My favorite blog post #7

grandmas-cartoon-picture-hiDecember 17, 2014 – Taking a holiday break, so here is one of my favorite blog posts, originally published on January 5, 2012. Happy Holidays!

The most special person on earth

My son was part of an ongoing game with my mother when he was younger. Each time he’d visit he asked her to make him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich because no one, not even his own loving mother, could make it as good as she could.

“Grandmom makes it special,” he would say. “With love.”

Whether he said it simply to make her feel good and shower him with more attention, or he really could taste that special ingredient that no one else apparently had, my mother devoured the compliment and the game continued for years.

Now that he’s almost 28, my mother doesn’t make him peanut butter and jelly sandwiches anymore, although she would if he asked. He adores his grandmother, and he should. But when I tell him that his grandmother isn’t the same woman who raised me, he gets that glazed look in his eyes and has no idea what I mean.

Something happens to women when they become grandmothers; they suddenly become among the most special people on earth. I adore my mother, too, but she’s different as a grandmother than she was as a mother. Not that she was overly strict or mean raising her brood, but my siblings and I didn’t get the attention that her grandchildren get. In fact, my father is fond of saying that if there’s such a thing as reincarnation, he wants to come back as one of my mother’s grandchildren.

My experience with my grandmother was quite different. I only had one, my mother’s mother who we called Gramsy, and she was already an old woman by the time I was born. I don’t remember her as a dotting grandmother. I don’t remember much at all – she passed away when I was 11 – but I do remember she wasn’t too crazy about kids in her old age. She did, however, have other attributes that made her unique and interesting. I can honestly say she fascinates me now.

Gramsy and her family were poor. I know most people struggled back then during those depression years, but they were really poor because her husband, who died when my mother was a young teen, had a heart condition and couldn’t work. From the stories my mother tells, Gramsy didn’t mind being poor. I suppose she was used to it, or didn’t want to show her kids that it bothered her. But my mother resented not having money and living a life straight from the pages of “Angela’s Ashes”. She never had new clothes and was made fun of by the other kids because she had to wear her brother’s shoes to school. She speaks frequently about those shoes, and of the times when she was lucky if she got an orange and a nickel for Christmas. She also talks about when she and her twin brother were born, they only had one infant tee shirt between them.

I’d give up an awful lot to have a conversation with Gramsy now, to see what she thought about her life. I’d love to ask about her younger days, when she first met her husband. I wish I remembered more about her personality. I can picture her clearly – my cousins used to say she looked like George Washington on the dollar bill. And she did. Her entire wardrobe consisted of house dresses (do they still make them) with nylon stockings rolled down to her knees. I remember that she had a raspy voice from smoking Viceroys, and that she loved to gamble, which is something my mother inherited.

Gramsy also had a sweet tooth and loved butter cake and jelly roll. I can still picture her walking to “the avenue” to the corner bakery whenever she stayed with us, which was frequently. She really didn’t have a home towards the end of her life and took turns staying with our family or one of my mother’s sisters’ families. Can you imagine being tossed back and forth and having no place to call your own?

I realize my son’s memories of his grandmother will be different from mine, but it’s been interesting to experience my relationship with Gramsy and his relationship with my mother, not necessarily to compare them, but to realize how wonderful the differences can be. It makes me wonder what kind of grandmother I will be when I’m blessed with grandchildren, and what my grandchildren will take away from the experience.

It is still several years away I’m sure, but I do look forward to becoming the most special person on earth.

The best things about Christmas…

Colorful-Christmas-TreeDecember 15, 2014 – The holidays are here and it’s time to celebrate. Here are 10 things I look forward to each year during the magical time between Thanksgiving and the New Year:

1. Spending time with family and friends
2. The music
3. The lights
4. Sipping on hot chocolate (and other spirits!)
5. Classic Christmas movies
6. Other people’s Christmas cookies since I am missing the baking gene
7. Charlie Brown and the gang
8. Watching our kids open gifts
9. The seemingly endless of versions of “A Christmas Carol”
10. Taking time off

I’m taking a proper holiday this year, from both work and this blog, to recharge my batteries and get those creative juices flowing again. I will continue posting on schedule with some of my favorite blog posts of the past four years, and will be back on January 2, 2015 with new material.

Until then, have a wonderful season celebrating whatever you believe, or whatever makes you happy!

TV Movie Review: Wishin’ and Hopin’

wish and hop3December 8, 2014 – Did you see that movie on Lifetime Television the other night?

Bet you don’t hear that often. The network for women who enjoy true story drama and heartbreak is not one people freely admit to watching, especially this time of year, when it serves up the sappiest Christmas movies you can imagine.

Yet, Saturday night’s “Wishin’ and Hopin’” was one Christmas movie I watched with great and unexpected joy. It didn’t fit the same formula of the typical Lifetime movie of the week, which is the primary reason I enjoyed it, and also because it’s based on the novella of the same name by Wally Lamb. Yes, the same Wally Lamb who writes novels recommended by Oprah Winfrey, such as “She’s Come Undone”, one of the most emotional and disturbing books I’ve ever read, and “I Know This Much is True”.

Lamb has a lighter side and shows it proudly in the Christmas novella that was released four years ago, and was recently turned into a movie. The story, told from the point of view of a 10-year-old boy in Connecticut in 1964, is somewhat reminiscent of Jean Shepherd’s “A Christmas Story”. Using a narrator (Chevy Chase in this case) gives it the same feel, and given that it takes place 50 years ago, makes it nostalgic.

The story focuses on a 5th grade class at a Catholic school that is preparing for their Christmas pageant. The cast is as unique as the story; their cranky and batty teacher, a nun played by Cheri Oteri takes sick leave right before pageant practice begins, and is replaced by a French lay teacher (Molly Ringwald) from Quebec, who brings a whole different spin with her teaching methods and ideas. Meatloaf plays a priest at the school, and Conchata Ferrell, another nun who takes over the class temporarily, and scares the kids silly because the mole on her upper lip seems to constantly grow.

wish and hopeThe charming Wyatt Ralff plays 10-year-old Felix Funicello (yes the same family who spawned Annette Funicello of the Mickey Mouse Club and beach movie fame; they are second cousins but they’ve never met, and Annabelle Sciorra and Danny Nucci play his loving Italian and very Catholic parents.

You’d think the Catholic school premise is enough to keep the story interesting. Lamb throws in throw in hilarious scenes of weekly confessions, girls with tissues bobby pinned to their heads because they forgot their chapel veils (I remember that one), and the so called “good” girl of the class giving her oral report on mortal sinners like Marilyn Monroe (suicide!) and Lee Harvey Oswald (murder!), but it only scratches the surface. When a new Russian student shows up in the middle of the year that has a difficult time distinguishing between Mickey Mouse with Mickey Mantle, things turn crazier. Her new school is so foreign to her she slaps a nun right back after taking one across her own cheek. That’s not something you see everyday.

The movie is a refreshing change of pace from the typical dramatic fare showing this time of year. It’s a fabulously fun trip back in time whether you went to Catholic school or not.

Will “Wishin’ and Hopin’” get a day each year at Christmas with a 24-hour run like “A Christmas Story”? Probably not, but it is a surprisingly film that should get a little rerun support each season.

“Wishin’ and Hopin” premiered on Lifetime on Saturday night, and it’s everything you would expect a Lifetime movie not to be. It’s sure to make a few more appearances before Christmas, so if you missed it, you should definitely try to catch one.

Christmas hotcakes made famous by Pop Pop

PancakeDecember 5, 2012 – It wouldn’t be Christmas without thinking about my grandfather. As I’ve done since this blog began in 2010, I’ll retell the story of his famous Christmas Hotcakes because it is worth repeating… 

When I think of my grandfather – known lovingly as Pop Pop throughout our large extended family – lots of warm and comforting memories come to mind.

Most often, he’s standing in front of a microphone at a family party singing a favorite song from 1919 that begs, “Don’t put a tax on the beautiful girls, I won’t last a day without love…”

Or, he’s sitting at our dining room table playing Scrabble with my parents after one of our Thursday night dinners.

I also vividly see him standing in the kitchen preparing his famous hotcakes.

Pop Pop made hotcakes every Sunday for his kids before church. Then, he’d make them for us during our summer vacation at the beach because he usually came with us. He’d love to get up early, walk to the grocery store and buy what he needed to whip up a fresh batch. We’d wake to the sound of him whistling in the kitchen with the griddle sizzling.

“Who wants hotcakes?” he’d ask as soon as he saw our sleepy faces.

We all did. They were one of the things we looked forward to while on vacation. And we loved them the next day, too, and maybe even the day after that. By day four, we’d have rather eaten a simple bowl of corn flakes or a Pop Tart, but we never had the heart to say so, and we ate them anyway. It was a small price to pay to please a man who brought so much joy into our lives.

He also made hotcakes for us on Christmas mornings, and we’d eat them like we never had them before, then he’d fall asleep on the sofa while we opened presents.

Pop Pop passed away in 1977, and I still think of him and his hotcakes every Christmas. My sister always says it wasn’t Christmas until he arrived at our house on Christmas Eve. Gone but not forgotten, poured but never duplicated, Pop Pop’s hotcakes were the centerpiece of our Christmas morning and our summer vacations. Those memories will be with me always.

The best non-traditional Christmas songs

downloadDecember 3, 2011 – Let’s keep music the theme going this week because it’s time to turn on the radio and hear Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer for the umpteenth time.

It’s not that I dislike Rudolph or any other traditional Christmas music, but there is a lot of interesting, non-traditional music that goes unnoticed unless you happen to own the CD and discovered it for yourself.

You probably won’t hear these non-traditional songs on the radio. The stations play the same songs over and over again, most likely because they have a limited selection available, and many people enjoy sticking with tradition. That’s why I opt to create my own playlists of holiday tunes to create a wonderful mix of the traditional and non-traditional.

I realize that putting an original song on a holiday CD isn’t always welcome, but there are singers who do it well. Some do it so well, in fact, that their original song becomes a tradition. The best example of that may be John Lennon’s Happy Christmas, War is Over. It’s covered plenty.

Here are 10 fine songs (in no particular order) that follow the same tradition:

Christmas Passing Through – The Roches
Love this little ditty so much; the harmonies are rich and it just makes me smile. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find this on YouTube, so you’ll have to click through a few screens to listen, but it’s worth it.

Christmas on the Block – Alan Mann
If you don’t get that special warm feeling listening to this song – about a blind family in Upper Darby, Pa., who decorate their house with Christmas lights to the extreme for those with sight to enjoy – you may not have a soul.

The Night Before Christmas – Carly Simon
It’s joyful, it’s uplifting, and now it’s tradition.

Father Christmas — the Kinks
It’s not a warm, fuzzy Christmas you want. It’s not joyful in anyway. But it tells an interesting story for sure.

It’s Christmas Time – Dan Fogelberg
I once read that Dan wanted to record a Christmas song in the spirit of Carol of the Bells where it sounded like the voices were singing in rounds. He succeeded with this bright tune.

Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song) – Amy Grant
This song is beautifully hypnotic, and always puts things back into perspective.

I Believe in Father Christmas – Emerson Lake and Palmer
Listening to this takes me back to the day, all right. It’s so good you can listen to it year round.

My Christmas Card to You — The Partridge Family
Here’s my guilty pleasure of the playlist. I’m almost embarrassed, but it’s really fun to listen to.

Christmas at the Zoo – The Flaming Lips
Weird, it’s true, but I do love the lyrics to this gem.

Merry Christmas, War is Over – John Lennon
Sure, I’ve mentioned this already, but I still have to mention it in the list because I love it. Much better than McCartney’s sappy tune!



Christmas songs that have nothing to do with Christmas

ptree1December 1, 2014 — Now that Thanksgiving is over and December is here, ’tis the season to crank up the Christmas tunes.

It’s also time to wonder why certain songs are played at Christmas that have nothing to do with the holiday, like the ones below:

Same Old Lang Syne – Dan Fogelberg
Singer/songwriter Dan Fogelberg weaves a touching story in a song that isn’t about the spirit of Christmas, but rather the chance meeting that occurs on Christmas Eve. While home for the holidays, he runs into an old girlfriend at the grocery store. They talk about their unfulfilled dreams and mundane lives, and it turns sadder when they say goodbye as the snow turns into rain, a gut-wrenching last line that’s enough to make anyone cry. The song touches us because we can all relate to it in some way. However, it doesn’t make you want to deck the halls with boughs of holly.

River – Joni Mitchell
In “River”, Joni Mitchell shares another love story gone wrong. Sad stuff, but why do many artists cover it on their Christmas albums? Sure, it’s a great song, and the first line indicates, “It’s coming on Christmas, they’re cutting down trees,” but that’s it. Mitchell wishes she had a river to skate away on in this song, to escape the sadness that has set in since she screwed things up with her lover. Sad situations occur year round unfortunately, but they are not typically the subject of the jolly Christmas tunes. I also read an interview where Joni recently stated she despises when folks sing the song with a smile on their face.

It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way – Jim Croce
“Snowy nights and Christmas lights, icy window panes, make me wish that we could be together again.” Are you starting to see a pattern here? Jim Croce’s sad little ballad is the third love gone wrong song on this list. Believing this is a Christmas tune is like believing “Die Hard” is a Christmas movie because it takes place on Christmas Eve. I suppose the Christmas season at times magnifies what is missing in your life, but let’s wait until January to obsess about heart-break. Christmas songs should be about joy and peace.

My Favorite Things – Various Artists
This song, from “The Sound of Music” is nice enough, but doesn’t remotely relate to Christmas, or even occur during the season like those above. If Christmas is one of the songwriter’s favorite things, he doesn’t mention it. Warm woolen mittens and brown paper packages tied up with string could be considered Christmassy if you stretch it, but it is not a holiday song, no matter how many artists record it on their Christmas albums. Julie Andrews, who is most associated with this song, didn’t include it on her Christmas recording. She knew better.

Any song about the cold weather  – Various Artists
“Frosty the Snowman”, “Let it Snow”, “Winter Wonderland”, “Baby It’s Cold Outside”, and even “Jingle Bells” may be associated with  Christmas and played throughout the season, but they have more to do with cold weather and snow than the holiday. In the Northern Hemisphere it makes sense. We associate cold and snowy weather with Christmas because it is cold and snowy in December. What about the folks in the Southern Hemisphere? Many celebrate Christmas in these countries, where it’s summer in December. Makes you wonder if they include “Catch a Wave” or “Surfer Girl” in their Christmas song repertoire.