Love Letters

shopDecember 9, 2016 – When you think of Jimmy Stewart and Christmas, no doubt It’s a Wonderful Life springs to mind. The heartwarming holiday classic is still widely watched and relevant today.

However, six years before, in 1940, Stewart starred in The Shop Around the Corner, a lesser-known movie that is often overlooked, possibly because it doesn’t follow the traditional holiday formula, or it because wasn’t directed by Frank Capra. It does, however, take place during the holiday season and come to its touching conclusion on Christmas Eve.

As a fan of old movies, I‘m ashamed to say I discovered this gem only six years ago when I caught it on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) one night. For almost two hours, I was caught up in snappy, quick-witted dialogue (something lost in today’s movies), romance and intrigue (it takes place in a gift shop in Budapest), and the glamorous style of that era (I adore the suits and hats women used to wear every day).

Stewart’s plays Mr. Kralik, a character much like the one he’s played in It’s a Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, or any of his other films. He’s made a career out of playing the humble good guy and he does so brilliantly. His co-star is the equally talented Margaret Sullavan, an actor I’m not too familiar with, but who’s made plenty of movies according to IMDB. Together they play two bickering co-workers who can barely stand to be in the same room, yet unknowingly are falling in love by mail as each other’s secret pen pal.

If the plot sounds familiar, it’s because Nora Ephron borrowed it for her screenplay, You’ve Got Mail, with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. I liked Ephron’s version, but now that I’ve seen the original, I realize there is no comparison. Check out the comparison in the video clip below. If if you want to catch the movie in its entirety, TCM is running it this month on December 15, at 8 p.m.

Crescent Moons, Magazines and Peppermint Tea

downloadDecember 2, 2016 – Anyone up for solving a mystery?

The song, My Favorite Things, from the musical The Sound of Music, is played at Christmas each year, and I’m not sure why. Aside from the lyrics “brown paper packages tied up with string, or snowflakes that fall on my nose and eyelashes” – and are a both a stretch – there isn’t a reference to December 25 or any of its holiday traditions. Yet artists from Tony Bennett to Luther Vandross include it on their Christmas recordings.

And while we’re on the subject … the items Rogers and Hammerstein mention in their song are nice, they aren’t included on a list of my favorites. If I were to rewrite the song, I’d include the things below:

Curtains fluttering in the breeze
Early morning walks with my camera
Georgia O’Keeffe and Vincent Van Gogh paintings
Sunflowers and daisies
Crescent moons
Sunsets at the beach
Crisp mornings in autumn
My brother-in-law’s margaritas
Long drives
Magazines and peppermint tea
Mack’s Pizza at the Jersey shore
Listening to Joni Mitchell on Sunday mornings
Haagen Daz vanilla ice cream
Warm towels straight from the dryer

The History of Black Friday

imagesNovember 25, 2016 – If you’re someone who pays homage to the day after Thanksgiving by shopping, you probably familiar with the term “Black Friday” as the day of the year that retailers “go into the black” and make a profit. What you might not know is that you’re only half-right.

The term is also used to describe the crash of the U.S. gold market on Friday, September 24, 1869. The crash sent the stock market into free-fall, bankrupting everyone in the country from Wall Street tycoons to farmers.

Black Friday’s ties to the retail industry are more commonly known, but the “black” part of Black Friday wasn’t always associated with profits. Back in the 1950s, Philadelphia police coined the phrase “Black Friday” to describe the chaos that occurred on the Friday after Thanksgiving when suburban crowds would come into the city to watch the annual Army-Navy game, traditionally played the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Large crowds would arrive the day before for holiday shopping, with some taking advantage of the masses to shoplift, which often caused riots.

Philly’s Finest referred to that day as “Black Friday” because of the extra manpower needed to control the crowds. The term didn’t spread to the rest of the country, or take on a positive spin of retailers going from red to black, until several years later when it became a common holiday shopping day nationwide.

It seems that many firsts have roots in Philadelphia.

Faire Impression

ren-faire-coverNovember 18, 2016 – Last month, I took a trip back in time and visited the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire.

As a first time visitor, I had expectations but tried to keep an open mind after hearing stories from people who either enjoyed or despised the experience. Faire workers, for example, dress in period costume. I expected that. Referred to as actors, they wander through the grounds unable to be pulled out of character, much like the Buckingham Palace guards when faced with a Lucy Ricardo in the crowd. Wenches pour drinks and sing lewd songs; poets recite bawdy poetry and then apologize for it; and street performers juggle knives, swords and other objects, and wrestle in lots of mud.


One of the many interesting oddities you’ll come across at the faire.

The impressive four men, who acted as common villagers walking through town, for example, had a rather lengthy conversation about “displeasing the King and serving at his pleasure.” They didn’t miss a beat and included me in the conversation as I followed them for several minutes. However, the musicians mesmerized me most, as they entertained with the likes of Greensleeves, Scarborough Fair, and a few modern classics made to sound as if they belong in the middle ages. From the guitars and harmonicas, to hurdy gurdys and fiddles, they enchanted the crowd with their serenade.


Ladies singing in the Town Square.

With this blog post in mind, I wanted to ask questions, especially of the four men I followed, but decided not to. The actors would have cooperated, or else they face a fine, so I did my best to learn what I could by paying attention and eavesdropping. Many of the workers camp on the faire grounds during the 10-week season, some even travelling from faire to faire. Those on the national circuit are also mostly pagans, but I’m not sure if that means they are a part of the well-known motorcycle club or they practice paganism, the nature-worshipping religion. Finally, the people who work the booths and sell their wares are independent business owners, known as boothies.


One of the boothies selling her wares.

Here’s what I didn’t expect. The crowd lines up at least an hour before the faire opens, and the majority of visitors dress in costume. I expected some to dress for the occasion, but I didn’t expect to be the minority. I had ample time to ask this group questions as we waited together, and here’s what I learned:

  • Many of them (old and young alike) are season ticket holders and frequent visitors to the faire.
  • Since I was dressed in 21st century clothing, I am a “Mundane” or ordinary person.
  • People who attend dressed in costume are known as playtrons. (Just a hunch, I’ll bet they also play Dungeons and Dragons).
  • Playtrons enjoy interactions with the actors, but it’s frowned upon during the scripted events. However, that doesn’t always stop them, and it could be difficult at times to tell one from the other.
  • The faire has an actual theme, recreating a village from 1500s England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. When I referred to something as Victorian, a few hard-nosed playtrons glared at me in disgust. Other events, they told me recreate Victorian and Edwardian eras, but “official” Renaissance Faires are only Elizabethan.
  • The idea for the faire began in California in the early 1960s when a teacher created a living history exhibit in her backyard as a high school project for her students. The idea caught on and has been active ever since.

Entertaining the King and Queen in the Town Square.

I’m not ready to become a playtron, but I did enjoy my time at the faire as a mere Mundane, and I’d visit again. The village is set in a wooded area, with stunning foliage against the backdrop of a bright blue sky, making it the perfect autumn experience.

If you decide to give it a try and plan to dress in costume, wear sensible shoes. My Fitbit clocked nearly 20,000 steps that day!