Monday, December 31, 2012

Uniquely American New Year's Celebrations

As we bid a fond adieu to 2012 and welcome the arrival 2013, I thought that this would be a great occasion to celebrate the New Year with some of the more unusual New Year's festivities from around the United States. And believe you me, there are some doozies out there. 

Through the use of my mastery of Google-Fu, I found some unique ways that Americans say goodbye to the Old Year and howdy to the New Year.

For Example...

And last, but certainly not least, in my wife's hometown of Eastport, Maine (The Easternmost City in the USA):

  • The Great Sardine Drop - This year end festival is an international event featuring the Maple Leaf Drop honoring the arrival of the New Year an hour earlier in the neighboring Canadian province of New Brunswick. 
How will you be celebrating the transition from 2012 to 2013? We'd love to know, so leave us a comment and tell us about your plans!

We'll see you in 2013!

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Texas Statehood: December 29, 1845

In their first election after Texas won its independence, Texans voted overwhelmingly in favor of annexation to the United States. However, throughout the Republic period, no annexation treaty was approved by both countries.

With nothing solid to indicate that Mexico accepted the defeat at San Jacinto (Treaties of Velasco were ignored by both the Republic of Texas and Mexico) and fearful of a second attack by the powerful Mexican army to the south perhaps joined by the Comanches and Apaches, Texas again petitioned to become a State of the U.S. 

Thus begins the story of how the Republic of Texas became the 28th State of the United States of America.

It's a fascinating tale about a fascinating place.

Although I am now living 2000 miles from the land of my birth, she is forever in my heart and I am forever her Son, separated by time and distance yet connected by Fate and Destiny. 

Throughout her history, Texas has nurtured a special breed of people, a people that former football coach Bum Phillips described as "forged of a hotter fire." Coach Phillips went on, "The same spirit that made 186 men cross that line in the sand in San Antonio damned near 165 years ago is still in you today. Why else would my friend send me William Barrett Travis' plea for help in an email just a week ago, or why would Charles Stanfield ask me to reprint a Texas Independence column from a year ago? What would make my friend Elizabeth say, "I don't know if I can marry a man who doesn't love Texas like I do?" Why in the hell are 1,000 people coming to my house this weekend to celebrate a holiday for what used to be a nation that is now a state?

Because the spirit that made that nation is the spirit that burned in every person who founded this great place we call Texas, and they passed it on through blood or sweat to everyone of us.
You see, that spirit that made Texas what it is is alive in all of us, even if we can't stand next to a cannon to prove it, and it's our responsibility to keep that fire burning. 

Forged of a hotter fire. That's me, that's you and that's millions of Texans from her very first people of ten milennia ago to the guy next door who just arrived from California and is now a Texan by choice. Bonded by an insatiable desire for freedom and a fierce yearning for independence, we are all the children of the damnedest lady you ever saw. 

By the Grace of God, we are Texans.

God Bless Texas!

Monday, December 24, 2012

'Twas the Night Before Christmas - The Classic

'Tis the day before Christmas and all through the place,
Everyone woke with a smile on his face,
Outdoors there's snow on the ground,
Ready to welcome the Man who is round,
The children, all happy, are dancing about,
Greeting the day with a squeal and a shout,
With Yuletide chores that we still must do,
We wish you the best, Merry Christmas to you!

I just made that up. :) It serves as a prelude to the real deal. The timeless poem that has been part of the American Christmas Tradition for almost two hundred years. With that, I happily and merrily present to you, dear friend, a Christmas Classic.

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads.
And Mama in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap.
When out on the roof there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
tore open the shutter, and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
gave the lustre of midday to objects below,
when, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
but a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer.
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles, his coursers they came,
and he whistled and shouted and called them by name:
"Now Dasher! Now Dancer!
Now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid!
On, Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch!
To the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away!
Dash away all!"
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
when they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky
so up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
with the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
the prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head and was turning around,
down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
and his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
and he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes--how they twinkled! His dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
and the beard on his chin was as white as the snow.
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
and the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
that shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
and I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
and filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
and giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, 'ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"
bells I got this copy of the poem from Click the link and scroll past the poem to the bottom of the page and there's a nice little history of the Yuletide standard.

To all of you, I wish the Merriest of Christmases. May God bless you and your loved ones with happiness and prosperity for all your days.

Feliz Navidad,

Sunday, December 23, 2012

'Twas the Night Before Christmas - Texas Style

On Bubba and Leroy and Jim Bob and Gus

'Twas the night before Christmas, in Texas, you know.  
 Way out on the prairie, without any snow.  
 Asleep in their cabin, were Buddy and Sue,  
 A dreamin' of Christmas, like me and you.  
 Not stockings, but boots, at the foot of their bed,  
 For this was Texas, what more need be said,  
 When all of a sudden, from out of the still night,  
 There came such a ruckus, it gave me a fright.  
 And I saw 'cross the prairie, like a shot from a gun,  
 A loaded up buckboard, come on at a run,  
 The driver was "Geein" and "Hawin", with a will,  
 The horses (not reindeer) he drove with such skill.  
 "Come on there Buck, Poncho, & Prince, to the right,  
 There'll be plenty of travelin' for you all tonight."  
 The driver in Levi's and a shirt that was red,  
 Had a ten-gallon Stetson on top of his head.  
 As he stepped from the buckboard, he was really a sight,  
 With his beard and moustache, so curly and white.  
 As he burst in the cabin, the children awoke,  
 And were so astonished, that neither one spoke.  
 And he filled up their boots with such presents galore,  
 That neither could think of a single thing more.  
 When Buddy recovered the use of his jaws,  
 He asked in a whisper, "Are you really Santa Claus?"  
 "Am I the real Santa? Well, what do you think?"  
 And he smiled as he gave a mysterious wink.  
 Then he leaped in his buckboard, and called back in his drawl,  
 "To all the children in Texas, Merry Christmas, You-all"  

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus

Francis Pharcellus Church
With Christmas Eve just two days away, I wanted to be sure to get a couple of Christmas classics posted before The Big Day. This is as classic as it gets and is as timely today as it was over a century ago. It's a question that as children, we all faced at one time or another, "Is there a Santa Claus?" Do I believe in Santa Claus? As long as my little girls are little girls and my grand children are children, and if I'm lucky enough to live to see my great-grand children when they arrive, you damn right I believe in Santa Claus. Could billions of children around the world all be wrong? Of course not.  :)

Eight-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon wrote a letter to the editor of New York's Sun, and the quick response was printed as an unsigned editorial Sept. 21, 1897. The work of veteran newsman Francis Pharcellus Church has since become history's most reprinted newspaper editorial, appearing in part or whole in dozens of languages in books, movies, and other editorials, and on posters and stamps.
"DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
"Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
"Papa says, 'If you see it in THE SUN it's so.'
"Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?


VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

This article can be found on a million websites, but I chose to get it from an excellent site called Newseum. If you enjoy reading about history and would like to see what the news coverage of an event was at the time it
happened, Newseum is an absolute treasure chest of nuggets like this..

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

NJ Town Hit by Sandy Re-named "Oklahoma Gas & Electric" for a Day

Amidst all the talk of stuff like the fiscal cliff and the political scandals that tear at the very fabric of our great country, it's a welcome relief to get some good news to share with you on Lower 48 (Plus2).

Are you ready to feel good about your fellow Americans? Good. I am too.

One People

You'll find many friendly regional and state vs.state rivalries in the USA. Rivalries like Texas-Oklahoma, Ohio-Michigan and North vs.South. While many jabs are thrown back and forth in these engagements, they are generally friendly and at the end of the game, contest or competition, both sides are willing to sit down with the opposition and have a beer or break bread. The same can be said when disaster strikes.

My point is that in spite of whatever our differences may be, in a time of tragedy or emergency, there is no real animosity between groups of Americans. Our instinct is to bond together as One People and face adversity head on with a steely resolve and kick its ass.

Such is the case with Hurricane Sandy.


In the wake of tens of billions of dollars in damage and untold suffering and hardship from Hurricane Sandy, a happy story emerges from one of the hard hit areas of New Jersey.

A New Jersey city temporarily took on the name of a utility company to honor the work of its employees following Hurricane Sandy. 
OG&E, NJ for a Day

The city of Glen Rock temporarily renamed itself Oklahoma G&E, N.J., for a 24-hour period in honor of Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. crews who worked to restore power to the city after the October storm.

Mayor John van Keuren said the town's proclamation celebrated the workers' "great compassion and fortitude and graciousness while performing the repairs in an efficient way."

"Because the residents of Glen Rock appreciate the speed with which the OG&E crews responded to our need for power restoration, and because the residents of Glen Rock value the professionalism of their work," the proclamation reads. 

This story is a perfect example of what happens when our fellow Americans are confronted with hardship. The unaffected instinctively and immediately cast aside any variances that may contrast one part of the country with another, their focus and tenacity to overcome disaster directed squarely at the challenge at hand, laser-like in their intensity, compassionate in their execution.

One disaster. One People. One America.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas Shopping: A Curse on All Men

Here's a story I wrote two Christmases ago. It is as true today as it was then.

The photo warning above should have raise a large red flag for you. You ask, "What, pray tell, could have a man in such a sour mood at The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?" You wanna know what's got my Fruit of the Looms in a wad at The Most Wonderful Time of the Year? The Most Wonderful Time of the Year has my drawers all twisted up in a Palomar Knot, that's what!

Let me splain.

I went Christmas shopping again to day with my wife and Bailey the Three Year Old. Having spent the great majority of my adult life as a bachelor, and damn good one, I have done very little Christmas shopping over the past thirty-five years. The main reason for that is that I was always working somewhere far from my family. I never had enough time off to make a trip back home anywhere near feasible. So, I had no reason to do much Christmas shopping. Back then, nobody owned a computer, so online shopping was nonexistent. Now that online shopping is so easy and convenient, I'd rather do that than go all over town looking for the latest money wasting toy that one or both of my little girls must have or they will be cast asunder by their friends and classmates.

Before I go on any further, I gotta say up front that I HATE SHOPPING! I am a guy. If I need to go shopping for anything, I make a list, go in the store, grab the items on the list, pay and leave. I like it that way. My wife, on the other hand, is not quite that shopping-efficient. Over the last four and a half years that I have lived in Maine, I have tried every method known to mankind and a few others not yet made up, to get Heather to be a little more organized about shopping. I am an abject failure at trying to do so. I don't easily admit defeat, but I have given up on trying to make an efficient shopper out of my wife. I'd have better luck trying dig another Panama Canal with a teaspoon. Therefore, here I sit a defeated man.

I don't want to give you the wrong impression, I really do like Christmas a lot. Especially since I have two daughters young enough to enjoy all the guessing games, shaking the presents under the tree to see if they can "see" what's in the box and, of course, getting woke up at 4:00AM, preparing to stumble down the stairs to see what treasures Santa has delivered. I KNOW what Santa delivered(!) I have the register receipts to prove it! But, for the sake of my children, every Christmas Day, I wake up when they come into mine and Heather's bedroom sounding every bit like the Grambling Marching Band as they burst through the bedroom door. I love my kids and I would do anything I could to make them happy, so I jump out of bed, as best an arthritic middle aged man can do, and go downstairs to see all the Christmas goodies I am all too familiar with. There is one more major reason I have learned to be more actively involved with Christmas shopping. If I don't go when I am told to go, I will no longer be one with my gazebos. Heather promised me that. And after fifty-four years together, my gazebos and I have grown to be quite happy with the gazebo status quo.

Having said all that, I wish just once, that my gazebos and I could sleep in on Christmas Morning without the threat of a gazebo-ectomy looming large. Until then, I stand a conquered man, gazebos thankfully intact.

Veteran Makes Christmas Merry for Soldiers

Christmas Across the State***
I wrote this piece two years ago, but it as timely today, if not more so, as it was then. 

I have mentioned that when it comes to serving in or showing support of the United States Military, Mainers are second to none. Literally. Per capita, Maine has the highest percentage of active and retired veterans of all fifty states in the Union. I know that to be true because I have substantiated it before, I just can't remember where. So you gotta trust me on this one. Most of the people I know in Maine are members of Heather's family and off the top of my head, I can name seven men that have served or are serving as I type this, and that's just a small part of her family. I know that's a bit anecdotal, but it also is representative of the larger group,the total population of the state.

Your average enlisted man/woman in the military is not exactly raking in the dough. Sure, they get some good benefits, but many of our bravest also have families to take care of. In a trying economy, like we are currently experiencing, it's all the more difficult to make ends meet for service members.

There is an organization here in Augusta that is a beacon of hope for military personnel during the Christmas season. I discovered an article in the Lewiston-Auburn area newspaper the Sun Journal that tells the story of Christmas Across the State and the man behind it, Kerry Birmingham, himself a Viet Nam Vet.

"We've been doing this for well over a decade," said Birmingham, who oversees a Maine National Guard program that grants Christmas wishes for needy military families. "We've never seen so many."
Last year, "Christmas Across the State" helped about 60 military families with presents, he said. This year, the number of requests could reach 80.
Daniel Hartill, a Staff Writer for the Sun Journal, gets the props for a job well done for bringing Christmas Across the State to the attention of the masses. Read the entire article on the Sun Journal web site.

Isn't that article a perfect example of selflessness, patriotism and a damn fine man? Daniel, again I thank you for your work in bringing this to the fore, and to Mr.Birmingham, I salute you, Sir, for your service to our country and for your continuing efforts to make sure our Bravest and Finest young people are looked after during the Christmas Holiday. God bless you and may God continue to bless the United States of America.

I'm sure that there is an organization similar to "Christmas Across the State" where you live, so please consider lending them your support. Thanks.

Merry Christmas!
***Photo shamelessly swiped from the Sun Journal ***

Friday, December 14, 2012

Christmas Across America: Christmas Movies to Watch Online

Watching Christmas movies with your family is a nice way to spend an evening together during this time of year. I did a little internet sleuthing and I came across this particular list that features some of the all time Christmas Classics and some of the dumbest movies ever made. Since being generous is a yuletide mandate, I'll be nice and just post the list without any of my own commentary, instead relying on the opinion of whoever reviewed them. They are all available for free online, so unaltered, here's the list:

That's a diverse list of movies, so you can watch any or all of them at your leisure. There are a few more movies on this link to that would require some extra "egg nog" to actually sit through, so use your own discretion.  :)  Merry Christmas, y'all.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christmas Across America: The True Story of St. Nicholas

Less than two weeks from today, we will celebrate the birth of the Son of Man. In honor of this Holy Day, I wanted to pay tribute to a disciple of Jesus whose name we speak on a regular basis at this time of year, but how much do we really know about this man, a true Son of God? This wonderful and great man was born into a wealthy family, yet with the death of his parents, he did not use his wealth for himself to gain power and influence, instead he became a priest and did with his fortune that which would please and glorify God. He traveled all over the country of  his birth, helping the needy, especially children. This man, being a priest, never married and had children of his own, but he loved them all as if he was the father of each one, much as Jesus did.

I found a very good story on the life of this servant of the Lord, and I wanted to share it with you, in hopes that you'll, in turn, share it with someone else, maybe a child. You see, this man was later canonized as the Patron Saint of Children and Sailors (because of his concern for ships and sailors). Without further delay, I present to you....

                                        The  Story of St. Nicholas

A Christmas stocking refers to an empty sock or sock-shaped bag that children hang on Christmas Eve in the belief that it is to be filled with presents by Santa Claus. The gifts are generally of a small nature, consisting generally of small toys, goodies like candies and fruits, coins or other such items that are often referred to as stocking stuffers or stocking fillers. The bigger gifts are wrapped in present papers and placed near the Christmas tree.

St NicholasThe tradition of Christmas stockings is said to have originated from the actions of a kind noble man named Nicholas, who was born in 280 AD, in Patara, a city of Lycia, in Asia Minor. While still young, his wealthy parents died in an epidemic. A true follower of Jesus Christ's principles, Nicholas became a Christian priest and used all his riches to help the poor, the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life in the service of God and was made Bishop of Myra at a young age. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his kindness and generosity. A true celibate, Nicholas never married and had no children of his own. But he loved children greatly and often gave gifts to the kids of his hometown. This is why, he became known as the gift giver of Myra. A rich man, he traveled across the country helping people, giving gifts of money and other presents. However, Nicholas always gave his gifts late at night, so that his identity would remain a secret. He did not like to be seen when he gave away presents, so the children of the day were told to go to sleep quickly or he would not come! Nicholas was eventually named the patron saint of children and sailors (because of his concern for sailors and ships) and came to be known as Saint Nicholas.

Through the centuries many stories and legends have been told of Saint Nicholas' life and deeds. One popular account tells us of a poor peasant who lived happily in a small cottage in Patara, Saint Nicholas' hometown, with his wife and three daughters. But their happiness was short-lived when the wife suddenly died of an illness one day, leaving the poor man and his three daughters in despair. All the burden of household chores now fell upon the daughters while their father trudged on with his life with a heavy heart.

When the daughters reached a marriageable age, the poor father became even more depressed for he knew he could in no way marry them off to good men. In those days a young woman's father had to offer prospective husbands something of value - a dowry. Without a dowry, this poor man's daughters were unlikely to marry. The helpless father looked around desperately for some solution while her daughters did their own cooking, sewing and cleaning.

Meanwhile, Saint Nicholas had come to know of the poor peasant and his daughters. Knowing the financial condition of the father, the kindly saint decided to help him. But he wanted to do this secretly. So he went to the peasant's house one night with a bag of gold and waited for the family to go to bed before he could throw the bag through the open cottage window.

That night, after finishing their washing for the day, the daughters had hung their stockings by the fireplace to dry. Little did they know that their benefactor was hiding nearby, waiting for them to go to sleep. A little later, as they turned of the lamps and fell asleep, St. Nicholas tiptoed to the cottage window and peeked inside. In the light of the moon, he saw the daughters' stockings hanging close to his reach. He carefully put in his bag of gold in one of the stockings and went away as stealthily as he came.

When the father found the bag the next morning and opened it, he was ecstatic. There was enough gold in the stocking to pay for the dowry of one daughter. It seemed like a godsend to him. Who could have sent it, he wondered. With this timely gift the father was able to provide for his eldest daughter and saw that she got married to a nice groom.

On another night Saint Nicholas set off with one more bag of gold, and threw it carefully into another stocking, so that the second daughter was provided for.

When his daughters excitedly brought the bag to their father the following morning and opened it, he could not believe his eyes. With this gift the father was able to marry off his second daughter too.

But by this time, the father had grown eager to discover his mysterious benefactor, and next night he kept on the lookout. Then, for the third time Saint Nicholas came with a bag of gold upon his back and walked on to the window. The old lord at once recognized his fellow townsman. He fell on his knees before the kindly Bishop, cried out in joy and gratitude and thanked him with all his heart. With his blessings of Saint Nicholas, the poor father was able to see his three daughters get married. He lived a long and happy life thereafter.

And this is how the tradition of Christmas stockings is said to have started in the European countries. It is also believed that Santa Claus is actually an alteration of this same Saint Nicholas, Santa standing for Saint and Claus for Nicholas.

Since then children have been hanging Christmas stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting for gifts from Santa Claus. Originally, children simply used one of their everyday socks, but with time special Christmas stockings were created for this purpose. Today, Christmas stockings of a wide variety of styles and sizes can be found in gift stores across countries. There are also special Christmas stockings available in the market.

In modern culture, Christmas stockings are also a popular homemade craft. Some families design unique stockings for each family member. Many families create their own Christmas stockings stitching the name of each family member to the stocking so that Santa knows which stocking belongs to which family member.

In some countries, the contents of the Christmas stocking are the only gifts that a child receives at Christmas from Santa Claus. Western Christmas tradition dictates that a child who behaves badly during the year will not get a gift in their Christmas stocking and will receive a piece of coal instead.

In many places, the Christmas stocking is to be stuffed by a gift that will stimulate the five sensory organs. Traditional celebrations of Christmas demand that the stocking be hung on the fireplace mantel. However, since many contemporary homes do not have fireplaces, stockings are hung in almost any location.

Today, children all over the world continue the tradition of hanging Christmas stockings. Kids of all nations look forward to Christmas and when the stockings are hung, they know the most anticipated time of the year is not far behind. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Big Apple is Big on Christmas

Awixa Castle at Christmas
New York City is arguably the premier city in the world. The Big Apple is home to Wall Street, Broadway, Times Square and, as Huey Lewis sang, "you can do a half a million things all at a quarter to three". During this time of year, Rockefeller Center is lit up like it's high noon with a giant tree decorated to the nines. I am not too familiar with NYC, but I am sure that there are a thousand other such things going on. A little Google Fu led me to a place on Long Island called Awixa Castle.

The original deed on the land that Awixa Castle sits on, dates back over 400 years authorized by Queen Anne of England. The Castle itself didn't come to fruition until the early 20th Century. In 1999, a guy bought the place and it was in disrepair, so he decided to fix it up. And he did. Now a days, Awixa Castle is used for various charitable events a few times a year. In addition, at Christmas time, the castle is transformed into a magical lighted fantasy land, with over 250,000 lights on over three acres of land.

Here's a video interview with Joe Weiss, the owner of the castle. Throughout the interview, you'll get to see various mini - displays within the big display. It's quite a sight to behold.

You can find several more photos and with a little site navigation, you'll also see and learn quite a bit about Awixa Castle.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

13 Yiddish Words for Christmas!

My quest for more knowledge about Judaism, Hanukkah specifically, has taken me down an accidental path to Christmas. "Wait a minute!", you shout silently in your mind. "Hanukkah and Christmas? But..."

Exactly! But.....

Allow me to fill you in.

The Accidental Path

I was reading through my Twitter timeline when a particular Tweet stood out like a core thumb:

13 Yiddish words for Christmas!  Delightful! Would hate to see Yiddish disappear.

I was kicking around some ideas for a post about Hanukkah when I saw The Tweet. It was love at first sight, a perfect subject for today's post - a "marriage" of the Jewish and Christian cultures for this Holiday season. Thirteen Yiddish words for Christmas! 

Oy vey!

The 13 Words  

I'll post a few of The Words and link you to the rest of the list.
  • 1. Bupkes (Loose definition: Nothing, nada, usually used to express disappointment)
    Example: “All those naughty boys and girls? Getting bupkes this year.”
    2. Schmutz (Loose definition: Dirt, filth)
    Example: “I put down that half-eaten candy cane for just, like, 20 seconds and now I have all this sticky schmutz all over my desk.”
    3. Chazerai (Loose definition: Miscellaneous stuff, junk; the “ch” is more a rolled “kh” with a gentle, little throat-clearing sound; click to hear it)
    Example: “The real Christmas miracle? That that sled ever takes off, what with all that chazerai weighing it down.”

The list of the remaining ten Yiddish words for Christmas can be found at

Be sure to amaze your Jewish friends with your encyclopedic knowledge of the Yiddish vocabulary! Even if your "encyclopedic knowledge" is only thirteen words. 

Chag Hanukka Sameach.

Merry Christmas!

Christmas Across America: Minnesota

As we get a little bit closer to Christmas each day and as I do more posts on heavy duty Christmas light displays, I am more astounded each day at what I see. Today is no exception.

Tim and Cathy Fischer live in the suburbs of the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Tim and Cathy are also light gurus. Through the use of my extraordinary Google Fu, I tracked down the Fischers' web site and I just knew I had stumbled upon something very special. The Fischers have tons and tons of information on their site not just about their Christmas light display, but links to other light gurus around the country, an FAQ section, the history of their display and several more links to a lot of other information. Give the site a look when you've got a little down time. You'll thank me later.

You'll want to click this link to view photos and this link to see videos of one of the best Christmas light displays ever! One of the, if not THE best, reasons Tim and Cathy go through so much hard work on their display each year, is that they simply love Christmas and it's true meaning. And...they just plain ole like doin' it! And, believe you me, their passion for Christmas shows in the intricate detail in the light show.

Don't just take my word for it, scoot on over to and see for your self. If you're lucky enough to have children or grand children around your house, they'll LOVE spending a little bit with Mom and/or Dad watching the Fischers' passion and dedication to their Christmas light display come to life! 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Christmas Across America: Christmas-y Town Names

You have read several posts on this blog featuring towns with odd names. We have been to DingDong, Texas, Boring, Oregon and Gas, Kansas. Don't forget  Greasy, Oklahoma, Lickskillet, Ohio and Oniontown, Pennsylvania, they  have also been destinations in our never-ending search for the oddest town names in the country. Today we will follow that basic theme, except instead of  odd town names, we are on the lookout for Christmas-y town names. As a matter of fact, I just happen to have a list of them right here! This list proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that America is a Christmas-y Kind of Place.

                                                                 The List

  • Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Michigan and Mississippi are home to Christmas, while you can find Christmas City in Utah, Christmas Cove, Maine, Christmas Valley, Oregon and Christmasville, Tennessee.
  • Santa Claus has a home in Arizona, Georgia and Indiana.
  • If you are looking for Rudolph, you might visit South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas or Wisconsin.
  • A few other of Santa's reindeer have towns named after them too. Comet is well-represented in several states - Arkansas, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia.
  • Cupid is in Nebraska.
  • Dasher is a Georgia Peach.
  • You'll have to travel to Louisiana to find Vixen.
  • California, Florida and Louisiana brag about Donner being in their state.
  • Oregon may have Boring, but it also lists Blitzen on its maps.
If you're interested in finding more American towns and cities with festive names, you can find a Santa's Toy Bag full of them right here .

Feliz Navidad, y'all.

***Photo from***

Hanukkah and the Dreidel

Today is Yom Bet, 26th Kislev, 5773, Hanukkah on the Hebrew calendar.

As I mentioned yesterday, my knowledge of Judaism and its customs is very limited in scope. However, I have always known of the dreidel. I know that the dreidel is a sort of top, a spinning toy not unlike the tops I played with as a child. I did not and do not, however, know the significance of the dreidel in relation to Hanukkah, but I am about to find out.


What is a Dreidel?  

Dreidel is a Yiddish word that comes from the German word "drehen," which means “to turn.” In Hebrew the dreidel is called a "sevivon," which comes from the root "savov" and also means "to turn."

A dreidel has one Hebrew letter on each side. Outside of Israel, those letters are: נ (Nun), ג (Gimmel), ה (Hay) and ש (Shin), which stand for the Hebrew phrase "Nes Gadol Haya Sham." This phrase means "A great miracle happened there [in Israel]."
After the State of Israel was founded in 1948 the Hebrew letters were changed for dreidels used in Israel. They became: נ (Nun), ג (Gimmel), ה (Hay) and פ (Pey), which stand for the Hebrew phrase "Nes Gadol Haya Po." This means "A great miracle happened here."

Thanks to for that information

The Dreidel and Hanukkah tells us:

The significance of the dreidel, the four-sided top with Hebrew letters on each side, however, is not as clear. Some suggest that the dreidel was invented at the time of the Syrian-Greek decrees against the Jewish people. One of the prohibitions was the study of Torah. Fearlessly, the Jews continued teaching and studying Torah in secret. Should a Greek soldier appear, they would hide their books, pull out tops and play with the children.

That, in a nutshell, is the story of the dreidel and its importance to Hanukkah

Chag Hanukka Sameach.




Sunday, December 9, 2012

Miracles: Day 2 of Hanukkah

Although for the last few days we at The Lower 48 (Plus 2) have been celebrating Christmas Across America, we would also like to celebrate with our Jewish friends The Festival of Lights, or Hanukkah, marking the re dedication of the Second Temple (Holy Temple) in Jerusalem in the 2nd Century BC Revolution of the Maccabees.

While I am Catholic, I humbly recognize that the roots of my Church are undeniably planted in the Faith of Moses, Catholicism and Judaism being different branches of the same tree.

Today is Day 2 of Hanukkah. Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha'olam, asher qiddeshanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu lehadliq ner shel Hanukkah. (Blessed are You, LORD, our God, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to kindle the Hanukkah light[s).

הנרות הללו אנחנו מדליקים על הנסים ועל הנפלאות ועל התשואות ועל המלחמות שעשית לאבותינו בימים ההם, בזמן הזה על ידי כהניך הקדושים. וכל שמונת ימי חנוכה הנרות הללו קודש הם, ואין לנו רשות להשתמש בהם אלא להאיר אותם בלבד כדי להודות ולהלל לשמך הגדול על נסיך ועל נפלאותיך ועל ישואותיך. ( We light these lights for the miracles and the wonders, for the redemption and the battles that you made for our forefathers, in those days at this season, through your holy priests. During all eight days of Hanukkah these lights are sacred, and we are not permitted to make ordinary use of them except for to look at them in order to express thanks and praise to Your great Name for Your miracles, Your wonders and Your salvations.)

If you, like me, have a very limited knowledge of Judaism, the links in this post will open your eyes and your heart to its beauty. Please take a moment to click on them and allow the Light of God to shine upon your soul.

Chag Hanukka Sameach.


***Photos courtesy of Monkey in the Middle***

Friday, December 7, 2012

Christmas Across America: A Small White Envelope (Watery Eyes Alert)

While cruisin' the internet for some Christmas material suitable for posting, I found s collection of Christmas stories, not from some famous writer, but just plain folks. Like you. Like me. I was drawn to one story in particular, a story called "A Small White Envelope". I am a better man for having read it. "A Small White Envelope" is a true story, plainly written, but every last word of it comes from the heart...because the writer is telling a tale that she was a part of, not something contrived or hastily thought out. The message of "A Small White Envelope" is a familiar, yet timeless one. It is a testament to a family who took the Meaning of Christmas and actually practiced it.
                                      A Small White Envelope

It's just a small, white envelope stuck among the branches of our Christmas tree. No name, no identification, no inscription. It has peeked through the branches of our tree for the past 10 years or so.
It all began because my husband Mike hated Christmas---oh, not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it- overspending... the frantic running around at the last minute to get a tie for Uncle Harry and the dusting powder for Grandma---the gifts given in desperation because you couldn't think of anything else.
Knowing he felt this way, I decided one year to bypass the usual shirts, sweaters, ties and so forth. I reached for something special just for Mike. The inspiration came in an unusual way.
Our son Kevin, who was 12 that year, was wrestling at the junior level at the school he attended; and shortly before Christmas, there was a non-league match against a team sponsored by an inner-city church, mostly black. These youngsters, dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing holding them together, presented a sharp contrast to our boys in their spiffy blue and gold uniforms and sparkling new wrestling shoes. As the match began, I was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling without headgear, a kind of light helmet designed to protect a wrestler's ears. It was a luxury the ragtag team obviously could not afford. Well, we ended up walloping them. We took every weight class. And as each of their boys got up from the mat, he swaggered around in his tatters with false bravado, a kind of street pride that couldn't acknowledge defeat.
Mike, seated beside me, shook his head sadly, "I wish just one of them could have won," he said. "They have a lot of potential, but losing like this could take the heart right out of them."
Mike loved kids-all kids-and he knew them, having coached little league football, baseball and lacrosse. That's when the idea for his present came. That afternoon, I went to a local sporting goods store and bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church. On Christmas Eve, I placed the envelope on the tree, the note inside telling Mike what I had done and that this was his gift from me. His smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year and in succeeding years. For each Christmas, I followed the tradition---one year sending a group of mentally handicapped youngsters to a hockey game, another year a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home had burned to the ground the week before Christmas, and on and on.
The envelope became the highlight of our Christmas. It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning and our children, ignoring their new toys, would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents.
As the children grew, the toys gave way to more practical presents, but the envelope never lost its allure. The story doesn't end there.
You see, we lost Mike last year due to dreaded cancer. When Christmas rolled around, I was still so wrapped in grief that I barely got the tree up. But Christmas Eve found me placing an envelope on the tree, and in the morning, it was joined by three more.
Each of our children, unbeknownst to the others, had placed an envelope on the tree for their dad. The tradition has grown and someday will expand even further with our grandchildren standing around the tree with wide-eyed anticipation watching as their fathers take down the envelope. Mike's spirit, like the Christmas spirit, will always be with us.
May we all remember Christ, who is the reason for the season, and the true Christmas spirit this year and always. God bless. The End.

I rarely copy and paste a whole story or article because it's just bad manners at the least and plagiarizing at worst. I did not want to break up "A Small White Envelope" into pieces. I hope the author understands the reasoning behind my decision. I think he or she will and to him or her I'd like to say thank you for such a personal and touching story.

Merry Christmas and God bless you.

(hat tip to A Wharton Texas Christmas)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Christmas Across America: Anticipating the Big Day with My Little Girls

A child is born...

I wrote the following post two Christmases ago for one of my other blogs. As a matter of fact, that blog, Three States Plus One is the precursor to this one. 

Other than the dates and the ages of me and my kids, the story could have been written ten minutes ago. The more things change, the more they stay the same I am told.

If you have favorite Christmas story, please tell us about it in the comments. If you're a little comment-shy, email your tale to me at lower48plus2 AT gmail DOT com, and if you are cool with it, I'll post it for everyone to read.

I hope you enjoy my story. 

It's December 17 and the calendar continues on its unstoppable march to Christmas, 2010. I don't know about you but I have done more Christmas shopping with my wife over the past few weeks than I have ever done in my previous 53 years on this planet. I thought us old guys would be able to enjoy the dawn of our Sunset Years, spend a lot of time with our grand kids and take it easy during the Christmas season. That's before I went and married up with a younger woman and became the father to a new batch of kids who are younger than my grand children. I'm not complaining, mind you, I am speaking of the way the Good Lord does things His way and in such mysterious ways. Although my body says "ouch" quite often while shopping these days, my heart and mind say "thanks" and there seems to be a smile frozen on my face in anticipation of seeing the reactions of my two little girls, Issy, 8 and Bailey, 3 come Christmas Day. Then there's the inevitable mangling of the wrapping paper on their Christmas goodies. I haven't been an eyewitness to kids rippin' into Christmas presents in almost thirty years when my sons were children. Trey is now 31 and Toby is 28. See? It's been a while.

A couple of other things that I have noticed over the last several weeks are how Bailey goes ballistic when she sees some toy or another that she can't live without in a TV commercial and the afternoon inventory of presents under the tree about 3:15 each day after school when Issy gets off the bus. She looks over those presents like a pitbull looks at a T-bone. The intense scrutiny of her observant blue eyes never misses even the smallest change in number or appearance of those gifts. And like that pitbull slobberin' over a medium rare steak, Issy is poised to lay waste to any and all wrapping paper and/or boxes within reach. Ah, the exuberance of youth.

Bailey on the other hand, is constantly reminding us of which toys she deems fit to be hers as the toy commercials play on TV. We are lucky to have cable TV which features about 7 or 8 hundred kids' channels, each one with a different set of toy commercials to taunt and tantalize children to the point of near-hysteria. "Daddy, look!" or "Daddy, I want that!" are the most used phrases in the English language this month at our house. As I type this, what happens right on cue? A toy commercial comes on during Spongebob and Bailey shouts "Mama, I want that!" The kid has impeccable timing. If I were rich instead of handsome (that's what my Dad used to say), I'd own half of Toys R Us and damn near all of Walmart's toy inventory. Alas, I am handsome.  :)

Being the father of two young children at 54 years old holds challenges aplenty, to be sure, but those challenges are far outweighed by the rewards that only children can give - neverending smiles, laughter on the spur of the moment when we least expect it, unconditional love and ulcers. OK, I made that last part up. I have been blessed by God with the two little girls that He had planned for me long ago, when the only plan I had was to go fishin' or take a trip to the casino. Yup, the Good Lord knows exactly when to clobber us with a clue by 4 when the timing is juuussstt right. Like Crocodile Dundee said, "Me and God. We be mates". I couldn't have said it better myself.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Christmas Across America: Colorado Springs

Christmas in the Rockies

Colorado Springs is one of my favorite places in Colorado. Pikes Peak looms 14,000 feet plus over the city to the west and it's just a couple of reindeer jumps to Santa's Workshop on the road to Garden of the Gods. The Springs is situated in an environment that is perfect for celebrating Christmas. Moiuntain, snow, Santa's Worshop...what more could you ask for?

Folks like Kevin and Linda Pickett utilize their Christmas-y setting in Colorado Springs to it's maximum effect. You see, the Picketts, like many other area residents get into the Christmas Spirit every year, but Kevin and Linda take the season a little more seriously than most other people. Sure they decorate their home for Christmas just like millions of other Americans, with lights, yard displays and other Yuletide gizmos. It's just that the Picketts use over 100,000 lights and a sleigh full of technically enhanced Christmas scenes. It is absolutely out of this world! They have the lights and various animated scenes in their yard sync'd to music play over their very own low power FM radio station!  Click here to access the Picketts' web site and see for yourself. I'm as serious as dandruff, it's nuts! In a good way, of course. Once on their home page, you can click links to a photographic history and evolution of the annual Christmas extravaganza. They even have videos of it as it was featured on the Big 3 TV networks! There are also links to other people in the United States who are what Kevin calls 'light gurus" and the "above average" displays they have put together.

This is one of the best Christmas things I have ever seen. The web site has some of the most incredible content of any such web site in the world. Drop by Kevin and Linda's site, sign their guest book and take some time to really check out the place. You'll thank me later.

Merry Christmas!