Favorite Christmas movies. December 12, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: best Christmas movies, Christmas movies, favorite Christmas movies, nostalgic Christmas favorites
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At Silence Dogood’s suggestion, our friend Ben has spent the past few days Googling “best Christmas movies” lists of all types and stripes to make sure there aren’t gaping holes in our collection. This has turned up some really bizarre results (one reviewer listed “Die Hard” as his favorite Christmas movie). It’s also resulted in more predictable choices, from “A Christmas Story” to “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”
Naturally, some version of Charles Dickens’s enduring classic, A Christmas Carol, typically turns up on every “best of” list. Typically, the definitive 1951 version starring Alastair Sim as Scrooge is cited, though our friend Ben was delighted to find that the Albert Finney musical version, “Scrooge,” made several lists. George C. Scott’s interpretation was also on several lists.
Other classics, like “Miracle on 34th Street,” “Holiday Inn,” “White Christmas,” and “The Bishop’s Wife” made most lists. (Silence and I have two versions of “Miracle,” but have ordered both Bing Crosby vehicles, “Holiday Inn” and “White Christmas,” since we can’t tell them apart offhand and need to see them again, as well as “The Bishop’s Wife,” which we can’t recall ever seeing.)
Then there are the Christmas downers. Every list gives the obligatory nod to “It’s a Wonderful Life,” a movie that’s so relentlessly depressing we can’t bear to watch it. There’s nothing wonderful about watching a man ground down for the length of a film in order to see a two-minute happy ending. It reminds us of Will Smith’s “The Pursuit of Happyness.” No, thank you. At least O. Henry’s “Gift of the Magi,” which is at least as depressing and distressing, didn’t make the lists; perhaps there’s not yet been a movie adaptation. Thank God for small blessings.
All this looking at lists gave me and Silence lots to talk about, especially after we’d looked at our Christmas movie collection and compared it to the lists. Finally, Silence asked what my favorite Christmas movie was. “Is it that Blackadder Christmas Carol?!” she asked suspiciously, referring to one of my favorites, a British comedic version in which the kindest man in London, Ebenezer Blackadder, is tranformed on Christmas Eve through the visit of a ghost into Scrooge.
I do love that, but no. And fond as I am of the original version of “Miracle on 34th Street,” my all-time favorite Christmas movie would have to be a Scrooge. We have many versions, from the original 1934 interpretation through Patrick Stewart’s. Like so many, I remain impressed with Alastair Sim’s defining performance. And I love the Albert Finney musical. But, I must confess, if I could only have one Christmas movie, it would be “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol.”
Our friend Ben grew up with Mr. Magoo. As both a fan of slapstick and a very nearsighted child, I loved Magoo and his antics. In my childhood home, reading the entire Christmas Carol aloud on Christmas Eve was a tradition (we all took turns). To combine this beloved tradition with the humor of Magoo was irresistible to the youthful Ben, and the movie, also a musical, had surprisingly good songs.
I still watch the Magoo version of “A Christmas Carol” every year, and I still laugh and sing along. Okay, it’s hardly the best Christmas film ever made, but it certainly spreads a big dollop of Christmas cheer every year here at this house. What’s your favorite Christmas movie?
Resisting holiday temptation. December 9, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: cutting Christmas costs, smart Christmas shopping
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Silence Dogood here. If you’re nostalgic, like me, even for Christmas decor and traditions that pre-date you (be they the 1850s or 1950s), this is a very dangerous time of year. If you love beautiful arts and crafts, or warm, snuggly sleepwear and cozy slippers, or bright sparkly objects, this is a very dangerous time of year. If you love winter-blooming plants, or bargains on indoor-fruiting plants, this is a very dangerous time of year. And if you have a weakness for luscious cheeses and nuts and candies and candied fruit and all else Christmasy, this is a very dangerous time of year.
At Christmastime, I’m one of those “one for them, and one for me” shoppers. “Aunt Martha would love this beautiful handblown ornament. And look at that snowglobe! I LOOOOVE snowglobes!!!” So Aunt Martha gets checked off the list, and somehow another box finds its way into the shopping bag. Or I’m mail-ordering my favorite cheeses and fudges to my list, and it seems like such a small thing to order some for me and our friend Ben as well.
Over the years, I’ve realized just how quickly these seemingly small purchases can add up, and just when you’re racking up bills on presents for your extended family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. I’ve also realized how little resistance I have against this particular kind of temptation. So I’ve come up with a self-protection policy to try to protect myself from sticker shock when the January credit card bill arrives:
* Stay away from stores. You can’t be seduced into buying something you’d never even have thought of if you don’t know it’s there. Do your Christmas shopping online, and go directly to the things you want to buy for your gift list. If you want to distribute gifts in person, have them mailed to you.
* Bring the voice of reason with you. I love attending local arts and crafts shows, especially over the holidays. But to keep myself in check, I go to them with OFB, who is sure to point out that I already have three snowglobes and a dozen beeswax candles and don’t need any more of them. (And he’s right.) I can still enjoy supporting local artists and craftsmen by buying presents for others. And I still get to see all the wonderful arts and crafts!
* Delete e-mail ads. My inbox fills up every day with holiday shopping solicitations, and most are from companies whose products I really like. Rather than opening them up and exposing myself to temptation, I delete them on sight. If I need to order something from one of them for someone on my list, I know where to find them. (Thanks, Google.)
Read catalogs like fantasy novels. Usually, I hate catalogs (except plant catalogs), but around the holidays, I love catalogs. We start getting all the special gift catalogs filled with wonderful decorations, nostalgic treats, and every kind of magical thing, not to mention all those irresistible food catalogs. I want everything. And I want to revel in the experience of looking at each thing and imagining that it was here in Hawk’s Haven. So at holiday time, I make catalogs my bedtime reading. Every night, I page through a catalog and enjoy it to the max. And then, the next morning, I put it away. Out of sight, out of mind. I get to enjoy the holiday catalog experience without the price tag attached.
Get out your decorations and look them over. If you love vintage and handmade ornaments and home decrations like I do, this season can be a minefield, especially if you enjoy going to old-time Christmas exhibits and specialty craft shows, or even antiques stores and shows. What harm could it do to buy a box, a bag, a bucketload of beautiful vintage ornaments, old-style handcarved ornaments, and the like? To keep this impulse in check, it helps to look at all the ornaments you already have—you know, the ones that have long since outgrown your tree. I find this really helps add some steel to my sagging willpower. And if I simply must try to find another ornament, you can find bags of them at Goodwill for $1 this time of year. Some of those bags contain a hidden treasure, and best of all, you can recycle the ones you don’t want right back to Goodwill.
These tactics have really cut down on my post-Christmas bills. And when it comes down to it, that’s the best Christmas present I could give myself.
‘Til next time,
The miracles of each moment. December 1, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
Tags: everyday miracles, great blue herons, Kazuaki Tanahashi, natural wonders
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Silence Dogood here. I’d been complaining to our friend Ben all day that we hadn’t seen the usual array of birds and other creatures that usually come to or live in our yard, making it colorful and fun. I kept going to the back door to check on them, but they just weren’t there. Where on earth had they all gone?
Then, a miracle happened. I saw our beloved black German shepherd, Shiloh, staring fixedly out the deck door, so I came over to see what had attracted her attention. And just then, two great blue herons rose up from our little creek, Hawk Run, and circled the yard before departing for parts unknown.
Great blue herons are called “great” for a reason: They can reach nearly 5 feet in height and length, with a wingspan that can reach 6 1/2 feet. I see great blue herons in flight, their long legs trailing behind them, maybe once or twice a year. And I occasionally see them in my neighbor’s yard, poaching a free meal from the fish and frogs in his water garden. But I’ve never, ever seen two at a time, and I’ve never seen one in our yard before.
OFB and I are privileged to own a beautiful piece of calligraphy by the master Kazuaki Tanahashi called “Miracles of Each Moment.” This was definitely one for me.
‘Til next time,
Who you gonna call? Phonebusters! November 30, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
Tags: cellphones, emergencies, emergency preparedness, landlines, phones, power outages, smartphones, telephones, the end of landline phones
Our friend Ben is a self-professed Luddite, aka a techno-idiot, so I may not know what I’m talking about here. But I was horrified to read an article yesterday that stated categorically that landline phones (the ones that attach to the wall with cords) were going to be phased out in the next three or so years. That would leave only cellphones and smartphones as means of communication.
On the surface, you might ask, so what? But the “what” comes in if there’s a power outage. Today, if that happens, your cellphone/smartphone goes out, but your landline phone stays on, so you can still call for help in a disaster or a medical emergency, or check in with your loved ones to make sure they’re okay. That’s why we’re advised to have both. If we only have mobile phones in the very near future, and the power goes out, we’ll be totally cut off from any way to communicate with anybody by phone.
Again, you might think, so what? But what if you’re caught in an ice storm and are trapped in your house, unable to drive to seek help, heat, medications, or supplies? What if the power’s down because of a Hurricane Sandy or Hurricane Katrina or a tornado, and you need to tell your family you’re alive, or see if they are?
If I’ve been misinformed about this, please let me know. I’d appreciate it! But if I’m correctly informed, I’d love to hear if there are any other communication options that will still work when the power goes out.
Catching Fire. November 29, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: Catching Fire, Jennifer Lawrence, Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games
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Silence Dogood here. As someone who’s actually written a book about Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games series, I was looking forward to the film version of the second novel, “Catching Fire.” But I was surprised to read the gushing praise most critics have lavished on the film in comparison to the original film, “The Hunger Games.” I really liked the first film. How much better could this be?
Last night, our friend Ben and I finally got to the theater to check it out. And I was underwhelmed. The star-studded cast certainly gave it their best shot. Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, and Lenny Kravitz were back in full form. New additions Sam Claflin as Finnick Adair and Patrick St. Esprit as Commander Thread were especially strong. And of course, Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, and Josh Hutcherson as the love triangle at the center of the story were all excellent.
There were some great touches, like making the so-called “Peacekeepers” (the Capitol’s Nazi-like enforcers) look more like the Storm Troopers in “Star Wars” and giving them codpieces. And making the Avoxes—anyone who had offended the Capitol by trying to defend the rights of the populace, and had been enslaved and silenced by having their tongues cut out as a result—dressed in mummylike costumes that all but obscured their faces. And having President Snow (Donald Sutherland) bleed into his champagne.
But overall, “Catching Fire” struck me as a slick production, nothing like the gritty portrayal of Panem and its manifest inequalities that was the defining feature of the first film. And they chose to omit the pivotal scene of the book, in which the new Gamemaker, Plutarch Heavensbee, shows his watch to Katniss—a watch that bears a mockingjay design, a watch that explains the setup of the arena, a watch that tells her he’s an ally. Why on earth they’d omit such a central scene is completely beyond me.
The film had two highlights for me, and both were due to the brilliant talent of Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, and both involved nothing more than facial expression. The first was when her beloved stylist Cinna was brutally beaten and dragged away by the Peacekeepers before her eyes as she’s heading into the arena, and her face sets into a mask of fury and resolve. And the next was at the end, when Gale (Liam Hemsworth) tells her that her home district, District 12, has been obliterated by President Snow. Until that point, she’d just been a girl looking out for herself and those she cares about. But in that moment you see her, just through her expression, transform into a warrior. Kudos to Ms. Lawrence for an astonishing achievement. But two expressions aren’t enough to carry a film.
I’ll take the first film any day.
‘Til next time,
Happy Thanksgiving! November 28, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, and Richard Saunders (Poor Richard), of Poor Richard’s Almanac, wish each and every one of you a joyous, blessed, and abundant Thanksgiving. Enjoy!
Get your chimney cleaned and your furnace checked. November 26, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
Tags: chimney cleaning, cold-weather house care, furnace maintenance, preparation for winter
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Our friend Ben lives in a tiny wooden cottage, which, as you might think, is vulnerable to fire. Fortunately, Silence Dogood and I have never had an unplanned fire here, though we had a close call last winter when an infrared heater overloaded our ancient wiring and caused a wall to go red-hot. (Fortunately, Silence discovered this in time to save the day.)
We have a fuel-oil furnace that came with the house, which means it’s more than 20 years old. We hate to think what it would cost to replace it, so we’re grateful that our service contract with our oil provider includes annual furnace maintenance.
But I’ll be the first to admit that we’ve been negligent about our woodstove. After the power failed in an ice storm the year after we bought our cottage home, we had a woodstove installed in the fireplace. We’ve used it to keep ourselves reasonably warm and the pipes from freezing in power outages, and of course we’ve enjoyed the occasional blazing fire as a luxury rather than a necessity. But we’ve never had the chimney pipe cleaned.
Our woodstove has a catalytic converter. But even so, creosote buildup in the pipe could be a potential fire hazard. Given how extraordinarily cold it’s been this fall, Silence and I finally broke down and asked the man who installed the stove to please come clean the chimney. (He actually remembered us, and where we lived, after all these years.) He’s supposed to come today, weather permitting, and Silence and I will have a much happier holiday season knowing that our chimney won’t set the house on fire.
If, like us, you’ve been putting this chore off, or you don’t have your furnace serviced every year, winter is coming. To our mind, it’s already here. Make maintenance a priority so you can go into the worst weather with the confidence that, whatever happens, your chimney won’t catch fire and your furnace will keep working.
The white ribbon. November 25, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized.
Tags: abuse, violence, violence against women
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Silence Dogood here. When I went on Google this morning, I was surprised to find a white ribbon—like the pink breast cancer ribbon or the jigsaw autism ribbon—at the bottom of the screen. I’d never seen a white ribbon before, so I scrolled over it to see if its meaning would come up. Sure enough, the awkward name of the ribbon appeared: “The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.”
My first thought, of course, was “just ONE day?!!” And then, as an editor and writer, I thought that surely they could have come up with a more compelling name. But whatever the case, the point remains: Violence is unacceptable, be it directed towards women, children, men, or animals.
I have mercifully been spared first-hand witness of violence, with the exception of a cashier at one of my local groceries who often appeared at work with a black eye. And occasionally witnessing that other horrific violence against women, anorexia. Just two days ago I saw two anorexic women while out running errands, one young, one in her fifties. Our society’s unrealistic expectations of female appearance has created unspeakable suffering among the weak and vulnerable: Anorexia leads to death, just as being beaten and tortured can lead to death.
Today, if you’re a woman who, like me, has never suffered abuse, give thanks. Pray for those who have, like that poor, gorgeous Afghan girl on the cover of Time whose nose and ears had been cut off by the Taliban, and the women who’ve been kidnapped and held in slavery, or murdered for their dowries, or sold into prostitution. Or a cashier who gets whacked by her husband when she’s not fast enough with the next beer. Or high-profile celebrities like Madonna and Kelly McGillis who’ve been attacked and raped.
The lesson here is that no woman, and no child, and no man, and no animal, is ever completely safe. I’ve endured having a gun slammed against my head and being robbed, though that was just a crime, not a crime against me because I was a woman. Maybe you’ve had your identity stolen or your car “jacked” or your wallet lifted or your computer invaded. Abuse is rampant in a society as huge, as sophisticated, as diverse, and as superficial as our world is today.
In this week running up to Thanksgiving, let’s give thanks for our own safety, if we have it. And let’s pray for those who don’t. Let’s keep the white ribbon in our hearts and minds and pray for every single victim of violence, down to the last abused or abandoned pet, not just for one day, but for every day of the year.
‘Til next time,
Thanksgiving gets no respect. November 23, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: gratitude, holiday commercialization, thanksgiving, true meaning of Thanksgiving
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Silence Dogood here. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Who doesn’t love Christmas, of course, but what makes Thanksgiving so special to me is that it combines the aspects of an old-time Harvest Home festival, celebrating the abundance and bounty of another harvest season, with the only holiday that is all about gratitude.
Gratitude. Giving thanks. Not about stuffing ourselves fuller than the iconic turkey and then collapsing in a stupor in front of the TV to watch football. Yes, Thanksgiving is about coming together with friends, family and neighbors for a joyous feast. But it’s also about giving thanks for the year’s many blessings, as well as for good companionship and good food.
So it distresses me to see Thanksgiving being obliterated between the ever-earlier “Black Friday” sales extravaganza and Christmas. Frantic shopping sprees, trying to grab the newest Xbox or latest iPhone before anyone else can get it, shoving people out of the way to get a discounted shirt or dress, a celebration of greed and materialism, strikes me as in direct opposition to the spirit of Thanksgiving.
The Thanksgiving holiday should be leisurely, giving everyone plenty of time to reflect on the many gifts that they’ve received during the past year and every year—and I’m not talking about Christmas, Hanukkah, and birthday presents here—and to enjoy time spent with those who mean most to us. It should be sacred.
But it seems to have now been totally lost. Yesterday, I went with a friend to a charming little town in Amish country for an open house by an artist we both know and admire. But even here, in the heartland of farms and agriculture, Thanksgiving was nowhere in sight. Instead, Christmas wreaths and Christmas trees and Christmas ornaments adorned every storefront and street corner. Christmas music played in every shop. Christmas stockings, ornaments, cards, and gifts were front-and-center everywhere.
I love Christmas. I love to celebrate Christmas. And I love to stretch the Christmas season from Advent to Sixth Night, playing beloved Christmas music, watching beloved Christmas DVDs, reading beloved Christmas books, enjoying treasured Christmas ornaments throughout the house, and eating favorite Christmas treats. (Our friend Ben is even worse. If I didn’t put my foot down by February, I hate to think when all the Christmas stuff would stop.)
But I don’t want Christmas to start before December. I want to have my Thanksgiving, and I don’t want it to be obliterated between the bizarre frenzy of Halloween, Black Friday, and too-early Christmas commercialism. I want to be able to take some calm, leisurely, unpressured time to simply feel grateful, to celebrate the opportunity to give thanks. To enjoy time spent with loved ones and friends. To avoid the pressure to do anything else, such as engage in manic shopping.
Please, people, let’s give Thanksgiving the respect, and space, it deserves. Of course, every day should be an opportunity for thanksgiving. But on our special holiday, let’s not give that precious opportunity up.
‘Til next time,