Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Wreaths, Crosses, and Carols

Time of the Season

Among the things I love about the Christmas season is that it offers plenty of distractions from the day-to-day idiocy of progressive nitwits and our asshat President-Elect.

Because I'm a lazy so-and-so, I always begin my Christmas decorating with the low-hanging fruit, specifically the hanging of the Christmas wreath on my apartment door. On Christmas morning
I will add a small Nativity scene to the center.

Next up will be hanging the Christmas lights around my patio doors, a process which takes a couple of hours and usually involves a small amount of cursing. Once those lights are up there won't be much else to do until it is time to find
and decorate a small Christmas tree.

The finishing touch is typically a poinsettia plant, which I don't usually bring home until the final week of the season.

With the Christmas tree and poinsettia, I usually try to find a small, humble example that seems to have been shunted off to the side, away from its larger, flashier brethren...

"You get sentimental about the dumbest things..."

Do not...

Feast Day

St. Andrew (1715), by Camillo Rusconi

Today is the feast day of St. Andrew, the first of the Original Twelve Apostles of Jesus, and the brother of St. Peter.

Andrew was martyred in Patras, in western Greece. He was crucified by being tied to
a saltire, which subsequently came to be called a St. Andrew's Cross.

Andrew has many patronages, including Scotland (where his feast day is the country's National Day), Georgia, and Greece. He is the patron saint of fishermen, butchers, and farm workers, among others.

Well-Deserved Honor

"Later, 'gator!"
My beloved Kansas City Chiefs relied heavily on rookie WR Tyreek Hill in their pulse-pounding 30-27 overtime victory on the road at Denver last Sunday night.

Hill had a rushing touchdown,
a receiving touchdown, and a kick return touchdown in the same game, an NFL feat which was last accomplished in 1965.

This morning Tyreek was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week for his outstanding performance, which ought to convince the Chiefs to enlarge his role.

"I think the kid's nickname should be 'Bronco Buster' after that game!"

I like it...

Special Snowflake Factory

From the pen of Henry Payne, whose editorial cartoons you should read often, as I do.

Until Next Time...

There are countless places and institutions around the world named for St. Andrew.
One of the most significant such places is St. Andrews, Scotland. Among other distinctions the town is celebrated as the home of golf thanks to the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, and St. Andrews Cathedral is the largest church ever built in Scotland.

It is also the home of the prestigious University of St. Andrews, one of the oldest institutions of higher learning in the English-speaking world. Among the university's many architectural delights is St. Salvator's Chapel, established in 1450 and still a major center of campus life.

The St. Salvator's Chapel Choir has existed since the university's founding, and to this day continues to preserve and honor the music that has nourished the faithful for more than six centuries. 

Just over a month ago the group released a Christmas album called  
A Nativity Sequence. It includes traditional English and German favorites like "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" and "Es ist ein Ros entsprungen" as well as hymns typically sung during Mass at this time of year.

My personal favorite from the collection is their somber version of "Coventry Carol," one of the darker Christmas songs to gain widespread popularity (it tells the story of the Massacre of the Innocents, from the Gospel of Matthew).

Today's send-off is the ensemble's gorgeous rendition of the traditional carol, from their YouTube channel. Enjoy...

Tuesday, November 29, 2016



The biggest item in the news this morning is the heartbreaking disaster unfolding in and around Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where wildfires have been raging for some time.

There has been extensive damage in the area, but there are encouraging reports that the worst danger may have passed.

One can only imagine the horror of being forced from your home community and watching major parts of it burn to the ground. We have had similar disasters here in Iowa involving flooding, but as natural disasters go a wildfire might be the most fear-inducing. My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Tennessee today, and yours should be too...

"And the birds and animals as well, I hope."

Of course...I've been trying not to think about that aspect of the nightmare...

So Long, Eddie

23-20, 390 IP, 294 strikeouts, one World Series ring
My beloved Kansas City Royals announced yesterday that free agent starting pitcher Edinson Volquez had signed a two-year contract with the Miami Marlins. He spent the past two seasons with the Royals.

Although he was never a top-of-the-rotation ace in Kansas City, Volquez earned the nickname "Steady Eddie" for his durability
and grit. He will be tough to replace in the rotation.

As a member of the 2015 World Series Champions he will always be fondly remembered in Kansas City, and Royals fans wish him the best in Miami.

Get a grip...Jason Vargas should be ready to go by Opening Day, and we have some other options as well, plus there's always the possibility of a trade...

Chess Anticlimax

The 2016 FIDE World Chess Championship match in New York between reigning champion Magnus Carlsen of Norway and Russian challenger Sergey Karjakin got off
to a slow start with draws in the 12-game match's first seven games.

Karjakin then electrified the chess world by winning with the black pieces in Game 8, putting him in position to claim the title with just four games remaining.

He wasn't able to hold on, however, losing Game 10 to allow Carlsen to even the match. Games 11-12 were uneventful draws, which means the championship will be decided by Rapid and (if necessary) Blitz games on Wednesday.

This is a deeply disappointing outcome. Chess at those faster time controls isn't really the same game. If the Super Bowl is tied at the end of regulation, they play more football, they don't settle things with a tug-of-war or a foot race.

"You're going to keep grumbling about this no matter who wins, aren't you?"

Of course I objection is based on principle, not on personalities...

Garbage Disposal

From the pen of Lisa Benson, whose editorial cartoons you should read often, as I do.

Until Next Time...

This time of year there is a veritable tsunami of Christmas music releases. Artists and groups in every musical genre participate in the annual deluge, as our appetite for such releases seems boundless. Even the head-banging heavy metal artists get in on the act. On Amazon's digital music section this morning, a search for "Holiday Music" new releases just in the past 30 days returned nearly 1,300 results.

No one can listen to all of this music, of course, or even a significant fraction of it.
I already own several hours' worth of Christmas music, so I have no need of any more, but every year I find some that is good enough to make me want to own it (the blog's last three weekly Music Recommendations have been Christmas albums, and that is likely to continue through the New Year).

While I was poking around for this week's choice, I happened upon an album by an a cappella vocal group named Voctave. Their new album The Spirit of the Season is an interesting blend of modern and classic Christmas songs, including some with which I was not familiar.

The album closes with a medley of "This Is My Wish," a song written by Tim and Angela Lauer for a TV commercial that has proven to be wildly popular, and the 1955 classic "Let There Be Peace On Earth."

Today's send-off is the group's live-in-the-studio performance of the medley, from their YouTube channel. Enjoy...

Monday, November 28, 2016

Muddling Through Somehow

Good Riddance

Fidel Castro, one of the most monstrous figures of the 20th century, died on Friday. I know that, as a Catholic, I am not supposed to revel in the death of any human being, but in this case I guess I'll just have to go to confession.

Of course, the reaction of left-wingers in America and around the world was entirely predictable, and disgusting. As you might expect, the reaction of most Cuban-Americans was less warm.

I'm with them, and I offer a prayer that the people of Cuba may finally be able to take back their freedom. Too soon to know if that will happen, though. Time will tell...

"Hell is too little punishment for a man like him, though."

Not my call, but I don't disagree with the sentiment...

Overtime Excitement

After last week's dispiriting home loss to Tampa Bay at Arrowhead Stadium, my beloved Kansas City Chiefs entered last night's Sunday Night Football game against the AFC West rival and defending Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver with their season hanging in the balance. A loss would have put them two games behind division-leading Oakland with just five games remaining, and would have pushed them out of the playoff standings with several challenging games still to be played. Instead, they fought their way to a thrilling 30-27 win, with
K Cairo Santos's game-winning field goal clanging off the left upright but still going through just as time expired in the 15-minute overtime period...

"You know I'm gone like a cool breeze..."

The offensive star of the game was rookie WR Tyreek Hill, who became the first player in 51 years to score
a rushing touchdown, a receiving touchdown, and a kick-return touchdown in the same game
(Hall of Famer Gale Sayers was the last player to accomplish the feat).

"Hi! I'll be doing this all night, just so you know..."
On defense, the Chiefs were led
by Pro Bowl LB Justin Houston, looking like he has fully recovered from his knee surgery. Justin had 10 tackles, 3 sacks, and forced a fumble in what was a completely dominating performance.

The Chiefs will certainly need his contributions as they begin their playoff drive.

"For a game your team won, there sure was a lot of cursing last night..."

What can I say? The game had a lot of twists and turns...

Nice Try, Kid

From the indispensable comic strip Non Sequitur, by Wiley Miller, which you should read every day, as I do (even though Wiley is a squishy liberal).

Until Next Time...

As I did last year, the plan is to feature music associated with the Christmas season exclusively until January 1. The selections will include both religious hymns (as yesterday's entry did) and more secular holiday favorites. There is so much wonderful Christmas music from which to choose that a month-long focus on it won't even scratch the surface of what is available to enjoy.
Original 1944 "one sheet" poster

On November 28, 1944 the motion picture musical Meet Me in St. Louis opened in New York City. It starred 22-year-old Judy Garland and was directed by her future husband Vincente Minnelli (who first met her on the set of the film).

According to Variety it was the year's second-highest grossing film. It received four Academy Award nominations and in 1994 it was selected for the National Film Registry curated by the Library of Congress. But the film is best-remembered at this time of year for introducing a song which has been
a seasonal favorite for more than 70 years.

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" has been recorded by hundreds of artists and groups in every musical genre. Garland's original version remains my favorite, and it always brings me to tears, but there have been many other memorable versions recorded since then.

Today's send-off is a rendition of the classic tune from Tony Award-winning actor and singer Leslie Odom, Jr.'s new Christmas album, which just happens to be this week's Music Recommendation. Enjoy...

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Advent Sunday 2016

Happy New Year!

First Sunday
Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the Church's liturgical calendar (often referred to as "Catholic New Year").

My Advent wreath is not the traditional kind, which are made of evergreen branches. It is a Celtic Advent Wreath that I purchased from Gloria Deo in Omaha several years ago.

In addition to the traditional colored candles, I also place a white candle in the center, to be lit on Christmas morning.

"Time for the Christmas decorations to go up!"

Hold your horses...there's no reason to do all of that the first day of the season...

Rivalry Weekend

Although it was relentlessly promoted as "Rivalry Week" in college football, my own rooting interests were mostly not facing opponents who were traditional rivals in the usual sense. Thanksgiving Weekend got off to a good start for me on Friday when
Air Force held on to win at home against No. 19 Boise State in part due to a thrilling goal-line stand late in the game. The Falcons are now 9-3 and a candidate for one of
the better bowl games.

No. 25 Navy traveled to Dallas to take on SMU and recorded a stunning 75-31 blowout. Now 9-2, the Midshipmen will face Temple in the American Conference championship game.

Boston College was also on the road yesterday, beating Wake Forest 17-14 for their sixth win of the season, making the Eagles eligible
to be selected for a bowl game.

Iowa State concluded a disappointing season with a loss at home to No. 18 West Virginia, while Notre Dame wrapped up 2016 by losing its traditional match-up with
No. 12 USC in Los Angeles.

My best friend Skip's No. 7 Penn State Nittany Lions had a doubly good day, blasting Michigan State 45-12 before a delirious home crowd, and winning the Big Ten East championship when Ohio State defeated Michigan. Penn State, now 10-2 following their 8th straight win, will face No. 6 Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship game.

No. 16 Nebraska suffered an embarrassing 40-10 blowout loss, which did my heart good even if it meant Iowa got the win. The hated Kansas Jayhawks got thumped 34-19 in their season finale by Kansas State.

"Your hatred of the Cornhuskers and Jayhawks is...disproportionate."

Respectfully disagree...


From the pen of Henry Payne, whose editorial cartoons you should read often, as I do.

Until Next Time...

Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary is located in Denton, Nebraska, roughly 75 miles southwest of where I live. It is one of two such institutions operated by the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter, and is devoted to The Liturgy of 1962 (also known as the Tridentine Mass).

Although the seminarians who attend will not take religous vows, they spend several years in intensive study, including the study and performance of traditional Church music.

In the spring of 2012 they released In Sæcula Sæculórum, an album of classic Gregorian chants and other sacred polyphony.

The album includes music from
all seasons of Catholic worship, including Advent, and features musical settings by masters like Christopher Tye, Jacques Arcadelt, and the incomparable Palestrina.

This music is what Mass sounded like when I was growing up, and hearing these loving, faithful renditions is spiritually refreshing.

Today's send-off is the seminarians' faithful rendition of "Rorate Caeli," a hymn usually associated with Advent, paired with some evocative images of  Tridentine services. Enjoy...


Saturday, November 26, 2016

Saturday Song

Shop Local

Today is Small Business Saturday, a relatively recent addition to holiday shopping traditions, dating back only to 2010. The major sponsor and promoter of the event is American Express. I've got a few such local favorites to visit today...

I'll be picking up a fresh set of Advent candles at Gloria Deo in Omaha, and perhaps a new saint statue to add to my collection. They might have the new Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles CD too...

Dietze Music is just a few doors down from Gloria Deo, and although I'm not in the market for any new instruments I can always find something useful there...

I'll also pay a visit to House of Trains, my favorite local store catering to model railroad hobbyists. It is easier to shop there now that they have finished their recent emodeling.

The plan is to pick up a piece of track I need to display a model that doesn't fit anything I already have, but I'll need some willpower during this stop...

My last stop will be Lidgett Music back on the Bluffs side of the river. I've spent a fair amount of coin here over the years, and I'm sure they'll get a few more of my dollars today.

"Maybe they'll have that Fender '68 Deluxe Reverb amp you've had your eye on!"

I was thinking more along the lines of some new strings, maybe some polishing wipes...

Pigskin Preview

The weekend got off to a good start for my college football rooting interests yesterday, as Air Force registered a nice 27-20 win at home over No. 19 Boise State and No. 16 Nebraska got humiliated 40-10 by unranked Iowa, costing them the Big Ten West title and a spot in the conference's championship game.

As for the rest of "my" teams, Army has the weekend off, and in fact won't play again until the classic Army-Navy game on December 10. Iowa State plays at home against No. 18 West Virginia, hoping for a third straight win. Navy is on the road taking on SMU, Boston College travels to Wake Forest with a chance to become bowl-eligible
with a victory, and Notre Dame will be in Los Angeles for its traditional game against No. 12 USC.

I'm also rooting for my best friend Skip's beloved No. 7 Penn State Nittany Lions, who play at home today against Michigan State. If PSU can win this game, and Ohio State beats Michigan in their traditional rivalry game, Skip's team will play in the Big Ten Conference Championship game against Wisconsin.

"All sorts of possibilities there, eh?"

Yes, indeed...part of what makes college football so much fun to follow...


From the wry comic strip Zits, by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman, which you should read every day, as I do.

Until Next Time...

Coca-Cola is arguably the most iconic and uniquely American product of all time, known and loved around the world.

The company has a long history 
of distinctive Christmas advertising, most of it featuring the famous Santa Claus created specially for the company by graphic artist Haddon Sundblom beginning in the 1930s.

Coca-Cola has had a number of memorable jingles in its history, and many of them have been combined with the "Holidays Are Coming" jingle to produce some of the company's best-loved Christmas ads for television.

For those of us who love both the soft drink and the Christmas season, the appearance
of the first "Holidays Are Coming" ad (sometime on Thanksgiving Day, typically) marks the real beginning of the season.

Today's send-off is the company's full-length 2010 ad, featuring Austrian singer Tamee Harrison performing her Christmas song "A Beautiful Time." Enjoy...

Friday, November 25, 2016

Fade To Black

Thank Shinnok It's Friday!

"You'll need a strong finishing move if you go shopping today, mortal!"

Starter Pistol

Although the day after Thanksgiving was seen as the unofficial start of the Christmas shopping season when I was growing up, the whole marketing campaign popularly referred to as "Black Friday"developed much more recently.

Over the past few years, retailers themselves have diluted the effect. First it was stores opening at pre-dawn hours, then midnight Thursday, and finally encroaching on Thanksgiving Day itself (many retailers now open for business in the afternoon that Thursday). Yet each year we're inundated with "news" stories about "Black Friday" shoppers going off the deep end and even becoming violent. It's absurd.

It has been many years since I have need to do any special shopping during the Christmas season, but even if I needed to do so I'd probably rely on Amazon and the individual retailers' websites. I'm too old to elbow my way through a mob just to save
a couple of bucks on something that's probably got a lower price online anyway...

"You really don't miss the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping?"

What made it fun was imagining the surprise and delight on the faces on the people
I loved on Christmas morning...without that, there's just no reason to put up with the annoying aspects of it...

Dang It, Apple!

One of the more predictable aspects of the Christmas season is the appearance of TV ads that push my emotional buttons (not that that is particularly difficult to do). There's always at least one such ad that brings me to tears no matter how many times I see it. Some of them never lose that emotional hold on me, either.

During yesterday's football-watching binge I saw a spot that is a strong contender for that honor this year, produced by Apple...

Yeah, I know...

Black Friday in Clintonville

From the pen of Lisa Benson, whose editorial cartoons you should read often, as I do.

Until Next Time...

As I have noted on many occasions in this space, the vast majority of the musical artists and bands I embraced during my high school and college years broke up (often with considerable acrimony) after relatively short careers. Groups like The Beatles, Cream, Simon & Garfunkel, Free, and Creedence Clearwater Revival were big favorites of mine, but all of them dissolved due to ego issues or "creative differences" (a euphemism for ego issues) before my freshman year of college had begun.

The Band hung around a bit longer, and were among my favorites during my college years, but they too succumbed to warring egos and called it quits in 1976.

Original 1976 concert promotional poster

On November 25 that year, the group gave what was billed as their "final farewell concert" at San Francisco's famous Winterland Ballroom. They were joined that night by a host of guest performers, including Van Morrison, Neil Young, Muddy Waters, Joni Mitchell, Neil Diamond, and their former employer Bob Dylan.

The concert soon became legendary, producing a three-disc album in 1978 that reached No. 16 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart as well as a concert film directed by Martin Scorsese that some critics hail as the greatest rock documentary ever made.

Today's send-off was the group's final encore that night, "Baby Don't You Do It," a cover of the Holland-Dozier-Holland song that had been a hit for Marvin Gaye and was also The Band's final Top 40 hit when they released a live version of it as a single back in 1971. Scorsese chose to use the song for his film's opening credits. Enjoy...

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving 2016


I am the captain of Team Dark Meat
As usual, I am spending today deeply grateful for my many blessings, not the least of which is still being alive in the first place.

The list also includes friendships, music, books, movies and TV shows, sports, nature, and living in the United States of America, still the greatest country in human history despite its faults.

This blog is partly a daily occasion to celebrate the countless things for which I have cause to give thanks...

Did I mention turkey (dark meat only, please), mashed potatoes and gravy, Harvard beets, deviled eggs, baked beans, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie?

"For Thanksgiving I like to add sage and some bay leaf to the anthill before feasting."

Always the traditionalist...

Happy Birthday!

November 24, 1925 - February 27, 2008
On November 24, 1925 my hero William Frank Buckley, Jr. was born in New York City.

He went on to lead a remarkable life as an author, speaker, and public intellectual. Any attempt to summarize his accomplishments would sound like wild exaggeration to someone who didn't live through the Buckley Era.

He was, as he might himself put it, sui generis.

In 1988, just after he had turned 63 (my current age), Bill gave a speech about gratitude and giving thanks, which I reread this morning.

It is particularly apropos whenever his birthday falls on Thanksgiving, as it does this year, because I shall always be deeply thankful for everything he taught me about how to think, how to debate, how to write, how to deal with idiots, how to enjoy life to the fullest, and how to embrace my faith.

Bill wasn't perfect, of course. He preferred Bach to Beethoven, and he and his wife Pat liked to have pheasant for Thanksgiving. On balance, though, I am grateful for his presence in my life for the past half century. My hero of heroes...


Am I the sort of person who obsesses about reaching meaningless milestones on my car's odometer?

Why yes, yes I am...

Turkey Bomb

From the pen of Henry Payne, whose editorial cartoons you should read often, as I do.

Until Next Time...

Among my hero Bill Buckley's many enthusiasms were the harpsichord and the music of J.S. Bach, both of which he wrote about with some frequency.

His publicly-expressed fondness for both led to his being invited to perform a Bach keyboard concerto of his own choosing with the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra. And so he did, on October 17, 1989, at age 63 (the same age I am now). His typically wry account of how he came to do so appeared in the New York Times on October 1, 1989, just a couple of weeks before the performance.

In 1999 French harpsichordist Christophe Rousset recorded all of Bach's concertos for the instrument with Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music,
a project regarded by many as the definitive versions of those works.

Harpsichord music being a rather specialized taste, the album has been out of print for many years, but part of the glory of the internet is that you can still track down such music with a bit of effort. One more thing for which to be thankful!

Today's send-off is Rousset's performance of the piece Bill chose back in 1988,
the Harpsichord Concerto No. 5 in F minor, BWV 1056, in its entirety. Enjoy...