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 …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A holiday tradition since 1982 …..

“Marley was dead: to begin with” … so begins the Dickens classic A Christmas Carol.  It was originally published on December 19, 1843 and the first edition was completely sold out by Christmas Eve (that’s less than a week!). This was not Dickens’ first Christmas story.  As a matter of fact, he had written three before writing this one and would go on to write four more afterward.  The story of the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge, however, remains his best known holiday story.

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1982 – English Class – Lincoln Junior High

While I was familiar with the story, and had even seen a few movie versions of this classic ghost story, I had never actually read the novella.  However, in 7th grade, I was blessed with one of my all time favorite teachers – Mrs. Shirley Kellogg.  She was a no-nonsense teacher who could even make diagramming sentences fun.

I remember one day I got caught daydreaming and looking out the window.  She  saw me and asked me a question, which I obviously did not hear.  I was startled by her calling my name and I must have looked scared to death.  She looked at me and said, “Well just don’t sit there like a Willie Lump Lump – answer the question.”  I started laughing, because I was well aware of the Red Skelton character she was referring to and even though I didn’t have an answer, I immediately connected with her! Rest assured, I saved my daydreaming for other classed!

Back to A Christmas Carol – I remember that we would often read from this big blue book that had the word “Literature” in the title.  It was a collection of modern stories, short stories, classic stories, and poems.  Charles Dickens’ tale was in this book. In elementary school, we would often read stories aloud, with each student reading a chapter.  What makes my first “reading” of this story unique is that Mrs. Kellogg read it to us – not live though…it was Memorex!  She had spent time recording herself reading the entire story and played it back to us on a cassette tape.  This allowed us to read along while she graded papers and such. Because of this, when I read the story today, I can still hear certain lines in her voice.

Stave One

Dickens divides his tale into 5 “staves” or chapters.  In the first one, the story opens on a miserable Christmas Eve, 7 years after the death of Scrooge’s partner in business Jacob Marley.  Dickens’ opening line stresses the importance of the fact that he was dead.  In fact, he stated that this “must distinctly be understood or nothing wonderful can come of the story” that follows. Dickens’ description of Scrooge is something that I can still hear in Mrs. Kellogg’s voice – “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!” Right from the start, we learn what a miserable man Scrooge truly is.

In this stave we are also introduced to Fred, Scrooge’s nephew.  His visit only continues to illustrate Scrooge’s hate for the holiday and the season. Another main character is Bob Cratchit, Scrooge’s clerk.  As we hear of the poor working conditions and his measly salary, we are left to wonder why this poor man is working for such a jerk like Scrooge. We are also introduced to two men collecting for charity, who are basically told by Scrooge to “get lost”.  He tells them that he supports prisons and workhouses and those in need should go there for refuge.

Before the chapter is over, we follow Scrooge to his empty, damp, dark, and desolate home where we are introduced to his deceased business parter, Jacob Marley and begin to witness the beginnings of Scrooge’s transformation.

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Marley’s ghost is a ghastly sight.  He is wearing heavy chains and lockboxes.  He tells of the misery and gloom that he suffers in the afterlife.  He gives Scrooge a warning that his fate is far worse than his, as he has had additional years to labor on the chains he is forging.  A doubtful Scrooge tells him he must be some sort of mirage or illusion, to which Marley scares him into believing his presence.  Marley sets the stage for what is to follow – the visits from three spirits.  These visits are the only chance that Scrooge has to avoid Marley’s fate.

Stave Two – The Past

Scrooge’s second spiritual visit from the Ghost of Christmas Past. Scrooge then asks the spirit if it is the spirit of “long past”, and the spirit tells him “your past”.  The spirit whisks Scrooge away to Christmases where Scrooge was a boy, a young man, and a young adult.  We begin to get a sense of why he is the way he is.  As a boy, he spends Christmas at a boarding school.  As a young man, we see him as an apprentice – an apprentice who loves Christmas.  We also see him as a young adult, where the love of his life leaves him, because money has grown the most important thing in his life.

The older I get, the more this part of the story stays with me.  Scrooge, as he witnesses all these past Christmases, is given a gift.  He is allowed to see a younger self and those who he grew up with.  He calls out the names of the school mates, he sees his beloved sister who died giving birth to his nephew, he speaks highly of his fellow apprentice and his old boss, and he relives the pain of the loss of his love. We witness scenes that spark many emotions with Scrooge.

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Imagine, being able to go back in time to witness past Christmases!  What I wouldn’t give to relive those childhood memories!  I would love to see:

  • My grandfather’s face as I opened the cribbage board he gave me
  • The joy on me and my brother’s faces as we opened up the entire collection of Star War Figures.
  • The homemade Christmas ornaments mom made for our tree
  • My children’s first Christmases
  • A family pinochle game in the sun room at my grandparents
  • Dad putting together one of our toys with a gazillion stickers to place on it
  • Mom in good health, laughing at a gag gift I bought her
  • The adults playing guitars and the organ after having a few too many rum balls
  • The spread of Italian food we’d feast on every Christmas Eve

The list goes on and on. To be able to hear the voices of loved ones who are no longer with us … wow.  What a gift Scrooge is treated to.

Stave Three – The Present

The second spirit is the Ghost of Christmas Present.  He is a jolly spirit who shows Scrooge what is to happen this Christmas.  He is first given some enlightenment about his clerk as he visits their home.  He learns first hand of the struggles that they face, financially and emotionally.  He is shown the small feast that the entire family is to eat and also introduced to the Cratchit’s lame boy, Tiny Tim.

We really see the events of the past and present stirring in old Scrooge here, as he very uncharacteristically asks the spirit if Tiny Tim will live.  The spirit informs him that if the present course remains, Tiny Tim will die.  The amazing change that is beginning in Scrooge is seen clearly here.  The glimpse of compassion and worry as he asks the question of Tiny Tim’s fate, followed by the hanging of his head in grief when he hears the answer.

Ever wonder what people are saying about you when you are not there?  In some cases, it’s better that you not know.  Scrooge visits his nephews home next and is shown the dinner that he was invited to.  What he sees is the guests making fun of him.  He sees his nephew telling everyone in disbelief about his uncle’s abhorrence of the holiday. The more he sees the angrier he gets and tells the spirit to take him away from the scene he is watching.

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As the spirit’s time grows short, Scrooge notices something that looks like a claw coming out from underneath the spirit’s robe.  The spirit reveals two children – a boy and a girl who are anything but pretty.  They were children, but they looked terrible.  Scrooge asks the spirit if they belong to him.  The spirit answers that they are “Man’s”.  Scrooge learns that the boy is Ignorance and the girl is Want and is told to “Beware them both, and all their degree”.  175 years later – these words are still true!  Beware ignorance and want!

There is nothing that is more embarrassing than to have your own words thrown back at you, especially when those words take on a whole new meaning in a situation.  As the ghost’s time expires on earth, he answers Scrooge’s question about finding some sort of refuge. His powerful reply consists of Scrooge’s words to the men collecting for charity “Are there no prisons?  Are there no workhouses?” With that, the spirit is gone…

Stave Four – Christmas Yet To Come

Fear can be a very good motivator.  Imagine the fear that now engulfs Scrooge as he sees his final spiritual visitor!  The Phantom which is described as being “draped and hooded” is now coming toward Scrooge”slowly, gravely” and “silently – like a mist on the ground.” Rather than run away in a panic, Scrooge faces the spirit who speaks not a word.  Words can be scary – silence can be scarier!  How he comes to know that he is in the presence of the ghost of the future must have be based on his knowledge of his previous two visitors. He confirms this by asking the spirit if that is who he is and the reply that he gets is a slow and deliberate nod.

Scrooges’s fear is no secret, as a matter of fact he tells the ghost that he fears him “more than any other Spectre I have seen.”  The change that continues in Scrooge is apparent here as he goes on to say that he knows that his “purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company”.

No surprise that the topic everyone shown to Scrooge is discussing is death.  The death of one nameless man in particular. He sees business men standing on the street talking about an “old scratch” who “got his own at last”.  Then he is shown a sort of pawn shop where three people meet up to pawn stuff they took from a dead man’s home – including the shirt off the man’s dead corpse.  He is then in a dark empty room where a dead man lays on a bed under a sheet.  The spirit points to the head of the body – he wants Scrooge to look at the man.  Scrooge says that he cannot do it.  Every situation the spirit showed Scrooge was one where the man’s death brought pleasure.

Scrooge begs the spirit to show him some “tenderness connected with death”.  He is taken through town to the home of his clerk, Bob Cratchit.  The mood is somber there as they continue to deal with the death of Tiny Tim.  There is much hurt and many tears in the house.  Scrooge then has the realization that the time with the spirit is almost gone and asks to know who the man was that had died.  He is taken to a church yard that is overrun with weeds and not upkept.  The spirit stands with nothing but a hand pointing to a gravestone.

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The culmination of all that he has seen is now coming to a head.  Scrooge must have some sort of inkling of who is buried in this terrible place, because he now becomes frantic and asks if the things he was shown are things that “will be” or things that “may be” and whether or not they can be changed.  Upon reading his own name on the gravestone, Scrooge breaks.  He begs the spirit to wipe his name from the stone.  He insists that he is not the man he was and that he will live an altered life.  He makes promises to honor Christmas and live by the lessons taught by all the spirits.  He grabs the spirit and continues to plead, but the spirit disappears and turns into his bedpost.

In the classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey is shown what life would be like if he was never born.  He is frightened by so many things that he sees.  He understands just how many things would have been different if he were never born.  With A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge sees the product of the present and future because of his life and how he lives it.

Stave Five – The End of It

The climax of the story – the miracle of the story – all culminates here.  Scrooge is now a changed man!  He is awake on Christmas day and he is filled with joy and happiness which have eluded him for many many years.  His first order of business is to buy the prize turkey and send it to his clerk anonymously.  He even splurges for a cab to send it there. He then dresses in his best and heads out.  He see’s the men who were collecting for charity and whispers a huge sum of money to them – saying that there are many back payments included.  He goes to church and then heads over to his nephew’s house.  Fred is surprised but welcomes him with open arms.

The one man who is unaware of the change in Scrooge is Bob Cratchit.  When he arrives a few minutes late, Scrooge lays into him asking him why he is coming in late and how he is not going to stand for it anymore!  Then he announces he is giving Bob a raise and vowed to help his family in all ways possible.

Dickens ends by telling the reader that he was better than his word.  He was a great man and second father to Tiny Tim.  He also says that there were plenty of naysayers who still laughed at the transformation in Scrooge, and said it didn’t bother him one bit. We are told that there is no more spiritual intervention and that he “knew how to keep Christmas well”.

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Closing Thoughts

I have been reading Dickens A Christmas Carol every year for 36 years now, and each year I am grateful for the start of the tradition.  I was lucky enough to have had Mrs. Kellogg for English Class in 7th and 8th grade and she read it to us both years.  Every holiday, I think of her fondly as I read those opening words.

I have seen almost every film and TV adaptation of this story and it is hard for me to pick a favorite.  What hold true for all of them is the amazing transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge and a renewed appreciation for the Christmas season.  During the holidays, just like Scrooge, people tend to give more to those in need, they tend to be kinder, and they tend to be happier.  Here’s a thought – why not do this all year round?

Elvis Presley had a song on his Christmas CD which stated my feelings perfectly:

Why can’t every day be like Christmas? Why can’t that feeling go on endlessly?  For if every day could be just like Christmas, what a wonderful world this would be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s Take a Quiz and Thank a Teacher … or two.

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The following “quiz” has been published in books and can be found all over the internet. It is attributed to the cartoonist Charles Schulz, who drew Snoopy and Charlie Brown for many years. An inquiry to the Charles Schulz Museum has proven that the quiz is NOT something he said, however, it does make an amazing point and is a good starting point for today’s blog.

Here’s the first quiz:

  1. Name the five wealthiest people in the world.
  2. Name the last five Heisman trophy winners.
  3. Name the last five winners of the Miss America contest.
  4. Name ten people who have won the Nobel or Pulitzer prize.
  5. Name the last half dozen Academy Award winners for best actor and actress.
  6. Name the last decade’s worth of World Series winners.

How did you do?

The facts are, none of us remember the headliners of yesterday. These are no second-rate achievers. They are the best in their fields. But the applause dies. Awards tarnish. Achievements are forgotten. Accolades and certificates are buried with their owners.

Here’s another quiz. See how you do on this one:

  1. List a few teachers who aided your journey through school.
  2. Name three friends who have helped you through a difficult time.
  3. Name five people who have taught you something worthwhile.
  4. Think of a few people who have made you feel appreciated and special.
  5. Think of five people you enjoy spending time with.
  6. Name half a dozen heroes whose stories have inspired you.

Easier?

The lesson: The people who make a difference in your life are not the ones with the most credentials, the most money, or the most awards. They are the ones that care.

When I look back on my life, there are many teachers that have made a difference in my life. Some of them are no longer around, and some of them, I am lucky to still be in contact with. Today, I salute some of them.

Mrs. Waters – Kindergarten.

Back when I was a kid, you didn’t have all of these levels of preschool to go through. Kindergarten was your first stop. It was the first time you were away from mom and dad. I wish I could remember more about kindergarten than I do, but what I do remember is that Mrs. Waters was one of the sweetest ladies and she was always smiling. I remember it was either Mother’s Day or Father’s Day and we had to each paint something for Mom or Dad. I had a floppy “paint shirt” which was one of my dad’s old shirts and I remember she took a picture of each student in this shirt and sent a black and white 5X7 of it home. Sadly, it is probably long gone. I remember before she took the picture she came over and fixed my hair and said, “we want mom and dad to see those beautiful brown eyes of yours”. Probably the one and only moment from kindergarten I remember.

Mrs. Cook – Second Grade.

Why is she so important? We moved in the middle of second grade. I was leaving all of my friends behind and starting new. I remember my dad taking me to school that day and we were in the office as the National Anthem was playing. I was taken down to the room and Mrs. Cook walked over to get me at the door. She brought me up in front of the class and had me introduce myself. I know this is hard to believe, especially with all the public speaking have done in the past, but I was scared to death. All these kids were looking at me. She helped me by asking me questions, letting me answer, and then asked the class if they had questions. I don’t recall if they did, but she made that whole experience so much less stressful for me.

Mrs. Gallop – Fourth Grade.

She was fun. I would have to say that my love for reading probably came from her. I remember how reading was such an important part of class. I recall her reading us “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing”, “SuperFudge” and “James and the Giant Peach”. She was so animated as she read to us each day. She loved reading and we loved hearing her read. One of the first chapter books I got for my sons was “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing”. I remember in “James and the Giant Peach” there was a swear word. To be honest, I don’t recall what it was, but she warned us. She tried to play it off. When she read it, there was shock then giggles. Mrs. Gallop swore!!! She kept reading as animated as ever. When I took my sons to see the play at the Flint Youth Theater not too long ago, I remembered sitting around on small pieces of carpet listening to the story.

Mrs. Kellogg – 7th Grade.

I just loved her! She was no nonsense, and yet enjoyed a little nonsense at times. I was lucky enough to have her for 7th and 8th grade for English. She was tough and I learned a lot about writing because of her. She also was instrumental in getting me to be proactive about working. Yeah, I was not very self-motivated at this point in my life. We were supposed to be doing some quiet reading, and I think I was staring off out the window or something and she called my name and said, “Don’t just sit there like a Willie Lump Lump! Get your eyes on the book!” Well, Willie Lump Lump was a Red Skelton character, who I knew because my dad let us listen to old radio shows. I laughed at this and a special bond was created. I never wanted to disappoint her, and I took initiative to get my work done.

She is also responsible for a yearly tradition for me. We read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in 7th and 8th grade. I have read it every year since. I kept in contact with her long after she retired and sadly, I lost her address in between moves. She passed away before I had the chance to reconnect with her. She was a fine example of a caring teacher.

Mr. Harvey – 9th Grade.

I was probably the worst algebra student. I got sick and missed about two weeks of school. When I returned I had no clue what we were doing. I tanked quizzes and tests and we were closing in on the finals. He asked me to stay after class and asked what was up. I told him that I was just lost. He told me he was worried that I was not going to pass the class. He offered to stay after school with me to reteach some of the things I was confused about. Needless to say, there was a lot I was confused about and he realized it right away. He asked why I didn’t ask for help. He worked with me and I squeaked by with a D. Not a proud moment, but it would have been an E for sure if he hadn’t gone out of his way to help.

Mr. Benefield – 9th Grade.

Remember that scene in Stripes when John Candy says as a kid he “swallowed a lot of aggression … along with a lot of pizzas”? That was me. Gym class was not my favorite because I was overweight and never felt like I could do what everyone else was doing. Mr. B was fair. He knew when I was slacking and all he had to say was my name and I would kick it up a notch. Gym class was not like your other classes where there were 25 kids – there were double that or more in gym. If he was calling me out – it wasn’t because he was being mean, it was because he knew I wasn’t giving all that HE knew I was capable of. Side note – he was one of the best damn football coaches our school has ever had!

Mr. Balos – 12th Grade.

Ok, I had him for a senior elective class called Life in America, and it wasn’t a very hard class, but I still learned a lot from him. First of all, he taught us the importance of history. Granted this was entertainment history, but it was still history. Second, he knew that hard work had to be balanced with a little fun. He always wrapped up class five minutes before the bell and told us a “story”. These “stories” were jokes older than he was. While there were many kids who either groaned or stared off dumbfounded because they didn’t get the punch line … I was always laughing like hell. He once said “A bad joke is ALWAYS worth sharing”. It is – throughout life, some of the most awkward situations I have been in were always made a bit less stressful because I told one of his “stories”. I also learned a lot about golf from him and I can hear him every time I get on the tee … “the ball is seven feet long”.

Mr. Yanoulaki – 12th Grade.

As I stated already, I sucked at math. I was lucky enough to have Mr. Y for math in 12th grade. I want to say that the class was called “Math for Life” or “Math for Everyday Living” or something like that. It was the class I felt everyone should have. In it we talked about figuring out gas mileage, how to balance a checkbook, learning to calculate volume and measurements, how to calculate percentages, and a whole lot of other things that I use every day. He was very energetic – it was like he had ADD. He was always moving from the time he walked in to class until class was over. Many people tried to take advantage of him and make fun of him, but I really thought he was great. He was such a genuine man. He knew when people were toying with him and often just ignored them. Sometimes people would push him a bit too far and it would make him angry. Respect is something that many of my classmates did not have. He could be very fun, but when it was time to work – that’s what we needed to do. It was when someone decided to try to get him talking about something off topic that he’d get mad. He did not have any issues having someone removed from class because of things like this. I think many just pushed him so they WOULD get kicked out. I have remained in touch with him after all these years and he is still doing well and as energetic and healthy as ever. His nephew is my chiropractor and we’re hoping to get together for coffee one day soon.

Mr. Shaner 9th-12th Grade.

Mr. Shaner was my band director. If you are looking for my stance on Music Education in schools – here it is. “I LEARNED MORE TO PREPARE ME FOR LIFE FROM BAND CLASS THAN ANY OTHER CLASS IN SCHOOL”. There. I said it. I learned the importance of preparation. I learned the importance of punctuality. I learned the importance of practice. I learned the importance of team work. I learned the importance of organization. I learned the importance of patience. All of my time management skills came directly from band class. I learned about discipline and work ethic. I learned the importance of cooperation and respect. The list goes on and on. The lessons that I took from band class in itself can be an entire blog.

I recall one day in 9th grade, I was running late for school. I grabbed a pair of khaki pants from a basket that was in the laundry room. I walked into school and TS said “Hey, man, you know an iron can get those wrinkles out of your slacks”. Now some people might think this was mean. I didn’t take it that way. Instead, it made me aware of little things like looking good. It was a simple nudge to take an extra minute to dress right.

It was not odd for him to call someone in the office and ask if everything was ok if they looked like something was bothering them. Sometimes he would get wind of a situation someone was dealing with and he would be aware that there was a lesson in it for everyone. He would just tell some story in class with the lesson at the end and it did two things – it helped the person in the situation AND it helped the rest of us in case that situation ever popped up in our lives.

I remember one time Steve and I were goofing off during a rehearsal. It was the day before festival, so it was not the time to be fooling around. He stopped the band and asked us what was so funny. Because we did not have an answer he pointed to the door and said “I’ll see you after rehearsal”. We sat at the end of the hall and pondered how much trouble we were going to get into not only with him but with our folks. He sent Kelly, the band president down to the end of the hall to get us. He looked at us dead in the eye and said “I did not want you to go with us to festival tomorrow, but the band as a whole voted and said you should come”. He proceeded with the rehearsal. The following day, I was the first to arrive in the band room. He greeted me with a smile and I was completely confused. He was SO angry the day before. I asked if he had a second and he said to follow him to his office. He sat down and looked at me, like he had no idea why I was there. I apologized for my behavior the previous day and told him it would never happen again. He stared at me for a few seconds and got up quickly (which scared the hell out of me). He extended his hand and said, “It takes a lot of guts to admit when you are wrong. It takes a real man to apologize. Thank you for taking responsibility for your actions. I have a lot of respect for you.” He took it a step further and made sure the entire band knew what happened. He said he thought that they should know that I cared enough about them to apologize for my actions. Talk about respect? I have the utmost respect for that man and all of the lessons I still carry with me to this day. I am glad that we have remained in contact all these years later. He was a major influence in my life and in the lives of many students.

Christine, Michele, and Angie – College.

It would not be fair for me to write about teachers if I did not mention these three ladies. They were the instructors in college for my sleep program. Each of them taught differently and with different styles, but they still got the information to me. You know that saying “Learning can be fun”? They made it fun. But wait…it was college. I was late to the college party as I didn’t go until I was over 40. Everything I had seen about college had big classes with serious teachers who took no BS. While we learned, we laughed. There were plenty of funny stories and we learned from them. And each one of them cared for their students. Never once was I turned away if I had a question about something we learned in class. If I didn’t understand, they would go over it and over it until I DID understand. Sure there were other classes I had to take in college, but these classes and these three wonderful ladies – who I also call my friends – helped me to walk across a stage with a college degree … something I NEVER thought I was capable of doing.

There are many more teachers I can mention (and knowing me, probably will in future blogs), I want to say thanks to each and every teacher who was a part of my school years. You made a difference. You should be applauded and commended for the work you do. The many hours of your own time that you spent grading papers. The extra time you took to help that one student who was struggling. The money that you spent out of your own pocket to get something for your class. You may never know the influence that you had on a student, but I am here to tell you on their behalf that you did make an impact and to thank you.

If you are a teacher in the classroom setting today, whether it is grade school, high school, or college. You are one of the most important people in this country. YOU matter. YOU are helping tomorrow’s scientists dream. You are helping feed the doctors of tomorrow wisdom. You are shaping our future. I thank you!