Monthly Archives: December 2008

Yes, I would like to see your Ukuleles.

Now that Christmas is over I can finally talk about this year’s crazy shopping experience without spoiling anyone’s surprise. This year, I actually went into a store and asked, “Where might I find a ukulele?” It felt so strange coming out of my mouth. I suppose that it wasn’t such a strange question to be asking in a music store, or such a strange question considering that I was buying it for my brother, quite an accomplished musician. But I couldn’t help laughing as I said it. I actually got to ask it three times as the employees at the music store didn’t seem very organized. By the time I found the guy who works in the acoustic room, he handed me the only remaining ukulele in the store (or at least the only remaining ukulele under $200). Apparently, ukuleles are in high demand this year. Go figure. This ukulele, though, turned out to be quite a nice thing. It even has a jack to plug into an amplifier. Not too shabby.

You may think that the ukulele was the most exotic of the presents I gave this year, but you would be wrong. On Thanksgiving weekend I spent an hour in a craft store buying supplies to make a replica of the Simba headdress from The Lion King on Broadway. My fellow, you see, is a huge Lion King fan, so I figured it would be a perfect gift. The craft store had every thing I needed, too, which was quite handy. I made the face out of a special papier mache mix where you add water, kneed, and mold it like clay. I made the mane out of two needle point sewing rings, some wires, and an enormous amount of frayed twine. I made the crown part out of a very pliable aluminum wire so it is actually adjustable for whatever your head size may be. There was also quite a bit of glue gun use. I think it turned out pretty well.

Also this Christmas, I bought a cordless phone that you can submerge in water, a calendar all about poop (A nugget of poop knowledge a day), and boxers covered in the Grinch. Merry Christmas everyone!

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On the Menu Tonight (Christmas Eve)


Appetizers

Grilled Chicken Stuffed Mushrooms

Pigs in Breadstick blankets

 

Main Course

Roasted Free Range Chicken in a Raspberry Walnut dressing and jus

String Beans with roasted peppers and red onions

Whipped Sweat Potatoes with a Toasted Pecan topping

Cranberry and Walnut Stuffing

Cranberry Sauce (yet to be determined)

 

Dessert

Raspberry Jello Parfait

Chocolate Hazelnut Gelato

An enormous assortment of cookies to be eaten at the Church reception later this evening.

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Top 10 Favorite Christmas Movies, +2

Merry Christmas! As I sit in front of my television balling my eyes out in front of It’s a Wonderful Life, it occurs to me that I should document my favorite Christmas movies. This way, readers, whoever you may be, could possibly learn about films they have never seen. I am all for Christmas traditions, especially the making of new ones.

By the way, I found it difficult to limit this list to 10. Thus the plus 2.

I will give a brief and slightly personalized synopsis of each film just in case someone has not seen it.

12) Love Actually: This is a series of love stories set in intertwining vignettes throughout the city of London. There is the raunchy and aging pop star doing a Christmas cover of his own song, “Love is all around,” the little boy, (who, by the way is too cute to be real), who has a crush on the most popular boy in school, the Prime Minister who falls for his secretary even though she has large thighs (which is not exactly true), the business man who cheats on his wife even after she finds out, the artists who falls in love with his best friend’s wife, the horny Cockney who heads to the wonderful land of Wisconsin to find sex, the pornographic stand-ins who have perhaps the most innocent relationship in the whole film, and many others. You laugh. You cry. It moves you. Somewhat.

I actually only like parts of this movie. I feel I need to be in the mood to watch it. Some sections of the film are totally contrived. For instance, I don’t think anyone would believe for a second that Hugh Grant would be the prime minister. (This actually blatantly offends my father, but I think this has more to do with the fact that he hates Hugh Grant anyway for cheating on Elizabeth Hurly, whom my father fancies.) The film does have its moments, though. The scene where Hugh Grant dances disco around 10 Downing St. is pretty priceless. It is also freaking romantic when Colin Firth learns enough Portuguese so that he can, well, you will just have to watch and see for yourself.

11) Elf: This is one of those movies where you watch it the first time expecting it to be funny, feel disappointed afterwards, watch it again and realize it is a terrific film. The initial disappointment is probably attributed to the fact that the movie stars Will Ferrell, who you expect to come out in a tube top playing a cow bell. Needless to say, he does not do this. His elf costume is pretty spectacular, but it’s no tube top. Therefore, if you were looking to see Ferrell’s love handles, this is not the film for you. But, on the other hand, if you were looking for an adorable film about a man adopted by elves who comes to New York City to find his real father. Along the way he falls in love, eats lots of spaghetti with maple syrup, and improves everyone’s Christmas spirit. Positively charming.

You may be wondering why I put this movie so low on the list. The fact of the matter is that movies about Santa don’t actually get me in the Christmas mood. I don’t know why.

10) While You Were Sleeping: A chick-flick if ever there was one, but an excellent chick-flick I must say. Sandra Bullock stars as a woman living alone in Chicago working at a token booth on the El. From her station, she fantasizes about a certain man who daily passes through her booth. On Christmas day, she sees him being mugged. After he gets pushed from the train platform she jumps on the tracks and pulls him out of harm from an oncoming train. At the hospital, however, things get interesting. A nurse overhears her fantasizing about marrying the man in the coma, and then proceeds to introduce Bullock to the man’s family as his fiancée. The family, and a kooky Chicago family at that, is so overjoyed that Bullock is in their life that she completely misses the opportunity to tell them the truth. The movie gets even more interesting when Bullock meets the man’s younger brother, played by Bill Pullman, back when he was hunky.

This movie is adorable particularly because of all the characters in the family. Watch especially by the grandma, who is played by the same woman who played the mother in Mary Poppins.

9) Holiday Inn: A Holiday classic equipped with Bing Crosby’s dulcet tones and Fred Astaire’s flying feet and fireworks. Crosby’s character wants to retire from show business to lead a peaceful life on a farm. When he discovers that farming is ridiculously hard, he converts the farm into an inn open only on holidays. Fun and festive.

8) The Grinch and Rudolph: You may wonder why I put these at the same rank. The reason is because these two movies are on the same tape in my house. This, in turn, is because they were on TV one right after the other when my mom taped them in 1992. As I mentioned in a previous post, these movies are great on their own (The Grinch much more so than Rudolph, in my opinion), but it is the 1992 dated commercials that really are the kicker. Check out the awful sweaters and haircuts. They really compliment the Whoville Christmas Spirit and bring extra cheer to the island of Misfit toys.

7) Home Alone: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH! Macaulay Culkin may have turned into a pretty weird dude, but it doesn’t change the fact that Home Alone is still a fun movie. As my father puts it, he is such a “good kid.” By this, Dad doesn’t mean that Kevin is well behaved, but rather that he has good kid instincts. For instance, my dad is pleased when Kevin is disgusted by a picture of his older brother’s girlfriend, or when he rigs up his sled at the top of the stairs and angles it in order to make it down the stairs, out the door, down the front porch and into the yard. Dad also really likes the fact that all Kevin wants is his very own large cheese pizza.

6) Home Alone 2: Some may wonder why I not only put this as separate from Home Alone 1, but also why I ranked it higher. I think it is distinctly better. Though many of the same elements are present in both films, the second has the added bonus of Kevin checking himself into the Plaza Hotel. This is especially fun because Tim Curry plays the concierge—a phenomenal idiot trying to figure out how Kevin managed to get into one of the hotel’s finest suites. There is a great shot of him smiling like the Grinch when his computer tells him Kevin’s credit card was stolen. Another great scene in the Plaza is where Kevin lies in his own king-sized bed while room service prepares an enormous ice cream sundae for him bedside. The waiter asks, “Two scoops or three, sir?” to which Kevin responds, “Make it three, I’m not driving.” He then lies back on his massive pillow and sighs, “This is a vacation.”

5) Meet John Doe: This may be one that many people have not seen, and it is a real travesty if this is the case. Meet John Doe is the story of a newspaper woman, played by Barbara Stanwyck, who makes up a phony letter from a man planning to commit suicide on Christmas Eve in protest against the corruption in society. The letter creates such a ruckus that she and her editor decided to hire a bum to play the role of John Doe, the suicidal writer. The guy they pick is none other than Gary Cooper, whose wonderful face melts hearts like a microwave melts butter. A combination of that face and the high ideals he preaches stirs up the American public into a frenzy. John Doe Clubs appear across the nation. Neighbors treat each other better than they ever had before. Problem is, it was all phony from the beginning. Things turn particularly sour when greedy politicians get into the mix. The film culminates atop the city hall building on Christmas Eve, and it would be a crime to tell you what happens. Directed by Frank Capra with and all star cast with a fantastic Christmas message = recipe for awesome, and lots of joyful tears.

4) Christmas in Connecticut: It had been many years since I had seen this movie. This was not by choice, but rather because by the time I thought of it the movie had vanished off the shelves. Thanks to the power of Netflix, this year we were finally able to see it again, and the movie was even better than I remember it. Barbara Stanwyck stars, once again, as a newspaper woman. This time she is a columnist in a homemaking magazine writing about the joys of cooking in her Connecticut farm house with her baby cooing in the corner bassinette and her husband keeping her company. Once again, it is all a rouse, not a word of it is true. She gets into trouble, though, when her boss invites himself and a war hero over to her home for Christmas. She has to come up with something quick, and with the help of her adorable Uncle Felix telling her everything is hunky dunky, the movie turns into a splendid Christmas classic.

3) White Christmas: Bing is back and better than ever, crooning as nobody ever crooned before. Paired with the fun Danny Kaye who comes complete with matching pants, shoes and socks, the two hatch schemes to win the hearts of two blondes played by Vera Ellen and Rosemary Clooney, as well as show their appreciation for their retired Army General, and do it all in Pine Tree, Vermont.

2)
The Man Who Came to Dinner: Based on the play of the same name by George Kauffman, and my favorite play I might add, this 1940’s rendition is positively splendid. Monty Wooly stars as a distinguished author with a sharp wit and a heck of a temper who gets invited to dinner in a middle class home in Ohio. Mr. Whiteside, Wooly, slips on the steps on the way into the house and the family needs to house the invalid for the remaining weeks before Christmas. The play/movie is full of fantastic lines. My favorite is this: The nurse walks in on Mr. Whiteside sneaking candy. “Oh you mustn’t eat candy Mr. Whiteside,” she says, “it’s very bad for you.” He responds thus: “My great Aunt Jennifer ate a box of candy every day of her life. She lived to be 102 and when she had been dead three days she looked better than you do now.”

1)
It’s a Wonderful Life: This movie probably needs little explanation. I wondered to myself while making this list whether or not it justified the #1 spot. Who am I kidding? Of course it does.

 

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The Grinch, taped 1992

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. The tree is up, the garlands are perched, and the sparkling cider has been bought. This weekend, once my sister finishes school, our kitchen will turn into a cookie baking factory with Christmas movies play on a loop in the background. I have actually already watched quite a few Christmas movies to get in the mood.

There is, however, one Christmas movie I have on reserve. I must watch it with my brother, as he appreciates it as much as I do. It is a big deal, each Christmas, to turn on this old video one evening before Christmas. This video, this priceless Christmas tradition, is, of course, the treasured animated version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, 1966. Who could turn down on the opportunity to annually delight in that big, curly, Grinchy smile, or the adorableness of Max the dog playing in the snow, or the curly-cue curl atop the blonde head of Cindy Lu Who? Most of all, who can resist Thurl Ravenscroft‘s silky voice singing “You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch?” Not only is the voice deliciously enticing, but he calls the Grinch a three decker saurkraut and toadstool sandwich with arsenic sauce. What’s not to love?

But our particular family tradition does not end with the Grinch. A major part of the celebration is the fact that our Mom taped the Grinch off of the TV in 1992, which means that the video comes complete with 1992 TBS commercials. These, of course, come complete with mushroom haircuts on the little boys, cabbage patch dolls clutched by the little girls, and poofy hair dangling above outrageous sweaters worn by the mums. Seeing commercials for Aladdin toys in Captain Crunch boxes and new games like Don’t Break the Ice issues fodder for our nostalgic tendencies. We observe with glee the novelty of the Lego Pirate Ship and Jumping Monkeys.

Not to mention, the year we taped it, there was a blizzard going on. Weathermen interrupt the program at multiple points to announce their updates. Winter Storm ’92, it was. I think we got some snow days out of it. Watching this video reminds us of white Christmases, even if there is no snow outside.

There is a week left before Christmas. Where has the time gone?

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Calling all Crooners…

It seems to me to be a well established fact that everyone enjoys the occasional crooner, especially around Christmas time. Think about how many of our Christmas traditions have something to do with Bing Crosby or Nat King Cole. Would we really generate the same inner warmth and Christmas spirit if we didn’t hear those wonderful words, “chestnuts roasting over an open fire” sung by a silky voice streaming in smooth as liquid? No! Or would we be so dependant on snow for Christmas if Bing and Rosemary hadn’t told us it must be so?

And it is not just Christmas. I know I can’t be the only one who goes a bit tingly when you hear Mr. Blue Eyes himself sing about looking wonderful tonight. I know many guys who try a quick “buh buh buh booo” when they think no one is listening.

But here is my question. Where did all of the crooners go? Why aren’t there more of them today? Crooning is a time-tested musical style that won’t likely go out of fashion. It’s been around for decades, and will continue being popular. Today we have Michael Buble and Harry Connick Jr, but. I think that about sums up today’s crooners. I would like to put in a request for more. Boys! Warm up ‘them vocals! You’re in demand.

Of course, it is not just boys. Why must we listen to Celine Dion annually fail to hold the high note in “Oh Holy Night?” Why do singers today usually sound like they are attached to one of those vibrating, butt-jiggling machines from the fifties? Why are there no real divas? Aretha Franklin knew what she was doing. Ladies would do well to copy her. And where are today’s Judy Garlands, Rosemary Clooneys and Ella Fitzgeralds? Who doesn’t love a good ballad? What woman in America does not feel at least a sliver of empowerment when they hear “Respect?” Ladies! Belt out to the balcony! Go!

This blog post was inspired by a Pandora station, “White Christmas Radio.” Check it out!

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