Thursday, December 31, 2015

As 2015 Comes to a Close, I'm Building an Ark!

Tomorrow, I'll be posting my review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. But today is New Year's Eve, and to me, it's more a holiday than New Year's Day (I'm odd, I know). So, for those of you who aren't on Facebook, where I've already posted greetings....

Here's hoping the rain stops, the flood waters recede, and everyone has a Happy New Year! 

Friday, December 25, 2015

Encore: Deck the Halls (Part Two)

Gag gifts have become a tradition in our family. I just bought Collin's yesterday.


And a parrot in a pear tree.... 

Ooops! Now, where was I? Oh, yeah...Mom had a roll of TP under the tree and Dad was trying to explain a box of poop to Homeland Security. Well, not exactly.But he was a repeat offender. As a matter of fact, he chose one victim twice simply because she swore he'd never fool her again. 

The target was Cathy, a friend of mine from high school. After Poopapalooza 1, she tried and tried to find a way to exact her revenge--but a whoopee cushion in his truck just didn't quite equal Dad's prank. When she told him she'd never fall for it again, well, that was like throwing down the gauntlet. He looked for a way to trick her into opening the box for a second time, and she unwittingly gave him the solution when she commented on a local souvenir--an outhouse ashtray. (Yep, we're about as redneck as you can get without being Jeff Foxworthy's blood relative.) 

I was seven months pregnant with Collin at the time and had been visiting Cathy, her then-husband, Ralph, and their son Damien (no connection to the character in "The Omen"). Dad sent the ashtray to Cathy with a message I was to relate: he knew she liked it and was sending it as a peace offering. She was touched--until she opened the little outhouse and saw the tiny turd, standing straight up in the tiny potty. 

                           (Not exactly like the one he gave Cathy, but close enough.)

"I'm gonna kill that old man!" Cathy shrieked. (She didn't know it couldn't be done without a silver bullet.) 

I've got a lot of Christmases to cover, so please bear with me. Twelve days may not be enough.


OK, it's not politically correct. I'm not politically correct. Stats say 80% of the U.S. is Christian. That means I'm in the majority, and last time I checked, majority rules. Even if it didn't, I'm a Christian and proud of it. 

I have a lot to apologize for, but that's not on the list. 

Christmas 2008: In Iraq, Santa was making the rounds wearing a bullet-proof vest and packin' heat. Who'd ever have thought Santa would have to travel with weapons? 

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus--and he's armed and dangerous.Don't let him catch you being naughty. There's a stiff penalty for being naughty. 

In New Zealand in 2007, a bunch of drunken Santas invaded a cineplex. Drunken Santas?'s so hard to get good help these days. 

Normally, I try to be done with everything long before the Big Day because I detest crowds and insanity (except my own, of course), but yesterday, I not only ventured out into the last-minute chaos, I was oblivious to it. I had my trusty MP3 player with me, so all was well. 

Music really does soothe the savage beast. I'm living proof of that. 

First stop: the bank, to make a deposit before their early close at noon. We've been with the same bank for something like seventeen years, through numerous mergers and name changes. I've been there longer than most of the personnel. At the teller window (I don't think they call 'em teller cages anymore, though at times they probably should), Pat was smiling. She had good reason to smile: a holiday falling on a weekday. They get, if you'll pardon the expression, screwed on Sunday holidays. Not even a half day off.

Big smiles all around. 

"I'm going to get my turkey," I mentioned. 

She didn't miss a beat. "I thought he was at work," she deadpanned, referring to Collin, not the edible turkey awaiting me at Dierbergs' deli. 

I laughed like a looney tune. Couldn't help it. That was a good line. Wish I'd thought of it. 

We had a pre-fab (OK, pre-cooked) turkey. My son, then an aspiring chef, had no intention of preparing the Christmas dinner. (Did I mention this before? Or maybe I only mentioned it repeatedly to HIM.) He worked all week at the restaurant and had no interest in cooking on his one and only day off. So with our pre-cooked bird, instant sides and my aversion to cooking anything other than in a microwave, dinner was ready in a record 30 minutes. 

Hey, I have better things to do on Christmas Day than cook.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Encore: Deck the Halls

This year, I'm running behind on a lot of things--writing, posting reviews, finishing the clearing of our storeroom, shopping for Christmas dinner.... Anyway, for the next few weeks, I'll be posting past Christmas blogs. Some of you probably have never seen them!


I love Christmas. I love the big dinners and the music and the presents and the family all together for that one special day. Most of all I love the real reason for Christmas. I love knowing that 2000 years ago, God came to earth to live among us, to know us and to save us. I love thinking about what that first Christmas must have been like, and being able to see it so clearly in my own mind. 

I don't love so much of what Christmas has become: angry people on the roads and in the malls, pushing and shoving, jostling for position in the lines for the most popular gift items. I don't love crowds and high-pressured sales pitches and lazy bums who prefer to steal someone else's money and/or gifts instead of working for their own. 

I was at the mall just before Christmas a few years ago. It was funny, actually--as I went from one store to another, a young man attempted to charm his way to a sale: arms outstretched, big smile, big tube of very expensive lotion in hand in a bid to convince me I could not live without that lotion. Little did he know. I changed lanes, moving to the other side of the aisle, and that big smile instantly vanished. I can only imagine what I was called in that disappointing moment! 

Then there was the turkey who attempted to help himself to my cash. I felt his hand the minute it hit the zipper on my messenger bag. I came down hard on the trespassing hand. "If you want to keep that, buddy, you'd better take it back NOW." 

I think he had an accident, if you know what I mean. 

I don't love that there are some who want to celebrate Christmas even though they don't believe in God, in Jesus. And I'm not referring to religions other than Christianity. Our Jewish friends celebrate Hannukah. Our Muslim neighbors have their holy days. I don't know much about other religions, but I'm sure they have theirs as well. gripe is with atheists, the real party poopers. They don't believe in God, don't believe that he came to live in our world as the infant Jesus, but they want the holiday anyway. They want to say the more politically correct "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" so they can have all of the fun without belonging to the club. 

I wonder how they explain to their kids what they're celebrating? "Oh, we're celebrating Daddy being sober for a whole year!" 

I say to them, don't celebrate a holiday if you don't believe in it. Too bad, Mr. and Ms. Grinch. No presents for you. 

My cousin Jeff, who grew up with us, is a Jehovah's Witness. They don't celebrate holidays or birthdays. My father always said Jeff became a Witness not because he really believed in their doctrine, but because he was just plain cheap and didn't want to have to buy any gifts. Jeff bristled every year when we put up our Christmas tree. He thought we should give up our tree because HE didn't believe in it. He claimed we were worshipping the tree, of all things! Dad couldn't resist--when he'd see Jeff's truck pull up in front of the house, he told us to get down on our knees and bow to the tree when Dipstick came through the door. 

Mom complained that was a little hard on the knees. 

Christmas was always a big deal for Mom and Dad, and it's at this time of the year that I miss them most. (Dad's been gone 16 years now, and Mom 9.) They were always like a couple of kids in their unabashed enthusiasm. They'd spend weeks preparing, shopping for gifts and trying to hide them from us. We were never allowed to put the tree up until Christmas Eve, and it was always the same: we'd get some form of takeout so Mom wouldn't have to cook--she'd begin preparing our Christmas dinner that night and couldn't deal with TWO meals at once. We'd watch a rerun of A Christmas Carol on TV--always the 1938 black-and-white version. 

Once the tree was up and completely decorated, the gifts would start to appear from their hiding places. They would be placed under the tree and Dad would do a count to make sure everyone had an equal number of packages. There was never one gift per person, always at least 7 or 8, usually 10. 

I remember one year Mom was a package short. Dad quickly remedied the problem with cash. He didn't want her to know it was cash, of course, so he wrapped it around a roll of toilet paper. Mom knew it probably wasn't just TP--Dad was notorious for gag gifts. He could be very creative in his gift-giving. His Christmas tradition was a little weird: instead of a lump of coal, the unfortunate target of his ire would get a beautifully-wrapped box of poop. 

I kid you not. POOP. Usually of the canine variety. I remember one Christmas when I was in college, he actually mailed the poop to a friend who was living in Tennessee at the time. I held my breath until it was received, wondering what would happen if postal inspectors happened to open the darned thing! 

I miss those good old days. 

Collin and I are making new traditions, new memories. Collin has never been good at keeping a secret--it's like lying. He didn't get that gene, for which I am grateful. 

Trouble is, I will probably know every gift he's giving me BEFORE Christmas. The Christmas before Dad died, he wanted a self-propelling lawn mower. He had a bad heart (only in the physical sense) and was having trouble using his old mower. To haul it in Mom's Escort, we'd have to put the back seat down, so we left Collin, then 11 years old, with Dad while we went to get it. All of our plans to sneak the thing into the back yard to hide it were, as it turned out, unnecessary--Dad came to the front door when we arrived, grinning from ear to ear. I knew immediately that my darling son had ratted me out. 

I miss those days.

(Credits: cartoons are all from

Friday, December 11, 2015

MOVIE REVIEW: The Hunger Games--Mockingjay (Part 2)

Katniss is back, and there's gonna be trouble.

The latest--and final--installment of the Hunger Games series is decidedly darker than the previous films, but brings it to a satisfying conclusion. The story picks up where Part One left off--with Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) recovering from an unexpected physical attack by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who was brainwashed while in captivity in the Capitol. Fueled by emotional pain and rage, Katniss no longer wants to just overthrow the ruthless President Snow (Donald Sutherland)--she's now determined to kill him. The leader of District 13, Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), refuses to allow her to join the rebel troops advancing on the Capitol, so Katniss sneaks aboard a supply craft headed there to support the impending invasion. When Coin discovers this, she opts to use Katniss for propaganda reasons. Katniss is no fool, and soon realizes she's being played by more than one player.

There's a hopelessness about the story, and several characters don't survive following Katniss on her quest for both revenge and freedom--but through it all, Katniss refuses to give up. No matter what Snow throws at her, she keeps moving forward, toward her objective. I'm not a fan of young adult fiction, dystopian or fantasy, but I've been hooked on this series from the start. Katniss' courage, borne out of her initial sacrifice to save her younger sister, Primrose, from becoming a "Tribute" in Snow's bloodthirsty Hunger Games, puts her in a class of rare young heroes that includes Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter. The character is well-developed and portrayed impressively by Lawrence.

There's also a love triangle, but it takes a back seat to the action. Both Peeta, now emerging from his brainwashing trauma, rediscovers his love for Katniss. Her childhood friend and partner in battle, Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) also loves her. It's the sudden end of Katniss' relationship with Gale than I found the most frustrating part of the movie. Though there was an explanation--involving an attack on Snow's mansion that resulted in the deaths of children used as human shields (including Primrose Everdeen)--it just fell flat and seemed contrived.

When Snow's rule is overthrown and Coin assumes the role of president of Panem, Katniss is rewarded by Coin with the right to execute Snow. Katniss, however, has discovered there's a much bigger threat to Panem on the horizon than the ill and aging Snow. She makes a quick decision to eradicate that threat before it can take hold and leaves Snow's fate to an angry mob.  

Plutarch (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman) is not at all surprised by Katniss' action. In a letter to her at the end of the movie, he tells her she's never disappointed him....


Friday, December 4, 2015

We Can't Have It Both Ways....

This was the cover of the New York Daily News yesterday. It was a response to people, to elected officials, who automatically tweet "thoughts and prayers" for the victims of mass killings. In most cases, they're just words. No real feeling behind them, no real prayers. Maybe that's why the "prayers" don't get answers. Or maybe God is silent because for the most part, our country has turned its back on Him....