Saturday, December 31, 2016

Book Review: The Christmas Book: How to Have the Best Christmas Ever

The Christmas Book: How to Have the Best Christmas Ever, Juliana Foster, Scholastic, Inc., New York, 2007.
This book is filled with ideas for a good Christmas, some of which I found helpful but most not.  However the part I liked is the little blurbs about where different Christmas traditions come from.
Santa Clause: Santa evolves from Saint Nicholas, and early Christian priest who was known for giving to others.  It was said he threw money down a chimney which landed in stockings of three young women who did not have money for a dowry.  Santa began to spread as resistance to puritanical movements which wanted to do away with Christmas.  Santa represented the spirit of Christmas.  Washing Irving coined the term Santa Clause as a translation of Sinterklaas.  The poem "A Visit from Saint Nickolas" (now known as "The Night Before Christmas." embedded to definition of Santa Clause in the American character.  Santa has been wearing red since 1885, before Coca Cola's commercials.
Christmas Cards: There are rare wood engravings with Christmas messages from the middle ages; but the extensive use of Christmas cards started in England in 1840.  From there the tradition was introduced to America in 1843, and became very popular by the 1860s.
Christmas Stockings:  Christmas stocking may predate Christmas when German children left hay in their shoes for the god Odin and his hunting party.  As a Christmas tradition it is attributed to Saint Nicholas leaving gifts in stockings hung by the fire to dry.
Christmas Tree:  Here is another tradition that predates Christianity.  In Pagan times evergreens were symbolic of new life.  The first mention of the Christmas Tree is when Saint Boniface cut down an oak tree where a group of pagans were worshipping Thor.  A fir tree grew in its place, and this was proclaimed the symbol of Christianity.  It wasn't until Martin Luther however that the tree was brought indoors.  He was walking through a grove of pines, and observed the starts through the branches, and determined to bring this beauty into his home.  From Germany the tradition spread to England and then the United States.
Caroling: Originally the word caroling meant to dance in a circle with flute music being played.  The were introduced into church services in the 13th century by Saint Francis de Assisi.  The practice of going door to door singing began in Rome.  Wassailing was a practice by which peasants visited feudal lords in exchange for hot punch (wassail) or other favors.
The Yule Log: This tradition is traced to Norsemen.  It coincided with the winter solstice.  A log was cut form an oak.  when the fire was extinguished a small piece of wood was saved to light next year's log.  Ashes were spread on the ground for fertility.
Mistletoe:  Mistletoe again predates Christianity.  It was hung over doorways to ward off evil spirits.  Its evergreen nature is a symbol of prosperity and fertility.  The tradition of kissing is less clear.  However, any young woman under the mistletoe cannot refuse a kiss.  However if unkissed under the mistletoe she will not marry within the year.
Holly and Ivy:  Again these plant predate Christianity in traditions.  The holly (masculine) and ivy )feminine) were used in fertility rites.  Holly was associated with the Roman holiday Saturnalia, which is very similar to Christmas.  Holly is associated with Christ because of the red berries, and sharp edged leaves representing the crown of thorns placed on Christ's head.
There is also a section on traditions from around the world.    Some are quite strange.  In Wales the carry a horse's skull on a stick, and those it touches must pay a fine.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Book Review: In the Dark Streets Shineth

In the Dark Street Shineth, David McCullough, Shadow Mountain Press, Salt Lake City, UT, 2010,
This book is taken from the narration David McCullough provided for the Mormon tabernacle Choir at the Christmas Concert 2010.  He tells the stories of two American Christmas songs, the first being "O Little town of Bethlehem" and the second "I'll be Home for Christmas."  Phillips Brooks wrote "O Little town of Bethlehem" in 1865 after he visited the Holy Land and Bethlehem.  He wrote it as a way to remind himself of his trip.  A few years later he asked Lewis Redner to put the poem to music.  Redner felt like a failure, until Christmas Eve, and the melody came to his mind like a revelation, waking him from his sleep.
In 1841 Winston Churchill crossed the Atlantic to met with President Roosevelt at Christmastime.  This was shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Churchill had made the comment at a Christmas Eve presentation that each home should be a brightly lighted island of happiness and peace.  Then in singing this song a couple days later at church, he likely was touched by the line, "Yet in they dark streets shineth the everlasting light."
The second song was specifically written for WWII but two song writers Kim Gannon (lyricist) and Walter Kent.  Recorded by Bing Crosby, the song was the most popular of the time, and expressed the sentiments of many during the war.  "I'll be home...if only in my dreams.
During this Christmas may we remember the sacrifices of other who have paved a way for us.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Book Review: Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination: J.K. Rowling

Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure by: J.K. Rowling, Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2008.
The title of this book says it all.  This is a short book of the commencement address delivered by J.K. Rowling at Harvard University 2008.  She talks about failure vs success, and different definitions for each.  How her greatest fear was to be a failure, and at age 30 most people would have called her just that.  However she is now the author of the most read fantasy books in history.  By imagination, you would think the author of fantasy books would be talking of the ability to write or tell stories or something.  However she is actually talking about the ability of people to empathize with others.   She draws upon her personal experiences working for Amnesty International.  We can feel the pain of other people we have never met.  She feels this is invaluable, and unique to us as humans.   Two quotes with this regard, "They can think themselves into other people's places" vs "They can refuse to know."  Then the conclusion is that "As is a tale so is life: not how long it is but how good it is, is what matters."

Jimmy Stewart ad It's a Wonderful Life

Here is a story I had not heard from the Wall Street Journal.  It's a Wonderful Life was released in 1946 just after WWII.  Bothe Jimmy Stewart and Frank Capra, the director, were trying to reestablish themselves after serving during the war.  Jimmy Stewart as a squadron leader of B-24 bombers.  As  result of his service, Stewart was suffering from PTSD and wondering if acting was worth it; had the industry passed him by during the war.   Give the article a read as it is very interesting and insightful.

Article Review: 5 Language Myths Busted

5 Language Myths busted, by Amanda Taylor, Continuum Utah Magazine, Fall 2016.
Language is interesting, and study of language is general can be very interesting.  I took a few linguistics classes at school; so I found this article interesting.  The author bases her article on the work of University of Utah linguist Abby Kaplan.
Myth 1: Being bilingual makes you smarter.  In fact, being bilingual does not make you more or less intelligent.  Although it can have advantages.  You can communicate with more people, enjoy exploring a second culture, and also perhaps have some business advantages.  Bilingualism does offer a broader perspective in knowing more than one name for an object.  One is better able to think and talk about language.  So even if there is no evidence that knowing a second language increases your IQ, the advantages are such that Kaplan says this myth is mostly true.
Myth 2: Adults cannot learn a second language. This is based on anecdotal proof as refugees are observed and the children pick up the new language more quickly.  However this does not mean adults cannot learn a second language.  Children are usually more immersed into the new culture and language, at school and the playground.  Adults have less opportunity.  It is true, that the longer a language is wired, how to move your tongue etc., it can make pronouncing a new language more difficult.  So it may e more  difficult for an adult to learn a new language; but there is not a cut off after which a new language cannot be learned.
Myth 3: French is the most beautiful language.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  It is true the people consider more guttural sounds to not be beautiful.  In this we have the examples of Klingon (from Star Trek) and German.  But the beauty of language is subject to personal opinion, and people usually consider their own language the most beautiful.
Myth 4: Text messaging makes you illiterate.  In this case there is no evidence to support this statement.  Use of abbreviations does not effect the ability to read and write.  Some are common even in formal language.
Myth 5: Women talk far more than men.  Kaplan says the best studies show men and women talk about the same.  There is no proof that women talk more.  They also speak roughly the same way.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Christmas Traditions: Stockings

I have seen two explanations for Christmas Stockings.  The first predated Christ, and children would put straw in their socks for some the god Odin's flying horse during his annual hunt.  In return small gifts were left in the shoes.
However I like the second version.  There are several versions of this story, but they all center on Saint Nicholas, and her generous nature.  Some his generosity is general.  He throws coins down chimneys in an effort not to be seen.  Often these coins would fall into stockings or shoes close to the fireplace.  However there is also a more specific story.  In one account there was a gentleman who had three daughters.  He fell on hard times and was broke.  The other account says just that a poor man had three daughters.  The man, whether always poor, or now poor, had no dowry for his daughters, and consequently no hopes of marrying them well.  At that time a dowry was required for a good marriage.  Saint Nichols was always on the look out for situations where he could help.  He had received an inheritance, and spent his life giving it away.  When he became aware of this gentleman he became determined to help, without being discovered.  In one account he sneaks in and places money in to stockings hanging by the fireplace.  In another he throws the coins through the chimney.  Yet in another he brings enough for one dowry on three different nights.  And still another he uses gold ornaments to place in the stockings, thus sparking the tradition of giving a Christmas orange.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Bear Lake Monster

This article from NEWSDAILYREPORT seems to indicate the Bear Lake Monster may be real, and its remains recently discovered.  Going to Scout Camp along the Bear Lake, I was familiar with the legend of the Bear Lake Monster, a creature who came form the lake and most often at sheep.  Of course the local sheep rangers did not care for the animal in their lake, but mostly it kept to itself.  There were reported sitings in early Mormon colonization history.  My grandfather use to haul freight in the area, and when it was iced over would take his wagon over the ice saving much time.  I have never heard nor read anything that he claims to have seen a bear lake monster.
It now appears the carcass of the beast has washed ashore.  It appears to be a sea based animal in appears like a sea fairing creature except when it is too tired.  It very likely is a mesosaur.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Book Review: Let's See Christmas

Let's See Christmas, by Natalie M. Rosinsky, Compass Point Books, Minneapolis, Minn., 2003.

This book is likely geared to the fourth grade reader.  It gives a good description of Christmas and what activities take place for Christmas.  It tells some stories I didn't know, like the Poinsettia coming from Mexico.  We put stockings out because it is said Saint Nicholas threw coins down chimneys which landed in shoes.  We don't know the day of Christ's birth, but the winter was chosen as it was a good time to celebrate.  Nativity's became popular when people didn't read, and the figures were used to tell the story of Jesus' birth.  The gift bringer is different from country to country based on the traditions.  Christmas season can last from early December to mid January.  Carols tell the story of Jesus, and other sing of Santa Claus.  Sending Christmas Cards is a relatively new tradition, catching on in the U.S. after 1875.  Evergreen trees are used as they remind people of spring.    Trees are decorated outdoors (such as the White House lawn) and indoors.


Article Review: So I Married a New York Times Bestselling Author (RaeAnne Thayne)

So I Married a New York Times Bestselling Author, by Jared Thayne, UtahState, Winter 2017.
RaeAnne Thayne writes romance novels, and has published several Christmas Romances.  However I am not really into romance, and I must admit I have not read any of her noels that I remember.  However what is intriguing about her story, as told by her husband, is her devotion to her second child, a boy born three weeks early and with serious complications.  He was born in 1997.  He has endured 35 surgeries and medical procedures in his 19 years.  He does not speak, is 100-percent G-J tube fed, suctioned regularly, non-mobile when away from his wheel chair.  He also has a pump and catheter implanted into his stomach to provide continuous muscle relaxing medications.  However he is unable to say where he hurts.  RaeAnne has become fairly adept at narrowing things down.  Still so his care is difficult, and RaeAnne's back can attest to this.  It takes over an hour to get him ready in the morning.
Jared considers RaeAnne an angel; a far more gifted mother and caregiver than New York Times bestselling author.  She keeps detailed records of his medical procedures and medications.  She has been with him in the hospital many times, and knows precisely when to slip in her own shower.  It would seem their son would be a burden, but Jared says he has also brought good into their lives.  This includes friendships and neighbors, boys who volunteer to push his wheel chair, neighbors willing to help out, or lifting or whatever.  Often their are meals made, and neighbors willing to care for the boys.  "Peace and strength can be found among daily challenges.  RaeAnne feels that caring for their son has made her writing more "rich and compassionate".

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Book Review: Holildays and Festivals: Christmas

 Holidays and Festivals: Christmas, by Nancy Dickman, Heinemann Library, Chicago, Illinois, 2011.
This book appears to be geared towards second graders.  It is good to know that there are books about Christmas available.  Of course it is one in a series of books.  This book is very basic.  Christmas is a holiday celebrated by Christians, people who believe Christ is the son of God.  The celebrate by sending cards, decorating, putting up a Christmas tree, going to church, singing carols, giving gifts and getting gifts from Santa Clause.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Article Review: Crusade for a Chief

This article touches on the life of Chief Washakie.  It is written by Jana Bommersbach and appears in the August 2016 of True West magazine.  In 1940, the life of Chief Washakie was the subject of 23 oil paintings by J.K. Ralston.  Chief Washakie is considered the last chief of the Eastern Shoshone.  He was friendly to the Americans, and helped them on many occasions, being credited with saving thousands of lives.  He helped save General George Crook and his men at the battle of Rosebud.  We was given his choice of a location for their reservation.  A federal fort was named for him.  The paintings by Ralston were action paintings.  He painted them in more than forty years after Washakie's death.  He used some of Washakie's grand children as models to tell scenes from the life of Chief Washakie.  The paintings were exhibited in at the Fremont Pioneer Museum in Lander Wyoming.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Book Review: Day of Infamy: The Classic Account of the Bombing of Pearl harbor

Day of Infamy: The Classic Account of the Bombing of Pearl Harbor, by Walter Lord, Henry Hold and Company, New York, 1957.
I read the 60th anniversary edition.
This book is stuffed full of stories.  The author was able to interview many of the participants, and there by had much information to share.  The downfall of the book, is with this much information it seems to start repeating itself, and it is hard to follow.  The story is told from many different angles, sailors on boats, sailors on leave, captains and admirals trying to get to their boats, Japanese Naval commanders and pilots, and submarine drivers, civilians, spouses of military personnel, local citizens, local Japanese, radar operators, pilots on the ground, and a few in the air, incoming plane pilots (some who were shot down,) those who pass away, and those who swim through oil, and those who are miraculously rescued from ships turned turtle.  This is a book to be devoured this time of year.  The Japanese caused civilian damage much must less than assume the author contends.  Most of the exploding ordnance in populated areas was anti-aircraft fire form the U.S. guns on ships and shore.