December 12, 2015

12 Things From My Life That Begin with "D"

in no particular order
and for no reason other than I needed something 
to blog about today

1. Deadlines. For a writer, they're part of everyday life, and they can be pure hell. Learning the discipline of writing is essential because there's nothing that can kill the muse faster than having to be creative on demand. But you know what they say . . . the only thing worse than having a deadline is not having a deadline.

2. Daughters. They're my kids and my best friends. They get me when no one else does. For every minute of grief or worry they've brought me, they've given me three minutes of joy.

3. Decorate. When I have the time and the energy, I love to decorate for the holidays. Unfortunately both of the above things have been in short supply the last few years. I haven't even bothered putting up a Christmas tree most years that we've lived in Florida. I'm not sure if it's because it never feels like Christmas here, or because I just really have no energy. I did get one up last year, but I'm pretty sure this year is going to get away from me again. 

4. Dreams. For most of my life, I haven't remembered my dreams. I suppose I did dream, but I never remembered what I dreamed about except an occasional recurring dream about being chained in a tower in a medieval castle. That dream is gone and now I dream about things like working for my old boss and frantically trying to get to work while something is obstructing my path. Then for several years, I dreamed about some people from my past--and not a good past. Those people reappeared in my life, and I guess the dreams helped me to be ready for that. 

5. Dogs. There was Angel, (part giraffe, part gazelle, and part kangaroo) my poorly socialized dog with ADHD and OCD. And there was Sammi who was my oldest daughter's dog and who lived with me for a while. And there's Cleo, my current grand-dog. who is a sweetheart and a rescue dog. And there was Pride my Doberman pincer, upon whom I based Max, the dog in the Candy Shop mystery series. And there were Holly and Copper, one a poodle and the other a doberman. I'm feeling puppy fever again, but with a new kitty in the house it's probably not going to happen anytime soon. 

6. Dance. When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a professional dancer. More specifically, I wanted to be a June Taylor dancer, but I don't think I ever confessed my professional dance aspirations aloud, and I think they died away somewhere before I was 8. Besides being a novelist, being a June Taylor dancer is the only thing I ever really wanted to be when I grew up.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket7. Dad. I have one, as do all of you :) Mine passed away on October 6, 2006 at the age of 82. He was a World War II Veteran who loved the great outdoors and dreamed of being a Park Ranger when he was a young man. He grew up on a farm and spent so many hours working in the fields, he almost didn't graduate from high school. That near miss bothered him his entire life.

8. Daydreaming. I'm all for it, and I'm lucky. I'm a writer because daydreaming is my job!

9. Dictionary. In 7th grade, I made a poster that was supposed to read "How To Develop your Mental Abilities." I misspelled two words on that poster, so it ended up reading "How to Develope your Mental Abbilities." Not only did the other kids in my class make fun of me, but the teacher did too--and this right after she laughed at me because I didn't know how to spell marijuana. (This was before it was a household word where I lived, and I was absent the day we learned what it was.) This all happened the year after I had Mr. Graybill, the world's most obnoxious teacher, in 6th grade. Mr. Graybill made the leather wallet I was crafting for my dad (see above) a public example of how not to do leatherwork. The public humiliation I felt over that stupid poster nearly did me in, but I became best friends with the dictionary that day. After that, I could out-spell almost everyone I knew. Even my Straight-A Sister -- the one who graduated 3rd in her class -- asked me how to spell words.

10. Deployments. My son-in-law was active military for the first 9 years of his marriage to my daughter and he spent more Christmases, birthdays and anniversaries in the Middle East than he spent at home. He was willing to be there because he believes that if we don't fight them over there, we'll have to fight them here on our own soil. War looks a whole lot different when it comes knocking on your own front door than it does when it's an abstract principle. I'm proud of my son-in-law and proud of his service to our country, and I'm proud of my daughter for standing at his side and keeping the family together while he was gone. 

11. Dishwasher. It's my favorite modern convenience. Need I explain? 

12. Down East. A place I've visited a few times and one place I've always wanted to live. 

December 04, 2015

10 Favorite Christmas Movies

Last week I talked about my struggles to seamlessly shift into Christmas mode now that I live along the Gulf Coast. I vowed to make an efffort to immerse myself in Christmas spirit this year, so in that vein, I give you the list of my 10 Favorite Christmas Movies:

Most of you are familiar with this movie, I'm sure. It's the story of Ralphie, a kid living in the 1940s, and his efforts to convince his parents and/or Santa that he needs a Red Rider BB Gun for Christmas. It's about much more than that, too--his relationships with his parents, his kid brother, his friends, and the neighborhood bullies. I've seen this movie at least 100 times, and the scene when his dad points out that one last present hidden away in the corner still brings a tear to my eye. 

My kids and I quote from the movie all the time. (A-plus-plus-plus-plus-plus...) I defy anyone who sees this movie to ever pronounce "fragile" properly again or sing Deck the Halls without becoming politically incorrect for a few seconds.

It's not Christmas at my house until we've watched this movie. It's old, of course. Made in 1954, it's the story of a couple of army buddies who team up after World War II as a successful song-and-dance team. They end up trying to help their former commanding officer to save the inn he's now running after leaving the military. It's full of sweet charm and romance and, of course, plenty of song and dance. If I have the story right, the movie was made to showcase the song (of the same name) which was introduced in an earlier movie, "Holiday Inn" starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. 

This one stars Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen. I love "Sisters" (both versions) and the dance where Danny Kaye broke his foot in the middle of shooting and kept going without missing a beat of that catchy, syncopated rhythm. A true classic.

This movie follows the lives of several different couples on the way to Christmas. There are, of course, romantic couples but there are also different kinds of couples--friends, parent and child, cases of unrequited love, and business partners, all negotiating their way through complicated and troubled relationships or forging new ones. 

The movie stars Emma Thompson (who breaks my heart every time I watch it), Alan Rickman, Hugh Grant, Bill Nighy, Colin Firth, Gregor Fisher, Liam Neeson, Martin Freeman, Kiera Knightley and, many others. It's centered around Christmas, of course, but it doesn't have to be the holiday season for me to watch it.

4. Noel

I don't think this movie is as well-known as the others on my list, but it's one of my favorites. It's set in New York City on Christmas Eve and, like Love Actually, is a composite of different stories about people who need a Christmas miracle. It stars the late Paul Walker, Alan Arkin, Penelope Cruz and Susan Sarandon, among many others. 

I'll confess that I'm not usually a fan of Sarandon's, but I really enjoy her performance in this movie (and in Stepmom, which reduces me to a blubbering blog of something unpleasant every time I watch it.) Walker's performance is sweet and touching. 

An unmarried food writer who has misled her readers about being the perfect housewife and mother must try to cover her deception when her boss and a returning war hero invite themselves to her home for a traditional family Christmas. Since our hapless heroine can't cook anything at all, hijinks ensue. Throw in a baby borrowed for the weekend and an ardent suitor who leaps at the chance to play husband, and it's a fun time for all. 

There are actually two versions of this movie: one made in 1945 with Barbara Stanwyck and Sydney Greenstreet and one made in 1992 starring Dyan Cannon, Tony Curtis, and Kris Kristofferson. I like both versions, but of the two, the 1945 version is my absolute favorite. I didn't realize until I was writing this blog post that the later version was directed by Arnold Schwarzenegger. You can learn something new every day.

This is a true classic, based on the tale by Charles Dickens. I don't know how many different movie versions of this story exist, but there are a lot. Whoopi Goldberg made one. Mickey Mouse made one. The Muppets made one. Vincent Price made one. Ronald Reagan made one. Mr. Magoo made one. Susan Lucci made one. Jim Carrey made one. 

It's been remade on various TV shows too, from The Andy Griffith Show to The Many Lives of Dobie Gillis to The Animaniacs to The Six Million Dollar Man. IMDb (International Movie Database) lists 184 versions

Of all the various versions, my favorite is the one made in 1984 starring George C. Scott. Scott's performance as Ebenezer Scrooge is terrific. He's my favorite Scrooge of all.

Clark Griswold is an "every man" character who's kind of dorky and sweetly sentimental. All he wants is the perfect Christmas. Is that too much to ask? Apparently so. Take his immediate family, which has a few issues of its own, toss in his parents and in-laws, some uninvited guests and some snooty neighbors, and you have a recipe for disaster as only Griswold can deliver. 

It's full of moments I'm sure some people would consider inappropriate. It's got some language, too, so if those things bother you, you'll want to skip this one. 

There are three movies in the Santa Clause set, and I do like them all, but the first is my favorite. Starring Tim Allen as Scott Calvin, a divorced father who works too much (yes, that's a required element for almost any Christmas movie), Judge Reinhold plays the ex-wife's new husband, and Wendy Crewson plays Allen's character's ex-wife. Eric Lloyd stars as the son they all share. 

Scott inadvertently becomes Santa after the current Santa is killed after a fall from Scott's roof on Christmas Eve. Scott becomes the new Santa for the night and takes his son along for the ride. Naturally, complications must arise, and they do here because Scott's ex-wife and her new husband are trying to convince their son that Santa isn't real. That's hard to do since the kid has gone around the world in a sleigh--a fact psychologist stepdad finds deeply disturbing.

What can I say? I'm a Santa Claus fan. I'm also a Paul Giamatti fan and a Kevin Spacey fan. I'm not sure I'd call myself a Vince Vaughn "fan" (as in I'd go out of my way to see a film because he was in it) but I enjoy a lot of what he does on screen. Together as Santa (and Santa's bitter older brother, Giamatti and Vaughn are brilliant. 

The snowball fight scene can make me laugh out loud no matter how many times I've seen it as does the scene with the sibling support group. Maybe it's just me as a middle child identifying with all those overshadowed siblings, but I laugh every single time. 

An uptight, conservative, businesswoman accompanies her boyfriend to his eccentric and outgoing family's annual Christmas celebration and finds that she's a fish out of water in their free-spirited way of life. They're close. They bicker, but it's obvious they love one another. She is much more buttoned-up and watching her with this family makes me feel awkward and uncomfortable every time I watch it. 

It's got a great ensemble cast including Sarah Jessica Parker, Claire Daines, Diane Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Dermot Mulroney, Craig T. Nelson (is there anyone else who can play the dad of a big, warm, messy family quite as well?), and Luke Wilson, plus a host of others. 

I find family dynamics endlessly fascinating, which is one of the reasons I like this movie so much.

These aren't the only Christmas movies I enjoy and watch repeatedly. I could easily extend the list to my top 20 or even top 30. What can I say? I love Christmas movies. If I had to pick an Honorable Mention (okay, I don't have to, but I can't leave this one off the list), it would be A Christmas Visitor starring William Devane, Meredith Baxter and Dean McDermott. Another one that brings tears to my eyes every time I watch it -- probably because back in the day, I was a huge fan of Knot's Landing and there wasn't anything more moving than watching Greg Sumner mourning the loss of his beloved wife. Good grief! All the man has to do now is swallow and I'm a mess. And, yeah, he swallows in this one. 

Anyway, this is my list. What's on yours?