Saturday, December 27, 2008

Good Times - Holiday Edition

This Christmas turned out to be a lot of fun, despite the seasonal stress that led up to it, due to working in retail HELL. I still didn't get into the Christmas mood like I usually do, but managed to enjoy the holiday none the less.

Christmas Eve started out with a short morning shift at work (8am-noon). I actually enjoy working Christmas Eve. That is when the company has its annual "pig out" where all the associates bring food and cookies, and gather in the break room for a small party. There was a lot of hugging and laughs among the associates, wishing each other a Merry Christmas and congratulating ourselves for surviving yet another holiday season.

Much to my surprise, one of my dear friends and co-workers gifted me with several presents. One was a chili set, with all the spices and beans to make a pot of chili (which I LOVE this time of year), as well as one "special" gift. It was a set of playing cards with R-rated (not X-rated) men on them! I laughed SO hard when I opened them!! I was showing them off the rest of my shift, and asking people to play me in a game of "five card STUD".

After, I went to Jason's to see his first Christmas tree in his new home (and I'm kicking myself for not taking my camera with me). He put up a BEAUTIFUL tree this year, and I'm amazed at all the work he has put into his home. It gets better looking each time I visit. We had a nice chat over tea before our friend Nick joined us for some holiday cheer. We went out to an early dinner at a local BBQ restaurant/bar in the city, and had a wonderful time.. just the three of us.

Because of dinner with Nick and Jason, I was about an hour and a half late to Dad's side for dinner (which was fine with me). I got there just as they were serving dinner!! I passed on the food, since I was still full, but sat down with everyone to gab. I enjoyed watching the kids open their presents, and shoot the shit with my cousin Jennifer... my favorite cousin on Dad's side.. she's awesome!!

I went to Christmas day Mass, which was beautiful as always. It's so nice to start off my holiday with such on such an uplifting note. Another co-worker, who attends this Mass, surprised me with yet another gift.. this time, chocolate (as half naked men would not be as appropriate at Church!). It was a very nice gesture, and a pleasant surprise.. though my thighs will not be a grateful.

Joey and Katie, along with Uncle Vinny stopped over that morning to open presents with us. Santa was very generous to all of us, especially to me... Uncle Vinny surprised me with not one, but TWO of the heavy brass pillar candle holders I have been wanting from Design Tuscano, but could never afford for myself. I was so thrilled to get the two of them that I ran down to my sitting room to take them out of the boxes and put them out on display. In the mean time, Dad was busy playing with the new digital camera I bought him.. Kodak of course! (We have stock in the company.. lol)

Aunt Karen joined us for the evening, as Uncle Vinny and Uncle Tony brought her over from hospice to be with us. We didn't know what to expect with her being here in her deteriorated condition, but she did very well, all things considering. She cried every time she saw someone, or when she opened her presents (she gets very emotional now). She slept through much of dinner, but was wide awake for dessert, and had her fair share of cookies and chocolate fudge. We were so happy to see her eating, and told her to "live it up!". By the end of the night, we were able to hear and understand her very easily, which was a remarkable improvement from earlier in the evening when we could not hear her, even with an ear right up to her face. She did suffer from some delusions, but managed to snap back to reality quickly enough... unlike the rest of us who seem to be in a world of our own most times.

I'm very thankful for having spent my Christmas with my family and close friends, and loved having them all with me. They helped me to remember the real meaning of Christmas and forget about the nastiness of the world.. if only for a short while.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

In Memoriam

Majel Barrett Roddenberry, wife of the late Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek passed away today at the age of 76. She passed away from complications of leukemia at her home in Bel Air. She is best known for her roles on Star Trek as Nurse Chapel on the Original Series, the voice of the computer (on Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space 9, and Voyager), as well as Lwaxana Troi in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI a Nazi??

I was at a bar tonight, of all places, and as usual, someone brought up religion. The usual "Benedict Bashing" began, and being me, I had to speak up. I get so frustrated when people are so passionate about rumors they know so little about, or who don't know the WHOLE story behind headlines such as "Pope a Nazi".

Because of tonight's experience, I felt it pertinent to past an excerpt from the New York Times regarding this subject. It does a much better job than I could to express the truth of the matter, and has the sources to prove it.

April 23, 2005

New Pope Defied Nazis As Teen During WWII


Filed at 2:03 p.m. ET

TRAUNSTEIN, Germany (AP) -- Blinds drawn, windows closed, Joseph Ratzinger huddled with his father and older brother around a radio and listened to Allied radio broadcasts, volume on low.

It was a small and risky act of defiance in this conservative Bavarian village deep inside Adolf Hitler's Germany. But the father wanted his sons to know the truth about the Nazis and World War II, says Georg Ratzinger, who like his brother drew strength from the Catholic Church.

''It was strictly forbidden. Anyone who was caught would be sent to the concentration camps, so we did it secretively,'' Georg Ratzinger told The Associated Press. ''The German news was not true and he wanted to hear from the foreign services what was really happening.''

The clandestine sessions were just one of the passive acts of resistance, evasions and escapes by the future Pope Benedict XVI, whose choices then -- enrolling in the Hitler Youth as required and the Army when drafted as he approached age 18 -- allowed him to survive.

People who knew the Ratzingers said they were never willingly part of the Nazi machine.

Frieda Jochner, 79, who grew up in their old neighborhood and speaks with a thick, warm Bavarian accent, remembered the ''Ratzinger boys'' as pious and serious -- Georg as the ''Bavarian one'' -- a friendly joker -- and the studious Joseph as the more shy of the two.

She said Joseph Ratzinger was so involved in his studies at the Catholic seminary that even if he had wanted to be active in the Hitler Youth, he never would have had the time.

''He was very industrious,'' she said, taking a break decorating the Ratzingers' childhood home with wreaths, pine boughs and ribbons.

Renate Augerer, 75, remembered the brothers from the town's school, where they were both known as being serious, scholarly, pious and kind -- two Catholic priests in the making.

''He was very certainly not for Hitler,'' Augerer said of Joseph Ratzinger. ''Absolutely not. They couldn't do anything about it. ... You can't forget the times.''

Max Fiedler, 77, said he also was compelled to join the Hitler Youth when the Nazis took over the Catholic youth group he was in and merged it into their organization.

''It was automatic,'' said Fiedler, who had joined Augerer at a reception in the small Traunstein town hall following a Mass in Ratzinger's honor last week.

Some 80 to 90 percent of Germans joined the Hitler Youth and refusing to sign up could mean being sent to a youth ''reeducation camp,'' akin to a concentration camp, said Volker Dahm, director of Nazi-era research for Munich's Institute for Contemporary History.

''You could try to avoid it but it was very, very difficult,'' Dahm said. ''It was a bit easier to avoid it if you lived in a big city where you could hide yourself in the crowd, but in the countryside it was nearly impossible because everyone knew you.''

Pope John Paul II had covertly resisted the Nazis in occupied Poland, helping form an underground theater and enrolling in a clandestine seminary run by the archbishop of Krakow.

In Germany, opportunities for outright defiance were limited -- and dangerous. Those who did resist met horrible fates, such as two famous student leaders in Munich, Hans and Sophie Scholl, who were caught distributing anti-Nazi leaflets in 1942 and executed by guillotine.

Pope Benedict, 78, has not tried to hide his enrollment in the Hitler Youth at age 14, addressing his brief membership in his autobiography, ''Salt of the Earth.''

''We weren't in it to start with, but with the beginning of the obligatory Hitler Youth in 1941 my brother was enrolled as was required,'' he recalled. ''I was too young but later was enrolled into it from the seminary.''

Benedict implies it was the school that did the enrolling, but he doesn't make it clear.

He said he tried to avoid Hitler Youth meetings, creating a dilemma. He needed proof of attendance to get a tuition discount, which his father -- a retired policeman -- badly needed. So he finessed it, according to his book.

''Thank God, there was a math teacher who understood. He was himself a Nazi party member, but an honest man who told me, 'Just go so we have it,''' he recalled. ''But when he saw that I simply didn't want to, he said: 'I understand, I'll take care of it.' And so I was free of it.''

With so little active resistance to the Nazis, small gestures of defiance were telling, said Johannes Tuchel, director of the German Resistance Memorial in Berlin.

''The color of resistance is not black and white, it's a scale of gray,'' Tuchel said. ''It was not a single decision, not a single choice -- you don't just say one day 'I resist.'

''Every day you had to decide if you were going to go with the Nazi system or step aside. To resist is a long-term decision,'' he added.

The Ratzingers moved to Traunstein in 1937. The father was anti-Nazi and had to move from the town of Tittmoning to Auschau in 1932 after clashing with local Nazi party supporters.

In Traunstein, resistance came largely from communists, though there were never many in the town of about 12,000 and most were arrested and shipped to the Dachau concentration camp in the early 1930s. Though most were later released, they lived in fear of being returned to the camps, according to Traunstein historian Friedbert Muehldorfer.

Being sent to a concentration camp for not joining the Hitler Youth would have been an ''extreme'' punishment, but ''it was very difficult for youth who didn't join, and they could be ostracized,'' Muehldorfer said. ''It doesn't mean they were enthusiastic about the Nazis.''

The Nazis enjoyed general support in Traunstein, though it was tempered by the conservative Roman Catholicism typical of Bavaria. People were disgruntled with the Nazis' anti-church attitudes and practices such as removing crosses from school classrooms, Muehldorfer said.

The town had only a few Jewish families, largely driven out before the war began in 1939.

In 1943, at age 16, Joseph Ratzinger was called up along with his entire seminary class to work as a helper for anti-aircraft batteries, which defended a BMW plant and later an aircraft factory at Oberpfaffenhofen, where the first German jet fighters were produced.

In 1944, he was forced into the country's compulsory civil service and sent to dig anti-tank ditches on the Austrian-Hungarian border.

He recounts his work group being awakened in the middle of the night and pressured to join the Waffen SS, the combat units of the Nazi Party's elite guard. ''An SS officer had each one come forward and tried, by parading each one in front of the group, to force 'volunteer' enlistments,'' he wrote in another autobiographical book, ''Memoirs 1927-1977.''

Some signed up in ''this criminal group. I had the luck to be able to say that I had the intent to become a Catholic priest. We were sent away with scorn and insults.''

He was drafted into the Army in December 1944 and stationed near Traunstein. With the German army collapsing and the end of the war just days away, he deserted in April or May of 1945 -- he said he can't remember the exact date. He knew he could be killed by SS fanatics, who continued to shoot or hang soldiers found out of uniform up until the end of the war.

Sneaking home by a roundabout way, he was stopped by two soldiers as he emerged from under a train overpass. ''For a moment, the situation was extremely critical for me,'' he remembered. But the soldiers ''were ones who, thank God, had had enough of war'' and let him go, treating him as wounded because he had his arm in a sling.

Tuchel, the director of the German Resistance Memorial in Berlin, said that even in wartime Germany young men like Ratzinger could find quiet ways to defy authority.

''There is always a choice. You have to go into the Hitler Youth, but then it is your decision if you are going to be an active member,'' Tuchel said. ''You have to go into the labor service, but it's your decision if you're very active. ... You had no choice to go into the army, but it is your decision how long you stay.''

Because Benedict acknowledged his past and because of the circumstances of his involvement, most people, including Jewish groups in Germany and Israel, have been understanding.

''He was a very young person when this happened, it was hardly a matter of choice, and what counts is what he's done in the last 30 years in Jewish-Catholic dialogue,'' said Deidre Berger, director of the American Jewish Committee's Berlin office.

At the right time, she suggested, the pope may share more of his past.

''We do have someone who has memories of the time, who certainly participated ... on the side of people who were perpetrating mass crimes. So I think the appropriate thing is that at the appropriate moment he is reflective about this personal biography -- it will mean a lot in the Jewish world.''

The Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial center in Jerusalem doesn't see a need for further investigation of Ratzinger's Hitler Youth membership, said spokeswoman Estee Yaari.

Ephraim Zuroff, the director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Israel, said there two ways of dealing with the issue.

''One way is delving into the subject and emphasizing it. The other is by doing positive things to improve Jewish-Christian relations and German-Jewish relations without necessarily emphasizing his own personal experiences or his past,'' Zuroff said. ''My impression is that he's chosen the latter path.''


David Rising reported from Munich and Matt Surman reported from Traunstein.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Company Christmas Party

With all the work I have been doing, working on essays for the end of the semester, as well as the usual seasonal depression, the company Christmas party was a much needed distraction. I had such a great time with all my friends and co-workers. It was great to be able to get dressed up and have a nice meal together.. as well as the types of laughs only we could have when together as a group!!!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Holiday Shopping Guidelines

It amazes me how many people get overwhelmed during the holidays.. especially in the stores and malls. If you are smart about it, you can avoid a lot of frustration, and possibly getting smacked by a store clerk that you might tick off.

Holiday Shopping Guidelines:

1. Stuff sells out. Is is not the the fault of the guy behind the counter. Accept it and try another store.

2. Saturdays are not the best time to go shopping.

3. You're not the only one shopping for the holidays. The stores will be crowded. Expect it.

4. Don't call stores and ask if they have something in stock. Shop for yourself! Chances are, the store employee is too busy to check anyway, and will simply tell you it's out of stock.

5. They don't have any more in the backroom. Stop asking!

6. Lines will be long. Throwing a temper tantrum will not speed it up.

7. Stores have rules. If there is a limitation to a sale or purchase, deal with it and move on. Causing a scene only makes you look stupid.

8. Order your greeting cards ahead of time!

9. "What do you recommend?" is a foolish question to ask. Know what you want before you enter the store. Do your own research, and then you will know exactly what you are buying.

10. Save your receipts!! Many stores will no longer give refunds without a receipt due to fraud. Save the slip and you won't have a problem.

11. The day after a major holiday is retail Hell. Expect massive crowds, massive lines, and things to sell out quickly. Shop at your own risk.

12. Christmas falls on the same date each year. Don't wait until the last minute to go shopping, and then act surprised when EVERYTHING is sold out.

13. Be kind whenever possible to the sales people. You are not their first customer of the day, and probably will not be their last. Contrary to the old saying... you are NOT always right.