A Novel Idea

One of my favorite places to hang out is the library.  Last week, my oldest son asked if we could go there so he could look up some things for a homework project.  While he was working on that, I naturally started browsing.  I always start in the New Fiction/New Non-Fiction section.  By doing this, I have stumbled onto some books that I may never have read (I love to do this at the book store, too!).

While looking at the new titles on the book spines, one jumped out at me – “Marley”.  Two things come to mind when I hear “Marley”: (1) Marley and Me (the movie about a dog) and (2) Jacob Marley from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (which I just read for the holiday).  I picked up the book and saw that surrounding the title were links of chains.  Marley’s Ghost in Dickens’ story appears weighed down by chains.

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As you can see by the cover, the book is indeed about Jacob Marley.  I read that this author, Jon Clinch, also wrote a “back story” to Huckleberry Finn, which focused on Huck’s father.  This backstory, gives new light to the story we all know so well.  That is what this book does, as well.  In Dickens’ tale, we don’t know much about Jacob Marley.

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We know that he was Scrooge’s business partner and that he is forced to walk the earth bearing the chains he forged in life.  But what led him to this fate?  Why is Ebenezer Scrooge the way he is?  This book tells us.  I am only a few chapters in, but am enjoying it so far.

It’s been done before – many times

This is not a new concept.  There have been many books, movies, and TV shows that explored how well known characters became the way they are.  Fans of the TV show Taxi may remember a flashback scene where Reverend Jim was drug free!  Jack Benny did many shows telling the story of how he met members of his cast.  The TV show How I Met Your Mother used this entire premise for the entire series.

It is no secret that I am a HUGE fan of Mario Puzo’s The Godfather.  I loved the book, and loved the movie trilogy.  The novel was published in 1969, and the film was released in 1972.

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Marlon Brando played Vito Corleone, the head of the Corleone Crime family.

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Two years later, in 1974, The Godfather Part II was released in theaters.  It consisted of flashbacks of how Vito became the Don.  The role was played by Robert DeNiro.

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But what about other characters?  Ed Falco’s 2012 novel “The Family Corleone” tells us.

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The book is based on an unproduced screenplay that Mario Puzo had written.  It gives us a look at some of the minor characters, like Luca Brasi, and how they come to know the Don and how they join the family. A couple books that “fill in the gaps” between the Godfather movie trilogy came out in 2004 (The Godfather Returns) and 2006 (The Godfather’s Revenge) written by Mark Winegardener.

Good characters – Good Stories

When we come to love good characters, we tend to want to know more about them.  We want to see them or read about them in another story or adventure.  Perhaps that why there are so many books that feature a star character (like Alex Cross, or Cotton Malone) or movie sequels (like Star Wars, Harry Potter, or Toy Story).  In the 60’s and 70’s, many TV shows had novels or short stories based on characters (like Get Smart, Kojak, Columbo, and countless Star Trek books).

I LOVE the concept of exploring a well known character and shedding light on their back story. I am hoping this book on Jacob Marley does not disappoint.

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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 …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Favorite Films – The 2000’s

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It’s been a couple of weeks since I picked back up on this series of blogs, so I thought I had better.  A while ago, I saw a post that suggested you pick one favorite film from every year of your life.  So far, I have covered 3 decades.  Some years were easier than others.  Some years were very difficult, because there were many “favorites”.  One quick reminder – the movies are movies that I have seen.  There may be a monster hit movie from a certain year that I wasn’t inclined to see, or just didn’t see it.

As I move into the fourth decade of my life, I noticed something that I want you to keep in mind.  In 2002, my oldest son was born.  As I began to look through the movies of the 2000’s and even in the 2010’s, I noticed the amount of animated and kid films increased.  What I also noticed is that in many cases, those movies ended up being better than some of the adult films of those years.  Agree with me or not, remember this is MY list. While many of my readers are from Facebook and do not have blogs, many of my readers DO have blogs.  It has been fun to revisit each year, and I would love to see the list of some of my blogger friends (hint hint).

That being said, let’s dive into the 2000’s!

2000

Ashton Kutcher became a household name in 1998 as Kelso on That 70’s Show, so it was only a short time before they had him star in a feature film, and naturally it was a comedy – Dude, Where’s My Car?  While I found it mostly stale, there were a few laughs.  2000 brought us the funny sequel to Eddie Murphy’s Nutty Professor in Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis were both very good in Unbreakable, Harrison Ford wound up being the bad guy in What Lies Beneath, and Russell Crowe starred in the visually brilliant Gladiator (although at times I was bored with it).

A runner up for my pick for this year was the very funny Emperor’s New Groove, the animated feature that starred David Space, Patrick Warburton, John Goodman, and the amazing Eartha Kitt.  I loved this movie and Kitt’s voice work is just amazing.  However, music is what made me pick my favorite for 2000 – O Brother, Where Art Thou?

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George Clooney plays a convict who escapes from a chain gang and ends up recording a hit record.  I loved the story, and loved the soundtrack.  I was working in country radio when the movie came out.  The phones were constantly ringing for Man of Constant Sorrow!  The sound sounded so out of place among the current country hits of the time, but maybe that’s why it did so well.  It reminds me of when the Dixie Chicks first hit radio – their sound was so unlike anything on the air at the time that it stood out and sounded great!  I still have the entire soundtrack of this movie on my iPod!

2001

In 2001, Morgan Freeman reprised his role as Alex Cross in the movie adaptation of Along Came a Spider.  David Spade introduced us to Joe Dirt.  Amanda Pete, Jason Biggs, Steve Zahn, Jack Black and singer Neil Diamond all starred in Saving Silverman.  Much like Titanic, they tossed a love story into a real life historic event for Pearl Harbor with Ben Affleck.  We also got the first installments of some BIG franchises – Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings.  Wes Anderson offered up a gem with The Royal Tenenbaums with Gene Hackman, the Wilson Brothers, and Ben Stiller.  Wes Anderson’s films always have a very unique look to them and I almost chose this one as my pick, but instead, I chose Shrek.

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The film is based on the 1990 book by William Steig.  Chris Farley was supposed to be the voice of Shrek, but his death led them to re-cast the role.  Word is that Mike Myers did the voice straight, and was unhappy with it.  He recut the voice with his Scottish accent and the rest is history.  Now add the talents of Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, and John Lithgow and it’s magic!  It was a fun movie to watch and remains a favorite that I still watch with my kids.

2002

There were a few animated and kids films in 2002:  Ray Romano starred in Ice Age, Disney brought us Lilo & Stitch, and there was a live action Scooby Doo movie.  The second (or fifth) installment of Star Wars hit the screen with Attack of the Clones, while other sequels included Men in Black II, Analyze That, and Austin Powers 3 – Goldmember.  Two big sequels were Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.  Sitting here in 2019, who could have known that there would be a gazillion more super hero movies to come … but my pick for 2002 is Tobey Maguire as Spiderman.

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As a fan of Spiderman since I was a kid, I was excited to see this one.  I thought Tobey was a good Peter Parker.  The rest of the cast was great, too (James Franco, Willem Dafoe, JK Simmons)!  I always thought Kirsten Dunst was pretty, and thought she was great as Mary Jane.  It was a fun movie to watch with good special effects and a good story.

2003

The Lord of the Rings saga continued with the Return of the King in 2003.  Will Ferrell appeared in Old School, which I felt was “Animal House crossing the line”.  Uma Thurman starred in the first Kill Bill, and Johnny Depp appeared for the first time as Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.  A clown fish named Nemo stole the hearts of many in Finding Nemo, while Disney offered up the action adventure film Holes.  Again, music played a factor in my favorite – School of Rock.

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Jack Black is a rocker who gets tossed out of his band.  He fills in as a substitute teacher and teaches his class all about Rock and Roll.  He also uses the kids to form a band in hopes of winning a Battle of the Bands contest. The soundtrack includes cuts from the Ramones, The Darkness, Led Zeppelin, Stevie Nicks, and the song they play at the end is the classic AC/DC song, It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock and Roll).

2004

Damn you, 2004!  There were so many great movies that came out this year!!  7 of them easily could be my top pick!  Adam Sadler brought us 50 First Dates with Drew Barrymore.  Mel Gibson brought us the controversial Passion of the Christ.  Uma Thurman returned to Kill Bill again in part 2.  Harry Potter was back with the Prisoner of Azkaban.  Tina Fey and Lindsay Lohan gave us a look at public school in Mean Girls. We enjoyed some high school football with Friday Night Lights.  Shrek and Donkey were back with a new friend (Puss in Boots) in Shrek 2.  Will Ferrell donned a mustache as he told the Legend of Ron Burgandy in Anchorman.  Harold and Kumar went to White Castle for some sliders.  Zombies were all over the place in Simon Pegg’s Shaun of the Dead (which I loved!). A very funny cast (Vince Vaughn, Rip Torn, Justin Long, Ben Stiller, Christine Taylor) told us an underdog story in Dodgeball (Chuck Norris has a funny cameo). Nick Cage stars in a great film that makes you rethink history in National Treasure. Jamie Foxx was just brilliant as Ray Charles in the biopic Ray.

A word about a film from 2004 before I announce my pick.  I saw the DVD cover for Napoleon Dynamite in the video store.  I am not sure what made me get it.  Someone may have mentioned it to me, whatever the case, I rented it. We popped it in.  I watched it all the way through.  When it was done I remember saying “What the hell did we just watch?!”  I literally sat there scratching my head.  I just couldn’t figure it out!  It was so dumb!  But here is the weird part – after it ended and after I sat there for a minute – I started the movie over!!!  I watched it all over again.  The second time I watched it – I laughed like hell!!  All of a sudden, it was a funny friggin movie!  When I would recommend it to people, I would tell them “you may have to watch it twice”!  LOL

Ok, so my movie picking credibility may forever be tarnished because of that last paragraph….but here is my pick for 2004 – The Incredibles.

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Brad Bird (who does the voice of Edna) wrote this masterpiece.  Craig T. Nelson is Mr. Incredible and Holly Hunter is Elastigirl (also Mrs. Incredible).  Samuel L. Jackson is super cool as Frozone.  After getting sued for injuring a citizen, Super heroes are banned from performing their duties.  They go into the Super Hero Relocation Program and live as ordinary citizens.  Syndrome is a super villain (voiced by Jason Lee) and his antics bring the “Supers” back out into the public eye.  The music soundtrack is just amazing.  I was SO excited when the sequel was announced.   Just LOVE this movie!! No Capes!

2005

There weren’t many films I liked from 2005.  Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith was good, as we see the “birth” of Darth Vader.  DreamWorks had fun with the animated film Madagascar.  Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson were Wedding Crashers.  Goblet of Fire was the next installment of the Harry Potter series.  My pick for favorite of 2005 is a remake – I know, I know!  I have dissed many remakes, but I found Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to be different enough that I liked it.

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Johnny Depp is one of those actors who amazes me.  When I look at the various roles he has played, each one of them is very unique.  His take on Willy Wonka is so vastly different from Gene Wilder’s in the original.  It is almost creepy – ok, it is creepy! The whole movie is a bit darker than the original, too.  While the story is basically the same, it is different enough that it stands alone as being worthy of my pick.

2006

The success of animated films becomes apparent by 2006.  DreamWorks put out two animated movies this year – Flushed Away and Over The Hedge, while Pixar released Cars.  Ben Stiller interacts with history in A Night at the Museum.  Johnny Depp is back as Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men’s Chest.  Little Miss Sunshine is a delightful film with Steve Carell, Greg Kinnear, and Alan Arkin.  My pick for favorite stars Jack Black as Nacho Libre.

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While it is a comedy, it also has heart.  Jack Black is a cook at a monastery.  He grew up there.  There are many orphans that live there, and there is little money to feed them properly.  He decides to wrestle after hours in an effort to raise money for the orphans.  I love this movie, because while there are moments you laugh at loud, there are also heartwarming moments.

2007

Animation movies continued to be big in 2007 – Jerry Seinfeld had Bee Movie, Shrek was back for a third (and probably weakest of the series) movie, and Pixar had the marvelous Ratatouille.  Jack Sparrow returned in At World’s End, and Simon Pegg offered up the comedy Hot Fuzz.  Harry Potter returned in the Order of the Phoenix, and Nick Cage was back for the sequel to National Treasure: Book of Secrets. Jon Heder, coming off the success of Napoleon Dynamite, teamed up with Will Ferrell for Blades of Glory.  The gang from TV’s Reno 911 got their own film Reno 911:Miami.  My pick for favorite – The Bucket List.

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Admittedly, I did not see the movie until recently, I am glad I did.  This movie made “the bucket list” a phrase everyone now uses.  We all have items on a list that we want to do before we die.  Going to Italy is on mine.  Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman are just wonderful in this film.  If you haven’t seen it – you have to!

2008

Comedies from 2008 included Simon Pegg’s Run Fatboy, Run, Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr. starred in Tropic Thunder, Rainn Wilson was The Rocker, and Will Ferrell and John C. Riley were Step Brothers (Boats and Hoes!!)  Animated films from 2008 included WALL-E, and Kung Fu Panda. Tom Cruise starred in a great story about the plot to kill Hitler in Valkyrie.  Harrison Ford reprised his role as Indiana Jones in The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (I didn’t care for it).  Will Smith was a guy with super powers in Hancock.

Vantage Point was almost my pick for favorite.  Dennis Quaid stars in the film about an assassination attempt of the President.  The movie shows all the different views of the event – all the different vantage points.  It was a very cool film to watch.  I hate to say it, because it is kind of a remake, but my pick for favorite is Get Smart.

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TECHNICALLY, it is NOT a remake.  It is just based on the TV show.  At first I was angry to hear they were making this movie, because of my love for the TV show.  Then I heard that Steve Carell would be playing Maxwell Smart.  I thought he was perfect for the role.  Alan Arkin is great as the chief (I like him in almost everything he does).  Anne Hathaway is 99.  James Caan is the President.  The Rock is also an agent.  Great cameos from Bill Murray and Bernie Kopell, the orginal Seigfried (although I wish Bernie’s cameo had been longer).  Over all, it was a good story.  I loved the nods to the TV show, that earned bonus points for me.

2009

As we enter the final year of this decade, three films all stand out as ones that could easily be my pick.  Two of the dumbest films I saw were Paul Blart Mall Cop (which even got a sequel!!) and Year One.  I am stupider for watching both of those films!  Animation and kid films included The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and the Monsters VS Aliens.  Harry Potter was back with the Half Blood Prince.  Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw starred in The Blind Side.  Woody Harrelson kills the undead in Zombieland. I’m gonna be honest – I NEVER saw Avatar, it just didn’t look interesting to me.  I was impressed with the new Star Trek movie – I felt the characters stayed very close to the original star’s portrayals.  I really enjoyed Inglorious Basterds (always been a fan of WWII movies).

That leaves me with four films – one that I disliked and three I loved.  I know that I am in the minority here, so I apologize in advance.  I didn’t care for the Hangover.  It obviously was major hit which spawned quite a few sequels.  Everyone kept saying, “You’ve got to see this movie”, so I did.  I really didn’t find it as funny as everyone else did.  I don’t know what it is, I just didn’t find it to be the great film everyone else did.

Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law was VERY well done!  I enjoyed it very much.  I really felt that it captured the Sherlock Holmes from the stories.  I found it funny, exciting, and thought it had a great story.  When I discovered Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch, I felt that it was done in almost the same vain as this film.

I almost picked A Christmas Carol starring Jim Carrey as my favorite.  First of all, it is one of my favorite Christmas stories.  I am sure that I have blogged about it in the past.  Second, Jim Carrey does the majority of the voices in it and it just amazing.  I loved the animation and it has been one that I watch each and every Christmas season.  My pick for 2009, however, is another animated film … Up.

Up

Pixar continues to bring out amazing movies for the whole family.  Up is the story of Carl Frederickson(voiced by Ed Asner), and his quest to go to Paradise Falls to fulfill a promise to his wife.  The montage that shows the love story of Carl and Ellie is done with no voices – just action and music.  It is the most moving thing I have ever seen.  Yes, I cried.  It is beautiful.

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The adventure that Carl ends up going on with his newfound friends Russell, Doug, and Kevin is exciting and heartwarming.  I truly wish that Pixar would give us a sequel to this film, just to see more of this wonderful friendship that Carl and Russell have.  I LOVE this movie!

9 more years to go and I will pick up the series next in 2010.  I hope you enjoyed reading this!

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“Made in 1938”

 

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Introduction

Since I started blogging about a year ago, I have stumbled on some great blogs that focus on old movies, film noir, music, books, and various other things that I find interesting.  Some of these blog sites have hosted Blogathons, and I have participated in a few of them.  A while back, the “Pop Culture Reverie” and “In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood” sites announced their “Made in 1938 Blogathon”.  The only real rule that was that whatever you wrote about had to be something “made” in 1938.  This blog is my contribution to this blogathon. I am posting a day early, but you can read the other participants blogs by clicking:

https://popculturereverie.wordpress.com/

or

https://crystalkalyana.wordpress.com/

At first, I began to look at movies from that year, hoping there would be one of my favorites from that year.  Then, because of the celebrity birthday page I had on Facebook, I wondered if there were any famous people born in ’38 that I might find interesting to write about.  In looking over the list of celebrities, three stood out as having a significant part in my life, so I chose to write about them.  I hope you find this blog interesting and entertaining. What follows is a brief salute to a great impressionist/comedian, a great radio personality, and a great actor.

Rich Little (Born November 26, 1938)

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Rich Little shares the nickname “The Man of a Thousand Voices” with the great Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, etc).  While they both have many voices that they do, Mel’s were more original voices and dialects for cartoons, while Rich did impersonations or imitations of real celebrities.  He claims to be able to do about 200 voices, and he has had quite a career “being” other people!  He even eludes to this in the title of his 2014 book “Little by Little:  People I’ve Known and Been…”

I remember when we first got cable TV.  HBO often featured stand up comedy shows and specials.  One of the first specials I ever saw was Rich Little’s A Christmas Carol. I was mesmerized by this guy!  This special was like an awesome dream come true – all these big celebrities playing the different roles of the Dickens classic – except, they were all done by one man, Rich Little.  Can you imagine WC Fields, Jack Benny, Peter Sellers, Humphrey Bogart, Peter Falk (as Columbo), Jimmy Stewart, Richard Nixon, Johnny Carson, Laurel and Hardy, and Groucho Marx all in the same show?!  He made it happen!

As a kid, not knowing what I really wanted to do with my life, and thinking I was funny, I thought maybe I could do what he did.  After watching him often, and listening to him, I began to try out voices on relatives.  I really thought I did an excellent Richard Nixon, but in reality, I was doing a bad impression of Rich Little doing Richard Nixon.   (Later on in my radio career, while on Honey Radio I did create a few generic voices that I used on our morning show, but never anything close to what Rich has mastered!)

I was always excited when there was some new Rich Little Special on HBO, whether it was his stage act or his take on Robin Hood (which is where I first saw him do his Carol Channing, which blew me away).  Every time he did a new celebrity I hadn’t seen him do, I would watch in awe. There was no shortage of people he could do.

One surprising fact that I was unaware of was one of my favorite singers played a big part in his American TV debut.  He was asked by singer Mel Torme’ to audition for the Judy Garland Show in 1964.  He did, made an impression (pun intended) and made his first appearance on American TV on her show.  He stated in an interview that if you watch this appearance, you should watch Judy.  She had never seen him perform before they taped the show and her reactions are very genuine.  He went on to appear on other TV shows like Love on a Rooftop, That Girl, The Flying Nun, and Petticoat Junction in guest roles.  He is probably best known for his appearances on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, The Kopycats (a show featuring impressionists), and The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts.

Rich is often asked which impressions are his favorites.  He says he has many, but the two that stand out are Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Stewart.  His Reagan is just wonderful and President Reagan loved it too!  He did two albums as Reagan – “The First Family Rides Again” and “Ronald Reagan Slept Here”.  I owned them both, and they are very funny (one of them features a pre-Seinfeld Michael Richards)! His Reagan is a great example of how Rich can find something unique about someone and use it in his imitation.  I’ll be honest, I never knew how many times Reagan started a sentence with the word “Well…” until I saw/heard Rich doing it in his act!

Jimmy Stewart was the first celebrity impression he worked on (and it is amazing).  Rich was on the dais of The Dean Martin Roasts when Jimmy was the “Man of the Hour”.  He got to the podium and began to school Jimmy Stewart on how to do Jimmy Stewart!  After Jimmy tries to do all the things Rich is telling him, Rich finally tells him that there is no hope for him and that Jimmy was doing “The Worst Jimmy Stewart” he’d ever heard! Rich even went as far as to have the audience stand up and do Jimmy, to which Rich tells Jimmy that everyone does a better Jimmy Stewart than he did!  Word is this was all ad-libbed and Jimmy, being the amazing guy that he was, went along with it all.

It would be hard for me to pick my favorite Rich Little Impressions, because they are all so good.  Among his best, in my opinion, are Reagan and Stewart (just mentioned), Richard Nixon, Jack Benny, Don Rickles, Raymond Burr, Truman Capote, James Mason, John Wayne, Paul Lynde, and Johnny Carson.  His Carson was so good, he was asked to play him in the movie about the David Letterman/Jay Leno feud called “Late Night”. After seeing Rich do an impression of him, Jack Benny sent him an 18 karat gold money clip  that was engraved; “With Bob Hope doing my walk and you doing my voice, I can be a star and do nothing!”

How good are his impressions?  When David Niven was ill, he actually dubbed in lines for Niven in a couple Pink Panther movies.  He did the same for James Cagney in the 1984 film Terrible Joe Moran and for Gene Kelly in a 1991 Christmas special.  I’m not sure how true it is, but some people say that there was some fierce competition between Rich and Frank Gorshin (The Riddler on TV’s Batman), who was also a good impressionist.  Those sources say that this little rivalry only made Rich work even harder to perfect his voices.

In researching for this blog, I came across a quote from Rich that really made me admire him even more.  He said, “I don’t like it when people imitate someone for political reasons or if they hate somebody.  I’ve never imitated anyone that I’ve really hated.  Usually, it’s people I admire.”

Thanks Rich, for the many laughs you provided throughout my childhood. Sorry about my Nixon impression!

Wolfman Jack (Born January 21, 1938)

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Radio Legend!  What more can I say?!  He was one of the best.  He knew what people wanted and gave it to them.  He was a master at talking to his audience.  He could be making you laugh out loud one minute, and crying  the next.  I never had the chance to hear a live show of his, but I was lucky enough to hear some of his syndicated stuff growing up.  I can tell you this, I can only WISH to be as good and as talented as he was! In my 30 year radio career, I have never come close!

With the creation of the Internet and access to YouTube and other radio websites, some of Wolfman’s radio stuff is available to listen to and enjoy.  I’m no dummy, I know that he must have done a lot of prep for his shows, but everything seemed so spontaneous and ad-libbed!  Maybe it was, I don’t know, but I do know that it was good.  His interactions with listeners were always entertaining.  His random thoughts about peace, love, and brotherhood always hit the nail on the head.  In this world where hatred runs amuck, we could use more people like Wolfman spreading the “love” on the air.

I got into radio because of the guys I listened to growing up (Paul Christy, Jim McKenzie, Richard D., Boogie Brian, Dick Purtan, etc…), and so did Wolfman Jack.  To keep him out of trouble, his parents bought him a radio and he fell in love with R&B music.  He listened to Jocko Henderson from Philadelphia, Dr. Jive from New York, the Moon Dog from Cleveland, Alan Freed (who coined the phrase “Rock and Roll”), and his mentor John Richbourg from Nashville.  He spent a year at The National Academy of Broadcasting and landed a radio gig in Virginia where his on air name was “Daddy Jules”.

Three years later, he took his “Wolfman” character to XERF, a Mexican radio station that broadcast at 250,000 watts (5 times the power of any US radio station), and people listened!  The station pretty much covered most of the US.  The music he played (lots of great R&B) and his vocal stylings started to make news. His popularity grew and there were feature stories about him in Time magazine, Newsweek, and Life magazine.  Newspapers from all over the country all wrote about him, too, wondering, “Who is this guy and where did he come from?!”

In 1972, he became the host of an NBC show called “The Midnight Special” where he co-hosted and interviewed musical guests.  Director George Lucas grew up in North Carolina and was a fan of Wolfman’s show growing up.  In 1973, he cast him in the film “American Graffiti” and made sure that he got a small percentage of the profits from the film.  The success of the film brought Wolfman to New York to do a radio show on WNBC, but the commuting back and forth to do TV and radio became a hassle, so he moved back to California.

Wolfman Jack became the first radio DJ to nationally distribute his radio show.  The show was heard on over 2000 stations nationwide and in 53 countries! Along with his radio work. he continued to do movie work  and appeared on TV shows like The Odd Couple, What’s Happening, Vega$, Wonder Woman, Hollywood Squares, and Married…With Children. He also appeared as himself in the 1974 hit single by The Guess Who entitled “Clap for the Wolfman.”

In 1995, he wrote his autobiography (a must read for people in radio) “Have Mercy:  Confessions of the Original Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal,” which received good reviews in The New York Times and LA Times.  On July 1, 1995, after finishing a broadcast from The Hard Rock Café in Washington DC he boarded a plane and flew home.  He had been away from his family for days promoting his book.  He told his limo driver as they pulled in front of his house that he was happy to finally be home.  He walked inside, hugged his wife, and collapsed after having a massive heart attack.  He was 57 years old.

To close this section of my blog – here are some of my favorite Wolfman quotes:

“We are put on this earth to have a good time.  This makes other people feel good.  And the cycle continues.”

“I know it may sound corny, man, but I like to bring folks joy and I like to have a good time.  I know folks like to be with someone who’s having a good time.  You sure as hell don’t want to be with somebody who’s having a bad day.”

“Love is not a matter of counting the years – it’s making the years count.”

“If you do right.  Everything will come out right.”

And my favorite quote, which I often used (giving him credit, of course) to close my own radio show:

“Remember to keep smiling because a smile is like a light in the window letting people know your heart’s at home”.

Thanks, Wolfman, for being an inspiration to young DJ’s like me, and for being a positive in a world full of negativity!

Christopher Lloyd (Born October 22, 1938)

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When I first saw the trailer for Back to the Future, I was filled with anticipation.  It was everything a 15 year old boy could ask for, action, adventure, and time travel! I’ve always been a fan of time travel stories.  I have a collection of old radio shows that all have time travel as a theme.  What kid didn’t wonder, “What would it be like to see my parents as kids?  What would it be like to go back to the past?”  I had to see this movie!

The Back to the Future trilogy remains one of my favorites (second only to the Godfather).  Looking back now, I can’t imagine anyone but Christopher Lloyd playing Doc Brown.  While there are great characters (and actors) in the film, Lloyd makes it all worth watching!  He’s the epitome of a crazy scientist!  He’s everything you expect one to be!  He’s manic!  He’s constantly moving!  He’s always thinking and processing!  In an interview he said that there were times he was so into the role that he didn’t know exactly what he had done until he saw it on screen!  Believe it or not, he almost passed on the role!!

In an interview I found, he said that when he was initially contacted about playing the role, he had some doubts about it and seriously considered passing on it.  He was in Mexico when his agent called to tell him that the producers wanted to meet with him.  “I was anxious to do a play that I had been offered back east, and I wasn’t sure this was something I wanted to get involved in at that point.”  Luckily, his future wife Carol reminded him that “I always told myself never to turn anything down without at least checking it out.” After the meeting he says he was “ready to put on the wig and hop into the Delorean!”

Doc Brown is probably one of two roles that Christopher Lloyd will forever be identified with.  The other is that of “Reverend” Jim Ignatowski on the TV show Taxi.  That character won him two Emmy Awards!  I have always appreciated when a TV show has a great ensemble cast – Taxi was one of them.  Each character stands out in their own way, and Reverend Jim never ceased to make me laugh!  One of the greatest scenes in this show is when Jim has to take his driver’s test.  Almost all of the gang is there while he is taking it and trying to help him.  If you’ve never seen it – it’s comedy gold! Here is the link:

Christopher is one of those actors who is believable in comedy roles as well as dramatic roles.  I have always felt that is what makes a great actor.  He reminds me a lot of Robin Williams, in that he can play comedy for comedy, play straight for comedic effect, and nail a dramatic role perfectly.  In his first movie role, as a psychiatric patient in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, he is brilliant!  It is one amazing performance!

He is one of those actors that has so many memorable roles.  It would be impossible to give space to each one of them.  One movie that sometimes gets over looked is the 1985 comedy Clue.  As Professor Plum, we are treated to Christopher playing straight for comedic effect.  In one of my favorite scenes, the characters are paired off to search areas of the house.  Plum is paired with Mrs. Peacock (played brilliantly by Eileen Brennan) and he looks at her and says, “It’s you and me, honey bunch.”  As strait as he says it, that line cracks me up every time!  What an amazing cast in this film!

As someone who doesn’t care too much for movie remakes, I was pleasantly surprised at the Addams Family films.  I loved Christopher as Uncle Fester.  I always felt like the TV show was more comedy than dark comedy.  The films were closer to the comic strips and I thought Christopher captured that dark comedy and mischievous aspect of the character in his portrayal of Fester. This is probably because he was a fan of the comic strip and claims to have always read the New Yorker Magazine (where the strip was featured in every issue).

Two of Christopher’s roles were so powerful they scared me!  The first being that of Klingon Commander Kluge in the 1984 film Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.  He is just so vicious, and over the top in this film.  One of my favorite scenes is where one of his crew destroys a ship and he yells that he wanted prisoners.  The crew member says it was a lucky shot.  At this, his anger boils over and Kluge kills the crewmember.  After this, he simply says “Animal.”  He really does a great job of showing us how crazy the character is.

The other role that scared me was his role as Judge Doom in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?  As much as I hated him throughout the movie, when he snaps and goes nuts at the end, wow!  When he is run over by the steamroller you are almost happy!  When he melts, you are ecstatic! When an actor makes you hate a character he is playing that much – he’s done it right! He says that people come up to him often and mention how much this character scared them, so I am not alone.  He also says that he loves playing villains, because it’s a “license just to be as bad as the script allows you to be”.

There are many other movies that Christopher has played in that you may be familiar with, like The Dream Team, Dennis the Menace (Switchblade Sam is an awesome villain), and My Favorite Martian.  He has done so much more that I wish I had been able to see.  For example, in 2010, he starred as Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman in a Weston House Production. I can only imagine how well he played this iconic role.   In 2008, he played Scrooge in a production of A Christmas Carol with John Goodman and Jane Leeves.  WOW – I would LOVE to see him as Scrooge!!!!  Many have played Scrooge, and played him well…but I know that Christopher’s interpretation would have been off the charts!

He continues to do voice work (my kids loved him as the Hacker on Cyberchase), television, and movies and is very active on social media. If you don’t already, follow him.

Thanks, Christopher for entertaining so many over the years!  You are a treasure!

In Closing

I want to thank the hosts of this blogathon, “Pop Culture Reverie” and “In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood”,  for allowing me to participate.  It was a lot of fun for me to think about these three influential men and their work, and ultimately write about them.  I hope that you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

 

 

 

Keeping Christmas All The Year

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Well, the Christmas presents are now opened. The music books with Christmas Carols are now back up on the shelves and the Christmas music on the radio has abruptly ceased. It is painfully obvious that Christmas is over!  I have never understood how these radio stations that go “all Christmas music” LONG before Thanksgiving, can just stop it immediately at midnight on December 26th.  Ok, I get it, Christmas is over, but you could casually fade back into regular music.  I mean it is Wednesday and I know some people who aren’t even going to get together with their family until this weekend to celebrate the holiday. Besides, there are plenty of “winter” songs that could easily still play in rotation, much like those oldies stations sprinkle in “summer” themed songs during the summer. I am sorry – I digress.

The fact that Christmas is over, however, is important for me to make a point with this blog.  Much like it was important for readers to know that “Marley was dead” to completely grasp the story of a Christmas Carol by Dickens, we must understand that Christmas is over.  Speaking of Dickens, a quote from his holiday classic is the exact thing that has me writing this blog.

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year” – Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Keeping Christmas All Year

It is easier to be nicer to people in December.  We are naturally friendlier, we put a little more into each handshake, we smile a bit bigger, and we are more charitable.  Think of the things that you “over look”, “forgive” or choose not to say anything about because “it’s Christmas”.  Because of the season, it’s easier to do.  I heard someone call Christmas Spirit a “limited time offer” once.  That, in itself is humorous, but what if we didn’t put a limit on this?  What if we made a choice to be nicer to people, forgive more, and to spread Christmas Spirit throughout the other 11 months of the year?  Just HOW do we even go about doing that?

Imagine if we all made a conscious choice to live every day with the Christmas spirit?  Elvis Presley said in one of my favorite (and underplayed) Christmas songs: “Oh why can’t every day be Christmas?  Why can’t that feeling go on endlessly?  For if every day could be just like Christmas, what a wonderful world it would be.”  Powerful lyrics!  So powerful, that I would like to present a challenge.

I wish I could say that I thought of this on my own, but I didn’t.  I am sure that there have been others who have posed this same challenge throughout the years.  However, perhaps if I keep presenting it, maybe, collectively, we CAN make a difference and keep the spirit of Christmas alive well into 2019 and beyond.

Realistically, I understand that it would be odd to be singing Christmas Carols at the swimming pool in July or dressing up as an elf with an ugly sweater for work.  So Just what are some ways we can “keep Christmas” in the months ahead?  Here are some ways:

Know What is Important and Make Time for That!

During the Christmas season, we make our families a priority.  We spend time making memories and celebrating with them.  After Christmas, the “world” takes over and tries to monopolize your time.  Your job, your bills, and other things can often interfere and beg for your attention.  Remember what is truly important to you.  Make family a priority.  When you are able to bring yourself back to what matters most, you can make the most of every day and every situation.

Be Kind To Everyone.

I’ll admit, this isn’t always an easy thing to do.  At Christmas, everyone seems to be a bit nicer to each other, so let’s start here.  Treat everyone with a bit of kindness – especially those who aren’t necessarily nice to you.  This, in itself, is a great way to keep that Christmas Spirit alive.  Think about how you would treat that person if it were Christmas.

Be Thankful.  Focus On What You Have.

During the holidays, we often reflect on the things that we are thankful for – our family, our friends, and the things that make us happy.  When we bask in the appreciation of what we have, and reflect on those things with happiness – we continue that Christmas feeling well past Christmas Day!  The key to making this happen is to focus more on what you have instead of what you want.  Instead of saying, “I want …” and “I need….” think “I’m very grateful I have …”

Find the Good.  Surround Yourself With It.

At Christmas, we see many things that bring about a childlike wonder.  We take note of the things like Christmas lights, special ornaments, an ongoing tradition, and the curiosity of what’s in a beautifully wrapped present.  Look on life in wonder and amazement.  Find those things that bring about that wonder and embrace the good things you see in everyday life.  Marveling in those things is another way to keep the Christmas spirit alive.

Giving to Charity

During the holidays, we tend to give a bit more.  We drop extra change in the red buckets and exchange pleasantries with the bell ringers; we adopt families at church; we donate to organizations who provide Christmas presents for kids without families and are a bit more open to helping.  Doing something for a charity throughout the year is an amazing way to keep that spirit of Christmas alive AND you’ll feel good about doing it.  The need doesn’t go away after Christmas.  The shelters still have people in need.  There are always people who have been hit with tragedy that can use your help.  Even donating to a local food bank can be a huge help.  It is better to give than to receive, and should you ever need to be on the receiving end, you will be thankful for those who gave.

Get Active in Your Community

During the holidays, many will take part in the Christmas Tree lighting or Christmas Sing Alongs.  Throughout the year, the community is always looking for volunteers to help with various events.  Get involved with things that make a positive impact on your city.  Help with community clean up projects, support local businesses, or go to a city council meeting.  Be proud of the city you live in and be a good neighbor to others!

Listen to Some Tunes

Who says it has to be December to listen to Christmas songs?!  I have Christmas songs on my iPod and when I am listening at work, I very rarely skip them.  Those songs that make you happy during the holiday season can bring a smile to your face anytime of the year.  Winter Wonderland is a good song to cool you off in the summer!  For some, the religious Christmas songs serve as a reminder that we need God/Jesus in our lives every day.  There is no law as to when one can listen to Christmas songs…so crank them up!

Christmas Shop All Year

No need to wait for Black Friday deals.  Here’s a great idea that you may actually relieve some stress next Christmas – shop now!  Whenever you see a great deal on a toy or something that would be a great Christmas gift, buy it now and store it away until December.  How amazing would it be to have all that shopping done for Christmas BEFORE all the madness?!  It will also help you with your budget!  So many people go into debt at Christmas because they use the last few paychecks of the year to do all of their shopping.  Take that extra $20 each paycheck throughout the year and buy a gift, you’ll thank me in December when everyone but you is stressing at the store.

Send a Card – For No Reason!

One of the things I look forward to each Christmas is getting the mail.  I love to see who has sent us a Christmas Card.  I love the “Year In Review” notes that update me on the various news from friends and family.  In this day and age where we spend so much time on social media and texting – a handwritten note or card in the mail can spread so much joy! Grab some Forever Stamps and make it a point to write a note to someone.

Light a Christmas Candle

Who doesn’t love the smell of a Christmas tree?  Peppermint? Pumpkin Pie? Sugar Cookies?  You can find candles that smell like these things and more.  My wife loves the smell of cinnamon sticks, so we often light candles throughout the year.  This is an easy way to get into the spirit.  Maybe you can light a candle while you write out the card I just mentioned?

Grab a Beverage

My sons bought me my favorite coffee (mentioned in a previous blog) for Christmas.  I can brew a pot of Cinnamon Holiday Blend from Coffee Beanery any time of the year and it makes it feel like Christmas.  Why not have some hot chocolate during the summer?  Who says you can only drink egg nog during the Christmas season?  There are plenty of recipes on the internet – make your own!

Christmas Feast – In July

We have a turkey in our freezer right now.  When you are hearing about all the Christmas in July sales all over town, why not celebrate it with a Christmas Dinner?  I am all about a good meal.  This is another way to keep the spirit alive – why not invite the whole family over for a mid-summer feast?  Have Christmas cookies for dessert! What a great way to enjoy good food and good company!

I Triple Dog Dare You!

So there is a hefty challenge!  I challenge you (and myself) to go forward over the next 11 months and prolong the Christmas season!  Spread that cheer in the months to come!  Let’s be like Scrooge and keep Christmas the whole year! Let’s help make that Elvis lyric come true – “for if every day could be just like Christmas, what a wonderful world this would be!”

“So remember while December
Brings the only Christmas Day
In the year let there be Christmas
In the things we do and say
Wouldn’t life be worth the living
Wouldn’t dreams be coming true
If we kept the Christmas spirit
All the whole year through.”     ~Author unknown, c.1962

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To: S. Claus. North Pole.

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December 19, 2018

Dear Santa,

I know it has been some time since I have written a letter to you, and I bet you are wondering why I have chosen to do so after all these years. Well, to be honest, there have been a lot of changes in my life over the past few years. I am seeing life with different eyes, and it is wonderful! I have made a decision to weed out negativity and to stay positive. There is too much judgment, hate, and sadness in the world and I have done what I can to steer clear of that. By doing so, I have found great happiness. So, why am I writing to you, you ask?

The answer is that I am not sure. It may be the combination of a couple of things. First, I have played the song Grown Up Christmas List a few times at the radio station, and this year the words hit me a bit harder than in previous years. Second, I’ve watched a few movies where the lack of Christmas Spirit has played a big role in the plot, and I fear my Christmas Spirit may be lacking. Third, I am newly married to a beautiful woman who has changed my life in ways I can’t even begin to explain. She has brought about a happiness that has been absent from my life for way too long. Finally, after my annual reading of A Christmas Carol, I have pondered some things about the future, while thinking about the present and the past.

The Christmas season has always brought me great joy. As a little boy, rushing out to see what you had left under the tree, I remember being overcome with happiness! I recall the many notes that you left for my brother and I each Christmas morning. I recall the notes that you left for my sons years later. (We often wondered (and I still do) how you could eat so many cookies and never gain weight!) What an amazing job you have! To quote Stan Freberg in his record Christmas Dragnet, you’re the only guy who “can make everybody happy in one night.”

With the passing of many years, I now sit here to write you this letter. I want to say first of all, thank you for the many gifts that you have brought over the years. While I was never too keen on the socks and underwear, as an adult I do realize that they were something I needed. Thank you for the Millennium Falcon, the numerous Star Wars figures, the countless books and movies, as well as the straight mute for my trumpet. Thank you for the various games, Hot Wheels cars, my bike with the cool handlebars, and the Sound Gizmo! Thank you for the many Lego sets, the Wii, and the toys you brought for my sons! Before I give you my list of requests, I wanted to be sure that you are aware of just how grateful I am for the many gifts of Christmas Past.

I do realize that you get many requests, and this is probably your busiest time of year, but I hope it is not too late you ask you for a few things. This list is kind of a tall order. Take all the time you need on them, I will understand.

For Kids

I have noticed that children seem to be growing up faster than they should. It is almost as though their innocence is taken from them sooner than it should be. My first wish is that they be allowed to be kids and do kid things for longer periods of time. Allow them to play and imagine! Allow them to experience the happiness and freedom of not being an adult. Shield them from the miseries, tragedies, and unpleasant things of the modern world. Allow them to share more smiles and less tears. Fill their lives with laughter and people who care. Protect them from harm and needless worry. Allow them to experience the magic of childhood, free from cruelty and bullying. Children are our future and we need them!

The Nations of the World

It seems that every time I hear a news report, there is a story about crimes related to gender, religious beliefs, sexual orientation and racism. When will the people in charge realize that the more we are different, the more we are the same?! The words of Maya Angelou ring true here – “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.” I hope you can help us with this. We all come from a family. We all have the ability to love. We all have the capability to do good. We all have the ability to problem solve and to find “middle ground”. We all can take advantage of the power of “compromise”. My secnd wish is that you please help people to remember the following powerful quote: “We are all one race – the human race – and we are all members of it.”

Financial Freedom?

This one is a bit of a sore spot. Is it too much to ask that people be allowed to earn a living? I’m not talking about overabundant wealth, because you and I know that sometimes comes with its own set of troubles. My third wish is that people have the ability to go and work at a job and make enough money to live debt free. That they have the ability to live within their means, and enjoy life. Now, I am completely aware that there are many people who suffer because of their own addictions and actions. I am not talking about those people. However, there should be no reason for someone to have to work two and three jobs while their spouse works more than one job and still struggle to make ends meet. I hope you understand, I am not against working! I have a college education (and student loan debt out the ying yang) and I have a good job. Many people are just like me and struggle to keep their heads above water. Perhaps you and the elves can find a way to help out the ‘average Joe’ ? We are worrying too much, working too much, and stressed beyond belief. They say we need to stop and smell the roses, but it seems that life won’t let us slow down enough to do that.

Enough with the Cancer

This one is a bit selfish. This cancer thing has taken some people from me who I loved very much. It’s not just me, though – cancer has taken people from some of my friends, too. Let’s face it, it is out of control! Cancer is a monster that knows no age, I learned that when I visited St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Kids should never have to deal with fighting cancer and their parent’s shouldn’t have to be burdened with all that treatment entails! You’ve got connections, right? You have to know people who can finally find a cure for this. Maybe you can even help us figure out what is the cause of cancer and why we see so much of it? The elves can magically whip up any and every toy imaginable – isn’t there something you can do to help us find a cure for cancer? If you can figure this out, maybe we could tackle the other health issues and diseases, too!

For Me, Personally

Before I close, I do have a few personal requests to make. If possible, throughout the year, please help me to be a good husband, a good father, and a good friend. Send along little reminders throughout the year that remind me to be like Scrooge and keep the Christmas Spirit throughout the year. Help me to be a giver of gifts that do not cost anything:

  • The Gift of Listening. Help me to REALLY listen to others! No interrupting. No planning my response. No daydreaming. Just truly listening.
  • The Gift of Affection. Help me to be generous with appropriate hugs, kisses, hand holding and pats on the back. Help me to show my family and friends how much I treasure them.
  • The Gift of Laughter. Help me to spread a smile. Help me to bring joy and help others forget their worries and stresses. Help me to always make people happy!
  • The Gift of Writing. Help me to expand on the writing that I enjoy. Help me to find topics that others find interesting and thought-provoking. Help me to remember that sometimes a handwritten note is sometimes more meaningful than a phone call or meaningless text message.
  • The Gift of a Compliment. Help me to always compliment someone on a job well done. Help me to compliment someone on a simple haircut or new outfit. Help me to never let someone’s work be unnoticed.
  • The Gift of a Favor. Help me to always do something nice for others. Help me to lend a hand. Help me to assist those who need something. Help me always think of ways to lend a hand.
  • The Gift of a Cheerful Disposition. Help me to always wear a smile. Help me to stay positive. Help me find the positives in a negative world. Help me to spread cheer through a smile.
  • The Gift of Solitude. Help me to be conscious of when someone needs a few moments to themselves. Help me to respect when someone does not want to talk or share feelings. Help me to occasionally get this gift for myself, too.

Thanks for taking the time to read my letter. Thanks for spreading Christmas Cheer throughout the entire world. Thank you for the awe and wonder that you bring to little children who look forward to your yearly visit. On behalf of parents everywhere, thank you for helping those little ones steer away from doing wrong and making an extra effort to be on their best behavior.

Merry Christmas, Santa!

Keith