Wednesday, December 21, 2011

2011 Holiday Movie Marathon (My Top Ten Christmas Movies)

Holiday movies and Christmas specials make the holidays for me. Since I was kid, I've always had my favorites that I looked forward to watching on TV. These are the top ten holiday movies that I'm looking forward to for 2011.
 10. Home Alone

John Hughes was a writing genius. In Home Alone, Kevin McAllister accidently gets left home alone when his family goes on Christmas vacation. Granted, the movie has always gotten a bad rap for being unbelievable and a little too cutsie, but all these years later, I find it a fun escape. Plus, I love all the Christmas movies set in Chicago because it reminds me of suburb of Columbus where I grew up and it gives me a lovely sense of nostalgia.

9. Bridget Jones's Diary

This is not exactly a Christmas movie, but it is true that the holiday season tends to make all of us singletons question our previous year of choices. It's a self-reflection that is brought on by all the houses wrapped in Christmas lights. I adore Bridget, and the movie always a great laugh. Plus, I love Hugh Grant as the dirty-talking bad boy.
8.  Home for the Holidays

Again, not exactly a Christmas movie, but it is set in the holiday timeframe (Thanksgiving). I’m not exactly sure where it is set, but it reminds me of home and my family. Imperfect, quirky, but still loving. RDJ (that’s Robert Downey Jr.) rocks my world in this movie, and I’m pretty sure that the turkey on the lap scene gets more funny every time I watch it.

7. Love Actually

The first time I saw this movie was Christmas 2003 with my Mom and sister Anissa, so anytime I watch it, I think of that day. It was a fun girls day, and this is a fun girls movie. It’s sweet, sappy, and sometimes completely bizarre. My favorite of the stories are the Prime Minister, Jamie writing in France, and the little drummer boy in love.

6. The Ref

Christmas and Denis Leary go together remarkably well. This one is about a couple of robbers taking a totally dysfunctional family hostage. It turns into some of the funniest dialog that I’ve heard in ages. It’s Kevin Spacey at his best, spouting off angry, snarky one-liners.

5. The Holiday

This is another chick flick, but it is a holiday essentials for me. I want Kate Winslet’s cottage on the snowy English countryside, and I totally support Jack Black as a sweet, leading man. Go figure. The movie makes you love the characters so much that you feel like you grow with them in the process. I can always dig that.

4. Scrooged

When I was a kid, I rented VHS tapes from Pharmor, and I would rent Scrooged over and over and over again. It didn’t matter that it was for Christmas because this movie is amazing and funny. Bill Murray is genius as Scrooge. I love the New York setting, and the awesome casting of the ghosts. Of all of the versions of A Christmas Carol, this one is definitely my favorite.

3. Elf

This movie is totally my oddball, weirdo sense of humor. Will Ferrell plays Elf so straight that it just makes every scene a pure classic to me. It’s crazy silly and just pure fun to watch, so it always takes a prominent place on my must watch list.

2. A Christmas Story

I had a hard time picking the number one spot because I love this movie so much. It was filmed in my home state of Ohio and reminds me of everything amazing about being a kid at Christmastime. TBS has done all of us a wonderful favor with 24 Hours of A Christmas Story. It is lovely to turn on the TV at any point of the day and just know that I can see one of the fabulous scenes from this movie. It’s hard to watch this movie and not be filled with all of the wonder and awesomeness of Christmas.
1. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

I have loved this movie so consistently for so long that it had to be my number one pick. It is yet another of the John Hughes classics that remind me of Ohio and the silliness and love of my family. Chevy Chase is perfect – both hysterical and endearing. I love the family and want to spend time with them. It’s a disaster Christmas, but it’s also a loveable, fun disaster. Mostly, I would love to go sledding with them.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

My 2011 Christmas Music Mix

One of my favorite things to do at Christmas (well, any holiday or day really) is to make a fabulous mix tape... err cd... I mean playlist. I really miss the art of the mixtape. I always try to include some classics while searching out some random, less popular songs. It's a gift from the heart of my music snobbery.

If you want to download any of the songs, I linked them up with Amazon MP3 to make it a bit easier. A few songs can only be purchased in MP3 as part of the Now That's What I Call Christmas compilation, so I marked those and linked to the album. Hope you enjoy!

  1. Eartha Kitt - Santa Baby
  2. Otis Redding - Merry Christmas, Baby
  3. Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Jordan - Baby, It's Cold Outside
  4. Chuck Berry - Run Rudolph Run
  5. The Killers - The Cowboys' Christmas Ball (available from iTunes)
  6. Chris Isaak - Blue Christmas
  7. Wham! - Last Christmas
  8. Band Aid - Do They Know It's Christmas? (Now That's What I Call Christmas)
  9. Queen - Thank God It's Christmas
  10. Ray Charles - The Spirit of Christmas
  11. Eddie Vedder & Mike McCready - Let Me Sleep (It's Christmas Time)
  12. Bing Crosby & David Bowie - Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth (Now That's What I Call Christmas)
  13. Chris Isaak - Mele Kalikimaka
  14. Bobby Helms - Jingle Bell Rock
  15. The Pogues ft. Kristy McColl - Fairytale of New York
  16. The Kinks - Father Christmas
  17. U2 - Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)
  18. The Magnetic Fields - Everything Is One Big Christmas Tree
  19. Big Bad Voodoo Daddy - Mr. Heatmiser
  20. Eels - Christmas Is Going To The Dogs
  21. Ottmar Liebert - Deck The Halls (Now That's What I Call Christmas)
  22. The Waitresses - Christmas Wrapping
  23. Mariah Carey - All I Want For Christmas Is You

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Advent Calendar of Family Christmas Traditions

Blame National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, but I have always wanted an advent calendar. While shopping for some decorations today, I found a cool one. I was excited that I'd have a treat to look forward to each day leading up to Christmas, but I wasn't quite sure what to put in it. Candy? Definitely. But, I wanted more. Searching the web, I came across a great blog post where it was suggested to use it to inspire family activities.

To be honest, I've been in the dumps over Christmas. I think that as I've grown older and my family has moved apart, I have started to lose all of the Christmas traditions that make the holidays so much fun. So, in my advent calendar (even though I'm starting really late this year), I decided to make each day of December remind me of all of my family's traditions and find ways to make new ones. I'm also going to eat candy.

Advent Calendar Traditions:
  1. Decorate the Christmas Tree.
  2. Drink Silk Egg Nog – yum!
  3. Watch National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
  4. Create a new tradition for the advent calendar.
  5. Pick out this year’s Christmas cookies.
  6. Make an ornament. Add the date, so you remember the year.
  7. Go Christmas shopping to remind yourself why you love to make presents. Figure out the craft idea for the year.
  8. Write a Dear Santa letter.
  9. Find a charity. Commit to helping in some way.
  10. Look at the family Christmas photos. Send some of the fun ones to family. 
  11. Treat yourself to a box of Cherry Cordials. You know they are your favorite!
  12. Make a Christmas music mix.
  13. Make something sparkle. 
  14. Donate to Hospice for Grandma and Grandpa.
  15. Write a blog post about Christmas.
  16. Make popcorn and watch Elf.
  17. Write a Christmas card with a note for faraway family to tell them you care.
  18. Make hot chocolate and enjoy the Christmas lights.
  19. Make a paper snowflake (Very important when living in Florida away from real snow).
  20. Paint a Christmas picture.
  21. Buy new pajamas to wear Christmas Eve. This makes up for growing up and not getting pajamas on Christmas Eve anymore.
  22. Wrap presents. Make them extra special pretty.
  23. Write a letter to yourself for next Christmas.
  24. Read The Night Before Christmas (best ornament ever, keep the tradition alive!) and then leave a treat for Santa (cookies) and the reindeer (carrots & celery).
  25. Merry Christmas! Enjoy time with family! Take a Christmas photo (if you have stairs, stagger down the steps) and watch A Christmas Story (24-hours on TBS).
And just so annoy my sisters, I have included a lovely stair photo with our stockings as an example. I'm the goofy one with the monster bangs in the front.

If you have other traditions, I would love to hear them!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Make It Pretty Inside and Out, The Music Experience

I realize that I talk about vinyl a lot. In fact, just at the sound of a v word leaving my mouth, I can feel everyone around me roll their eyes. I am quickly becoming one of those crotchety old people who lament the better days when everything was cooler.

If I was in a band (someday, when I can play a whole song without stopping at a mistake, apologizing, and then starting over), I would hate digital music. I mean, I constantly buy digital music (Amazon MP3 is my friend) and I would love that people are listening on their iPods or whatever, but I would feel robbed of the ability to present the music as an experience.

Album artwork is completely lost as a thumbnail. I fear that without having books of lyrics and photos to look through, people are not paying enough attention to the music itself. Plus, iPods let you shuffle around too easily, missing the complete, straight through feel of an album. Music has become a background to tv shows and something to amuse you in the car. It feels like the art of the music listening experience is lost with digital, which is also why Amazon Vinyl is my other good friend.

With that said, I tip my metaphorical hat of gratitude to both The Avett Brothers and Pearl Jam for what arrived in my mailbox last week. Check it…

Receiving both of these was like an unexpected Christmas present: the unpacking, the surprises on each page, the jokes on the album labels, and the oh so beautiful artwork (album artwork has always been one of my favorite things). From looking at these sets, both artists respect and think about their music and the packaging. To me, that’s just as important as the music itself. Also, to be fair, Pearl Jam’s packaging is always amazing – the CD version of Vs. has long been one of my favorites.

Documentaries, Just What the Doctor Ordered

I wasn't feeling great earlier this week, so I called out of work, snuggled into bed, and between naps watched a slew of documentaries on Netflix. Here's a rundown in case you're looking for some doc-u-tv.

Stephen Fry in America

Out of everything I watched, this was definitely my favorite. Too often, I forget just how many cool things are available to us, how diverse we are, and the amazing range of landscapes that are available to us in the United States. For some reason, I am now obsessed with visiting Montana. The mountains, the lakes, and just vast expanses of quiet land are my idea of a heaven. However, if I had to bundle up every day because its freezing cold, couldn’t get great internet access, and didn’t have a Starbucks on every corner, I’m not sure how long I could take it. Oregon and Seattle also looked absolutely amazing. I love the idea of mountains and rocky, chilly shorelines. Anyway, Fry successfully renewed my interest in the US and it was just a fun series to watch.

When You're Strange

This was an interesting look at The Doors. The movie is all real footage of the band and overdubbed with commentary by Johnny Depp (even his voice is swoony). I thought that Jim Morrison came across as both grandiose and completely insecure. It seemed like he wanted to get away and have a different life, yet he was so drawn into the limelight that he couldn’t let go. It obviously had a sad ending and it left me with a lot of lingering questions. I would love to be able to sit down and have a chat with Ray Manzarek.

Kurt & Courtney

Speaking of sad endings, this movie was just depressing (and the fact that it started with that horrible photo of him dead on the floor in the greenhouse gave me nightmares). I don’t know what I believe about all of the conspiracy theories, but I didn’t feel like the film did anything to make me teeter one way or the other. It just felt horrible listening to all of the sordid details. I really want to find a doc that says something more about the person that Cobain was and less about the aftermath.

Black White + Gray: A Portrait of Sam Wagstaff + Robert Mapplethorpe

Earlier this year, I read Just Kids , which is Patti Smith's autobiography about her time in NYC with Robert Mapplethorpe. This movie covers the time period after that and is mostly about Mapplethorpe’s benefactor and lover Sam Wagstaff. He was an immensely interesting person and has been credited for the acceptance of photography as an art form. His immense photography collection was used throughout the film. It is true that what someone collects tells you a great deal about the person. It was also interesting to see how he was able to constantly reinvented himself.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

“In the clearing stands a Boxer…” (Paul Simon, Simon & Garfunkel)

In my league of extraordinary heroes, Paul Simon stands tall among them. He inspires me to write beautiful thigns. Yes, he’s a fine musician with one of the most emotionally sweet voices that I’ve ever heard, but what always gets me about him is the way that he pieces together words into heartbreaking, truthful, and beautiful stories. He captures a moment, a feeling better than anyone else that I can think of and for that I am forever smitten.

I was lucky enough to snag some tickets (although row DD wasn’t perfect, I was still in the hall) to see him at his performance at Ruth Eckerd Hall last night. It’s sort of terrifying to see someone that you’ve admired for most of your life because people are fallible and real. I’ve seen a lot of people who completely won me with their live sets (Bob Dylan – how is it that Dylan stays so humble?) and then others that have made me never want to listen to their music again (*coughJohnMellencampcough*). I am happy to say that Simon was genuine, funny, and gracious. He seems to still love performing his music, and that has become a rarity. His voice still sounds incredible. It was just a fun night with great music. His music spans decades and it hasn’t lost any of its relevance or impact (some of my favorites of the night were from his newest CD So Beautiful or So What... check out the awesome setlist).

In honor of a great night, I’ve picked out some of my Simon faves.

Don’t Call Me Al

Before I knew who Paul Simon was, I knew that crazy video with the two guys dancing and lip synching. The video made me laugh, the music made me want to dance, and it just sounded so cool. I was hooked. I’d watch for the video on MTV… you know back in the days when the M stood for music instead of morons. I never scoff at hilarity of Chevy Chase either (one of these days, I need to write my ode to Christmas Vacation).

Bleecker Street

A much documented fact is that I become obsessed with vinyl (I said records back in the day) in my teenage years. I can still clearly remember a Saturday afternoon at the Old 54 flea market where I bought an old army jacket and a vinyl copy of Parsley Sage Rosemary and Thyme. I remember the musty smell of the record, the way it would pop on the 6 o'clock news song and make it even more hauntingly awesome, and how I insisted on wearing that stupid jacket all of the time even though Florida is about a million degrees. Soon after, I had every S&G album and I would listen to them for hours while I painted in my bedroom. Their music will always be so extremely special to me for that. This is one of my favorite songs. 

The Afterlife

This is from So Beautiful Or So What. What I love the most about this is the totally snarky view on death (I hope, I'm not always good at guessing what other people's work is about). Maybe we should all work harder at adopting a sense of humor. Plus, it really makes me want to dance.

The Sound of Silence

I included this song because hearing him sing it live was like a religious experience. I don’t even mind admitting that my eyes went a bit teary. The thing about Simon is that when he was in his 20s, he was already writing the songs with the grace and beauty of an old soul. He saw the world and wrote about it with honesty, integrity, and intelligence. Seeing him with just a guitar and a dark stage performing that song, a smidge older, was just perfect. I almost wish that he would put out a live album of him singing some of the old S&G songs. I like that he sings them a bit different now yet still includes all the heart and soul.

The Only Living Boy in New York

I have to include this song too because it seemed like few people cheered as loudly as they should have when he played it. This song is sincerely brilliant.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Wh...wha... what? Huh? Wow. (Book 36)

A friend convinced me that I needed to read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Hunter S. Thompson) . I always assumed the book was akin to William S Burrough's Naked Lunch, which I unsuccessfully tried to read in high school (It was so weird and dense that I could barely read 20 pages in to it).

I was surprised to find Fear so engaging. Don’t get me wrong, it was definitely one of the weirdest books I’ve ever read, but I was enthralled with the crazy world. I still don’t understand why anyone would want to purposefully pound their brains with so many drugs that the carpet bleeds, everyone turns into lizards, and you puke in yours shoes. I’ve had panic attacks and I’m pretty certain that I wouldn’t ever want to take anything to induce them. I have too many control issues and can't even begin to know how to let go of reality like that.

However, it was fascinating to look into the mind of an adrenaline junkie. They push all of the the limits and get off on the ultimate high of getting away with it all.. Thompson writing style is engaging and vivid. I felt immediately sucked into that crazy world of 1971 Vegas, which was proven by the multiple nightmares that I had about lizard people and rattlesnakes attacking me. Nightmares aside, I really enjoyed the book.

To follow, I watched the movie adaptation. Hollywood usually likes to kill great books, but this was a fantastic portrayal of the book. The acting was great. I really enjoyed the detail they invested in the scenery. A few times, the spans of the hotel room (dirty, mucked up pools of filth) would make me feel like puking in my shoes. Anyway, being a true bibliophile, I recommend reading the book first

As a side note, this was my 36th book for the year. That is 10 past my goal.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Songs about feelings (R.E.M., Audioslave, The Avett Brothers)

I made it through turkey day. I’m a few pounds heavier from all the carbs (and mounds of whipped cream on top of the pumpkin pie), but I was happy to have the time to spend with my family. My music picks for this week are about moments of vulnerability. In each of these, I am amazed with the level of honesty and exposure and how it leads to something so beautiful.
Audioslave – Like a Stone

I really thought this song was about love. Wikipedia corrected me. It is about a man, all alone, waiting to die. It disturbs me how much I want to dance to this song. It's also unsettling that I listened to this on repeat for a day and a half. It is philosophical and makes me think. Sometimes, I need to think. And sometimes for a day and a half on repeat in my car, I just want to get lost in Chris Cornell’s sweet, sweet voice.

R.E.M. – World Leader Pretend

I have listened to this song hundreds of times. I have a habit of getting sucked into an R.E.M. vortex where I found it impossible to listen to anything else. However, the other day, I really heard this song for the first time. It is a stubborn, lonely song. I always heard it as a song about self-empowerment, but now I hear a story about someone who is hiding and protecting himself. At the end, he does ask for someone to make it cool to come out of the hiding. Maybe it’s a little of both. Maybe it is just a reflection of the day I was having when I listened to it.

The Avett Brothers – I Would Be Sad

I guess that it wasn’t really much of a stretch to put an Avett Brothers song in a post about emotional vulnerability and honesty, but I have been on a serious tear of listening to this song. It makes me want to give him a hug and tell him that it will all get better. And then I cringe, thinking of all of the times that I felt so desperate to get some guy’s attention. It always feels so dramatic and serious at the time.It is both good and a little sad to realize how such strong feelings can fade or change. I also haven't lost the irony of how I’m totally embarrassed for myself but sympathetic to others.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bibliophilia: Book 35

My reading has slowed down dramatically in the last month. The list of books that I'm currently reading has grown exponentially and I hit a roadblock book. You know, the type. It isn't so bad that you give up, but you just can't quite get into it, so you’ll do just about anything other than reading. I guess that I'm far too stubborn to give up. Luckily, I finally finished the book earlier this week.

Halfway to the Grave (Book 1) - Jeaniene Frost

I didn't hate this book, but I didn’t love it. The reviews on Amazon and Shelfari were fantastic, so I was expecting more. The characters were interesting enough, but it felt like everything (every description, plot twist, etc.) took too long to develop. Maybe I wasn't in the right frame of mind because I normally eat up these cheesy vampire novels. Growing up, I taunted my sister for her love of smutty, romance novels. While reading this, all I could think was how the literary mighty have fallen. I won't be finishing out the series. Ironically, I still didn't totally hate it. If it came out as a movie, I think the story might even be pretty interesting.

Anyway, the reading roadblock was happily cleared. I am now lost in the crazy, cracked out land of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Most of last night, I had nightmares about bad trips with lots of lizard people and bats. Thank you, Hunter S Thompson.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"Washed in Black..." (and then some color)

When I paint, I pick out some cool vinyl and then get lost in the mess of emotions and colors for hours. My favorites have always been Rolling Stone’s Flowers or anything by Simon & Garfunkel.

The other night I listened to the remastered version of Pearl Jam's Ten on vinyl. I’ve always loved the album because it is so angry and full of energy, but I hadn’t ever realized how much darkness is in there. I was particularly taken with the lyric “washed in black, tattooed everything” (well I’ve always loved that lyric really), so I started playing around with the idea of what things would look like washed in black. Plus, I like any excuse to make a mess with paint.

Here’s a black and white version:

And then, I tried one in color:

Normally, I prefer black and white, but on this go, I’m voting for the color version. These were fun to paint, so I might just play around a bit more with some different color combinations.