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Auld Lang Syne – New Yorker

The author’s father in 1943, at age three.PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY ALLYSON HOBBS

Every year, as the hour grows late on Christmas night, my father’s eyes become misty. He sits at the dining table after our holiday feast and stares off in the direction of the CD player, holding the remote in his hand. He wears a light-blue cashmere V-neck sweater over a neat button-down shirt and brown corduroy pants, classic “gifts for Dad” from previous Christmastimes. The 1963 album “Christmas with the Platters” plays, and a dreamy version of “Auld Lang Syne” wafts through the living room. My father slowly takes off his glasses and dabs his eyes. The phrase “Auld Lang Syne” translates to “times gone by,” and, while Americans expect to hear this song every New Year’s, few know what the Scottish lyrics actually mean. So most New Year’s Eve revellers just mumble or hum along. But they get the gist of the main question of the song: Should old friends be forgotten? And the answer, of course, is no, the past must be remembered.

Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?

Should old acquaintance be forgot, and auld lang syne?

While the song absorbs my father, plates are cleared, dishes are washed, Uno cards are located, and new rules for the game are debated. The after-dinner hustle and bustle do not disturb my father’s reverie. For those few minutes that “Auld Lang Syne” plays, he is far away from the dining table in Morristown, New Jersey, where he has celebrated Christmas for the past thirty-five years. He is a little boy, seven or eight years old, in a small apartment on the South Side of Chicago, which he shares with his sister, his mother, and his grandmother. It’s the early nineteen-fifties, and he sits by the radio with his family, looking at the frosted Christmas tree with bubbly lights. He is dressed in his finest clothes. “There was a time when families got dressed up for holidays. Remember that, Joyce?” he asks my mother. He laughs as he describes the suit that he wore, with a skinny tie, when they were first married, my mother’s fancy dresses, and the special holiday outfits purchased for my older sisters and brother.

For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne, we’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.

And surely you’ll buy your pint cup and surely I’ll buy mine!

And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne.

Robert Burns, the Scottish poet, wrote “Auld Lang Syne,” in 1788. His life was not an easy one. Perhaps his suffering and hardships imbued his poetry with its signature passion and intensity. When his father died, his farm was on the brink of failure, and Burns and his brother moved the family to a new farm in an effort to stay afloat. The labor that the farm required seemed to leave Burnswith a heart condition that afflicted him later in life. Known as the “peasant poet,” Burns fathered at least a dozen children, with several women, and after leaving the farm he spent most of his career compiling traditional Scottish folk songs that celebrate life, love, work, drinking, and friendship, using warm melodies and emotional chords. “Auld Lang Syne” was not intended to be a holiday standard, but in 1929 the legendary bandleader Guy Lombardo (known as Mr. New Year) used it to connect two radio programs during a live performance at the Roosevelt Hotel, in New York. Lombardo’s band played “Auld Lang Syne” just as the clock struck midnight. A tradition was born. Lombardo brought in the new year with the song for almost fifty years, from the stock market crash in 1929 to his last performance, during the country’s bicentennial, in 1976. Lombardo died in 1977.

We two have run about the slopes, and picked the daisies fine;

But we’ve wandered many a weary foot, since auld lang syne.

As the youngest of two children and the only boy in his family, my father was doted on, adored, and treasured. His family did not have much money, but, as he would later tell us with a smile, “We didn’t know we were poor.” His grandmother cleaned the homes of white families and often came back to the apartment with stories of “what the white folks do.” Setting the Christmas table with her best china, she would turn to my father and my aunt and say, with satisfaction, “This is the way the white folks do it.” The world of the white folks was just as remote geographically as it was in imagination and in experience. It was protected by a boundary that no black person (aside from domestics and other workers) dared to cross. My father’s grandmother had served “the white folks” at dinner parties, so she took great pride in making her own celebrations equally special. She wanted her grandchildren to know that, even though they might live in a kitchenette in Chicago’s overcrowded Black Belt, they were just as precious and just as cherished as the white children who lived in the prestigious neighborhoods of the North Shore.

We two have paddled in the stream, from morning sun till dine;

But seas between us broad have roared since auld lang syne.

My father’s mother worked as a hairdresser. She was a master of improvisation, the original mother of invention. While she worked, she sent my father and my aunt to double features at movie theatres as a less expensive alternative to hiring a babysitter. One year, my grandmother splurged and bought my father a University of Chicago jacket for Christmas. My father, who dreamed of attending the University of Chicago, took great pride in wearing the jacket. Perhaps it was more beloved by him because he knew the sacrifices that his mother had made to buy it. An older boy would steal the jacket before its leather sleeves had the chance to crease. But such was life for my father, growing up in Chicago back then.

And there’s a hand, my trusty friend!

And give us a hand o’ thine!

And we’ll take a right good-will draught, for auld lang syne.

I notice my father as he muses silently about times gone by and wish that I, too, could go to that kitchenette that he has described so vividly and glimpse him as a little boy, dressed up in his Christmas finery. I wish I could hear the sounds of the crackling radio and join him, my aunt, my grandmother, and my great-grandmother around the dining table or next to the frosted Christmas tree. I drift into my own misty reveries: a childhood when the excitement of Christmas would not let me sleep; years later, watching my brother-in-law assemble elaborate and exquisite floral centerpieces as his generous gift to us; the games played; the joy and laughter before my sister’s illness and untimely death, at thirty-one; even the hectic but happy balancing act of celebrating two Christmases—one with my family and one with my husband’s family—before our marriage collapsed, four years ago.

Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?

Should old acquaintance be forgot, and auld lang syne?

My father can’t go back to the Chicago of the nineteen-fifties. Try as I might, I can’t relive my childhood or young adulthood in Morristown. But we can follow the poignant instructions offered in “Auld Lang Syne”: to remember the past, the stories, the scenes, the settings, the friendships, and the family. Perhaps knowing that these memories live on in all of us makes the “times gone by” a little easier to bear.

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New Years Resolutions

The History of New Year’s Resolutions

The custom of making New Year’s resolutions has been around for thousands of years, but it hasn’t always looked the way it does today.S

The ancient Babylonians are said to have been the first people to make New Year’s resolutions, some 4,000 years ago. They were also the first to hold recorded celebrations in honor of the new year—though for them the year began not in January but in mid-March, when the crops were planted. During a massive 12-day religious festival known as Akitu, the Babylonians crowned a new king or reaffirmed their loyalty to the reigning king. They also made promises to the gods to pay their debts and return any objects they had borrowed. These promises could be considered the forerunners of our New Year’s resolutions. If the Babylonians kept to their word, their (pagan) gods would bestow favor on them for the coming year. If not, they would fall out of the gods’ favor—a place no one wanted to be.

A similar practice occurred in ancient Rome, after the reform-minded emperor Julius Caesar tinkered with the calendar and established January 1 as the beginning of the new year circa 46 B.C. Named for Janus, the two-faced god whose spirit inhabited doorways and arches, January had special significance for the Romans. Believing that Janus symbolically looked backwards into the previous year and ahead into the future, the Romans offered sacrifices to the deity and made promises of good conduct for the coming year.

For early Christians, the first day of the new year became the traditional occasion for thinking about one’s past mistakes and resolving to do and be better in the future. In 1740, the English clergyman John Wesley, founder of Methodism, created the Covenant Renewal Service, most commonly held on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. Also known as known as watch night services, they included readings from Scriptures and hymn singing, and served as a spiritual alternative to the raucous celebrations normally held to celebrate the coming of the new year. Now popular within evangelical Protestant churches, especially African-American denominations and congregations, watch night services held on New Year’s Eve are often spent praying and making resolutions for the coming year.

Despite the tradition’s religious roots, New Year’s resolutions today are a mostly secular practice. Instead of making promises to the gods, most people make resolutions only to themselves, and focus purely on self-improvement (which may explain why such resolutions seem so hard to follow through on). According to recent research, while as many as 45 percent of Americans say they usually make New Year’s resolutions, only 8 percent are successful in achieving their goals. But that dismal record probably won’t stop people from making resolutions anytime soon—after all, we’ve had about 4,000 years of practice.

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Legend Of The Poinsettia

Poinsettias at Christmas 

A Poinsettia flower

Poinsettia plants are native to Central America, especially an area of southern Mexico known as ‘Taxco del Alarcon’ where they flower during the winter. The ancient Aztecs called them ‘cuetlaxochitl’. The Aztecs had many uses for them including using the flowers (actually special types of leaves known as bracts rather than being flowers) to make a purple dye for clothes and cosmetics and the milky white sap was made into a medicine to treat fevers. (Today we call the sap latex!)

The poinsettia was made widely known because of a man called Joel Roberts Poinsett (that’s why we call them Poinsettia!). He was the first Ambassador from the USA to Mexico in 1825. Poinsett had some greenhouses on his plantations in South Carolina, and while visiting the Taco area in 1828, he became very interested in the plants. He immediately sent some of the plants back to South Carolina, where he began growing the plants and sending them to friends and botanical gardens.

One of the friends he sent plants to was John Bartram of Philadelphia. At the first Philadelphia flower show, Robert Buist, a plants-man from Pennsylvania saw the flower and he was probably the first person to have sold the poinsettias under their botanical, or latin name, name ‘Euphorbia pulcherrima’ (it means, ‘the most beautiful Euphorbia’). They were first sold as cut flowers. It was only in the early 1900s that they were sold as whole plants for landscaping and pot plants. The Ecke family from Southern California were one of, if not, the first to sell them as whole plants and they’re still the main producer of the plants in the USA. It is thought that they became known as Poinsettia in the mid 1830s when people found out who had first brought them to America from Mexico.

There is an old Mexican legend about how Poinsettias and Christmas come together, it goes like this:

There was once a poor Mexican girl called Pepita who had no present to give the the baby Jesus at the Christmas Eve Services. As Pepita walked to the chapel, sadly, her cousin Pedro tried to cheer her up.
‘Pepita’, he said “I’m sure that even the smallest gift, given by someone who loves him will make Jesus Happy.”

Pepita didn’t know what she could give, so she picked a small handful of weeds from the roadside and made them into a a small bouquet. She felt embarrassed because she could only give this small present to Jesus. As she walked through the chapel to the altar, she remembered what Pedro had said. She began to feel better, knelt down and put the bouquet at the bottom of the nativity scene. Suddenly, the bouquet of weeds burst into bright red flowers, and everyone who saw them were sure they had seen a miracle. From that day on, the bright red flowers were known as the ‘Flores de Noche Buena’, or ‘Flowers of the Holy Night’.

The shape of the poinsettia flower and leaves are sometimes thought as a symbol of the Star of Bethlehem which led the Wise Men to Jesus. The red colored leaves symbolize the blood of Christ. The white leaves represent his purity.

The Poinsettia is also the national emblem of Madagascar.

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Magnolia Bark: Your Go-To Herb For Sleep & Anxiety

“I am a big fan of magnolia for sleep,” says Michael Breus, Ph.D., a board-certified sleep specialist. “It works as an anxiety reducer, and several of my patients have commented to me that it helps them ‘turn off their brain.'”

Its ability to ‘turn off the brain’ (or at least calm it down) has benefits beyond the bedroom, too. In addition to aiding in restful zzz’s, magnolia bark is also used to help manage stress and anxiety, protect brain health, and treat depression. It’s also been shown to reduce inflammation and inflammation-related pain, help manage diabetes, improve dental health, and even potentially prevent certain cancers.

Here’s what you need to know about magnolia—where it comes from, what it does, how to take it, and more.

What is magnolia?

While supplements are commonly referred to simply as magnolia, they usually contain magnolia bark (magnolia itself refers to a class of about 240 flowering tree and shrub species). The plant is native to North and South America, the Himalayas, and East Asia; and Magnolia has a particularly strong connection to Chinese herbal medicine (which utilizes both the flowers and the bark).

Among other bioactive compounds, the bark contains magnolol and honokiol, which are largely to thank for many of magnolia bark’s benefits.

Magnolia bark for sleep.

Magnolia bark’s most widely known application is helping with sleep—research has found that magnolia bark can help reduce the time it takes to fall asleep and increase the amount of time spent in both REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep, which are both important in restorative rest.

There are several mechanisms behind its sedative effects. Notably, magnolia bark boosts the neurotransmitter GABA, or gamma-Aminobutyric acid. “GABA is like the brakes of the brain,” says Breus. “When GABA is elicited, then your whole being starts to slow down, which obviously is something that you want for sleep.”

This is the same way that powerful prescription sleep aids like Ambien, Lunesta, and Sonata work. “They are all GABA receptor agonists, meaning they increase the amount of GABA in your system, and magnolia bark basically hits the same receptors that Ambien does,” says Breus.

Magnolia bark also helps promote better sleep through the body’s internal endocannabinoid system, which is a system of neurotransmitters that bind to cannabinoid receptors to tell the brain to slow down. Magnolia bark actually activates these cannabinoid receptors, says Breus. This is similar to the way CBD oil works (CBD, or cannabidiol, is one of the non-psychoactive properties found in cannabis that helps the body and brain relax).

Another way magnolia bark aids in sleep is by reducing the stress hormone adrenaline, which helps control the fight-or-flight response (which, hopefully, doesn’t need to be in action when you’re dozing off). “Right as you’re falling asleep, you really want adrenaline to be as low as possible,” says Breus. By reducing adrenaline and other stress hormones like cortisol, magnolia bark can help you doze off peacefully.

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How to Plant Fall Flower Bulbs

Tulips – fall Planted garden
Planting flower bulbs is fast, easy, and nearly foolproof.
Fall bulbs are loved by both beginner and master gardeners, there are so few issues to consider. Gardeners can put all their effort into the fun part of gardening — design.

Fall allows a “second season” of planting for spring blooming bulbs. Planting in the fall allows a jumpstart to spring growth. The cool weather helps to make a more enjoyable experience for working outside in the garden and requires less watering. The cooler weather allows spring blooming bulbs to winter over, this is important in order for bulbs to provide beautiful spring cheerful blooms.

When bulbs arrive. Bulbs should be planted as soon as the ground is cool, when evening temperatures average between 40° to 50 deg; F. You should plant at least 6-8 weeks before the ground freezes. This is most common in cold climates (zones 1-7). You can, if necessary, store bulbs for a month or longer, if you keep them in a cool dry place. Planting fall bulbs in warm climates (zones 8-11) such as Tulips, Daffodils, Crocus, Hyacinths, Grape Hyacinths, Scilla, and Snowdrops, require pre-chilling in order to bloom. To pre-chill, leave bulbs in their bags and place in a refrigerator for 6-10 weeks.

Be careful not to store bulbs near fruit, especially apples, all ripening fruit give off ethylene gas. Ethylene gas can damage and or kill the flower inside the bulb. Once bulbs are chilled plant them at the coolest time of the year. Most importantly bulbs won’t last till next season, so make sure to plant them.

Read the label. Try to keep the label together with the bulbs until planting. Without the label, you can’t tell the red tulips from the white ones just by looking at the bulbs.
Where to plant. You can plant bulbs just about anywhere in your garden as long as the soil drains well. The Dutch say, “bulbs don’t like wet feet.” So, avoid areas where water collects, such as the bottom of hills. Bulbs like sun and in many areas the spring garden can be very sunny, since the leaves on the trees are not out yet. So keep in mind when planting in the fall that you can plant in many places for spring blooms.
Prepare the planting bed. Dig soil so it’s loose and workable. If it’s not an established garden bed, chances are the soil could use the addition of some organic matter such as compost or peat moss. These are available at most local garden retailers.

Bouquet

 

How to Plant Bulbs – Step by Step Instructions
Tulip Bulbs – Pointy end up

Tulip Bulbs - Pointy end up

Step 1: Loosen soil in the planting bed to a depth of at least 8”. Remove any weeds, rocks or other debris. You can mix in compost, other organic matter or slow releasing fertilizer if your soil lacks nutrients.

Step 2: Depending on the bulb, follow the recommendation on the label for planting depth. As a general rule, plant big bulbs about 8″ deep and small bulbs about 5″ deep. Set the bulb in the hole pointy side up or the roots down. It’s easy to spot the pointy end of a tulip; tougher with a crocus. If you can’t figure out the top from the bottom, plant the bulb on its side, in most cases, even if you don’t get it right, the flower bulb will still find its way topside.

Step 3: Now that the bulbs are planted, back fill with soil over the hole, lightly compress the soil but do not pack it. Water to stimulate root growth. There is no need to water continuously unless you live in an area with low precipitation in the winter months.

Aftercare in the Spring
Fertilizing: For bulbs that are intended to naturalize (return for several years) or for bulbs that are coming into their second year, spread an organic fertilizer such as compost, or a slow release bulb food on top of the soil.

Pruning: When the flowers have completed blooming, cut the flower head off but do not cut the foliage. Bulbs will use the foliage to gather nutrients from the sun and store for the following seasons. Once the foliage have turned yellow or brown you can cut them to ground level.

Plant bulbs in clusters. If you plant one bulb alone, or make a long thin line along the walk, the impact is less desirable. Clusters give a concentration of color for greatest impact. Even if you don’t have enough bulbs for a big bed, small clusters can make a super spring show.

Plant low bulbs in front of high. This is a good general rule for bulbs that bloom at the same time. Of course there are times to break this rule. For example if the low growing bulbs bloom early and the tall bulbs bloom late, plant the tall in front. Their display will camouflage the dying foliage of the smaller bulbs!.

Try a double-decker effect. You can plant small bulbs in a layer right on top of large bulbs. If you plant bulbs that flower in the same period you can create an interesting double-decker effect. Or you can stagger the bloom time by planting mid- and late-season bloomers together, creating a spring display that blooms in succession, for a whole season of color!

In the end, what you do with fall bulbs is limited only by your imagination. A few hours one brisk autumn afternoon can yield months of colorful excitement in your yard or garden next spring.

Remember To Leave A Special Message With The Flowers In The Order Notes Dismiss