26 December 2010

Christmas post-mortem

Urrrr. Ate too much.

A very nice Christmas day for yours truly, and it sounds like most of you did OK as well.

TBH and I went to my Mom's house for Christmas dinner. She did a credible job considering her not-so-great physical condition and middlin' poor eyesight. She always liked cooking big dinners and it's hard to tell her not to bother. She lives alone and likes the company as much as anything. We had turkey (delicious!), green bean casserole (which is required serving at Thanksgiving and Christmas by federal law), coleslaw, and mincemeat pie. Not a twelve-course repast but certainly a great plenty for all of us.

She gave us some mail-order fruitcake and baklava. Baklava is always good whether mass-produced or handmade by Mrs. Papadopoulos down the block. And I may be the only one in the world, but I like fruitcake. Now, I do understand the bad rap it gets-dry fruitcake is really only good for using as a doorstop or a convenient home-defense weapon. When I was young, Mom made a fruitcake every year, 'round about the middle of November. She'd pour rum over it and keep an eye on it and let the rum soak in and the cake was invariably heavy and moist and probably not to be eaten in great quantities before driving home. And the moisture (and corollary alcohol) content is the key to a good fruitcake. Seriously. Try making one early, treat it with tender loving care and a good quality rum or brandy. Trust me-it's nothing like the mass-produced stuff.

After that, off to my brother's digs. Shot the breeze, watched some Britcoms off Netflix (Father Ted and The IT Crowd-both good shows). Supper of that great traditional Christmas staple-sloppy joes-and snacks, and board games afterward.  We use the Christmas get-together as game night and we don't exchange gifts. It saves a lot of hassle for all of us and we have a good time and that's what the day is in part supposed to be about.

After that, TBH and I had our Christmas together. Scored some gift cards for Barnes & Noble and Borders, which is good news for authors and magazine publishers everywhere. I like gift cards over receiving stuff I'll never use. I can remember when giving gift certificates was considered a bit gauche, but I like them. I'll do my own shopping.

Now we have to get ready for TBH's sisters arriving. They'll be here for most of the next few days. The holiday just goes on and on here!! I've only got one day of work this week. I have two days of vacation left to burn.

Hope all went well with you regular readers here!

yankeedog out.

18 December 2010

The Small Peace of 1914

Around this time of year, one of the great stories of the season (at least for me) are the tales of the Christmas Truces on the Western Front during the winter of 1914. To me, those stories are something of a triumph of the human spirit.

These stoppages in fighting happen in many wars in Western history. The American Civil War and Spanish Civil War had similar truces, where both sides' soldiers met, exchanged news and goods, and maybe played some sport.

I did a post on the 1914 truce back in the JS days, but it's time for a retell. We'll combine it with a little 'theatre of the mind', though, to perhaps make it more interesting.

Picture if you will, a farmhouse. Picture it being wintertime: snow on the ground. Think of something like this:

It's Christmas Day. All of the regular readers here, past and present, are all gathered together in the living room by the fireplace, sated after a huge Christmas dinner. Some of you are watching the NBA game on TV, others possibly nodding off, drinks in hand. Might be the rest of you are outside in the snow chucking a football around.

Eventually, everyone comes in and gathers around-for it's time for a revered holiday ritual. Glasses are refilled.

Barnesy: "Grandpa Yankeedog, are you going to tell the story of the Christmas Truces of 1914?"
Doc: "Yeah, tell us the story!"
Havock: "Just TELL us the FKN story, you old BASTARD!"

YD (in the 'old man' voice) "Alright, everyone, come on closer while I tell you the story."

Everyone: "YAYYYYYY!"

YD: "Now, all this happened right around the beginning of the last century. This was before TV, them interwebs, and oranges. Why, the question mark hadn't even been invented yet! People then, just like now, got to fussin' and fightin' over all kinds of stuff. Kinda like at dinner today when Bangar hit Moko with a chair leg for eating the last of the sweet potatoes, or when Tricia stuck her tongue out at Natalie during the prayer..."

Mayhem: "SHE started it!"

YD: "You kids hush! Now where was I? Oh yes. I was in Teddy Roosevelt's Cavalry, riding a war-moose up San Juan Hill..."

Therbs: "1914..."

YD: "Yeah, I know! Young punk. Anyway, this all happened during WW One, what everyone called the Great War, because it was great if you were lucky enough not to be in it. Well, in that first autumn of the war, all them politicians told the boys that they'd all be home by Christmas. Winter started to kick in, and still no sign of the war ending. So the troops settled in to the trenches all along the Western Front, from the Channel to where the Swiss live..."

Bangar: "They fought in Wisconsin?"

YD: "No! That was the Cheese Conflict of 1896. If you all are going to keep interrupting me, I'll let you hear the story as the men themselves told it....

On December 7, 1914, Pope Benedict XV suggested a temporary hiatus of the war for the celebration of Christmas. Though Germany readily agreed, the other powers refused.
Even without a cessation of war for Christmas, family and friends of the soldiers wanted to make their loved ones' Christmas special. They sent packages filled with letters, warm clothing, food, cigarettes, and medications. Yet what especially made Christmas at the front seem like Christmas were the troves of small Christmas trees.
On Christmas Eve, many German soldiers put up Christmas trees, decorated with candles, on the parapets of their trenches. Hundreds of Christmas trees lighted the German trenches and although British soldiers could see the lights, it took them a few minutes to figure out what they were from. Could this be a trick? British soldiers were ordered not to fire but to watch them closely. Instead of trickery, the British soldiers heard many of the Germans celebrating.
Time and again during the course of that day, the Eve of Christmas, there were wafted towards us from the trenches opposite the sounds of singing and merry-making, and occasionally the guttural tones of a German were to be heard shouting out lustily, 'A happy Christmas to you Englishmen!' Only too glad to show that the sentiments were reciprocated, back would go the response from a thick-set Clydesider, 'Same to you, Fritz, but dinna o'er eat yourself wi' they sausages!'
In other areas, the two sides exchanged Christmas carols.

'They finished their carol and we thought that we ought to retaliate in some way, so we sang 'The first Noël', and when we finished that they all began clapping; and then they struck up another favourite of theirs, 'O Tannenbaum'. And so it went on. First the Germans would sing one of their carols and then we would sing one of ours, until when we started up 'O Come All Ye Faithful' the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words 'Adeste Fidéles'. And I thought, well, this was really a most extraordinary thing - two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war.

The Christmas Truce
This fraternization on Christmas Eve and again on Christmas was in no way officially sanctified nor organized. Yet, in numerous separate instances down the front line, German soldiers began yelling over to their enemy, "Tommy, you come over and see us!" Still cautious, the British soldiers would rally back, "No, you come here!"
In some parts of the line, representatives of each side would meet in the middle, in No Man's Land.
'We shook hands, wished each other a Merry Xmas, and were soon conversing as if we had known each other for years. We were in front of their wire entanglements and surrounded by Germans - Fritz and I in the centre talking, and Fritz occasionally translating to his friends what I was saying. We stood inside the circle like streetcorner orators.
Soon most of our company ('A' Company), hearing that I and some others had gone out, followed us . . . What a sight - little groups of Germans and British extending almost the length of our front! Out of the darkness we could hear laughter and see lighted matches, a German lighting a Scotchman's cigarette and vice versa, exchanging cigarettes and souvenirs. Where they couldn't talk the language they were making themselves understood by signs, and everyone seemed to be getting on nicely. Here we were laughing and chatting to men whom only a few hours before we were trying to kill!'
Some of those who went out to meet the enemy in the middle of No Man's Land on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day negotiated a truce: we won't fire if you won't fire. Some ended the truce at midnight on Christmas night, some extended it until New Year's Day.
One reason Christmas truces were negotiated was in order to bury the dead, many of whom had been there for several months. Along with the revelry that celebrated Christmas was the sad and somber job of burying their fallen comrades. On Christmas day, British and German soldiers appeared on No Man's Land and sorted through the bodies. In just a few rare instances, joint services were held for both the British and German dead.
Yet many soldiers enjoyed meeting the un-seen enemy and were surprised to discover that they were more alike than he had thought. They talked, shared pictures, exchanged items such as buttons for food stuffs. An extreme example of the fraternization was a soccer game played in the middle of No Man's Land between the Bedfordshire Regiment and the Germans. A member of the Bedfordshire Regiment produced a ball and the large group of soldiers played until the ball was deflated when it hit a barbed wire entanglement.
This strange and unofficial truce lasted for several days, much to the dismay of the commanding officers. This amazing showing of Christmas cheer was never again repeated and as World War I progressed, the story of Christmas 1914 at the front became something of a legend.

YD: "Now, all those officers and politicians knew that if the troops refused to fight, peace might have broken out. So after the first year, they scheduled artillery barrages and trench raids right around Christmas to keep everyone all riled up, and the Christmas truces along the trenches, well, they petered out and by the end of the war were just memories.

...and that's the story of the Christmas Truce of 1914, which is why you kids shouldn't be out messing with my tools in the shed, or monkeying around with the bandsaw!"

Moko: "I don't get what the Truce of 1914 has to do with using your tools..."

YD: "That's because you have no respect for your elders! Maybe instead of yapping, you'll go get me another glass of eggnog. Now you kids go about your business, and leave Grandpa alone to drink his eggnog and watch his favorite holiday movie-Emmanuelle At The North Pole."

BigBadAl: "Can I watch, too?"

YD: "No, you can't! Go outside and sled down the hill on the piece of cardboard I got you for Christmas. When you come back, I'll tell you the story of the First Christmas, where Baby Jesus was born in Allentown..."

Natalie: "Bethlehem. Baby Jesus was born in Bethlehem."

YD: "Wherever. It was somewhere out in Pennsylvania. Anyway, kids, we're now going to play a game called 'Leave Grandpa YD Alone'. The object of the game is to leave Grandpa YD alone. So go outside and play in the snow. And don't angry up my chickens!"


The actual passage of the Christmas Truce came from About.com-thanks for letting me 'borrow' it. There are numerous stories and articles about it on the 'net, most of which are worth a read. Astounding that people could put a world war aside for one day and get along. It gives one a bit of hope for the human race after all.

But on a lighter note, I know about all this because of Great-Grandpa Yankeedog's experience in WWI. They even wrote a song about it. Like to hear it, here it goes:

yankeedog out.

12 December 2010

That was the week that was...

...which is to say, not much of a week.

The big company feed on Friday went over well. After the dinner, there was a company meeting regarding plans for 2011. Looks like the company is trying to get back to full strength. We're going to hire another fabricator for the shop (which we need). Also, they'd like to hire a mech engineer type to run the design area (us), which would be good. I've been Team Rimmer long enough. It wouldn't hurt us to have a degreed engineer on staff to check some of the concepts the sales guys get sometimes. I can usually tell by look if a given device will pick up a given load, but it isn't the same as having numbers to back it up. Overall, it looks like we're on the way up. Now, if we can get the brass to pony up for an X-Y plasma cutter so we can cut our own shapes and not send out to have them done, we'll be golden. We figure we could have the thing paid for in 6 months at present rates-and have stuff in ten minutes instead of (at best) 4 hours.

It's been cold here over the past week-no surprise since it's winter. The weather people promised us a blizzard this weekend, which fortunately for the most part failed to materialize. We had plenty of wind, but nothing like the amount of snow they thought. I'm getting tired of the meteorologists going on the news, yammering on about 'DEATHSTORM 2010'. Someday we will get a big storm, and no one will pay any attention. It gets around 0 F out and I have no great desire to go outside in it any more. Winter is a kids' season-all the sledding one can handle, school snow days, and a big cup of hot cocoa at the end of the day. I rather wish I could curl up tomorrow instead of heading off to work. Ah well...

Around the NFL, cold, windy, horizontal snowing days are called 'Bear Weather'. At one time it was perceived that the Chicago Bears had an advantage over their opponents in the cold as they played in it all the time. Evidently no one told the New England Patriots this since they beat the Bears 36-7 this Sunday, and the Bears looked dazed and confused. Could be worse-the Vikings lost a home game since the inflatable roof at the HHH Metrodome collapsed due to snow and wind. The Humpdome looks like a souffle gone bad. Who'd've thought an inflatable fabric roof in a city that gets heavy snow and weather extremes was a bad idea?

TBH rolled in last Friday from a week in KC, all full of database management knowledge. Nice to have her back home.

Today we actually went to the local mall to pick up a few final items for Christmas. Granted, the weather wasn't great-but it wasn't terrible, either-but you could have shot a cannon through there and not hurt anybody. Looks like online shopping might be the death of the shopping mall in the not-too-distant future. There are things one needs to physically go shop for-dress clothes, for example, but for a book or a sweatshirt? Screw it-why bother trudging around for those items?

That about wraps it up for this past week and weekend. Not much to report. Cruising as normal. Hope it's the same for you all.

yankeedog out.

08 December 2010

The no-party system

Friday afternoon will see my company throwing a Christmas potluck in the break room. Looks like  everyone's contributing some pretty good nosh and I suppose we in the design cave won't get much done in the afternoon, since we'll be filled up like a python that just devoured a goat. I plan on bringing a big bowl of coleslaw. My recipe is quite similar to what you'd get at Kentucky Fried Chicken. Eerily, uncannily similar...some would say, well, identical.

When I started at this company, they had regular off-site Christmas parties. The place I worked at before had Christmas parties.

I've never been to a company Christmas party, and, God willing, I'll never have to go to one. It sure seems to me like holiday parties with open and free access to alcohol are a minefield, to be treaded around carefully-or not at all. I'm not sure that anything good can come from them, and possibly a lot of bad. Things like employees infused with liquid courage giving their thoughts to the president of the company on how the company should REALLY be run; Bill in Accounting settling with Ken from Sales on who should get the parking space closest to the door by means of drunken fisticuffs; Hal from Engineering doing his terrible rendition of 'Let It Snow'; and Mike from Manufacturing drunk on the floor. I won't mention Dave from HR and Julie the secretary leaving early together-her dress looked painted on, and Dave's married, and they both hit the Christmas cheer a bit hard. Things happen.

It seems like companies in this country are steering away from big holiday extravaganzas for a lot of reasons. The economy is still sluggish, and the Christmas party is an expense that can be done away with. Stuff like what I described above can and does happen at parties, which cause hard feelings and awkward moments in the workplace that most bosses would rather not deal with. It's one less excuse for drinking and then getting behind the wheel. And I think a lot of employees (and company brass, for that matter) would rather not deal with spending a night with people they see for 8 to 10 hours/day. That cuts into precious time for family and getting ready for the holiday crush.

The first company I worked at provided a Christmas gift every year of a canned ham and a box of fruit. I for one was glad to get both. I don't figure any company has to provide big cash bonuses or lavish parties for its workers at the end of the year-but at the same time, a business owner can't go far wrong by giving a little something to the employees if it was a good year.

If any of you enjoy holiday parties, that's fine-have at them! Just give me the potluck in the company break room. I'm good with that. If there's a hundred extra dollars in the paycheck, that's even better.


It was thirty years ago today...

...and it doesn't seem like it. December 8, 1980-the day John Lennon was shot. Only forty years old when he died. That seemed so old to me at the time. Now- hell, he was just a young punk of forty, but he got a lot out of his life.

One wonders what Lennon would think of this world we have today, had he survived. I suspect he'd be a bit disappointed that the peace he wanted us to have would be as far away as ever. Maybe he wouldn't be all that relevant to the contemporary music scene. He'd probably still be stirring the pot on a lot of the issues and causes he held dear. Quite possibly, if he'd lived, he'd even realize that Yoko's singing really is, well, godawful.

I'll leave you with one that you can hear on most any classic rock station. It's one of Lennon's last hits before he died, but it's one that I still like a lot.

Someone send us a bit of sunshine!

yankeedog out.

06 December 2010

To KC and back and along the way

It appears winter has settled in here in my part of the country. It's going to be down around 0 Fahrenheit (in Celsius, that's, let's see...9/5...carry the 3....damn cold!) tonight. Ah well, tis December, after all. I just put on some good wool socks and made a nice hot cuppa of YogiTea India Spice herbal tea. Good stuff!

We made the quick trip to Kansas City so TBH could start her class down in Overland Park. Unfortunately, we got snow here on Saturday and weren't able to get on the road until Sunday. We weren't able to meet clan Murphy for BBQ since we didn't get in late and I didn't want them waiting until late for me to fumble around downtown KC. Maybe next spring or summer when the weather gets warmer, I can get back down there. Sometimes plans fall together; other times they don't. Such is life.

I did drive through North Kansas City, though, and saw the Ameristar casino and the big coal-fired power plant as described in Birmo's After America. It's always fun to see places that get mentioned in books like this. When I lived in Dixon, IL, I enjoyed reading the mention in the beginning of Harry Turtledove's Worldwar series. HT got the area right as he described the long retreat into Chicago and Patton's drive through Central Illinois. Mind you, this was back in the old days, when Turtledove used to care about his writing...

I drove back this morning, since I don't have a lot of vacation time left for the year. It's about exactly six hours from KC to here, and there isn't a whole lot to see. Slate-gray skies, shorn cornfields, vegetation in various shades of dry khaki instead of summer's verdant green.

A couple of areas that are interesting along the way are the Amish enclave in southern Iowa and the Amana Colonies closer to home. I was filling the tank at a gas station off I-35 at a junction with a state highway. All of a sudden, here comes one of their little one-horse wagons clop-clopping down the highway like it was 1920 or something! A lot of people poke fun at the Amish avoidance of electricity and modern technology-but you can't help but admire them. They're keeping alive skills and knowledge that we've lost or long since discarded. Might be if something caused our tech-heavy society to falter or collapse, they might be teaching those of us (that are left) how to use all those neat 19th-century farm implements and household gear lying around in the museums.

The Amana Colonies were founded by a German religious sect 'round about 1840 or so. In the 19th Century, a lot of communities in the young United States were created as social experiments. In religious communities, this usually meant they were trying a communist society ('communist' in it's true, pre-Marxian context) where all would work and all would share equally in the fruits of the labor. In addition, these communities attempted to be as economically self-sufficient as possible. The Amana Society formed a cluster of seven small villages and for the next ninety years managed to live their ideal. They raised their own food, started their own wineries, and created woolen and calico mills which turned out goods to be sold to the outside world. In addition, they generally lived a communal existence, eating together in large halls like a giant family, and attended worship and prayer services-up to 11 times per week!

But the Amana Colonies suffered from the same problem that nearly every communist/socialist society hits-there becomes a (real or perceived) notion that there is an inequity in the labor being done and the rewards being reaped by the members. In addition, the world was changing and becoming smaller and members wanted to live like people in the rest of the country and be able to eat in their own homes.

To make a long story short (Too late!!): in 1932 the Amana Colonies voted to change from a communist/socialist system to what is essentially a joint-stock corporation. It seems to be working well for them. Today the Amanas are largely a tourist area of small shops, famous around these parts for fine woolen goods, wineries (I can recommend the dandelion and rhubarb wines-flavorful with a decent kick) and family-style dining on good German-style cuisine.

Oh, yes-and they came out with the first mass-produced microwave oven (the Amana Radarange of the late 1960's and 1970's), and they built a mountain of good quality refrigerators until Maytag bought the Amana Manufaucturing Company and then sent a lot of the appliance manufacturing south of the US border-thanks, Maytag management. Hope your bonus checks cleared. Bastidges.

So that's your lesson on Iowa culture. Hope you paid attention. There may be a test.

Stay warm, Middle America.

yankeedog out.

02 December 2010

Midwest sortie

Next week The Better Half has a week-long class in Kansas City. We'd hoped for Chicago (which is close) or Cincinnati (where her sister lives) but it appears the company running the courses didn't have enough people enrolled for those two classes. KC it is, then.

We're supposed to leave on Saturday afternoon, but we're supposed to get a snowstorm, so we'll see. We did build a day's leeway into getting there. If we leave at the crack of dawn Sunday we'll make it OK-it isn't that far. We're driving there-by the time we get to the airport (90 min early), fly to Chicago to catch a connector to KC, and get out of KCI, I can drive there.

I'm coming back Monday-too much stuff to do around here, and at any rate Kansas City isn't my idea of a vacation spot. I would check out the World War I Memorial Museum there, but it's closed on Monday. Well, piss on them, then.

We're going to see if we can wangle a gen-u-ine Kansas City barbecue dinner (Arthur Bryant's-supposedly the best barbecue in the Free World. We'll see.) out of Mr. S.F. Murphy and his lovely sig other. It'll be an extremely small version of all those Burger get-togethers made famous down in Australia.

A good weekend to all! I'm going to Kansas City, Kansas City, here I come...

I'll be standing on the corner

On the corner of Twelfth Street and Vine...
I'm gonna be standing on the corner
On the corner of Twelfth Street and Vine...
With my Kansas City baby
And a bottle of Kansas City wine.

yankeedog out.