Oh Christmas Tree …

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

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

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

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

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

mom young

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

On Leave

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

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

mom at tree

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

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

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

Great Grandpa Becker 1970 (2)

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

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

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

7 mos with Mom (2)

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

pam keith sam christmas 1970

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

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

Grandpa and Grandma Davidson Christmas 1970 (2)

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

Jodi and Keith Christmas 1972

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

1975

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

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

Mom, Chris, & Keith Xmas 79

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

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

Keith Doctor Doctor game

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

Grandma and Grandpa Xmas 79

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

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

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

boys at trailer

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

boys last year

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

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

sam at tree

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

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

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

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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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Par For The Course …

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Do you have something that you love to do, even though you’re not really that good at it?  I have quite a few things that would fall into this category.  The things that pop immediately into my mind for me are singing, bowling, writing, and golf (to name a few).

I have been golfing since I was in high school.  I’ve never been really good at it, but I love to do it.  On Senior Skip Day, my friends and I decided to golf.  Most of my golf buddies and I play with the same set of rules, which contain many “mulligans”.  (For those who don’t know, a “mulligan” is a do-over shot.)  I have played with Joe, Steve, Jeff, Matt, Lee, Chris, Scott, my dad, my uncle, and perfect strangers.  In those many rounds, I have probably lost over 400 golf balls in the woods, 600 golf balls in various ponds, lakes, and rivers, and almost tipped the golf cart at least 3 times.

Over the years, I have continued to go out whenever I was able to, which amounts to about 3-7 times a year!  In Michigan the golf season just isn’t long enough.  To me, there is nothing like being out in nature playing golf.  I love being out on the golf course.  I recently have found the next best thing.

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I am far from being a “gamer”, however, I have found myself playing this game a lot lately.  It has almost become a habit to shoot 18 holes before leaving for work.  I started by just playing single rounds.  These made me laugh because the guy who does the announcing would say things like “Oh, that’s moderately disappointing” or “I’m sure that was not exactly what he had in mind with that shot” when you missed a putt or shanked one out of bounds.

Recently I started playing “My PGA Tour”.  I play a major tournament before leaving for work and for whatever it is worth, it’s kind of a stress reliever, much like actually being on the golf course.  As you play each round, you have a rival player that you are trying to beat, as well.

The graphics of this game are pretty awesome and I love the little details.  You can hear birds chirping, see planes flying overhead, there are “oohs” and “ahhs” from the audience, the crowd offers a “golf clap” when you drop the putt, and the ball leaves marks on the green when it lands.  You can upgrade equipment and clothing with your winning and the more experience you get, too.

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My best round so far has been -15!  I laugh out loud at this, because on an actual golf course I’m lucky if I end at 15 over par!!  If I get a par when I am out on an actual course, I am happy.  If I get a birdie (a rare occurrence), I am ecstatic!!  I have said that if I ever bowl a 300 game or get a hole in one golfing, I’d quit right then and there.  You’ve done it!  You have aced it.  Why go any further!?  It’s such a silly though, but I will often psych myself up when I tee off on a Par 3 hole. “Wouldn’t it be awesome to get a hole-in-one here?”  “Could this ever really happen to me?”  Let me be clear – it has NEVER happened to me for real.  However, in the game it happened twice in the same game!

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It’s also not happened again since!  LOL!  However, I did walk away the winner of the FedEx Cup, which apparently is the big event on this game.

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Sweet victory!!

We bought the Xbox for the boys, for when they are with us for the weekend.  My oldest loves to play Forza Horizon, which is like a racing game.  It’s actually pretty cool and the cars are pretty detailed.  My youngest likes to play Minecraft, The Lego games (Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Incredibles, etc), and some crazy one called Cup Head.  We have Madden football, but I usually have to beg them to play it with me.  Whether I am playing games with them, or just watching them play, it’s fun.

When it’s just me, and I have about 20 minutes, I put in my silly little golf game and de-stress.  It’s the next best thing to being out on the course for real…..

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The King is Gone

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May 1977.  The month I turned 7 years old, two movies were released that would have major influences over my childhood, and adulthood.  The movies were Star Wars and Smokey and the Bandit.  I can recall exactly where I saw each movie, too.

I saw Star Wars at Hoover 11 when the movie theater was still in the complex.  I don’t recall the exact date I saw it, but it was within a month of it’s release.  Eventually, the theater closed and became a TJ Maxx.  It was a one screen theater, and I remember the line was long.  I remember waiting in line for what seemed like forever and it being a full house!  I also remember not being able to sleep for a week, because Darth Vader scared the hell out of me.

I do remember the exact date I saw Smokey and the Bandit. August 16, 1977 – 42 years ago today.  I believe my folks had a station wagon at the time, and we drove to the Gratiot Drive-In in Roseville.

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When you saw a movie at the Drive-In, you always got their early.  You found a good spot where you could see the screen without obstruction.  The spot also was ideally close to the bathrooms and concession stands.  You had to pull up to the pole that held the speaker that you would hang from your window, so you could hear the audio of the movie.

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The movie never started until it got dark, so I remember bringing a baseball and mitt to play catch, or we’d go to an old playground that was up near the screen.

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As the sun began to go down, we’d go back to the car and dad would usually turn on the radio.  We had an AM radio in the car, and Dad turned on Honey Radio (where I would years later have the honor of working).  I remember the DJ (I don’t recall who it was) coming on and saying that Elvis had died in Memphis.  He was only 42.  They played Elvis music for the remainder of the time we listened.

I remember the news sort of putting a damper on the night.  My dad was a big Elvis fan.  I remember him watching the Aloha From Hawaii concert in the living room. I remember the many albums he had (including the Moody Blue album on blue vinyl). And I remember how he recorded the song Way Down on 8 tracks that we listened to on the drive to Caseville.  Dad would often put Elvis songs on the stereo and play his guitar along with them.

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I’m glad that we were at the movies to see a comedy.  I recall my dad being visibly upset by the news.  I don’t know that I had ever seen him that way before.  Once the movie started, I knew he was ok.  I recall the hearty laughter from him as Jackie Gleason shouted out profanity into the CB microphone.  Those scenes continue to make dad and me laugh out loud today – no matter how many times we’ve seen them!

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I remember in the days before VCR’s.  I used to record movies on cassettes so I could hear my favorite scenes.  I had no idea that in the future you’d be able to go out and buy your favorite movies on DVD and Blu-Ray.  Smokey and the Bandit was on cable one night at like 12:30am.  It was the last time that month that it was airing.  To me, it could have been the last time it ever aired!  I asked my dad to record it for me on cassette.  When I listened back to it, I could hear dad laughing at all of the Jackie Gleason scenes.  I was probably mad about it at the time, but looking back, I know I’d have done the same thing!

In everyone’s life, there are events that become etched forever in your mind.  For some, it was when they heard Buddy Holly died.  For others, it was when JFK or Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. Those become memories that when you look back on them, you remember exactly where you were, who you were with, and what you were doing.  I have a few of those memories – President Reagan being shot, the Challenger explosion, and, of course, 9/11. The first one that is forever etched in my mind, though, happened 42 years ago today.

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The Ghost of Christmas Eve Past (and Yet To Come)

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For as long as I can remember, Christmas Eve was always spent with Grandma and Grandpa P. when we were kids.  I don’t necessarily know that there was any particular reason for this, I only know that from a very young age, this was the tradition. I also remember that dreaming of a White Christmas was hardly ever necessary.  If my memory serves me right, as a kid, there was maybe one or two Christmases that were we didn’t have snow.

The excitement for Christmas Eve was a bit different from Christmas Day.  Grandma and Grandpa always seemed to ask for our Christmas list early …. like July early!  She obviously planned ahead and shopped throughout the year, which must have saved her a ton of hassles finding things.  We usually were dressed and ready to go to Grandma’s house by 2 or 3pm. We would leave knowing at least one thing we were getting – a winter coat.  She got us one every year (which we hated, because she’d take us out shopping for it as early as October!).

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Christmas Eve dinner was always the same with very little variance.  Ravioli was the main dish.  There would be a feast that included breaded steak, sausage or meatballs, dinner rolls, and just about every other things you could imagine. Grandma prided herself on being able to make dinner that could feed an army! Grandma always made her Ammoghio (pronounced Moy-Gyoo) sauce to go on top of the steak.  This was made up of olive oil, tomatoes, some seasonings and a WHOLE LOT of garlic!  I never ate it as a kid, but as an adult – I love it!  Everyone who ate it smelled like garlic for like a week!

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There was always a dish with olives (green and black), sweet pickles, and veggies.  You would also find a big bowl with pistachios, and another one filled with nuts of all kinds.  The nuts were still in the shells, so you had to crack them open with the old silver nutcracker that was probably older than my grandma!  I can’t remember, but I think there was also a bowl or two of M&M’s and Hershey’s Kisses out to snack on, too.

For dessert – there were ALWAYS cannoli! Early on I think she made them from scratch (I may have her recipe somewhere), but I really remember her getting them from the Italian bakery.  There were also always plenty of cookies!  Grandma spent days baking them and by the time she was done, I think she had like 400 dozen!  She used to store them in these big tin cans that Better Made Potato Chips used to come it.  She always made chocolate chip for me, oatmeal for my brother, cut out sugar cookies and these little ice box cookies that none of us ate … well, I can’t say that … we fed them to the dogs and they seemed to like them a lot!

I recall the year that my grandmother bought my brother and I every Star Wars Figure that was out.  There were one or two that were very difficult to find, but she found them.  We each got a set!  Then there was the year she bought us the Atari 2600!  This was long before the fantastic graphics of Play Station or X-Box.  The games on this thing were very primitive as far as graphics went!  Oh, the hours I spent playing Sea Hunt, Pac-Man, and Pitfall!!  Even after all of the gifts were open, there was always an envelope for us.  For many years there would be a crisp $100 bill in it.  $100 was a LOT of money and I was always amazed at how new the bill was – it was almost like she had printed it herself!

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One Christmas Eve I remember particularly well.  Unlike previous years, when we came in the house, we were ushered immediately downstairs.  Usually, we went into the sun porch off the back of her house, where tables would be set for dinner and food would be out.  This year, dinner was in the basement.  We hardly EVER went in the basement, so I wasn’t sure what was happening.  In the middle of dinner, we heard a noise from upstairs.  Someone was walking (actually stomping, I think) around upstairs.  I think she had my great Uncle Ralph some in and do it.  My grandma said that Santa was probably up there leaving presents.  It was well before midnight, and you know how kids are – we knew that Santa came at midnight and we questioned it.  Grandma said she had called and “made special arrangements with Santa”.  Looking back on it now, I can totally see Grandma like Don Corleone of the Godfather making “special arrangements” with Santa!  At any rate, soon after the noise was gone, we were allowed to go upstairs and into the porch.  I am sure I am over exaggerating when I say that the porch looked like Toys R Us!  It was loaded with presents and a bike for both my bother and me.  I don’t even know how we got the presents home!

After dinner and presents, my brother and I would go watch movies, play the video games, or with our toys, while the adults went back into the porch to smoke and play cards.  Pinochle was what they usually played, although I seem to remember one year they also played gin rummy.  Depending on the people who were present, sometimes dad will play his guitar, Uncle Sam would play his accordion, or grandma would sit on the old Hammond organ and sing songs and play. Grandma played by ear and had no sense of tempo (or time signature for you musical folks), so she was either hitting wrong notes or playing ahead or behind everyone else.  From a child’s perspective, the music wasn’t very good, so my brother and I would go to another room.

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When I had finally learned how to play pinochle, I was a welcome addition to the card table.  My dad played, but he was usually done after a few games, so I gradually took his place as a “regular” at the table.  I LOVED this!  We could play forever!  Grandpa and mom were always partners.  He would often over bid my mom because he thought he had a good hand, then they would lose the hand.  They would get so mad at each other.

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I remember before I started playing, they would play cards until well after midnight.  My brother and I would be struggling to stay awake, our job was to remind mom and dad of how late it was getting – God forbid Santa not come because we weren’t home and in bed! Dad would constantly remind us that he paid for Santa to bring toys, and Santa would “circle the house” until we were home and in bed before delivering the toys.

When I began working in radio, it seemed that I was always on the air on Christmas Eve.  One of the “on air” traditions that I started was to call grandma and ask her how the preparations for dinner were coming. She would go into detail about what was on the menu and what time dinner was.  She would often razz me on the air and warned me not to be late.  She was an instant hit.  It was amazing how many people would call and ask if I was gonna check in with Grandma!

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Over the years, the faces of Christmas Eve changed.  Some years there were more relatives than others.  Aunt Rose became a staple after Uncle Sam passed away.  After Grandpa passed away, friends of the family often came by and the pinochle games continued.  As the years passed, there seemed to be more reflecting on Christmas Eves of the past with laughter and sadness.

Over the last few years, Christmas and Christmas Eve has undergone many more changes.  While many of the voices of Christmas Eve have been silenced, those wonderful memories warm my heart.  I look back at the memories fondly, and I also look forward to the new memories that will be made.  This year, my two amazing sons will be with us Christmas Eve morning to open presents with us.  They are older, but still full of excitement.  When they saw the gifts under the tree their reactions were typical for their age.  Dimitri, 11, saw the big box and said “Whoa, is that for us?”, while Dante’, 16, said “Is this all of the presents, or will there be more?”

I sit writing this as everyone in the house is still asleep.  Sam and I have joked around at what is in the big box under the tree more than once.  The camera is ready to capture the moments from this Christmas Eve, ready to provide them both with memories to look back on themselves in years to come.  I hope that someday, they will look back at Christmas Eve as one of their favorite holidays, just like I do.

Mom Dad Keith and Chris 1980

 

 

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