In the spirit of Walden 

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Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly

Holly border

Have you ever noticed that a lot of Christmas songs and carols mention holly? We have the Old English carol Deck the Halls…, the even older The Holly and the Ivy, and the modern songs Have A Holly, Jolly Christmas, and We Need a Little Christmas.

We see holly decorations everywhere, adorning carolers on holiday cards, and tucked into floral arrangements. I even wore it pinned into my hair on my wedding day a few days before Christmas. But, what is all the fuss about holly? How and why did it come to represent the season?

Believe it or not it is not something dreamed up by Disney illustrators or even Norman Rockwell; but the custom goes way back to the Romans, early Christians, and ancient Druids. Holly is an evergreen and is one of the few plants of the forest that remains vivid and green during the dormant months. The ancient pagans used holly for wreaths and garlands for decorations during the winter months. Its vivid green glossy leaves and red berries promised that things would spring to life later in the year.

The Druids and Holly

Holly played a major role for the Celts during their celebrations of the summer and winter solstice. The Druids or priests wore sprigs of the plant in their hair during the mistletoe rituals at solstice observances. They regarded holly as a symbol of fertility and eternal life.

To cut down a holly tree would bring bad luck but hanging it in the house would bring good luck and protection. It was also thought to protect homes against lightning strikes. Folklore says that the pointy leaves gave magical protection against evil spirits and it was also brought into their homes during the cold months to give shelter to the fairies of the forest.

The Romans and Holly

The Romans used holly during their celebration of Saturnalia as it was considered sacred to Saturn. Therefore, the early Christians used holly and evergreens as decorations for Christmas during the Roman times. The church fathers disapproved of this practice as it was considered “too pagan.”

The Christian Meaning of Holly

The Christians saw holly as a symbol for Christ. The red berries represent the drops of blood shed by Christ at his crucifixion and the prickly leaves remind us of the crown of thorns. In addition, the holly’s bitter bark is reminiscent of the bitter drink given to Christ when he was on the cross.

Other bits of folklore surrounding holly include the thought that the cross was made of holly and another claims that holly sprang up from Christ’s footsteps.

This Christmas season when you see sprigs of holly decking the halls and decorating the malls remember that it is more than just a colorful plant of festive Christmas colors but a long-established tradition that goes much farther back in time than you ever imagined.

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What can we learn from the Newtown tragedy?


Eye with tears

What can I say about the Newtown tragedy that hasn’t already been said? The nation is shocked and stunned with the slaughter of innocent young children. We try to make sense out of this tragedy but can’t. We are left with many questions and those questions may never be answered—all those who might know the answers are dead.

Like the rest of you I have heard countless discussions of the tragedy and a few points stand out to me. The first is that these mass killings are becoming even more frequent and each one is more horrifying than the last. I heard a psychiatrist say that the killings have some similar threads—most are done by society misfits and there have been warning signs. He said this is their way of gaining recognition. Each must be shocking and worse than the ones before to gather that recognition.

Similar threads and contributing factors

He said there are several factors driving these killings. One is the constant coverage by the 24 hour news channels. The perpetrator knows he is guaranteed to receive the attention he craves—he will leave his mark on society. Another factor is the dehumanization of our society driven by violent movies, TV shows and video games.

How can we avoid future mass shootings? The most obvious is the debate over gun control. Even conservatives are beginning to say something needs to be done. Yes, we have the Second Amendment right to bear arms but I don’t think anyone has ever said they want to take away all our guns, despite the fears the gun lobbyists from the NRA have tried to create.

I grew up with guns and learned to shoot at an early age. I’m not sure how young I was but I know that before the age of 12 I was hunting and target practicing with a .22 rifle. It was a rite of passage when our father took us hunting for the first time and taught us to respect and shoot a gun.

I believe we should have the right to have weapons and to defend ourselves but do we need assault rifles with the capabilities of firing multiple rounds consecutively? Do we need something of that magnitude to kill a deer?

We need guidelines for the Second Amendment

We need a limitation of the Second Amendment. We also have the right of free speech but we do not have the right to yell “Fire” in a crowded theatre. We cannot incite a riot and cause panic in a public place. The more powerful weapons should be limited to the military and police and kept out of the hands of the ordinary citizen.

The president has started a national conversation of the assault weapon problem. Hopefully, legislation will result that will allow gun ownership but take the powerful weapons off the streets.

Secondly, if the people doing these mass shootings are crying for recognition, then we must find a way to deny them that attention. Once the shooter is identified then we should impose a blackout of referring to that person by name.

Are we dehumanized?

How do we solve the problem of dehumanizing society? If everyone refused to attend violent and gory movies, watch brutal TV shows and refused to buy vicious video games then the problem would solve itself. If there is no demand then it is not profitable to continue producing such material.

We need to look at the mental health system of this country. In some of the cases family members recognized there were problems but were not able to get the proper help and support before their loved one turned to drastic methods.

There are some islands of light beginning to show through this dark time. Some retailers are taking the assault weapons off the shelves. A teacher’s union refused to invest with a company that invests in guns. People across the country are offering their support to the Newtown community, including bringing in therapy dogs to help ease the tensions. Others have sent Christmas trees and fresh wreaths in honor of the victims.

Mr. Rogers said it best

A quote many in the media are turning to at this time of need is one from an old friend. Mr. Rogers was every kid’s friend and teacher and it is appropriate that we should turn to him for guidance during a time of tragedy involving so many children. Mr. Rogers said:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.” — Mister Rogers

Let us look past this horror and take a cue from the helpers in Newtown. Take time to hug someone, or sit down and listen to what a troubled child is trying to tell you, or give a stranger a smile. You never know how far that smile will go.

And, finally, let us join hands and pray we find a way to stop the insanity.

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Christmas decorating tips


I enjoy decorating for the seasons. I often change decorative pillows and linens throughout the house to seasonal colors to make the house look fresh and new. I especially like decorating for the holidays.

I have never decorated the same way two years in a row, every year I find something to change. The mantle over the fireplace has had many different incarnations from angels floating among white lights and cotton clouds to more down to earth scenes with folk art characters. I even created a woodland scene complete with winding grapevines, apples hollowed out to serve as votives, and oranges studded with cloves for color and scent. That was a beautiful focal point but a mess to clean up.

This year I didn’t want to drag out all the boxes and other Christmas stuff so I went more minimalistic with my choices. We have a small 4.5 ft. pre-lit Christmas tree that is a nice fit for our condo. My husband said he didn’t want to put any ornaments on it but I felt this was going too far with the minimal theme. I added some bows, wrapped a large ribbon around it and hung candy canes from the branches. I then topped the tree with two large bows and decided the tree was beautiful in its simplicity. I added a few more festive touches around the house and decided I had done enough.

I then turned my attention to the front door. I like a pretty wreath on the door but was tired of the ones I have. Not wanting to spend any money on a new one I chose to give a new twist to an old wreath. I wove a large ribbon around it, tucked in some of the candy canes left over from the tree, and added two special large canes for emphasis. I was very proud of my Martha Stewart handiwork.

That is until a few days later when I looked at the door and to my horror it looked like a crime scene. There were huge red splatters against the storm door which then ran in red streaks down the entire length of the door.

My masterpiece was melting! When I put the candy canes on the wreath I removed the protective cellophane because I couldn’t place it without the writing showing. No matter how hard I tried the brand name and ingredients were visible. Now those ingredients were running down the door in the form of a red syrup.

I did give it some thought when I made the decision to remove the cellophane but I felt it would be sufficiently protected behind the glass storm door to keep the rain from hitting it and melting the canes. What I didn’t consider was what would happen when the sun hit it.

To my humble surprise, I guess I’m not Martha Stewart. The next time I decide to deck the halls with sugar plums and candy canes you can bet on it I will keep the wrappings on.

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A Christmas Poem

Below is a reprint from the blog This is written by my creative friend, Anne Voight.

Holiday Wishes  

by Anne Voight

My “wish for you” this Holiday and into the New Year–

Peace of mind,
Knowledge in lessons learned,
Treasured memories,
Love of family & friends,
A joyful heart,

May the angels protect and guide you, and the Holiday Spirit remain close in your heart throughout the coming year.



From heartfelt sentiments by Anne

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Skyfall is a visit with an old friend and a glimpse into the future


The latest installment of the James Bond series, Skyfall, is a perfect piece to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the series. It looks back to established characters and gadgets and forward to the future with new characters and more state-of-the-art gadgets.

The movie also gives us more background information on the James Bond character by taking us to the estate, Skyfall, where Bond grew up. Skyfall is a transition piece where we pay homage to and bid farewell to the past and are introduced to new characters. This reassures us that those behind the Bond franchise intend to keep it going even though the studio and others have had some rocky times.

The tone of Skyfall is a little different from other Bond movies in the past but it has enough of the familiar elements to make us feel comfortable with the new format. Bond still has the quiet sophistication and exotic locations we have come to love; and, the movie has the thrilling chases and explosions that always mark a Bond film. And, of course, there are the Bond girls and sex. Oh yes, and he still looks great in his tux.

Daniel Craig as agent 007, James Bond, is every woman’s dream—a handsome, tough but sensitive guy. This is Craig’s third time to play Bond and I find he adds believability to the character that was missing from the previous Bonds.

Javier Bardem is the villain in Skyfall. He plays a former MI6 agent who has become a cyber terrorist and is seeking revenge against those he thinks betrayed him. Bardem once again turns in an excellent performance as a villain and is downright creepy with his bleached blond hair.

Ralph Fiennes as Gareth Mallory is a former lieutenant colonel in the British Army and is a character we will be seeing in the future.

Judi Dench as M makes her seventh appearance in the role and, as always, is stern but concerned about her agents. This time she seems to have the pressure of the world on her shoulders.

Skyfall is a delight for us old-timers who were around for the first Bond 50 years ago and it should pick up some of the younger generation at the same time.

For a fun time with an old friend see Bond, James Bond, in Skyfall.

I give Skyfall an A.


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Denzel Washington flies into turbulence in Flight



If you are a fan of Denzel Washington movies where he flexes a little muscle and flashes that wide grin of perfect pearly whites to save the day and win the girl, then you won’t like Washington’s newest movie, Flight.

In Flight Washington is not a desirable character, even though he is dashing in his pilot’s uniform. Washington plays airline captain Whip Whitaker who, after a night of sex, alcohol and drugs, must pilot an out-of-control plane and then answer many questions after a crash landing. He wakes up in the hospital a hero learning that he saved 96 of 102 souls on board.

On a journey of self-discovery Whip Whitaker must face his past, his ex-wife and son, and his demons of alcohol and drugs before facing a NTSB hearing. By the end of the movie the viewer is thoroughly disgusted with Whip’s antics and, just when you are about to give up on him, the hearing takes a dramatic twist.

John Goodman is a hoot as Whip’s drug dealer, Harling Mays.  Harling still lives in the drug culture of the 70’s and Goodman steals every scene he is in.

Don Cheadle, as Whip’s attorney provided by the airline, is the true pilot of this craft and keeps the film moving toward its dramatic conclusion. He is a calm steady presence in the midst of Whip’s chaotic life.

Flight is a thought-provoking and entertaining film and I highly recommend it. Just don’t watch it before or during a plane trip.

I give Flight a B.


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Christmas Thoughts



Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childhood days, recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth, and transport the traveler back to his own fireside and quiet home!

~Charles Dickens




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Buy local and have a happier holiday

Reprint from




It’s that time of year again to think about what you are giving to Aunt Jane, Sister Sue, Brother Bob, the neighbor who feeds your gold fish when you are away, the mail carrier, and anyone else who has passed through your life this year. Yes, the holiday season is here once again.

The malls and big box stores are gaudily decorated and have been competing for your attention and money since before November. Most people are so exhausted by the time the holidays are over they are more like Scrooge or the Grinch rather than the smiling faces on their Christmas cards. All of this can be eliminated by making one small change this season.

The pushing crowds and rude clerks can be avoided if you think of buying locally. By joining the “buy locally movement” you are not only eliminating some of the stress but at the same time you will be helping your community and neighbors prosper. Think about it—would you rather add to China’s coffers or help a Mom and Pop business thrive?

10 Reasons for buying locally this holiday season:

  1. Shopping locally creates jobs. Shops in our town create local employment and self-employment, this helps to boost the local economy.
  2. Local independent shops invest more in our communities. Local businesses proportionally are more generous in their support of local charities, schools, and community events.
  3. Local shops sell great products at affordable prices.
  4. Shopping locally saves time and money. You travel less saving on time and fuel.
  5. Shopping locally retains our communities. Local shops and services are able to stay in business.
  6. Shopping locally retains our distinctiveness. Local businesses respond more quickly to the needs of local customers, stocking products to meet changing population needs.
  7. Shopping locally saves the environment. Less travel and transportation of goods equals less pollution.
  8. Local shops are for everyone. Less travel makes it easier for the elderly and young people to get to the shops.
  9. Local shops value you more. Surveys show people receive better customer care and service locally because they survive by their reputation and repeat business.

10.Shopping local saves services. Private and public sector services cluster around shops. As shops disappear so do hairdressers, banks, restaurants and other businesses.

Now that you are convinced to shop locally here are some “outside-the-gift box” ideas:

  1. Gift certificates to a hair salon or barber shop
  2. Gym membership
  3. Gift certificate for car washes or car detailing
  4. Driveway sealing
  5. Lawn mowing for the summer
  6. Driveway plowing for the winter
  7. Games at the local golf course or miniature golf course
  8. Gift certificates for a local restaurant
  9. Breakfast at the local morning gathering spot
  10. Oil change for the car
  11. Services of a cleaning lady for a day
  12. Computer tune-up
  13. A piece of artwork from a local gallery
  14. Jewelry, pottery, etc. from craft shows
  15. Tickets to a play or ballet at your hometown theatre
  16. A night out to hear local bands

When you buy local you are supporting someone’s dream of independence and business ownership. The new “buy local movement” is a revolution of caring about each other and isn’t that what Christmas is about?



Buy local and buy American

—the job you save might be your own


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What is Elf on the Shelf?

If you are a parent or grandparent of young children you are probably well aware of the current phenomenon of the Elf on the Shelf. However, if your family dates to pre 2005, you may not be aware of this very popular elf and its huge impact on the Christmas season.

To briefly educate you on “elfology” :

The elf comes from the North Pole and once you give it a name it then receives its magical powers. The elf sits in various places around the house and at night flies to the North Pole to give a report on the young one’s behavior. These reports will then determine whether your name will be in the naughty or nice book.

It is very important to never touch the elf once it is named and receives its magical powers or it will lose its powers.

Last year I wrote about my niece’s son, Aidan, and his mischievous escapades which led to worry about his elf’s report to Santa; but even I was not aware of the immense popularity of this little elf until I began receiving a huge number of hits on this post, beginning around Thanksgiving.

The strange thing about blogging is you never know what will happen to your masterpiece once you publish it to the web. I’m not sure how people are being directed to this post but it must have made it into some kind of directory to receive so many hits. I scrolled through 52 pages of Google listings and did not find it there.

The Blogosphere

While browsing Google I found there are many blogs, tweets, and Pinterests dedicated to the Elf on the Shelf and it has a number of Facebook fans. There is everything from dressing your elf to equating the elf with Jesus and Christmas. (I’m curious about the last one but didn’t take time to read it.) There are stories about good elves and bad elves, parents who love the elves and parents who hate their elves. If you go to the official Elf on the Shelf web site you will find everything from a map of adoption centers to interactive games and Mrs. Claus recipes.

In addition to serving as a behavior enforcer before Christmas, the elf may make special trips during the year. Aidan’s elf showed up for his birthday and he was so excited he almost cried.

Who doesn’t love a pesky pixie?

It is hard to explain the immense popularity of these little pesky pixies but who doesn’t love an elf? It is hard to find fault with one of Santa’s helpers.  Last year a short made-for-TV movie appeared before Christmas about the Elf on the Shelf and over 4.2 million viewers tuned in. It will be repeated this year on Dec. 14 on CBS from 9:30 to 10 pm.

Jim Silver of explains the elf’s popularity as filling a previously untapped niche. He said, “For all the years we’ve talked about Santa Claus, elves have never gotten their due with kids.”

Also boosting the elf craze is the 2003 Will Ferrell movie “Elf” and the new Elf on the Shelf balloon in this year’s Macy’s parade.

The Christmas elf isn’t popular with everyone. Some critics say it promotes spy tactics that might not be healthy for children.

From a marketing standpoint it is a stroke of genius. Every Christmas young girls usually get a doll but the boys are left to entertain themselves with robots, cars, and mechanical or electronic gadgets. Here is a doll that is socially acceptable for both sexes and every family must have one.

Finding the right name for your elf

If you are having troubles finding an appropriate name for your elf there are web sites to help you.  Aidan named his, Eyeball, because it is always watching him and my sister’s great-granddaughter named hers, Sheila. I think that is a wonderful name for an elf (hint—see the header above for the author of this blog) but some sibling rivalry got to my sister. We aren’t sure why she named the elf, Sheila, because I have not been around her very much but you should have seen her big eyes when I showed up at a family gathering and she learned my name.

Laura Spencer of Good Morning America found out the hard way the popularity and influence of the elf. After a story about the elf one morning they received complaints from angry viewers because she was holding the elf and they felt she disturbed its magical powers. The next day she followed up with another report explaining how it did not have a name yet but now that they have named it Gary of Good Morning America it cannot be touched. She reassured everyone that the elf still has its magical powers.

A lasting tradition?

If your family doesn’t have an Elf on the Shelf I predict that you will soon because I think this is a tradition that is here to stay.

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Back by Popular Demand

I wrote this and posted it a year ago but lately I have been getting so many hits on it that I decided to run it again. Do you remember a visit to Santa after you had been naughty? That can strike fear in the heart of the bravest kid.

Elf on the Shelf Causes Chaos


How does Santa keep track of all those children and know who has been naughty or nice? Which girls and boys deserve the latest, hottest toys? Or, which ones missed their goal and will receive only coal in their stockings? Santa’s special agent, the elf on the shelf, is the answer.

My niece’s family adopted one of these special elves to watch over her four year old son until Christmas. They named him Eyeball and he hides in various spots around the house and then magically flies to the North Pole each night to report to the big guy. However, caution must be taken around the elves and the only rule is that they must never be touched or they will lose their magic. Each elf comes with this instruction–“There’s only one rule that you have to follow so I will come back and be here tomorrow: Please do not touch me. My magic might go, and Santa won’t hear all I’ve seen or I know.”

Armed with this information young Aidan has been on his best behavior since Thanksgiving. That is, until this week. Oh yes, he was swayed by some of his preschool buddies and fell over to the naughty side. It seems he and several other boys were being typical ornery boys and were rough-housing in the bathroom. When his mother arrived at the school to pick him up the teacher said she needed to talk with her. As she disappeared into the conference room his face fell from a big grin to absolute desolation. He was BUSTED!

On the ride home he perked up and decided he wasn’t in trouble after all because the incident happened away from home where the elf couldn’t see what he had done. But when his mother reminded him that the elf was magical and knew everything, then his mood turned to real fear. He worried and fretted about what would happen.

The next morning his mother, forgetting the events of the day before, decided it was a good time to go see Santa at the mall. Nope, he didn’t want to see Santa. He wasn’t going! He drug his feet and pouted because he knew he was really in trouble now. Santa knew everything! How could he face Santa after what he had done? Once his mother figured out why he didn’t want to see Santa she had to do some fast thinking to convince him it would be alright. She told him that this Santa they were going to see wasn’t the real Santa but his brother. OK then, that made all the difference.

We adults think we are home free and don’t have to worry about an elf on the shelf spying on us but we are wrong. We actually carry that little elf on our shoulder—it is called a conscience.

Happy Holidays!

Aidan Reeves, 4 years old, after making up with Santa.

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© © Copyright 2012 Sheila Dobbie, Gahanna, Ohio