2011 Year-End Meme

And when is there time to remember, to sift, to weigh, to estimate, to total?
~ Tillie Olsen

The objective of this meme is to reflect back upon the year. Flip through your blog and look at the very first entry for each month. Take the first sentence from that entry. Cluster them into a single post (as seen below) and tag other friends so that they might do the same.

I've done this several years in a row now, often tagging friends' blogs and encouraging them to do the same. I think Facebook and other social sites have replaced the home blogger. It's a pity.

January 1, 2011
A new year has arrived.

February 8, 2011
The stark grey sky outside my living room window is silhouetted by moisture-blacked branches; both blizzards have bypassed us, leaving only ice and freezing rain in their wake.

March 4, 2011
The Knocking Thrush is my "nature blog" and contains posts regarding my nature and garden exploits, and can be found at http://thrush.blogspot.com.

April 12, 2011
An online friend (and my favorite hero) started blogging: Journey of My Heart.

May 29, 2011
One of my old friends (whom I am currently very angry with) has a fluid way of retelling his adventures.

June 29, 2011
Obviously, I haven’t visited here in a while; Facebook usurped every joule of my lingering blogging energies.

July 1, 2011
My birthday began at 2 AM – the Meowing Menace of Pembroke took it upon herself to herald in the new day by prowling the halls and bedroom, moaning and grinding against the bed like a feverish crack whore in need of a fix.

August 11, 2011
What a summer!

Sept 2011

October 8, 2011
A composer-based photography challenge!

November 10, 2011
I don’t have pet peeves. I have whole kennels of irritation. I bring it upon myself, of course, by adopting them, feeding them and taking them for walks.

December 22, 2011
Better Half and I visited Phipps this evening and enjoyed the Candlelight Evening and Winter Flower Show.

- fin -

Christmas: Phipps Candlelight Evening

Better Half and I visited Phipps this evening and enjoyed the Candlelight Evening and Winter Flower Show.

With seasonal blooms, twinkling lights, aromatic greens, and other adornments, our 1893 Victorian glasshouse has been transformed into a winter wonderland complete with whimsical scenes where the Sugar Plum Fairy, toy soldiers and princely nutcrackers enchant visitors of every age.

Upon entering the Conservatory, you will be dazzled by elegant swags with brightly-colored bows and festive arrangements, while “Polar Bear” poinsettias, “Merry Christmas” amaryllis and “Glacier” ivy deck the halls as you ascend to Palm Court – a magical place where chandeliers, a grandfather clock and portrait frames made almost entirely of plants will be featured in a lavish mansion scene.

It was as beautiful as promised, from the outside and all through within. We’ve never been to the conservatory in the evening and it was a delightful thrill seeing things “anew” under evening’s cloak.

Koch High School’s string quartet greeted us in the Palm Court. They were grouped in front of the first of many spectacular trees.

The Serpentine Room was a world’s tour of themed trees, each touching upon a country. We especially loved the Russian, Asian and Spanish Dance trees.

The Fern Room and Orchid Room are absolutely glorious at night.

We love the “butterfly room”, but this isn’t the time of year for them. The Stove Room was, instead, a wandering journey over candlelit paths and past tinkling water.

The trains were set up in the South Conservatory. We watched them working on these displayers early last fall. Children (and Better Half) were delighted by the moving trains and miniature villages.

They didn’t do very much to the Tropical Forest Conservatory (thank goodness). The plants were illuminated by small rustic lights, and each waterway or fall became a living creature rushing past in the twilight lurking just off the trail.

Santa was not in the Gallery this evening but there was plenty of evidence that he enjoyed visiting. A beautiful sleigh was nestled between more lively trees, watched over by a trio of bears.

Thoughtful volunteers tended to every facet of the building, adding holiday cheer to each nook, corner and wall. Clever nutcrackers, Rat Kings, trees made entirely of vermilions enticed the eyes to investigate everything closer.

Even the Sunken Room, normally filled with water and straight lines, became a whimsical playplace.

The Desert Room did not disappoint.

And the Victoria Room contained a massive tree with brilliant lights that twinkled in the reflective water surrounding it.

The Paterre de Broderie was tastefully done, although it still grieves me that I can’t see the exquisite details on the statues at the very rear of the garden.

One of the most playful rooms, the East Room, was a Land of Sweets delight. A massive gingerbread house stole the show, standing several feet high and festooned with fresh fruits.

I’m very glad that we went. It helped to lift some of my depression, and made for a charming change of pace.

Some odds and ends from along the way...


Regarding Social Network Sites, Holidays and Small-mindedness

My Facebook Friends come from all over the world, brightening my life daily. Some of their friends have left some fairly harsh comments, however.

A ham-fisted approach is reserved for certain topics. People offer their opinions as tactfully as Frankenstein’s monster swinging a bloated corpse at cobwebs; sooner or later the cadaver’s distended belly will strike something solid and splatter putrescence all over the screen.

I ducked some fairly rank ichor the other morning regarding the use of “Happy Holidays” in place of “Merry Christmas”.

There was an unassuming pile of squelchy poo lurking near a holiday trees posting. All seemed safe until I made the mistake of looking at ALL the comments and beheld Golgothan.

What follows are my observations. They are entirely my personal opinion. I do not expect anyone to agree with me. In fact, I am human enough to understand that my own cynical view is offensive to some people.

Wasn’t that easy?

Regarding views expressed on Social Networking Sites

Free Speech and Christianity:
I draw the line at mockery of a person’s religion. Why do some people feel it is socially (and psychologically) acceptable to shit upon another person's heart-treasure?

No one is telling you, me or anyone to believe in the Christian God. We should agree with the belief or else we should disagree with it, accept that we do not believe in it, accept that the other person deeply believes, and then move on. Any negative reaction (such as posts referring to a sacred deity as “stupid Sky Fairy”) will depict the writer as trifling and their emotional state as puerile.

By the way, I don’t approve of “Zombie Jesus” references at Eastertide. The quickest way to be booted from my circle is to post something so insensitive. You aren’t clever or witty. I have difficulty making the distinction between that vulgarity and the filth promoted by Westboro Baptist (“God hates soldiers” fame).

It is my belief that people who use phrases such as “zombie Jesus” or “sky fairy” do so because they do not realize how offense such phrases are or they do so because they understand the offensive nature of the phrases but find humor in them. Some even use them in an attempt to shock or punish those who hold the belief. (Any theories on this?) It is also my belief that people who use these sorts of phrases when describing a sacred thing are nothing more than bigots or bullies.

Merry Christmas or Else:
“Merry” is O.E. myrige, meaning “pleasing”, stemming from P.Gmc murgijaz, which is believed to have means “short lived”. It was used more extensively in M.E., somewhat embraced as a fad. Someone who is merry-begot is an illegitimate child (“bastard”) created after a merry-bout (tryst outside of marriage). To wish someone a merry anything, one must accept that they are wishing that person a brief yet agreeable or pleasant thing. I’ve always found it odd to wish someone a briefly satisfying holy day.

“Happy”, when alluding to events, is “turning out well” and first used as such in the late 14c. “Happy Hunting” (as one of my dear friends is fond of saying) is nothing more than “May your hunt turn out well”. Likewise, wishing someone Happy Christmas/Holidays is wishing that someone’s Christmas/Holidays turn out well.

The etymology of “holiday”, stems from the 1500s, earlier than haliday (c.1200), from Old English halidæg “holy day; Sabbath,” from halig “holy” + dæg “day”; in 14c meaning both “religious festival” and “day of recreation,” but pronunciation and sense diverged 16c. (etymologyonline.com)

Christmas, of course, stems from O.E. Christes mæsse (Christ’s mass) and is a nod towards Catholicism with “mass” (V.L. missa or “eucharistic service”.)

Christmastide (circa 1620s) was meant to be the period of holy days between Dec 25 and Jan 6 (Catholic Feast of the Nativity). “Blessed Christmastide, ye gentlemen”.

Yule is from a far older Norse word. "O.E. geol, geola "Christmas Day, Christmastide," from O.N. jol (pl.), a heathen feast, later taken over by Christianity, of unknown origin. The O.E. (Anglian) cognate giuli was the Anglo-Saxons' name for a two-month midwinter season corresponding to Roman December and January, a time of important feasts but not itself a festival. After conversion to Christianity it narrowed to mean "the 12-day feast of the Nativity" (which began Dec. 25), but was replaced by Christmas by 11c., except in the northeast (areas of Danish settlement), where it remained the usual word. Revived 19c. by writers to mean "the Christmas of 'Merrie England.' " First direct reference to the Yule log is 17c. O.N. jol seems to have been borrowed in O.Fr. as jolif, hence Mod.Fr. joli "pretty, nice," originally "festive"." (etymologyonline.com)

X-Mas takes Christ out of Christmas:
Xmas is circa 1551, "from X’temmas, wherein the X is an abbreviation for Christ in Christmas, from first letter of Gk. Christos "Christ" (see Christ). The earlier way to abbreviate it was Xp- or Xr-, corresponding to "Chr-," and the form Xres mæsse for "Christmas" appears in the "Anglo-Saxon Chronicle" (c.1100)." (etymologyonline.com)

Outspoken Atheists:
Every year, my atheist ex would walk out his front door on a fair-weather Saturday, gaze around at the other men untangling lights or hauling plastic Santa Claus decorations from their garages, and he'd good-humoredly shout "PEWF!" while waving his arms wildly at his own house. His lack of decorations reflected his contentment to keep Dec 25 as a day set aside for sleeping in. He was not an Outspoken Atheist. He was simply an atheist.

There isn’t anything wrong with not celebrating the season. I do think it’s crass to use the “spiritual holiday time” as an excuse to tell Sally Housewife or John Q Public that personal belief in the “sky fairy” is stupid.

The American Atheists had billboard campaigns for the purpose of waging “a war on intolerance and ignorance” (according to the AA website). I find it hard to believe that a group which proclaims itself as authoritative on Reason would so completely fail to recognize that their billboards smack of intolerance of religious beliefs and ignorance of the multi-cultural aspect of our nation.

But it is my RIGHT!
There is such a thing as being so open-minded that the brain leaks out. I don’t believe in political correctness but I do advocate tempering beliefs with a salubrious dollop of appropriate etiquette.

Human rights should never cease to be egalitarian. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights exists for a reason. Perhaps people confuse Freedom of Speech (Article 19 ) with Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Freedom of Religion (Article 18)?

It is good and proper that people be given the right to express themselves but that expression should not reach the point where their intolerant spirit conflicts with the right of another to hold dear his own beliefs. One can freely express their beliefs if time is taken to do so logically (and conscientiously!)

Consider the following examples:
“I don’t believe in God so I don’t celebrate Easter.” vs “Zombie Jebus is going to visit the Christians and shit chocolate eggs for them.”

“My religious beliefs, in accordance with Holy Scripture, are that marriage is between one man and one woman.” vs “God hates fags.”

“Sharia law confuses me. Why are the women required to wear that covering?” vs “Stupid raghead men keep women in oppression.”

Life is not Twitter; no one wants to hear our every utterance or ephemeral thought. Facebook is more “In Your FACE!” We set ourselves up as gods and then grow irritated when our disgruntled audience declines to bow to our mortality, and more irate when they dare to assert their own godhood via unaccommodating comments on our post!

In other words, “we ain’t all that and a bag of chips”.

Pet Peeves

I don’t have pet peeves. I have whole kennels of irritation. I bring it upon myself, of course, by adopting them, feeding them and taking them for walks.

 I saw the picture on Facebook and had to add my own take.

Halloween 2011

Happy Halloween!

Better Half and I spent the evening watching television and handing out candy. When did we turn into our parents?

I keep some traditions from my childhood. Pumpkins should be gored and then mutilated into bread while their seeds toast in a hot oven. The bread came out of a box this year (boo hiss, flavorless) but I had fun with the carving.

We had a good turn-out of costumed candy fiends despite the rain and cold.

Some of the dogs were banished to the kitchen where they were less apt to annoy us with barking; Don't pity them. Both are evil. I don't know how to break them of their barking habit. It is obnoxious and they do it for no reason.

Better Half and Nutmeg manned the door. She was very well-behaved and stood by patiently while Better Half dropped candy into plastic bags and pillow cases. (A trick-or-treater asked Better Half what his costume was. He responded, "a stay at home dad". Fitting, considering he was wearing manky pajama bottoms and an ugly shirt. It would have been better if he said "crazy old veteran" but the kiddies wouldn't understand the joke.)

We ran out of candy and closed up shop at 8 PM. Better Half has promised to mail Mum's package tomorrow (and then cook smelts for me!)

It's 3:30 AM and I'm having a deja vu moment like none other, replete with the War of the Worlds radio broadcast that I listen to every year. I have no idea why the human brain experiences these but I will swear that I lived this moment before, perhaps in the fading tendrils of a departing dream. Meh. It lasted less than a minute but was vivid. Nifty.

Where was I?

Sammy crashed out most of the evening. (I was going in a different direction but the moment unnerved me. Am I asleep? Do I have brain cancer? What causes this ethereal weirdness and is it actually important that it be acknowledged? What if I don't mentally chant "deja vu, deja vu, deja vu" the next time it happens? Will the horrid things that are supposed to follow actually follow? Is the premonition nothing more than an anomaly of memory?)

Truth be told, there are some days where brain farts make better sense than the real world. There are also days where I wish I could pile all the couch pillows over my head and glare at passersby.

(Nobody does the glare as well as Zombie Zephyr.)

The War of the Worlds

The War of the Worlds.

There is no fictional work that stirs my imagination like H.G. Wells The War of the Worlds. Phenomenal book. However, the radio broadcast offered by Orson Welles  resonates deeply within me, sparking my imagination and taking me back in time to when modern technology was fresh and women still wore hats affixed to their hair with pins.

As described on one web site, "The War of the Worlds was an episode of the American radio drama anthology series Mercury Theatre on the Air. It was performed as a Halloween episode of the series on October 30, 1938 and aired over the Columbia Broadcasting System radio network. Directed and narrated by Orson Welles, the episode was an adaptation of H. G. Wells' novel The War of the Worlds.

The first two thirds of the 60-minute broadcast was presented as a series of simulated news bulletins, which suggested to many listeners that an actual Martian invasion was in progress. 
Compounding the issue was the fact that the Mercury Theatre on the Air was a 'sustaining show' (it ran without commercial breaks), thus adding to the dramatic effect. Although there were sensationalist accounts in the press about a supposed panic in response to the broadcast, the precise extent of listener response has been debated. In the days following the adaptation, however, there was widespread outrage. The program's news-bulletin format was decried as cruelly deceptive by some newspapers and public figures, leading to an outcry against the perpetrators of the broadcast, but the episode launched Orson Welles to fame.

Welles' adaptation was one of the Radio Project's first studies."

I love the old radio broadcasts. I think my father fostered that appreciation in me. The spoken word and few sound effects was enough to paint a vivid picture for the mind's eye. It was how people connected. It was how news was broadcast, music shared and stories spun. It was all done live. The world was a gentler, more-trusting place.

I read the H.G. Wells story as a child. I absolutely loved it; It absolutely terrified me. I then heard a radio broadcast (they played it every year in L.A.) and it unsettled me. However, my affair with the story began one fateful afternoon when the TV was on, Mum was busy on the phone, and I was left to my own devices.

This movie scared the shit out of me, and there really isn't any better way to phrase it. It was an absolute crapper moment. My eyes were glued to that old Zenith floor model as the alien ship sailed over the trees and scorched itself deep into my memory.

I was far too young to be watching it. To begin with, I wasn't potty trained yet. My toddler's mind later convinced me that the top of that damn space ship would somehow come out of drain if I flushed the toilet, ergo I would flush and run back to my room, vault onto my bed and pull covers or my pillow over my head. I did not want to die by horrible red sparks and I knew with every tender fiber of my young being that the camera part of that spaceship could get through any crack and enter my room soundlessly.

Years later the movie was remade and I love it even though it does not match the original movie or radio broadcast. Perhaps it is because the newer movie capitalized on those ships? They ceased to be flying tanks and became true instruments of violation; nothing was sacred, they moved just as silently as before, and death and terror were turbulent in their wake.

There are transcripts and recordings of Welles' broadcast. They are not played on Oct 30 anymore but I still hunt them down every year and listen. These are best listened to after the house has gone quiet for the night. Turn off the television, lower the lights and step back in time.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

Part Six

Part Seven

People were deeply frightened by this program. Some had tuned in late and did not realize it was fiction. Others were caught up in the story execution and their disbelief was momentarily suspended. It created an uproar.

It even pissed off the Canadians!

In the end, people were reassured that the world was not coming to an end. A monument was erected to honor the moment and life went on.

It's fitting that the radio broadcast should end with Welles speaking the following:

"This is Orson Welles, ladies and gentlemen, out of character to assure you that The War of The Worlds has no further significance than as the holiday offering it was intended to be: the Mercury Theatre's own radio version of dressing up in a sheet and jumping out of a bush and saying "Boo!" Starting now, we couldn't soap all your windows and steal all your garden gates by tomorrow night, so we did the best next thing. We annihilated the world before your very ears, and utterly destroyed the C. B. S. You will be relieved, I hope, to learn that we didn't mean it, and that both institutions are still open for business. So goodbye everybody, and remember, please, for the next day or so the terrible lesson you learned tonight: that grinning, glowing, globular invader of your living room is an inhabitant of the pumpkin patch, and if your doorbell rings and nobody's there, that was no Martian -- it's Halloween."