just another barb

Everyone and everything’s a tad prickly this winter. With a serious spike in humidity mixed with temperatures the opposite of flaring, the lancing frigidity has become ever so piercing.

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It’s definitely not for the spineless or the quill-willed. Everyone is acting briery, thorny, and prickly these days. Daily chores require a many-pronged approach.

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The Stories Behind the Carols

Most of us know all the words—or at least the first verse—to most all of the famous Christmas carols. Or if you’re like me, you might know some of the wrong words … ahem. Even though we only sing them one month out of the year, the lines and melodies come flooding back to our memories each December. Whether or not you engage in a little light caroling or just hum them while you’re decking your halls, I thought you might like to know some of the stories behind our best-loved Christmas songs.

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Do You Hear What I Hear? You might be surprised to learn this carol hasn’t been around all that long. In fact, some of you are likely quite a bit older than this instant hit, written by Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne, in the oh-so-recent year of 1962. Regney, a World War II veteran, was so distressed one evening as he walked the streets during the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, that the request from his manager to write a Christmas carol seemed far removed. Afraid of nuclear war and also disliking the commercialism of the holidays, Regney didn’t see how he could write a simple Christmas jingle. Yearning for peace, he says he was calmed instantly by two little baby girls in a stroller, who smiled at one another. They reminded him of newborn lambs. See where this is going? He walked quickly home and wrote down all the lyrics to Do You Hear What I Hear? and asked his wife, a composer, to arrange the melody. “I am amazed that people can think they know the song and not know it is a prayer for peace,” Noel Regney once told an interviewer. “But we are so bombarded by sounds and our attention spans are so short.” Regney passed away in 2002, during the Christmas season.

Silent Night: This one has its origins all the way back to 1818. A roving group of actors had come to reenact the birth of Jesus in the village of St. Nicholas (how apropos, right?) in the Austrian Alps. The village’s church’s organ was busted (some say mice, some say rust), so they performed instead in a private home. This gave the young pastor of St. Nicholas quite a walk to get home later that night. As he roamed through the snowy, picturesque scene, he came to a quiet hilltop, where he stopped to mediate about all he had seen that night, especially the play centered on the first two chapters of John and the tranquil landscape he stood in. The next day, he had a poem which perfectly captured his heart: Silent Night. The organ still being broken, his friend composed a melody which could be played with a guitar. The piano music was added later.

Go Tell it on the Mountain: In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, John W. Work, Jr., and his brother, Frederick J. Work, began collecting and promoting the spirituals of slavery. Go Tell it on the Mountain was published in the brothers’ book, Folk Songs of the American Negro. Most songs of slavery were not written down, but passed on through generations. A lot of the songs were also deeply coded, so as not to be deciphered by slave owners. For example, Harriet Tubman was referred to as “General Moses” in spirituals. The words “seeker” and “watchman” in Go Tell it on the Mountain most likely refer to a slave seeking freedom and the plantation overseer respectively.

I’ll Be Home for Christmas: This classic—like so many immortalized by Bing Crosby—was written with the soldiers of WWII in mind. Melancholy but beautiful, it perfectly captured the moment in that time and era—a soldier yearning to be home in time for Christmas. The flip side to the original recording was the also wistful Danny Boy.

Santa Claus is Coming to Town: A jolly song with a surprisingly sad history, this one comes to us courtesy of James “Haven” Gillespie, in 1934. Gillespie was a vaudeville actor turned songwriter, and he was not having a wonderful year. Having fallen on hard times, he was commissioned to write a cheerful Christmas tune following the death of his beloved brother. Riding the subway that night, feeling as though the task was impossible and making up his mind to turn down the job, Gillespie was nevertheless inspired when he began to remember riding the subway with his brother as a child and their mother reminding them that “Santa was always watching.” He wrote the lyrics in 15 minutes and it was an instant hit.

Good King Wenceslas was a real king, and a beloved one, too: Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia, who ruled from 924 to 935, when he was assassinated by his own brother, Boleslav the Cruel. The lyrics date to 1853 from John Mason Neale, but the melody is much older; it came from a 14th-century carol, The Time is Near for Flowering. Good King Wenceslaus is now the patron saint of the Czech Republic.

Here Comes Santa Claus: This Christmas classic was written by an unlikely author in 1947. Clue: He was known as “The Singing Cowboy” and starred in 93 movies as well as his own television show. In addition, even though he didn’t write them, he was also responsible for making two more songs into lasting holiday hits: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman. Where would we be without The Singing Cowboy, Gene Autry? (Fun fact: Gene Autry is also the only person to be awarded stars in all five categories on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: for film, television, music, radio, and live performance!)

What’s your favorite carol?

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The Growing Season

Today, I discovered an in-the-works documentary that might just revolutionize our nation’s notions about elderly care, child care, and the power inherent at their intersection. The movie is called The Growing Season (formerly titled Present Perfect), and it is scheduled to be released later this year.

“Stepping into most any nursing home, it’s hard to ignore the sense of isolation one feels on behalf of the residents living there, and even harder to reconcile that with the fact that old age will inevitably come for us all. In our fast-paced, youth-obsessed culture, we don’t want to be reminded of our own mortality. It’s easier to look away,” begins project leader and Seattle University adjunct professor Evan Briggs.

She was inspired to delve into the concept of elderly care when she learned about the Mount Intergenerational Learning Center in Seattle, an award-winning child-care program located on a campus that is also home to more than 400 senior residents.

Photo, thegrowingseasonfilm.com

“When I heard about the Mount and its Intergenerational Learning Center, I was struck by the simple perfection of the concept. I was further intrigued by the idea that with neither past nor future in common, the relationships between the children and the residents exist entirely in the present,” Briggs explains. “Despite the difference in their years, their entire sense of time seems more closely aligned. As busy, frazzled, perpetually multi-tasking adults, we are always admonished to live ‘in the moment’. But what does that mean? And with the endless distractions provided by our smart phones and numerous other devices, how can we? I was curious to observe these two groups, occupying opposite ends of the life spectrum, to see firsthand what it meant for them to simply be present with each other.”

Briggs says that The Growing Season explores the experience of aging in America—both growing up, and growing old—and captures the subtleties and complexities of children’s interactions with their elderly counterparts. She challenges viewers to consider what value a person offers to others throughout his or her life. “Are we asking for the right contributions from each other? How do we measure and define a successful life?” she asks. “While this film doesn’t shy away from confronting some difficult realities, it is ultimately a life-affirming story of hope that, we believe, just might lead to serious positive change.”

Here’s a sneak peek:

Learn more about the project at TheGrowingSeasonFilm.com.

You can also pre-purchase a digital download of the film to help support the project on IndieGoGo.com.

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Happiness is …

Here’s what Carol had on her computer screen this week … just had to share!

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checking the mail

While it’s sadly disappearing nowadays, checking the mail used to be a pretty titillating experience. After all, you had pen-pals, letters from relatives, brown paper packages tied up with string, maybe even a letter from Ed McMahon himself, letting you know you finally won the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes. Whether you had a mailbox with a flag at the end of a dirt driveway, or a drop slot in the door to your city apartment, or a key to a copper-colored box in the office itself, checking the mail was just plain fun.

In the ’80s, little girls sent SLAMs with their bubble-gum-scented Lisa Frank stationery letters. Remember those? Handmade questionnaires you filled out, then passed along. Once full, they were mailed back to the original maker, and voila! You had a dozen new friends from all over the world.

There are plenty of fun things you can still mail, without even bothering with the packaging. Believe it or not, the post office allows you to affix postage to:

  • coconuts (they’re considered a “self-contained unit”)
  • a potato (because, well, it’s Idaho!)
  • a flip-flop (but you should probably send two)
  • a box of candy that is less than 13 oz.
  • a sombrero
  • a lime (to go with the above sombrero)
  • a rock or brick (though we don’t know why you’d want to)
  • an inflated beach ball
  • a piñata (Fill it with candy first. Best. Birthday. Invite. Ever.)
  • plastic water bottles filled with treats
  • a Frisbee
  • plastic Easter eggs
  • basketballs

But did you know back in the day, as they say, you could even mail your children?? Don’t get too excited, Mommies, it was a short-lived period in history. I guess (we grudgingly admit) it’s not the safest way for little Junior to travel, even if you find yourself tempted after he shaves the dog, smears peanut butter all over his bedspread, and/or pours your salon-brand shampoo down the tub.

According to the Smithsonian Institute, ‘Just a few weeks after Parcel Post began, an Ohio couple named Jesse and Mathilda Beagle “mailed” their 8-month-old son, James, to his grandmother, who lived just a few miles away in Batavia. According to Lynch, Baby James was just shy of the 11-pound weight limit for packages sent via Parcel Post, and his “delivery” cost his parents only 15 cents in postage (although they did insure him for $50). The quirky story soon made newspapers, and for the next several years, similar stories would occasionally surface as other parents followed suit.’

There’s even a famous story of a girl named Charlotte May, in 1914. She was 4 years old, living near our neck of the woods, in Grangeville, Idaho, and her parents mailed her to Gramma, who lived about 73 miles away. With a 53-cent stamp attached to the back of her coat, the good-natured postal clerk wrote her down as “poultry post,” and joked that she was the biggest chick on record. When asked why the odd mode of transportation, the mother replied, “It was cheaper than a train ticket.”

Someone even wrote a book about Charlotte’s trip (she made it safely), and you can find it here. Perfect for the grandchildren in your life, the whole book is made to look like a suitcase that you unfold to read, with the title being framed in postage stamps. Just make sure your little chickadees don’t get any ideas to mail themselves to you!

Maybe we just like our mail in Idaho, because here’s another nostalgic photo, taken this time in Fruitland. Are these little ones checking the mailbox for a letter, a package, or perhaps a returning sibling?

Photo by Dorothea Lange via the Library of Congress.

And let’s not forget how our humble mail service began here in the States. The Pony Express is an intriguing bit of history we can’t set aside, no matter how much we love our e-mail and smart phones. A difficult and dangerous job, the original advertisement looking for Pony Express Riders read like this: “St. Joseph, Missouri, to California in 10 days or less! WANTED: Young, skinny, wiry fellows. NOT over 18. Must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily. ORPHANS PREFERRED.”

Gulp. They were not messin’ around. Here’s a photo of four fearless early Pony Express riders. Either these guys didn’t see the “under 18” request or this was a job that aged you fast!

Photo by Earnest and Elaine Hartnagle via Wikimedia Commons.

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World Beard Day

What, you didn’t know?

You mean to tell me you’ve never properly celebrated this upcoming important holiday?

Fitzhugh Lee Image Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

That’s okay, I forgive you. But in order to show proper penance, I’d like to you to memorize these whisker-ocious facts (and maybe post a photo in the comments of the most highly groomed bearded man in your life).

  • World Beard Day is celebrated on the first Saturday of September (mark those calendars).
  • You may think this is a new holiday, but, my mustached friend, you’d be wrong. There is actually evidence that the Danish Vikings had their own Beard Day as far back as 800 AD. And you know those Vikings—they really knew how to party.
  • In Donksburg, Sweden, they banish all of the un-bearded to the forest to spend a day and a night (probably thinking about what they’ve done!). Their effigies are burnt to a satisfying crisp in the village by those who have the very best in facial hair. Seems a tad bit harsh … but also humorous.
  • In southern Spain, the locals enjoy a boxing match between a bearded man and an un-bearded one. The bearded one always wins. Of course, he’s the only one allowed to be armed, so things are a bit swayed in his favor.
  • It is considered extremely disrespectful to shave on World Beard Day. Don’t even think about it! Prefer your hunk of burning love to be smooth skinned? Best have him shave the day before and ignore a little stubble.

photo, Ikie2 Designed by Incredibeard via Wikimedia Commons

If you or the significant other in your life can’t quite wrap your brain around (or can’t quite grow) a fully impressive set of whiskers, perhaps a mustache is the place to start. He can even participate in the highly competitive The World Beard and Mustache Championships, located this upcoming September in Northern California. There are all sorts of categories to sign up for, from the humble Dali Mustache to the Imperial and the Freestyle Goatee. Check out these past winners and prepare to be inspired by follicle greatness!

Whatever your preference, opinions about facial hair are varied and sometimes quite amusing. Check out these quotes about the fabulous beard:

“I have the terrible feeling that, because I am wearing a white beard and am sitting in the back of the theatre, you expect me to tell you the truth about something. These are the cheap seats, not Mount Sinai.” ~ Orson Welles

“You know, I just tend to grow my beard out for ‘Parks and Rec.’ As an actor it’s always easier to shave or cut your hair for a role, but it’s hard to put fake hair on or grow hair for a role. When you look at pictures of me, the longer my hair is, the longer my facial hair is, that’s just the longer I haven’t gotten a job.” ~ Chris Pratt

“I will never shave off my beard and moustache. I did once, for charity, but my wife said, ‘Good grief, how awful, you look like an American car with all the chrome removed.” ~ Rolf Harris

“A man’s face is not a rich person’s lawn; you are wasting resources if you devote that much energy to trimming your beard, sideburns, or mustache just so. Nor is a man’s face the woods; there need not be the tangled weeds, shrubbery, and wildlife/eggs benedict that get ensnared in them.” ~ Ellie Kemper

“A decent beard has long been the number one must-have fashion item for any fugitive from justice.” ~ Craig Brown

“Kissing a man with a beard is a lot like going to a picnic. You don’t mind going through a little bush to get there!” ~ Minnie Pearl

Well, have I convinced you? Raise your pint of ale high to this most manly of all holidays. (And be prepared to share your styling gel. Just sayin’.)

None of the men in my family are sporting beards this summer, but the ear of fresh sweet corn I had last night for dinner had a kind of beard …

and my bees are “bearding” (forming “beards” on the outside of the hive during hot weather to keep the hive from overheating).

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Weird Food of the Decades

Strange things to eat have been around since we started stuffing delicacies in our pie-holes (and our cheeseburger-holes and our pasta-holes). And lest you think only the peculiar is plated in exotic locales—that’s a whole nuther kettle of fish—we’ll just stick to the good ol’ U.S. of A.

What was en vogue the decade you were born? And if your mama was eating it in utero with you, maybe that explains some things.

Here are some of the most atypical foods I could find, and if you have an all-time weird food recipe in your collection, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

1920 Cookbook created to push Jell-O via Wikimedia Commons.

  • Sauerkraut Chocolate Cake. Recipe here if you dare.
  • “Weiner-Roni” Casserole with Karo Syrup. Mmmm, can you say health problems on a fork?
  • Creamed Tuna with Noodles in a Jell-O Mold. My tummy hurts.
  • Speaking of Jell-O, what was the 1970s obsession with congealing meat products in fruit-flavored gelatin? Chicken, seafood salad, creamed beef … it all went in a package of Jell-O with a dollop of Miracle Whip on the side.
  • Spam Italiano. In other words, Spam with tomato sauce and cheese. But methinks the Italians look askance at this concoction.
  • In the ’50s, Kraft released a Potato Fudge. Like, fudge sauce for your baked potato. The tagline read, “In the heart of your baked potato, spoon a big swirl of Kraft’s Potato Fudge! That chocolatey, gooey goodness your kids crave will melt right in and even the most finicky eater will have a smile! And you’ll love the healthy vitamins and minerals!” Don’t care for fudge on your baked spud? That’s okay, they made a butterscotch version, too.
  • Fiesta Peach Spam Bake. Um, I’m not convinced that those two should ever mingle in my belly.
  • Veg-All (remember those cans?) Pie. Again with the Jell-O. I think all the Virginia Slims the ladies were smoking were affecting their taste buds. Oh, and don’t forget to garnish this pie slice with … wait for it … tartar sauce. Yep.
  • Okay, I’m back. How about Ruby Chicken soup? This recipe came about in case you needed to use up a couple cans of cranberries leftover from Thanksgiving. Too bad the finished product looked a chicken being boiled in its own blood. Um, thanks, but we’ll pass. Not even for Halloween is that appropriate.
  • Kraft Squeeze-A-Snack. A squeezable cheese-like product. Kraft, we’re onto you.
  • Pink Buttermilk Congealed Salad. Don’t even get me started on how this uses Jell-O: I can’t get past the word Congealed used in a recipe title.
  • Fruit Cocktail Topped Hash. Cuz nothing says hash like … fruit?
  • Broiled Bologna Cups with Canned Peas. At least this recipe tried to be fancy: evidently if you broil bologna slices, the edges curl up into a nicely shaped bowl. To cradle your canned peas. Ew.
  • Ketchup Pineapple Upside Down Cake. That’s alright, Heinz, we pass.
  • Shrimp Salmon Mold. Made with … you guessed it: Jell-O. But the clincher was the snazzy way the cook molded it back into a salmon shape. What’d that salmon ever do to you?
  • Milk Chicken with Banana Buttons. Um. How before-dinner martinis did you need to make this one?
  • Pimento Puree. Apparently, pimentos were the kale of their time.
  • Liver Loaf Shaped as a Pineapple. Because it was classy, people!
  • Lest you think we’re only picking on the 1970s, let’s take a moment to remember (maybe not so fondly) the 1980s: they brought us Sloppy Joes, Manwiches, Bisquick everything, Shake and Bake, cereals shaped and flavored like donuts/cookies/candy bars (part of your nutritious breakfast!), American cheese slices, Salisbury steak TV dinners, Dr. Pepper chili, pizza rolls, and bagel bites. I can feel my arteries hardening.

Well, I could keep going with this gastronomic game of Truth or Dare, but I think you might need a Pepto break.

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Argan oil

If you’re a fan of argan oil in your skin-care routine, I have a bit of historical (er, biological?) trivia for you.

It begins with the stout seeds of the shrubby Moroccan Argania spinose tree …

Photo by Songwon Lee via Flickr

Seeds that are gathered by … goats.

Photo by Grand Parc – Bordeaux, France via Wikimedia Commons

That’s right, we’re talking about those wacky tree-climbing goats that scream, “Photoshop!”

But there’s no technological trickery at work here.

These goats do defy gravity, and while they are loping about in the limbs of trees, they eat argan seeds.

Can you see where I’m going with this? (Just be glad you get your argan oil from a bottle.)

Here’s the history of argan oil, in a nutshell, according to Michael Graham Richard of Mother Nature Network:

“Argan oil is quite popular these days in skin- and hair-care products, but this is nothing new. Indigenous Berber tribes in the region actually did something similar, though they didn’t get the argan oil out of a bottle that they bought in a store; goats would climb up argan trees and eat the fruits, swallowing whole the core, which looks a bit like an almond.”

Photo by Fred Dunn via Flickr

Okay, we’re all caught up to that point, so …

“This nut would pass through the goat’s digestive system and end up in goat droppings, where it would be collected. To get at the oil inside, you would then have to crack it open with a stone, and grind the seeds inside. The resulting oil was then used for cooking and as a skin treatment.”

Photo by Chrumps via Wikimedia Commons

Now you know.

As with so many modern manufacturing practices, the middlemen (middlegoats?) have been cut from the process of processing argan oil, but that doesn’t stop them from climbing trees to eat seeds.

Watch and laugh:

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bookmobiles

Libraries on wheels (or on four-legged creatures, as we will soon learn) first began gaining popularity in 19th-century Europe. Inspired by the creativity and knowing it would fulfill a need here in America as well, librarian and entrepreneur Mary Titcomb launched the first bookmobile in Maryland at the turn of the century. Drawn by a horse and carriage, the idea began catching on, and by 1904, 66 mobile libraries had been started.

In 1912, the first motorized bookmobiles took off with a zoom … and they didn’t slow down for several decades.

Photo by Orange County Archives via Wikimedia Commons.

The bookmobile was an ingenious way to bring literacy and education to rural communities. What could make a bibliophile smile wider than this coming ’round the bend in their neck of the woods?

Librarians in the early 1900s could purchase a bookmobile for as little as $1,000, which made financial sense … at least until the 1970s and ’80s, when fuel prices began to skyrocket.

Fuel prices might not be so limiting, however, in places like Thailand, where bookmobiles come in the form of elephants, or in Zimbabwe, where they utilize donkeys. In Kenya, they prefer the camel as their mode of bookish transportation, and in the Andes, they like their llama-mobiles. Have a pet-dander allergy and an automobile aversion? Try a boat, like in Bergin, Norway. Not only is their bookmobile water friendly, it also has a small performing circus on board.

I know, right?

In the Himalayas, there’s a bookmobile in the form of a person. This dedicated librarian carries his books-for-loan in a huge basket on his back … even the entire Oxford Dictionary!

Intrigued as we are by these devoted bibliophiles? You can download a free mini movie on one of the most famous bookmobile drivers, who brings his tomes to the people of Colombia on donkey-back.

With the dawning of the digital age, bookmobiles lost their popularity, but we feel confident that the vintage feel and artistic vibe of the bookmobile will be revived. Seattle already has one that’s awfully sweet to the eyes.

Photo by Joe Mabel via Wikimedia Commons.

I’d say if you park it next to your local taco truck, you’d have some cheerful patrons, wouldn’t you?

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