Monday, January 2, 2017

Bjorklundosophy, volume III.

My family is a wordy bunch.



But of course you knew that.

It has become an annual Christmas tradition for me to compile my family's oft-said phrases into a book, dubbed Bjorklundosophy


We are up to the third volume of Bjorklundosophy, which made its debut at Christmas 2016. If you feel like brushing up on your Bjorklundosophy, read volume I and volume II!

And here it is, in all its Bjorklund-y glory. Prepare to be educated!


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Don’t ask if you don’t want to know.
On the whole, the Bjorklunds are an honest people – if you ask them a question, you will most likely get a candid response. After you receive said candid response, you may not appreciate such honesty. Should this be the case, a Bjorklund will simply state, “Don’t ask if you don’t want to know.” You may recall from earlier editions of Bjorklundosophy that another such phrase exists in their lexicon: “do you really want to know?” The difference between the two is slight but of utmost importance. “Do you really want to know” is a question you ask before you deliver an answer, and “don’t ask if you don’t want to know” reminds you that you asked and therefore must deal with the truthful reply.

Ha!
Bjorklunds are a punny folk, and they want you to know when they’ve been clever. (Or, what they perceive as clever.) If a Bjorklund interjects a pun into an everyday conversation, they will pause, say – “Ha!” – and continue. The “ha” is a signal to you that they are witty, and they are going to make sure you know it.

I’m self-employed, not unemployed.
The self-employed Bjorklund in question is none other than Tim, the faaaaather. As Tim has been a farmer for all of his adult life, self-employment is nothing new to him. However, it still hasn’t quite sunk in with some of his family members. Tim tends to be the go-to guy for such errands as helping people move and giving rides to the airport. Not that Tim minds, but the general attitude tends to be, “Call Tim! He’s not doing anything!” Tim then feels as though he must remind said relatives that he is self-employed, not unemployed. To them, it’s the same thing.

Don’t tell your grandma.
This Bjorklundism originated years ago when an antique love seat of Grandma Lorraine’s was being transported from her place to the Bjorklund homestead. It was strapped in the back of the pickup when, somehow, it flew out and went skidding across the highway. Unlike most people, whose first words would be “OH SHIT,” the sentence that came immediately from Brenda were, “Don’t tell your grandma.” The three Bjorklund kids, knowing when Brenda was life-or-death serious, sure didn’t tell their grandma. Brenda did eventually tell Lorraine what had happened, long after the scrapes and dings on the love seat had been repaired. The best part? Lorraine was unable to find the damage on her own, but when Brenda pointed it out, she clucked in disapproval. And THAT is why you don’t tell your grandma.

Shame on me.
Midwesterners are, on the whole, a kind folk. However, they have their moments. Whenever a Midwesterner talks shit about someone, they tend to either precede or conclude their shit-talking with the statement, “Bless her/his heart.” In a Midwesterner’s eyes, this gets them off the hook for whatever mean thing they said because a blessing was invoked upon the gossipeeBjorklunds are not in the business of blessing hearts, but they do have an equivalent statement: shame on me. “Shame on me” is more honest than “bless her/his heart,” as Bjorklunds are up front about saying something unkind. “Shame on me” typically follows the less-than-flattering statement. Example: “I hope that idiot (insert name of person) gets hit by a truck. Shame on me.” (It is important to note that, while the Bjorklunds say these words, they don’t actually feel shame. I bet you already knew that.)

It could be worse/there’s your silver lining.
Like all families, the Bjorklunds are an interesting mix of optimists and pessimists, with a few realists thrown in for good measure. Tim is one of the optimists, and his years in farming combined with his years knee-deep in the politics of small-town living have somehow left his optimism mostly intact. Tim strove to teach his children (who try to be optimists, but have a strong genetic disposition to pessimism) to keep things in perspective. Not a purveyor of greeting-card optimism (you won’t catch Bjorklunds telling you that the glass is half full), Tim taught his children to remember simply this: it could be worse. Example: “My car was stolen and my house is on fire, but it could be worse… I could NOT be a Bjorklund.” The other optimistic phrase that Bjorklunds keep in their back pockets is “there’s your silver lining.” Bjorklunds don’t waste their breath on empty sentiments, so you won’t hear them saying “every cloud has a silver lining” in a time of crisis. Instead, they will find the silver lining immediately. Example: “I broke my leg going corn-jumping yesterday, but at least I don’t have to go to work today. There’s your silver lining.”

It’s later than you think.
These words of wisdom were passed onto Tim by his grandmother when he was just a young whippersnapper. His grandmother reminded him that, though the young think they’re going to live forever, you don’t have as much time left as you may think you do: Bjorklundese for carpe diem. As all the Bjorklunds age, this sentiment becomes more and more accurate. None of the Bjorklunds feel their age, and it’s quite easy to forget that they aren’t getting any younger. But then they are reminded by a birthday or (gulp) an obituary that they’re not as young as they think they are… hence, it’s later than you think. No pressure or anything.

Ho hum.
There are two kinds of people in this world: quiet yawners and loud yawners. Tim and Brenda fall in the latter category. And the funny thing is? They both loud-yawn using the same noise… and that noise is “ho hum.” The basic execution of the Tim/Brenda “ho hum” is the same: the “ho” is said right after the inhale, and the “hum” is part of the grand exhale. However, the fine points of the “ho hum” vary slightly between Tim and Brenda. Tim will say “ho,” make a few short exhale hissing noises, and end with a mighty “hum.” Brenda, on the other hand, will drag out her “ho” into two beats and go right into the exhaled “hum.” None of their children have yet displayed any signs of the “ho hum” gene, but there’s no telling when it might manifest. This is why genetic counseling is important, folks.

Like herding cats.
Brenda uses this phrase almost exclusively in reference to Tim. As anyone who has tried to herd cats knows (and really, who hasn’t?), trying to wrangle one or more cats in the same direction is damn near impossible. Trying to wrangle Tim when he’s not quite ready to go is also damn near impossible. This situation typically occurs when the Bjorklunds are in any kind of social situation (church, the grocery store, etc), and Brenda is ready to go before Tim (see: every time). Brenda will try to herd Tim out the door, but Tim will invariably find someone else he needs to chat up. Brenda will then be left waiting patiently (HA!), and she will seize her earliest opportunity to once again attempt an exit. Odds are never in Brenda’s favor, though, because there’s always someone else Tim wants to talk to. After three or four false starts, Brenda does eventually succeed in getting Tim to the car – but chances are there’s someone else at their car at that precise moment, and Tim will have something (he thinks is) amusing to say to them. The battle is not won until the car is actually on the highway. (Notice I didn’t say moving: a Bjorklund car driving through town has been known to stop, roll down the window, and talk to someone on the street or in another car.) From start to finish, the departure process likely was closing in on an hour. Like herding cats.

I’m no rookie.
As of December 2016, the five Bjorklunds have a collective 196 years of life experience. That means, believe it or not, they’ve learned a few things over the years. Whenever a Bjorklund reveals one of their many tricks of the trade, they respond to any accolades with “I’m no rookie.” A prime example of Bjorklund non-rookie-ism is the SDSU Hobo Days parade. After years of trial and error, the Bjorklunds have finally found the perfect place to view the parade: right in front of Nick’s Hamburgers in downtown Brookings. Why? So they can get a Nick’s burger to eat while they watch the parade, and so they can be at the front of the line to get another Nick’s burger after the parade. No rookies.


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And there you have it: ten more Bjorklund-isms. When will we ever run out of things to say?!

Friday, December 23, 2016

2016: the year in review.

If you ask most anyone, 2016 has been a rough year.


From Orlando to Zika to Brexit to the deaths of so many icons (David Bowie, Prince, Gene Wilder, Alan Rickman, Leonard Cohen... need I go on?), 2016 has been a rough one.

And, oh yeah, the election.

...

So 2016 hasn't been the greatest for us as a whole.

But personally?

2016 was kind of awesome.

Before I tell you why my 2016 was pretty great, I first must explain my definition of success. To me, success doesn't mean more money or a nicer house or a fancier car. If that's how I saw success, then 2016 would be a flop, as none of those things happened for me. But you know what? That's fine. James and I have jobs we love. We have everything we need, and we even have many things we want. Sure, there were a few times this year that we surely did wish for more money (like when both of our cars needed four new tires within months of each other... that was kind of shitty). But if that's our biggest problem, then we should consider ourselves so very fortunate.

To be honest, it's taken some time for me to feel this way. I see people all around me with nice houses (double garage! more than one bathroom! porches and decks and patios!) and fancy cars (heated seats! Bluetooth!), huge diamond rings and designer handbags, and I surely am not beyond longing for those things. But I finally stopped to think about it: James and I COULD have those things. We surely could, but here's what we would have to give up:

Our adventures.

That's what we choose to spend our money on, instead of a bigger house or nicer cars. And I wouldn't trade our adventures for anything.

And that is how I have come to view success not in terms of money, but in terms of experiences. If I can sit back at the end of the year and say that I've had twelve months full of great experiences and adventures, then it's been a successful year.

Let's start at the beginning, shall we?

JANUARY
2016 was off to an amazing start, as we rang in the new year in Montego Bay, Jamaica. 
It was absolutely amazing: we sat outside in our tank tops and shorts, feeling the warm sea breeze and anticipating the coming year. Jamaica was a positively glorious vacation, and I can still feel the sand between my toes.

FEBRUARY
February can be brutal in the Midwest. It's still deathly cold and dark, and even though you know spring is coming, it's still just out of reach. It's also still snowy, so travel is usually out of the question. James and I did make it to the cities for Valentine's Day, and we celebrated with my parents and cousins at Gasthof's.

MARCH
March was the first occurrence of what we are hoping to make a regular event: the cousin trip. 
Last year, my grandma Sheila got all her kids and almost all her grandkids together for a big reunion, and we twenty-something cousins had a really great time. The cousins discussed having a cousin reunion, and though it sounded amazing, it seemed like it might be one of those "YEAH let's do this but due to scheduling impossibilities it will likely never happen" kind of things. But it HAPPENED. All six of us met in Boston for St Patrick's Day, and we had a blast. We hung out in this ridiculous bar in Charlestown, we walked the Freedom Trail, we rode the Harbor Ferry, and we got to spend some real quality time together. It was too wonderful to adequately describe. March was also the month that two of my photographs were published in a book - so that was pretty cool. :)


APRIL
April was a great month. My birthday is in April, and since I am a child, I take the day off from work each year – because who wants to work on their birthday? James and I traveled to Omaha to see Mumford and Sons in concert, which was just as fantastic as one would think. 
Also in April, I was invited to speak at UMM, my alma mater – a huge honor. I talked to current and graduation art history majors about my experiences after college: from interning to an actual paying job. 
At the end of April, James and I went with Mom and Dad to Kansas City to see the Twins play the Royals. This has turned into a new tradition, which I am SO into. I love Kansas City, and that first baseball game of the season is a harbinger of summer and good things to come.


MAY
To me, May has always been a month of hope. The snow is DONE (though there have been a few years when we’ve had snow in May, but I’m going to pretend that didn’t happen), and things are warming up. It’s safe to ditch your winter coat, and it’s time to start digging out your sandals. May is when we truly break out of our winter cocoons and embrace the changing seasons. James gets out of school in May, and that means summer James is on the way: summer James is so happy and delightful, and he’s truly a pleasure. (Not that school year James isn’t those things, but summer James is THE BEST.) May holds the Tulip Festival in Orange City, which is another newly minted tradition. James’s band marches there every year, and Mom and I have been able to go together for the past few years. We look at the tulips and watch the parade and eat poffertjes


JUNE
June marks the start of cabin season on Lake Poinsett, which is my absolute favorite. I love Lake Poinsett more than anywhere else on earth, and I wish I could spend every waking moment there. This Lake Poinsett season brought a huge revelation: sea glass. 
Or, more accurately, beach glass. Mom and I were roaming the beach in June, and she came across some beach glass (which is pieces of glass that have been tumbled around by the water – the edges have been smoothed, and the glass is typically opaque). I mentioned that I’d never found beach glass on Lake Poinsett – and that was just the beginning. From that point until the end of beach season, we combed for beach glass. I thought that I could try my hand at making some of the glass into necklaces: revelation #2. From that very first batch until now, I’ve made at least thirty necklaces from Lake Poinsett beach glass. I wear mine all the time, and it’s like having a little piece of Lake Poinsett close to my heart at all times. June was also the one and only time James and I managed to go river tubing, which a favorite summer pastime. We went to the Apple River in Wisconsin, floated on the river, and drank beer. Seriously: perfect summer activity.

JULY
People joke that James and I don’t ever stay at home in the summer, and that is the honest truth. Any spare moment we have, we’re out and going. Summer is precious to us, and we’re going to make every minute worthwhile. After all, we have all winter to sit at home. July found us spending the Fourth of July weekend in northern Minnesota. We camped in Duluth, went white water rafting on the St Louis River, and drove a ways up the North Shore to see Gooseberry Falls and Split Rock Lighthouse – my first time seeing either of those Minnesota landmarks. 
It was at this moment when I truly fell in love with the North Shore. In mid-July, we went to a Twins game in Minneapolis with our friends Mike and Ashley. James is not as into baseball as I am, and while I am no super-fan, I feel like going to a Twins game at Target Field is an integral part of the Minnesotan summer experience. 
Mid-July also holds Luverne’s annual Hot Dog Night (area businesses give away free hot dogs), which – for the fourth year running – has brought my family to Luverne. After YEARS of meaning to, James and I were finally able to visit my cousins Ethan and Sheri in Fergus Falls. They are two of the most delightful human beings you will ever meet, and we laughed until we thought we might die. July 27th was our three-year wedding anniversary, and since it was a weeknight, we celebrated by eating at La Azteca in Worthington (the best Mexican restaurant EVER – I know you don’t believe me because it’s in Minnesota,  but honestly, give it a try – you won’t be sorry) and kayaking on Lake Okabena.

AUGUST
August was the busiest and best month of all 2016. James and I decided early on that we’re going to celebrate our anniversary each summer by traveling to a different state/states. In 2014, we went to the Black Hills. 2015 took us to Colorado. 2016 was our most ambitious trip yet: Niagara Falls. We were gone for eight days, and we traveled through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ontario, and New York. We spent time in Chicago, the American and Canadian sides Niagara Falls, Buffalo, Toronto, the Upper Peninsula of Michican, Mackinac Island, and Door County, Wisconsin. We stopped at all five Great Lakes. We camped in a tent every night but one (when we stayed with our friend Lisa near Toronto – we met her in Jamaica!). We ziplined alongside Niagara Falls. We rode the Maid of the Mist. We had Tim Horton’s almost every day. We hiked and explored and enjoyed nature and life. We put thousands of miles on our car and ourselves. We have never felt happier and freer. 
August was also my grandma Sheila’s 85th birthday party, which involved a shrimp boil, the Nick’s hamburger wagon, and time with some of my favorite cousins. 
August was also when we discovered the most delicious taco truck in Pipestone, so that was a big deal. At the end of August, James and I went with our friends Nate and Taylor to northern Minnesota. 
And I mean NORTHERN: we stayed at a cabin on Gunflint Lake, and the other side of the lake was Canada. I fell even more in love with northern Minnesota on this trip: we hiked Blueberry Hill and thought we were going to get eaten by bears, we actually SAW a bear (from the car), and we hiked the most gorgeous bluffs and saw the most gorgeous lakes. We saw SO many waterfalls, and we explored the most beautiful places - Tettegouche State Park, Palisade Head, Grand Marais, Sugarloaf Cove. Once again, nature astounds.

SEPTEMBER
September saw James heading back to school, and that meant the start of my third year volunteering in the Ellsworth Elementary School library. 
Let me tell you: that's the best job. I get to come in twice a month and read to the kids, and they are the greatest. James turned 30 on September 20th, and thanks to the overwhelming response from family and friends, I put together a photo garland full of birthday greetings for him. James claims that being 30 is awesome. At the end of September, I got to attend my first ever library conference, and it was pretty amazing. It was in Watertown, so I stayed with my parents that evening and spent part of the beautiful September night (finally) learning how to skip rocks.

OCTOBER
October was yet another outstanding month, thanks mostly to my love of all things Halloween. At the beginning of the month, Mom and I traveled to the Black Hills to participate in the Crazy Horse Volksmarch - a six-mile hike up to Crazy Horse and back. 
It was about 80 degrees that day, and it was a hell of a hike, but what a view at the top. We spent the rest of the weekend exploring, and I got to see Spearfish Canyon in the fall. AMAZING. James and I went to the cities for the Zombie Pub Crawl in the middle of the month, and we spent the whole next day among the beautiful fall leaves in Minneapolis. 
Then there was Hobo Days - the weather was so perfect that we were actually HOT. From there, James and I went north and visited Sica Hollow and spent the night in a camper cabin at Pickerel Lake State Park. 
Let me tell you: camper cabins are a hidden gem. They’re heated and adorable, and we had our own little spot on a hill overlooking Pickerel Lake. Lastly, Halloween: James and I dressed as zombie Prince and David Bowie (respectively) for the Sioux Falls Zombie Walk. 
On Halloween itself, James dressed as a penguin and I as Scarlett O’Hara, and we spent the evening with our friends Joe and Allison in all our costumed glory. 
James installed my very own Little Free Library in October: a long-time dream of mine. 
October also was the five-year anniversary of this blog. WHOA.

NOVEMBER
November can bite me.
(Ok, fine, November wasn’t all bad: beautiful weather, combine rides, a kickass Thanksgiving dinner, and voting for the first ever female presidential candidate were the redeeming factors. The REST of November can bite me.)

DECEMBER
And now it’s December. The first weekend of December was the fourth annual Norwegian Christmas dinner, which is the best food I (or any of us) will have all year. Then, my entire family went to Arizona to see my sister Darrah graduate from ASU. 
It was a much-needed reprieve from the terrible winter wasteland of the Midwest, and all five of us hadn’t been together since Jamaica. Along with seeing Darrah graduate, we got to hang out with the super fun Arizona Jarvies, hike around Papago Park at sunset, and take a helicopter ride over Sedona. SO AWESOME.

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So… that’s what we’ve been up to in 2016. This reads much more like a Christmas letter than I had intended, but what do you do.

You’ll notice that nearly all of my notable 2016 events involve travel. James and I love to travel. My family loves to travel. Travel is our favorite thing. However, we had plenty of good times relatively close to home, as well. We spent tons of time on the beach and Lake Poinsett, which meant tons of time laughing with our family and friends. We kayaked, went on bike rides, hiked, took a billion pictures of our cat, and went to concerts and drive-in movies. James and I had good years at work (not to brag or anything, but I was just awarded “funniest Christmas sweater” at the library, so feel free to reevaluate your career goals), and we had a good year together.

And now we're almost to a brand new year. Politically, 2017 is going to be a rough one. We know that, and we're bracing ourselves. But if my personal life in 2017 can be anything like my life in 2016, then I see some good things ahead.

Thanks for sticking with me through all of this. You guys are the best. Merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, or whatever you celebrate - and the best possible 2017 to you.

Monday, December 19, 2016

on this day in 2003: excerpts from a journal, December edition.


19 December 2003

Well, obviously, the drive was today. I had to be there at 6:30, but it got me out of four-and-a-half class periods, so that was fine. It just mainly consisted of hanging out with Mr Kones and handing out stickers. My dear old Dad came and gave blood today, and then he brought us pizza pans for our pizza. (Taylor's boyfriend brought us frozen pizzas for lunch, but we had nothing to cook them on.) They were actually pie pans that I cut apart and flattened, but oh well. Good pizza.

I decided that next year, I am going to be a greeter. I will be wearing my vampire cape and fangs, and when people come in, I will say, "One, two, three, three victims! Ah ah ah ah!" Dad thinks my plan is wonderful.

Barb called today and was talking about this Guard band thing she's taking me to in January. She said that she was telling one of her friends (a teacher at USD) about me, and he asked if I was smart. Barb answered, "Let's put it this way: she wants her parents to buy her Newsweek." The reply: "Excellent!"

Mrs Murphy gave us fudge today, and Mrs Parry let us watch A Charlie Brown Christmas. It was great.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

ten favorite Christmas movies and TV specials.

Like pretty much everyone of my generation, I grew up anxiously awaiting the Christmas specials each year. (OLD PERSON RANT COMING) DVDs did not exist, and you had better make sure that you were in front of the TV and ready to go when the special started because there was no pausing the TV or rewinding (not to mention skipping commercials or just finding the whole thing on the internet later). If we really wanted, we could set the VCR to record our show, but rare was the occasion that we actually remembered to do that. So we pretty much had ONE CHANCE to watch said specials, and we were damned if we were going to miss out.

My excitement was not limited to Christmas specials on TV. There was a whole canon of Christmas movies that needed watching – and, like my stance on Christmas music, I was/am a firm believer in not watching them until the actual month of December.

And now that it IS December, Christmas television/movie season is upon us! Allow me to present my ten favorite Christmas movies and TV specials for your viewing pleasure!

MOVIES

A Muppet Christmas Carol

Every Christmas, my siblings and I used to borrow this movie (on VHS, of course) from our neighbors. We watched it again and again, even though my sister was terrified of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. A Muppet Christmas Carol is just about everything one would want – Muppets as Dickens characters in tiny adorable Dickensian costumes, Michael Caine as Scrooge, catchy music, and a fair amount of adult humor that you don’t catch onto until years later. And I have to tell you, this is a movie that will warm the iciest of hearts. We all know the story of A Christmas Carol, but not until you see it acted by Muppets will it really give you all the feels.

Home Alone

Home Alone. HOME ALONE. As a 90s kid, I think I am legally obligated to love Home Alone. And I DO. Years ago, possibly when it first came out (in 1990… HOW is this movie 26 years old?!), Dad brought it home after he’d been gone to a truck sale. It was right around Christmas, and we watched that movie constantly. We watched it so much that the paper VHS box it came in eventually disintegrated. We even wore off the white writing on the VHS tape itself, so Mom had to put a little label reading “Home Alone” on it. Home Alone is so deeply ingrained into my psyche that I don’t even know how to adequately express my love for it. My family has incorporated Home Alone-isms into everyday speech (“PACK my SUITCASE?!” “Buzz, your girlfriend… WOOF!” “Keep the change, you filthy animal,” etc), and even though we’ve seen it a million and a half times, we’ll watch it every Christmas and laugh our heads off. This is the movie I get the most excited to watch each Christmas season.

Home Alone 2

I’m giving Home Alone 2 its own entry, as it is in a completely different league than Home Alone. Home Alone 2 could never supersede its predecessor, but it has redeeming qualities that still earn it a spot on this list (and in my heart). Namely? Tim Curry. I LOVE Tim Curry. Also, we Bjorklunds love the part where Kevin records his voice on his Talkboy and alters it so he sounds like an adult – he says “the faaaaather,” and every voicemail my dad has ever left me begins with “this is the faaaaather.” Home Alone 2 has its fair share of great one-liners, like when Kevin is getting ice cream from room service. The server asks Kevin if he wants two scoops, and Kevin says, “Two? Make it three. I’m not driving.” Pithy banter aside, Home Alone 2 loses some serious points this year because of the Donald Trump cameo. Maybe I’ll be able to handle that again one day, but this year, the wound is still too fresh. Maybe next year, Home Alone 2.

A Christmas Story

I was completely unaware of A Christmas Story until approximately age nine when it was given to us as a Christmas gift by our babysitter. A Christmas Story and I have been together ever since. It struck so many chords with me: Ralphie was about my age when I first saw the movie, and I was oh so aware of that feeling every kid gets around Christmas when they want a certain gift so badly they think they might DIE if they don't get it. In my case, it was never a Red Ryder BB Gun, but a Kitty Kitty kitten: a fuzzy stuffed kitten with a ball that rolled around in its hollow head so that it sounded like purring. (Not weird at all.) Like Ralphie and his BB gun, the thought of the Kitty Kitty kitten completely consumed my every waking moment. And like Ralphie, I received my so desired gift, and all was right with the world. (The Kitty Kitty kitten Christmas was the one immediately preceding the year we got A Christmas Story, so this was so very fresh in my mind. Ralphie's pain was my pain.) I have also had the misfortune of receiving gifts such as the pink bunny suit: clothing that you hate so much but are compelled to wear when the giving party is nearby. A Christmas Story hits so close to home at all times, and it never fails to absolutely delight me. I even have a leg lamp of my very own.

It’s a Wonderful Life

It’s a Wonderful Life is probably the least Christmasy of all the Christmas movies. Unlike everything else on my list, It’s a Wonderful Life is not really about Christmas… it’s just that George Bailey loses his shit at Christmas, and therefore the inevitable happy ending takes place just a little later on Christmas. That makes it a Christmas movie. Questionable Christmas-movie-categorization aside, I do love this movie. I LOVE James Stewart, because who doesn’t? And even though I am a bit of a non-believer when it comes to saccharine happy endings, It’s a Wonderful Life never fails to give me the warm fuzzies. Wouldn’t we all like to imagine that our lives matter so much that the world as we know it would crumble in our absence?

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is actually the third movie in the Vacation series – which is amazing, because the third movie is almost NEVER good. I didn’t see Christmas Vacation until well into my twenties, and it became an immediate favorite. We’ve all had holidays that don’t go quite right, and we’ve ALL got a Cousin Eddie. And we all want our Christmas to be perfect, despite the mounting odds against us. To quote Clark Griswold: “When Santa squeezes his fat white ass down that chimney tonight, he's gonna find the jolliest bunch of assholes this side of the nuthouse.”

TELEVISION SPECIALS

Pluto’s Christmas Tree

I’ve been watching this cartoon at Christmastime for as long as I can remember, and it never loses its shine. It’s a Disney short from 1952 in which Mickey and Pluto cut down a Christmas tree. When they get it home, it turns out that Chip and Dale (the chipmunks) are in the tree. Chaos ensues, and poor Pluto gets the blame. Don’t worry, though: everyone makes friends by the end.

The Night Before Christmas
You know when you have this ghost of a memory from childhood, and you’re not quite sure if it’s real or imaginary, but it’s real enough that you feel a little bit crazy and no one knows what you’re talking about when you try to explain it? (Or maybe that feeling is just me…) This cartoon WAS that feeling. I knew that we watched it at my grandma Lorraine’s house, and I recalled just enough of it – the little girl getting sick and the fact that it was about the famous poem "The Night Before Christmas" – that when I finally Googled it, it was RIGHT THERE. Not crazy. The whole thing was even available for me to watch on YouTube, and let me tell you, the whole thing was SO MUCH MORE INSANE than I remembered. The cartoon is about Clement Moore’s daughter getting sick while he’s on a business trip, and she had asked him to bring back a storybook about Santa Claus. Unable to find one, he writes his own: “A Visit From Saint Nicholas,” better known as “The Night Before Christmas.” The insanity comes with all the bizarre songs in this cartoon: at one point, the designs on the quilts come alive during a song about going to sleep. They also put “A Visit From Saint Nicholas” to song, and even though it’s not that good, I haven’t been able to get it out of my head for days. Somehow, stuff like this is ok when Disney does it, but SO WEIRD when someone else does. Double standards, but I maintain that this cartoon is WEIRD.

Santa Claus Is Coming to Town

Oh, Rankin/Bass, how I love thee. Rankin/Bass has so many great Christmas specials under its belt (Rudolph, The Year Without a Santa Claus), but Santa Claus Is Coming to Town is my favorite. It’s got great songs (“One Foot in Front of the Other” is so delightful), and great voices: Fred Astaire and Mickey Rooney. If you’ve never had the pleasure, Santa Claus Is Coming to Town is about how Santa Claus came to be. He starts off as Kris Kringle, a relentlessly cheerful redhead (hey, I know one of those!) who brings toys to the children of Sombertown when the evil Burgermeister Meisterburger (what a GREAT villain name) bans them. As means of evading the Meisterburger, Kris Kringle changes his name to Santa Claus and grows a beard. One thing leads to another, and now Santa delivers toys all over the world on Christmas Eve.

Mickey’s Christmas Carol

I started with a version of A Christmas Carol, and I’m ending with another version of A Christmas Carol. Mickey’s Christmas Carol has always been my favorite of the television specials: this is the one I absolutely COULD NOT MISS or my Christmas season was ruined. Ruined, I tell you. It’s a pretty classic retelling of the Dickens tale, with (who else?) Scrooge McDuck portraying his namesake and Mickey Mouse as Bob Cratchit. The rest of the casting is just as delightful: favorites being Goofy as Jacob Marley and Donald Duck as Scrooge’s nephew Fred. The Disney version follows the regular Christmas Carol trajectory with its special Disney touches, including a slightly terrifying scene towards the end when Scrooge falls into his own open grave, and it appears that he’s going to be swallowed by the fires of hell. Children’s television of the early 1980s, I tell ya.

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That brings us to the end of my ten favorite Christmas movies and television specials. I hope you find time to watch one or more of these cultural treasure, because it just isn’t Christmas without them.

Merry Christmas, you filthy animals.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

ten favorite Christmas songs.

Now that December is upon us, it is finally ok to start listening to Christmas music.

But you've been hearing it for months already, haven't you?

As soon as the first autumn leaf hits the ground, Christmas stuff is inescapable. It's in every store and on every radio station. It's in your head - especially when you REALLY don't want it to be in your head.

And by the time December actually rolls around, you're pretty sick of Christmas music.

Well, that's me, anyway. I have a Christmas hangover before the Christmas season has even really begun.

The early onslaught of all things Christmas has made me a little Scroogey, I must admit. I'm mostly annoyed because Christmas merchandise always encroaches the Halloween territory, and Halloween is my favorite holiday so just BACK OFF ALREADY CHRISTMAS.

But now that we're a few days into December, I'm going to try and leave my grinchy attitude behind and get into the Christmas spirit.

And I'm going to do that with Christmas music.

So hopefully you're not as Christmas-ed out as I am and will enjoy my ten favorite Christmas songs!

"Little Drummer Boy"
David Bowie and Bing Crosby


This is my favorite Christmas song of all time. Period. I obviously love David Bowie, and I have a solid appreciation for Bing Crosby. Put them together, and what you get is pure Christmas magic. What I don’t really understand is what exactly is going on in this skit: this particular video cuts right to the song, but in the original video, there's all sorts of weird banter and general confusion. But then THE SONG. I’m not a goosebumps kind of person, but seriously: chills.

“Christmas Don’t Be Late”
Alvin and the Chipmunks
This song is very much a polarizing “love it or hate it” song. I am firmly in the “love it” camp. I grew up with Chipmunks songs and the Chipmunks cartoons, and I am happy to look past the completely bizarre baseline plot of a weirdo single guy living and singing with three chipmunks he refers to as his sons. Anyway. Whether you are pro- or anti-Chipmunk, this song is catchy as hell, and it’s rare that I can resist a waltz. If you can’t stand the Chipmunks, check out She & Him’s version of the song. You’ll like it.

“Carol of the Bells”
Home Alone version
Home Alone was my childhood, and everything about it brings me back to snowy days in our tiny old house, with all five of us snuggled up in our cozy living room. “Carol of the Bells” is the background music as Kevin is setting the booby traps in his house, so of course, it’s very intense. Even though I’ve seen this movie approximately one million times, it’s always very stressful because THE WET BANDITS ARE COMING and IS KEVIN GOING TO GET EVERYTHING DONE ON TIME??!

“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”
Simon and Garfunkel
Simon and Garfunkel aren’t especially known for their Christmas music, but they do have some hidden gems. They have a delightfully cheesy version of “Go Tell It on the Mountain” on their first album, and they also did a haunting rendition of “Silent Night” with the 7 o’clock news playing the background. But my favorite is “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” which is a pretty great (and underutilized) carol to begin with. Add in the flawless harmonies that Simon and Garfunkel are known for, and the result is freaking magical.

BONUS:
“Carol of the Bells/God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”
The Piano Guys
The Piano Guys have been having a moment for the past few years, and I’m totally into it. They released a Christmas album a few years ago, and one of the songs was a "Carol of the Bells/God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" combination. It’s all instrumental and totally amazing.

“Father Christmas”
The Kinks
I like my Christmas music (and most things, really) with a healthy dose of irreverence. Enter “Father Christmas.” It’s about a guy who dresses up like Santa and gets beaten up by some kids who demand money. These kids are not so well off, and they tell him to “give all the toys to the little rich boys.” It does take a turn for the heartbreaking when one of the kids says, “Give my daddy a job cause he needs one/he’s got lots of mouths to feed.” And one of the last lines is, “Have yourself a very merry Christmas/have yourself a good time/but remember the kids who got nothing/while you’re drinking down your wine.” Thanks for the reminder – we need it from time to time.

Mele Kalikimaka
She & Him
This is a pretty new addition to my list of Christmas favorites – I heard it for the first time when I first watched National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation – which, shamefully, was just a few years ago. The version in the movie is Bing Crosby’s, but I really appreciate She & Him (and really, who doesn’t like Zooey Deschanel?). “Mele Kalikimaka” is pretty much the antithesis to every Christmas song ever, as it’s about Christmas in Hawaii and makes no reference to snow or any of the other wintery grossness with which we tend to be stuck on Christmas. Listening to the song with its Hawaiian music almost makes you feel warmer, and we can always use that in December.

“It Feels Like Christmas”
The Muppet Christmas Carol
There are SO MANY great Christmas songs in The Muppet Christmas Carol; it was hard for me to choose just one. There’s “One More Sleep Til Christmas,” which Kermit (Bob Cratchit) sings on Christmas Eve, and there’s “Thankful Heart,” performed by Michael Caine (Scrooge) after he has seen the Christmas light. And then there's “Bless Us All,” which Tiny Tim sings as his family is seated around their meager Christmas dinner and I’M NOT CRYING YOU’RE CRYING. But ultimately, my favorite is “It Feels Like Christmas,” which the Ghost of Christmas Present sings to Scrooge as they are standing in the town square on Christmas Day. The Ghost of Christmas Present tells Scrooge that Christmas is all about kindness: “wherever you find love, it feels like Christmas.” Warm fuzzies.

Snoopy’s Christmas”
The Royal Guardsmen
As we’ve established, I was a super weird kid (who has since become a super weird adult). I was listening to exclusively oldies radio stations by the time I was twelve, and that’s how I became acquainted with “Snoopy’s Christmas.” Starting in mid-November, the oldies stations would play this on a near-constant loop. Having read scores of Peanuts anthologies at my grandma Sheila’s house, I was familiar with Snoopy’s WWI flying ace alter ego and his battles with the Red Baron. However, until my foray into the oldies stations, I had no idea that Snoopy and the Red Baron had their own Christmas song. It’s just bizarre enough for me to totally love it.

“Holly Jolly Christmas”
Burl Ives
As a kid, I LOVED the television Christmas specials (but who didn’t?). We waited for those with almost as much anticipation as we waited to open our presents. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was (obviously) one of our favorites, and to this day, I have a healthy appreciation for all things Rankin Bass. Rudolph was not only a harbinger of Christmas spirit, but it had great songs: notably, “Holly Jolly Christmas.” Nothing sounds as much like Christmas as Burl Ives singing this song.

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”
Home Alone/Mel Torme
There are eight hundred thousand versions of this song, but as a 90s kid, the Mel Torme/Home Alone version will always be my favorite. It’s at the almost-end when (spoiler alert) the Wet Bandits are getting hauled away in a police car. I’ve always thought it was a nice song, and it gained meaning as I grew older. My sister was in the military and couldn’t always make it home for Christmas, thus: “someday soon, we all will be together/if the fates align.” And for the past few years, the fates have indeed aligned.

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For all my poo-pooing of the early onslaught of Christmas music,  I really do love it. (After December 1, that is.) There are still plenty of songs that didn’t quite make my top ten list, and I plan to listen to all of them. On repeat. From now until December 25.

Because on December 26, Christmas music once again becomes verboten. That means that Christmas music stays special – if there are only 25 days out of the year I can listen to it, I get excited about it every year. Every December 1, it feels like a treat to once again listen to these songs that I’ve filed away for the last almost-year. And every year, they feel like old friends.

Whatever your Christmas music listening preferences, I hope you have yourselves a merry little Christmas!