Festival of Enormous Changes at the Last Minute

December 30 is the strangely named Festival of Enormous Changes at the Last Minute. It is a day that looks both forward and back, right at the end of the year.

It looks back, to the resolutions made last January. Didn’t quite meet them? There are two days left in the year to get busy and make those changes. There might not be time to meet them totally – such as losing ten pounds – but you can make a change today that points you in the right direction.

It looks forward, in that the day encourages people to think thoughtfully about resolutions for next year, rather than make them in the heat of the moment on January 1. Think about what you really hope to accomplish next year, write it down, and make a plan to change. It is important to create a plan to make that resolution a reality, because as Napoleon Hill said, “A goal is a dream with a deadline.”

Of course, the big question is why is this called a festival? You usually have a festival with a group of other like-minded folks. New Year’s resolutions are usually written alone. There doesn’t seem to be any satisfactory answer. So here’s my suggestion. For you extroverts, invite friends and/or family over and have a party, discussing and planning your resolutions for next year. For you introverts, have an introvert’s favorite kind of party, just you, snacks, and something to record your thoughts – pencil and paper, computer, or however you work best.

So put on your thinking cap, and make a plan for the next year, either alone or with others. What do you want to accomplish? Think it through and record it. May next year be the one where dreams become goals and get accomplished.

Quotes about goals

Acquire purpose, rather than possessions. Fulfillment is not found through the achievement of goals.–Michael Rawls

An average person with average talent, ambition and education, can outstrip the most brilliant genius in our society, if that person has clear, focused goals.–Brian Tracey

Committing your goals to paper increases the likelihood of your achieving them by one-thousand percent!–Brian Tracey

A commitment without a goal is like a trip without a map: odds are you won’t get where you want to be.–Mark Sanborn

Don’t set your goals too low. If you don’t need much, you won’t become much.–Jim Rohn

A dream is your creative vision for your life in the future. A goal is what specifically you intend to make happen. Dreams and goals should be just out of your present reach but not out of sight. Dreams and goals are coming attractions in your life.–Joseph Campbell

The easiest way to set goals is to answer the following questions: What is it I want to achieve? When do I want to achieve it? Where am I today and what action do I need to take to achieve my goal?–Catherine Pulsifer

Even if you can’t just snap your fingers and make a dream come true, you can travel in the direction of your dream, every single day and you can shorten the distance between the two of you.–Douglas Pagels

A goal is created three times. First as a mental picture. Second, when written down to add clarity and dimension. And third, when you take action towards its achievement.–Gary Ryan Blair

The greater danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.—Michelangelo

The indispensable first step to getting the things you want out of life is this: Decide what you want.–Ben Stein

Know what you want to do, hold the thought firmly, and do every day what should be done, and every sunset will see you that much nearer to your goal.–Elbert Hubbard

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December 28 is not officially appreciation day, but since we have just passed Christmas, and are nearly at the beginning of a new year, it seemed like a good time to stop and have some appreciation for what we have. The synonyms that thesaurus.com lists for appreciation are: acknowledgment, gratitude, recognition, thanks, gratefulness, indebtedness, obligation, testimonial, and tribute.

Let’s look at them individually.

  • Acknowledgment. How often do we actually stop and acknowledge the good that is happening around us, or the people in our lives? The first step in appreciation may be just stopping to pay attention to things and friends and family. I especially appreciate my family this year, who took me in when other plans fell through and I had nowhere to go.
  • Gratitude, thanks, gratefulness. This is such an obvious part of appreciation, showing gratitude for the good things in our lives. With Christmas just past, I am especially grateful for that time of year.
  • Recognition. This is very much related to acknowledgment. We give recognition to those who have been so important to us, both currently and in the past.
  • Indebtedness, obligation. These are less pleasant words, for often we do not want to feel an obligation or indebtedness to others. And yet where would we be without the help we have received from family, friends, and others in our lives. It is a day to appreciate those who have helped to make us who we are today.
  • Testimonial, tribute. Here are two words that are much more formal than the others. Have you ever written a testimonial or tribute for someone? I’ve done it for a friend and father who died, but wouldn’t it be lovely to do it for someone still alive, so they know how we feel now.

I hope you find many things to appreciate today.

Quotes about appreciation

The aim of life is appreciation; there is no sense in not appreciating things; and there is no sense in having more of them if you have less appreciation of them.–G. K. Chesterton

Appreciate what you have, accept the blessings waiting for you to need them, and above all – realize that Source from which it all comes.–Michael Rawls

Appreciation can make a day–even change a life, Your willingness to put it into words is all that is necessary.–Margaret Cousins

Appreciation, not possession, makes a thing ours.–Marty Rubin

Courtesies of a small and trivial character are the ones which strike deepest in the gratefully and appreciating heart.–Henry Clay

Feelings of worth can flourish only in an atmosphere where individual differences are appreciated, mistakes are tolerated, communication is open, and rules are flexible–the kind of atmosphere that is found in a nurturing family.–Virginia Satir

I believe that appreciation is a holy thing – that when we look for what’s best in a person we happen to be with at the moment, we’re doing what God does all the time. So in loving and appreciating our neighbor, we’re participating in something sacred.–Fred Rogers

I would rather be able to appreciate things I can not have than to have things I am not able to appreciate.–Elbert Hubbard

It’s possible to have too much in life. Too many clothes jade our appreciation of new ones; too much money can out us out of touch with life; too much free time and dull the edge of the soul. We need sometimes to come very near the bone so that we can taste the marrow of life, rather than its superfluities.–Joan Chittister

Mankind will not perish for want of information, but only for want of appreciation. The beginning of our happiness lies in the understanding that life without wonder is not worth living.–Abraham Heschel

Nine-tenths of wisdom is appreciation. Go find someone’s hand and squeeze it, while there’s still time.–Dale Dauten

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Saint Stephen’s Day

Saint Stephen’s Day, or the Feast of Saint Stephen, is a day to commemorate Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr, celebrated on December 26 in the Latin Church and December 27 in Eastern Christianity. In the Christian calendar, it is the second day of Christmas. Although it is seldom remembered anymore, the season of forty days before Christmas is Advent, and Christmas is celebrated through January 6 or Epiphany. For many outside the countries where this day is celebrated, it may be best recognized as part of the carol “Good King Wenceslas” who looked out on the Feast of Stephen.

Saint Stephen’s story is found in the book of Acts in the New Testament. He was a Greek Jew, converted to Christianity, who was chosen as one of the deacons of the early church to help make sure the poor of the faith were properly cared for. He was stoned to death for blasphemy by the Jews. Due to the fact that he was the first martyr, his feast day is the closest to Christmas.

Saint Stephen’s Day is a public holiday in several countries in Europe, including Ireland. Other countries, particularly those in the British Commonwealth call this Boxing Day, and it is a day to give to the poor. In Ireland, December 26 is also Wren Day. Folklore says that a chattering wren gave Stephen away as he was hiding, and thereafter, the wren was to be hunted down on his day, although actually, the custom predates Christianity. In modern times, the practice of “hunting the wren” involves musicians roaming from gathering to gathering, where they raise money.

But despite all the folklore and customs, the day after Christmas is mostly one to spend with family and friends, a more relaxed day after the Christmas rush is over. I hope it is so with you.

Quotes for rest and relaxation

All relaxation does is allow the truth to be felt. The mind is cleared, like a dirty window wiped clean, and the magnitude of what we might ordinarily take for granted inspires tears.–Jay Michaelson

Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will no withdraw from us.–Maya Angelou

For fast-acting relief try slowing down.–Lily Tomlin

He that can take rest is greater than he that can take cities.–Benjamin Franklin

Like water which can clearly mirror the sky and the trees only so long as its surface is undisturbed, the mind can only reflect the true image of the Self when it is tranquil and wholly relaxed.–Indra Devi

Our minds need relaxation and give way
Unless we mix with work a little play.–Molier

There is no mortal truly wise and restless at once; wisdom is the repose of minds.–Johann Caspar Lavater

When everyone is too busy, don’t expect a more productive society. Expect a frantic society.–Jeff Davidson

Work is not always required. There is such a thing as sacred idleness, the cultivation of which is now fearfully neglected.–George Macdonald

You are like a jar of river water all shaken up. What you need is to sit still long enough that the sediment can settle and the water can become clear.–Ruth Haley Barton

Sometimes the most productive thing you can do is relax.–Mark Black

Relaxation means releasing all concern and tension and letting the natural order of life flow through one’s being.–Donald Curtis

Learn to relax. Your body is precious, as it houses your mind and spirit. Inner peace begins with a relaxed body.–Norman Vincent Peale

When was the last time you spent a quiet moment just doing nothing – just sitting and looking at the sea, or watching the wind blowing the tree limbs, or waves rippling on a pond, a flickering candle or children playing in the park?–Ralph Marston

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Winter Solstice

Somewhere between December 20 and 22, we have the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere. It is also called midwinter, which is somewhat ironic because it is also the official start of winter. I like the term midwinter myself because it reminds me that we are now halfway out of the dark, and the days will slowly be getting filled with more light. For my friends who love the deep peace of winter, the solstice is not a day to celebrate, but for those of us who love the summer, it is a celebration and a relief.

As the precursor to spring, midwinter also reminds us that all life begins in the dark, although we won’t see it until the days get longer and warmer.

For people in times past, the solstice was filled with significance. We see that most clearly in the monuments they left behind, such as Stonehenge and Newgrange in Ireland, which are situated with respect to the solstice. The Solstice, of course, held special significance for people who relied on agriculture, with its promise that spring was coming, even though the worst of the winter was yet to come. In temperate climates, the midwinter festival was the last feast celebration, before deep winter began. Most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter, so it was almost the only time of year when a plentiful supply of fresh meat was available.

Many festivals are or were held at this time of year. Ancient Rome celebrated Saturnalia. Scandinavia called this time Yule, or Jul, Many modern Christmas traditions, such as the Christmas tree, the Christmas wreath, the Yule log, and others, are direct descendants of Yule customs. Gods of death and rebirth are also associated with the solstice, as Mithras in Rome.

Wishing you a happy solstice today.

Quotes about the solstice and winter

The Winter Solstice is the time of ending and beginning, a powerful time – a time to contemplate your immortality. A time to forgive, to be forgiven, and to make a fresh start. A time to awaken.–Frederick Lenz

The winter solstice has always been special to me as a barren darkness that gives birth to a verdant future beyond imagination, a time of pain and withdrawal that produces something joyfully inconceivable, like a monarch butterfly masterfully extracting itself from the confines of its cocoon, bursting forth into unexpected glory.–Gary Zukav

Now, near the Winter Solstice, it is good to light candles. All the nice meanings of bringing light to the world can be beautiful. But perhaps we are concentrating on lighting the world because we don’t know how to light up our own lives.–Ralph Levy

I celebrate the spirit of Christmas. It’s the winter solstice celebration, rebirth and new possibilities.–Ian Astbury

Heading into the night of the winter solstice, every spiritual tradition has some kind of festival of light. We’re all just whistling in the dark, hoping against hope that someone up there will see these little Hanukkah candles and get the hint.–Lawrence Kushner

In a way winter is the real spring, the time when the inner thing happens, the resurge of nature.–Edna O’Brien

Let us love winter, for it is the spring of genius.–Pietro Aretino

There is a wilder solitude in winter
When every sense is pricked alive and keen.–May Sarton

Chill December brings the sleet,
Blazing fire, and Christmas treat.–Sara Coleridge

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.–T. S. Eliot

If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.–Anne Bradstreet

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Go Caroling Day

December 20 is the day to go out caroling. The practice seems to have fallen out of favor in more recent years, and is more likely to happen in nursing homes and malls, than just in neighborhoods. One way to enjoy caroling now is in old movies such as A Christmas Carol, where there are almost always singers, perhaps just so Ebenezer Scrooge can knock them out of the way as he storms past.

Songs are often associated with religious celebrations, and so it is not surprising that the oldest Christmas carols are religious in nature. For a long time, the songs of Christmas were sung in Latin, but St Francis of Assisi changed that with his Nativity Plays, where songs were sung in the native language of the listeners. The earliest carol like this was written in 1410. Only a small fragment of it still exists. The carol was about Mary and Jesus meeting different people in Bethlehem.

However, carols we still sing today began in the eighteenth century. One of them is “Good King Wenceslas.” You can find a delightful edition of it by the Irish Rovers here. Some other carols written during or before that time include “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus,” (1749), “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” (1739), “Angels We Have Heard on High,” (1852), and “The First Noel,”(1823).

Today, one of the most popular ways of singing carols is at a Christmas Eve service by candlelight. There is also the “Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols,” which has nine Bible readings (or lessons), that tell the Christmas story, with one or two carols between each lesson. It has been broadcast from King’s College, Cambridge every year since 1931, and to my mind, it wouldn’t be Christmas without it. So sing yourself a carol or two or more today.

Some lyrics from Christmas Carols. Usually, the name of the carol is part of the first line.

Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the new-born King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!

Angels we have heard on high
Sweetly singing o’er the plains,
And the mountains in reply
Echoing their joyous strains.
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

The first Nowell the Angel did say
Was to three poor Shepherds in fields as they lay.
In fields where they lay keeping their sheep,
In a cold winter’s night that was so deep.
Nowell, nowell, nowell, nowell,
Born is the King of Israel.

Verses 3&4 of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”
And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth, I said,
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold!
Peace on the earth, good will to men,
From heaven’s all gracious King!
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven and nature sing.

O come, all ye faithful,
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem;
Come and behold him,
Born the King of angels;
O come, let us adore him,
O come, let us adore him,
O Come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord.

Silent night, holy night!
All is calm, all is bright.
Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child.
Holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

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Bake Cookies Day

December 18 is just one week before Christmas, so if you haven’t yet started your holiday baking, today is the day to begin! Although we usually think of Christmas cookies at this time of year, this is a day to bake any cookie, whether related to a holiday or not.

Cookie recipes for Hanukkah can be found here. Traditional cookies for Ramadan can be found here. And a recipe for Kwanzaa cookies can be found here.  Or bake cookies for no reason! You can find a link to quick and easy cookies for any time here.

One of the easiest cookies to make is shortbread, and they are so good. Ingredients are:

1 C      butter
2 C      sifted all-purpose flour
½ C     sifted confectioners’ sugar
¼ tsp    salt

1. Cream the butter. Blend the dry ingredients into the butter
2. Pat the stiff dough into an ungreased 9 x 9 inch pan, and press edges down. Pierce with a fork through the dough every half-inch.
3. Bake at 325° for 25–30 minutes. Cut into about 20 squares while warm.
For Christmas, I usually make two batches. To one, I add red food coloring, and to the other green. They make a lovely color as part of a plate of cookies to take to family or friends.

If you don’t feel like firing up the oven, another simple cookie (or candy, depending on how you look at it) is Haystacks. There are several different ways to do this, but my favorite is to take a bag of butterscotch chips and a bag of chocolate chips. Melt them together, and stir in 16 ounces of chow mein noodles. Drop by spoonsful onto wax paper and let cool. Yum!

Have fun baking up a batch or more of cookies today.

Quotes about baking

I love cookies baking. During the winter, they have these candles that smell like cookies, and I always buy like a hundred of them.–Jared Padalecki

Baking is how you start kids at cooking in the kitchen. It’s fun whether it’s baking bread or cookies. With baking, you have to be exact when it comes to ingredients.–Sandra Lee

I think baking cookies is equal to Queen Victoria running an empire. There’s no difference in how seriously you take the job, how seriously you approach your whole life.–Martha Stewart

Baking cookies is comforting, and cookies are the sweetest little bit of comfort food. They are very bite-sized and personal.–Sandra Lee

Think what a better world it would be if we all, the whole world, had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down on our blankets for a nap.–Barbara Jordan

Happiness is baking cookies. Happiness is giving them away. And serving them, and eating them, talking about them, reading and writing about them, thinking about them, and sharing them with you.–Maida Heatter

If baking is any labor at all, it’s a labor of love. A love that gets passed from generation to generation.–Regina Brett

Baking may be regarded as a science, but it’s the chemistry between the ingredients and the cook that gives desserts life. Baking is done out of love, to share with family and friends, to see them smile.–Anna Olson

Baking makes me focus. On weighing the sugar. On sieving the flour. I find it calming and rewarding because, in fairness, it is sort of magic – you start off with all this disparate stuff, such as butter and eggs, and what you end up with is so totally different. And also delicious.–Marian Keyes

It’s all about a balancing act between time, temperature and ingredients: That’s the art of baking.–Peter Reinhart

Winter = baking season. It’s on.–Taylor Swift

Baking happens with ingredients that last for months and come to life inside a warm oven. Baking is slow and leisurely.–Regina Brett

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As someone who has loved Peanuts for a long time, I would be remiss if I didn’t celebrate Ludwig van Beethoven on his birthday. As Schroeder reminds us each year, Beethoven was born on December 16 in the year 1770. Beethoven is the predominant musical figure in the transitional period between the Classical and Romantic eras. He showed talent at an early age, and was taught originally by his father, who was a court singer and alcoholic. Hoping his son would be another prodigy like Mozart, Johann worked him very hard. Indeed, he was actually abusive to the child. At the age of 10, Beethoven withdrew from school to study music full time with Christian Gottlob Neefe, the newly appointed Court Organist. As his father’s alcoholism worsened, young Johann took over as the breadwinner for the family. He was only fourteen. He studied off and on in Vienna, where among others, Haydn, and Salieri taught him. At the time, he was known mainly as a virtuoso pianist.

Turning to composing, he debuted his first symphony in 1800. It was also about this time that he realized he was going deaf. One of his best-known symphonies debuted in 1804. It was to have been dedicated to Napoleon, who at first was seen as a savior of the French, ending the reign of terror. But when he took the title of emperor, Beethoven struck out the dedication and called the Eroica, or heroic symphony. Also during this time, he composed operas, concertos, sonatas, and others. His very famous Symphony No. 5, was first performed in 1808. Before he could finish his tenth symphony, he died on March 26, 1827.

Do listen to some of his inspiring music today. You can find many, many on YouTube, including three of his symphonies here.

Quotes by Beethoven

What I have in my heart and soul – must find a way out. That’s the reason for music.

The vibrations on the air are the breath of God speaking to man’s soul. Music is the language of God. We musicians are as close to God as man can be. We hear his voice, we read his lips, we give birth to the children of God, who sing his praise. That’s what musicians are.

Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy. Music is the electrical soil in which the spirit lives, thinks and invents.

Don’t only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets; art deserves that, for it and knowledge can raise man to the Divine.

I wish you music to help with the burdens of life, and to help you release your happiness to others.

Life would be flat without music. It is the background to all I do. It speaks to the heart in its own special way like nothing else.

Then let us all do what is right, strive with all our might toward the unattainable, develop as fully as we can the gifts God has given us, and never stop learning

What will be the judgment a century hence concerning the lorded works of our favorite composers today? …  Then, let every man do that which is right, strive with all his might towards the goal which can never be obtained … For life is short, art eternal.

Music can change the world.

You ask me where I get my ideas. That I cannot tell you with certainty. They come unsummoned, directly, indirectly – I could seize them with my hands – out in the open air, in the woods, while walking, in the silence of the nights, at dawn, excited by moods which are translated by the poet into words, by me into tones that sound and roar and storm about me till I have set them down in notes.

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