Happy New Year


Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne!

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne.
We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

(See full lyrics here)

MacHighway - Web Hosting for Mac Users, by Mac Users, Since 1997

This and That:Masterchef Junior Returns and Other Things

1. Here we go again:We just finished season two of Masterchef Junior but season three is scheduled to debut on 6 Jan 2015 at 8:00 p.m.  It will be the last time Joe Bastianich (aka The Stare) will be a judge on Masterchef. You can see a list of the contestants (but no photos as of this date) at Fox.com.

Red Cardinal Pointsetta Wreath Photo: Kim Newberg (publicdomainpictures.net)
Red Cardinal Pointsetta Wreath
Photo: Kim Newberg (publicdomainpictures.net)

2. The Christmas Season is still going (it officially ends on Epiphany Day/Three Kings Day) The traditional date is January 6 though many Christian churches celebrate the day on the first Sunday after the New Year. The night before is called the Twelfth Night. Eastern Orthodox celebrates Christmas Day usually on 7 January as they follow the Julian calendar. Greek Orthodox though celebrates Christmas on December 25 as they use the Gregorian not Julian for many important holy days except Easter in which they use the old Julian calendar.

3. The Shipping Season seemed to have fewer problems than last year. Last year there was a huge dump of parcels for Post Office and the private package carriers. This was due, in part, to cut off days for online retailers not in sync with the shipping services. Of course problems still occur (a package I was waiting for went missing for a day at the local UPS station). And unfortunately thieves watch delivery vehicles and steal packages left at the door or on the porch. They finally busted a gang in our area and found many missing parcels. I read or saw on person so fed up with losing packages to these thieves he wrapped up some very smelly dog poo and had it left on his door. Sure enough, it was stolen! Fitting that when the opened the box they found it full of animal waste.

4. Once again the top animated Christmas shows were the favorites: A Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (celebrating 50 years), Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and How The Grinch Stole Christmas.

5. One of the worst Christmas themed made for television movies was Merry Ex-Mas(2014) on Ion starring Dean Cain and Kristy Swanson. The premise is actually simple. Dean Cain owned a security company and was married to Kristy Swanson. A photo appears in the press that appears to show him making out with a well known music star. He denies it but his wife divorces him. So usually a Christmas show of this kind is how the magic of Christmas heals the rift and get them back together. Had that been the story, it would have been great. But something bad happened somewhere between when the plot was conceived and the actual scriptwriting began. The result was a runaway train that took a simple plot and smashed it all up. His ex-wife shows up at the cabin where Cain is at. His sort of girlfriend is also there. Racing to get there is her fiancee played by Lochlyn Munro. Munro has made a career out of playing characters on the edge or worse. Munro’s character is facing deportation (his foreign visa is about to expire) and he cannot conduct an important business deal unless he stays. So he is racing up there with the couples daughter, the mother to Swanson’s character (Dean Cain’s mom) and his attorney. His attorney, played by Jodi Lyn O’Keefe (Nash Bridges), is the one bright light in this zany and utterly forgettable movie. She is absolutely hilarious in her role as Munro’s attorney. And she gets some of the best lines as well. And at the end (SPOILER ALERT) when Swanson’s character decides not to marry him but Cain again, he is left with no one to marry except her mother. And she negotiates a settlement that O’Keefe’s character is happy to put in the prenuptial agreement. It is the only reason to watch this hapless Christmas movie.

6. If you subscribe to Netflix streaming, say goodbye to Titanic. The popular Cameron movie is leaving in the New Year. You can still get it on DVD. And until they can actually make streaming like DVD, that part of the service is going to remain strong. Today watching some Christmas movies via streaming was a total bust. Something wrong with the service. On the other hand just grab a dvd, pop it in, and your good to go.

7. Mewing cats doing Jingle Bells? A bad idea. The original barking dogs (from the 1950’s!) is still tops in that regard.

8. I am all for eating and drinking less but one low-fat eggnog (Horizon organic) was really pasty in flavor. It may be lower in calories and more healthy but trust me, it was awful.

Well that is it for now. Happy Holidays and Happy New Year everyone!

Today is the Feast of the Holy Family


The Flight into Egypt (Albrecht Dürer 1471-1528) Photo: Public Domain
The Flight into Egypt (Albrecht Dürer 1471-1528)
Photo: Public Domain

The Feast of  the Holy Family was instituted as liturgical celebration of the Roman Catholic Church to venerate the Holy Family–Jesus, Saint Joseph and Blessed Mary–as a model for all Christian families. The feast was first introduced in 1893 by  Pope Leo XIII and set on the Sunday after the Epiphany. However in 1969 it was moved to the first Sunday after Christmas to make it part of the Christmas season.

Today is St. Stephen’s Day(Boxing Day U.K.)

The Demidoff Altarpiece: Saint Stephen
St. Stephen from The Demidoff Altarpiece(Carlo Crivelli–circa 1435–circa 1495) Photo:Public Domain

If you remember the Christmas carol Good King Wenceslas you heard the name. Stephen was a deacon in the early Christian church who was accused of blasphemy and put on trial by Jewish authorities in Jerusalem. After a trial in which he denounced them, Stephen was stoned to death. One of the witnesses to the event was Saul of Tarsus, who later converted and is known today as the apostle Paul. Stephen is considered the first martyr for the faith, the reason his feast day immediately follows the celebration of Jesus birth. All the major Christian congregations–Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran, Oriental Orthodox, and Eastern Orthodox–all venerate him as a Saint and celebrate the feast day (Western churches on 26 December, 27 Dec Orthodox,  and 8 Jan Oriental Orthodox). In some countries (mainly Western Europe)it is a public holiday.

In the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand it is celebrated as Boxing Day, a secular holiday that falls on the same day as Feast of Stephen. Traditionally it is the day in which servants and tradespeople receive the “Christmas box” from their employers. While that tradition may still hold true, it is either a second Christmas day for some or an extra shopping day (though in some countries it apparently is a day when a lot of returns to retailers takes place). It is also a major sports day as well.

Christmas Music: Silent Night

Silent Night Chapel in Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria. Photo:Gakuro
Silent Night Chapel in Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria.

Silent Night(Stille Nacht in German, Silens Nox in Latin) is perhaps the most beloved Christmas Carol. It was composed in 1818 by Franz Guber, an organist and schoolmaster, to lyrics by Father Joseph Mohr of the St. Nicholas parish in Oberndorf  bei Salzburg, Austria. It was first performed on Christmas Eve in 1818 and since the organ was broken, the only musical accompaniment was the guitar. The popularity of the song spread and the version commonly used today comes from a translation in 1859. John Freeman Young, serving as an Episcopal priest at Trinity Church in New York City, translated and changed the tempo of the song. The original rendition by Gruber was more like a dance tune and sung faster. Young made into a slower lullaby style that is the most common version today. Because it has been so widely translated, it is the one Christmas carol that is known worldwide.

In Austria Silent Night is not heard until Christmas Eve, usually around 9 p.m. Then it is played on the radio once an hour and of course during church services.

The following is from the Muppets and John Denver Christmas special done live with children.


A Visit From St. Nicholas

A Visit From St. Nicholas
by Clement Clark Moore

Image:public domain
Image:public domain

‘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 mamma in her ’kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day 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, Donder 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 pedler 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 of 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 bowlful 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.”


Christmas Music: The First Noel

One sign of the Christmas season are the musicians who play the wonderful music. And one such way is the brass band. It was a common thing not too long ago to see a brass band–usually the Salvation Army–playing wonderful Christmas melodies on a street corner, city park, or in a concert. There is something about a brass band and Christmas music that just works. There is no way to really explain why and you could possibly go mad trying to figure it out. The old Philadelphia Brass Ensemble is still my favorite go to Christmas album. Sadly not available on Amazon right now but available on iTunes (Philadelphia Brass Ensemble:A Festival of Carols,1967) for purchase.

The First Noel is an English Christmas Carol possibly from the 18th century or earlier. Noel comes from the French word meaning Christmas or Christmas season. It can also be a first name as well (like Noel Coward). As we know the carol today, it was first published in Carols Ancient and Modernin 1823. Since then it has been edited with extra lyrics over the years. It usually is performed with a four-part arrangement though variations exist. The most common version sung is the New English Hymnal based on John Stainer’s Carols, New and Old(1871).

Christmas Music: O Holy Night (Mariah Carey)

O Holy Night was composed by Adolphe Adam in 1847 to the French poem Minuit, chretiens (Midnight, Christians). In 1855 John Sullivan Dwight, a Unitarian minister, adapted it for English audiences using the French text. It has become a popular Christmas carol sung by numerous artists over the years. Mariah Carey’s rendition is particularly stirring. Enjoy.

Titanic Belfast: 2 Million Visitors

Titanic Belfast (side view) Image:Prioryman (Wikipedia)
Titanic Belfast (side view)
Image:Prioryman (Wikipedia)

When Michael Sweeney walked through the door, the 25-year-old found out he was visitor 2 million. He is quoted as saying “I feel like the king of the world!” This milestone is being celebrated as proof of the enduring attraction of Titanic Belfast. Titanic Belfast CEO Tim Husbands said:

It seems like only yesterday that Titanic Belfast opened and helped turn the city into a major player in the global tourism market. We are three months short of our third birthday and already we are celebrating our two-millionth visitor. This is a tremendous achievement.

That snark who recently maligned Belfast by saying the iceberg did them a favor is probably choking on his shepherd’s pie right about now.

Source:Titanic Belfast Reaches 2 Million Visitors(22 Dec 2014,Belfast Telegraph)

Today is the Winter Solstice

The shortest day of the year for the Northern Hemisphere is the Winter Solstice. On the solstice (usually between December 20-23)the sun is directly overhead the Tropic of Capricorn resulting in the North Pole being tilted the furthest away. This result in shorter days for sunlight in the Northern Hemisphere (and the further north you are the less sun you will see like those in Alaska or the Scandinavian countries). The reverse is true in the Southern Hemisphere. As the sun is closer to them, they celebrate the Summer Solstice. Those who live close to the South Pole will see Midnight Sun meaning they get 24 hours of sun during this time of year.

Many cultures observed the Winter Solstice because it marked an important time in the agricultural cycle. By this time all the crops and livestock had been prepared for winter. Important foodstuffs were stored for the months when virtually nothing grew. Wine and beer, which had been fermenting during the year, was ready at this time. Cattle and pigs would often be killed at the start of winter so they would not have to be fed during this time. The early months of winter were tough in many places and often called the “famine months” since little food was to be found. Many cultures observed the Winter Solstice as a renewal or that the year was reborn. For out of the seeming withdrawal of the sun, it would come back just as strong and powerful as before. Thus the Winter Solstice was seen by many as the start of a new year such as the old Roman feast of the Unconquered Sun (Sol Invictus) which happened around the 25th of December.

Today the solstice will be at 23:03 (11:03p.m.) Universal Time Clock(UTC) which is 18:03 (6:03 p.m.) in New York,  17:03 (5:03 p.m.) in Chicago, 16:03 (4:03 p.m.) in Denver, 15:03 (3:03 p.m.) in San Francisco, 14:03 (2:03 p.m.)in Anchorage, and 13:03 (1:03 p.m.) in Hawaii. Thus the first full day of winter is 22 Dec 2014.

Solstices and Equinoxes Image: NASA
Solstices and Equinoxes
Image: NASA