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“Useless Christmas Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

The Puritans managed to get Christmas banned in Boston from 1659 to 1681.

The tradition of displaying a Christmas tree began in Germany, probably during the 1600s, but most of Europe considered it “pagan mockery.” In 1848, Queen Victoria helped everyone lighten up by displaying a tree at Windsor Castle. The fad caught on and soon spread to America.

The word Xmas, which many bible-thumpers claim is sacrilegious, actually is legit. The Greek word for Christ begins with the letter Chi (X), and “Xmas” has been an accepted abbreviation for centuries.

In 1881, a drawing by political cartoonist Thomas Nast defined how Americans see Santa Claus. That image is the prototype of the Santa we know and love. With a major boost from Coca-Cola.

Nast Santa

The Bing Crosby song White Christmas is the best-selling single in history.

Robert L. May wrote the story “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” in 1939. His brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, wrote the song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” in 1949.

The Poinsettia, popular at Christmas for its red and green foliage, is native to Mexico. Its name derives from Joel Poinsett, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, who brought it to the U.S. in 1825.

In 1999, the town of Bethel, Maine, set a new record for the world’s tallest snowman. His name was Angus, and he was 113 feet (10 stories) tall. Bethel topped its own record in 2008 with a SnowWoman, Olympia, who was 122 feet (11 stories) tall.

Olympia

The first song broadcast from space was Jingle Bells. Astronaut Wally Schirra played it on a harmonica on December 16, 1965, as Gemini VI was preparing to reenter the atmosphere.

In England, before roast turkey became the traditional meat for Christmas dinner, the most popular dish was roasted pig’s head, usually on a bed of greens, slathered with mustard.

Alabama was the first U.S. state to recognize Christmas as an official holiday.

Christmas is a popular secular holiday in Japan, and the traditional Christmas meal there is a takeout order of KFC fried chicken. The fad began in the 1970s when a KFC promotion somehow caught fire. During the Christmas season, consumption of KFC in Japan increases tenfold.

KFC

Merii Kurisumasu, y’all.

 

Poems That Don’t Suck

 

More poetry that isn’t pretentious and a waste of time…

———

Thaw

By Edward Thomas

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Philip Edward Thomas (1878-1917)

Over the land freckled with snow half-thawed
The speculating rooks at their nests cawed
And saw from elm-tops, delicate as flowers of grass,
What we below could not see, Winter pass.

———

Interview

By Dorothy Parker

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Dorothy Parker (1893-1967)

The ladies men admire, I’ve heard,
Would shudder at a wicked word.
Their candle gives a single light;
They’d rather stay at home at night.
They do not keep awake till three,
Nor read erotic poetry.
They never sanction the impure,
Nor recognize an overture.
They shrink from powders and from paints…
So far, I’ve had no complaints.

———

So, We’ll Go No More A-Roving

By George Gordon, Lord Byron

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George Gordon Byron (1788-1824)

So, we’ll go no more a-roving
So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
And the moon be still as bright.

For the sword outwears its sheath,
And the soul outwears the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
And love itself have rest.

Though the night was made for loving,
And the day returns too soon,
Yet we’ll go no more a-roving
By the light of the moon.

———

It’s all I have to bring today

By Emily Dickinson

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Emily Elizabeth Dickinson (1830-1886)

It’s all I have to bring to-day,
This, and my heart beside,
This, and my heart, and all the fields,
And all the meadows wide.
Be sure you count, should I forget, —
Someone the sum could tell, —
This, and my heart, and all the bees
Which in the clover dwell.

———

What Has Happened To Lulu?

By Charles Causley

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Charles Stanley Causley (1917-2003)

What has happened to Lulu, mother?
What has happened to Lu?
There’s nothing in her bed but an old rag-doll
And by its side a shoe.

Why is her window wide, mother,
The curtain flapping free,
And only a circle on the dusty shelf
Where her money-box used to be?

Why do you turn your head, mother,
And why do tear drops fall?
And why do you crumple that note on the fire
And say it is nothing at all?

I woke to voices late last night,
I heard an engine roar.
Why do you tell me the things I heard
Were a dream and nothing more?

I heard somebody cry, mother,
In anger or in pain,
But now I ask you why, mother,
You say it was a gust of rain.

Why do you wander about as though
You don’t know what to do?
What has happened to Lulu, mother?
What has happened to Lu?

 

Quotes o’ the Day

He, who will not reason, is a bigot; he, who cannot, is a fool; and he, who dares not, is a slave.

— Sir William Drummond

###

Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.

Blaise Pascal

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They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.

— Carl W. Buehner

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Patriotism is being proud of a country’s virtues and eager to correct its deficiencies; it also acknowledges the legitimate patriotism of other countries, with their own specific virtues. The pride of nationalism, however, trumpets its country’s virtues and denies its deficiencies, while it is contemptuous toward the virtues of other countries. It wants to be, and proclaims itself to be, “the greatest,” but greatness is not required of a country; only goodness is.

— Sydney J. Harris

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Drummond

Harris SJ

Harris

 

Road Trip 11/18, Part 5

My November road trip to Grand Canyon concludes…

———

Hatch, New Mexico

The “Chile Capital of the World” is a fun and interesting place. Stopping for a visit never gets old.

The little town is surrounded by vast fields of chile pepper plants. Something in the soil agrees with certain varieties of peppers, and the local farmers have taken advantage of it for the last century.

Naturally, numerous shops around town sell all forms of the product — fresh, cooked, dried, powdered, frozen — as well as souvenirs of the town, the state, and the region.

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Also, Hatch is only 100 miles from Mexico, so Talavera pottery is everywhere.

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The prices are low, and I have a grand time perusing the merchandise. As if I need more Talavera pottery.

###

Meridian, Mississippi

On Day 11, I stopped for lunch in Meridian and pulled into the parking lot of a Mexican restaurant.

Immediately, a large brown dog appeared. He sat at attention next to the RV, wagging his tail furiously and looking up at me. He was a big, short-haired, pitbull-looking dog. He seemed friendly, but I was a little apprehensive when I got out of the RV.

No worries. he took the lead and escorted me to the restaurant entrance, looking back frequently over his shoulder. At the door, he stepped aside and sat at attention again, tail still wagging. Amused and bewildered, I went inside.

My table had a view of the entrance and the dog sitting outside quietly. Suddenly, he leapt to his feet and disappeared from view.

But not for long. He returned, escorting more people to the restaurant. They entered, and he resumed his sitting position at the door.

A few minutes later, a couple paid their check and left the restaurant. The dog escorted them to their car, then returned to his station.

While I ate, he escorted numerous customers to and from the restaurant. He never got uncomfortably close to anyone, never begged for food or attention. He was just, well, escorting the customers.

I flagged down the waitress. I had to ask about the dog.

“He showed up about a month ago,” she said. “Nobody knows where he came from or where he goes at night, but he’s always here when we get to work. We call him Jeeves.”

The employees had asked around, but no one knew anything about Jeeves. Nor could they explain his behavior with the customers. Some thought he was looking for his owner.

Jeeves was always friendly and a gentleman, the waitress said, and no customers had complained, so they saw to reason to call Animal Control.

A girl’s voice came from the booth behind me. “Mom, can I go over by the door and look at the dog?”

“Okay, honey, but stay inside.”

The little girl stood beside the glass door for several minutes, studying Jeeves. I was compelled to step into the aisle and take a photo.

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When the waitress brought my check, I asked what Jeeves did about food. Did he fend for himself — like, eating out of garbage cans?

“Oh, no, Jeeves is well taken care of. He gets all the restaurant leftovers he can handle.”

After lunch, Jeeves escorted me to the RV, then trotted back to his post at the front door.

###

Jefferson, Georgia

As always, it was good to be home. I sprung Jake from the kennel, and we resumed our routines.

Among my mementos of the trip was a $10 ristra I bought in Hatch. I found a suitable spot in the living room to hang it.

I didn’t set out to create a Southwest theme, but it seems to have materialized anyway.

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A good road trip is satisfying and therapeutic. But, a few months from now, I’ll start getting antsy to go somewhere again.

To a degree, the destination will matter. But not as much as the doing of the thing.

 

More on my November road trip to the Southwest…

———

Cameron, Arizona

35 miles east of Grand Canyon National Park, well into the Navajo rez, is the venerable Cameron Trading Post, established on the banks of the Little Colorado River in 1911.

This remote place is a veritable oasis. It consists of the trading post, restaurant, motel, gas station, RV park, gift shop, and, one of my favorite stops, a truly awe-inspiring art gallery.

Everything in the Cameron gallery is premium quality, some of it modern, some of considerable age, all for sale. Most of the merchandise sells for many hundreds, even thousands of dollars.

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Pay no attention to that man behind the pottery.

But I think of the gallery as more of a museum than a store. I go there to admire and enjoy the merchandise, not to buy anything. The touristy gift shop next door is more my speed.

###

Tuba City, Arizona

25 miles beyond Cameron is Tuba City, one of the larger towns in Navajoland.

Traffic when I arrived was unusually heavy, and, in fact, eventually stopped moving at all. Police vehicles were directing drivers in both directions to pull over.

In the distance, I could see why. A hundred or more men on horseback were approaching in a slow, solemn procession. The only sound was the clopping of hooves on the pavement.

I knew immediately what was up. The next day was Veterans Day, and the Tuba City veterans had turned out for a Saturday morning parade. In the procession with the horsemen were several cars carrying older veterans.

The scene was genuinely moving. Despite a lump to my throat and a tear in my eye, I grabbed my camera.

After I shot the video, a young rider peeled off from the group and rode over to my RV. The van sits high, so we were at eye level.

“Yah-ta-hey. Where you from, sir?” he said. I told him.

“You a veteran?” I said I was indeed.

We shook hands and introduced ourselves. He said he was in Afghanistan with the Army. I told him my service was Air Force, Vietnam era. He tipped his hat, wished me a safe trip, reined his horse around, and rejoined the procession.

I later learned it was Tuba City’s first Veterans Day parade. A lavish lunch was waiting for the veterans and their families next to the local VA office.

###

Ganado, Arizona

The Navajo town of Ganado is the home of Hubbell Trading Post, founded in 1878 and now a National Historic Site.

Hubbell is still in business. In addition to being a grocery store for the locals, it has an eye-popping selection of Navajo rugs and baskets, old and new.

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By sundown, I had crossed into New Mexico and was back in Gallup.

The trip home continues in my next post.

 

My November road trip to the Southwest continues…

———

Grand Canyon, Arizona

This year, the entrance fee at Grand Canyon National Park went up to $35 per vehicle. But I laugh at entrance fees. On Day 7 of my trip, when I arrived at the South Rim entrance gate, I flashed my lifetime Senior Pass and got in for free. Ha!

Actually, the geezer pass itself has become rather pricey. The cost of the lifetime pass is now $80. I got mine 10 years ago for $10. Ha!

For the record, this trip marked (drum roll) my 26th visit to Grand Canyon National Park. It also marked the first time I showed up without reservations.

If you’re familiar with the crowds and the limited accommodations at South Rim, that’s really betting long odds. Vacancies are rare and ephemeral.

Yes, you do have options. A campground and numerous motels are available in the village of Tusayan, seven miles outside the park. But, other than services, Tusayan has few redeeming qualities.

Tusayan is where tourists can watch an Imax movie showing them the wonders of Grand Canyon. Tusayan is where all the souvenirs are made in China.

That morning, my first stop in the Park was the RV campground. No vacancies.

My second stop was the front desk at Bright Angel Lodge. I approached one of the clerks and gave her an engaging smile.

“Hi,” I said. “I’ve been coming to Grand Canyon for 25 years, and this is the first time I’ve showed up without reservations. Any chance you guys have a vacancy, in any of the lodges?”

“Ten minutes ago, the answer was no,” she said. “But we just got a cancellation for a room at Thunderbird Lodge. Just for one night.”

My heart fluttered.

You’re lucky,” she added. “It’s a room with a canyon view.”

A room with a canyon view? Rooms with a canyon view are for rich people and visiting royalty, not for ordinary folks like me. I nearly swooned.

As it turned out, the view was somewhat less spectacular than I envisioned. The room was on the second floor, and you looked out at the roof of the first floor.

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But it was still a treat.

The weather was beautiful, if a little cold. For the rest of the morning, I walked along the rim, enjoying the views and taking photos. I’ve shot the same scenes countless times over the years, but I keep shooting them anyway.

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I also wandered through the usual gift shops and bought a couple of magnets and decals.

At Hopi House, a gallery featuring high-quality Native American crafts, I came across a small, handsome Hopi seed pot that I didn’t need, but nonetheless was drawn to.

I resisted the urge to purchase it for quite a while.

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Later, while walking along the rim behind Bright Angel Lodge, I noticed a small paper bag that someone had left on the stone railing. The bag bore the logo of Xanterra, the company that runs the shops and concessions. It probably contained souvenirs.

Bright Angel Lodge has a lost-and-found service, so I figured I would take it there.

As I reached down to pick it up, a raven landed on the railing a few feet away, looking at me in that weird, bug-eyed way birds have.

Ravens are everywhere at Grand Canyon. They are accomplished scavengers and thieves with little fear of humans. They’re also sleek and beautiful. I raised my camera to get a photo.

Simultaneously, he hopped closer and grabbed the paper bag.

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He launched skyward, flapping mightily, taking the bag with him. But he underestimated Rocky Smith. I snatched the bag from him in mid-flap, and the little pirate only got a torn piece of brown paper.

Inside the bag were a few postcards, a bookmark, and an “I Hiked the Canyon” bumper sticker. I dropped off the bag at Lost and Found.

That evening, I had prime rib at the Arizona Room, one of the better restaurants at South Rim. Afterward, I walked along the rim for a while. The night was chilly, but I was bundled up.

I marveled, as always, at how the constellations and the Milky Way stand out so clearly at Grand Canyon. Especially in winter, the night sky defies description.

This twilight photo is pretty good. 

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After a beer at the Bright Angel Bar, I retired to my room, pulled a chair up to the window, turned out the lights, and sat contemplating the stars.

The next morning, I checked at the front desk to see if another cancellation had materialized. The answer was no. If I wanted to stay longer, I would have to bed down in Tusayan.

I decided to move on.

In my next post, my trip continues east across the Navajo and Hopi reservations.

 

Road Trip 11/18, Part 2

More highlights of my road trip to the Southwest…

———

Flagstaff, Arizona

Flagstaff is a fun, funky, free-spirited place. It’s a mountain town, a college town (Northern Arizona University), and a ski resort. You can make day trips to Sedona, Grand Canyon, Lake Powell, and the Navajo and Hopi reservations. Young, outdoorsy people are everywhere.

To me, this mural in a downtown alley, one block from Route 66, is typical of the vibe.

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When I’m in Flagstaff, I visit certain attractions, shop at certain stores, and eat at certain restaurants. Which ones will vary a bit from trip to trip, but I have a list of favorites.

On this trip, I wandered through the shops of the Indian traders downtown, and I went to the Museum of Northern Arizona, which has a world-class collection of Native American art and artifacts.

MNA also has one of the best gift shops on the planet for high-end Native American stuff.

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Among my notable dining experiences were a fine breakfast at La Belavia,

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a superb lunch at Diablo’s, home of the Diablo Burger,

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and a soul-satisfying supper at Beaver Street Brewery, where I am partial to the brewer’s platter.

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Earlier, to preemptively walk off some of the calories, I drove a few miles north of town to a picnic area with a great view of Humphreys Peak (which, in a few weeks, will be snow-capped until well into next summer),

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and, for an hour, I walked the trails under the ponderosa pines.

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On this trip, Flagstaff was the only place I stayed two nights. I couldn’t resist.

On the morning of Day 6, I left Flagstaff for Grand Canyon. This was the first time in 25 years I would show up at the park without reservations. It was a long shot, but I was hoping someone had canceled at the last minute, and I would be there to claim the room.

I will explain how that worked out in my next post.