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When I was a kid, we used to have a school holiday to honor our first president, it was known as Washington’s Birthday and celebrated on February 22 which really was calculated as his birthday. (Washington was actually born on February 11, 1732, under the Julian calendar in effect at the time he was born, but his birth date is reckoned as February 22 under the Gregorian calendar which was adopted in 1752.) Then in 1968 Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill intended to create more three-day weekends for federal employees by moving the observance of three existing federal holidays (Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, and Veterans Day) from fixed calendar dates to designated Mondays, and by establishing Columbus Day, also to be observed on a Monday, as a new federal holiday. There is no truth to the rumor that Richard Nixon was responsible for changing Washington’s Birthday into President’s Day to commemorate all presidents, by supposedly issuing a proclamation on 21 February 1971 which declared the third Monday in February to be a “holiday set aside to honor all presidents, even myself.” (Personally, because a number of our presidents have been scoundrels or scalawags, I don’t think they all deserve a holiday.) Now, my grandfather’s birthday is February 22, and he joked he wasn’t changing his birthday to the third Monday of the month to give a bunch of politicians an extra day off. Unfortunately, while searching the family history I discovered that grandpa was actually born at home on February 21, but it wasn’t recorded officially in the birth records until the next day. I still celebrate both birthdays on the 22nd. (Note, the photo above is not my grandfather, but one of several portraits of George Washington on display at the St. Louis Art museum.)
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 20,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.
And in case you’re wondering, the above sunset occurred at Fort Riley, Kansas. Please note that I spent two winters there many years ago. The solstice is also when a lot of people celebrate ancient pagan traditions like burning the yule log, hanging mistletoe over the doorways and decorating the Tannenbaums. The early Christians incorporated these traditions into the celebration of Christmas and they are still around today.
And as you sit around this week listening to all those familiar Christmas songs, remember that the top ten most popular Christmas songs were written by composers or lyricists who were Jewish.
10. “The Christmas Waltz,” (Sammy Cahn and Julie Styne)
9. “Silver Bells,” (Jay Livingston and Ray Evans)
8. “Winter Wonderland,” (Felix Bernard)
7. “Santa Baby,”(Joan Ellen Javits and Philip Springer)
6. “Sleigh Ride,” (Mitchell Parrish)
5. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” (Buck Ram and Walter Kent)
4. “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” (Irving Berlin).
3. “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow,”(Sammy Cahn and Julie Styne)
2. “The Christmas Song – Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” (Mel Tormé and Bob Wells)
1. “White Christmas,” (Irving Berlin) And did you know that Bing Crosby’s recording of this song is the best-selling single record ever.
And yes, Virginia, Rudolph, The Red-nosed Reindeer (Johnny Marks) is also on this list along with The Little Drummer Boy, Sleigh Ride, Jingle Bell Rock, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree, There’s No Place Like Home For The Holidays, Do They Know It’s Christmas and Have A Holly Jolly Christmas.
So, we owe a lot of our Christmas traditions to a lot of people who weren’t even Christians. That’s why I share my Christmas love and joy with everyone I know during the holidays! Though I don’t have many pagans on my list of close friends these days.
So Merry Christmas to all, and to all a Happy New Year!
Personal side-note: There is one song on this list that still makes me teary-eyed whenever I hear it today … it is I’ll Be Home For Christmas. And that’s because my Grandmother had five of her six sons serving overseas in the military during WWII, and she would break down crying whenever she heard the song on the radio.
As winter fast approaches, Moms Nature has been sending us nothing but gloom and more GLOOM! We haven’t had any sunsets for days and our afternoons have been looking like twilight. Add that to the fact that I have never been overly thrilled about Christmas (or any other form of Shopping) and compound it with the fact local groups and now even groups from out-of-state and even country have been going around town and exercising their constitutional right to protest peacefully by marching through the local shopping centers and stores disrupting business and often forcing the stores and centers to completely shut down. I am a long time advocate of civil rights, but I do not condone civil disruption. So recently I have been limiting my shopping to a weekly trip to restock the pantry and fridge. So I have forgone Christmas shopping and gift giving for this year.
Instead, I have decided to return to those glorious days of yesteryear (aka, my grandmother’s time) and drag out my personal recipe book to make items of hand baked goodness for people on my gift list. Since Target or Macy’s would not be able to exchange any of these gifts, I have mailed out this postcard so the intended recipients can customize their gifts.
Hopefully, I won’t live to regret my holiday decision. Also, don’t expect to see any posts from me the week prior to Christmas. Also, I am not responsible for any excess calories you consume during the holidays.
Back when I adopted Mlle. Renee, one of the first toys I bought her was a chew bone with a ball in the middle and two bone ends that screwed off to allow you to add rawhide rings for extra chewing fun. Renee loved it, and whenever she wanted something to chew on she would bring it over to me and drop it in my lap for a rawhide ring replacement. This was our routine for about four years. As happens with most good things the manufacture of the rawhide rings was moved to China. Then one day I noticed the rawhide had a strong chemical smell when I opened a new package. Later I heard about dogs becoming ill from eating the product. And eventually, the pet stores stopped carrying the product. If something smells bad to me, I don’t give it to my faithful companion. So when she would bring her favorite chew toy to me for a refill, I had to tell her I had to go shopping to buy some. And when she wasn’t looking, I hide the toy away.
Not wanting to be a Grinch to my best friend, I worked on finding something to replace the rawhide rings. I found a recipe for a dog cookie made using oatmeal, peanut butter, pumpkin and vanilla extract, and my best friend discovered his grandmother’s old doughnut cutter that cut a ring the size of the old rawhide ring. So yesterday I baked up a batch of edible ring replacements.
And she really liked it!
I made enough rings to get me through the rest of the month, so I won’t have to make the next batch until after Christmas. Note: while the rings smelled very good cookie-wise, they did get very crunchy when they cooled. So I passed on doing a personal taste test.
Well, it has reached that time of year when your kitchen window will greet you with a very gloomy and chilly morning view. The kind of day when you long to eat something that will not only warm you up, but also cuddle your tummy. Here in the Wicket City we once had such at dish. It was the French Onion Soup served in the restaurants in the Famous & Barr Department Stores. It was a Saint Louis tradition that originated in the 50s or 60s when it was created by a Swiss chef the department store had hired to oversee the operation of their restaurants. The recipe was first printed in the food section of the Post-Dispatch and I clipped it out and added it to my recipe file.
For new-comers or visitors to the Wicket City — the Famous & Barr Department Stores are a thing of the past. They are all Macy’s stores now, and in-store restaurants have all vanished. Damn those food courts. But never fear, I’m going to share my copy of the original recipe. Be forewarned, it does take a little effort to make the soup — nut the fantastic taste makes it well worth it. Also, the recipe has never been cut down, so you’re going to end up with about four quarts of soup or 16 servings. The soup does freeze very well, and it’s always nice to be able to grab a bowl out of the freezer on a cold winter day.
First, about five hours of time and a six-quart or larger stock pot
5 pounds unpeeled onions (I go with yellow)
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons paprika (Sweet Hungarian is my choice)
1 bay leaf
14 cups (almost four 32 oz cartons) beef broth (low sodium if desired)
1 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup flour
Brown Gravy Sauce or Kitchen Bouquet (for coloring)
2 teaspoons salt
Crusty French bread
Gruyère or just plain Swiss cheese
Peel onions, cut in half and slice into 1/8 inch thick slices.
Melt the stick of butter in the stockpot. Add the sliced onions and saute uncovered, over low heat for 1 1/2 hours. Let the aroma fill the kitchen — the smell is wondrous and will make you drool. Remember to stir every so often, because as the onions soften and begin to brown you wouldn’t want them burning to the bottom of the pot. There’s a reason for the long cooking time — you’re cooking the vital essence out of the onions, and bringing out all that is sweet and tasty within them.
Add the pepper, paprika and bay leaf and continue to cook over a low heat while stirring frequently for 10 minutes more.
Add 12 cups of the beef broth and the cup of white wine. Hold the other two cups of broth for the next step. You can also pause for a glass of wine for yourself. You deserve it for all the effort you’ve put in so far. Increase heat until the soup comes to a boil.
Now dissolve the 3/4 cup of flour in two cups of broth you held back. When fully dissolved, pour into boiling soup while stirring.
Reduce heat and simmer slowly for two hours more.
If your onions browned correctly, the soup should be a rich brown color. If it isn’t don’t worry — you can use a bit of Brown Gravy Sauce or Kitchen Bouquet to adjust the color of your soup. But go easy on the Kitchen Bouquet because too much can change the taste of your soup.
Now is the time to taste your soup for salt. Go sparingly on the salt, because we really don’t need as much salt as we think we do.
If you made the soup the day before, refrigerate over night.
When you’re ready to serve, reheat the soup. Pour individual servings into ovenproof bowls. Top each bowl with a toasted slice of the crusty French bread. Sprinkle grated Gruyère or Swiss cheese on the bread. Heat under the broiler until the cheese melts and bubbles, about 5 minutes.
Now enjoy your soup, or better yet invite your friends over and share … you’ve got enough soup for 16 of them!
And if you’re one of those people who can’t boil water or you’re in a hurry, Trader Joe’s offers a passable frozen French Onion soup you can throw in the microwave. Don’t expect the to-die-for flavor of the soup you cook from scratch.
I have always spent Thanksgiving surrounded by family. And this year was no different … I was again invited to share the bird with my younger brother and sister-in-law and their children and grandchildren.
Naturally, Mlle. Renee didn’t like the idea of being left home alone with a few of her favorite play toys. Notice the fearful look on the stuffed fallen star who had just seen the unstuffed squirrel and bear. He wasn’t too keen about staying home with Renee and her unstuffed pals either. But, after promising to bring a bit of turkey home for her I was allowed the get dressed. So as an unforecasted snow began to fall, I packed up my contribution to the family feast (fresh-baked dinner rolls and Carrot/Pineapple Orange Jello Salad) and headed off into the woods of the far western burbs.
I arrived to discover my great-niece and great-nephew working in the Kiddy Kitchen cooking up a storm of their own.
Don’t know what they were cooking, but apparently they had to wear safety goggles to cook it. My sister-in-law was a bit luckier as her dinner was either in the oven or on the stove taking care of itself. Also, she didn’t have to wear goggles to do her cooking. She was also able to take a break for a little family game session.
It was the velcro strap on my lazy-man shoe, and he began to open and close it for just about 479 times. Thankfully, the dinner finished cooking itself and we prepared to eat. We were seated at two different dining tables.
This one was rather historic because it celebrated its 77th birthday this summer. It was the original dining table of my mother and father. My brother restored it several years ago. (They made furniture to last in the 30s.) I was seated at the other dining table with the rest of the family. Which is why I didn’t take a picture of that table.
“That’s all, folks!”
This Thanksgiving dinner story starred one brother, one sister-in-law, four nephews, four nieces, two great nephews, two great nieces, Mlle. Renee, one very big turkey and me.
STRIDING MAN – Rudolf Belling
A dark figure about a foot tall that I always pass in the narrow corridor when I move from the new addition of the art museum into the original museum building. I think of him as my dark knight.
ROMAN BOY – MOSAIC FRAGMENT
I’m amazed with the eyes of the boy in this mosaic fragment. It was found in a 2300 year old Roman city between Turkey and Persia.
This is on a sidewalk in West Walnut Manor. When I was a kid all manhole covers were made of heavy steel. Unfortunately people began stealing them to sell for scrap metal leaving an open hole people could fall into. Cement is cheap, and the fish is to remind people the sewer is for runoff water and not garbage.
THE PARADE OF THE WARTHOGS
This is one of the many animal sculptures in the parking lot of the Saint Louis Zoo. The biggest one is of an actual sized elephant seen below.
THE SAINT LOUIS ART MUSEUM GRAND HALL
It was originally known as the Sculpture Hall and it is in one of the most historic buildings in the city. And it has been standing at the top of Art Hill for 110 years. I love to wonder through this building. It’s one of my favorite things, too.
There’s a saying in West Walnut Manor … if you don’t like the weather today, just come back tomorrow! And that’s the way the weekend started on Saturday morning. The sun was out, and it was a picture of FALL all over the place.
Or totally fallen!
As the morning dwindled, so did the sun. And by afternoon the sky filled with dooming, gloomy clouds. As the afternoon gave way to evening, little balls of sleet began to fall covering the ground with a blanket of white. By Sunday morning it had all melted.
And then moving on to cover the ground and the leaves I didn’t get raked up because it was too cold to go outside.
Right now in mid-afternoon we only have a little over an inch of snow on the ground. But it is expected to continue falling through the evening and night.
… Other than baking SNO-DAZE STICKY-BUNS! A wonderful combination of butter, brown sugar, chopped pecans, cinnamon and white chocolate chips — just the treats needed to go with a cup of hot cocoa.