Top Ten Worst Christmas Gifts in 2016

Now that Christmas has come and gone, I can turn my investigatory energies to more important obsessions  (other than politics) such as identifying 2016 strangest Christmas gifts. We teach our children that these gifts are made at the North Pole but we all know they come from China.  Rather than being produced by happy, elves dressed in green and red felt, paid with nothing but a smattering of magic dust and Christmas cookies, these items  are probably produced by abused child workers, violating ever American labor law and  paid by the piece rather than by the hour. This is why Americans are squabbling about the renewal of Asian-Pacific trade agreement and not a North Pole  agreement combining  fines for melting icebergs because of Santa’s unregulated energy use with a  tariff on flying sleighs bringing untaxed goods into the country.

sarah-palin-gunThe proposed North Pole agreement would be easy to enforce because Sara Palin could be appointed Nordic ambassador and provide enforcement services from her Alaskan front porch, pulverizing those pesky elves  with buck shot when they tried to slip into the US in search of our highly coveted minimum wage jobs on dairy farms and in  fast food joints.

I waited until after Christmas to release this list because I wanted to save my friends the agony or ecstasy of choosing the appropriate gift  for their worst enemy. P.S. I understand from Santa that President-Elect Trump got one of each item on the list in his stocking this year.  Trump was hoping for lumps of newly mined coal given his promises to restart America’s coal industry but Santa wanted to reward  Obama’s strategy to ban offshore drilling in the Artic and Atlantic so this year Santa handed out pinwheels with blades saying “Support alternative energy” to those who had been naughty.  Santa’s failure to leave all the naughty businessmen a sock full of coal may result in a coal shortage among billionaires, which could further the stock market’s zeal for fossil fuel but it is too early to tell.

Top Ten Worst Christmas Gifts in 2016

handrapants10.Handrapants: These fingerless gloves (designed to look like men’s tidy-whities) are a perfect gift for anyone with fixation on being touched by real human hands but still wanting to be able to engage in real world activities. I actually own a pair of fingerless gloves that I find quite handy (please excuse the pun) but they are suede with a gorgeous fur muff around the fingers.  The men’s brief design for fingers must meet  some sexual  fantasy of where the hands want to go.

wowwee9. WowWee: Chip is an interactive dog robot, programmable to a special watch (included). Chip will greet you at the door, follow you around, play with a programmed plastic ball and has a strange low woof for such a small dog. Chip doesn’t need to go outside, be fed, bark at guests, and tear up panties or the other assorted novel character traits of a real dog. He recharges himself during the night ready for the next day without having to be let outside or taken for a walk.

unicorn-farts-cotton-candy-38. Unicorn Farts: These are bags of cotton candy. As I understand the design concept, while you can’t see human farts but you can see people, in this case you can’t see unicorns but you can see and actually eat their farts. Clever indeed and to provide further incentive for purchasing these tasty treats 10% of the proceeds go to a children’s charity.

 

poop7. Poop Like a Champion: This is a cereal for those of us old enough to remember the advertisements for “Breakfast of Champions” Wheaties but now find our digestive system is a little slow. The advertisement for this cereal is “Number 1 high fiber cereal for number 2s”. Imagine going through all the effort to receive a  marketing bachelors degree  and your first job assignment is to create slogans for a cereal that provides the pinnacle of pooping performance. The cereal is currently sold out after a pre-Christmas rush (please don’t let you mind wander in the direction of that pun).  Kudos to that new marketing graduate, you exceeded everyone’s wildest dreams, possibly because of a constipated electorate in all the Blue states. But don’t despair, if you need an extra push in the bathroom, you can load up for the New Year with a 25% off coupon and emailing your name in to be wait listed.

small_chihuahuas6.Wonderwoof:  This is an activity tracker bowtie for your dog.  You and your dog can begin a new healthy life style in the New Year. Designed in stylish colors such as baby blue, red, orange, teal, pink, black, grey and for an extra $9.95 you can add designer bands to match your outfits. Before Christmas a tracker was a $100.  Unfortunately, these guys didn’t sell out . You can now own one for $65.  If you live in a big city and hire a dog walker, these little gizmos are for you.  They are particularly helpful if you are paranoid imagining your highly paid dog-walker lazing around your high rise apartment sipping a latte from your cappuccino machine rather than out marching Fido around Central Park.  One dog walker in New York reports taking 40 or 50 dogs for walks 5 days a week, spending about 25 hours a week  and making about $110,000 a year.  Take that you lowly U of I graduate starting out at best around $45,000 as a professional in Idaho. My advice, if you need Wonderwoof for Fido, you should probably consider trading in your dog and getting WowWee for Valentine’s Day.

cockroach5.Giant Inflatable Cockroach: Almost 6 feet by 6 feet and a foot deep, this ugly guy can either scare people out of your highly sought after swimming pool or provide a lovely floatation device for someone large enough to cover most of it. The roach’s legs hang out in any possible scenario. I have to admit to an aversion to cockroaches of any size. When my husband went to medical school the only apartment he could afford was roach infested.  We had to buy dozens of tiny roach hotels to strategically place around the apartment in hopes one would stop by for a visit and be terminated.The Inflatable cockroach was judged the “best new inflatable toy for summer 2016″ suggesting to me that America needs to find new designers for pool toys.

toliet-bowl3:Toilet Bowl Dog and Cat Fountain: If your pets like to drink out of your toilet and this grosses you out, this gift is for you.  Shaped just like a toilet only smaller,  the tank provides fresh water on as-needed gravity basis.  Also works well for improving the self-image of height-challenged dogs, like dachshunds, which have always wanted to drink out of the toilet but couldn’t reach it.

creamed-possum2.Creamed Possum in a can for holiday dinner: This holiday treat is also sold out but may be available in time for the Super Bowl and Presidential Inauguration . A red neck staple, this tasty treat includes Canned Creamed Possum with Coon Fat Gravy, garnished with Sweet Potatoes! Guaranteed to be made with only the freshest road-kill available

 

1.Trump Matryoshka (Hand-crafter Russian nesting dolls): These dolls were a rush order after the election. On the largest doll is a likeness of Trump wearing a surprised expression and holding a sign “The Apprentice and you’re hired!”. Inside is Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson holding his 2013 Russian Friendship award and waving an ExxonMobil flag. Beneath Tillerson is President Trump’s strategic advisor, Stephen Bannon in a Prince of Darkness costume. All three larger dolls cover a tiny replica of Russian President Putin, wearing a Cheshire cat smile and holding a sign “Russia Wins!”. These dolls sold out quickly to the alt-right. Plans are to have them mass produced after the inauguration. Right wing enthusiasts are anticipating a juggernaut in sales in the New Year as part of the new administration’s focus on economic development and new trade alliances.

 

The Longest Night

295But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31.

Wednesday, December 21, is the Winter Solstice-the longest night of the year. My church celebrates the longest night to acknowledge and sooth some of the pain, sorrow; grief and darkness many of us have suffered or are currently suffering during this holiday season.

For some this grief is raw, a death of someone young or in their prime, a shocking loss with no good-byes. This grief is a vise on the heart, the pain sometimes so severe breathing is difficult.  There are softer but still lingering losses for others. The pain of putting down a dog who took you on walks every day and won’t be there tomorrow to greet you. The cat who slipped through your legs one night and never returned home. Some loss is hard to explain to others but still bittersweet for you; the death of the beloved ancient oak tree whose shade made your west facing backyard bearable in summer. You know you won’t live long enough to have the same shade at your house again. Or maybe the pain is just beginning because you have learned you or a loved one has some condition that will keep them from spending another Christmas with you. You celebrate shared joy today but dread the year ahead and feel the small kernel of coming loss beginning to grow deep within.

My mother died 30 years ago, a week after Christmas. She suffered from a rare liver condition which both my sister and I have genetically inherited. As her liver failed her, she turned an odd sinister yellow, her face and feet bloated, her skin stretched like a balloon with too much air. When some small part of her liver was working, she knew us and except for her distorted appearance, she could joke with us and share memories of better times. But over the course of her 18 month decline, these moments of lucidity became less frequent. The poisons seeping from her non-functioning liver gave her dementia. She would think I was her mother, that my father was her daddy. Just when I would get used to the new reality of my lost mother, she would reclaim a piece of herself and know me again. On her last day, she knew everyone and told us how much she loved me. I went to a basketball game planning on moving her home in the next few days. This was before cell phones and by the time I got back to her room from the game, her bed was empty and new people were moving in.

Because we are blessed (or possibly my mother would have said cursed) with financial resources, my dad and I took mom to Denver to specialists and then to Omaha to see if she was a candidate for a liver transplant. These were early days in the transplant world. We had to put up $100,000 just to be seen in Omaha. We got the funds back because she didn’t qualify. But it was a lesson to me about the differences in treatment in this country based on income. As we waited to see if mom physically qualified for the surgeries; other younger  qualified liver candidates with young children waited to see if they could raise enough money in their communities through bake sales and other events, carefully orchestrated by the hospital to pay for the operation.

Mom didn’t want to do anything to extend her life. She would ramble on about “wanting to go where the angels sing and the flowers bloom.” During this period she would have us read Isaiah 40:31 to her two or three times a day. We flew her home from Omaha on a private plane a few days after Christmas and she died soon after.

I carry a piece of her around in my heart but her soul has flown free. In her illness, she knew more about God and spirituality than my sister, father and I combined. Sometimes, it is a gift to let go of the person you love. Extraordinary measures to keep a loved one alive are often for the family not for the one who is suffering. Thirty years ago she was lifted on the wings of eagles, soaring joyfully to sing with her beloved angels. She was just about my age.

Now when I pray for those in need, I visualize them being lifted up on eagles’ wings by the Lord’s enduring spirit. As I age, my Christmas card list shrinks as friends and family pass. My father died 10 years ago, my step mother last Christmas. I grieve their passings but take joy in their memories.

Weeping lasts through the night but joy comes in the morning. Psalm 30:5-6

sunrise

 

Dogs of Hell on Rampage in America

dog1The Dogs of Hell were trained Rottweilers, who escape a military compound and terrorized al small town in a cult movie of the same name (1982).  Replicating the actions of these fictional canines, the most racist, bigoted Americans have been unleashed by Trump’s unlikely Presidential win to terrorize people of color, the LBGT community and other vulnerable individuals.

Previously suppressed by societal norms and national leaders committed to inclusion and diversity, the day after the surprise win by Mr. Trump, these marauding dogs began shredding our fragile web of political correctness. The real face of the ugly American is now in full view. Apparently, I have been living in a fantasy world believing that we were slowly eradicating these attitudes but I have discovered to my chagrin that our progress in the area of inclusion is  an extremely fragile safety net loosely tethered by a web of civil rights laws, court decisions and public civility.

These Dogs have previously been muzzled by the broader community’s values. muzzled-dog The Dogs’ attacks after the recent election have taught me that bigotry is flourishing in this country in hidden places like  mold spores invisible to the naked eye, thriving in dark moist environments. The election provided the necessary well spring for an explosion of white backlash.

These dogs are even rampaging in Boise, Idaho. Last week, they wrote “Nigger!” as graffiti near our Black History Museum. My family was horrified when I used the “N” word at the dinner table describing the incident.  My daughter scolded me and said, “Never use that word again!” I would like to comply; but the only way to grasp the harshness of these attacks on the population they are intended to traumatize is to speak truth. The “N” word does not capture the abuse and rebuke inherent in this demoralizing word  scribbled in large letters in plain view for the sole purpose of causing pain.

The lone black female in the Idaho Senate, told me this graffiti is not an isolated incident. She described to me the experience of a two black children playing outside in Boise being accosted by white adults the day after the election and being told; “We can kill you and your parents, now.”

My sister tells of the Asian man she knows, born and raised in Caldwell, Idaho (a town of 50,000, 25 miles west of Boise) who has never experienced discrimination in Idaho. Last week a car driving by him, rolled down the window and an invisible male voice shouted, “Go back to where you came from!” The fact that this man would be returning to Caldwell would be amusing if it weren’t so horrifying.

These are just a few incidents from Idaho, a small, almost exclusively white, homogeneous state. We are generally pro guns but peace abiding. Imagine the power of this unfettered hate in larger cities with more diversity and opportunity to choose “We” versus”They”.kinghallgraffiti

post-truthThe Oxford Dictionary has named “post truth” as the 2016 word of the year. The word describes a culture in which an individual’s decisions are based on appearances, frequently generated by incorrect or deliberately false social media postings, not on facts.  I am fascinated and nauseated by our “post truth” world.  In our current political milieu, the Dogs of Hell can become vicious overlords of the most vulnerable. Made up stories of Muslim attacks lead to hatred of innocent neighbors.  Women wearing head coverings, symbols of respect for their religion, are suspect.

The trial of Dylann Roof is currently in the news. He is the white young man who joined a black Bible study group at Emanuel African Methodist Church, Charleston, South Carolina and ended up killing nine church members (2015).  He has been quoted as saying he, “wanted to ignite a race war.”  Roof’s actions resulted in public outcry, prayer vigils and persecutors seeking the death penalty.  He failed in his revolution.

Unlike Roof, if not restrained, the Dogs of Hell are capable of phenomenal harm to our constitutional rights. This election, we, the people, have unleashed violent forces of hatred in America.

As Christmas approaches, as Christains let us not just pray for peace on earth as if we are speaking of some distant land. We need to pray for peace in small town Idaho and other parts of America. We must actively engage our spiritual communities and push back the forces of hate which are spreading dark clouds of fear over our land.

 

Best Things to do on the Big Island in Winter

20161126_161724Volcano National Park: Plan an entire day including the round-trip drive from Kona or stay in the park at Volcano House.  The active lava lake spewing red fire creates fine strands of golden fiberglass, called Pele’s Hair, after the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes. They’re formed when lava is ejected into the air and small droplets are caught by the wind, which then cools and stretches them into very thin strands.  This melted gold is breathtaking to see and touch but be careful it can cut your hand.  Touring an active volcano is a good reminder that earth is always changing by forces outside human control.  Be sure to take a tour with a ranger to have a better understanding of man’s relationship to nature.  Before man brought predators to the islands, large birds and flora were the only inhabitants.  Our ranger described how the birds became large and flightless because of the lush vegetation.  Imagine a five foot tall owl greeting you as you walked the rainforest.

Hawaiian Tropical Botanical Gardens (near Hilo): The flora in this garden is absolutely stunning.  The pathway winds through a rain forest, past water falls to the ocean.  If you are lucky, you will be caught in a rain storm providing a sense of why everything stays so green. This garden reminded me of Mother Nature gone wild with her paint brush.  The number of exotic flowers and colors was astounding.

When you go to the Gardens, make a quick stop by Rainbow Falls in Hilo. This is a state park, no fee and the falls are right by the parking area.20161125_160808

Honokohau Settlement and Kaloko-Honelieh National Historical Park: This is a national park and takes either your Golden Eagle pass for entrance or $5.00 a car.  Once a thriving Hawaii settlement (1200 A.D.) the park provides remnants of the past including a massive wall surrounding a long ago demolished palace, a place of worship, wood carvings of Gods and individuals re-enacting activities from the period.  We saw a man in a loincloth making rock tools.  We also saw live sea turtles on the beach.

A short walk away is Honokohau Boat Harbor. There is only lava to sit on but the area provided the clearest blue waters and most variety of fish for snorkeling of all the places we stopped to snorkel.

20161122_163454Akaka Falls State Park:  There is a short loop walk to see amazing falls in a tropical rainforest setting. Cost of entry is $5 per car to park in the lot at Akaka Falls State Park or $1 for walk-ins (if you park on the side of the road outside of the park boundary). The 0.4-mile loop trail to the waterfalls is paved, although there are some stairs. Plummeting 442 feet, it’s easy to see why Akaka Falls is one of Hawaii’s most famous waterfalls. A viewing area includes protective railings so that you don’t fall over the edge while capturing the waterfall’s slender but powerful plunge into a gorge created by years of erosion. My kids had fun doing pictures for snap chat of the falls going into their open mouths.

Waipi’o Valley Lookout: On the way to Akaka Falls stop at the Waipi’o Lookout. Take the time to view “The Valley of the Kings”  at the end of the Hamakua Heritage Corridor. Once an important site for Hawaiian history and culture, it’s also a place of dramatic tropical beauty. I could feel a sacred spirit surrounding me when I viewed the gorgeous valley.20161122_142250

Beaches: We spent three days visiting various beaches up and down the Big Island Coast line. As my son remarked, “The best beach is relative.” At one beach, there were shady trees, gentle water lapping on the shore and children building sand castles. At another we had to drive over lava in a four wheel drive vehicle and hike to a length of white sand with life guards because the surf was rough.  Guide books can describe the various attributes of the beaches to you but the ones you like best will depend on what you like to do sun, surf, snorkel.  The water at all of the ones we visited were glorious variations of blue and  the temperature of the water warm.  All Hawaiian beaches are open to the public.  The government of Hawaii has done a good job of providing clean rest rooms and showers where ever practical.

Kona Coffee: Kona is known for coffee and there are many places to take free coffee tours.  The purpose of the tours is to sell local coffee.  I found the opportunity to learn about how coffee is made very engaging.

Local Restaurants worth trying:

  • Merriman’s at Waimen pioneered Hawaii’s farm to table cuisine. Plan on eating luscious local dishes in an elegant environment. This is a high end restaurant but worth the price.
  • Kona Pub and Brewing: A fun outside restaurant which provides good food while allowing the beer connoisseurs in your group to try out different flavors. Examples of beers are Big Wave Golden Ale, Lemongrass Luau, and Lavaman Red Ale. Prices are comparable to brew pubs on the main land.
  • Lucy’s Taqueria, Hilo. We ate here twice because it was inexpensive, had lots of options for vegetarians (we have one in our crowd), food was served quickly and it was scrumptious.

Most of all take the time to enjoy your surroundings and the people you are with.  The Big Island is big, beautiful and tranquil. Don’t plan so much that all you are doing is rushing hither and yon.

20161122_131346