe even a double bogey.  As we get older the holiday season can be more difficult, remembering those who are no longer with us or who we no longer see.  I think many people become sentimental about Christmases past when life seemed simpler. Personally, when I’m in the midst of the Christmas fray I long for the Christmases of my childhood when all I had to do is show up. No shopping, wrapping, cooking, cleaning – just act excited about the gifts under the tree.  I say “act” because there were a lot of years when I found my gifts in my mother’s not-so-secret hiding place and knew exactly what I was getting.  Mostly what I miss are the fun family gatherings, laughing and enjoying each other’s company.  There are people who are lucky enough to live close to their families, thus avoiding the packing and mailing of gifts and – worse yet – traveling to see loved ones, but they are becoming fewer and farther to find.  I hardly know anyone anymore who doesn’t deal with some sort of hassle or drama around the holidays.

Which is why this is a good time to reflect on those things in which we can take joy and perhaps be a bit kinder to one another.  It’s often said that we never know what problems people have from looking at the outside.  I’m sure we’ve all known people who appear to “have everything” and yet in reality have significant problems.  And that includes the person who cuts in line at the supermarket or honks their horn in traffic.  Maybe they’re just jerks.  Or maybe the holiday season is particularly difficult for them – the loss of a loved one, illness, a lost job – seem magnified right now.  Throw in all that’s going on in the world, and life can become a bit overwhelming. Which is why a little kindness can go a long way in making someone’s day just a bit better.

In my effort to be a bit more kind I don’t have to look far for an example.  Our dad was the kindest man I’ve ever known.  Coupled with his hysterical sense of humor, he was a force to be reckoned with.  He was in his element at Christmas, with his children gathered around him and hosting friends and family.  I miss him all year long but most especially this season.  So in his memory, I once again provide you with his famous Christmas Ice Cream Fizz recipe.  He served it every Christmas morning and it gave a roseate hue to the entire day. We share his recipe in the hopes that it might help you all enjoy the holidays just a bit more.  After all, ice cream and gin – how kind is that?

POP’S CHRISTMAS ICE CREAM FIZZ

Fill a blender 1/4 full with ice cubes
Add 6 jiggers of gin
Add 4 scoops of French Vanilla ice cream
Add 1 small bottle of soda water (the size you get in a 6-pack)

My brother Bob adds an egg so the white adds some froth, brother Jack doesn’t add an egg. Personally, I’d add it just because you can then claim it’s a protein drink.
Just blend it well and – voila – you have a concoction sure to put a positive spin on everyone and every thing!
Our mom served them in a wine glass with a dash of nutmeg. As we got older we conspired with Pop and ditched the wine glass for a chilled beer mug from the freezer. Saved having to go back for seconds…or thirds.

Wishing all of our subscribers a very happy holiday season! Cheers!