santa denied

This was not my day to show Christmas cheer.

This was to have been my last time to see the kids at Learning Way prior to the holiday break, and I wore my Santa hat for the occasion. But when I got to Regan’s class and saw a substitute teacher, I was saddened to hear that Regan had a death in the family. Rather than burden the sub with trying to figure out what to do with me, I just turned around and headed back to the newspaper.

Then, earlier today, a former co-worker from my brief sojourn in Lewisburg earlier this year – she’s now a college student out west – was on Facebook looking for a last-minute co-consipirator to help her deliver a holiday/birthday surprise to her father, who works in Shelbyville. I was looking forward to it, and put my shoes on ready to head out the door, but then she looked at the logistics and decided her plan wouldn’t work. and so my services weren’t needed.

So, bah humbug.

in the spirit of the season

The past three Christmases, I’ve recorded holiday recitations and sent out links to them by e-mail as “audio Christmas cards.” I meant to do another one this year but so far inspiration has not yet hit. There’s still time. But I thought that in the meantime, I’d post the still-active links from those first three readings. Merry Christmas.

melts in your mouth, not on the bulletin

I cannot wait to tell my father about the children’s sermon at First UMC this morning.

You have to understand that my father is a big M&Ms fan (as are we all, but in his case particularly so). He loves the M&Ms themselves and loves various dispensers and merchandise with the M&Ms characters on them. I gave him a heads up a couple months ago when a temporary pop-up M&Ms World store opened in Cleveland, Tenn. (Did you know M&Ms were manufactured in Cleveland? I didn’t, until I happened to get the press release about the pop-up store.) Sure enough, he and Ms. Rachel made a special shopping trip to Cleveland, which is on the other side of Chattanooga.

mmsAnyway, there’s a corny old joke, which I’ve told more than once, about the joke-teller’s stupid uncle who got fired from the M&M factory for marking all the “W”s as factory seconds and throwing them out. In a sense, that’s what our director of children and youth Alden Procopio played off of in her children’s message. She gave each child a few M&Ms and showed them that, depending on how you held a piece, the marking looked like an “M,” a “W,” an “E” or the number “3.” Then, she read a little poem in which the E stood for the star in the East, the M stood for the manger in which the baby Jesus was laid, the 3 stood for the three wise men* and the W stood for the fact that they came to worship the child.

I just thought it was a fun visual aid, and you can immediately see why I want to share it with Dad for him to use at his church.

*Yes, I know there weren’t necessarily three wise men, and that the child was no longer in a manger when they came to see him.

Coming soon: This year’s audio Christmas card

I’m not very good about sending out Christmas cards.

Two years ago, on the spur of the moment, I decided to do an audio recording of O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi,” post it to Soundcloud, and send a link by email to family and friends.

People seemed to enjoy it, so last year I did the same thing with Francis Church’s famous “Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus” newspaper column.

I’ve tried to figure out what to do this year. It has to be something in the public domain. I think I’ve found something – it’s short, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I may try to record and edit it tomorrow.

One of these days, I’m going to try my hand at an original story – but I never think about it early enough.

Anyway, whenever I send it out I’ll also be sure and post a link in case I don’t have your email address.

The first two recitations are still online, and you can find them on the Soundcloud web site (my user name is LakeNeuron) or embedded below. Feel free to share them if you like.


2013 (Sorry about the very slight hum):

The first season

For me, sometimes there are two Christmas seasons. I refer, here, not to the sacred observance of Christmas, but to the fun, traditional aspects. Right around this point, just after Thanksgiving, there’s an “Oh, boy, it’s OK to start celebrating Christmas!”, and I listen to a flood of Christmas music. I’m listening tonight:

Then, that wears off and I go back to regular music for a week, week and a half, before returning to Christmas music.

Of course, the schedule is a little different this year, with a shorter interim between Thanksgiving and Christmas, so maybe it will be jingle bells straight through to New Year’s.

I love having Spotify, by the way. I’ve put together a wonderful Christmas playlist, ranging from David Phelps to Mitch Miller to Barenaked Ladies to Tony Bennett to Tennessee Ernie Ford, and everything in between. And I can easily add a song if I hear it or remember it.

The widget only shows David Phelps because his album was the first thing I added. But I listen on shuffle.

Mister Snowman

When I spoke to my father earlier today, he was in a break from the long task of taking down Christmas decorations. I, living by myself in a slovenly apartment with few house guests, didn’t have to work quite as hard. I had a three-foot-tall fiber optic tree which I unplugged a little while ago and took back into the storage room. It took me all of 30 seconds.

I had one other piece of holiday décor, which I didn’t have to unplug because it never really got plugged in. It was a jar, painted as a snowman, that I made last summer while assisting Jean Nulle in her arts and crafts workshop at Summer Plus. (Jean gave her helpers the chance to make the same crafts the teens were making, which is always fun.) It had a very short power cord, and there was simply no good place for me to plug it up. But as I was unplugging the tree, I decided to plug the snowman into the extension cord I’d been using for the tree and leave it up, at least for a little while, as a wintertime decoration.


Yes, I painted this myself. It’s a mason jar. It’s hard to see the texture in this photo – it was hard to get a good photo of it with my smartphone – but it has a frost-like appearance created by blotting the white paint on with the end of the brush. (A spray-on varnish had been applied first, as a primer, to help the paint adhere to the glass.) Then, the face was painted on top of the white paint. A short string of Christmas lights provides the interior light, and the felt hat, with ribbon trim, hides the cord, which dangles from the back like a ponytail.

By the way, one of the ornaments on my tree was also a Summer Plus souvenir – a little unglazed ceramic snowman which each participant painted.

Double the fleet

As you may or may not recall, on a whim I bought a model rocket this fall. I used to launch them when I was in high school, hadn’t fiddled with them for years.

WP_000287Well, I got the model built but haven’t had a good chance to launch it yet. You need a nice clear day with little or no wind, and I haven’t had the right combination of weather and schedule. I’ll get to it eventually, although (because of the wind thing) it may take a while.

When I do get to launch, however, I’ll have not just one rocket, but two. Dad gave me a rocket for Christmas, a really great and thoughtful gift. The rocket on the left here, a Taser, is the one I bought this fall; the one on the right, an Alpha III, is the new addition. It was more fun to put together, because it made less use of plastic parts. The fin assembly was plastic, but the engine mount was paper and metal, and so was the launch lug. I still want to build the old-fashioned kind where the fins are balsa wood and you have to glue them onto the body tube.

The other nice bit of serendipity was that Dad bought me slightly more powerful engines. I had bought a three-pack of A8-3s, the recommended “first flight” engine for my Taser – and also, as it turns out, for the Alpha III. It’s a fairly common first-flight engine. Dad, with his gift, bought me a three-pack of B6-6 engines. So now, I can give each model its recommended first test flight with the less-powerful A8-3, with an engine to spare in case of misfire, and then have the more-powerful B6-6 to challenge the models for a later flight.

There are much worse things

I love “A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All,” Stephen Colbert’s parody of Christmas specials, featuring Elvis Costello, Willie Nelson, John Legend, Feist, Toby Keith, Jon Stewart and George Wendt. The past couple of years, Comedy Central has only run this gem in the middle of the night; they did so last night, and fortunately I’d thought to look for it in advance and caught it on my DVR.

The special is not for all tastes; some would certainly be offended by Willie’s musical number, a “Little Drummer Boy” parody referencing a substance with which Willie is passing familiar. But I find the show wonderful, irreverent in the good sense of that term. Feist’s song, sung from the perspective of a call-waiting angel who tells you that your prayer is important to us and will be heard shortly, is hilarious, and Keith pokes fun at his own country conservative image with a song about the War on Christmas. I think it should be noted that the real Stephen Colbert (not the eponymous egomaniac character he plays on TV) is a devout Catholic who teaches Sunday School, or used to.

The entire cast (save Stewart and Wendt) sings a cover of Costello’s “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and Understanding?” which you think is going to be the finale. But the special actually ends with this, a really lovely duet between Costello and Colbert:

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
A Colbert Christmas: Colbert/Costello Duet
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog Video Archive

Holiday greetings

Well, I had a wonderful Christmas today with my parents, two of my siblings and their families; I’ll get to see the third sibling and his family next week when the parents and I meet them halfway, in Pigeon Forge. Everyone was happy and healthy, my presents were well-received, including some about which I was worried, and I got some good stuff too.

I hope you had a happy and meaningful holiday as well, and that all of us will continue to remember the meaning of the season. Remember, for those of us in denominations which observe the liturgical calendar, the celebration of Christ’s birth only begins today; it continues for 11 more days, until Jan. 5.

A not-so-quiet week in Lake Wobegon

Well, this is just bizarre.

Garrison Keillor, author of “Lake Wobegon Days” and host of “A Prairie Home Companion,” has written a column expressing frustration with the co-opting of Christmas by non-Christians — from Unitarians changing the words to “Silent Night” to secular, holly-jolly Christmas carols by …. well, I’ll let him say it, just to make clear it’s Keillor speaking, not me:

And all those lousy holiday songs by Jewish guys that trash up the malls every year, Rudolph and the chestnuts and the rest of that dreck. Did one of our guys write “Grab your loafers, come along if you wanna, and we’ll blow that shofar for Rosh Hashanah”? No, we didn’t.

This is astonishing. Keillor definitely has a history of leaning left, and for a while his weekly radio show was a little too curmudgeonly political for me, even when I agreed with him on a particular issue. I had always thought of “APHC” as something timeless and above the latest political squabble. But now, here’s Keillor with a conservative-sounding “War on Christmas” screed.

Keillor’s column has caused a firestorm of controvery. Some non-Christians have responded along the lines of, “we’ll leave your holiday alone if you’ll stop shoving it down our throats.”

The trouble is that Christmas has been two different holidays since long before I was born, and really before Keillor was born. There’s secular Christmas, the Christmas of silver bells and materialism, and there’s religious Christmas, the Christmas of the little baby in the manger.

There was a line about Christmas in “Good Night, and Good Luck” which made me laugh out loud. Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) tells a CBS executive (Jeff Daniels) that he and his collaborator Fred Friendly will personally make up the ad revenue for a controversial episode of “See It Now,” since the normal sponsor objects to it.

“We just won’t have Christmas gifts for our kids this year,” Murrow sighs.

“Friendly’s a Jew,” shoots back the executive.

“Don’t tell him that,” responds Murrow. “Fred loves Christmas.”

It’s about a century or two too late to start declaring that Christmas is exclusively a religious holiday. Christians need to be respectful of those who are, by simple cultural fact, obligated to live through our holiday schedule even though they belong to another tradition. Non-Christians need to recognize that this is a special holiday, with a deeper meaning, to some (but not all!) Christians. (Even here in Bedford County, we have some churches that consider Christmas an unnecessary and anti-Biblical contrivance).

How that balance of mutual respect works itself out in practical situations — school programs and nativity scenes in public places and what have you — is a healthy and ongoing discussion, one that I fear is not at all helped by the chip on Keillor’s shoulder, or the risk that his comments will be perceived as anti-Semitic.

I seem to recall the characters at the center of the Christmas narrative being Jewish, after all.