Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual. Yesterday, everybody smoked his last cigar, took his last drink, and swore his last oath. To-day, we are a pious and exemplary community. Thirty days from now, we shall have cast our reformation to the winds and gone to cutting our ancient short comings considerably shorter than ever. We shall also reflect pleasantly upon how we did the same old thing last year about this time. However, go in, community. New Year’s is a harmless annual institution, of no particular use to anybody save as a scapegoat for promiscuous drunks, and friendly calls, and humbug resolutions, and we wish you to enjoy it with a looseness suited to the greatness of the occasion.

Mark Twain, Jan. 1, 1863

Tonight corks will pop.  

Avowals will be made.

So, Dear Friends, bring the tinsel and holly into 2014 with you and leave fear and gloom behind. Ask British folk-pop singer/songwriter and guitarist Tracey Thorn. She knows we’ll be alright.

When someone very dear
Calls you with the words everything’s all clear
That’s what you want to hear
But you know it might be different in the New Year

That’s why, that’s why we hang the lights so high
Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy,
You loved it as a kid, and now you need it more than you ever did
It’s because of the dark; we see the beauty in the spark
That’s why, that’s why the carols make you cry
Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy

Tinsel on the tree, yes I see
The holly on the door, like before
The candles in the gloom, light the room
the Sally Army band, yes I understand

So light the winds of fire,
and watch as the flames grow higher
well gather up our fears
And face down all the coming years
All that they destroy
And in their face we throw our
Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy

It’s why we hang the lights so high
And gaze at the glow of silver birches in the snow
Because of the dark, we see the beauty in the spark
We must be alright, if we could make up Christmas night.

I Wish You Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy.

Toni 12/31/13



The Irish peasantry had a saying to inspire hope under adverse circumstances ~  Remember that the darkest hour of all is the hour before day.

Personally, I like it to be a lot less dark, so I look for some light.


After December 21, the light begins its inevitable return, and the days grow longer.  The mid-December solstice marks the beginning of winter in the Northern Hemisphere and brings the shortest day and the longest night of the year. The novelist Alan Furst has one of his characters nicely observe, the day the sun is said to pause.  Pleasing, that idea.


Around the time of the December solstice is your longest noontime shadow of the year.


Such precision we have about the solstice these days. No one’s really sure how long ago humans recognized the winter solstice as a turning point ~ the day that marks the return of the sun. One delightful little book written in 1948, 4,000 Years of Christmas, puts its theory right up in the title. The Mesopotamians were first, it claims, with a 12-day festival of renewal, designed to help the god Marduk tame the monsters of chaos for one more year.



“Shall we liken Christmas to the web in a loom? There are many weavers, who work into the pattern the experience of their lives. When one generation goes, another comes to take up the weft where it has been dropped. The pattern changes as the mind changes, yet never begins quite anew. At first, we are not sure that we discern the pattern, but at last we see that, unknown to the weavers themselves, something has taken shape before our eyes, and that they have made something very beautiful, something which compels our understanding.”

-Earl W. Count, 4,000 Years of Christmas



Other than the few facts above, and the annual radio/TV/Internet reminder about the winter solstice, I must admit I know little else. That’s why I read the NYT science section and listen to the NPR Science Friday podcast.  The journalists and guests demystify why apples fall down or how echolocation works or what’s with those brain waves, anyway.  The language is clear and they assume the reader/listener knows nothing. (A fine assumption, in my case ~ I am not offended.)



I’m a fan of logical style blended with storytelling skill. Rachel Carson launched an entire movement with her book, Silent Spring. She wasn’t a writer. She was a marine biologist who could think on the page and was passionate about her subject.  Did you ever notice how scientists who write well start with one narrow fact and lead the reader from there to an understanding of a broader concept?  Think: Oliver Sacks (The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat), Stephen Jay Gould (The Panda’s Thumb), Charles Darwin (Voyage of the Beagle).

[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[Science Friday did a podcast about the hidden science of Christmas trees. About needle retention. Really. A team of researchers at Nova Scotia Agricultural College knows how to block the ethylene in a balsam fir from reaching the tree’s receptors. This ‘intervention’ keeps the tree green, tender, and fresh-looking long after an untreated tree has lost its needles. Gosh, it’s a good life.

I revere all trees ~ especially this one.


Toni 12/29/13



Billy Collins’ main gig is writing poems.  He’s won just about every award the poetry world gives out.  But he likes to make up words, too.  Like incredementia ~ the inability to believe how old you’ve become.

It’s almost time to toss the 2013 calendar.  That means another birthday is around the corner. Billy Collins’ wisdom shines through his words. His latest poetry collection is Aimless Love.



One bright morning in a restaurant in Chicago

as I waited for my eggs and toast,

I opened the Tribune only to discover
that I was the same age as Cheerios.

Indeed, I was a few months older than Cheerios
for today, the newspaper announced,
was the 70th birthday of Cheerio
whereas mine had occurred earlier in the year.

Already, I could hear them whispering
behind my stooped and threadbare back,
Why that dude’s older than Cheerios

The way they used to say
Why that’s as old as the hills,
Only, the hills are much older than Cheerios
or any American breakfast cereal,
and more noble and enduring are the hills,
I surmised as a bar of sunlight illuminated my orange juice.

“To know how to grow old is the master-work of wisdom, and one of the most difficult chapters in the great art of living,” wrote the Swiss philosopher, poet, and critic Henri-Frédéric Amiel in 1874.

We baby boomers are learning just how hard that great art of living can be. 10,000 of us turn 65 each day.  And even though we can’t find our keys, we look mahvelous.


Listen to the interview with another charming Billy ~


Read an excerpt from Still Foolin’ ‘Em, Crystal’s memoir about turning 65~


Hear a clip from the audiobook~


Too many people try to ignore their birthdays. Why pretend it didn’t happen? Every day I’m here, I’m grateful to be on the other side of the dirt.

Toni 12/26/13