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FSogol's Journal
FSogol's Journal
December 28, 2018

A dying man bought 14 years worth of Christmas gifts for his 2-year-old neighbor

Owen Williams and his wife befriended their octogenarian neighbor when they moved into their home in Wales three years ago.

When their daughter, Cadi, came along two years ago, their neighbor in the town of Barry, Ken Watson, became a grandfather figure, taking the time to drop off Christmas presents for her. Then Watson died in October.

On Monday, Watson’s daughter stopped by the Williams home with a large bag, and Owen thought perhaps she was on the way to take out the trash. It turns out, she was dropping off 14 wrapped Christmas presents her father had bought and wrapped for Cadi.

Watson had intended the girl to get one gift each year.

“The thing that stands out to me is how few people know their neighbors,” Williams said. “People are saying, ‘That’s so lovely. I don’t even know my neighbors.’ . . . This Christmas, take your neighbors a bottle of wine or a small gift, a token. Just say, ‘Hi.’ You can open a new world like we did.”

More by Allison Klein at

December 28, 2018

A father and his sons cut wood to fill 80 trucks. Then they brought it to homes that needed heat.

Shane McDaniel posted photos on Facebook of him and his twin sons surrounded by enough chopped wood to fill 80 standard-size pickup trucks. They’d spent months chopping and stacking the firewood, valued at about $10,000. But they had no intention of selling it — they were giving it away to people in need.

“No one goes cold in our hood this holiday season,” McDaniel, 47, wrote in his post, offering to deliver wood, free of charge, to neighbors who needed a hand heating their homes near Lake Stevens, Wash., about 35 miles north of Seattle.

Within days, the post had spread not only in his Lake Stevens community but also to people across the country and even around the globe. Messages started flooding in — requests for firewood, offers of help, notes of thanks and even marriage proposals.


Many recipients are effusive with tears and hugs and heartfelt gratitude, but Shane McDaniel said there are plenty who are not. “Some aren’t even friendly. It’s just not in them. They are mad at the world and mad that they had to ask for help,” he said. “They just have no other option than freezing.” He understands. He is not put off.

“Some still just say, ‘thanks … put it over there’ and walk back in their house and never say another word or even come back out,” he said. “But I’m okay with that. Giving is the reward — it has nothing to do with how well it’s received, but it’s about how much it’s needed.”

More by Caitlin Huson at:

December 27, 2018

The Donald the Impaler

This is what Trumpy and his sidekick the execrable Stephen Miller want:

A legacy like the real-life model for Dracula with Salvadoran Children impaled on a fence.

December 25, 2018

FSogol's 2018 Advent Calendar Day 25: The Story of No VA's Second Hand Santa

In Franconia, VA, a small suburb located in between Alexandria and Springfield, a Metro bus mechanic lived with his wife in a quiet little house in the late 1960s. That mechanic, James (Jim) W. Thayer worked downtown in Washington, DC repairing city buses. One day while eating his lunch he saw some kids throwing rocks in alley and asked why they weren't riding bikes on such a nice day. He was shocked when they said they didn't have bikes.

That night he went home and asked his neighbors for some old bikes and collected a couple from sheds. He greased the chains, adjusted brakes, and cleaned then up. Not satisfied he stripped them down and gave them fresh coats of paint. He painted racing stripes on one and flames on a couple. Jim threw them in his truck and took them to work and gave the kids each a cool bike. The next day the brother of one of the kids showed up, so he found and modified a bike for him too. Kid after kid started showing up at the garage to see if he had a bike for them. Word began to spread and people began to drop bikes off at his home and at the Metro garage. Jim was a good mechanic, so his boss cleared out a space and they stored the bikes. People started dropping off other used toys too. Dolls, puzzles, board games, and baseball gloves started to pile up.

In the days before Springfield Mall was built, a local Kiwanis group sponsored Santa's Village and Workshop for the kids. It consisted of a small house on a trailer decorated like Santa's home and workshop. Kids could stare into the windows and see elves building toys, Mrs. Claus making cookies, and reindeer in stables. In the front was a chair for Santa and kids would sit on Santa's lap and tell them what they wanted for Christmas. The Kiwanis would tow the house to a shopping center parking lot and the kids would line up. When the mall was built (1973) the Kiwanis moved their operations inside. The unneeded Santa House was towed to Jim's backyard in Franconia. Jim stored toys there and created a portion as a work shop. Santa's North Pole workshop now sat in a suburban backyard.

By now, Jim had learned about the local orphanages, the sick children at NIH, and several homes for disabled and challenged kids. He began to supply those places with toys each Christmas. His operation got bigger and bigger. He recruited neighborhood kids to assist him. (By the mid 70s, I was one of those kids) His volunteers would strip, sand rust, and paint bikes. They would put puzzles together to see if all the pieces were there, and double check board games. The gifts would be boxed up and placed in his Santa's workshop until Christmas time.

Companies like Hasbro found out about him and sent him boxes of replacement pieces for games, dice, a box of monopoly money, a box of barbie dresses.

A local Ford dealer (Jerry's Ford of Springfield) gave him the use of a panel van a couple of days after Thanksgiving until Christmas. On all the Saturday mornings in December, we'd load the boxes of toys in and deliver them. The kids and nurses at NIH called him Santa Claus and were overjoyed to see him. The press caught on and he was referred to as the "Second Hand Santa."

I assisted him for about 7 years until I moved away. He kept his operation running until his death at age 84 in 2003. He was possibly the friendliest, most selfless person I ever met. He didn't look like Santa Claus, but to thousands of children, he was.

Merry Christmas, DU.

(For an explanation of my advent project and a link to last years posts, see
https://www.democraticunderground.com/10181152160 )

December 24, 2018

FSogol's 2018 Advent Calendar Day 24: Baby Gift Shopping Guide - 4 BCE

Earlier, I wrote about the Christmas Star and the 3 Kings. Today, I'll look at the gifts they brought. In many Catholic countries in Europe and South America, the arrival of the 3 Kings on Epiphany (Jan 6, also known as the 12th day of Christmas) is the day of the real celebration and gift giving.

From the King James Bible, Mathew 2:11:

And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.

From top to bottom: myrrh, gold, and frankincense.

We don't really need to think about gold. Good gift then, good gift now.

But what are frankincense and myrrh and why would they make good gifts?

Frankincense and myrrh are both resins extracted from trees in the Burseraceae family, also known as the torchwood or incense family. Frankincense comes from the dried sap of Boswellia trees, while myrrh comes from the lifeblood of the Commiphora. Extracting the sap is a tenuous dance—you must injure the tree without killing it. If done properly, the wound will stimulate a process called “gummosis,” which is exactly what it sounds like: the tree tries to gum up the damage, and you can carve off the resulting ooze for your own uses. “Over millennia, people have learned just how far you can go,” Daly says.

Burseraceae may be associated with the ancient world, but it’s still found in tropical regions from Africa and Asia to Central and South America. “Wherever I go,” Daly says, “they’re all used for the same thing… by people who never had any contact.” Everything from the bark of the tree to the sap inside is fragrant, so both frankincense and myrrh are used as incense and perfume. Historically, myrrh was also an embalming fluid—hence Hapshetsut’s dogged interest in the plant. Both have religious value; they were set aflame to honor the gods and ward off evil spirits. But, Daly says, they also have deeply practical uses, even today.“You find that people use the frankincense and myrrh plant for dozens if not hundreds of purposes, from helping you get pregnant to helping your cows produce milk,” he says. Mixed with other compounds, the resin can even seal the broken hull of a boat. “It’s bewildering the number of uses they have,” Daly says.

Today, gold, frankincense, and myrrh seem like unequal gifts. But in ancient times, the botanical extracts were worth the same, or even more. In the 1st century A.D., the Roman Empire was in deficit spending, Daly says, as it imported hundreds of tons of the smelly stuff each year. Daly likens frankincense fever to the oil wars fought in modern times. Hapshetsut’s spies, who ventured to the “Land of Punt,” or modern Eritrea, weren’t innocently looking for pretty plants. They were trying to secure their own homegrown sources of frankincense and myrrh, “because they were tired of paying through the nose for it,” Daly says. If cultivation didn’t work, conquering the land these plants naturally grew on would not have been above any of these ancient rulers.

More at: https://www.popsci.com/what-are-frankincense-and-myrrh

On Amazon frankincense oil costs $12 for 10 ml and myrrh oil cost $24.50 for 4 oz.
Gold Price per Ounce is $1,264.30 today.

Cecil Adams from The Straight Dope points out that:

in this age of online commerce you can buy frankincense direct from the sultanate of Oman? Also “top-quality myrrh”? I mean, lest you feel you have to settle for the Walgreens kind.

He also adds:

Frankincense was used to make eyeliner. But not just any eyeliner — I mean that weird Egyptian stuff Elizabeth Taylor wore in Cleopatra. This was back in the days when they weren’t clear whether the purpose of cosmetics was to enhance womanly beauty or scare off birds.

Myrrh was used as a perfume and was also added to cheap wine to make it more drinkable. Such a mixture was offered to condemned convicts to numb them out before death. You might remember that Jesus declined some before his demise (Mark 15:23). Myrrh was also used in cosmetics and medicines. Evidently, given the limited pharmacopoeia of the time, myrrh was the default answer to all problems. “So, Brutus, the differential go out? Better put some myrrh on it.”

Frankincense, one reads, has historically been used in Christian and other religious rituals to “purify the air.” This was obviously written by someone with very limited experience of religious rituals. When I was an altar boy, the most coveted job (which I had) was to be “thurifer,” or incense hassler. This job was great because you got to (a) light the charcoal in the thurible (incense burner) before the service, which gave my natural desire to play with matches a religious significance that I still feel when lighting coals in the Weber; and (b) you could ladle in all the incense you wanted. The result was not purer air; on the contrary, I routinely produced enough smoke to make it look like the church was on fire. In my case this merely annoyed the priest. But in the old days, you’re talking about a congregation that slept with camels and didn’t have the benefit of refrigerated mortuaries. No doubt smelling frankincense was preferable to smelling anything else.


If you haven't purchased any gifts yet, get some books or Legos. They'll be a bigger hit than oil. Of course, if you can afford it, gold is the way to go.

(For an explanation of my advent project and a link to last years posts, see
https://www.democraticunderground.com/10181152160 )
December 23, 2018

FSogol's 2018 Advent Calendar Day 23: La Befana - Italy's Christmas Witch

The legend of Befana began thousands of years ago and remains to this day a tradition practised by Italian children and their families. As the story goes, one day, the three Magi left their country bearing special gifts of gold, incense and myrrh for the new-born Jesus Christ. They were guided by a star across many countries. At every village that they passed, people ran to meet them and accompany them in their journey.

But there was one old woman who did not join the Magi. She claimed to be too busy with her housework and promised to join them later when she had time. The next day, she realized her mistake and frantically ran after the Magi with gifts for the child, still clutching her broom. But it was too late – the Magi were long gone.

In other versions of the story, she refuses to give the Magi directions. (I am skeptical. Would Wise Men really stop and ask some random woman for directions?)

Ever since then the old woman has been known as “La Befana” or simply “Befana.” On the eve of January 6th, Befana flies from house to house on her old broomstick and delivers all the gifts she didn’t give to the Holy Child to good girls and boys.

In fact, Befana’s name is the Greek word “epifania” or “epiphany,” and is significant because the religious feast of the Epiphany is celebrated on January 6th. This Christian celebration, in remembrance of the Magi’s visit to Jesus, can include purifying rites and benedictions with water. Water prepared on the eve of the Epiphany (the night that Befana flies the skies) is said to have sacred properties that can ward off evil spirits and is used in critical moments of a family’s life. Celebration of the Epiphany can be traced as far back as the 13th century and is one of the most popular Italian feasts.

La Befana shares a lot of similarities with Santa. Children write her letters and leave their stockings for her to fill. See flies around at night with gifts. She leaves cinders, coal and onions for the bad kids. She climbs down chimneys to enter houses.

Here's a video of the La Befana Festival in Urbania, Italy from 2014. The festival ends with the witch flying over the streets and fireworks.

(For an explanation of my advent project and a link to last years posts, see
https://www.democraticunderground.com/10181152160 )
December 22, 2018

Help me pick a Christmas Meal

We've been renovating our kitchen and don't have a regular sized oven at the moment. We have a small Breville toaster oven, a large cooktop, and a great grill outside.

Here's our dilemma. There were only 4 of us, so we were going to make Chicken cordon bleu. However, relatives have started arriving unexpectedly and now there will be 10. We'd never fit 10 Chicken cordon bleus in the little oven.

What should we make?

Past Christmas dinners we have had (as a main course):

Roast Beef
Roast Rack of Lamb
Coq au vin
Beef Tenderloins

Any ideas? What say you, DU?

December 22, 2018

FSogol's 2018 Advent Calendar Day 22: Whatever happened to the Christmas Goose?

Most people won't have a Christmas goose for dinner this year, but once that goose was the most popular meal.

Long ago in the old country, roast goose was the centerpiece for Michaelmas, a popular feast day in the Middle Ages, and before that, tradition says, it was offered as a sacrifice to the gods Odin and Thor.

So a Christmas goose is just a goose by any other name, right? Not exactly. Domestic geese are most delicious at two times of year—when they’re young in the early summer and toward the end of the year when they’re fattest—the second being precisely why they were such Christmas commodities. Similar to a Thanksgiving turkey, geese require a couple of hours to fully cook and are usually roasted in a pan filled with spices and citrus. They are all dark meat, rich and flavorful, and some prefer the flavor and moistness of the bird.


You may remember the Cratchit's in Dicken's "A Christmas Carol" and their Christmas Goose:

"God Bless us, every one!" is the famous benediction that Tiny Tim Cratchit pronounces over what is perhaps the most famous holiday meal of all time, in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. On the Cratchit family's holiday table are potatoes, gravy, applesauce, a pudding "like a speckled cannon-ball" blazing with ignited brandy. But at the center of the meal—and the heart of Tiny Tim's prayer—is a glorious roast goose.

That goose has always stuck with me, and no wonder: It moved Dickens to a culinary rapture unparalleled in the thousands of pages he wrote. The Cratchits rush to take their places at the table with their spoons crammed in their mouths "lest they should shriek for goose before their turn came to be helped." The family says grace, and a breathless pause ensues as Mrs. Cratchit prepares to plunge the carving knife into the goose. "Bob said he didn't believe there ever was such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and flavor, size and cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration. Eked out by the applesauce and mashed potatoes, it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family; indeed, as Mrs. Cratchit said with great delight (surveying one small atom of a bone upon the dish), they hadn't ate it all at last! Yet everyone had had enough, and the youngest Cratchits, in particular, were steeped in sage and onion to the eyebrows!"

There's lots to love in this passage: the atom of leftover bone, the children sauced in sage and onion. But what's always most delighted me is the vision of the little Cratchits politely sucking their spoons so as not to clamor out of turn for their helping of goose.


Why did serving goose go away?

While there’s no official reason behind its decline, we do have some theories. Believe it or not, many people blame Charles Dickens. In A Christmas Carol, Dickens associated goose with the struggling Cratchit family, turning it into a poor man’s supper. Another hunch is the rise of agricultural technology in the 20th century made it easier and more affordable to buy other meats. Which brings us to…

the turkey

Not only were there tons of turkeys for Christmas and Thanksgiving, they were cheaper, too. A 10-pound goose ordered online today can cost over $15.00 a pound, more than most of us want to pay. Compared to spiral ham, which cost $2.91 per pound in 2014, turkey clocked in at a cool $1.28. In 2012, Americans ate an estimated 22 million turkeys on Christmas Day; we suspect the number has gone up.


Whatever you have for Christmas Dinner, Enjoy!

(For an explanation of my advent project and a link to last years posts, see
https://www.democraticunderground.com/10181152160 )
December 21, 2018

FSogol's 2018 Advent Calendar Day 21: The Christmas Tale Spoken Record That Launched the Audiobook

It was 5 in the morning, and just back from a party, Dylan Thomas answered the phone in his room at the Chelsea Hotel. Barbara Holdridge, 22, had decided to launch a record company and she had an offer for the poet. Over lunch the following week with Holdridge and her business partner, Marianne Mantell, both recent graduates of New York’s Hunter College, Thomas took the deal: $500 upfront, plus 10 percent of sales above 1,000 albums, for a reading of his verse.

“He was mesmerizing,” Holdridge, now 87 years old, recalls. The 1952 disc, Thomas’ buttery reading of his beloved A Child’s Christmas in Wales on its B-side, would sell 400,000-plus copies, birthing a new popular literary form—the spoken word record, antecedent to today’s audiobook.


Holdridge and Mantell sold the company to Raytheon in 1970, and today Caedmon lives on within HarperCollins, which acquired it in 1987. Even now it issues new recordings alongside its classic catalog.

Holdridge is still proud of the labor of love that helped set the stage for today’s multibillion-dollar audiobook industry, whose users are on track to listen to well over two billion hours of audio in 2016. “For years at parties we’d talk about what we did and people would say, ‘Dylan Thomas! I grew up on those recordings!’”

About the story itself:

A Child's Christmas in Wales is a piece of prose by the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas recorded by Thomas in 1952. Emerging from an earlier piece he wrote for BBC Radio, the work is an anecdotal reminiscence of a Christmas from the viewpoint of a young boy, portraying a nostalgic and simpler time. It is one of Thomas's most popular works.

As with his poetry, A Child's Christmas in Wales does not have a tight narrative structure but instead uses descriptive passages in a fictionalized autobiographical style, designed to create an emotive sense of the nostalgia Thomas is intending to evoke, remembering a Christmas from the viewpoint of the author as a young boy. Thomas searches for a nostalgic belief in Christmases past, for example with, "It was snowing. It was always snowing at Christmas", furthering his idyllic memory of childhood by describing the snow as being better and more exciting than the snow experienced as an adult. The dissertation, with exaggerated characters for comedic effect, show how childhood memories are enlarged through youthful interpretation.


Dylan Marlais Thomas (27 October 1914 – 9 November 1953) was a Welsh poet and writer whose works include the poems "Do not go gentle into that good night" and "And death shall have no dominion"; the 'play for voices' Under Milk Wood; and stories and radio broadcasts such as A Child's Christmas in Wales and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog. He became widely popular in his lifetime and remained so after his premature death at the age of 39 in New York City. By then he had acquired a reputation, which he had encouraged, as a "roistering, drunken and doomed poet".


(For an explanation of my advent project and a link to last years posts, see
https://www.democraticunderground.com/10181152160 )
December 20, 2018

FSogol's 2018 Advent Calendar Day 20: Wassailing-What's a little Xmas vandalism between friends?

Recently, I wrote about sugar plums.

Another treat that lives on in song instead of practice is wassail from the Christmas Carol "Here We Come A-Wassailing." Wassailing simply means caroling. In the Victorian era, beggars and orphans would go door to door singing and hoping to get a bite to eat or a drink. The name comes from the Middle English phrase wæs hæil, which means "be healthy." Wassail is a drink made from ale or beer and spices, kind of like mulled wine. Other versions includes hard alcohol such as brandy or even rum. Most wassail recipes call for some kind of fruit, generally apples, which makes wassail remind me of a British version of sangria. Epicurious has a version made from sherry, brandy and plenty of spices. Chow's recipe includes cranberry juice, apple cider and an apple brandy.


The article isn't exactly correct about Wassailing meaning caroling. It was much more.

But first, there are two types of wassailing. It started as a celebration of the harvest in the Fall. People would sing and parade around trees to insure a good harvest by banning evil spirits. Here's an example

Roger Wilkins' grandfather began making cider on his Somerset farm 100 years ago. The farm's annual wassail event - a tradition said to banish evil spirits from the orchard - is becoming increasingly popular.

With video: https://www.bbc.com/news/av/uk-england-somerset-42844637/wassailing-drinking-to-a-good-harvest
and https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-wales-north-west-wales-42589356
It would go like this:

A wassail King and his wassail Queen would lead a throng, banging on pots and pans, in procession, wandering from orchard to orchard and singing. At each stop, the Queen would be lifted into a tree, carrying the Clayen Cup filled with wassail. Once up there, she would leave some of the toast, as an offering to the good spirits of the tree, a way of showing the tree what amazing use its fruit has been put to.

Then there’s a brief chant, which goes something like “here’s to thee, old apple tree, That blooms well, bears well. Hats full, caps full, Three bushel bags full, An’ all under one tree. Hurrah! Hurrah!” and they’re off to another orchard.


Christmas wassailing is slightly different and usually occurred on the 12th night of Christmas. this practice became prevalent in the medieval Days due to feudalism:

Wassailing is also the act of going from house to house and demanding hospitality – wassail, presumably – as a kind of grown-up version of Hallowe’en. The Lord of the manor would provide a certain amount of refreshments and people would carouse about the village, singing festive songs and generally mingling. There was even a wassail bowl, to put your wassail in.

From the song Here We Come a Wassailing, “we are not daily beggars that beg from door to door but we are friendly neighbours whom you have seen before.”

Of course, things could turn nasty, with small gangs arriving on your doorstep, demanding hot booze. But nowadays, through the healing veil of time, it’s all become confused with general carol singing. Wassail itself, if it is mentioned at all, has become any mulled alcohol with fruit in it. The toast is less common, unless used by cider-farming wassailers.

If the land-owner didn't offer up the goods,

he could expect his reputation to plummet and possibly his property vandalized. The old Yuletide holiday was celebrated in a fashion more similar to Halloween and trick-or-treat than to our modern Christmas. This drunken disorderliness is one of the reasons used to outlaw Christmas celebrations by the newly empowered puritans in the Commonwealth of England during the mid seventeenth century. Over the past few centuries, the roving gangs of wassailers have become tamed into the serene image of the Christmas caroler singing from door to door in the white winter weather, sipping on hot apple-cider. The hooligan shaking down the neighborhood for treats has been reserved for Halloween.


So the puritans, who took the fun out of everything, modified the pagan ritual of drunken wassailing and vandalism into the wholesome practice of caroling.

Wassailing lines in a few Christmas carols sometimes interchangeably use wassailing or caroling. Compare the songs "Here We Come a Wassailing" with "Here We Come a Caroling."

They also depict the demands from wassailing like in "We Wish you a Merry Christmas" were the singers demand figgy pudding and then state, "we won't go until we get some, we won't go until we get some, so bring some right here."

So if you decide to inflict your drunken self onto some richer neighbors this Christmas with demands for food and drink, relax, it's a normal Christmas tradition. Tell them FSogol said so!

(For an explanation of my advent project and a link to last years posts, see
https://www.democraticunderground.com/10181152160 )

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Hometown: Northern VA
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