Offtheshelf's blog

Skating in the Birdbath

A few mornings ago, perhaps a week ago, it's hard to tell ... it's not like I write these things down ... (actually you do write them down) ... yes, yes, but in this case I lost the note ... (shut up already and tell your story) ... Okay! Okay! Don't you just hate split personalities?!

Anyway a few mornings ago I awoke with a tune in my head. God no, it wasn't anything from Richard Wagner's opera Gotterdammerung - I won't go down that path again. I think my longwinded operatic blog back in September about the gods of Valhalla and their quest for the ring of the Nibelung lost me quite a few readers. No, no, this time the tune was God Gave Rock & Roll to You. You know, by the rock group Kiss. Strange song to be waking up to. But it got me thinking how today's high school kids are into the music from the 1970's - Kiss, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, the Who, etc, etc. It's funny how they talk with those of us in our mid-40's about those times and about the music from that period as if we of parental age are all veterans of some Rock & Roll War waged long ago. "Tell us again about when the Beatles broke up." "Tell us about when Keith Moon died." "Tell us about when Ozzie Osbourne bit the head off the bat." I got into a discussion recently about Pink Floyd with a couple of teenagers. Unfortunately, I lost them when I brought up Atom Heart Mother(*). My fault for casting back into the 1960's.

***

Noticed this morning that there is ice in the birdbath. Bad for the birds. Good for us ice skaters. Not that I plan on skating in my birdbath. But there's a thin layer of hope that there might be some ice skating this winter - yet not unless we get a good, long cold blast from Canada, and soon, to sufficiently freeze over the kettle pond behind my parents' house. I skated there when I was a youngster. My kids learned to skate there. It's been the site of some legendary hockey games.

Some of the best skating was at night, under a somewhat full moon. Sometimes a neighbor might bring a lantern to throw a little more light. But nowadays, though the pond is full up with water after all the rain we've had during the past year, it is very far from frozen. Any hockey this year might only be courtesy of the Boston Bruins, the Beanpot(**), and the Frozen Four. One morning, way back when I was still living there with my parents, I awoke to find a car floating in the pond. How it got there was a mystery, probably something to do with a faulty emergency break, an incline, and a late night out on the town. Anyway, my mother made me scrambled eggs and bacon, and I went on with my day. Ah, the good old days.

***

What is it with dogs and vacuum cleaners? I don't know about your dog, but most times when I vacuum I have to fight with Lucy, who attacks the attachment thingy. (What did you call it?) Oh, I don't know ... the attachment thingy! (That's not what you call it!) Oh, leave me alone! You don't exist anyway, you blasted second personality! Anyway, Lucy's got something against the vacuum. I don't know if it's personal, or if it's some inner primordial instinct. Perhaps ten of thousands of years ago there once existed some kind of sucking-type of animal (now extinct) that used to plague early man and his wolf companion on cave cleaning day. I don't know. Either way, it's amazing how much fight a 21-pound Boston Terrier possesses when pitted against a Hoover(***).

***

Wrote out the first check toward our daughter's upcoming college education. It was a relatively small $250 check - just to accept the college's offer of acceptance. Larger checks will follow. We're going the state college route. Private college is just too expensive. I went to a private college, but somehow paying for college was easier in the "good old days." You know those days, when we walked uphill through 10-foot snowdrifts back and forth to lectures ... back in the days when we used to protest things, like the US war in Grenada and broccoli quiche.

Nowadays, the cost of attending college has skyrocketed. Heck, tuition, room & board, books, bail, and attorney fees to any of the private colleges can come to about what the average person makes in a year. State college isn't as "cheap" as it used to be, either. Perhaps it would be best to just take the circa $75,000 that four years of state college is going to cost and hand the check to our daughter at high school graduation this spring. And do the same for our son two years from now when he graduates. And tell them to invest wisely, work hard, eat right, read a good book(****) every now and then ... and for the last time, turn down that darn rock & roll music!

(*) Atom Heart Mother was a Pink Floyd album released in 1968; (**) Annual college hockey tournament between BC, BU, Northeastern, and Harvard; (***) Model number 20712008X; (****) I mean it. Stop by the library. We have lots and lots of new titles to choose from. And old ones too (we call those the "classics").

Jack Sheedy

More Snow on the Way!

Mark Twain once said "the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco." In those terms, the warmest spring I ever spent was the winter of '07 on Cape Cod.

Yesterday was a record-breaker in terms of high temps across Massachusetts. Not only has there been no snow this winter, plants are beginning to bud. Heck, I think my lawn needs mowing!

As pleasant as these mild temperatures have been, it simply isn't natural. Whether it's global warming, or El Nino, or La Nina, or La-la-la-la-linoleum*, or whatever it is that's causing these much higher than normal temperatures, it's just not right. This is the time of year when kids should be out sledding, and ice skating, and building snow forts, and throwing snowballs at passing pedestrians.

Frankly, I miss winter. I miss wearing turtlenecks and sweaters. I miss donning gloves. I miss skating on the kettle pond behind my parents' house. I miss hot chocolate. I miss a warm fire. I miss snow.

So, let's rewind the tape and examine a more picturesque version of winter on Cape Cod during the first week of January 2007:

January 1, 2007: Dear Diary, the new year arrived with a drastic drop in temperature and a refreshing three inches of snowfall covering the lawn. Temps in the 20's. By mid-afternoon I was out shoveling while my dog Lucy frolicked in the white stuff. In the evening had a nice fire, read a book, and it is now snowing once again with frozen flakes dancing against the windows as I settle in for "a long winter's nap."

January 2: Snow fell heavily throughout the morning and into the afternoon. Temps dropped further, into the teens. We had a foot of snow on the ground by noontime, and perhaps a few more inches by dinner. Had to dig paths in the backyard for Lucy. Down in the cellar, I noticed the heating oil in the tank was low (last week I completely forgot to call for an oil delivery), so I'm using the furnace sparingly. Burning more firewood, which makes me feel like I'm back in the "good old days."

January 3: More snow. Temps in the single digits. Oil level very low. Called again for a delivery but was told that with all the snow and high demand they may not be by until later in the week. Decided to turn the heat down to 50 degrees rather than risk running out of oil. Split some logs for firewood, but running out. Planned on heading to the store in the afternoon to pick up some food items, but the snowplow had still not been by. Evening finds me bundled up in a blanket before the fireplace ... low on oil and low on food. But on the positive side - at least the electricity is still on, so I have lights, refrigerator, TV, etc.

January 4: Awoke to discover the electricity off. On the transistor radio heard that heavy snow has knocked down power lines. It could be days before power is back on. Snowplow has still not been by. Regardless, I dug out my car and cleared the driveway. Two and a half feet of snow on the ground now. Temps around zero. Later, tried to start my car but it wouldn't turn over. Took what food was left in the refrigerator and put it outside the back door to keep it from spoiling. Ate a dinner of dry cereal, Ritz crackers, and the remaining Christmas candy. Burned the last of the firewood.

January 5: Blizzard conditions. House temp down into the 40's. Burned anything I could get my hands on: Christmas tree, Christmas cards, Christmas ornaments, 2007 wall calendar, copies of old tax returns, a bookcase, an old rocking chair, record album covers, wooden picture frames, tool handles, headboard from the spare bedroom, two hockey sticks, an old 3-wood from my golf bag, a yardstick, an old tennis racket, a wooden salad bowl, the fireplace mantle, etc. Dug a tunnel in the backyard for Lucy, but she refused to leave the house so I put down some newspaper for her, which I later burned. A family of raccoons made off with the food I had put outside. Power came on briefly in the late afternoon, just long enough for me to crank up the heat and get the house temperature up to a balmy 55 degrees ... until the tank ran out of oil. Dinner consisted of six beef bouillon cubes, the remaining Ritz crackers, flour, oregano, Tabasco sauce, some mustard, one slightly moldy slice of white bread, and some of Lucy's dog food.

January 6: The sun came out briefly this morning - for about five minutes - but then it clouded over again with more snow falling. Couldn't open any of the doors due to high drifts. Electricity still off. Food all gone ... except for Kibbles & Bits (which are surprising good). Burned the legs of the dining room table this afternoon. Burned the dining room chairs throughout the evening hours. Nodded off in front of the fireplace reading the book Alive, about the Andes survivors. Had very odd dreams.

January 7: Oh no! More snow! Outside temps below zero. Inside temps at about freezing. All the furniture is burnt. All the food is gone, including the dog food. It is early evening,  alone in a cold, empty house with Lucy. I notice she's licking her chops, and eyeing me in a strange way. The last candle in dying. My ... pen ... is running ... out of ... ink. Darkness! Lucy?! Lucy ... what ...are you ...doing?! NO!!!!!

On second thought, these mild January temperatures aren't so bad. Think I'll dig out my beach chair and head off to Mayflower Beach with a good book**. I assume my 2006 beach sticker is still valid.

* See Sesame Street

Jack Sheedy

The Storeroom

A pale full moon in the western sky greeted me this morning, the same moon that aided me during the last hour of yesterday's mail route. With the holiday on Monday and President Ford's funeral on Tuesday, that left three days worth of mail to be delivered on Wednesday. Add to that a mail truck that broke down 1/10th of a mile into the route, requiring me to transfer all the mail into my car ... well, let's just say it was a long day.

My mail route is like a trip down memory lane, taking me past my parent's house (which is a convenient lunch time stop), my late-grandmother's house, my old house, and my present home. Of the houses we've owned over the past 22 years (three in Dennis and one in Fort Wayne, Indiana), I'd say the present house, although clearly the smallest, is my favorite. Our first house had no garage and was precariously perched on a hill, which made parking an adventure. The second house, a rustic 1970's saltbox made to look like it was built back in the 1700's, was just too much for me to handle. The third, out in Indiana, was a sprawling 3,000-foot place with five bedrooms, three bathrooms, a large two-car garage (into which we could have probably shoehorned a third vehicle), and an acre of lawn that needed to be mowed in summer and raked in autumn -- all for just $165,000. A Cape Codder can live like a king out there in the Midwest!

The present house, a tidy three-bedroom ranch with a one-car garage, all on a postage stamp-sized 1/5 of an acre lot, is about my speed these days. Everything is on one level - except the basement rooms, which I'm in the process of finishing off - so it's easy to manage. I can get up on the roof if need be with the aid of a six-foot ladder. It's a few quick steps through the garage to the kitchen on food shopping day. The driveway can be shoveled in about five minutes. The puny backyard is fenced in for Lucy, our Boston Terrier. And as a bonus, when cleaning gutters on the western side of the house I catch glimpses of Kelley's Bay.

There are a number of charming nooks in the house, too. But of all the nooks, I'm finding I enjoy one particular spot the most - a small, unfinished room in the basement that is presently comprised of 2 x 4 studded walls displaying the backside of sheetrock from the adjoining playroom. This unfinished room, which I've put on the backburner for now in order the finish the playroom, will eventually become an office where I can set up my computer, books, and files. But for now, it serves as a storeroom of sorts containing every manner of item.

The heating duct to this room has been covered over with a piece of cardboard, so the temperature is lower than in the adjoining room. No sense in paying the gas company to heat the items stored in here. Here is a partial list:

Three rocking chairs, one of which is broken though I've been promising to fix it "one of these days." A bookcase holding two shelves worth of Cape Cod books (the rest of my books are in about a dozen boxes located on the far side of the basement). Four small pumpkins which I'm holding onto in case sometime this winter I get bored and decide to make a pumpkin pie. A world globe that still shows the USSR, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia. My record collection, including eight Herb Albert & the Tijuana Brass albums, all the Moody Blues albums, four Jo Stafford, a couple of Dave Brubeck, some Bill Evans and Vince Guaraldi, a number of Christmas albums, and lots of classical stuff (Ravel, Hayden, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, etc). I still think LP records are going to make a comeback.

There is also a mattress, a box spring, and my old headboard and footboard between which I slept throughout my childhood years. Some canes and walking sticks, including a shillelagh from the "old country." Two guitars that are almost never played. A model of the Titanic, which took me six solid months of my life to make. Three coffee cans full of pennies, which serve as my insurance policy against waking up some morning and finding myself flat broke. One coffee can full of rubber bands, which I may be able to trade for food someday if need be. A fax machine. About 50 or 60 movie videos, including a dozen Disney movies. A file cabinet which contains God knows what. A regulation British dartboard still in its original box. Three golf putters, one of which looks like it once belonged to the Scottish gent who invented the game. Ten plastic bowling pins and two plastic bowling balls that the kids played with when they were much younger. An old home movie screen. A black & white television. An old sewing machine. A large cardboard box full of cassette tapes from my teenage years - Led Zep, Pink Floyd, Beatles, etc.

My watercolor supplies that I haven't touched in about six months. Two small fans. Five lamps of various sizes. A homemade coffee table. A small country-style cabinet featuring a pull down desk top. Two small rugs, one being braided. And a dozen cans of tuna fish, four cans of dog food, eight gallons of water, a quart of tomato juice, a box of condensed milk, two rolls of paper towels, and eight rolls of toilet paper (our remaining emergency supplies from the bird flu scare of last year).

Some days I just wander in there and pick up a book from the shelf, or flip through the records that stand in three liquor boxes and one Pennzoil box. I might pick up a guitar and invent a chord of two. I might grab a handful of pennies out of a coffee can and try to locate a wheat cent. I might take the shillelagh in hand and examine its craftsmanship. Or I might fish through the box of cassettes and smile at the music I listened to back there in the distant, yellowed pages of my past.

Jack Sheedy

The Year's Last Word

And so we have arrived at the 365th day: The dying embers of a storied year. The final chapter of a great book. The terminal toothpick of a once full box. The solitary cigarette of an exhausted pack. (Okay, okay, we get the picture!)

December 31, 2006: My Boston Terrier, Lucy, woke me up at 5:30 am. Outside in the predawn darkness I saw a light in the southern sky that looked like a bright star, but it turned out to be a UFO. I ran inside to get my camcorder; when I returned the light was gone and my dog had been replaced with an exact duplicate, which looks, sounds, smells, and acts every bit like the real Lucy. Yet I knew the truth, and continued to eye her throughout the rest of the morning with suspicion.

The final day of the year is a day of tying up loose ends. I began with a cup of coffee and my little green notebook, jotting down notes to myself of things I wished to accomplish before midnight. (I noticed "Lucy" following me around the house, also jotting down notes, which was unnerving because she was holding the pencil in her left paw and I know for a fact she's right handed!!)

Things to get done ... Balance the checkbook one final time to make sure I'm headed into 2007 in the black. Make sure the gutters are clean, the car oil levels are up to snuff, and the window washer fluid is full up. Listen to any Christmas albums I haven't yet had a chance to sample during the season. So this morning it was the Nutcracker spinning away on the turntable. Unfortunately, the turntable is old and it took some time for the speed to reach 33 1/3 RPM -- for a while it hovered at about 29 1/4, providing an interesting interpretation of Tchaikovsky's classic work.

Before looking ahead to the New Year, let's look back upon the old. It was a year full of surprises. Here are some of the top local news stories from 2006:

Rotary Missing

SAGAMORE - State Police report that the Sagamore Rotary has been stolen, most likely by a gang of thieves since the rotary was quite large. Police believe it was taken sometime in the early morning hours, before the rush hour traffic. All credible leads are being followed up, including the story of a rotary being seen briefly along Route 9 in Framingham where one had not existed before.

Bigfoot Sighting

DENNIS - A woman hanging clothes in her backyard witnessed what she described as a large, apelike man at the far end of her property. Apparently, the two stared at each other for the better part of a minute until the creature cautiously approached the woman, pulled a map from its back pocket, and asked the woman for directions to Route 28 in Yarmouth. It then ran off into a wooded area, with the woman shouting that he was heading in the wrong direction. Investigators on the scene discovered large footprints - perhaps as large as size 11 1/2 or 12 - and a number of cigarette butts at the spot where the creature had been standing. There was also the lingering smell of Axe cologne.

Solar Farm Wins Approval

BARNSTABLE - Developers have won initial approval to build a massive solar power farm in Nantucket Sound. Citing scientific studies that supposedly prove that "the sun shines brightest there," developers plan to install up to two hundred solar panels atop 400-foot towers positioned just offshore. Environmentalists opposed to the plan claim that the glare from the solar panels will confuse seabirds into thinking that the sun is below them rather than above them. As one opponent stated, "The one thing Cape Cod doesn't need is a population of mixed-up seagulls."

Which brings us to 2007. On a national/global scale, this is what I'd like to see accomplished:

Bin Laden -Wasn't he the guy who orchestrated the 9/11 attacks? What ever happened to capturing him? It's been more than five years. He's obviously hiding out somewhere in the hills of Pakistan, in which case at 6 foot 6 inches tall he must be the tallest person in all of Asia! The solution is simple - just have our spy satellites zero in on the longest shadow on the continent.

Ice Caps - They're melting! Every couple of months we hear of an ice sheet "the size of Rhode Island," or "the size of Manhattan," or "the size of Dorchester" falling off into the Arctic Ocean. We need to fix this problem. No worries - I hear the Canadian government, in conjunction with the National Hockey League, is in the process of sending a fleet of Zambonis to the Arctic to make new ice as we speak.

Gasoline - Prices are inching back up. Soon we'll be at $3 per gallon. I say, to improve our collective psyche, the oil companies should do what food producers have been doing for years - decrease the size of their product in lieu of raising prices. For instance, have you seen a Devil Dog these days? Or a Twinky? They're puny! So I propose that instead of selling gasoline by the gallon, it should be sold by the half gallon. That way, instead of seeing $3.19 at the pump we'll see prices like $1.59, just like in the old days! We'll be lulled into thinking we're paying less! And let's face it, in these strange times we need as much lulling as we can get.

Mars - We should all move to Mars as soon as possible. This planet Earth is nuts! With all the war, and terrorism, and outrageous credit card interest rates, and tabloid news, and TV commercials that make no sense, and "Dancing with the Stars," and Paris Hilton, and Tom Cruise, and TV evangelists, and the NHL rule changes, I'm fed up! Now that NASA has discovered water on Mars there's nothing to hold us back. Maybe when that light in the sky returns for "Lucy" I'll go with them. We'll swing by Route 28 to pick up Bigfoot and together we'll form a Utopian society on the red planet - a Walden Two of sorts, as in B.F. Skinner's book - a place where gasoline is $1.59 a half gallon, where checkbooks are always balanced, where Devil Dogs and Twinkys are full size, where seagulls can fly unconfused, and where the Nutcracker plays 24/7 throughout the holiday season.

Happy 2007! Oh and by the way, the last word according to Webster is "zymurgy."

Jack Sheedy

The Torch Has Been Passed

Well, it was bound to happen. This evening it was discovered that my 16-year old son has passed me in the height department. The tale of the tape brings him in about a half inch taller - it must have been the holiday smoked beef sticks that did the trick.

Suddenly, of the three men in our family (including my father) I am the shortest. This revelation changes everything. I'm now the bronze medallist in our family, as my son jumps up into the silver position. Most likely, he'll become a six-footer like his grandfather, perhaps even surpassing him, and leaving me behind in the lowly 5 foot 9  1/2 inch category. They'll be in their own exclusive six-footer club, looking down on me as if I'm some outsider, not quite measuring up to their lofty level. This evening I feel strangely ... insufficient.

So, to put my mind at ease I did some investigating to discover that the average height for a man in this country is 5 foot 9 inches, which means I'm actually a half inch taller than average. My father and son, as six-footers, would therefore be considered mutant giants in our society. That bit of information makes me feel better about things ... well, somewhat better.

Still, I notice how my son now looks down at me, smiling, as if he knows he has the upper hand in our relationship. There's a look in his eyes, the look of someone stronger and more self-assured, the look of someone who's finally achieved the high ground. Meanwhile, I feel like I'm standing in a hole, gazing at the universe around me as if everything is expanding beyond my reach. The kitchen cabinets suddenly seem very high.

I'll have to get used to my new position, just as my son will have to get used to his. In photos going forward I'll be the shorter one. When I use the car after him I'll need to pull the seat forward. At Christmastime, he'll be the one placing the star atop the tree. To paraphrase JFK, the torch has been passed to a new generation ... in terms of changing bulbs in ceiling light fixtures, that is.

Anyway, I never wanted to be a six-footer. My goal in life is simply to live to 100 years of age. By that time, the average height will have grown to seven feet, I will have shrunk to 5 foot 4 inches, the ice caps will have melted, Comet Halley will have returned, humans will have colonized Mars, and the Iraq War will be just about over.

If I remember correctly, the tallest human ever was something like 8 foot 3 inches tall. The smartest had an IQ of 250. And the silliest was a fellow from East Corinth, Vermont who ate tree bark every morning for breakfast.

Jack Sheedy

Smoked Beef & Cheese

These are the days I like best...

...littlexmas_400The twelve days of Christmas that begin after the chaos of December 24 & 25 and which run up to the Epiphany of January 6. I remember being told at an early age by my Italian grandmother that "Little Christmas," or Epiphany, was the most important day of the season in a religious sense. It was, after all, the day when the Three Wise Men arrived on the scene with their gold, frankincense, and myrrh ... and truffles, cheesecake, and raisins dipped in white chocolate.

But today, two millennia later, for me at least it is a time of exhalation after the busy Christmas season. A time of quiet reflection. A time of casual reading. A time of creative writing. A time of watching the newborn winter sky for a sign of flurries. A time of summing up the closing year, and a time of considering the infinite possibilities for the coming one. A time of eating Hickory Farm smoked beef sticks and bricks of cheese!

On the first day of Christmas, Lucy, my Boston Terrier, awakened me from a deep sleep around 6am. Time to go out, so I opened the back door on our enclosed backyard and out she went - all 21 pounds of her, dressed in black and white. She immediately spied a rabbit and the chase was on. I don't think she ever caught up to the rabbit for if she had it would have been a pretty even fight.

Once inside again, Lucy sat before the Christmas tree, whining, thinking she was to receive more squeaky toys and Milk Bones, I imagine. Later in the morning, once the sun had risen high enough in the southeast to cast a filtered gray light on the situation, I did notice that she was, in fact, correct. There was one small, forgotten package resting in the branches - a leftover gift from the kennel we had visited earlier in December where she had had her toenails trimmed and grinded for the holiday season. Once again, I am proven wrong by 21 pounds of terrier.

By 11am, showered and cleanly shaven, and with no particular thing to do but perhaps clean out the gutters again, I found myself in our one-car garage, puttering around while listening to classical music playing from a small radio. A garage is a wonderful place for a guy to hang out any time of year. It is clearly his place, smelling of motor oil, old fishing tackle, and grass clippings. Perhaps someday they'll make cologne for men featuring a mingling of these aromas - Au de Garage, I suppose they'll call it - "for the man who loves his lawnmower."

In the garage is a spare refrigerator. Like NASA, I like to have backup systems in place, just in case. For instance, I still have an old black & white TV kicking around that I bought way back in 1982 ... just in case the two color TVs we own happen to die on the same evening during the second period of the Bruins game. I have a spare tire in the garage that doesn't fit any of our cars, just in case someday I happen to purchase a car it might fit. And I still have a world globe that shows Russia as the "Union of Soviet Socialist Republics" - just in case Communism ever comes back.

But getting back to the spare refrigerator, it is strangely smaller than a regular refrigerator - about three-quarter size. We hardly ever plug it in. Good God, that would be madness! No, it usually just sits there, holding extra cans and bottles of soda, etc - sort of serving as a pea green-colored pantry throughout the year. But last night I was forced to plug the thing in as we had just too many holiday leftovers for the kitchen refrigerator to hold. I closed my eyes when I turned it on, imagining the meter on the side of the house spinning away toward some outrageous electric bill to be received sometime next month. Yet, I must admit to taking some pleasure in telling the kids to "check the garage refrigerator" when asked, "Where are the turkey leftovers?" or "Where's the cheesecake?"

This is clearly a season of eating. We seem to have enough figs, dates, dried apricots, oranges, mixed nuts, smoked peanuts, dark chocolate truffles, extra dark chocolate truffles, peanut butter milk chocolate truffles, peppermint chocolate squares, cheese cake, vanilla white hot chocolate mix, peppermint hot chocolate mix, peppermint cookie creams, fine hazelnut chocolates, milk chocolates with whole hazelnuts, leftover turkey & sweet potatoes & mashed potatoes & cranberry sauce, leftover Chinese food, smoked beef sticks, cheese, and eggnog to last the twelve days. 

But just in case that all runs out, I still have four small pumpkins left over from Halloween that we can make into a pie or eat raw. Just in case.

Jack Sheedy

How Do You Wrap a Hockey Stick?

Just a quick message before retiring for the evening ...

Christmas shopping 2006 officially ended at 1:45 this afternoon in the parking lot of Patriot Square with the car trunk closing on yet another holiday buying season. I can almost hear the daily interest charges growing on my credit card - it sounds something like a balloon being inflated toward its bursting point.

In Great Britain, Dec 26 is known as Boxing Day. In the US, Dec 24 is Wrapping Day ... for that was the ongoing activity throughout the morning, afternoon, and evening hours here at "Santa's Workshop" (a/k/a the half-finished room located in our cellar). I ask you - How do you wrap a hockey stick to make it not look like a hockey stick? It's an impossible task given the parameters of wrapping paper physics.

Lucy, our inquisitive Boston Terrier, knows something is up. Somehow she has surmised that tonight is the big night when Santa arrives with squeaky toys and Milk Bones. How does she know? Must be some ancient inner clockwork that goes back to the days when cavemen wrapped up little treats for their wolf pets to open on the morning of the winter solstice. (Cavemen were Pagans of course, worshiping the sun, the stars, the planets, and any strange looking boulders they happened upon in their travels).

My own travels today took me to the dump, to church, and to the package store, in that order. At a local bookstore, picked up some last minute gifts - Flags of Our Fathers for my dad (a former Marine) and Founding Mothers for my mom (the wife of a former Marine).

It's approaching midnight, the gifts are all wrapped and under the tree (except for the wrapped hockey stick, which is leaning against the Christmas tree ... looking very much like a wrapped hockey stick leaning against a Christmas tree). The stockings are all stuffed, and Lucy's squeaky toys and Milk Bones are strategically hidden. The classical station is playing soothing treatments of the traditional holiday fare - What Child is This?, Good King Wencesles, Silent Night, etc. Did you know Good King Wenceslas was brutally murdered by his not-so-good Bavarian brother? Families and holidays - sometimes a bad combination!

A final trip outside with Lucy finds the stars shimmering above in neatly arranged constellations - Orion, Pleiades, Taurus. I allow myself to imagine Sirius as the Star of Bethlehem, its brilliance holding me in a momentary state of wonderment. It is indeed a silent night, a bit chilly but silent and peaceful just the same with a faint breeze tickling the pine needles above.

And then I image a US Marine or other serviceman on patrol this evening in the cradle of civilization, thousands of miles removed from his family on this Christmas Eve. Yet not far removed from the very spot where Christianity was born.

Jack Sheedy

Winter Arrives in the Northern Hemisphere

Season's Greetings from Northern Regions!nobleborosnow

Winter has arrived in South Dennis. And I imagine it has arrived in South Yarmouth. And in South Orleans. And in South Boston. And South Braintree. And South Easton. And in South Bend, Indiana. And in all the other "South" places I've been fortunate enough to visit in my limited travels throughout this northern hemisphere.

Happy winter! It has arrived thus far without delivering any significant snowflakes, except perhaps the handmade paper kind you see adorning the windows at the local elementary school -- reminding us in a whimsical Charlie Brown sort of way that kids are still kids and when push comes to shove, they probably much prefer a snowy day of sledding to sitting inside playing with the latest electronic gadget.

As the adults of the species (a/k/a the ones with the checking accounts), we find ourselves spiraling toward Christmas like a plane that's run out of fuel just short of the runway -- our lists somewhat checked off, our tray tables in the upright position, and our credit card balances swelling from all the swiping.

Although I enjoy some of the hectic pace (yes, last night I was at the CC Mall ... it was like old home week as I did more gabbing than shopping), I do prefer a much simpler season if that is at all possible. A season of reading and writing and listening to traditional Christmas music (pre-Mariah Carey, actually pre-Elvis, too). A season of nibbling on figs and mixed nuts and of sipping an occasional eggnog. Often times, and this may strike some as rather odd, I am able to convince myself that I am Christmasing up in the northern regions of New England in some snowbound cabin far away from the materialistic trappings of this modern life. For instance, during the long, icy, pre-Cambrian Indiana winter of 2004/05 (of which I spent one solid month alone during our staggered move back to Cape Cod) I was thoroughly convinced that I was not out in the midwest at all but rather somewhere in the vicinity of Nobleboro, Maine.

nobleboromapSometimes, on my way home from work at a local bank, in the fading twilight the silhouette of the manmade hill at the landfill in that particular midwestern town reminded me of the gracefully aged White Mountains of my beloved New Hampshire. Hey, what can I say, it was a long midwest winter and I am a New Englander at heart (with ancestral ties to the Maguires of Salmon Falls, NH and the Fogartys of Berwick, ME).

Where does all of the above get us on this first full day of winter? Nowhere! So let's look at some of the news items I've found of interest over the last two days:

Obesity - Scientists have determined that the growing obesity problem amongst Americans may be caused by some sort of bacteria in the intestines. That's good to know, because I thought it was something silly like -- we eat way too much and exercise way to little. Phew! I'm glad that's sorted out! 

$34 Million - The price tag is $34 million to repair the big dig tunnel ceiling that collapsed over the summer. $34 million! $34 million!!! That's an outrage!! Heck, for that amount of money we can sign a pitcher from the Japanese League to a two-year contact!!!

Denver Snowbound - Apparently it's like the next ice age out west in the Denver area. Everything is shut down, including the Denver International Airport where something like 4,000 people are stranded. Officials there have put out an emergency request for -- no, not food, or water, or reams and reams of toilet paper, but -- sleds so the bored kids can go sledding. Sledding? Where, out on the runways? I must be missing something.

Shuttle - The space shuttle Discovery is attemping to find a place to land today. The first choice, Kennedy Space Center in Florida has weather issues, as does the second choice, Edwards Air Force Base in California. The third choice, White Sands in New Mexico is problematic as the fine white sands there clog up the engines, which then requires a work crew to detail the shuttle afterwards. Last time the cost for detailing the vehicle was rather pricey, about $500, but that included cleaning the whitewalls and vacuuming under the seats. Fourth choice is Denver, which is snowed in (see above). Which leaves the fifth and final choice - Barnstable Municipal Airport. So don't be surprised if you hear a sonic boom today around noontime that shatters all your windows. 

Gall Bladder - A Massachusetts hospital removed the kidney of a patient who went in for a gall bladder operation. This is one in a series of mistakes made recently by local hospitals. Not long ago, a man went in for a hernia operation and instead the staff changed the oil in his Ford Taurus, rotated the tires, and replaced the water pump.

Catholics Online  - It was recently announced that improvements have been made to Cardinal O'Malley's website. There are downloadable Christmas messages in three languages: English, Latin, and ancient Aramaic, I believe. And there is a special confessional link where you can email your sins directly to ... to ... you know ... thus avoiding the "middle man." After a couple of days you'll receive a confirming email containing the one-word message "Absolved."

Turiasaurus riodevensis - Apparently, one of the largest dinosaurs ever to walk the planet was unearthed in Spain. Living somewhere between the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods some 145 million years ago, the creature was 125 feet long and weighed 48 tons (compared to T-Rex at 45 feet long and 6 tons). Meanwhile, today's religious fundamentalists still cling to the notion that the world is 5,000 years old and that it's okay to blow things up.

That's all from Nobleboro, Maine. Enjoy the wint-ah weath-ah!

Jack Sheedy

Lesser Known Xmas Songs

This time of year our eardrums are attacked by a swarming barrage of Christmas songs, conjuring up images of chestnuts roasting over an open fire to glimpses of mommy kissing Santa Claus under the mistletoe ... and all the Freudian issues that accompany that image. So, if you want a break from the same old songs, why not check out these lesser known Christmas albums/CDs:

1singalong300_02Sing Along With Mitt - A collection of holiday favorites sung by Governor Mitt Romney and the Gang. Includes:  The Twelve Days of the New Hampshire Primary, Away in the Statehouse, O Come All Ye Registered Republican Voters, Rudolph - The GOP Frontrunner, It Came Upon a Midnight Recount, The Republicans Are Coming to Town, O Little Town of Salt Lake City, and Hark! The Herald Newspaper Endorses Mitt.

A Politically Correct Christmas - Your favorite holiday songs updated to be less offensive. Includes: It Came Upon a Midnight Clear (Maybe), The First Noel (Perhaps, Although it Can't be Proven), and The Christmas Song with the line "And folks dressed up like Eskimos" changed to "And folks dressed up like Inuits." Also, in the song Jingle Bells, the reference to "Miss Fannie Bright" has been changed to "Ms. Fannie Bright, PhD.," and the "lean and lank" horse has been removed due to protests from PETA (and in fact the entire "one-horse open sleigh" has been replaced by an SUV with 4-wheel drive). Also included: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and Women, O Come All Ye Faithful and Even Those Who Don't Have Faith and Those With Faith Yet Who Don't Attend Church Regularly, and Joy to the World (Including Those Countries that Did Not Support the US in the Iraq War).

A Backwards Christmas - All your favorite Holiday classics, sung backwards. Included: Wonderland Winter, Reindeer Nosed-Red The Rudolph, Snow it Let! Snow it Let! Snow it Let!, Christmas White, Kings Three We, and Night Silent.

A Quiet Christmas - One solid hour of complete silence. Not one song, not even one note on the entire album. Just sit back and listen ... to ... nothing. Kinda nice, huh?

Jack Sheedy

Ye Olde Christmas Card Formula

DPL Christmas Cards
It's that time of year when you dig out your personal address book and write out Christmas cards (a/k/a Holiday cards) to all those people with whom you haven't corresponded since ... since ... well, since this time last year when you were writing out Christmas cards.

The card writing process is multi-pronged, and requires a strategy lest you end up wallowing in Christmas card limbo without a plan and while coming up well short on stamps.

First you have to make a list, and check it twice to make sure no one important is left off. The list itself is a moving target, constantly in a state of flux from year to year as some people fall off while others are added. Of course, some people fall off because they've ... well ... gone off to their "Great Reward," where every day is Christmas I imagine (psst ... by this, I mean they've passed on ... to the afterlife ... a/k/a heaven). Others fall off the list because the friendship has been allowed to drift for a number of years, drifting, drifting, drifting well beyond the friendship horizon to a point where you don't quite remember what the person even looks like anymore.

Meanwhile others in your life jump up a notch or two, making the list, or the "Top 40"  as we like to call it. (We like to keep the Christmas card number around forty-ish. Forty close family members/friends seems about the right mix. I think there's a formula to determine this: y=mx + b if I remember correctly, with m representing total mass, x representing the speed of light, and b the amount of eggnog consumed in a 24-hour period.)

snow_at_louveciennesOnce the list is pretty much set, the number of cards and stamps needed can be determined (with extras allowed for last-minute cards received from people not on your original list). This year we went with two sets of cards, and two sets of stamps, depending on the recipient. Cards were Early Winter by Currier & Ives depicting skaters on a 19th century pond, and for the more progressive crowd La Neige a Louveciennes by 19th century French impressionist painter Alfred Sisley (on right).  Stamps were Madonna & Child, and Snowflake, both by the 21st century United States Postal Service.

Then we had to consider return address labels, which came in three designs from the Disabled American Vets (wreath, snowman, and two red birds resting atop holly bush while looking rather nonchalant yet in a somewhat festive manner). All this provided us with 12 possible combinations of cards and stamps and return address labels, depending on the character makeup and religious leaning of the particular recipient. As you can see, it can quickly become a science.

So, with slide rule in one hand, and pen in the other, the Christmas cards are figured out, messages are written, stamps and return address labels are applied, envelopes are sealed, and order is once again returned to the cosmos. That is, until a card is received from someone not on the list. Then it's back to the drawing board: y = mx + b, Currier & Ives? Madonna & Child? Wreath return address label? Or perhaps those two birds in the holly bush looking rather nonchalant? And a partridge in a pear tree!!

Jack Sheedy

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