A PERFECT GIFT – Marilyn Armstrong

“I want these earrings, or something as close to it as you can find,” I said, handing him the picture, item number and the website address. The trouble is, my husband doesn’t take orders. If I say I want those earrings, he will buy the other ones because he likes them better. Which would be fine, if he were going to wear them.

I am pretty good at following orders, but it isn’t much fun.  I always tried to find something a little creative … until I realized he didn’t want something unique. He wanted that shirt, that sweatshirt. He didn’t want different colors. He wanted it to look exactly like all his other ties, all his other shirts.

A couple of years ago, my best friend got desperate. She bought the beautiful hand-made leather bag she wanted, handed it to her husband. “Wrap it up,” she said. “You just bought my Christmas present.”

That is one approach. I came up with an alternative.

We buy each other something relatively small for Christmas — an “under the tree” gift. We try to be sure it’s something each of us wants. Amazon wish lists can be a big help (just saying). After Christmas, we go shopping. He gets the stuff he wants and tries it on. So what if it’s the same items he always buys? It’s his choice.

I buy the earrings I want, a sweater that fits. The electronic gadget I’ve been yearning for, the lens on my wish list.

We are both happy. We shop together, share the experience, get to make suggestions, offer input and have a lot of fun. Prices are always rock-bottom after the holidays are over and if you wait a few extra days, the stores aren’t crowded. It totally removes the stress from trying to find a perfect gift.

It turns out if you bring the recipient with you, he or she can choose and they will always find the perfect gift.

WINTER IN THE AIR – Rich Paschall

Christmas Every Day, a review, Rich Paschall

Every year a heavenly host of stars puts out a Christmas album. Each hopes they will find some success with their versions of well known Christmas tunes. A few will give you some original music. We’ve already mentioned the “Chicago Christmas” album with seven new Christmas songs. There are other albums out there that might be of interest for their new songs.

David at City Winery

Late last year, American Idol alum, David Archuleta, put out a Christmas album, Winter In The Air.  Of the twelve songs included on the album were three written by David. In addition to the title tune, David has the lively Christmas Every Day. It is an uptempo way to lead off the set.

The video is high energy and fun to watch. It is one of those holiday tunes that deserves more play that it will ever receive. The old standbys continue to rule the waves. Of the secular tunes, I find it to be the best entry. Winter In The Air is also a fine addition to winter songs. It is thoughtful and reflective, more like his later work than his immediate post-Idol years.

While I think this is a fine album, I found the bounce back and forth between holiday tunes and religious tunes to be a bit odd. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the entire set. When David started into White Christmas, I thought he was going to go for The Drifters classic interpretation. Instead, he went to a version I had never heard. It was a pleasant surprise.

This year the “Deluxe Edition” was released. The first twelve songs were the same, but three more were added.  David has an a capella version of the folk tune Still, Still, Still. It finishes off the new release.

Added is a pleasant version of The Christmas Song. The Mel Torme, Bob Wells classic may have been done better, but you will find this video to be an enjoyable effort.  Released a little over a week ago, the video was put together with home movies contributed by fans, “Archies.”

Then there is this little story. David covered the ‘NSync hit, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays. In the video, he welcomes friends for a party, but a couple of surprise guests show up. Two of the original ‘NSync members, Lance Bass and Chris Kirkpatrick, try to make their way into the party. In addition to the video story below, you can find a “Making of” video on YouTube that will show you how it was done.

Happy Holidays. We hope you were singing along.

See also: “Chicago Christmas,” SERENDIPITY, November 24, 2019.
Something That Has Nothing To Do With Me,” SERENDIPITY, March 4, 2018.
Postcards In The Sky,” SERENDIPITY, May 5, 2019.

THE DEFINITIVE VERSION – Rich Paschall

The Christmas List, by Rich Paschall

As you are racing to and fro in this holiday season you are probably being bombarded by holiday songs. Even if you are listening to Talk Radio in your automobile or sleigh, you can not escape the holiday music in stores, malls, and on television.

With so many versions of certain songs floating through the air, down the block and Rockin Around The Christmas Tree, we thought you might need to know the best recordings of the top songs. It might be a little Frosty outside where you are and we don’t want you to have a Blue Christmas. So for your Happy Holidays before Little St. Nick arrives, here is our latest Top Ten list of definitive versions of these holiday classics.

10. A Holly Jolly Christmas, Burl Ives (1909-1995) The song was released in 1965 after being featured the previous year in the animated cartoon classic, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

9. Feliz Navidad, Jose Feliciano.  The 1970 tune by the Puerto Rican star has become a classic pop tune worldwide.  The song features a simple Spanish chorus and a simple English verse.  The catchy music has taught people everywhere how to say Merry Christmas in Spanish.

8. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Judy Garland (1922-1969) The tune was written for the 1944 film Meet Me in St. Louis.  It’s a hard song to interpret and I think many singers need to see the movie.

7. Jingle Bell Rock, Bobby Helms (1933-1997) The 1957 “Rockabilly” sound was an immediate hit and eventually went gold for Helms.

6. Christmas Time Is Here, Vince Guaraldi (1928-1976) The jazz musician is best known for composing the score to 17 Peanuts animated television specials and a feature-length film.  The first of these was A Charlie Brown Christmas, 1965.  Words to this jazz tune were provided by the Charlie Brown television producer, Lee Mendelson (1933-2008).

5. (There’s No Place Like) Home For The Holidays, Perry Como (1912-2001)  The popular crooner recorded the song in 1954 and sang it for the next 40 years.  “Mr. C” recorded it in stereo in 1959 and it is this version you probably hear today.  Like many popular television variety stars of his era, Como continued holiday shows after his weekly TV shows ended.  This video is from his 1969 Christmas special.

4.  The Christmas Song, Nat “King” Cole (1919-1965) The tune was written by Bob Wells (1922-1998) and another will known singer, Mel Torme (1925-1999), in 1945.  In June 1946 Cole recorded the song, then recorded it again in August with more instruments.  The second version was released.  There was a third recording, then a fourth in stereo in 1961.  It is that last version you here so much today.  Torme also recorded the song some years later, but it is the Nat King Cole version that is best remembered.

3.  It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year, Andy Williams (1927-2012).  Williams was another popular television crooner.  The song was written in 1963 and recorded by Williams for his first Christmas album.  It was used on his television show the same year and became a Christmas standard over time.  Now it is one of the top 10 Christmas songs of all time.  On this video, Williams appears to be singing along with the popular recording.

2. Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree, Brenda Lee. The 1960s pop star is still singing the 1958 hit by Johnny Marks. Mr. Marks also wrote “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” and “A Holly Jolly Christmas.”  Her Christmas hit is in constant rotation on radio holiday playlists and one of the most downloaded holiday songs. I guess she’s not sorry now.

1. White Christmas, Bing Crosby (1903-1977) The Irving Berlin hit was apparently written for the movie Holiday Inn (no-telling with the prolific Mr. Berlin). Crosby first sang it on his radio show in 1941 but recorded it in 1942 for the Holiday Inn movie. It was recorded again in 1947 as the original master wore out from frequent use. The song appeared in two other movies and Crosby sang it for the rest of his life. This video is the final performance. He died soon after, doing what he liked best, playing golf.

What are your favorite versions of holiday classics?  Click on any song title above for the music video.

JEWISH AT CHRISTMAS – ELLIN CURLEY

Being Jewish during the Christmas season is like being a kid with your nose pressed up against the window of a candy store while all the other kids are inside eating candy. No matter how hard Jewish parents try to jazz up Hanukkah, eight candles can’t hold a candle to the sex appeal of corporate, commercial Christmas in America.

Every year, for two months (or more), everything you see and hear glamorizes the season of joy and giving. It’s all lights and glitter. Since Jesus was Jewish too, maybe we could come up with a holiday celebrating his Bar Mitzvah? Even Bar Mitzvahs are tame and dowdy compared to the hype and excess of Christmas.

Cowboy and Menorah

But then I married a gentile! I could finally — legitimately — participate in Christmas!

The first thing my daughter and I did — a week after my wedding, as soon and as the Thanksgiving dishes were put away — was buy a gigantic, live tree. Then we hit every Christmas tree store in the county. We bought enough ornaments to decorate the tree in Rockefeller Center! We made sure to buy several Dreidels, Jewish stars, and Chai ornaments to remind our tree it was also Jewish.

My husband suggested I might want to join a 12-step program for ornament addicts, but even he had to admit, the result was spectacular. Our sun room is round, with windows on three sides. At night, when the tree was lit, it reflected sparkling colored lights for 180 degrees. It was fairyland.

We kept the tree up until March that first year.

After several years of holiday decorating orgies, the novelty began to wear thin. The effort required to transform the house into (and out of) a winter wonderland felt unreasonable. Unnecessary.

christmas wrapping paper

I began to feel pressured and overwhelmed, like most of my Gentile friends. I decided to go back to my Jewish roots and leave the Christmas responsibilities to my Methodist husband. We now have a small, fake tree that comes up from the basement every year, fully decorated, for 6 weeks of daylight in the kitchen.

Ironically, Hanukkah, in its present incarnation, was also created by Madison Avenue to give Jewish kids their own schtick around Christmas, and to give Jewish adults something to spend money on during the “holiday” season.

These days, I happily light my Hanukkah candles and give, mostly small, gifts to my immediate family. I enjoy the festivities and fun of Christmas, but I’m at peace now with the simple, beautiful “Festival of Lights”.

Now that I’ve experienced how the other 90% live, I no longer covet my Christian neighbors’ holiday.

CHRISTMAS PRESENT

My Top Ten Christmas Songs, Living Artists Edition by Rich Paschall


While many of your favorite Christmas songs are done by artists who have passed over the space and time continuum into another existence (that is to say, they are dead), there are still perennial favorites done by performers who are still on the planet.  This week’s hotly awaited Top Ten list will feature those living artists with songs we love.  Well, I love them, anyway.

There are songs that really did not seem to fit on the last Top Ten list of dead artists or this week’s list of Living artists because they are by groups where some of the members have passed and some are still performing.  For example, “Little Saint Nick” by the Beach Boys is a favorite but Dennis and Carl Wilson have passed.  “Please Come Home For Christmas,” by the Eagles is one of my favorites and Don Henley on vocals is still with us, but Glenn Frey on piano and backing vocals is not. Everyone seems to love “Last Christmas,” by Wham during the mullet haircut days.  Half the duo, George Michael, is gone and Andrew Ridgeley is living comfortably off royalties.

Then there are the bands that broke up.  I guess they can make this list. “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays,” by ‘N Sync has gotten frequent airplay since its 1998 release and earns my Honorable Mention.  I wonder whatever happened to Justin Timberlake?

Now if you have your Christmas pudding “singing in the copper,” I will offer up some performers to sing as well.  This will be much better than your plum pudding or crackling Yule Log, I promise.

10. “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow,” Chicago (the band). This one comes from the rock band’s first Christmas album, aka Chicago XXV.

9.  “Wonderful Christmastime,” Paul McCartney.  The 1979 hit is from the Paul McCartney and Wings days.

8.  “Step Into Christmas,” Elton John.  The 1973 hit by John and Bernie Taupin was released as a single, and again years later as a Bonus track to a reissued “Caribou” album.

7.  “Santa Baby,” Madonna.  The 1953 Eartha Kitt version remains popular, but Madonna took over the airwaves with her 1987 version recorded for a charity album.

6.  “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” Mariah Carey.  The music video for the popular 1994 release is approaching 208 million views at this writing.

5.  “All I Want For Christmas Is A Real Good Tan,” Kenny Chesney.  Released in 2003 on the Christmas album of the same name, Chesney had a hit with the cross-over Contemporary Country sound.  It was the first Christmas album for Chesney and has been certified a “gold album” in the United States (over 500,000 copies sold).

4.  “Feliz Navidad,” Jose Feliciano.  The 1970 tune by the Puerto Rican star has become a classic pop tune world-wide.  The song features a simple Spanish chorus and a simple English verse.  The catchy music has taught people everywhere how to say Merry Christmas in Spanish.  Not only is Feliciano still singing the song, there is a new music video this year (see it here).  I have opted for a more traditional presentation by the singer below.

3.  “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.  The song dates back to 1934 and has been covered by dozens of artists.  Springsteen recorded it live in 1975 and released it as the B-side of “My Hometown” in 1985.  It soon found its way to radio station playlists everywhere.  Now stars try to cover this version.

2.  “Christmas Canon“, Trans-Siberian Orchestra.  The powerful versions of Christmas songs (original and covers) have made the “orchestra” popular.  Their annual Christmas tour is a sell out.  They are somehow a cross between metal rock and symphony.  Startling renditions of “Carol of the Bells” or “Christmas Eve / Sarajevo” and other traditional tunes have come blasting through many holiday playlists.  The milder 1998 “Christmas Canon” is an adaptation of Johann Pachelbel’s “Canon in D major.”

1. “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree,” Brenda Lee. The 1960s pop star is still singing the 1958 hit by Johnny Marks. Mr. Marks also wrote “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” and “A Holly Jolly Christmas.” Lee is still touring at 71 years old and giving holiday concerts. Her Christmas hit is in constant rotation on radio holiday play lists and one of the most downloaded holiday songs. I guess she’s not sorry now.

Related:
Christmas Past, My Top Ten Christmas Songs, Dead Artists Edition

BEING JEWISH AT CHRISTMAS – ELLIN CURLEY

Being Jewish during the Christmas season is like being a kid with your nose pressed up against the window of a candy store while all the other kids are inside eating candy. No matter how hard Jewish parents try to jazz up Hanukkah, eight candles can’t hold a candle to the sex appeal of corporate, commercial Christmas in America.

72-Christmas Eve_013

Every year, for two months (or more), everything you see and hear glamorizes the season of joy and giving. It’s all lights and glitter. Since Jesus was Jewish too, maybe we could come up with a holiday celebrating his Bar Mitzvah? Even Bar Mitzvahs are tame and dowdy compared to the hype and excess of Christmas.

Cowboy and Menorah

But then I married a gentile! I could finally — legitimately — participate in Christmas!

The first thing my daughter and I did — a week after my wedding, as soon and as the Thanksgiving dishes were put away — was buy a gigantic, live tree. Then we hit every Christmas tree store in the county. We bought enough ornaments to decorate the tree in Rockefeller Center! We made sure to buy several Dreidels, Jewish stars, and Chai ornaments to remind our tree it was also Jewish.

almost christmas

My husband suggested I might want to join a 12-step program for ornament addicts, but even he had to admit, the result was spectacular. Our sun room is round, with windows on three sides. At night, when the tree was lit, it reflected sparkling colored lights for 180 degrees. It was fairyland.

We kept the tree up until March that first year.

After several years of holiday decorating orgies, the novelty began to wear thin. The effort required to transform the house into (and out of) a winter wonderland felt unreasonable. Unnecessary.

christmas wrapping paper

I began to feel pressured and overwhelmed, like most of my Gentile friends. I decided to go back to my Jewish roots and leave the Christmas responsibilities to my Methodist husband. We now have a small, fake tree that comes up from the basement every year, fully decorated, for 6 weeks of daylight in the kitchen.

Ironically, Hanukkah, in its present incarnation, was also created by Madison Avenue to give Jewish kids their own schtick around Christmas, and to give Jewish adults something to spend money on during the “holiday” season.

75-Night-Statehouse-NK_0111

These days, I happily light my Hanukkah candles and give, mostly small, gifts to my immediate family. I enjoy the festivities and fun of Christmas, but I’m at peace now with the simple, beautiful “Festival of Lights”.

Now that I’ve experienced how the other 90% live, I no longer covet my Christian neighbors’ holiday.

THE PERFECT GIFT

Wreath Lights

“I want these earrings, or something as close to it as you can find,” I said, handing him the picture, item number and the website address. The trouble is, my husband doesn’t take orders. If I say I want those earrings, he will buy the other ones because he likes them better. Which would be fine, if he were going to wear them.

I am pretty good at following orders, but it isn’t much fun.  I always tried to find something a little creative … until I realized he didn’t want something unique. He wanted that shirt, that sweatshirt. He didn’t want different colors. He wanted it to look exactly like all his other ties, all his other shirts.

A couple of years ago, my best friend got desperate. She bought the beautiful hand-made leather bag she wanted, handed it to her husband. “Wrap it up,” she said. “You just bought my Christmas present.” That is one approach. I came up with an alternative.

We buy each other something relatively small for Christmas — an “under the tree” gift. We try to be sure it’s something each of us wants. Amazon wish lists can be a big help (just saying). After Christmas, we go shopping. He gets stuff he wants and tries it on. So what if it’s the same stuff he always buys? That’s his choice.

Tree Lights 14

I buy the earrings I want, a sweater that fits. The electronic gadget I’ve been yearning for, the lens on my wish list.

We are both happy. We shop together, share the experience, get to make suggestions, offer input and have a lot of fun. Prices are always rock-bottom after the holidays are over and if you wait a few extra days, the stores aren’t crowded. It totally removes the stress from trying to find a perfect gift.

It turns out if you bring the recipient with you — and he or she can choose — they will always find the perfect gift.

FOR THE CHILDREN – BOSTON CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL FUNDRAISER

for the childrenBoston Children’s Hospital relies on donations to continue the critical task of healing sick kids. Your help is greatly needed and appreciated.

In return for your kindness, I’ll send you a copy of “For the Children XIII,” my latest booklet of inspiring stories, poetry, recipes, humor and illustrations.

Kindly send your donation of $20.00 (or whatever you can afford) payable to BOSTON CHILDRENS HOSPITAL to:

Jordan Rich
WBZ Radio
1170 Soldiers Field Rd.
Boston, Ma. 02134

I’m proud to once again be associated with Boston Children’s Hospital…Until Every Child is Well.
Have a great holiday season and thank you for your generosity and kindness. Your donation means a lot!

Peace,
JR
Jordan Rich
WBZ

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: My 2012 in Pictures

Gallery

This gallery contains 25 photos.

All months are not equal and many of the most important things that happen are never documented. Hospital stays and medical procedures are life and death but never show up in photo albums. Some months are more crowded than others: summer … Continue reading

Blog of the Year – 2012 … And now we are five!!


I just got my fifth star from Eunice at Living and Lovin:Living Life surrounded by all I love. PEACE. Thank you I am extremely grateful and touched. I didn’t expect it and I’m not sure I deserve it, but it’s great to have it!

I also received the Blog of the Year Award  from Tyson at Head in a Vice , then from Sharla at CatnipOfLife, another from Bette Stevens at 4WRITERSANDREADERS … and yet one more from Sharla via her second blog (talk about ambitious, I can barely keep up with one blog, much less two), Awakenings  … I’m all the way up to five stars. 

It’s amazing to me to  have gotten any awards, but a fifth star is really special and deeply appreciated. I’m not sure I deserve it, but it has turned out to be the high points (five high points) of this otherwise rather difficult holiday season.

Today was the day the world was supposed to end, but it being the Winter Solstice, it actually was the shortest day of the year, which is not the end of the world, just the official beginning of winter … and ironically, the beginning of the lengthening  of the days, the shortest day, the longest night … but also, the beginning of the return of the sun and a hope that spring will come again.

It’s no coincidence that Christmas … Yuletide falls approximately on the Solstice. Every religion, every culture celebrates the solstices as well as the equinoxes. Christianity, as it was developing, adopted an “easier to join them than fight them” attitude … as had every other religion and culture before it. It doesn’t make the holiday less meaningful, it just lets people celebrating at a time that feels familiar, comfortable.

I still have a lot to do. All the wrapping, the grocery shopping. Our trip to visit friends after Christmas just got called off due to illness … hopefully just delayed.  I find myself not feeling the magic. Not feeling festive. Tragedies in the news, close friends sick, one family member passing … and a serious scarcity of money have all combined to make this a dreary excuse for what is usually a fun time of year.

75-Choir_HP-23

And then someone gives me a little star … a bit of recognition … and the world is just that much brighter. Thank you again.

There is definitely something to be said about this virtual world of ours: it is a world of sharing, caring and preparing: Sharing around the world, Caring for others, Preparing for the future. Whatever endeavor you are engaged in at the present moment or seek in days to come, there is always someone willing to tell you his or her story which will in provide a beacon of light down a sometimes dark highway.

The ‘rules’ for this award are simple and easy:

  1. Select the blog(s) you think deserve the ‘Blog of the Year 2012’ Award.
  2. Write a blog post and name/tell us about the blog(s) you have chosen – there’s no minimum or maximum number of blogs required – and ‘present’ them with their award.
  3. Please include a link back to this page Blog of the Year 2012 Award and include these ‘rules’ in your post (please don’t alter the rules or the badges!).
  4. Let the blog(s) you have chosen know that you have given them this award and share the ‘rules’ with them.
  5. You can now also join The Facebook group – click ‘like’ on this page ‘Blog of the Year 2012’ Award Facebook group and then you can share your blog with an even wider audience.
  6. As a winner of the award – please add a link back to the blog that presented you with the award – and then proudly display the award on your blog and sidebar … and start collecting stars.

_______________________________________________________

Because this is an award that you can “collect” and get many times, I’m going to give it back to people who I know have gotten it before, but who I’m reasonably sure don’t have all six stars yet. I may be wrong, but I think so.

You are people whose work I follow. You mean something to me. You make me laugh, make me feel, make me think, teach me stuff. Some of you suggest ideas, movies, or books to read, watch, or learn, technology, cameras and accessories I might want. Some of you champion causes important to me … and some of you are living lives I wish were mine. Many more of you are living lives a lot like mine and I empathize and sympathize with you. You make me feel less alone.

All of you have touched me. It may not matter a lot to you, but it makes a big difference to me.

For those of you are getting this award again and need one of the other versions with a different number of stars, I’m including (thank you again Sharla) all six of the award medallions at the bottom of this post.

Since I got this fifth star today, I’m going to pass it along to people who to whom I gave it before, but who I’m pretty sure don’t yet have their sixth stars (no, not me … I can’t give it to myself and I wouldn’t if I could … Jeez):

_______________________________________________________

Feel no obligation to do anything beyond your comfort zone. I know the holidays are on us and if you are anything like me, you don’t have time to spare. Do whatever feels good to you and don’t feel obliged beyond that. I may take a week off blogging altogether after this: I’ve got so much to do, I finally feel like if I don’t give myself a break, I’m going to break.

May your holidays be bright, may all good things come to you and yours. May we all move into the New Year with joy and purpose, overcoming all the problems that assail us and coming out the other side.

Revel in the season! Be happy whatever it is you celebrate … and may you enjoy everything you can in any way that brings you peace and joy.

Not yet Thanksgiving, but it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas …

Thanksgiving is still a week away, but you wouldn’t guess it around here.

The television stations are preempting shows we like with sappy Christmas specials, many of which are decades old.

Meanwhile, around the valley, the nurseries and grocery stores are displaying wreaths, baskets and miniature Christmas trees. Yes indeed, the merchants are gearing up for what they hope will be the annual spending orgy.

Typically, the stores in this area wait until just after Thanksgiving to start selling Christmas. But there’s a recession, in case you somehow missed it. Most folks around here are broke, so I guess the local shops believe we need extra time to get serious about spending money we don’t have.

These photographs were taken today at the local grocery store. It’s only the leading edge. There’s a lot more to come.