Monthly Archives: December 2011

2011 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,100 times in 2011. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Posted by on December 31, 2011 in Uncategorized


Christmas For Dummies

By Brian M. Howle

It really is hard to believe that yet another Christmas has snuck right up and foisted itself upon an unprepared and skittish world.  As I write this, it is the literal beginning of the 12 Days of Christmas, as we get that honest assessment deal going on just in time for Christmas.

For those who celebrate this holiday of Christmas – who have it so ingrained into their memories it is essentially a part of their personality – that whole Thanksgiving weekend deal really begins to set off all the little hidden sensors that will chime in familiar succession as traditions beget memories that beget new memories …

And they all become this glorious, wonderfully individual glop of a lifetime that we call our souls.

Oh for sure, the involuntary nature of cardio and pulmonary gives us a heart, and it does keep us alive while it’s healthy.

But that warm and fuzzy (or bare and destitute) feeling we get at holiday times can become much, much more than just a storage facility for happy memories with grandpa and grandma and Crazy Aunt Lisa.  It can also give us cause to reflect on our lives, and the world around us; to reset the big picture and make sense out of what has become clouded on our journey through life.

This more erudite, progressive, thinking person’s world has now reached a position of being above it all, really; a place where there is no time for silly throwbacks to our Puritan founders. They see religion as the root problem of just about every argument they roll out, and on any other given day a lot of people just might have the inclination to agree on that one.

I have to admit, although I pride myself on being intently observant of the world around me, I missed the exact date that things began to change.  I don’t remember there being any one incident or announcement that trumpeted when things took a turn from normalcy and common sense, but it’s an unfortunate fact that now resides before us at this time of worldwide celebration and faith.

Since there wasn’t any huge public outcry against it that I can ever remember as a child, it’s difficult to understand exactly why it has even become an issue.  I mean, really.

But as you all know by now, those wonderful folks who decide what the rest of us can and can’t say or do or share or celebrate in our nation of freedom of choice and freedom of religion have most fervently put the ol’ kabash on that most hateful, hurtful and horrible phrase that some particularly selfish citizens inflict on unsuspecting friends, neighbors and strangers:

“Merry Christmas!”

Again, this isn’t any insane argument about anyone’s belief system.  The say, “oh, you can still have your precious little religion.  We don’t mind that.  You just can’t celebrate it or speak of it in public.”

And the end-all reason for this view, for this mass edict that all must bow to and obey? Why is it we can’t say it?

“Because it’s offensive.”

It occurs to me that, as long as we’re talking fantasy views here, that we could solve the nation’s energy crisis tout de suite if we could hook up a generator to the graves of our founding fathers, ‘cause they must be spinning like the Large Hadron Collider right about now.

The initial concept of political correctness was, as most things are, a fair and noble idea.  Those with certain conditions, afflictions or affiliations seemed to always be the butt of jokes by the majority, and words can leave wounds after all, so let’s just start watching our p’s and q’s, shall we?

And so, a considerate thought for the feelings of a few “special” folks amongst us was born as not just an idea, but a movement.  And if there’s one thing we humans (especially Americans) latch on to like a seagull on a french fry, it’s a movement.

Oh, those poor, poor folks who have been wronged by your and my beliefs, our holidays and all the ancillary traditions that go along with it.  Can’t you feel how they were wronged and ridiculed by our evil declarations of “Merry Christmas!”?

But as we all know, all too painfully by now, that whole “seemed like a good idea at the time” vibe that accompanied most P.C. agendas quickly morphed into a public-shame-&-humiliation hydra that soon developed tentacles of truly stupid and ill-conceived laws.

And the long-standing battle between those of ecumenical beliefs and those without escalated into even more absurd and idiotic arrays of charges and counter charges.

Townships, communities, cities, counties, states and ultimately federal governments began issuing edicts of what was and was not allowed to be displayed or celebrated at taxpayer expense due to “consideration for those not members of the thingy-du-jour.”

Crosses that had adorned land or buildings for decades were actually outlawed by an American court of law.  Nativity scenes were ordered taken down in town after town because they promoted one religion over another.  The singing of religious songs was also rather unceremoniously banned.

Again, this is not my fight for one religion.  I’m not pushing Christianity over anything else. That is not the issue.

This is about taking law and using it as a tool to impose narrow concepts on the majority of the populace.

But the simple act of acknowledging the existence of Christmas, alone, can not be denied by decree or ignored by those who believe.

Growing up in a relatively religious atmosphere – from what I witnessed – didn’t seem to have drastically affected any of my friends in any negative or nefarious manner.

What it did do, however, was to makes us all aware of the needs of those less fortunate than us.  It made us have a core value base that imparted us with a sense of pride in our community, for respect of our neighbors’ property.  We understood the need for everyone to do their part all aspects of our lives, because there literally was no such thing as a free lunch.

There was, however, such a thing as compassion and assistance thru churches and service organizations.

The obligatory meal to make the holiday seem more normal for those without food gets all the press on Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Everyone sees those PR opportunities.

But, those same people need food, clothing and shelter on every other day of the year, too.  Difficulties and hardship do not take vacations or time off.

It’s an extremely difficult concept for me to wrap my head around, to be honest with you.  I was raised by a family, a neighborhood, and a community that looked after one another and rallied in a moment’s notice in the event of tragedy or loss.

These same people made the advent of the holiday season the most anticipated time of the year by engaging in the simplest and least expensive tradition ever conceived:
Exchanging goodies.

Oh, while I’m sure some families who were particularly close to one another may have done some actual gift exchanges – but that’s not the goodies I’m talking about.

And no, gifts of libation aren’t these goodies, either.

I’m talking ‘bout food.

Not just run-down-to-the-Piggly-Wiggly, precooked, mass produced munchies, kids.  I mean, honest-to-peanuts, made from scratch goodies.

There are families in my hometown that, to this day, most likely guard that family recipe like it’s the next project coming up from Apple.

One family made a chocolate cake that would give you the same chemical rush of pleasure as heroin – in theory.

Another family baked cookies that were recognized as legal tender in several of the more advance culinary nations.

There was an avalanche of the best cookies, cakes, pies, and pastries – along with the occasional liqueur – the likes of which no issue of Southern Living magazine has ever had the distinct honor and pleasure of photographing, sampling and sharing with the world.

Hardly was there ever a time in the many, many years that have passed from those happier, carefree days that my siblings and I didn’t make some reference to those simple delights.  When we reflected on this dish or that, and who made it, that tangible part of our past and our present began to foreshadow the future, as the numbers of those friends and families slowly began to dwindle.  There was the expected attrition from children growing, marrying and in most cases, moving away.

And then came the attrition through the normal cycle of life.

This is not a bad thing, nor is it a harbinger of end times, this shaking off of our mortal coils.  But with each loss, those of us left behind begin to feel the erosion of all those things that we – and our parents – held so dear, and fought so valiantly to maintain.  And the battle to preserve that lifestyle seemed to become more and more, one of diminishing returns.

However, the families of my youth have grown and evolved through a couple more generations.  And with each child of these folks that I meet today – now adults with children of their own – it is impossible to ignore the familiar watermark on the hearts and the values of these small-town folks who raised them.

So join my friends and I in keeping these traditions alive.

If you know of an elderly, homebound or just a lonely individual who is facing this season alone, please give of your time and your heart – and make a wonderful difference in their life, if only for a day.

And I promise you – that person will absolutely not consider your religion a problem.

So to all of you sharing this amazing planet – enjoy your religion, or lack of it – and may you all have a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and a Happy New Year!

The column was also published in Alternatives NewsMagazine and Coast Magazine, Dec. 15, 2011 – January 12, 2012.

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Posted by on December 17, 2011 in Along The Watchtower


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Christmas Lesson 2011: Baby Doll and Ken

Baby Doll and Ken have a front yard reunion.

Note: Every Christmas, I try to write a column that extolls the spirit of the season, something nice, something sweet, something quite unlike the daily ugliness we all face out in the big, bad world.  This year was easy; several stories were in wait to be selected already when this came across my news feed this week.  If you know someone particularly jaded or lacking something to believe in, have them take a quick look at this.  It’s a short read, but will stay with you forever. – Brian

By Midwest Horse Welfare Foundation, Inc., from a post on Facebook

We were just talking about how horses never forget. Here is a short story from one of our friends and adopters, John and Cindy. I thought this might bring some Christmas cheer to those who need it. Feel free to share if you wish.

We look after a sweet mare by the name of Baby Doll. Her owner is a man named Ken who is getting up there in his years (he is 90+ now).  Due to health issues Ken has not been out to the barn in over a year to see his beloved mare.  Now, Ken is one of these guys that when he would come to the barn each week he always had some dog & cat food for the barn critters, treats for his and other horses and usually a 2 day old Danish for the barn managers.  You get the picture of what type of man Ken is.

Cindy and our friend Kym decided to pay Ken a visit a few weeks ago (he lives about a 1-1/2 hour drive from the barn, not far from O’Hare airport) and in tow with them was Baby Doll. They knocked on Ken’s door, who was delighted to see his ole friends Cindy and Kym. They smiled and said someone else was here to see him, and there was Baby Doll in the yard (right there in the Chicago suburbs).

Cindy said the look on his face was nothing but pure joy and when he called his beloved mare her ears perked up so tall; she knew and missed that voice.  Now, Ken is not one to show a lot of emotion (he fought some nasty battles in WW-II), but Cindy said it is the first time she has ever seen a tear in this man’s eyes. There was no doubt that Baby Doll had not forgotten this man who had taken care of her for so many years. Above is a great reunion picture of an ole cowboy greeting his beloved mare that he had not seen in a very long time.

Ken has made arrangements to pay for her even when he is gone. Baby Doll is 26 now and you would never know it, she has such much spunk on trail. She is the best mare I have met and we love her tons, she has such a kind personality.

We plan on printing the picture and putting it in a frame and sending to Ken for Christmas. Cindy said the one that had the most tears in their eyes was Ken’s wife – tears of happiness to see her husband be able to hug the girl he talks about so often. ∆

So, if you know a Ken – or a Ken’s wife – who has lived long and given all they had to give; if you know someone of this age who has served their country in the military, or who worked their entire life either in commerce or making a difference in their community, or who sacrificed career for family or caring for others … please …. take a few minutes to find what could give their weathered hearts a proper dusting off, and injected with love and hope.  And then – do it.

Because Christmas alone is anything but Merry.

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Posted by on December 11, 2011 in Along The Watchtower


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