Holiday “Letters”

Today’s blog comes from a Daily Writing Prompt.  I thought this was a fun idea.  Some of my answers came immediately, while others I had to think a little bit.  Here is the prompt:  “Make an alphabetized list of the 26 best things about the holiday season, with one item for each letter.  Choose your favorite thing and write a short paragraph about why you love it.”

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“A”

A Christmas Carol.

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Every year since junior high school I have read this amazing tale of Ebenezer Scrooge’s transformation by Charles Dickens.  I also listen to Patrick Stewart’s wonderful audio performance, as well as watch the many movie versions.  No matter how many times I hear this story, it always makes me happy.

“B”

Blessings.

The holidays are a time where we reflect on what we are thankful for, and a time for counting our blessings.  In years past, I suffered from severe depression and often never really was conscious of those things.  With the changes in my life, I am much more aware of how blessed I am.  I have so many things to be thankful for and I am truly blessed in more ways than I can count!

“C”

Christmas Cookies.

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To borrow a phrase from Sesame Street – “C is for Cookie.”  Every year as kids, my brother and I would wait for my grandma to ship us a huge tin can of cookies!  She would make Chocolate Chip, Oatmeal, Sugar, Ice Box, and so many more.  The cookies pictured above are called Pizzelle cookies.  My grandma always made them at Christmas!  My brother still has her pizzelle maker.  Today, I still make the Chocolate Chips from a recipe she had in a metal index card box!

“D”

Dante’ & Dimitri

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My sons.  Sharing the holidays with them means so much to me.  I LOVE watching their excitement as they open their presents.  I love spending time with them, whether it is watching TV, playing a video or board game, or just having a heart to heart talk.  They continue to grow into fine young men, and I am proud to be their father.

“E”

Eggnog

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I LOVE eggnog!  My grandmother always had it for us at Christmas.  There used to be an eggnog mix that she would buy, but I can’t find it anywhere anymore.  My brother and I used to drink this like water!  I recently discovered a “custard” eggnog that was really good, too!  All things eggnog – I like:  McDonald’s Eggnog Shakes, Starbucks Eggnog Latte’s, and even the alcoholic eggnog!  There was a place in Frankenmuth that had a drink called the “dirty elf” – it was eggnog with a shot of Fireball whiskey in it – SO good!

“F”

Family and Friends.

What would the holidays be with out them?!  When I look back on holidays of the past, they are special because of the friends and family who were present!  I look forward to the holidays each year because it means special times with these special people in my life.

“G”

Garland.

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When I think about Christmas, I always think about garland!  My mom used to string it on the tree.  She’d hang it on walls, wrap it around things, hang Christmas Cards from it – it was everywhere!  We had gold and silver garland, thick and thin garland, and even garland with snowflakes on it.  I don’t use it today, because I know our cats will just eat it.

“H”

Holiday Music.

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I have blogged about this enough that you had to see this coming!  I love Christmas music.  There are so many wonderful memories connected to specific holiday songs.  While there are some songs that bring tears to my eyes, the majority of them bring me so much happiness.

“I”

Italian Food.

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EVERY Christmas Eve – my grandma made ravioli.  That was part of our tradition.  We also had breaded steak with ammoglio (moy-gyoo) sauce.  She always made an Italian feast.  I have tried to keep this tradition going, even though my sauce is no where close to being as good as hers.

“J”

Jingle Bells.

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This is two-fold.  First, the sound of jingle bells goes hand in hand with the holidays.  To me, there is something about hearing those bells that makes it feel like Christmas.  Second, it is one of those holiday songs that I love.  It’s probably THE universal Christmas song.  My favorite versions are done by Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Doc Severinsen & The Tonight Show Band, The Glenn Miller Orchestra, and SO many other versions!

“K”

Kris Kringle.

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Also known as Santa Claus.  He’s the subject of many Christmas songs.  Millions of children sit on his lap and convey their Christmas list to him.  In one night, he delivers millions of toys to good little girls and boys!

“L”

Lights.

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I love Christmas lights.  When I first got my driver’s license I would pop a cassette tape of Christmas music in and I would drive around looking at the lights.  I remember driving around Jefferson Avenue where all these huge mansions were.  They would have their lights done by professionals and they were just amazing.  Walking through Wild Lights at the Detroit Zoo, or taking the Christmas train at Crossroads Village to see lights is also a treat!  I love the way they look and enjoy them more and more every year.

“M”

Mail.

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In a world where most communication is done by phone, e-mail, or text messages, I really enjoy getting Christmas cards in the mail.  I also love getting the “year in review” letters in them.  I can never understand why people diss these letters, because I love to read about what my friends and family have done over the past year.  I love when they include pictures from the past year, too.  I also love family photo Christmas cards.  I used to send them every year.  Sam and I were just talking about how we need to get better at sending them.

“N”

Nostalgia.

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No surprise here, especially since 95% of this blog is about nostalgia!  When the holidays come around, I get VERY nostalgic.  I think of my grandparents, my mother, and remember the good times we shared.  I remember past gifts.  I remember past relationships.  I remember good times and bad times.  There are many memories connected with the holidays for me.

“O”

Ornaments.

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One thing I love about Christmas ornaments is that when you put up your tree, as you unwrap each ornament, it brings back a memory.  Every year, Sam and I go to Bronner’s in Frankenmuth and get an ornament that signifies an even from the past year.  This year’s ornament is obviously about us expecting our baby.  We have an ornament from when we got married and when we got engaged.  I have a few ornaments that I brought with me when I moved in with Sam.  One of those ornaments is from 1977!  It was an ornament that we all got when we were in Catechism in 2nd grade.  It is an ornament of the baby Jesus.  It is the oldest ornament I have.

“P”

Presents.

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When I was a kid, it was all about what presents I was getting.  As an adult, and as a parent, your focus shifts.  It becomes about what special gift you buy for someone else.  What can I get that will make the boys smile?  What is the perfect gift for my wife?  What do I get for my dad, who seems to have everything?  It truly is better to give than to receive, but it is also nice to get something special from someone, too.

“Q”

Quiet.

I know, this seems impossible!  I would agree to a certain extent.  Many holiday gatherings are noisy as hell, but I am speaking of a specific quiet. One of my favorite things is standing outside after a snowfall, just listening to the quiet of the neighborhood.  There were many times I’d be out shoveling the walk, and stop just to enjoy the quiet of a winter day.

“R”

Rudolph

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Sure, I love the Rankin and Bass TV special!  I, however, and talking about the above decoration.  My grandma had these, and so did we!  This decoration was made of melted plastic.  Pinterest calls this a “melted plastic popcorn wall or window hanging decoration”.  There was a Snowman, a Christmas Tree and a Santa in a sleigh decoration, too.  My grandma hung 9 of these reindeer and the Santa in a sleigh on the wall every year!  Man, do I miss seeing this every year!!!

“S”

Snow.

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One of the things I love about living in Michigan is that we see all four seasons.  The holidays without snow are very disappointing to me.  If it is mid to late December and there is no snow, the song White Christmas really hits home.  I NEED to have snow on Christmas!  It is just one of those things that makes the holiday mean more.  I love the beauty of snow on the ground and stuck to the trees … but, yes, I do hate driving in it!

“T”

The Tree.

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You can check out the blog I wrote a week or so ago entitled “Oh Christmas Tree” to read about why this means so much to me.  For now, just know that it is one of the things I LOVE about the holidays.

“U”

Underwear.

I really didn’t have a lot of “U” options.  I don’t like underwear for Christmas, but I put it here because of something I started seeing a few years ago.  I guess you would call it a meme today.  I see it posted on Facebook a lot and it makes me laugh:

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“V”

Vacation.

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Again, a two-fold answer.  (1) Vacation time?  Yes, I do get some time off during the holidays, but nothing real big.  I wish I had the opportunity to actually take a few weeks off around the holidays, but that never is possible for me.  (2) Christmas Vacation Movie?  Who doesn’t love this Christmas film.  There are so many great lines and characters in this film!  Come on – you know any time you pass a house with a gazillion lights on it you call it the “Griswold house”!!

“W”

Wife.

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She makes EVERYTHING in my life special.  The holidays are already a special time for me, but spending them with her make them extra special.  There is not enough space on the internet for me to write about how much she means to me, how much I love her, and how happy she makes me.  I am so lucky to call this beautiful woman my friend, my partner, and my wife.  For Christmas this year, she is giving me the best present ever … she arrives in February.

“X”

X’s and O’s

Ok, it was hard to come up with something beside Xylophone for X!   X’s and O’s are hugs and kisses.  Hugs and kisses from friends and family during the holidays make the season special.

“Y”

Year Without a Santa Claus.

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You should have saw this coming, too!  Last year, many characters made a Christmas blog and this year I wrote an entire blog on it.  I HAVE to watch this every year!  I also have to listen to the Miser Brothers songs in the car during the holidays.

“Z”

Zzzzzzz’s.

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Yet another stretch, but Holiday Zzzzz’s are something I certainly look forward to!  In Twas The Night Before Christmas they talk of a “long winter’s nap”.  In my opinion, any time I can grab a nap over the holidays, it’s a good thing!!!

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That was a fun blog to write!  Now it’s your turn.  What are your “holiday letters”?  I’d love to read them …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Christmas Story (1983)

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This is second of two entries that I am writing as part of The Happy Holidays Blogathon hosted by The Pure Entertainment Preservation Society (PEPS).  You can check out all of the participants here:

https://pureentertainmentpreservationsociety.wordpress.com/2019/12/06/the-happy-holidays-blogathon-has-arrived/

For this entry, I have chosen to briefly look at A Christmas Story.

Breif Backstory

A Christmas Story is based on the works of Jean Shepherd. He was a radio DJ for about 40 years, and he was known for these amazing semi-autobiographical stories on the air (and later in books).  The movie itself is a sort of compilation of some of the stories.  The stories used can be found in his books In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash and Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories and Other Disasters.  

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Last March my wife and I had a chance to tour the Christmas Story House in Cleveland.  They told the story of how the movie’s director, Bob Clark, had been driving to pick up a date.  Shepherd was on the radio telling the story about a boy named Flick. He explained how the boy was was “triple dog dared” to stick his tongue to a metal pole in the middle of winter, where it immediately froze to it.  Bob had never heard a story told that way before.  He was so into the story, that he was 45 minutes late to pick up his date!  The story goes that he resolved right then to make a movie of Shepherd’s works.  12 years later, he did.

Jean wrote the adaption of his stories for the screenplay with Bob Clark.  You can get a sense for the way he worked on the radio simply by listening to the narration that he does in the film as “adult Ralphie”.  He also makes a cameo appearance in the movie.  Watch for him when Ralphie is standing in line to see Santa – Jean is the guy who tells him where the line starts and ends!

As any writer might do, Jean was very protective of his characters, and was on set quite often.  This often didn’t sit well with the director as Jean would often go up to an actor and tell them how to play their character, often suggesting something opposite of what they had been told by Clark.  Eventually, Shepherd was barred from the set.

A Christmas Story

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If you look at the plotline of the film, it really is nothing special.  “A young boy wants a BB gun for Christmas.  He tries to convince his teacher, his mother, and Santa that it is the perfect gift.”  Does that sound like something you’d rush right out to see?  I don’t think so.  Even movie critic Roger Ebert said, “My guess is either nobody will go see it, or millions will go to see it.”

I am drawn to this movie each and every year for many reasons, the first being the sense of nostalgia.  We have “adult Ralphie” telling us the story of one particular Christmas in which he received the BEST gift ever.  While telling us this story, we are introduced to his family, his friends, and other memories of his childhood.  These memories make up the vignettes that surround our main story line.

Stop and think for a moment about YOUR favorite Christmas.  Think about YOUR favorite gift.  No doubt, you’d be as excited as Ralphie is to tell you about it.  The narration of Jean Shepherd conveys that childhood anticipation and excitement.  He says, “Christmas was on its way. Lovely, glorious, beautiful Christmas, around which the entire kid year revolved.” In the opening scene, Ralphie Parker, his brother, and his friends are looking in the store window and spot the Red Rider BB Gun.  His description of the gun and all the things he could do with it – he remembers it well.

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I connect instantly with this moment!  I remember hating being dragged to the store as a kid, but when I saw the amazing toy displays, I stared in awe and wonder and began adding things to my Christmas list!

One thing I love about the film is the element of fantasy and daydreaming done by Ralphie.  He wants this BB gun.  The gun will be something he can use to save his family from peril and bandits!

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Early in the film he drops hints at dinner, in magazines, and in other ways hoping that the BB gun will show up under the tree.

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Sadly, his mother states that guns are dangerous and “you’ll shoot your eye out.”  But that doesn’t stop him from dropping hints.

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When his teacher asks the class to write a theme on what they want for Christmas, he writes about his BB gun.  When the theme is graded, he get’s a C+ and the teacher has scribbled at the bottom “You’ll shoot your eye out!”  This leaves him with one more chance … he’ll go to the “big man” – Santa!  He’ll ask him directly.

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While waiting in line to see Santa, he is focused.  He needs to “get it right”.  The store is closing and this is his last chance.  He is anxious and nervous.  When he finally gets to see Santa (after being rushed up by two very annoyed elves), his mind goes blank!

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He cannot even speak when he gets on Santa’s lap.  Who wouldn’t freak out?!  I have a picture of me on Santa’s lap crying like crazy!  I am sure I couldn’t remember what I wanted either!  Anyway, Santa suggests a football and sends him on his way (down a slide).  Ralphie, however, comes to his senses and stops himself at the top of the slide.  He then tells Santa he wants the BB gun, only to be told “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!”

Spoiler Alert – Ralphie gets his BB Gun, thanks to the one person he didn’t ask…

The Old Man

Ralphie is obviously the main character, but if there was a second, it would have to be The Old Man – Ralphie’s father.  Believe it or not, Jack Nicholson was considered for the role.  It’s hard for me to see anyone but Darren McGavin in this role.  He plays the old man perfectly.

Much of the movies subplots feature the Old Man.  We learn that he was constantly fighting his furnace!  When Ralphie asks him want he wants for Christmas, he looks up dreamily and says “a new furnace”.

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While fixing the furnace he would cuss.  Ralphie says, “In the heat of battle my father wove a tapestry of obscenities that as far as we know is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan.” Regarding his father’s profanity, Ralphie said, “He worked in profanity the way other artists might work in oils or clay. It was his true medium; a master.”

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Another subplot was his “major award”.  It seems he is always entering newspaper contests in hopes of winning it big.  One day he gets a telegram informing him that he has won and his prize will arrive that night.  He comes home to tell the family, he ponders what it could be stating it could even be a bowling alley!  When the prize arrives in a huge crate marked “Fragile”, the old man can hardly contain himself.  “Frageelay.  It must be Italian.”  He shakes with excitement as he opens the crate and pulls out … a leg.

It takes a minute before he finds the lamp shade, and realizes it is a lamp.  He states that it should go right in the front room window, much to the disgust of his wife!

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Upon placing it in the window, you can see the Old Man beaming with pride at his major award!

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He immediately runs outside to see how it looks.  The excitement draws a crowd of people.  He brags about his major award to a neighbor (director Bob Clark, in a cameo).  he yells to his wife, “You should see how it looks from out here!”

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We see conflict between him and his wife regarding the lamp (“Ralphie calls it the Battle of the Lamp”) until one day, she walks into the living room to water her plants.  There is a huge crash, and the old man rushes into the living room to find Mrs. Parker holding his broken lamp.

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The old man is very upset and asks for glue.  She states they are out of glue.  He accuses her of using all the glue on purpose, saying she was jealous of the lamp.  Then her true feelings come out by telling him how much she disliked the lamp.

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The old man leaves (presumably to get glue) and returns home to attempt to fix the lamp.  He is unsuccessful.  Ralphie explains that he buried the lamp in the backyard, while taps played.

In another vignette, the family goes out to buy a Christmas Tree.  I love this scene because the boys and mom are singing loudly while the old man drives – almost emotionless.

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While driving, they blow a tire.  The old man tells his wife to “time” how long it takes to change the tire (He supposedly always wanted to be in the pit crew of the Indianapolis speedway).  Mom suggests that Ralphie should go help his father.  So he goes out and holds the hubcap where the old man places the lugnuts. In an instant, the old man accidentally hits the hubcap and all the bolts fly all over.  Ralphie exclaims “Oh Fudge!” Adult Ralphie explains that he didn’t say “fudge” but the other “F” word!

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Upon returning home, his mother “washes his mouth out with soap.” (What mother didn’t threaten their child with that?!) Lifebouy!

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Ralphie explains, “Over the years I got to be quite a connoisseur of soap. My personal preference was for Lux, but I found Palmolive had a nice, piquant after-dinner flavor – heady, but with just a touch of mellow smoothness. Lifebuoy, on the other hand… “

They return home with the tree and they decorate it.  Watching the old man decorating the tree reminds me of so many Christmases growing up.  My dad always had to reach up and put on the star (which was never straight).  I always chuckle at how many things are plugged into the outlet!  There is so much going on that a fuse eventually blows and the old man has to put in a new one.

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We see the tender side of the old man a couple times in the film, the first is after all the gifts are opened.  He asks Ralphie if he got everything he wanted.  He didn’t.  However, the old man spies a package behind the desk and sends him over to get it.  Ralphie unwraps the BB gun he wanted!  His mother asks about it and the old man replies that Santa must have brought it.  He also states that HE had one growing up, too.  This moment has always stuck out for me – the one person Ralphie didn’t ask for the gun, knew that he wanted it!

One final vignette featuring the old man involves his love for turkey and the annoying hound dogs from next door.  We learn early on that the family’s “hillbilly neighbors” (the Bumpasses) have hound dogs that are constantly bothering the old man.  We see them harass him when he comes home from work, and they will ruin Christmas dinner.

After opening presents, the old man looks forward to a turkey dinner.  He is in and out of the kitchen, trying to eat it before it is even done.  The way he looks at that turkey – you know he loves it!!

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While reading the paper, the Bumpass dogs get in and go right to the kitchen, where the turkey is cooling.

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Needless to say, they devour the turkey by the time the old man gets to the kitchen.  As he chases them out the door, he stands on the porch and yells one of my favorite lines in moviedom, “Sons a bitches!!  Bumpasses!”

Without a turkey, the family is forced to go out to eat a Chinese restaurant, where they are treated to “Chinese Turkey”.

Other highlights –

There are many memorable scenes throughout this film, but for this blog, I chose to focus more on the family aspect (and I will explain why in a second).  I certainly didn’t want the reader to think that I had forgotten about Scut Farkus, the bully and his minion Grover Dill.  I guess it wouldn’t be a story about kids, without a subplot including a bully. I also don’t want the reader to think I forgot about the “triple dog dare!”  The story of poor Flick, sticking his tongue to the metal pole, after all is what lead Bob Clark to make the entire movie!

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I read where Jean Shepherd said this about the film, “In a way, this film is about these people, not Christmas or Santa Claus.”  I would tend to agree.  One of my favorite moments of the film is at the end.  We see Ralphie asleep with his BB gun next to him, and there is a shot of the old man and Mrs. Parker sitting on the couch watching the snow – what an amazing piece of film here!  It is beautiful!!

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Peter Billingsly, the boy who plays Ralphie in the film, said this in an interview:

I don’t know if it was the first, but it certainly was one of the best embodiments of a real family.  There’s tension, there’s some fear of the father, there’s anxiety in the household, there’s very much a sibling battle, there’s a mother trying to hold things together, and hold her place, there’s probably financial trouble, the father’s do-it-yourself aspect of the household: nothing is sourced out – he’s going to handle it!  Yet through all that, there’s a genuine sense of love and protection within the house, and yet the words ‘I love you’ are never uttered in the movie.  Still (one of the last shots) is just that simple gesture touching the mother for the first time in the movie.  And in that moment it says all you need to know about that relationship … it tells you how that guy loves her, he’s there for her and that’s it.” 

If that doesn’t sum it up perfectly, I don’t know what does.

Closing thoughts

A Christmas Story is a film that takes us back to a simpler time.  It is a time where Christmas didn’t start before Halloween.  There was no Black Friday.  There was no online ordering or shipping to your front door.  Christmas was “shorter”.  There are no holiday parties to attend in the weeks leading up to the day.  They plan for the day to arrive and then celebrate.

As I have stated in previous blogs, when I think about past Christmases in my life, I get very nostalgic.  I remember those simple times.  I remember grabbing the Sears, JC Penney, and Montgomery Ward toy catalogs and circling the stuff I wanted for Christmas.  I remember the excitement of putting up the tree, and how hard it was to fall asleep on Christmas Eve night.  Christmas was a time for family.  As I look back, I think of those wonderful times and the family members who are no longer here.

I am left to wonder about “adult Ralphie” as he looks back on this particular Christmas.  He speaks often about the old man.  Does he do so because the old man has passed away?  Does he still talk with the kids he hung out with during the movie?  Does he still have that BB gun somewhere?  Does he still drink Ovaltine, or did that “crummy commercial” steer him from ever touching the stuff?

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This movie is a “must watch” for me every year.  Despite the fact that it didn’t do well at the box office, thanks to HBO, TBS and Netflix, it is watched faithfully as a family tradition by millions, including me.

Thanks again to The Pure Entertainment Preservation Society for allowing me to take part in this blogathon.

Happy Holidays – Don’t shoot your eye out!

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The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974)

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This is one of two entries that I am writing as part of The Happy Holidays Blogathon hosted by The Pure Entertainment Preservation Society (PEPS).  You can check out all of the first day participants here:

https://pureentertainmentpreservationsociety.wordpress.com/2019/12/06/the-happy-holidays-blogathon-has-arrived/

While the rules state that the blogs should be about holiday “films”, I appreciate them allowing me to write on what is my favorite television holiday special – The Year Without A Santa Claus from 1974.

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Rankin and Bass Productions produced many holiday television specials.  Many of these were based on songs (1964’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, 1968’s Little Drummer Boy, 1969’s Frosty the Snowman, and 1970’s Santa Claus is Coming to Town).  Along with How the Grinch Stole Christmas and A Charlie Brown Christmas, these holiday specials were something that I (and many children) looked forward to watching every year.

So what makes these specials so special?  Here are my thoughts: First of all, many of them were produced using a stop-motion animation process called “Animagic”.  Animagic was used on shows like Puppetoons, Gumby, and Davey and Goliath.  Compared to the advances we see in animation today, these specials shot with this primitive process still hold up and are entertaining.

Second, many are based on familiar Christmas songs.  We know the songs and the stories, but the specials elaborate on them.  We know the story of Frosty – but the song doesn’t mention Professor Hinkle (and we know we need his magic hat).  We know the story of Rudolph – but there is no mention of Yukon Cornelius, Hermie, or Bumbles in the song (and we know Yukon saved Rudolph’s life).  We know the story of Santa Claus – but the song doesn’t mention the Burgermeister Meisterburger (who is responsible for him going down chimneys) or the Winter Warlock (who gives Santa his magic snowball so he can see if you’ve been bad or good).

Next, you have the wonderful musical score and additional songs throughout the specials.  Maury Laws, who sadly passed away in March of this year at age 95, was the music director for almost every Rankin and Bass production.   He conducted and arranged so much of the wonderful music heard in these specials.  Along with the title songs, who can forget “Holly Jolly Christmas”, “We Are Santa’s Elves”, “Silver and Gold”, “There’s Always Tomorrow”, “Put One Foot in Front of the Other”, “No More Toymakers to the King” and so many others?!

Finally, and maybe most importantly, the voice work of some very talented actors and actresses make the Rankin and Bass specials so very entertaining.  I read somewhere that they really tried to find unique voices for their characters.  They did have their own company of actors (Paul Soles, Larry Mann, Billie Richards, Paul Klingman, and Paul Frees), but they were able to get some “star power” for narrators and other characters.  Think about the voices of Jimmy Durante, Jackie Vernon (who was known for his blue comedy work), Buddy Hackett, Shirley Booth, Mickey Rooney, Fred Astaire, and Burl Ives.  They all had very unique voices that were perfect for these characters!

The Year Without A Santa Claus

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The Year Without a Santa Claus originally aired on the ABC TV Network on December 10, 1974.  The story is not based on a song, but is based on a poem/book.  In 1956, Good Housekeeping magazine published the poem “The Year Without a Santa Claus” which was written by Phyllis McGinley.  It was so popular that it was turned into a picture book the following year with illustrations by Kurt Werth.

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In 1968, 6 years before the Rankin and Bass special, just a few months before he passed Boris Karloff (who narrated How The Grinch Stole Christmas) narrated an LP record version of the story/poem that was available on Capitol Records.

The poem tells of a year where Santa decides to take a vacation because he is feeling old and worn out.  As the children of the world hear of this, they become very sad and cannot imagine a Christmas without Santa.  There is one boy, Ignatius Thistlewhite, who takes a stand and explains that even Santa needs a vacation.  He explains that Christmas is not only about receiving, but about giving.  The children of the world launch a big campaign to give back to Santa and send him gifts to show him how much they love him.  He is so moved by this gesture that he decides not to take the vacation and goes out on his annual flight like every other year.

Rankin and Bass Version

(Note:  Spoilers) For the most part, the special follows the poem/book, with some minor and major changes.  Shirley Booth plays Mrs. Claus, who tells us the story.  This would be Shirley’s last acting role, as she retired after her part was completed.  Santa is played by Mickey Rooney, who also played Santa in the Rankin/Bass special Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

In the special, Santa is sick.  He is advised by his overly honest and grumpy doctor to stay home.  The doctor also tells him nobody care about Christmas, and that no one believes in him anymore!  Santa, feeling that his doctor may be right, decides to cancel Christmas for the first time ever.

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Mrs. Claus, however, feels that it wouldn’t be fair to the children, and has a plan.  She sends two Christmas elves, Jingle and Jangle, along with reindeer Vixen into the world to prove that there is still Christmas Spirit and that children still believe in Santa. Jingle and Jangle provide some comic relief (I always sensed a Laurel and Hardy vibe with them).  Bob McFadden voices Jingle, while Bradley Bolke (best known as Chumley in the Tennessee Tuxedo cartoons) voices Jangle.

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Santa knows his wife is up to something and gets her to explain just what she’s got going on.  He is aghast to learn that the elves and Vixen are heading into the world.  In a bit of foreshadowing, he mentioned that they’ll be lucky to make it past the Miser Brothers.  The Miser Brothers are easily two of the most memorable characters ever created by Rankin and Bass, more on them shortly.  As the elves fly directly into their path, the are shot down by Heat Miser (who calls them members of “the Santa Claus Gang”).  Vixen and the elves narrowly escape and wind up landing in a place called Southtown USA.

While in Southtown, they find a lack of Christmas Spirit, and children (one of them Ignatius “Iggy” Thistlewhite, mentioned earlier) skeptical that Santa even exists.  Things go from bad to worse in Southtown, as the elves receive a ticket and then Vixen is taken to the pound by the dog catcher (who thinks she is a dog).  The elves are told by the policeman to see the mayor if they want to free Vixen.

Santa, who is now on a mission to save Vixen and the elves, has also flown down (on Dasher) to Southtown in search of them.  He seems to be a step or two behind them.  He runs into Iggy as he is coming home, introduces himself as “Mr. Clowze” and asks if he has seen his friends.  Iggy replies that he has, but when Santa sneezes, Iggy’s mom invites him in for tea to help his cold.

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While at the table, he learns that the elves were asking if he believed in Santa Claus.  Iggy asks the old gent if HE believes in Santa Claus.  He admits that he does in song, and we learn that Iggy’s dad actually saw Santa as boy, and he still believes.  Iggy then tells Santa about the mess that the elves were in and that the dog catcher has their “dog”.  Santa, worried about Vixen, jumps on his reindeer and flies away, not caring that he is in plain sight of the family.  Iggy now realizes who Mr. Clowze really is and decides he is going to help Jingle and Jangle.

Santa pays a fine to the dog catcher and decides it is best to take Vixen home.  Meanwhile, Iggy and the elves tell the mayor their story and the mayor laughs in disbelief.  He does not believe that they are Christmas Elves, or any bit of their story!

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He does, however, agree to free Vixen (and give Santa a holiday) if they can PROVE they are elves (who he says can do magic) and make it snow in Southtown, where it hasn’t snowed in over 100 years! Knowing that they are in a spot, they call Mrs. Claus to help.  When she arrives, they go to see Snow Miser.

The Miser Brothers, Snow Miser and Heat Miser, are the offspring of Mother nature.  Snow Miser controls all of the cold weather on the earth, while Heat Miser controls all the warm weather.  There is no doubt that these two characters are the stand outs in this holiday special.  The characters are larger than life.  They are two step brothers, who obviously dislike and despise each other.  We got a glimpse of them both early on, but now we get their official “introductions”.

Each Miser Brother has his own introductory song, with choreography and dancing minions.  Each song is a boost to their egos as they admit that they are both “too much”!

Snow Miser is voiced by the amazing Dick Shawn, while Heat Miser is voiced by George S. Irving.  Both were very well known character actors and each play their roles to the utmost.  Shawn’s Snow Miser is a friendly guy who is full of puns and energy, while Irving’s Heat Miser is a miserable grouch!

It would just be wrong for me NOT to post a link to their songs – which are truly the highlights of the special!

Mrs. Claus arrives and asks Snow Miser for a snow storm.  He will gladly oblige!  However, when he hears where they need it to snow, he tells them he cannot help because the South is under Heat Miser’s control, and they must get his permission.  Upon arriving at Heat Miser’s volcano, and listening to his song, he is obviously miffed at his visitors.  He even accuses Santa of going out “doing commercials” for his brother.  When the ask to let it snow in Southtown, he refuses at first, but then says he will allow it to snow there if he can provide a nice sunny day at the North Pole. The two brothers bicker on the phone and Mrs. Claus stops them and says that she is going over their heads.  She is taking this to their mother – Mother Nature!

Despite the fact that the brothers, the elves, and Mrs. Claus are all a bit scared of Mother nature, she is a pleasant lady.  She summons her boys with thunder and lightening (very reminiscent of the old Chiffon margarine ads that featured Mother Nature).  With some initial bickering, she eventually gets the boys to agree.  Snow Miser will allow a nice warm day at the North Pole and Heat Miser will let it snow in the south.

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Once the snow hits Southtown, the mayor finally believes Jingle and Jangle and gets on the phone with all the mayors around the world.  They officially declare a national holiday for Santa.   The newspapers proclaim this “Day Off For Santa!” and the word spreads from pole to pole! With this news, all of the children begin to send letters and presents to Santa to show their appreciation for him and wish him a happy holiday.  Santa receives one letter from a little girl who says she’ll have a Blue Christmas without him (and the song accompanies this)…

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Santa is very moved by this letter, and the outpouring of gifts and love by the children of the world.  He decides that it is ridiculous for him to take the night off!  Christmas is back on again!  He tells the elves to load up the sleigh and his ride begins by going down “Santa Claus Lane” in Southtown, USA.

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At the end of the special, Mrs. Claus reminds us that somehow, “yearly, newly, faithfully, and truly” Santa ALWAYS comes!

Final Thoughts

In 2006, NBC remade this classic into a live-action special that was a huge disappointment.  In 2008, ABC Family aired “A Miser Brothers’ Christmas” which, despite having a few of the original voice actors, was also something that never achieves the magic of the original.

Had The Year Without a Santa Claus simply told the story of the poem or book, it would easily be classified as a typical and standard Christmas special.  However, Rankin and Bass take it above and beyond that.  They make it a truly wonderful story with great characters, wonderful voice actors, well known and original music that brings a smile to my face each and every year!  When I listen to the radio and hear “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”, “Frosty the Snowman” and “Holly Jolly Christmas” from other TV specials, I find myself wondering why stations don’t take a chance and play the Miser Brothers songs?  Every time I mention this special to someone – they IMMEDIATELY know them and their songs!!  It’s a missed opportunity!

I can still remember the first time my brother and I sat in front of the TV to watch this.  I remember over the years checking the TV guide to see if and when it would air again.  When it was available on home video/DVD, I made sure I had a copy.  It was one of the first specials I shared with my sons.  I still tear up when Santa is reading about the little girl’s Blue Christmas.  I sing along with the Miser Brothers.  My heart doubles in size when Santa declares that Christmas isn’t cancelled.  And every time I watch it, I am laying on the floor in front of the TV with my younger brother next to me … and I am 6 again.

Thanks to the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society for allowing me to participate in this blogathon!  Happy Holidays!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh Christmas Tree …

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Happy December to you! Maybe it is because Thanksgiving was so late this year, but it is hard to believe that we are less than a month from Christmas! The reality of that sunk in this weekend as I did a couple shifts at Cars 108 and we are playing all Christmas music.

One song always really sticks out to me each Christmas, mainly because it really isn’t a Christmas song – Linus & Lucy (AKA the Charlie Brown theme) from the Vince Guaraldi Trio. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fun song that immediately makes be think of Charlie Brown and the gang, but it is a song that is used in basically every Charlie Brown special. Personally, the soundtrack to the Charlie Brown Christmas special is one of my favorites.

O Tannenbaum is the instrumental that kicks off the album. Many know the song as simply “Oh Christmas Tree”. (In case you were wondering, a tannenbaum is a fir tree). It’s one of my favorite versions of the song. I had the chance to hear it over the weekend and it got me to thinking about the Christmas Tree. I recently had the chance to go through a bunch of family pictures and I was surprised at how many of them included the Christmas tree. This blog is sort of a “pictorial” blog featuring some of those pictures.

As I looked through the pictures, it was fun to see the various decorations and the toys under the tree. Bear with me, as some of the years I am guessing on …

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The above picture is of my dad in 1951. He would be 5 here. As I look at this picture, I see a little of me, my brother, and my oldest son in my dad.

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The above picture is my mom. Just a guess, but this is probably from 1953 or 1954, as she looks 5-6 years old here. Tinsel seemed to be really big in the 50’s! Wonder what that “Little Painter” set is worth today….

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The above picture is my dad, home on leave from Vietnam. The date is 1967. I really have no idea what that tree is made of. Eventually, my grandma had a ceramic tree that my mom made that stood about that high that she put there in the window. This one looks … fluffy. There are pictures of my dad with both his mom and his dad next to this tree too.

My folks told me that the local paper used to put names and addresses of servicemen who were overseas in the paper for people to send letters. Both of my parents were from the same city and my mom sent my dad letters. With letters, occasional pictures were sent back and forth, too.

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I think the above picture is one my mom sent to my dad. I am not sure. I am not sure because I don’t know where this was taken. It would seem to me that this would be a picture that she would send to my dad overseas. At any rate, some things stand out, though. Note the “sunbust” clock on the wall – I know my grandma had one of those. Also, note the cool Hi-Fi with the ceramic cat on it. This was a record player and radio. It probably also played 8 track tapes and stored records. I know my dad, and my grandpa had one of them, so again, not sure when this is.

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I know for a fact that this was taken at my grandma’s house. I know this because of the fireplace and the huge wooden fork and spoon on the wall behind the TV. In my lifetime, I don’t recall my grandparents ever putting a tree on the TV, so I am guessing this is before I came around.

I was born in May of 1970. I was 7 months old for my first Christmas. I am thankful that my folks took lots of pictures. A few of my favorites all come from 1970, all for different reasons.

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The above picture is my and my great-grandpa. He passed away shortly after this. It is the only picture I have of him and I.

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I am not 100%, but I believe this picture was taken in my mom and dad’s apartment. My dad can correct me if I am wrong. I remember that stuffed Bugs Bunny to my right very well.

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I am pretty sure that this is at my grandma and grandpa’s house. What I love about this picture is a little foreshadowing. One of my favorite sports to participate in is bowling. I love that I am propped up next to a balling ball bag in this picture.

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This is absolutely one of my favorite pictures of my mom and me. It was taken at my grandparents house, probably Christmas Eve. I love this picture so much, because it reminds me of another … which I will share in a few pictures.

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The above is obviously from the same year. This time, I am with mom and dad. My grandma always kept her house hot, so mom took off her vest. Dad, who is ALWAYS hot, must not have felt it was too warm, because his is still on here.

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One more from the same year (and you won’t have to look at that brown bowling ball bag anymore!), here is my and my grandpa. I always loved this picture of us. I was his first grandchild, and you can see just how happy he is here.

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These are my mom’s parents – Grandma and Grandpa D. The date on the picture says 1970, but another scan from my brother says 1967. Not really sure. It could easily be 1970, though. It is one of my favorites of them. The tree is in the corner where my grandpa’s recliner used to always be.

Jodi and Keith Christmas 1972

The date on the above picture is October of 72, which means I am 1 here. This is at Grandma D’s house. That is my Aunt Jodi holding the bear. Note in the background, another Hi-Fi. My grandpa used to have big band records I used to listen to on it.

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The above picture was taken at our old house on Brandywine. I am about 4 here and my brother is probably just 2. The thing that stands out in this picture is the ornaments on the tree. See those diamond crocheted things? Yeah, my mom made them. She had many hobbies (I have an entire blog ready about her various hobbies through the years) and this particular year, she was crocheting everything! I remember a maroon vest that she made for me! At any rate, those ornaments were two squares, with a piece of an egg carton in the middle, and a tail hanging down. I am sure she made these for many people. I remember seeing them on other family members Christmas trees, too.

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A year later, same house, and same ornaments! You can see them a little better in this picture! I am probably 5 here, while my brother is 3. This would be the last Christmas at this house, as we moved the following year. A couple things (besides the ornaments) stand out in the picture. First, there is the organ I used to play, and mentioned in the blog about my music lessons. Next, I remember the Ernie and Big Bird stuffed animals! Then there is that picture above the organ – it’s two horses. I think everyone in my family had that picture!! Finally, and this should get my wife’s OCD going, note that I am wearing the pants from one pair of PJs and the shirt from another in this picture! Good Lord!!!

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The picture above has to be from 1977. My grandma bought us each a set of Star Wars figures that year. I think there were like 20 issued the first year. I remember my grandma having trouble finding the Jawa figures! This picture would have been Christmas morning, and we had gotten the figures the night before at grandma’s. If I remember right, we had the big Han Solo and Jawa dolls (pictured here) and Boba Fett and Princess Leia, too. What I love most about this picture is that my mom is in it wearing this yellow robe. I have written about her yellow robe in previous blogs. She wore this thing SO much that it was stained and had tears and holes in it. She loved this robe. Eventually we bought her a new one for Christmas one year and she wore that. We assumed that she threw this one away, but after she passed away, we found it in the back of the closet! I have a “memory bear” made out of this robe.

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The above has to be from 1978. If you can look past my brother’s golf pants and my wacky shirt, you will see a Tie Fighter and X-Wing Fighter. You can see the tree set up on the TV, but cannot really see the amazing display on my grandma’s mantel. Every year, she put up angels, Santa, reindeer, trees, snow and more. There was one piece that always stood out – a little mouse that was in a flower arrangement that I sent her when she was in the hospital. She put that up every year!

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It obviously took my folks awhile to develop film! This is from Christmas of 78, and was not developed until August of 79! First, I love how skinny I am in this picture! Second, I remember having the sliding wooden doors that covered the doorwall. I also remember the bad paneling in the living room! I can see the Polaroid camera on the TV, the candy jar, and the glass candle sticks that my mom had. I wish I could make out more of the presents under the tree, but I remember really wanting this game. I also remember that star on the tree. It was made of hard plastic and the ends were very sharp! It could probably be used as a weapon!!

Grandma and Grandpa Xmas 79

The above picture is of my dad’s folks, my Grandma and Grandpa P. This was in 1979 – I remember that was the year that everyone was taking Polaroids! At family gatherings, everyone took pictures and wrote their last name on the bottom, so they knew what pictures belonged to what family! A couple things I notice right away: The tree topper, I never understood just what the hell it was! It wasn’t a star, it was just this spaceship shaped thing that lit up! I remember the musical angels on the wall. They moved from room to room as I recall. Grandma’s beehive hair! She wore it this way for SO long!! I also notice the pack of cigarettes in my grandpa’s pocket – you could bet they were either Lucky Strikes or Pall Malls. It looks like he is wearing a bracelet in this picture. I don’t remember him wearing one, but he did here. Just love this picture!!

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The above is from 1980. This is my brother and me, with my cousins Arin and Melissa. This is at my Grandma and Grandpa D’s. A couple thoughts on this one – I am holding the very cool Coleco Head to Head Baseball game which I loved! I do not remember that bear I am holding! This is probably the year that my grandpa bought me my cribbage board, too! What is sad about this picture, is knowing that my grandpa would pass away in less than a year after this picture was taken.

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Jumping many years ahead now for the above picture. Remember the picture of my mom and me by the tree? It reminds me of this picture. Here is my mom and Dante’. This may not have been her last Christmas, I think Dante is 2 here. She loved him so much and I see the same joy in her smile here as I do in the picture of her holding me.

boys at trailer

The above picture is about a year or so before my divorce. I just love this picture because these two guys (no matter how much they may fight) really love each other. This was such a spontaneous picture and it remains one of my favorites of the boys!

boys last year

The above picture is from last Christmas Eve morning. Christmas Eve was always bigger than Christmas on my dad’s side of the family. The fact that I get the boys every Christmas Eve Morning to open up gifts is so special to me. I cannot wait until they can celebrate it with their sister. They are going to be such great brothers to her.

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The above picture is from 2018 (on the right) and 2017 (on the left). When we first got Moe (left) he got up in the tree! When Maizey came along last year, the fact that she was almost in the same exact spot as Moe the year before made me laugh. So I put together this comparison picture. It still makes me laugh!!

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This picture (along with the song I mentioned earlier) was the reason for this blog. As I mentioned, so many favorite pictures involve the Christmas tree. I took this picture of Sam just the other night. It was her idea. The silhouette of her baby bump against the lights of the Christmas tree is just beautiful!! I posted it on Facebook (she did, too) and mention how I cannot stop looking at it!

The reason is that it brings about so many feelings: Feelings of love for my beautiful wife. Feelings of joy and nostalgia – because it is Christmastime and the Christmas Tree. Feelings of excitement and anticipation – because the baby will be here soon. Feelings of happiness – because the picture brings a smile to my face every time I see it.

In the years ahead, I hope that more and more wonderful pictures will be captured near the Christmas tree … so I can reflect on them, too!

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Thankful Thoughts (updated)

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Happy Thanksgiving! I am sitting on the couch next to my wife after having dinner and watching the Detroit Lions lose another game on National TV! (LOL – I get suckered in actually thinking they MAY win a game!) The Christmas tree is lit, the lights are low, and we are waiting to have some pumpkin pie.

When I worked on the radio, we would often “recycle” bits. We would take something we had done in the past and “re-run” it, often updating it to be current. This blog is a recycling of an earlier Thanksgiving blog, updated for 2019. I have gained many new followers over the past year, all of this will be new to them. For those who have been with me from the beginning, I hope you don’t think I am being lazy. By recycling this, I am reminded of just how blessed I am!

Updated 2019

The truth is, we should be thankful for everything in our lives. One of my favorite Bible verses is I Thessalonians 5: 18 which reads “In everything give thanks”. That means good things and bad things – and that’s sometimes hard to do! Believe me, I know from experience! Well, here goes…my list, in no particular order:

Things I am thankful for

  1. My parents. Let’s face it, without them, I wouldn’t be here. I was blessed with a mother and father who raised me right. They supported decisions (good and bad) and were always there for me. Even though my mom is no longer here, her presence is ever-present. Dad is always around to talk music, old movies, and more. As with most holidays, he was the first call I received this morning. Laughing with him is always something I am thankful for.
  2. My wife. Without her, I wouldn’t be here either. She saved me and I am forever grateful. She came into my life at a very turbulent time – first as a friend, and then as someone much more than that. She made me smile and laugh during a time where there was little or no happiness. She cried with me and was a great support through very dark days. Thanks to her, I have found an unconditional love. I cannot imagine life without her, nor would I want to. She accepts me with all my faults and quirks. She makes me feel special. She makes me fall in love with her more each day. She completes me and I am thankful to have her in my life each and every second of the day.
  3. My baby. This year, I can add the fact that I am thankful for our baby on the way. I am thankful for each and every kick I feel from Sam’s belly. I am thankful for the amazing sounds of her heartbeat when we go to the doctor. How do you describe how you can love someone you’ve never met – I can’t! But I do!
  4. My sons. They could not be more different from each other. They both have their own talents. They remind me so much of my brother and I when we were growing up! They are creative. They are silly. They are loving. They are smart. They make me laugh and drive me crazy! I miss them when they are not with me and I love when we are together. I love to think back and remember the things they did as babies and I love to think about what they will do in the future. They make me proud of all their accomplishments. In a year, they have matured so much! Dante’ will graduate this year, and Dimitri is in middle school. They will continue to be a source of great joy for me!
  5. My brother. Just like my sons, we couldn’t be more different. Growing up, we tormented each other! He has listened to me complain about life. He has offered advice on more than one occasion. He, in my opinion, is the more successful of the two of us! He has written – and published – books! He has made his way up the ladder at his job and is now a “big wig”. I am envious of him. Over the years, we’ve grown closer and are working separately (and together) on a project that will honor our mother. This project will only bring us closer – which I look forward to very much. Some of the stuff I have written for the project has been posted on this blog. There is still work to do, and it is slowly coming together.
  6. My radio job(s). In over 30 years, the friendships I have made with co-workers, clients, and listeners have been very special to me. While there was a whole lot of instability and changes in the business, it was also more fun than I can put into words! Even though I am only doing it part-time now, I still enjoy prepping for a show and sharing stories on the air. I’ll be doing quite a few shows over the next few weeks because of the holidays.
  7. My sleep job. It’s really an amazing thing to help people. So many patients come in to our lab who are struggling with poor sleep, insomnia, apnea, narcolepsy, and other sleep disorders. To be able to offer advice, help them get therapy, and in some cases, save their life, it is pretty satisfying. I am lucky to have some pretty cool co-worker friends, too.
  8. My education. For years, my mother begged me to go to college. She had sadly passed away before I finally enrolled in classes. I am grateful to have had some of the finest instructors and professors to guide me and teach me in my journey. Not only did I gain a degree, but I made many new friendships with classmates and teachers. I wish I could find the time and money to gain further education.
  9. My friends. Napoleon Hill said, “That man is rich indeed who had more friends than enemies…” I am truly a rich man! I am lucky enough to have made many friends throughout my life. Many of them I have known for over 40 years! So many good times! So many good memories! I am thankful for each of them!
  10. My enemies. Yes, my enemies. First of all, they make me more appreciative and thankful for my friends! Second, they actually help me, too. How? Here is a great quote (I wish I knew who said it) “Your enemies evolve you at the core. They force you to defend and endure more than you thought possible.” Yes, my enemies may be full of hatred toward me. They may spread rumors about me. They may discredit me and bash me, but I am stronger because of their ignorance and loathing. Over the last year, I have gained lots of strength!
  11. My faith. It may not be important to you, but it is to me. I am thankful for God, His Word, His Son, and all that He has done for me. I am thankful for His unconditional love for me.
  12. Modern Medicine. We are blessed to live in a time where medical advances are curing diseases and saving lives! While there is a long way to go, and there are still many diseases that need a cure – we continue to make progress. I am thankful for the great minds who strive to find the answers, treatments, and cures. I hope to see cures for things like cancer in my lifetime.
  13. Coffee. I was 12 when my grandpa introduced coffee to me (it was probably more cream and sugar than coffee, but I liked it.) Coffee has helped me through many overnight shifts on the radio, many 12 hour shifts in the sleep lab, and is just perfect to drink on a chilly autumn morning. I am also thankful for some of the wonderful flavors. Michigan Cherry, Vanilla Hazelnut, and Cinnamon Holiday Blend are among my favorites.
  14. My country. I am thankful to live in the United States of America. I am thankful that we live in a country that allows us many freedoms. While I have not visited every state in the union, I can tell you that on a recent road trip, I was in awe of the beauty that I witnessed while driving. I am thankful and proud to be an American!
  15. Cameras/Photographs/Videos. How many precious moments and memories have been captured by cameras? Without cameras how many things would be forgotten? Think about all of the historical pictures that have meant so much over the years. Now think about how looking at old family photos can immediately place you back in that exact moment with loved ones! Think about how awesome it is to watch an old home movie and hear the voices of loved ones who are no longer here. I am SO thankful for the memories that have been preserved for me on film. My dad recently gave me a video camera saying that I will need it with the baby on the way.
  16. Dreams and the ability to dream. This kind of goes with #15. I am thankful that every now and then, I will have a dream where I am once again talking with my mom or my grandparents. In the original blog, I mentioned that in my Facebook Memories for that day I mentioned a dream I had where I was hanging out with Frank Sinatra & Dean Martin – only in dreams!! The morning of the baby shower, I dreamed about my mom. Dreams are really interesting things!
  17. My Past. Sometimes looking back at the past can be painful. Hindsight is 20/20, right? It’s always easy to look back and see the mistakes you have made and kick yourself for making them. I look at it another way – I am who I am today because of my past. The things that have happened to me along the way – both good and bad – are a part of who I am and have played a role in who I am today. Yes, I can look back and see people or events that disgust me, but without them – I’d be a very different person.
  18. Air Conditioning/Heat. As someone who loves to go to museums and such, I always wondered how people got along without AC in the summertime or heat in the winter! I can’t imagine having to wake up in the middle of the night to add more wood to the fire or wood stove. I also can’t imagine working 8 hours a day in a place without AC! I am very thankful for those two modern-day conveniences!
  19. Sunrises and Sunsets. One of my guilty pleasures is sitting and watching the sun come up or go down. When I lived on the west side of the state (Michigan), I was lucky enough to live right off the water. I would often go to the beach and just watch the sun set over the lake. It was majestic and beautiful! I am so thankful for these two simple things. Today, with my schedule, I tend to see more sunrises than sunsets.
  20. Laughter/Humor. I love to laugh and I love the sound of laughter! I also love to make people laugh. I am so thankful for things that are funny and things that make me laugh. Charlie Chaplin said, “A day without laughter is a day wasted.” Milton Berle said, “Laughter is an instant vacation.” Another great quote is “Life is short. Spend it with people who make you laugh and feel loved.” I am looking forward to hearing our baby laugh at the silly faces and silly noises her daddy will be making.
  21. Music. I am thankful for music in SO many ways. Music, is one of those things that can evoke all kinds of emotions. A song, just like an old photograph, can take you back in time. In radio, we used to play what we called “Oh Wow” songs. Those songs that make you say, “Oh wow! I haven’t heard that in forever!” or “Oh wow! That reminds me of my senior prom!” Music is one of life’s great things! It can convey things with or without words. One of my favorite quotes, which is attributed to Hans Christian Anderson, is “Where words fail – music speaks.” SO True! I am thankful for some of the many music blogs I follow. They often remind me of some of those “Oh wow” songs!
  22. The Kindness of Strangers. I have benefited from the kindness of strangers more times than I can count. We saw a brief surge of random acts of kindness when the movie “Pay It Forward” came out, and it is a shame that those acts have fizzled out. The world would be a better place if we took a moment and thought of others. There have been plenty of times where someone in front of me has bought my coffee at the drive-thru window, and I have returned the favor. I remember one time seeing an elderly gentleman eating alone in a restaurant. He never knew who I was, but I saw his World War II Veteran hat. I bought his meal and told the waitress to tell him that I thank him for his service. Random acts of kindness are not just something we can accept – they are something we can do.
  23. Those who have served in the Armed Forces. We live in a free country because of the men and women who have served in the various branches of the military. I am thankful to each and every one of them. I know that our freedom came with a price and so many men and women paid the ultimate price for me – and you. Those that have served, no matter what branch and no matter if you were in battle or not, you are a hero! I am thankful for you and your service! I have friends and family who all served, and I am thankful for these heroes!
  24. The Changing Seasons. Here in Michigan, I get to see them all! Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall. The first snowfall is beautiful. Ice storms can be hell! Springtime showers and the grass turning green is a reminder of things becoming new again. Summertime is never long enough, but getting the chance to swim at the pool, golfing, and the smell of fresh-cut grass can always make me smile. Fall is my favorite season! This year we got hit with some early snow, so the joke is that Fall was the best “three days of the year”! The crisp cool air of autumn is perfect for bonfires. The leaves changing colors makes for some spectacular rides on the highway. I wish we had a few more bonfires this year. At any rate, I am thankful to get to experience each one of the seasons.
  25. Spell Checker. Without this, I really don’t know what I would do! I remember all those spelling tests from school! The problem is, as I get older, I seem to have forgotten how to spell. Spell Check is one of those great features that got me through many a research paper in college. It can also be very helpful here in my blog. Of course, sometimes, you can misspell a word that is the correct spelling of another word, so it isn’t foolproof. I’m thankful for it anyway!
  26. The often overlooked necessities. I could easily make these each an item on this list. I guess these are often things that are taken for granted. For example, my home. I am thankful to have a roof over my head to protect me from the elements. I am thankful for the clothes that I wear. My wife was just telling me that I probably need to purge some of the stuff that no longer fits and donate them to Goodwill. It’s nice to have enough that I can donate some and still have enough to wear. I am thankful for fresh water and hot showers. Those two go together and, while it is often taken for granted, there are those who do not enjoy those simple things. I am thankful for electricity. While there are times I think it is cool to sit and read a book by candlelight because of a power outage, I’d rather have the light – and everything else that uses it. I am thankful for a good meal. Sometimes that meal may consist of a simple bowl of cereal, but the fact that I have food to eat is something that some people don’t have.
  27. Bad Days. As much as we’d rather not have them, it is important to remember that when we have them, they remind us of just how awesome the good days are! I am thankful for bad days, but even more thankful for the good ones! I am also thankful that in the big picture – I have had more good ones than bad ones.
  28. The Internet. It’s funny how we lived so long without it, yet we can’t really live without it today! I mean, without it, you wouldn’t be reading this! I am thankful for it and the good things associated with it. I am thankful to be able to connect with family and friends across the miles with social media. I am thankful that at any moment, I can open up Google and find an answer to a silly question. I am thankful that my kids and I can use it instead of encyclopedias to do research. So many things are at our fingertips because of the internet.
  29. A good book/movie/TV show. I really enjoy being able to get lost in a good story. I love to read, but sadly don’t really get the time to do it as often as I’d like to. Same with a good movie. With movies, there are very few new movies that appeal to me. As most of you know, I prefer older films (you know, the ones that are so good some jerk in Hollywood decides to remake it and ruin it). I don’t need to see 20 minute sex scenes, car chases that are impossible to believe, blood and gore, or violence. I want a good story – and a good story is something that Hollywood has seemed to run out of. When it comes to TV, I rarely watch new shows. Most of them are “reality” based anyway and just garbage. I guess that’s why I am thankful for TV shows on DVD. Ok, last year, I kinda dissed on reality TV, and I should clarify that I mean talent shows, dance shows, and shows with singers in masks. To me, these are just a waste of my time. A “reality” show I do love is Live PD. It can be funny, sad, scary, and intense. It makes me appreciate what they do each day!
  30. My dumb cat(s). Ok, talk about aggravating! He is forever knocking things over while I am trying to sleep. I am constantly tripping over him as I walk through the house. He will attack and bite my leg for no reason. He is always jumping up on the table when I am trying to eat. He’s a real pain in my behind. However, there are times where he can really be a cool cat. It’s because of those things – I am thankful for him. Updating this a year later, we heard that getting another cat can actually help and it did. Our older can still can get on my nerves, but he is a lot more mellow now! HE must have a feeling Sam is expecting, because he curls up next to her and falls asleep – he is a totally different cat! The kitten is so cute! Her favorite toy is a bullet from a Nerf gun. She plays with those all the time! She doesn’t purr as much as her older brother, but she is still cute as hell!
  31. The five senses. I can’t imagine going through life not being able to see my children or my wife or some of the wonderful things I have already described. I can’t imagine not being able to smell fresh coffee brewing or my spaghetti sauce on the stove. I can’t imagine not hearing the sound of my boys laughing. I can’t imagine not being able to taste a juicy steak. I can’t imagine not being able to feel a hug from my wife. I am SO thankful to have the ability to have all five senses!
  32. Forgiveness. I am thankful for forgiveness. Sadly, it is one of those things that is rare today. It is, however, one of the great things taught in the bible and throughout history. It is also one of the hardest things to do. I have trouble with it too on occasion. I am thankful that there are friends and family who have forgiven me for past transgressions.
  33. Acceptance. I am thankful for those people in my life who accept me for who I am. They don’t try to change me. There may be things about me that they don’t like or agree with, but they love and accept me as I am. I try to do the same for others.
  34. Encouragement. I would not be where am I today without the encouragement and support of others. It may have been the smallest gesture or a simple sentence in conversation, but the encouragement of others helped me to get through some tough stuff and I am thankful for that.
  35. Change. This is hard for me to be thankful for, but I am. I have to be honest, I hate change! I am a creature of habit. When I lost 85 pounds, I did it primarily by eating the same meals every day. I do not like change, but I know it is important. There were many times over the last couple years that I had to step out of my comfort zone and accept it. I am thankful I did. Change is good – most of the time.
  36. My Therapist. She, like many others, helped me to cope as life offered many challenges. She helped me sort out some feelings. She helped me to see things that I was completely unaware of. She helped me deal with the things involved in my divorce. She also is responsible for my blogs. I used to blog all the time, but was basically told that “no one wants to read that stuff”. I stopped writing. My therapist is the one who suggested keeping a journal. When I told her I used to blog, she asked why I stopped. When I told her why, she suggested starting back up. I told her I didn’t know what to write about. She basically said, “Write about whatever you want! It doesn’t matter if you are writing for others or writing for yourself. If you like to write – WRITE!” From the length of this blog – you can see that I like to write.
  37. Facebook memories. This is a two-edged sword. It is a daily reminder or good things from the past, as well as times with people no longer in my life. I am thankful for it just the same. Many times it is a simple one liner I posted as a status, while other times it is my thoughts about my boys school events. Some pictures bring back good memories, while others bring back sad memories. I smile at the good ones and try to forget the bad ones, but again remind myself that I am who I am today because of the past.
  38. Big John’s Steak and Onion. Don’t judge me! I am thankful that when I am craving a really good sub, I can go here and grab a Supreme Cheeseburger with olives! Yummy!!
  39. Pumpkin Pie with Cool Whip. Ok, so I finally had dessert while I was writing this. I love a good piece of pumpkin pie topped with Cool Whip.
  40. YOU. Yep. I am thankful for YOU. You are reading this and I appreciate it. I am thankful for my followers and for those who read my stuff. Thank you for being my friend. Thank you for following this blog.

What are YOU thankful for??

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Bedtime Books – Part II

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I usually post a link to my blogs on my Facebook page.  Many of my friends there offered comments about their favorite books.  Many remember chapter books from Judy Blume, The Hardy Boys, The Boxcar Kids, and others.  Some of them, my wife included, reminded me of other “bedtime books”.  So here is a short continuation of yesterday’s blog.

Clifford the Big Red Dog

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There were plenty of Clifford books that I read growing up.  Most of them were hardcovers when I was growing up, but by the time my boys were reading them, they were paperbacks.  I loved reading these.  Dante’ loved watching him on TV (John Ritter was the voice of Clifford).

Curious George

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I think I inherited many of the Curious George books from my aunt.  I remember how much trouble George would cause!  The Man with the Yellow Hat had SOME patience!!  I remember checking out these books from the library in kindergarten.

Winnie the Pooh

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My wife reminded me of Winnie the Pooh.  I think I had a stuffed Eeyore when I was a kid.  I remember so many of his stories.  I think I had the book and record set where you could read along with the records with these because I remember Tigger’s voice!

The Berenstain Bears

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We had SO many of these books!  What I remember about these was that my dad always called them the BerenSTEEN Bears!  I thought that was who they were for years until the TV show was on PBS and the boys watched it.  Only then did I notice that it was STAIN and not STEEN.

Corduroy

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I was reminded of this bear by a Facebook friend.  I remember him, and I may have read this book (and the others), but he obviously wasn’t one who made an impact on me.

Harold

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Harold had a few books, but I remember this one because he drew all over things!  I could relate to this little bald brat!  I drew on many walls, floors, and other places in our house growing up!

Frog and Toad

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I remember reading about these two.  I read a few to Dimitri growing up, and the Youth Theater group here in Flint put on a Frog & Toad play, which was great!  This is one book that I will always make me think of Dimitri.

Thomas The Tank Engine

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Thomas had been around for a LONG time.  Dante’ loved Thomas growing up.  I read him MANY books and he always watched the show!  Thomas and Dante’ go hand in hand for me.

The Little Critter Books

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Here is another one my wife reminded me of.  I can’t believe I forgot these!!  I really LOVED reading these to the boys.  So many great stories!  Of course, Just Me and My Dad was one of my favorite ones!!

Happiness is a Warm Puppy

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I can still remember reading this one as a kid.  I must have read it 300 times.  The binding was ripped, it was falling apart and I still read it.  We always had dogs growing up and it always reminded me of how happy those dogs made me.

Underdog

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From the Little Golden Book collection, I had a few Underdog books that I loved reading!  I used to love watching him on TV.  He was one of the first superheroes I came to know.  I don’t recall this book in particular, but I know I had others that I read nightly.

Babar

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I used to have Babar books – at least 5 of them.  I remember I had to have my mom or dad read them to me.  Why?  Because they were written in cursive!  What kid’s book is written in cursive?!  I remember thinking that it was written in another friggin’ language!!!  These may or may not have been great stories, I really don’t remember because I couldn’t get past the cursive!!

Do any of these remind you of more??  What was YOUR favorite bedtime story?

Baby reading a book

 

Bedtime Books

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Today’s blog comes from a “Daily Writing Prompt”. The prompt reads: “Do you remember your favorite book from your childhood?” This prompt comes after I stumbled on a set of books that I had as a kid in a used book store.

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The Charlie Brown Dictionary was a set of 8 books that had definitions of words. I remember my parents ordered these from somewhere and every month a new volume would arrive. I loved when a new volume would arrive. They had the entire set at this book store for the bargain price of $2! How can I pass that up?!

The writing prompt also comes a week or so after the baby shower. One of the things we want for our baby is a good library of books to read. We did receive some books at the shower, some of which I recognized, and some that I didn’t. Some of the books we received were books that I had read to my boys, and I am excited to share them with our daughter, too!

As I thought about the prompt, I don’t know that I can actually recall my “favorite” book as a kid. There are, however, many that I do remember vividly. I thought it might be fun to sit and off the top of my head, write about some of the ones I remember. I am sitting down to write this blog knowing that it will be incomplete. It will be incomplete, because I know I am going to probably miss a lot of them. Here goes:

The Poky Little Puppy

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When I was growing up I think I had every one of the “Little Golden Books”. Of all of them, this is the one that immediately comes to mind when I think about my childhood. I remember buying it when my oldest was a baby and reading it to him. I really didn’t remember the story up until that point, but for me to remember it for so long, I am just guessing it was a favorite. I remember there being many Disney stories that were in the Little Golden Book collection.

Another Little Golden Book that I had, and eventually shared with my sons was a Sesame Street book.

The Monster at the End of This Book

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As a child of the 70’s, I watched a lot of PBS. Sesame Street was a show I watched faithfully. Mr. Hooper was still alive when I was watching Sesame Street! The adventures of Ernie and Bert, The Count, Big Bird, Grover, and Kermit helped me learn letters and numbers. I mentioned in a previous blog that I had an Ernie hand puppet. I also had a stuffed Grover. I liked him cause he was always so silly. Grover is the star of this book. It is such a fun book to read and I am sure that it made me laugh as a kid, as much as it made my boys laugh! I can’t wait to share this one with Ella.

Dr. Seuss Books

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I probably had every single Dr. Seuss book ever written! They were very popular with my generation. I have found that people either love or hate his books. I had a friend who just loathed when her son would pick Green Eggs and Ham to read. I could never figure out why.

I remember I was doing mornings on B95 and it was Dr. Seuss’ birthday. We had one of the contestants from American Idol (Phil Stacey) in town to do a show for us. We were talking about Dr. Seuss books with our newsman, Hal Maas earlier in the show, and he couldn’t remember half of them (which we razzed him about often). We actually had Phil Stacey read “Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You?” on the air! The book has all kinds of silly noises, and Phil played it up on the air! It was so silly to hear him reading this, but he told us how much fun it was!

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I am sure I will be reading Ella many of his books.

Three Little Kittens

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This was one of Dante’s favorite books. I think he loved it because of the cat noises I used to make while reading it to him. I am almost positive that this was another book my mom read to me. This is a must for me to read to Ella, especially since we have two cats at home.

Like I said, I KNOW I am forgetting others that were probably read to me as a child. I am hoping that those of you who are close to my age will offer us some of YOUR favorites. By doing that, maybe you’ll refresh my memory about other books from my childhood.

Books I Read to the Boys

The books above were books I loved growing up, and read to my boys. The following books are some of my favorites that I remember reading to them at bedtime. These will all be in Ella’s library, because I love them all!

Goodnight Moon

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This book is so simple. I loved saying goodnight to all of the objects and having the kids point to them. Dante’ would always make a “Squeak” noise when we said good night to the mouse.

Rainbow-Fish

This book came in very handy when trying to teach about sharing and being selfish. The moral of the story and showing how sharing with others can make everyone happy is a great lesson that even adults need to remember.

The Kissing Hand

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This one was voted one of the Teacher’s Top 100 Picture Books for Children. I read this to both boys especially as it got closer to when they were going to preschool. It’s really a great book to help children deal with the “separation” issue of going to school. Our book came with all these little red heart stickers and I think Dante’ used to put them on his backpack or pencil box.

The Going To Bed Book

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Sandra Boynton has so many great books for kids! I loved reading this one every night. It was so fun and her characters are just so cute! This is just one of MANY of her books that I loved.

I’m Thankful Each Day

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Probably one of my top 5 books to read! One of my favorite bible verses is I Thessalonians 5:18 which reads: “In every thing give thanks”. Raising children, we want them to be thankful! We tell them to say “please” and “thank you”. What I love about this book is that you see this little boy who is full of gratitude. He is thankful for big things in his life, as well as the small things. He is so grateful – and happy! It is a must for Ella’s bookshelf!

Snowmen At Night

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I love this book for so many reasons. Remember when you were a kid and you’d make your snowman? Then the next day you’d come out and he’d look a little different? It always made me wonder what he’s been up to! That’s exactly what this book is about. What do snowmen do at night?! This book is just so much fun to read and the illustrations are a hoot, too!

This book was a favorite of both my sons! Caralyn Buehner wrote a few sequels to this too (Snowmen At Christmas, Snowmen At Play, Snowmen At Work, Snowmen All Year)! My goal is to have all of these in Ella’s library.

Reading Dads Rock!

Reading is SO important! The great stories that are found in books will fuel a child’s imagination for years and years! A parent reading to their child is one of the greatest things in the world. It is quality time together. It is bonding time. It is something that I cannot wait to do with our daughter. Bring on the bedtime stories!!

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