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2011 was an extra-ordinary year

English: Wedding of Prince William of Wales an...

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It is always customary for leading news shows, magazines, newspapers, columns, etc. to close out an old year by reviewing the top stories of the year and provide a brief summary of the year that was. Following in that tradition, Notes from the Pond, being a leading column wanna-be, has spared no expense in time, effort, or money to bring you a personalized 2011 synopsis.

If I were to choose one word to accurately describe 2011 it would be extra-ordinary. (OK, that is actually two words hyphenated to make one.) I could use the word extraordinary which is essentially the same word but, to me, extraordinary denotes a very good year. Although 2011 was marked with many big news stories, I would not call it an excellent year. It was a year with many notable events which will have long-lasting effects but some of the consequences may not be predominantly good.

World news

It was a year marked with the loss of many famous people. Perhaps the most important news story of the year was the death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of the U.S. military, compliments of Seal Team Six. At last, our country’s chief nemesis met his end and was sent to sleep with the fishes. It was a gutsy call by President Obama and carried out with precision by all involved from the president on down. Bin Laden had vowed continued attacks and it was a sigh of relief that he was taken out before the ten year observance of 9/11 when it was thought he would stage another disastrous event.

The rise of the Arab Spring saw revolution across the Middle East and North Africa that ended the 30 year reign of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak (who is currently on trial) and the death of Libya’s leader Moammar Gadhafi. The end of the year was marked by the death of another world leader, Kim Yung Il of North Korea. The loss of these leaders from the world stage will certainly change the look of world politics.

Notable deaths

On the pop scene, one of the last surviving true glamorous Hollywood stars, Elizabeth Taylor, died this year. We also lost an incredible genius who was responsible for more changes in our daily lives since the invention of Edison’s electric light, Steve Jobs. Jobs was cofounder of Apple and a pioneer in the world of computers.

Natural disasters

Natural disasters world-wide grabbed our attention a good part of the year. In March Japan suffered a 9.0 earthquake with resulting tsunamis that destroyed everything in its path including a nuclear power plant. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility suffered a meltdown of three reactors spilling radiation in the air and surrounding ocean. The long term effects may remain unknown for quite some time.

The following month, April 27, the largest tornado outbreak ever recorded marched across the South, Midwest and Northeast touching down 207 times and taking 346 lives. Alabama received the worst of it, particularly in the college town of Tuscaloosa. Three weeks later Joplin Missouri had a mile-wide tornado killing more than 150 people making it the deadliest tornado in 60 years.

A rash of earthquakes was felt across the world including a 5.8 quake that hit the East Coast on August 23. Tremors were felt from North Carolina to Buffalo and Boston and as far west as Detroit. The tremors traveled across Ohio and some in my city of Columbus, Ohio even felt it. The quake damaged a few of our national monuments in Washington D.C. including the National Cathedral and the Washington Monument.

The economy

You might say economy around the world suffered a quake of its own. Prime ministers in Greece and Italy quit due to economic turmoil and fiscal instability continues across Europe. In the U.S. Standard & Poor’s downgraded the U.S. credit rating for the first time ever. After a long-time stalemate, Congress finally came to an eleventh-hour agreement to raise the debt ceiling but it was too little and too late to stabilize our stagnant economy. Shortly after the agreement our credit rating was dropped from AAA to AA+ after threats of shutting down the government during the government gridlock.

A grassroots movement, Occupy Wall Street, spread across the nation as a reaction against policies favoring the richest 1%. The Occupy Movement, which began on Wall Street, has spread around the world and is described as a call to action against unequal distribution of wealth.

By the end of 2011 U.S. unemployment was at 9%. Arguments continue between Congress and the President over jobs bills and unemployment benefits.

Individuals in the news

The political scene saw one of its own become a victim of a crazed gunman. Rep. Gabby Giffords of Arizona was shot in the head as she met with constituents at a local mall. Giffords survived and is making a remarkable recovery but six people died.

Several other individuals were prominent in the news during 2011. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the international Monetary Fund was accused of sexually assaulting a hotel housekeeper; however, charges were later dropped.

Charlie Sheen dominated the pop news for a while with his raging absurdities that eventually resulted in his termination from his TV show Two and a Half Men. He even turned his rants into a road show. The show, peppered with the words such as winning,tiger blood and other words not worth repeating here, was eventually canceled after it became apparent the public had tired of his foolish narcissism.

Locally, a homeless man burst on the national scene when a Columbus Dispatch photographer found him on the side of the road with a sign advertising his golden voice. Ted Williams, a former DJ, became known as the man with the golden voice and he went from living in a tent to appearing on national TV shows literally overnight. With fame also came public pressure as he was forced to face his demons under the glare of the public spotlight. He was in and out of rehab and then just as suddenly dropped from sight as he struggled to get his act together. He is now back with his mellow honey tones extolling the benefits of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and he will be working with Entertainment Tonight.

Notable trials

The trial of Casey Anthony dominated much of the year and ended when she was found not guilty of murdering her daughter. As that trial was ending the trial of Dr. Conrad Murray began. Murray was eventually convicted in the death of singer Michael Jackson. Amanda Knox was finally freed from an Italian prison after being convicted in the death of her roommate. She won her freedom on appeal.

Trouble in sports paradise

The year was marked with several sports scandals. Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, they did.

Ohio State began the year by winning the Sugar Bowl under a cloud of suspicion. Tattoo-gate came to light just as 2010 was ending but the players who traded OSU memorabilia for tattoos were allowed to play in the Sugar Bowl. It was thought at the time that their infractions weren’t too serious but it soon came to light that the problem went much deeper. The final result was that Ohio State’s successful and beloved coach, Jim Tressel, was asked to leave for allegedly covering up the scandal; and their outstanding quarterback, Terrell Pryor, left the school in disgrace and went to the pros. The players who remained served suspensions for anywhere from one to ten games. The final NCAA decision was announced in December. Assistant coach, Luke Fickle, was handed the impossible task of running a team under very difficult circumstances. Although he ended the regular season 6 and 6 and lost in the Gator Bowl he handled all the diversity with class and restored some of the honor to the school. Now, if only we could say the same about some of the fans.

As if Ohio State’s problems weren’t bad enough, we soon learned the University of Miami (Florida) had been having one big party for quite some time. Their infractions included hanging out on party boats with unsavory characters, strippers, paying for an abortion, and pay for severely injuring players of opposing teams. Their case is still before the NCAA.

Tongues were still wagging over these scandals when the big shocker hit the news. A coach at squeaky-clean Penn State was accused of molesting children. Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant coach to Joe Paterno, was accused of molesting young boys and had been doing so for many years. This scandal brought down long time coach Joe Paterno, the university’s president, the athletic director, and a vice president.

Following this scandal, an associate basketball coach at Syracuse, Bernie Fine, was also accused of child molestation and fired.

A big year for weddings

One bright spot in the year was the fairy tale wedding of Prince William to his long time love, Kate Middleton in April. Prince William and Catherine were wed at Westminster Abbey and were made the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge by his grandmother, Queen Elisabeth. The wedding was simple by royal standards and the prince and his brother and best man, Prince Harry, were dashing in their ceremonial military uniforms. The bride was stunningly elegant and so was her sister and attendant, Pippa Middleton.

On the pop scene, a big wedding (or non-wedding) was the farce of Kim Kardashian and her short-term love, Kris Humphries. The wedding cost millions and made them millions. Who makes money from their own wedding? It was nothing more than a money grabbing publicity stunt and made a mockery of weddings as the marriage lasted less than three months. It was billed as a fairytale but was totally crass compared to the real fairytale wedding of the real prince (William) and his bride.

Here’s hoping for a better 2012

The year 2011 was an eventful year marked by many absurdities. Here’s hoping that 2012 will be a better year for everybody.

 

2011 in review–Thank You for Your Support

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When I started this blog I didn’t know where it would take me but I knew the writer in me had to get out. It has been fun making new friends and keeping in touch with long trusted friends through this forum. I thank you for indulging me in my passions and putting up with my occasional rants.

I recently wrote my 120th post. My mother asks me where I get all my ideas and my answer to her is, “When have you known me to not have an opinion on things?” When I sit down to write, my goal is to educate and entertain. I hope, along the way, I have caused you to think or see the world a little differently. I know I have angered some of you at times and I apologize for that but my hope is that through an exchange of ideas we will find the answers together.

It has been great fun blogging with WordPress and I highly recommend their format to any future bloggers. They have an easy to navigate template and the finished product is professional looking and one to be proud of. I encourage my readers to start your own blog and we can create our own network of linked blogs and expand our readership.

You never know who is reading your blog as I found out when the head coach of the New York Jets, Rex Ryan, left me a message on my bulletin board. Thank you Coach Ryan. As a year-end wrap up the people of WordPress prepared a summary of each of our blogs and I have chosen to share the results with my readers. I was shocked to see that my readers have come from all around the world. Click on the link below to see the number of countries represented and other statistics.

If everyone on the New York City subway were reading my blog it would take four trips to carry everyone. When I think of it in those terms it makes me excited, proud, and a little nervous.

For better or worse, this blogger is here to stay and I have a lot more to say in 2012. Stay tuned!

 

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,200 times in 2011. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

‘Elf on the Shelf’ a holiday hit

As I wrote recently, the Elf on the Shelf has become a popular tradition with many young families–even though my niece’s four yeal old son had his misadventure concerning one. (See Elf on the Shelf Causes Chaos.)

According to the myth, an elf must be named before he receives his magic powers. I am proud to say that my sister’s great grandchild named her elf, Sheila. Not sure why she chose that name since I have had very limited contact with the child but, nevertheless, I think she chose an excellent name.

Here is the story of how the elf legend was born and how an enterprising family refused to take “no” for an answer. It turns out they knew more than the many fancy publishers who turned them down. After selling more than 2.5 million, this mother-daughter team now gets the last laugh.

‘Elf on the Shelf’ a holiday hit.

Christmas Eve is Mysterious, Magical, and Majestic

Christmas creeps up on us gradually, gains momentum, and ends with the most glorious message of all.

It begins very subtly. You may see a clerk unpacking angels in August. By Labor Day a few candles and wreaths might be spotted in the back of the store. Before Halloween some of the Christmas displays are already vying for your attention next to the pumpkins and screeching ghosts in the big box discount stores. Thanksgiving is almost nonexistent with the brilliantly lit trees and ho-ho-hoing Santas pushing Tom Turkey out of the picture.

The day after Thanksgiving, or Black Friday as the merchants are now calling it, opens the Christmas season with a bang. The race is on! Retailers are fighting to see who can get the first shopping dollars by opening earlier and earlier on Thanksgiving Day. Shoppers begin a marathon of shopping that will last for the next four weeks. In between mad dashes to the mall, people are sandwiching in holiday parties, cleaning and decorating the house, baking traditional cookies and candies, attending concerts, and wrapping packages. In addition, many are preparing for trips to be with family.

The whole month of December is a huge whirlwind. That is why Christmas Eve is my favorite night of the year. It is the moment we stop and remember what all the hectic activity is all about. All the work is done (if not, then just leave it and try better next year). The decorations are completed, the baking done, the gifts wrapped and under the tree. I enjoy the stillness of the night. The world feels at peace waiting in anticipation for the joyful gatherings of the next day. It is also a time to stop the madness and remember what the season is all about.

It is the birth of a pure and innocent child who would one day bring hope and light to a weary world. It is the time to sing Joy to the World for the Lord is come with joyful hearts. It is a time of lights and enlightenment. It is a time of family, friends, and love. It is a time to reflect in prayerful meditation the birth of our Lord.

The power of this night even stopped a war. In 1914, during World War I, the German troops put out a few Christmas trees decorated with candles and began singing Christmas carols. The British echoed the carols in their own language. Then the two sides began putting out signs saying they would stop shooting if the other side would. Word spread up and down the front lines and gradually the two sides ventured out from their trenches. They met in the middle and exchanged gifts of food, tobacco, and alcohol. The first order of business was to bury the dead then they got together and passed Christmas day playing football.

When the commanding officers heard of the impromptu truce they ordered the troops to begin shooting. Although the truce was short lived it all began because of the birth of a small child one Silent and Holy Night. A child who was sent by God with the power to perform miracles—even the miracle to end wars.

Christmas Eve is the night of mystery and magic, love and laughter, peace and prayer. My wish for you, my friend, is that you may feel the majesty of the night and carry that with you throughout the coming year.

 

The Nutcracker provides a magical time

I have seen The Nutcracker about three or four times and am always entranced by its magic. I never grow tired of Tchaikovsky’s music and dancing ballerinas twirling in yards of tulle. However, the performance I saw this weekend held a special magic because I attended it with my granddaughter, Allison.

We dressed up for an afternoon at the theater. She wore a blue dress overlaid with a black lace and painted her nails silver for the occasion. She even took time to straighten her thick curly hair—which style she prefers over her sometimes unruly curls.

We had a lunch of hot chocolate and donuts before the show. OK, I know that is not the healthiest lunch but it sure was tasty. Her mother is in charge of the nutrition department, I’m head of sweet treats. Her hot chocolate and my cappuccino were too hot for us to finish before the show so we left them in the car and enjoyed them cold when we returned.

Allison is a serious ballet student and this gave her an opportunity to see a full performance rather than the short snippets done at her recitals. Before the performance began we read the synopsis of Act I in the program so we would understand what was happening on stage. We then reviewed Act II during intermission.

Each time I see The Nutcracker I find something new and fresh. Many generations have loved The Nutcracker since it was first performed December 18, 1892 in St. Petersburg, Russia. However, the original production was not a success and received only mediocre reviews. It was not until around the 1950’s did it gain popularity in this country. The first complete performance outside Russia occurred in England in 1934 and annual performances have continued since 1952. The New York City Ballet first performed it in 1954.

 Herr Drosselmeyer’s magic tricks on stage set the tone for a truly magical afternoon. The dancers twirled and pirouetted, weaving another moment to remember with my granddaughter.