It’s the final month of a year ending in 8. Time for new wheels?

Till death us do part
‘Tis the Season Division

An entry in the Permanent Spousal Record maintained by DebK of Rosemount: “Taxman and I are not gift-giving (to each other) people. Still, every decade, Taxman is taken with the notion that ‘the Bride’ ought to have a new car.

“Much about this phenomenon is predictable. It manifests in years ending in an 8 — and always in December, when Taxman is convinced that ‘deals’ are to be had, and just in time for him to boast to the kids that ‘This year, I’m getting Mom something for Christmas — something really big!’

“Perhaps to legitimize that claim — that the new vehicle is a gift for me — Taxman insists that I be part of the car-buying experience, which introduces notes of discord to our relationship. It has been thus every decade of our marriage — until this one. As usual — this being a year ending in 8 — Taxman began hinting heavily just after Thanksgiving that he was thinking that it ‘might be time’ I had a different vehicle. This year, however, the research, selection, and price negotiations took place entirely online. Our first look at our new vehicle took place five minutes before we drove it away from the dealership, conveniently located halfway to St. Paul, where we were headed for dinner with The Astronomer of Nininger and his Good Wife.

“What a contrast to our purchase of 2008, which was, admittedly, the low point of our car-buying history! That year, Taxman had a particularly difficult time deciding which vehicle would please me most. The third week in Advent found us still dedicating sizable chunks of each day to quizzing car-sales personnel about gear ratios, drive-train warranties, accessory packages, and the like. Our visit to one dealership came when I was particularly frazzled with a too-long to-do list. Suffice to say, I was not at my best. A couple of hours into our ordeal, I found it necessary to apologize to the eager young salesman for my curtness and inattention. ‘No offense taken, Ma’am,’ he assured me. ‘It’s the same with my wife at this time of year. Heck, I haven’t done anything right in six weeks!'”

‘Tis the season!
On Santa’s Lap Division

Great-grandma of Como Park: “As children get older, Santa seems more intimidating to them, as Logan and Philip show.


“However, 3-month-old Olivia smiles sweetly at Santa.”


‘Tis the season!
Letters to Santa Division

The Gram With a Thousand Rules: “There were so many perks in my lucky life of getting to be a stay-at-home mother to a houseful of lively kids. One of them was getting a sneak peek at their newsy letters to Santa Claus before his little elf flew in and carried them away.

“The one that still brings a smile to my face was the letter our youngest son wrote: ‘Dear Santa, Thank you for the markers you gave me last year. If it is not too much trouble, I could really use some more. Just today, blue died.'”

‘Tis the season!
CAUTION! Words at Play! Division

Steve Nichols of Woodbury: “Subject: Santa’s nationality.

“I answer surveys on the Internet. Each time I complete a survey, a small contribution is made to my charity, the American Cancer Society.

“The other day at the end of a survey, there was a ‘just for fun’ question. The question was: ‘What nationality do you think Santa Claus is?’

“Of course there was only one answer. He’s North Polish.”

‘Tis the season!


John in Highland: “What says ‘Christmas’ better than youngsters with toy trains?”

‘Tis the Season
Under the Tree Division

Gregory J. of Dayton’s Bluff: “Christmas 1962 was the year of Marx play sets for my brother and me. One could call it a Marx brothers’ Christmas, but one probably should not.


“On Christmas morning, we found a variety of gifts underneath and around our heavily tinseled balsam Christmas tree, but the main ones were a Marx Moon Base set for me and a Marx PREHISTORIC Dinosaur Play Set for my brother. We each also received a toy machine gun, a Missile Firing X-13 Atomic Submarine and other less-lethal-looking toys. While the machine guns only made noise, the submarines and the Moon Base set included enough hard plastic projectiles and launchers to, as the movie says, ‘shoot your eye out, kid,’ and yet we never did.

“For our Christmas-morning picture, I decided to pose pointing a machine gun at the camera, while my brother chose to simply hold a dinosaur.


“Both play sets survived in my parents’ garage for over 50 years, although the boxes didn’t fare so well. As for the contents of those boxes, now, as in 1962, we’ll have to wait until after Christmas to see what was inside.

“P.S. I’m really enjoying your Random Harvest posts, particularly the one from Atlas Obscura with the fascinating collections from around the world. Maybe some of my unusual collections are actually fascinating and not just bunches of random stuff no one else appreciates.”

‘Tis the season!
Our Pets, Ourselves Division

The Grand Duchess of Grand Avenue: “Sometimes wrapping paper is so much more than that!”


‘Tis the season!
And: Out of the mouths of babes (responsorial)

Shell Lake Granny: “Ward’s bargain room.

The Gram With a Thousand Words‘ post about shopping in Ward’s bargain room brought back a lot of memories.

“I worked in the retail plumbing and heating office at Ward’s for 12 years and spent many lunch hours browsing through the bargain room. Being an employee, I got a lot of first chances at returned merchandise. Even did a lot of my Christmas shopping there. A lot of good stuff could be found there.”

Life as we know it
‘Tis the Season Division

Kathy S. of St. Paul reports: “Subject: Waiting at the Post Office.

“It wouldn’t be Christmas time if I didn’t spend time waiting in line at the post office.

“It reminded me of a time maybe 10 years ago. I got stamps; then I helped a young woman pack some items to ship to her boyfriend. He was a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan. I don’t remember what she mailed; she didn’t seem rich. All I remember is getting all the spare plastic bags, etc., out of my car to cushion what she was sending. I hope they got there intact, and that the bags were useful there.

“It would be nice to know that her soldier came home safely and that they’re both in good health now.

“Sometimes you never get to hear ‘the rest of the story’ . . .”

The Permanent Grandmotherly Record (responsorial)

Bloomington Bird Lady: “I just read the piece about learning Yiddish and had to respond.

“Since I just gave up my ‘secret recipe’ for Swedish Potato Sausage, could there be someone out in Bulletin Board Land who does know Yiddish and would be willing to share a songbook I used to use?

“About 10 years ago, I was taking some voice lessons and wanted to sing some of the familiar Yiddish songs my Jewish friends knew. I went to an expert for the pronunciations: another friend who had a klezmer band and played various gigs, including the park outside Orchestra Hall during intermissions of Sommerfest. He was intrigued that a Swede from Minnesota wanted help to sing songs he knew from childhood, so bravely took on the formidable task.

“For those who don’t know, Yiddish music is almost always in a minor key, and Yiddish words sound a bit German. At first hearing, he said: ‘But you’ve got the accent all wrong.’ I said that in music, a lot of the accents just normally fall on the first beat of the measure; he asked me to sing the song I’d been working on, then said: ‘Noni, you’ve got to hear this.’ Expecting laughter from his wife, I went out to the kitchen to sing for her. The song was ‘A Malech Veynt’ (‘An Angel Wept’) — and as I sang, Noni began to cry. She said: ‘My mother used to sing this to me as a lullaby many years ago.’ I knew her mother to be a wonderful, very old lady, whom I’d greet at concerts now and then. The song was from ‘Pearls of Yiddish Music,’ and because these friends are now gone, so is that borrowed book.

“Since anti-Semitism seems to be showing up again these days, the sentimentality of these two friends, and their hospitality through many years, is inspiring to remember. ‘Peace on Earth and good will to all’ at this time of year is refreshing to hear. May you all have a happy Christmas.”

BULLETIN BOARD NOTES: We found a “Pearls of Yiddish Song” (by Eleanor Gordon Mlotek and Joseph Mlotek) for sale here, on Amazon. Could be the one you want?

What is right with people?

Willard B. Shapira of Roseville writes: “When Pioneer Press sports columnist Charley Walters (December 16) referred to recently deceased President George H.W. Bush, it reminded me that the first President Bush created a ‘Points of Light’ program to recognize outstanding [volunteer] achievements by outstanding Americans.

“I know of at least two Minnesotans who were so honored: attorney Marshall Tanick, whose op-eds and letters to the editor frequently appear in [the Pioneer Press], and C. Kyle Peterson, now deceased, who founded the Twin Cities Jazz society, of which now-retired Pioneer Press music writer Bob Protzman was a founding board member. (I edited TCJS’s prize-winning newsletter, ‘Jazz Notes,’ for many years.) Together, we helped put Minnesota on the international jazz map.”

The verbing of America

Rusty of St. Paul: “My wife and I decided to have four friends over for supper on a somewhat spur-of-the-moment thing. When we have people over, we tend to make a fuss over the event, with a clean house and elegant food (as I enjoy planning a meal, buying the ingredients and doing the cooking).

“Just as we finished breakfast and were getting ready for a day of thorough cleaning, provision buying and cooking, my mother-in-law called to ask about an issue with my father-in-law’s eye. I am a retired emergency-room provider and told her I’d be right over. I was hopeful to avoid a long ER stay, but after doing an exam and getting in touch with the on-call eye doctor, the advice was to go to the ER — ASAP.

“It was an hours-long stay, but at one point I was able to sneak out and leave my wife with her dad so as to buy food. Cleaning? All I had time to do was to throw loose ‘stuff’ into boxes, move them into a back room and upstairs, and close the doors. When I picked my wife at the ER, I told her I had ‘Fibber McGee’d the house.'”

Could be verse

Doris Day: “And now for a little poetry.

“A Happy Birthday
“Ted Kooser

“This evening, I sat by an open window
“and read till the light was gone and the book
“was no more than a part of the darkness.
“I could easily have switched on a lamp,
“but I wanted to ride this day down into night,
“to sit alone and smooth the unreadable page
“with the pale gray ghost of my hand.”

Life as we know it
Gustatory Division

Tim Torkildson: “Subject: The Beauty of the Casserole.

“The beauty of the casserole, as anyone knows who has anything to do with preparing and then consuming this delectable proletarian dish, is that it is completely democratic. A fine casserole can be made with any kind of vegetable, any kind of meat, any kind of liquid, and in any kind of vessel that will not start on fire in a moderate oven. It accepts leftovers of every color, creed, and age. It never balks at new ingredients, either — although it is rarely indulged in them. A casserole (often called a ‘hotdish’ down in the holds of a Lutheran church basement) cares not what it may be covered with — bread crumbs, shredded cheese, barbecue sauce, crushed cornflakes; it can even be inundated with pints of inexpensive tomato ketchup and still turn out to be a deeply moving culinary experience.

“A mainstay of the so-called ‘flyover country,’ the casserole is nearly extinct on the East Coast and the West Coast — where it is viewed with snobbish amusement and disdain by people who must have their pâté and crudités served up on electrum platters to tickle their pettish palates. Such high and mighty folk have no use for good old American stodge, the kind of starch- and carbohydrate-saturated dish that fueled the likes of Charles Lindbergh, Hamlin Garland, and Harold Stassen. A slice of rich, thick casserole, with some coleslaw or frog-eye salad on the side, is the God-given right of every American man, woman, and child. Those who rail against this Midwestern manna are to be pitied, for they will never know the satisfaction of sitting back to watch their waistline surge a full inch and a half after a hearty helping of ham-and-potato casserole.

“My mother was a dab hand at whipping up a casserole for dinner on a sullen winter’s night — something that would stick to your ribs so long that I believe I still have some savory remnants clinging to my 12th thoracic vertebra to this very day. I have detailed elsewhere her repulsive habit of profaning our meals by stirring tuna fish into an otherwise perfectly good casserole dish — but otherwise her casseroles were noble works of gooey bubbling art.

“As my own family came along, I developed the knack of making an improvised casserole at the drop of a soup can. My wife Amy, who eventually graced our home with eight children, was often indisposed or simply too tired to cook, so I would fearlessly step into the breach to concoct a large and tasty casserole (with NO tuna) to satisfy the ravening tribe of savages who gathered around the dinner table each evening. The secret, I quickly learned, was to make sure to include enough glue. Not epoxy or rubber cement, but Campbell’s cream of chicken. This sovereign ingredient would bind together the most disparate and desperate food groups in a large ceramic dish and make it all come out palatable enough to engage the attention of my so-called children — fidgety hoodlums who would just as soon roll you for your poke as eat anything that looked or tasted remotely good for them.

“And even better, a large casserole, served with a loaf or two from the Wonder Day Old Bread Store, was just what the doctor ordered for our Church missionaries — young men from Utah and Idaho who were fighting chilblains and indifference as they went door to door during the Minnesota winter to spread the story of Joseph Smith. I had done the same thing in Thailand years before, so I empathized with them when they expressed discouragement and homesickness. I invited them over to our home at least once a week. Once they tucked into a steaming casserole, with a stack of buttered bread slices by their sides, their stomachs overthrew their melancholy dispositions and they would cheerfully ask for second helpings, and even thirds, while making a joyful noise. Missionaries in the Church, like Napoleon’s soldiers, march on their bellies.

“Have I mentioned that it is impossible for a well-prepared casserole to ever go bad in the refrigerator? As impossible as a Twinkie going stale. When times were tough, I would throw together several monster casseroles at once, using up all the canned goods and dropsical produce I could find, and our family lived just fine on them until the wolf slunk away from the door and went back to waiting patiently on the curb.

“Nowadays the only casserole dish I get is funeral potatoes, a hash-brown thingy they serve at Church wakes. It tastes pretty good — but I suspect today’s homemakers eschew the Campbell’s cream of chicken soup and use Greek yogurt. So I always bring along a bottle of Elmer’s Glue to surreptitiously squeeze onto my helping; it gives the funeral potatoes a nostalgic little zing for me.”

Band Name of the Day: The Hard Plastic Projectiles

Website of the Day, recommended by The Doryman of Prescott, Wisconsin: “It’s hard to believe that sitcom production has progressed this much since 1982. [Bulletin Board interjects: We’re not certain that “progressed” is the right word.] I seldom missed any of Bob Newhart’s various shows, but I don’t remember them being as slow-paced as they were. All the jokes are meticulously set up, and the timing is right — but not the steady staccato of laugh lines we are used to today. The wide camera shots made me feel like I was watching a play.

“If you’re in need of a hammy set of clever Christmas coincidences, it’s a fun half-hour. Watch to the very end for classic Newhart deadpan shtick.”


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