Sunday, December 25, 2011

0091: Happy Birthday Jesus

Merry Christmas

"Let us ask the Lord to help us see through the superficial glitter of this season, and to discover behind it the child in the stable in Bethlehem, so as to find true joy and true light." 
 Pope Benedict XVI, December 25, 2012 ~

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

0090: Is There a Santa Claus?

Is There a Santa Claus? was the title of an editorial appearing in the September 21, 1897, edition of The (New York) Sun. The editorial, which included the famous reply "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus", has become an indelible part of popular Christmas folklore in the United States and Canada.
Dear Editor, 
I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say that there is no Santa Claus. Papa says "If you see it in the Sun, it is so." Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus? 

Your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. 

All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge. 

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to our life its highest beauty and joy. 

Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished. 

Not believe in Santa Claus? You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your Papa to hire men to watch all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? 

Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. 

Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders that are unseen and unseeable in the world. 

You tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, or even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernatural beauty and glory beyond. 

Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else as real and abiding. 

No Santa Claus? Thank God he lives and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, maybe 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the hearts of children. 

Written by Francis P. Church in 1897
Francis Church
Virginia O'Hanlon
(circa: 1895)

Monday, December 19, 2011

0089: Saint Nicholas - Sinterklaas - Santa Claus

Did you know that the true story of Santa Claus begins with Saint Nicholas? He was a real person who was born during the third century in the village of Patara (at the time the area was Greek but today we know it as the southern coast of Turkey). He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, and thus became the model for Santa Claus, whose modern name comes from the Dutch "Sinterklaas", itself from several variations of "Saint Nickolaos". 

Nicholas' wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was a teenager. Obeying Jesus' words to "sell what you own and give the money to the poor," Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas (who had a white beard and wore a red robe and pointed hat like Santa Claus ;-) became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships. 

But under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who ruthlessly persecuted Christians, Bishop Nicholas suffered for his faith, was exiled and imprisoned. He was released in AD 325, died December 6, AD 343 in Myra and was buried in his cathedral church. Fostering the growth of devotion to Nicholas is the Manna of St Nicholas (pure water which formed in his original tomb in Turkey and still forms in his present tomb in Italy, it is said to have healing powers). The anniversary of his death became a day of celebration, St. Nicholas Day, December 6th.

Widely celebrated in Europe, St. Nicholas' feast day, December 6th, kept alive the stories of his goodness and generosity. In Germany and Poland, boys dressed as bishops begged alms for the poor—and sometimes for themselves! In the Netherlands and Belgium, St. Nicholas arrived on a steamship from Spain to ride a white horse on his gift-giving rounds. December 6th is still the main day for gift giving and merrymaking in much of Europe. For example, in the Netherlands St. Nicholas is celebrated on the 5th, the eve of the day, by sharing candies, chocolate initial letters, small gifts, and riddles. Dutch children leave carrots and hay in their shoes for the saint's horse, hoping St. Nicholas will exchange them for small gifts. 

Through the centuries many stories and legends have been told of St. Nicholas' life and deeds. These stories help us understand his extraordinary character and why he is so beloved and revered as protector and helper of those in need.

Several stories tell of Nicholas and the sea. When he was young, Nicholas sought the holy by making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. There as he walked where Jesus walked, he sought to more deeply experience Jesus' life, passion, and resurrection. Returning by sea, a mighty storm threatened to wreck the ship. Nicholas calmly prayed. The terrified sailors were amazed when the wind and waves suddenly calmed, sparing them all. And so St. Nicholas is the patron of sailors and voyagers.

Other stories tell of Nicholas saving his people from famine, sparing the lives of those innocently accused, and much more. He did many kind and generous deeds in secret, expecting nothing in return. Within a century of his death he was celebrated as a saint. Today he is considered in the East as wonder, or miracle worker and in the West as patron of a great variety of persons-children, mariners, bankers, pawn-brokers, scholars, orphans, laborers, travelers, merchants, judges, paupers, marriageable maidens, students, children, sailors, victims of judicial mistakes, captives, perfumers, even thieves and murderers! He is known as the friend and protector of all in trouble or need.

Sailors, claiming St. Nicholas as patron, carried stories of his favor and protection far and wide. St. Nicholas chapels were built in many seaports. As his popularity spread during the Middle Ages, he became the patron saint of Apulia (Italy), Sicily, Greece, and Lorraine (France), and many cities in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Russia, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Following his baptism, Grand Prince Vladimir I brought St. Nicholas' stories and devotion to St. Nicholas to his homeland, Ukraine, where Nicholas became the most beloved saint. Nicholas was so widely revered that thousands of churches were named for him, including three hundred in Belgium (I visited the one in Ghent, beautiful...), thirty-four in Rome, twenty-three in the Netherlands and more than four hundred in England.

Nicholas' tomb in Myra became a popular place of pilgrimage. Because of the many wars and attacks in the region, some Christians were concerned that access to the tomb might become difficult. For both the religious and commercial advantages of a major pilgrimage site, the Italian cities of Venice and Bari vied to get the Nicholas relics. In the spring of 1087, sailors from Bari succeeded in spiriting away the bones, bringing them to Bari, a seaport on the southeast coast of Italy. An impressive church was built over St. Nicholas' crypt and many faithful journeyed to honor the saint who had rescued children, prisoners, sailors, famine victims, and many others through his compassion, generosity, and the countless miracles attributed to his intercession. The Nicholas shrine in Bari was one of medieval Europe's great pilgrimage centers and Nicholas became known as "Saint in Bari." To this day pilgrims and tourists visit Bari's great Basilica di San Nicola.
Basilica di San Nicola, Bari, Italy
Through the centuries St. Nicholas has continued to be venerated by Catholics and Orthodox and honored by Protestants. By his example of generosity to those in need, especially children, St. Nicholas continues to be a model for the compassionate life.

Simple gift-giving in early Advent has also helped preserve a Christmas Day focus on the Christ Child.

So... do I believe in Santa Claus - yes! Is Santa Claus real - yes, he WAS real... 

Monday, December 5, 2011

0088: Nome, Alaska

Nome - probably best known as the end point of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. 
The Iditarod began in 1973 to commemorate a race against time, when sled dogs and drivers teamed up in 1925 to defeat a deadly outbreak of diphtheria in Nome. It was feared the disease would decimate Eskimo families living near the gold-rush town on Alaska's western coastline. Dog drivers drove teams 674 miles from Nenana to Nome to deliver the lifesaving serum in five days.
Source: Fox Sports March 2011

Did you know that Nome has been iced-in because of a storm? A powerful Bering Sea storm that had gusts as high as 89 miles per hour? It prevented a supply barge from getting in before winter. There are about 3,500 residents in Nome and they are crossing their fingers that a Russian tanker (owned by Russian company Rimsco) will be able to help.
This tanker, that can plow through thick ice, will attempt to deliver 1.5 million gallons of home heating fuel, gas and diesel fuel. It is certified to travel through ice 4 feet thick for long distances - it delivers fuel to communities in the Russian Far East. The plan is for it to leave Russia this week and go to S Korea, where it will be loaded with fuel, and then travel to Nome, where it should arrive by late December. 
Cabin in Nome, Alaska

These types of stories hold me at the seat of my pants as people try to work against the clock to secure their survival. As well as the people on that tanker that are brave enough to work through these dangerous solutions. It is estimated that fuel supplies will run out in 3 months if they are not able to get any delivered. Plan "B" is to have it flown in at a very high cost, not good in these trying economic times but certainly at the end of the day there is no price for saving a life... 
As my heart pours out I wonder who lives in Nome? or Siberia? or any other place that shares such harsh weather. And I wonder from the cold to hot such as Death Valley?  Places that are so exposed to the elements and the unpredictable temper of Mother Nature??

Then I laugh and think, "hey, I live in South Florida", hurricane central depending on the year... It's our way of life so is that really any different? Every year we risk hurricanes that can be horribly dangerous and that have battered the Atlantic and Gulf coasts for years. But we still chose to live here. Why? I guess it's because home is home no matter where it is located. I chose to live here because it is where I grew up and I love it. When we get battered we clean up and pick up the pieces as best we can and move on. 
Where we are born is not our choice but where we live is and as a person that chooses to live in a hurricane zone, my prayers go out to the people of Nome - God protect your home. I also pray for the S Koreans and the Russians that are helping save lives. 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

0087: Winter Pictures - Siberia, Russia

I live in South Florida, a place where winters can be considered a joke because if we go below 50 F (10 C) it is rare and everyone starts dressing like we live in Siberia - it's really quite hysterical :-)

So when I began seeing significant snow and frozen lake pictures on Instagram I was once again reminded of how different our lives are despite sharing this wonderful Earth... Some of the pictures I've seen are amazing so I thought I'd write about winter beauty starting with Siberia, Russia!! A place so foreign and mysterious to most of us, but a place that I always associate with untouched beauty. 

Did you know that Siberia (possibly from the Mongolian for "the calm land") is a vast region of Russia and northern Kazakhstan constituting almost all of northern Asia. All but the extreme south-western area of Siberia lies in Russia, and it makes up about 75% of that country's territory. Siberia remained a mostly unexplored and uninhabited area for the longest time. By the mid-17th century, only a few exploratory missions and traders inhabited Siberia. The other group that were sent to Siberia were prisoners exiled from western Russia. The first great change to Siberia was the Trans-Siberian railway, constructed in 1891 - 1905. It linked Siberia more closely to the rapidly-industrializing Russia of Nicholas II. Siberia is filled with natural resources and during the 20th century these were developed, and industrial towns cropped up throughout the region.

Here are just a few pictures to remind us all of the force of nature as well as the adaptability of people.
Siberia’s Lake Baikal is the deepest lake in the world—at over a mile (1,700 meters)—and holds an incredible 20 percent of Earth’s unfrozen fresh water. Formed some 25 million years ago, it’s also the world’s oldest lake. Because of its age and isolation, hundreds of aquatic species evolved here that are found nowhere else on the planet.
Photograph by Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images
Winter wonderland. (Tobolsk, Russia) Ru.Su Photography

In the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk members of a winter swimmers club get out of the Yenisei River after a short swim with air temperature measuring about -36C (-32.8F). Can you believe this? Amazing!!!

Just thought this was great. It is from The caption reads, "When it is -60 F (-50 C) outside, the car windows never get rid of the ice and snow. Even when the heater is on to its maximum." So funny!!

So I guess the next time you think its cold, its all relative!! Stay warm!! 

30-Day challenge Update - SUCCESS!!! Yesterday, day 8, I did all three!! I blogged, I drew and I biked (2.5 miles). Today I have just blogged so only two to go - not sure but can it be?? two days in a row :-) we will see!!!

Friday, December 2, 2011

0086: Easy Recipes: Morton's Chopped Salad

Yep, from Morton's Steakhouse - Truly easy and delicious!

Dijon Vinaigrette Dressing - ONLY 5 INGREDIENTS - love it!!  

2/3 cup white balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup of water 
1/2 cup dijon mustard
Good Season Italian dressing mix (2 packets)
1 cup extra virgin olive oil

Just whisk everything together and VOILA - deliciousness :-) You should try to let the dressing sit for a few minutes to let the flavors blend. (The dressing will last in the refrigerator for 7 days.) 

This is definitely one of my staple recipes - of only a handful... The salad done in its entirety is amazing and definitely impressive (or maybe just because I don't cook people get easily impressed when I bring something that has more than a couple ingredients :-) But anyway, if I know I have picky eaters then I will keep the onions, bacon and tomatoes (my niece still hates tomatoes) on the side and let people add these, if they'd like to. So, my left over salad dressing is my true joy. For someone that rarely has homemade items in the kitchen it is almost a little luxury and one that I have made myself just makes it that much yummier. 

Long after the party, I can have just some simple iceberg lettuce and maybe some tomatoes and this dressing and I am a happy camper! The following is the full recipe:

Salad Mix

  • medium head iceberg lettuce, washed and dried
  • medium head romaine lettuce, washed and dried
  • 10 -12 frozen artichoke hearts (in brine, not marinated, about 12 ounces drained) or 10 -12 canned artichoke hearts (in brine, not marinated, about 12 ounces drained)
  • cup hearts of palm  (about 12 ounces drained)
  • 1 avocado
  • ounces blue cheese, such as Saga, Maytag (1 cup) or ounces gorgonzola, crumbled (1 cup)
  • 12 -14 slices cooked bacon, slices (crumbled, crisp-cooked bacon strips or equivalent amount of crisp real-bacon bits)
  • 3/4 cup chopped hard-cooked egg (about 2 large eggs)
  • 3/4 cup finely minced red onion
  • 3/4 cup seeded chopped plum tomato

Basically chop everything, put it into a salad bowl, add about 2/3 cup of the dressing and toss. This should serve about 6-8 people. So delicious, I am going to go make some now!

Read more:

30-Day Challenge Update - Yesterday, day 7, I was a mess, didn't do any one of my three simple tasks (Blog-Bike-Draw) but I did run 5 miles - yeah, not on the list I know... BUT day 6 I legitimately did ALL three items :-) so today, Day 8, I am definitely hoping to hit a home run again - I've already drawn and here is my blog... although very rare to hit all three, it is possible, I've done it twice in 8 days!!!