Guilty Pleasures

Ah, the holidays.....Time for travel? Check. Time for shopping, errands, holiday preparations and celebrations? Check. Extra time to read books, visit with family and friends, catch up on dr appointments - check. Time to watch tv ......what ? One of the great pleasures of having extended time off from work for the holiday break is a little extra time to catch up on some of my tv viewing. Normal workweeks are often just too hectic , and I frequently get to spend my evenings grading papers and writing tests. So it is with great enjoyment and no guilt whatsoever that the hubster and I have been deeply ensconced in "Psych", "Monk, and "Burn Notice " marathons . In addition to catching up on all our favorite tv series, we have watched some golden oldies as well. We both stayed up one night till 4 am, singing along with Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins as we watched "My Fair Lady". I really counted my blessings that hubster and I both grew up watching great American musicals, and this activity was carried out with no ridicule or embarrassment on either of our parts. Christmas Eve we took a break from kid mania to catch "Casablanca" for the 1000th time. "Here's looking at you, kid." Last night it was "The Sound of Music" which kept us going, and I started thinking about a trip I took once , to the beautiful city of Salzburg, Austria.

Guilty pleasures - I pose in front of the estate where the Von Trapps lived. Salzburg, Aus, 1985
Back in my college days, I spent a summer bumming around Bavaria and Austria, and enjoyed the beautiful scenery and charming locales greatly. One of the hi-lights of this trip was touring Salzburg and taking "The Sound of Music" tour. This was nothing "official", mind you - just some entrepreneur with a bus and a sign, parked out in front of the Mozart museum. Pay yer fee and off ya go! I boarded a bus full of Americans tourists just like me, and the bus drove us around to all the exterior shots used in the movie, in and around the town of Salzburg. While we rode around, the bus driver put a little tape of "The Sound of Music" into the audio system, and all of us on the bus sang along. It was kinda fun - but also about as embarrassing as you can get. I hid under a large floppy hat - from what, I don't know. Why is this movie so beloved by folk ? Is it the good vs evil theme ? Years later, when reading The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (winner of the Man Booker Prize for literature), one of the characters says - keep in mind this novel is set in India -that the Sound of Music is her favorite movie of all time. Interesting trivia fact here : this film is immensely popular in India, as well as America. Why is that, I wonder ?

The Reader, Valkyrie, and other films

The long holiday break means I have a little extra time on my hands, and so I have been catching up on my movie watching, book reading, blogging, and other hobbies (also sorting and folding laundry, cleaning out closets, etc - I just spare you reports on those fascinating activities.) I've seen a raft of movies lately , and here I share some thoughts on some of them.
The Reader is a film based on a novel my book club read a few years back; the author is Bernhard Schlink. It is a beautiful book, well written even in translation, and I have heard that it is widely read not only in America, but in its native Germany, as well. The Reader is the story of a young boy in post WWII Germany who befriends an older woman and has an affair with her . Through the course of this relationship the boy not only has wild passionate sex with the woman, played in the film version by Kate Winslet (is there anything she can't do well?) but as their relationship evolves, she eventually asks him to read to her, each time he visits her for a tryst. The list of books they read together runs the gamut from the classic to the mundane. Cut to years later. The boy is now older, in law school, and his law school class attends and observes some of the trials of war criminals currently taking place in Germany. Much to his surprise, the woman that the boy had been having the affair with, years before, is now on trial for her role as a guard at one of the concentration camps during the Third Reich. During the course of the trial, it becomes obvious to the boy (but not others) that the woman is illiterate, perhaps a bit low-functioning as well, and too proud to let anyone know about it. She eventually becomes a scapegoat for several of the other camp guards (it is clear she is guilty, but perhaps not as guilty as others, of heinous acts committed by them all). Eventually the woman goes to prison. The boy - now a man, re-friends her while she is there, and at this point the entire novel becomes an allegory for the relationship between the young post WWII generation and that of the older generation which was responsible for what happened in Germany in the 1930's and 1940's. Clearly the author is stating that everything the post-war generation achieved was in some part influenced, or as a result of, its relationship with the older pre-war generation. Subtle and nuanced, both the novel and film explore many shades of gray in this important historical equation. The story manages to make the reader feel empathy for all characters involved, without pandering to questions of exculpation or blame.
I saw this movie with several members of my neighborhood book club. We agreed that the film, while slightly different from the novel, did a pretty good job of adapting this complex story from book to movie. The steamy sex scenes between the two leads make you quite forget that this is a story with a moral purpose. The young actor who played the central male character from ages 15 - 25 did an outstanding job -David Kross. I'll be looking for him in future cinematic roles with heft - he carried his part well in this one. Ralph Fiennes also had a nice star turn as the older version of the boy.
I couldn't help but notice that, even as I am closing in on the mid-century mark in age, my companions (gen x-ers both of them, but still not spring chicks) and I were the youngest folk in the movie theater by a factor of about 20. Afterwards, I started thinking,"Why so many old folk there ? Why no one of the younger generations ?" More on those thoughts, below.......

Valkyrie - I confess to having mixed feelings on films about Nazi's. On the one hand, my first ex-husband had a lurid and unyielding fascination with them; he wrote his senior thesis in college on the economics of the Third Reich, and I once spent a summer with my ex , somewhat reluctantly, touring every single place of any import in the life of Adolph Hitler. (East Germany, West Germany, Bavaria, Austria- I've been there.) On the other hand, WWII was the last war that I can think of where "good" vs "evil" ( at least from our Allied point of view ) was clearly delineated. And let's face it, Nazi's just make great bad guys - think of Indiana Jones, The Odessa File, Marathon Man, Boys From Brazil, or The Sound of Music. I've been watching movies abut daring exploits from WWII ever since my parent took me to see Where Eagles Dare when I was around 6 years old. What a great film that is ! One of the best ever ! Richard Burton was such a hottie. I even went , voluntarily, to see WWII movies such as A Bridge Too Far as a teenager, b/c the topic was interesting to me.
And yet.....I could convince no one to go see the movie Valkyrie with me. The topic -members of the German high command who try to overthrow Hitler - is different, mildly interesting, and one I have a little familiarity with - wrote a research paper on this subject at some point in h.s., probably for an A.P. history class. In the end, I had to bribe the hubster to go with me. In spite of the fact that Valkyrie garnered fairly decent reviews, I think most folks are simply tired of Tom Cruise at this point. I, too am tired of his personal life antics, but no matter how bizarre the man is in his private life, most of his movies are ok. Not brilliant, but not hideous either. An Officer and Gentleman isn't the great thrill for me that it is for some women, but I've always enjoyed Risky Business, Rain Man, and the Mission Impossible franchise. I confess I prefer his earlier stuff, but as far as Tom Cruise movies go, Valkyrie was ok. Suspenseful, interesting. T.C. didn't annoy me in his role here as Colonel Stauffenberg, a member of the German armed forces who tried to overthrow Hitler. His portrayal of the guy who wants to kill Hitler was not particularly revealing, or thoughtful, but what Tom Cruise film ever is ? All personal idiosyncrasies aside, T.C. does manage to look good in an eye patch - lord knows not everyone can pull that off. Hubster enjoyed the nice cinematography of various locales in Germany. Some nice supporting roles by various actors here, including one of my faves, Bill Nighy. Kenneth Branaugh also had a small role in this film which was largely forgettable.
Once again, however, I enjoyed "people watching" the audience for Valkyrie almost as much as the film itself. I noticed hubby and I were among the younger ones in the theater. I have a theory about this, as with the audience for The Reader. I am not sure if I am correct in this, and welcome discussion on this topic: Is it that the older audiences are interested in WWII movies b/c they lived through it, or had parents who did ? (My former f-i-l was 17 years old right after Pearl Harbor, large for his age, ran off and lied when he enlisted; served several years in the South Pacific. ) Or is it that the younger folk are all home playing with their Wii Fit or Worlds of Warcraft on PlayStation, instead of watching movies about it ? I wonder what will happen when the generation that had some personal connection to WWII ( lived through it, had parent who did ) die out. Are there any other wars to take its place in our collective unconsciousness ?
I also saw Four Christmases with Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn. If you go to this movie expecting it to be funny - skip it. All the jokes are in the commercials/trailers. It is actually a deeply sad, serious movie about relationships which reminded me waaaaay too much of my marriage to husband No. #1. I almost couldn't sit there and watch it, the scenarios were so familiar to me. Except that my relationship had no happy ending.


My Family Is Just Like Yours.....Well, Maybe Not

Many folk who are meeting GFT for the first time ask me questions designed to illicit info about my family, hobbies, activities, daily lifestyle patterns. Rest assured, I am boringly middle class in most respects : I live in a "Leave It to Beaver" style suburban, two story home, on a quiet shady suburban street . I have one husband ( and one ex) , plus two sons, who are more than a little similar to Wally and the Beav. Numerous dogs, cats, and other critters. Most of my days are filled with a routine similar to your own : rouse the kids, nag them till they get dressed and off to school, work all day, come home, drive them around to their various lessons, return home, cook dinner, watch tv, go to bed, get up and do it all over again. My hobbies are of the mom sort and include friends, book clubs, reading, visiting family. Nothing really exciting , no deep dark secrets : not running a meth lab, not secretly a hooker, not running a ponzi scheme, not a member of a swinging couples swap club. I drink very little, and my wild and crazy days happened decades ago. Just like that family in the holiday movie "A Christmas Story", my husband does swear like a sailor, occasionally brings home some ugly object he thinks will complement our home decor, and we do have random domestic disasters - such as a pack of wandering dogs eating the holiday turkey - unfortunately for us, they belong to us, not any hillbilly neighbors.
There is one aspect in which my family is probably different from yours, however. Because the hubster is a scientist, a professor at a local university, he can't help but talk about work at home. Not only that, but due to his ever-inquiring mind, he finds strange and wonderful topics of conversation in nearly everything he encounters . What causes the mold in cheese to make it so tasty ? Who invented the periodic table, and why ? What is a buckeyball ? How is a football play like a physics problem ? What is the atomic number for Darmstadium ? What causes the tides at the beach ? How does electric current make the light bulbs work ? Why does the full moon seem large some times, and smaller, at other times ? You see what I mean - the discussion never ends. As a result of all this, like the preacher's son, both our children are so blase about science, neither plans at this moment to make a career in it. Yet both of them can tell you all about nanotechnology - probably more than you want to know. We discuss all these topics and more, every night at the dinner table. Bon appetit !

Ethnic Grocery Stores in Dallas

In Texas, everything at first glance seems sort of blandly uniform and WASP-y, especially in the complex and exciting world of grocery stores. (Remember, GFT is a grocery store aficionado since her P & G days .....often it's the first and last place she hits on an international trip. ) Sure, we have a lot of great Mexican grocery stores, and even in the past 20 years, Asian grocery stores of one kind or another. There are neighborhoods in Houston, for ex, that cater exclusively to Japanese or Vietnamese clientele, and near where my mom lives in Plano there is a new pan-Asian grocery store as big as a walmart with live fish swimming in wall-sized tanks like an aquarium. I imagine the little kids with their families shopping there : "Oh, mom, look at the pretty fish !" " Beautiful- that's what's for dinner ! " But in Texas we don't have many of the same ethnic neighborhoods that are found back east, and I miss that. I know there are Greek and Jewish neighborhoods in my childhood stomping grounds of far north Dallas, but I have yet to find the secret jewel of an ethnic grocery store that I just know is tucked away somewhere in a bland anonymous strip mall nearby. Only recently overheard some Cajun folk at work talking about buying their Turduckins for the upcoming holidays, asked them where they would go to do this, and discovered a great little outpost of Louisiana only a few min from my home, in Lewisville on the way to the airport.
So it is with great joy that I swing by Jimmy's Italian Food Store in old east Dallas whenever I am in town, and stock up on anything I just might want/need : vast complex wine selection, terrific deli with "to go" sandwiches, fresh specialty produce, that one-of-a-kind item I can't find anywhere else. My cooking often skews towards Mediterranean , it is the "go to" arsenal of recipes in my head and skills that were learned when I spent a summer as crew cook for an archaeological dig in southern Italy, way back in college. Jimmy's, much like it's German equivalent in town, Kuby's, overpowers all 5 senses the minute one steps in to the store. It is full of wonderful smells, sights, sounds, tastes, and textures that allure one down the aisles further and further into the forest till you are overcome. Half the fun is going there, the other half is planning what you will cook tonight !

Family Portrait

GFT and her little brood recently had a series of family portraits made in the Outer Banks of NC, where we "summer". (Sounds so Kennedy-esque, doesn't it ?) We've had group photos before - at weddings, baptisms, graduations, funerals, and for the ubiquitous local church yearbook. Those pictures all turned out....okay. This time we chose to have a series of "informal" pictures taken, by a truly wonderful group of Photographers known as Shooters at the Beach. I think they did an excellent job.

We shot late in the day, around 6 pm, when the colors of the sun, sand, sky and surf start to blend a bit. The photographer took a variety of shots...some were completely silly, and had us jumping up and down in the surf. I think, overall, they turned out rather well. It was a notable feat that my husband's parents came together for this event (they have been divorced for years), putting aside animosity for the Greater Good. I was glad they did; you never know what twists and turns lie down the road of life.

Here we have three generations : hubster's parents, his brother and sister and their spouses, all the grand kids that are not four-legged.



Many who know GFT would suspect her of a secret dose of Anglophilia. It is a common affliction among English teachers - they tend to fall into one of several camps. There are the poets, the sensitive types, long -haired, free-spirited Birkenstock wearing creative writers. There are the American Lit folk - often with a New York Times or Atlantic Monthly folded under their arms, coffee drinking, crossword puzzle fans, busy planning to attend a retrospective on Saul Bellow or Ntosake Shange . Then there is every one's quintessential H.S. English teacher - forever wearing her hair in a bun, peering inquisitively at you over bi-focals with those intense gray eyes while reciting from memory large selections of the romantic poets. GFT is in actuality none-or a little bit of all - of these types (clearly stereotypes - tsk, tsk ! The very thing she would recommend you avoid in your own writing ). GFT has taught, over the years, nearly every grade of English throughout the middle and high school spectrum and as a consequence loves something about each of them : American literature, British lit, world lit, literature of women, Jewish American lit, African American lit, Chinese American lit, Southern lit, South American lit, the classics, modern novels, creative writing, journalism, remedial English, advanced English, and everything in between. I especially enjoy Shakespeare, Chaucer, and Arthurian legends. My reading list of choice these days is more often than not from the Man Booker Prize ( Britain's equivalent of our Pulitzer.)
The Anglophilia that GFT professes does not stem simply from a job description, however. It all goes back much further, to GFT's childhood. A nerdy, lonely child, GFT spent way too much time reading novels - children's classics, of course, but I soon ran through all the available children's books at the time. (Remember, this was back in the day when there were only 3 tv channels, total, and cartoons for only 30 min, once a day) By 5th grade I had plowed through all the great reads such as the Little House series, the Narnia series, A Wrinkle in Time, Earthfasts, A Secret Garden, Charlotte's Web, and pretty much everything Zilpha Keatly Snyder ever wrote. I then moved on to adult books. I started with Uncle Tom's Cabin and Gone With the Wind for school assignments, but quickly learned not to be daunted by the mere length of a book and even read War and Peace, Huck Finn, all the mystery novels my mom had laying about the place, and tried to teach myself Latin and Greek. (Many of these passions were shared by several of my wonderfully nerdy - ahem, gifted- childhood friends. ) One of my earliest favorites was Jane Eyre, which I read for the first time in 6th grade. (Yes, I not only read books - I re-read them.) I soon moved on to Jane Austen and Dickens and .......by 7th grade, decided that the best way for my friends and I to survive the travails of junior high was for us all to run away to England (together, naturally). I plotted it all out, how it could work .......and still hope , someday, to take that trip with those friends. My BFF and I just knew that we were the modern day reincarnations of Lord Peter Whimsey and Harriet Vane, perhaps the most wonderful fictional characters ever, immortalized by Dorothy Sayers . The tender romance of it all was just too enchanting.

I confess that as a young adult, my British passions took on a more commercial , superficial aspect. Perhaps as a result of years of reading about characters from Britain, it wasn't enough to want to go there - which I did , several times in college - but I had to dress like them, too. I was fortunate to receive the magnificent gift of a "grand tour" as a high school graduation present (that in itself a veddy British notion) , which included a stop in England as part of its overall program . Later, I spent a significant portion of a summer motoring about Stonehenge, York (checking out Hadrian's Wall), and Scotland (shopping in Edinburgh and trying to get to Findhorn).The dollar was strong, the pound was weak, and it was a glorious time to be an American shopper equipped with credit cards. This began my life-long love of British consumer goods, especially clothing, crystal, china, decor as a general concept, and bric-a-brac.

Many years later, when I was dating the hubster and trying to decide if he was "sponge-worthy", we happened to have one of those many "test" conversations that women often have with men, sending out little relationship flares, to see if the man is the right sort or not. Men often have only a vague notion of what is going on - often it comes with a sense of foreboding, the man knows he's being tested, he's just not certain what the exact criteria of the test is. These minefields are many and often involve the "does this dress make my butt look fat?" type conversations for which there is no good answer. Somewhere in all this, the hubster and I got to talking about crystal and china - we hadn't even decided to get married yet, this was all hypothetical, you understand - and it turned out we each, at the age of 34, owned a set of Wedgwood china. (Mine from my former marriage, his b/c his mother bought him a basic white set for future use. What's not to like about that ? ) CHECK !!!! Hubster scored correctly on that test. Then he added, quite unknowingly, the coup d' etat : His favorite character from his favorite novel series (by Andrew Greeley) was an Irish Catholic priest named Blackie Ryan who loved to drink Bushmills whiskey from his Powerscourt crystal glasses. From that moment on, GFT knew this was the man for me ! When we married, we started collecting Waterford Powerscourt crystal as "our" pattern. (Yeah, yeah, yeah, purists will say, "it's Irish, not English" - ok, we know that ! So do the British, who are not afraid to take the best from their empire , whether it's curry and silk or the Elgian marbles or Scottish woolens or Irish crystal.) The crowning touch was achieved many years later, when my mother and I found a complete set of Wedgwood china (this being my third set) at a discount shop, and it was the very pattern that matched our Powerscourt crystal (Waterford and Wedgwood having joined forces, several years previously, and now are some sort of jointly owned company.)

So it should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I would end up Anglican- er, Episcopalian. I started this quest as a teenager (my childhood minister , a boldly confident kindly Presbyterian, took us on a tour of other faiths as a part of confirmation class; we visited everything from a mosque to a temple to the local Catholic church, Baptist church, Unitarian, Episcopal, etc), continued the journey through a series of Episcopalian boyfriends, and was confirmed in my mid-20's. I have raised my sons in this faith - they were each baptised and confirmed in the strangely archaic and beautiful traditions of the American Episcopal Church. Both have served many years as altar boys at our little local church. It is with agonising sadness that I observe the slow-motion train wreck that is happening in the American branch of the world-wide Anglican Church at the moment. To the uninitiated, the church is in the midst of a painful split over the issue of gay and women bishops ....churches are pulling away from the mainstream, little neighborhood chapels with their attendant youth groups and VBS about to be left behind, as the non-resolution of these controversial issues completely rends the fabric of this beautiful, comforting, tradition-bound religion. I am not sure how it all will end up - but it may be the end of my Anglophilia.

The Dream

"Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don't belong no place. . . . With us it ain't like that. We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us. We don't have to sit in no bar room blowin' in our jack jus' because we got no place else to go. If them other guys gets in jail they can rot for all anybody gives a damn. But not us."

I just finished teaching Steinbeck's novel Of Mice and Men to my tenth grade English II students. It is a standard book to be taught at this grade level; in fact my prescripted teaching plan informs me that I must teach it in the fall of each year. Teachers are routinely affected not only by their own reaction to novels, stories, and poems they must cover in their classes , but by the reaction their students have to what is taught, as well. I confess I started out this unit thinking this novel was trite and "overdone", a candidate for the "academy of the over-rated" (as a pair of Woody Allen characters once so glibly announced - a grouping which includes many of my admittedly tres passe favorites such as Isak Dineson and Van Gogh). But as I moved through the unit , in the process of exploring the novel with my students, I came to admire the simple themes of friendship and caring this novel presents. (Many would argue this novel is a bleak condemnation of society and man's inhumanity to man - I chose to focus on the positive aspects.) My students and I related the rough word of Depression - era farm workers to the rough world of high school social cliques, and this comparison surprisingly worked. Our class discussion and writing activities made the novel very real and relevant to a gaggle of 16 year olds living in small town America. I enjoyed teaching it and the kids talked about it so much, I think they enjoyed reading it.
As I taught this novel, and in particular worked through the recurring symbolism of "the dream", (the fantasy George repeatedly spins for Lennie about buying their own land, raising their own food, nobody to tell them what to do or when, a cozy warm cabin with a fire to grow old by, Lennie being allowed to tend the rabbits) which represents various things to the central characters, such as : 1)freedom from want, 2) a life of self-determination, bound together by individuals without extended social networks who form impromptu "families" made of up friends who care for one another, and, some argue, 3) the only version of "heaven" the hobos in the novel can imagine, I came to realize that my teacher friends and I also have a "dream". It is every bit as potent to us as the one shared by George and Lennie. It goes something like this :

1)In my early working years , my colleagues and I would sit around at lunch in the teacher's lounge and fantasize about joining together to create a school. Our own school. Our ideal school. A school founded and funded (no matter how, we would figure this part out, somehow) by teachers, run by teachers. A school where, in this ideal fantasy, things would be done "the right way" - not subject to the push-me, pull-you situations created by the oft -competing desires and goals of state boards of education run by legislators with individual agendas to push, PTA moms, powerful coaches, helicopter parents, good administrators, bad administrators, or NCLB regulations and the constant testing-driven world that education is these days. A school that would be rigorous and creative, nurturing yet strong - balanced. In the early years of one's career, while the fire is still burning brightly, these fantasies are rampant. Some people act on them - if they are young enough, not pinned down with a mortgage or kids. One reads about all those idealistic young teachers graduating from Ivy league schools creating foundations and raising millions to teach inner city kids. I say, "power to them ! " Someday when I retire, I may join the Peace Corps and teach in Africa or Asia.

2)As I have gotten older, however, the version of "the dream" that my teacher friends and I talk about at lunch each day has changed. Many of us are baby boomers, former hippies types who are getting closer to retirement now. Our new version of the dream focuses more on what we would like to do after we retire. It goes something like this : Several of my friends and I would get together, pool our money and buy a big piece of land outside of town. (We live in the ex-urbs anyways, so this is relatively easy and realistic for us to do.) Hopefully this would be a lovely, habitable, useful piece of arable land, with a creek, trees, and rolling meadows - common to north Texas. Each member of the "commune" would get their own individually deeded portion of land, perhaps in a pie-shaped wedge, so all the sections would touch each other in the middle. Individuals would be free to build their own home, however she or he saw fit. Develop one's property , or not - the dream involves land portions large enough that one need not fear, in the words of Laura Ingalls' Wilder's father, of "seeing the smoke from another man's chimney" ( a clear sign that the neighborhood was getting too crowded, and it was time to move further west). We would each specialize in our individual talents - one friend an avid hunter, one an organic gardener, one an artist, one a gourmet chef. We would grow and create and share and each contribute what we individually enjoy doing most - in a system of barter that would mutually benefit all. One would grow the vegetables and other would cook the meal. A group dining hall and rec facilities would sit at the center of the pie-shaped wedge, available for those who wished to socialize, but not required for those who did not. We'd have freedom from want, could control how our days went and what we spent them doing.

Now I know that Utopian societies had their heyday in America over 150 years ago, and were fairly common, especially in the northeast. Many of the ideas of this dream are not new - they were expressed perhaps most famously by Emerson and Thoreau and lived out by artists and craftsmen, preachers and kooks, in little villages from Massachusetts to central Texas, from Oneida to Reunion. Sadly, none of these societal experiments lasted long - and the solution to that question, I think, can be found in another novel I will be teaching this spring : Animal Farm.


Sounds of the Season

I was standing in the elevator at the doctor's office just the other day , and some of that nauseating holiday muzak was playing. The cheap cheezy kind, you know what I mean, no discern able artist, the kind where you can't get that annoying refrain out of your head, no matter how hard you try. Thinking I was alone, I muttered to myself ,"F-L-O-G, I absolutely HATE this time of year ! " - just as the door to the elevator opened and a large officious looking woman walked in. When the elevator door closed, I had a very uncomfortable 20 second ride with this woman, who glared at me the entire time while looking me up and down as though I were some sort of space alien, because she thought she heard me say I hated Christmas. Now granted, in theory we have freedom of religion, assembly, and speech in this country, so I am free to like or dislike whatever I want, but living here in the buckle of the Bible belt, any person who hates Christmas is just, well, un-American.
I spent many years of my young life working in a variety of finer and lesser retail establishments, and listened for countless hours to those Christmas jingle tapes which stores play in endless loops ( it used to be they started after Thanksgiving, but lately they seem to start after Halloween), all of which are somehow supposed to encourage shoppers to "buy, buy, buy". When I was a kid , people used to say there were subliminal messages in those tapes.....after years of listening to them, I am not so sure. All I feel like doing, after hours/days/weeks of listening to them, is drive aggressively, and vent a little pent up energy by way of road rage, not shopping frenzy.
True, there are many other things that drive me crazy abut the holiday season, as well, esp as relates to the way we live in in this consumer-oriented overly media-ized wonderful nation of ours. (Read "12 days of Christmas", for more info on that topic.) I hate the endless tv commercials that try to convince my kids to nag me to buy things they really don't want or need, having too many school/kid activities all spaced into the 2 weeks prior to school letting out (all in the name of "family togetherness" - how about letting me decide how to spend time with my own family?), feel guilty about more hands out, asking for donations than I can comfortably contribute to, and worry about students of mine who might go hungry or have nothing at all in the way of Christmas gifts.
In spite of my seeming "Grinchy-ness", however, there are many things I love about Christmas. I loved it when I lived back east to go outside, esp at night, for the first really serious snowfall of the season, and look up into the sky, and watch the spiraling effect of the snow as it comes down onto your face. I love to curl up in front of roaring fire with cookies and hot cocoa and good book to read. I don't mind listening to carolers who come to the door - so few do , any more. I loved watching my children's faces light up, when they were little, and they opened their gifts. I loved watching our old boxer, Leto, pull my son around the yard in a little sled we tied to his collar. I have always enjoyed decorating, putting up the tree ( had a live one, till my son came along who was allergic to them), looking at the holiday lights in the dark. Used to go ice skating - when living in Houston, at the Galleria. When living in Westchester Co, NY, on the pond at the bottom of the hill from my home. Skated there with my dog, Addie, while the neighborhood kids played hockey all around us. When I taught at EHS, I used to really love their Christmas "Lessons and Carols" service most of all. The choir master there was trained in the British tradition , and the music program at that school was just breath-taking. The student choir was really beautiful , with those high, arching voices, echoing down the long narrow nave, just like angels.
I still do enjoy, and listen quite a bit, to special holiday themed music. It's just that my idea of glorious Christmas music is often quite different from that of the store manager at my local discount center or the dj at the local "top 40" radio station. Muzak, in fact any sort of whiney pop fakely peppy pseudo - rock holiday tunes are absolutely unbearable to me .They make me nauseous and wish fervently to run as fast as I can away. I love jazzy holiday standards from the 40's and 50's : Bing and Benny and Ella; all the Vince Gauraldi music form the "Charlie Brown " Christmas special, and modern crooners such as Norah Jones and Josh Groban and Micheal Buble. But most of all, I love old English church music.....from medieval monks chanting to Victorian hymns. "In the Bleak Midwinter","O Holy Night", "What Child Is This ? ". Some of the songs I love are old carols from France or Germany : "Bring a Torch, Jeannette Isabella. " "Still, Still, Still". My favorite Christmas song of all is titled "Once in Royal David's City". It is the traditional first song of my own church's Christmas Eve Mass. It starts small, with one little choir boy's voice, perhaps recalling the Christ child or a little shepherd boy who has come to see Him. The next verse builds to several singers ( I always imagine, more shepherds, or the Wise Men). Each stanza grows and grows, more majestic, with more singers, until the organ chimes in and the whole church joins , too. It is like all of heaven has opened up to sing along. Makes me a little verklempt, just thinking about it.

Here, you can listen for yourself :