A little sap with my cheese

November 30, 2010 – I’m a reasonably intelligent person. I’ve read several of the classics, enjoy films with subtitles and stay up-to-date on current events. I also engage in the occasional political debate. My math and science skills may not be Nobel Prize ready, but no one expects me to create the next Facebook or cure cancer, so I get by.

That being said, forgive me for what I’m about to reveal.

I love Christmas movies. I can’t get enough of those sugary sweet, sentimental stories that bring tears to my eyes and a smile to my face.

Try not to roll your eyes too much. I realize these movies are as far removed from reality as they are from receiving an Oscar nomination. They’re predictable and cheesy because every Christmas movie follows the same formula: someone struggles with something big, then the Christmas magic happens and suddenly it’s a wonderful life.

That syrupy schmaltzy formula is exactly why I watch them. I enjoy when the town folk pitch in to help each other, or when that lonely single mom lands her dream man. I cheer when the orphaned children are adopted on Christmas Eve. And I get giddy when the small town is saved from the big bad corporation that wants to take over.

You see, watching these movies makes me hope for my own Christmas magic. Then by December 26, I come to my senses and realize I‘m happy to be back to normal again.

As someone who typically likes movies with artistic value – at least during the other 11 months of the year, I ask that you allow me this guilty pleasure. And know that if I’m not busy with holiday celebrations or with the chores of daily life, I’m sitting next to my tree with a box of tissues waiting for the magic to begin.

Play on words

November 29, 2010 – I do learn something new every day.

Today’s lesson: members of the 10 percent unemployment club out of work for 27 weeks or more are considered chronically unemployed.

As a chronically unemployed person, a new term for me, I am insulted by the negative meaning behind the label. Sure, we’re in the midst of an unemployment crisis, and many job seekers remain unemployed longer than before, but it’s harsh to call it chronic.

Chronic may be defined as a long duration, but the word is associated more with long suffering. It brings to mind a person with an incurable chronic disease or a heavy smoker with a chronic cough that won’t go away.

Although I never expected to be unemployed for more than 27 weeks, labeling my unemployment status as chronic is misleading; it will be cured and it will go away – eventually. If anything, I’ve been chronically employed for the last 20 plus years, and am now taking a step back to ponder the second half of my career.

That’s more like it.

Stop the madness

November 27, 2010 – The crazed frenzy of Black Friday is a mystery to me. I’ll never understand the need to shop – or worse, stand in line to shop – at 3 a.m. just to buy a $29 DVD player.

Black Friday brings out the worst in people, and this year didn’t disappoint. I’ve read reports this morning about shoppers stampeding store employees, trampling other shoppers, arming themselves with all kinds of weapons to cut in line, causing massive fights in mall food courts, and stabbing a Marine at a Toys for Tots display. What a nice kickoff to the holiday season.

In many cities around the country it probably costs a lot more than budgeted for extra police and security, which leads to the question, is it really worth it?

Sure, Black Friday is an important day for retailers. Many stores, like Macy’s, say it’s their biggest sales day of the entire year. And with consumers still wary about spending, it’s good that reports indicate more shoppers this year, a positive sign for the economy. But anyone inviting the masses to be out on the streets at 3 a.m. is asking for trouble. Why not open at a more reasonable hour and stay open later? That might avoid some of the hysteria.

I’m not a big fan of crowds, so I try to avoid shopping during the holiday rush altogether. I may visit the mall to walk around, look at the decorations and listen to the music, but the majority of my shopping is completed before Thanksgiving. Or online.

Thank God for Cyber Monday.

Over the river and through the woods…

November 24, 2010 – Today is the busiest travel day of the year, so here’s hoping the airports won’t be too crazy for those who have to fly. Unfortunately, we can’t expect otherwise with the new TSA procedures (they really have no idea what they are doing) and the rumored mass protest hanging in the balance.

Thankfully, the only outcome I’m anticipating is who will win the annual Trivial Pursuit tournament that commences immediately following dinner.

Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving.

I heard the news today, oh boy

November 23, 2010 – The news last week that the Beatles are finally on iTunes is big for music fans, so big that Apple built an ad campaign around its release. I don’t recall any other ad campaigns for iTunes, so this is the first of its kind, for me anyway.

I was only four when the Beatles came to America in 1964, but my sister, who was 12 at the time, was lucky enough to have seen them in concert. She has her own crazy story about the events leading up to that concert at Philadelphia’s Convention Hall, which include a photo of her standing in for tickets that ended up on the front page of the Philadelphia Bulletin, and front row seats at the concert, but I had a Beatle adventure of my own when I was 12, too.

It was February 1972, two years after the Beatles had broken up. John Lennon and Yoko Ono were in Philadelphia for a week to host the Mike Douglas Show. The show was filmed on City Line Avenue, in the same building as the local news, and John had been spotted doing weather reports for the news team.

Seeing him on television had my friends and I hopping a few buses to the station the next afternoon (something parents would never let 12 year olds do today) and we waited outside to see if we could get John’s autograph. Hours later, just as we were about to go home, we hit the jackpot.

John and Yoko came out to the parking lot (with Flip Wilson of all people) and signed autographs for the small crowd that had gathered. John was dressed in a khaki suit with a cap on his head of the same material. In the cap was a pin of a yellow submarine.

I remember saying, “I like your yellow submarine pin.”

He looked at me, smiled and replied, “Why, thank you very much.”

It was all he said, but it was enough. I had his autograph, and we shared a few seconds of our time. He was kind to me despite the fact that I was a kid who saw him as a Beatle, something he tried very hard to move past at that time.

I may never have seen the Beatles in concert, but I did get to speak to my favorite member of the Fab Four, and it was a moment I will never forget.

Flawed hero?

November 22, 2010 – With no one running away with the NFC title this year, most teams remain Super Bowl contenders.

Which makes me wonder, if the Eagles make it to the big game, will Michael Vick be a hero? Will the same fans who spat their repulsion and disgust at his signing last year change their tune and crown him king? Have they already? And am I one of them?

I hate to think we’re that shallow, but the city is starved for a Super Bowl championship, maybe even more so after the sting of the Phillies’ failure to make it to the World Series. And we can’t justify it as a “team” victory when without Vick we wouldn’t stand a chance.

It’s difficult to get past his heinous actions, and even more difficult to believe he could change so dramatically. Is Vick sorry for what he did or is he sorry he got caught? We’ll never know for sure.

Then again, Vick seems like a softer version of his former personality, he’s done his time, and deserves a second chance, just like everyone else. NFL players have never been poster children for morality, anyway.

With all the flip flopping back and forth, perhaps I should consider a run for office.

Of course, it’s Eagles we’re talking about, so I probably won’t have to worry about which side of the debate I will take. Until I do, this middle of the road citizen will keep her opinions to herself, continue to cheer for her team, live in the now, and worry about everything else if and when it happens.

Let’s celebrate Thanksgiving first

November 21, 2010 – While driving around town running errands yesterday, I thought I’d forego my iPod and listen to the radio. I wanted to disprove the occasional statement that I don’t know anything about today’s music because I am stuck in the past.

To my surprise, the airwaves were filled with familiar tunes. So much for expanding my musical tastes. And for a moment I was comforted by the sounds of Andy Williams singing Do You Hear What I Hear before I came to my senses and plugged the iPod back into the player.

It’s too damn early to listen to Christmas music.

Growing up, we had a rule. No Christmas music until Thanksgiving. We would play it while cleaning up after the big meal, and it became the kick off to the season.

I realize Christmas equals big sales, which is why I let it go when items start appearing in stores right after Halloween. I’m guilty of decorating early (the day after Thanksgiving) because I enjoy the time leading up to the big day more than the days after. But by December 26th, I’m ready to put the decorations away.

That’s what happens when you start something too early.

A songwriter’s journey

November 20, 2010 – I just finished reading the fabulous Girls Like Us, Sheila Weller’s triple biography about Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon.

Although I’m not a big Carole King fan, only skimming through those chapters, Joni and Carly are among my favorites, and I devoured every word written about them. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed their songs through the years, and will listen with a new respect now that I understand the stories behind them.

With more than 500 pages, this nonfiction book is captivating enough to read like a juicy beach novel. I hated reaching the end it because I wanted it to last longer.

Still making music after 40 plus years, today’s female recording artists pale in comparison to these powerhouses.

The House at Pooh Corner

November 19, 2010 – My parents told me recently that they plan to move in the spring. The house is too large for them now, the neighborhood is changing, and it’s the right thing to do. Still, I’m sad when I think “we” won’t live there anymore.

We moved into the house when I was a few weeks old so it’s the only childhood home I’ve known. The street was populated by families with lots of children, there was always someone to play with, and many of the neighbors were second families to me.

The environment was Norman Rockwell like, but with alcohol because the grownups liked to party. We had wiffle ball games in the street on Sundays where the adults played and the children cheered from lawn chairs that lined the pavement, and block parties every Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor Day. Not to mention the water balloon fights and the Big Wheel races that my brother always seemed to win.

The family across the street had tracks in their yard with a miniature train that could transport about five or six kids at a time and it was a treat to be invited for a ride. And there was one incredibly hot summer when I remember many of the neighbors in our pool floating on large blocks of ice while listening to Frank Sinatra.

Every Tuesday night back then I would babysit my younger sister and brother, and it would always end with the three of us in a corner smacking each other with kitchen towels, kicking and screaming. I can’t remember why we fought, but it did.

I shared the middle bedroom with my younger sister. We swore it was haunted because sometimes our beds would shake and feel like they were rising off the box spring. I’m not exaggerating … and to this day I still can’t think of a reasonable explanation.

The parties hosted in the house through the years were incredible. My parents threw some epic events, and so did the four of us kids every time they went away. As a teenager, coming in late on a Saturday night, it wasn’t uncommon to be met at the door by my parents and other neighbors in a train line whistling and laughing as they made their way outside and down the street.

The house is over 100 years old now, with a high wrought iron railing surrounding the porch that was great for climbing. One spring day comes to mind when my sister and I were hanging off of it like a couple of monkeys (we were both teenagers at the time) and my mother was running up and down the porch steps (exercising). People in passing cars probably thought we were crazy, but the neighbors were used to us.

Although they may have thought differently the day my older sister left her son behind in an infant seat and ran like a banshee from the front porch down the street, just to avoid a few swarming bees while screaming, “Save my baby!”

I also spent many summer nights on that porch with my father listening to Phillies games  on the radio and swatting the mosquitoes away. I think it’s the place I’ll miss most.

Life in the McMaster house certainly wasn’t dull. I know I’ll always have those memories and I’ll try to take comfort in the closing line of The House at Pooh Corner:

“ Wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the forest, a little boy and his bear will always be playing.”